(Interview with Swathi Sasidharan, writer of RAINDROPS ON MY MEMORY YACHT, and recipient of this year’s 18th FOKANA KamalaDas English literary award)
(Translated from Malayalam to English from emalayalee.com )
Q: How did you get into the world of English and Malayalam writing despite being an expat working mom of two small girls aged four and six along with your career as a computer engineer?
Answer: After coming to Ireland in 2005, I bumped into yahoo360!. Blogging was on catching phase then. That was my first public platform for my writing which was through blogging. My readers also encouraged me to continue by continuously commenting on my posts.
Q: Is it hard for expat women, especially for a working mom of two kids, to reach into the world of writing? That too while living and working out of your home country thousands of miles away from your parents and relatives?
Answer: It’s never too easy. I worked as a computer engineer in the Telecom domain for eleven years. Currently, I am on unpaid leave. When my little ones were very small, we sent them to creche, when I went to work. Later when they became five and three years old, I felt they needed a mother’s quality time more.
I was the one who first thought about taking a long leave, as I had health issues too. My kids were five and three, and I believed, that at that age, they needed the protection and affection of their mother more. My husband and I were both against the idea of resigning from my job. Currently, I plan to re-join work after a year or so.
Q: How did you get into writing?
Answer: Initially it was very difficult for me to become a complete housewife after being in my working area for sixteen years continuously.
As a child I was a bookworm reading many books in English and Malayalam and had a strong passion for reading and writing since then. Still, I didn’t dare to restart it. By my experience in Yahoo360 blogging, I started by writing a book review on my Facebook account.
By coincidence, my review was about “Thanmathram” by Dr Suresh.C.Pillai’ which is also this year’s FOKANA award-winning book of social media – the famous nanotechnologist in Ireland, who is also from my hometown. As it was a Malayalam book, my review was also in Malayalam.
Next, my cousin’s daughter added me to a challenge of writing a book review to promote reading among young people. For that, I wrote another review in English on the book ‘Patricia McCormack’ s Cut. It was a challenge by her college’s psychology department, and they selected my review as one of the best ten. It was that small recognition that gave me confidence that I can write. Also once I started writing on my blog on Facebook, the comments from my readers were extremely positive, which made me go forward.
Q: How do you get time to write, being an expat mom of two small kids, with no childminders or nannies to help?
Answer: For moms with small children under five, whether they are an expat or not, their passions and talents can come out if and only if their close family admits it and encourages it, publicly!
In my case, the only strong source of encouragement for my writing is my husband.
Another important thing is that if you are planning to switch from a job of regular income, to pursue your passion, then you should have that fire inside you and the readiness to pursue it at any cost. It is no longer your “hobby” anymore.
I find time to write when the kids are sleeping or when they are at school. I try to avoid writing when they need my time.
Q: Why did you choose to write bilingually- both in English and Malayalam?
Answer: At a young age I began writing in English, and as my reading grew up with me, I started writing in Malayalam too. First, I wrote about my daily experiences as small anecdotes with a touch of humour. Then I moved to write stories in Malayalam. In Jwalanam online portal, as a weekly columnist in English, the topic I chose to write is the “Problems faced by an Indian mother who raises her Irish girls.” – which I face now while raising my girls.
Q: The life in India and Ireland might be very different for you and kids?
Answer: Of course, yes. Freedom, which my children and I enjoy in Ireland, unfortunately, are not in India, when we go for holidays.
In India, if you drive alone and are not back by six o’clock your parents will panic. In Ireland, I’m not afraid to drive alone 200km using google map. These restrictions sometimes bother me a lot. But that’s how our country is. You cannot blame your parents for being overprotective. Those are the news they hear every day.
Anyone who has travelled, even once, in any public transport system in Kerala and has been to busy places or buses know exactly what’s going on there. Even at this age, I am scared to travel alone in the public transport system in Kerala.
Schools in Ireland, even from the age of five teach kids to say NO. They conduct classes to identify child abuse. Even my seven-year-old girl knows the importance of consent.
Answer: Such Literary Awards offered by FOKANA and similar organisations give much confidence to women – (both working women and homemakers) like me who are interested in reading and writing. There could be so many expats with different talents, who remain unknown to the outer world.
It is a good thing to have associations such as FOKANA, who encourage expats like me, especially women to take care of their small children and also to pursue their dreams.
I am very grateful and proud for the award I received in memorial of Kamala Das, English Language Literary Award.
If I say anything about writing, I have to say; for me, writing is equivalent to my kids. Just like they are my life, I cannot survive without writing.
Today I write for me. No one can force me to write only on this and never on that. It may be due to my lack of flexibility as a writer.
Or perhaps it is because of my belief that writing is the only medium through which I can express my feelings and emotions, honestly.
Maybe that might change in the long run, ahead.
(Swathi, a native of Thiruvananthapuram, has been living in Ireland for the last thirteen years, with her family)