Author Talks: Pramudith D.

“My pen is a lethal medicine that has killed a few and healed many” – Pramudith D. Rupasinghe, the author of Bayan and Behind the Eclipse- The Unheard from the West African Ebola Crisis

Pramudith D. Rupasinghe
  1. First of all, congratulations on writing an inspiring book. Bayan has so much wisdom that it’s hard to grasp it all. Yet, the experience of reading it all was absolutely spell-binding. I know Bayan is loosely based on the life of a real person, but I am sure the readers will be intrigued if you shed some more light on how Ivan’s story touched your heart.

The idea of writing Bayan came to my mind after I met Ivan in Ohthyrka, in Sumy Oblast, Ukraine, it was in early 2015, and we have chatted a few times; I was charmed by the landscape of the country, wondered by the architecture and rich culture, retouched by the warmth and wisdom of its people, marveled by the proud history of the country, and saddened by the socio-political dynamics of the country leading to a calamity. Then see the people of Ivans age-sons and daughters of parents who were WWII victims, who had lived their good old day’s un soviet union, and faced the fall of the USSR overnight in 1991, and lost everything they earned over the years. Today they are battling with the modern democratic, capitalistic society to which they are complete aliens. The story depicts the strive of those aging people through its main character, Ivan Nikolaevich. Bayan, an old soviet instrument—with hard buttons and a heavy body, symbolizes the fallen-USSR and its Ethan of life. Its played by Ivan whenever he is sad, happy, and indifferent, in an era where there are easy to play lighter accordions are available. It is his companion who knows his rhythm and would never judge his feeble melodies. Bayan depicts, besides its several sub-themes and sociopolitical dynamics of Ukraine in its backdrop, ageing in changing times. That is relevant not only to those who are in the Eastern block but also to people of the other parts of the earth. And Ivan represents those ageing faces of conflict, deprivation, and loss that the generation of Ivan encounters at present. Amid all suffering, losses, and uncertainty, Ivan’s proximity to nature, the realization of life and its more intangible values, and his unparalleled wisdom convinced me that his story needs to be heard by the whole world. 

2. Nadiia is one of those characters who left an imprint on my heart. The line that really resonated with me was, “I learned that it was rather the reaction of the society towards her disability than her disability itself that caused her strange thoughts and the actions that followed.” Her behavior was almost always incomprehensible, and yet, this one line justified it all. In fact, this seemingly simple statement moved me to be more empathetic toward people. Is she a fragment of your imagination or a real person? The line that I quoted above from your book appears to be a result of a certain realization in life. Is that the case here?

I am delighted that you grasped that centric nature of Nadiia’s existence in the book. Nadia and her fate depict how society works in many places. It weighs how little our modernness has contributed to being empathetic against being sympathetic. And at the same time, Nadiia’s struggle being herself admits devastating social pressure, stigma, and lack of acceptance shows the resilience of the woman to epic proportions. And then, in the end, it proved that the weight of reactions of sympathy-driven and ignorant society contributed more towards her death than her disability. Her death sheds light on one of the least spoken aspects hidden behind the triumphal narrative of overcoming polio—yes, we managed to vaccinate a majority of the population against polio, but what about those who survived years ago with irreversible mental and physical disabilities. Aging as a polio survivor is way different from the realities of other aging groups. Thus Nadiia’s existence is pumping air into an advocacy balloon for one of the least spoken areas of healthy aging.     One may also notice—if you are a deep reader—I try to depict aging with intact mental faculties and health through Ivan, and keeping Nadiia at the opposite end; thus the reader goes on a trial comparing two contexts. And Nadiia is a real person and the voice of millions of Nadiias 

3. Is the idea of Bayan, in some way, inspired by Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom?

No, It was a random idea that came to my mind during my time in Ukraine after I met Ivan, but if you look at both books, you may see that the world we see as young people is way more profound in the eyes of the old. So I would say why I have Mitch has seen the same and thought putting the same idea into a book? Because we both found it essential to tell the world. And I am from Sri Lanka, and he is from the USA, and irrespective of our cultural and contextual differences, we have recognized it. That is the beauty. 

Besides that, Bayan takes its reader beyond the frontiers of traditional literary fiction down along the time machine to the historical and political transformation of the society where Nadiia and Ivan are from. Apart from all, Bayan stands out as a strong advocacy tool, voice for healthy aging. 

4. Although you are not yet an old man, your grip on what goes inside a person who has lived over 70 years is outstanding. How did you manage to walk in their shoes so well? 

This part was the most challenging part of the process of writing. Usually, I do transcultural writing and often write stories set outside my comfort zone. Throughout the period—it was around 18 months—I had to inhabit the world of Ivan. That psychological exercise was laborious. First of all, you need to have an in-depth cultural awareness of the context where you set the story, then only you would be able to hear the heart-beat of its people. That was the first thing I did. It was a complete anthropological study. It is imperative to do it before I write my very first word. You may have seen, depiction of the life of the people of Ivan’s age in the book is not limited to the dialogues or narratives, but the way the content is lined up, there are erratic and fragmented ideas—though they merge into profound meetings at the end—one may not at once gasp. In the end, I will come to the same element I highlighted talking about Nadiia, “empathy”, as a psychologist, I could do it better. That is the secret. But I did not allow “The psychologist” to speak to the reader in lieu of Ivan. 

5. Another element that we cannot skip talking about is your ability to use just the right metaphors. Using this skill, you have empowered your words to convey exactly what you wish to express. It was beautiful to see you drawing images with your words. Usually, people who read a lot of poetry have this talent. Does that hold true with you as well? If not, then would you mind giving us an insight into the source of this writing skill? Perhaps, aspiring authors will benefit from this tip.

I m passionate about transcultural literature; that is one of the reasons why I always pick the submit matters out of my familiar contexts, and the challenging nature of “writing without borders” is the fuel of my engine. I love exploring cultures, people, nature, architecture, languages, and gastronomy. And, not a single story of mine is written detached from the context they are set. As I mentioned a few times, I go to the locations where the story is sent and write. That allows me to formulate my narratives most complying with the context, people, language, and culture. That is one of the main contributing factors behind the metaphoric and figurative language in most of the narratives. And, you are correct. I used to love poems as a student; I would have been ended up as a poet if I was not bullied in my literature class, but today I am happy about being a novelist. However, the impact of poetry is still there, alive and powerful. And I believe they add a kind of uniqueness into my writing as a novelist. 

6. While we have picked the subject of aspiring authors, with your incredible credentials, do you wish to extend some guiding words to the community of fresh talent? Any tip for the upcoming writers?

As writers, we have the rare privilege of carrying some lethality in our pen, use it right for the well-being of the planet earth.  “My pen is a lethal medicine that has killed a few and healed many”. Stories are so powerful that, if used otherwise, can lead to devastating effects on man, society, and the world; being conscious about that 24/7 is imperative. 

7. Bayan is filled with beautiful lyrics. Are these your compositions? Is Ivan a contributor as well? 

Except for two, all of them were composed by me. There is a piece of poem taken from a Moldovan writer and a part of a Russian song that Ivan often mutters. All full-length lyrics are mine. 

8. Since many new writers are making their mark these days, is there anyone whose work you particularly liked? If yes, then who is this new talent who impressed you and why?

From Sri Lanka, Andrew Fidel Fernando—though he is not a fiction writer, his narrations are very picturesque; he is one of the few travel writers I have seen with the gifted skill of showing the reader than telling him. San Lin Tun from Myanmar has made his way out of restricted frontiers of Burma under oppressive military rule. His writing can be highlighted as the last remaining element of Yangon teashop-based writing culture that inspired great authors such as Gorge O’well, and Pablo Neruda. 

9. Now, this one is my favorite question. If you could spend a day with any author, living or deceased, who would it be and why?

I think it should be Khaled Hosseini—we do very common things. I can imagine how far the words could travel. 

10. Let’s help readers get to know you a little better. Who is Pramudith D. Rupasinghe? What does your daily life look like? 

I m a simple human being who is in love with Lunghee, coffee, and nature. I am early to bed and early to rise: Between 4 am to 5 am, I find myself walking down along the stairs to the kitchen, brew my fresh arabica coffee, and isolate myself in the garden. I begin my day listening to nature—there is a lot of nature that can tell us if were are patient and willing to hear “HER”. I often make my breakfast (it’s kind of a habit I have developed for the last two decades). By 6.00, I will sit in front of my desktop for 3-4 hours of writing. Running is a part of my life; a long sweaty run after each writing session keeps me going. All of that when I am on writing breaks; usually, I do not work all throughout the year. I work 5-6 months a year, and on average six months a year, I write. When I am at work, nothing can be planned as I am a humanitarian, so I go with the flow. 

11. What inspired you to write books?

There are a couple of things that brought me into writing. The first inspiration was my father, who inculcated my reading habits in me. And he was the one who told me the art of storytelling. And in school, I chose English literature as a subject, but unfortunately, I was a victim of a teacher-bully who instead created a disabling learning environment by bullying and favoritism. I failed English Literature at the examination, then I redid and passed by self-learning. I spent hours and hours in ceaseless monologues with Joyce, Wordsworth, Austin, Chekhov, Brecht, and Shakespeare. I did not give up and passed. That is my first lesson of human resilience; man’s unparalleled ability in bouncing back. With my result sheet in my hand, I cried—I left neither happy nor sad, but through the curtain of hot tears, I look ahead and muttered, “I can”; I felt the saltiness of my own tears. Today, as an influential author with global outreach, I request the teaching community just one thing. Your action could be unconscious, but your responsibility, respect for diversity, and adherence to ethical conduct determine the future of millions. If you produce one successful result out of nine students, you have failed eight times. Be child-centric! My job allows me to travel to a place where only a few could travel; I have traveled more than half of the world during the last two decades and worked in diverse settings, especially in conflict and natural disaster-affected areas. I witness forms of human suffering that many may not have seen, even heard of. And though I am a psychologist by profession, I am not superhuman; I am vulnerable too. Thus I used writing as a way to express and vent. It’s my coping mechanism during difficult missions, and the healing power of writing is immense.  And the topmost inspiration for my writing is people. I meet people from diverse cultures on an everyday basis. Believe me. Every man and woman has a story that can be relatable for millions of others. But, often, those stories remain voiceless and unheard, especially among the marginalized and disaster or conflict-affected populations. Due to climate change and COVID-19, it has turned from bad to worse. 

12. After Bayan, what should your readers look forward to? Anything you are working on right now? Can we get a sneak peek into your next venture?

I am currently working on a book about a girl who finally managed to realize her dream of going back to school even after been molested and sold to a brothel after the tragic death of her father. The story is set in the world’s second-largest brothel, Kandapara, in Tangail district in Bangladesh. The Girl Who Snatched The Moon will hopefully come out towards the end of this year. 

13. Any parting words to your readers?

First of all, thank you! Without readers, there are no authors; that is a fact. Stay tuned on my social media pages on Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter. Stay safe and blessed!

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