Over the next few weeks, we are very excited to introduce some of our alumni who are making waves in the world of writing. Stay tuned to learn about some budding (or established!) authors who launched their writing careers with their Arts education.
With files from Padma Viswanathan and Random House Canada.
Padma Viswanathan (’89 BA, Sociology) was committed to many social justice causes before and after her university years. She was involved in Amnesty International, she completed a CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency)-sponsored course in community activism/organizing that helped her to conceive and lead a teen theatre project on racism and she worked on Catalyst Theatre’s Women’s Project under drama professor Jan Selman.
But despite her passion for these causes, she decided early on that being a career activist would not be the right fit. “I came to understand that I wasn’t willing to commit to my own opinions sufficiently to want to exercise them on the world,” she says. “I was much more comfortable observing — trying to see patterns and convey them to others.”
Now, more than 20 years later, Viswanathan has obviously found her niche, with two published novels, in addition to several plays, articles, short stories and works of translation.
Her writing awards include residencies at the MacDowell Colony and the Banff Playwrights’ Colony, and first place in the 2006 Boston Review Short Story Contest. She received her Creative Writing MA from Johns Hopkins and her MFA from the University of Arizona, and lives with her family in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The Ever After of Ashwin Rao (Penguin Random House Canada, 2014) was Viswanathan’s second published novel. It follows a psychologist studying the effects of trauma by interviewing the families of the victims of the 1985 Air India bombings.
Read more about the book from its website:
In 2004, almost 20 years after the fatal bombing of an Air India flight from Vancouver that killed 329, two suspects –finally–are on trial for the crime. Ashwin Rao, an Indian psychologist trained in Canada, comes back to do a “study of comparative grief,” interviewing people who lost loved ones in the attack. What he neglects to mention is that he, too, had family members who died on the plane. Then, to his delight and fear, he becomes embroiled in the lives of one family caught in the undertow of the tragedy, and privy to their secrets. This surprising emotional connection sparks him to confront his own losses. A book of post-9/11 Canada, The Ever After of Ashwin Rao imagines the lasting emotional and political consequences of a real-life act of terror, confronting what we might learn to live with and what we can live without.
Read an excerpt from The Ever After of Ashwin Rao:
9 June, 2004
I put out last night’s take-away, lamb biryani, at the usual spot. I had never wanted to keep a pet, but was overcome by the urge to feed the patchy creature. A memory knocked. My nephew, Anand, at six months maybe. When do they start with the pabulum? My sister, Kritika, was feeding him. She called me over—“Watch, Ashwin!”—as she lifted the little spoon toward his face and he opened his mouth, SO wide, his head bobbing a little, the eyes so serious, as though this were a contract he had agreed to fulfill: survival. My sister and I laughed until our sides hurt.
And two years after Anand came my niece, Asha.
Asha, my Asha. The child of my life. Sometimes I thought I recalled a whisper of her smell—green grapes and the pages of books; perhaps a hint of nutmeg?—but even the motion of my mind turning toward it fanned it away.
* * *
Two weeks from today, June 23, would be the nineteenth anniversary of a jet bombing that killed 326 people I didn’t know, and three I did: Kritika, Anand, Asha. It had taken nearly eighteen years to drag two perpetrators into court. Last spring, April 2003, I had gone to Vancouver to witness the trial’s start. My first time back in Canada since 1985. A Screaming Reluctance to See It had battled in me with a Driving Compulsion to See It. Guess which won?
Victims’ families, along with various other concerned parties and/or gawkers, came from all over. They milled in the grand atrium at the provincial courthouse in Vancouver, their hot, thick optimism mingling with a slight steam from the bloodthirsty and giving me . . . what is it? When one’s skin crawls. The heebie-jeebies.
The atrium’s high, glass walls gave the all-too-obvious image of transparency. Kafka’s trial could never happen here. Glass houses: Canadians don’t throw stones. On the government side, the excitement was both more stately and more tawdry: press releases, security expenditures, and a bullet- and bomb-proof courtroom custom-built several circles of hell underground, down where the sun don’t shine.
A Screaming Reluctance to See It had battled in me with a Driving Compulsion to See It. Guess which won?
Only two of the many hot-air buffoons allegedly involved in the bombing were standing trial. I would name them, but what’s in a name? I try to block their faces, but they rise in my mind’s eye. Specimens. Bad examples of their community, their race, their species. Bad men.
I felt the trial to be a sham and yet I had gone to see it. Why? And furthermore, Why?
Why a sham? Because it came so very late—and after so much had changed, from the political situations that fed the bomb plot to the security situations that permitted it—that it would do nothing to prevent future terrorist acts. The accused did not regret what they had done, but neither would they plant any other bombs.
So. Why had I gone? At the time, I didn’t know why. In the courtroom, it wasn’t the accused who interested me but the bereaved, the others like myself, those who had lost the people most important to them.
Every two hours, after each break in the trial (lawyers need their Starbucks), I would have someone new next to me, such as the heavy woman in a salwar kameez whose homey aroma of frying dough couldn’t quite cover an inky, pooling despair. She leaned on a young man with a serious brow and neatly trimmed beard, who supported her on one arm while taking notes with his other. Two hours later, it was a tiny, twiggy-smelling couple in outdated business suits who sat without touching until, hearing some detail I didn’t catch, they took each other’s hands without meeting each other’s eyes. Across the room, I saw a famous dancer whose husband and daughters had been killed. She had become active in the victims’ advocacy group, and I had seen her name and photo in news reports. She had remarried, a gentleman whose wife and children had been on that same plane.
This was why I had come, I realized, to find out how these people had coped up. Not only how as in how well, but rather by what means did they go on?
Excerpted from The Ever After of Ashwin Rao by Padma Viswanathan. Copyright © 2014 Padma Viswanathan. Reprinted by permission of Random House Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited.