Suchitra S Rao was born in Chennai, but spent her early childhood and education in Madurai. She holds a Post-graduate Diploma in Planning and Entrepreneurship from the Indian Institute of Planning Management – Chennai. Right after her education she moved on to create a successful career in Sales & Marketing. She has immense experience of over nine years from various industries such as Insurance, Banking and Freight Forwarding. She currently works in a Logistics firm at a Middle Managerial Cadre. Belonging to a family of Doctors & Medical professionals who had dedicated themselves to the community for generations, Suchitra is also zealous about community service. Right from her school days, she has actively been volunteering for various social causes. In her early twenties, she began advocating reforms mainly for environmental issues and rural development. One of the causes she has been deeply engrossed in is animal welfare, directly being involved in various risky operations including a midnight rescue at a slaughter house, and interception of trucks that were trafficking cattle illegally. She feels modern-day activism, especially spearheaded by youngsters in India, often ends up being a battle with corrupt bureaucrats who are often backed by political clout. The Highway Mafia is her attempt to transpire the combat of such activism in India in a more narrative format and reach out to a larger audience.
An interaction with Suchitra:
- Tell us something about yourself that not many people are aware of.
I think the fact that I became an author itself was a big surprise to a lot of my friends, co-workers and family members. Most of them knew me as a working professional, an activist and a very ambitious girl. But none knew that I had creative side in me as a writer. Also, a lot of people wouldn’t know that in school I was good in creative writing and poetry and dramatics.
- What draws you to the magical world of writing and what does the art of weaving words do for you on a personal level?
The art of weaving words is a soul nourishing experience. We all have so many repressed emotions within us and any form of art is a way in which one can express these otherwise bottled-up emotions. Writing to me is like yoga or any other stress reliving act. Sometimes in the middle of an overwhelming day at work all I want to do is to go back home and sit in a quiet cozy corner alone and write with a cup of black coffee by my side.
- What sparked off the idea for your latest book?
My Book ‘The Highway Mafia’ revolves around the Protagonist Arjun who confronts ‘Cattle Trafficking’. ‘Cattle Trafficking’ is a political, economic and environmental crime. Our nation has many socio-political crime that is not getting the attention it deserves and Cattle Trafficking’ is definitely one of them. It happens so much in broad- day light, that majority of them do not even know that it is an illegal act. Therefore, the book aims to spread awareness on ‘Cattle Trafficking’. However, the topic is too intense and hence I gave a creative stroke to the same and narrated in a story format so that the readers would enjoy the book in the process of gaining awareness on the subject.
- What comes to your rescue when you are faced with the notorious “Writer’s Block”?
Usually when faced with the ‘Writer’s Block’, one tends to panic and this can only worsen the Condition. Writing is a soulful experience and negative emotions like panic and fear of not meeting the writing deadline, etc. can only make it worse. So, Instead I tune into some good music and relax or take a walk and relax and eventually I get the flow back again and the writing comes naturally from within.
- If an aspiring writer asks you for just one golden advice of wisdom, what would it be?
In few interactions with some I felt that most of the aspiring writers were in the thought form of letting go of their careers to begin their project. Nevertheless this is an individual decision that has to be made. But, for those of you who cannot let go of a full time career like in my case, you can always take a quick break to complete your project. The book and the topic has been in my mind for quiet sometime but I found it difficult to chalk out a special time to sit and work on the book. Hence, I took a quick sabbatical from work for a month and went off to Pondicherry alone. I used this time to rejuvenate me and write the book. I did not complete the entire book in that one month but yes a major portion was done, and later I slowly built on the chapters on weekends and holidays. So if you want to write, go ahead and let nothing stop you! You always can come back and catch up on work and family.
- If you were marooned on an island with just one book, which would it be and why?
I think it will be any one book from J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter series, because that kind of fantasy is needed to make me escape the kind of harsh loneliness in an estranged island.
- If you could summon the genie, which author from the past or present would you like to become and why?
I think I would like to become ‘Emily Bronte’, The Wuthering Heights is one of my favorite books and I would escape into the time when she wrote her manuscript and see for myself how her thoughts transpired into crafting such a beautiful classic novel. I would also like to experience for myself how it feels to quill down my thoughts into parchments as beautiful words which are nothing but chiseled perfection in comparison to typing it on a laptop.
- What role does your native city play in shaping your writings?
I am a native of Madurai , my ancestors have lived there for generations and most of my schooling was in the city. Madurai is a city which is famous for ‘Tamil Sangam’ which was setup as early as 400 BC during the ‘Chola Dynasty’ to create more poets and laureates of Classical Tamil. The city has always been a cultural landmark and Literature, Arts and Architecture plays an important role in the society. Growing up in such a city naturally inspired me to pursue my interest in the field of literature and most of my hobbies revolved around the same.
- Did you have a support group like family, friends or colleagues who believed in your passion for writing?
My Family was very supportive, Especially my mother. She had always believed me in my dreams and supported me to achieve it. She never for once doubted in my abilities in all these years and had always been my cheerleader. So when I told her the dream of becoming an Author she encouraged me to just go for it. On the other hand my father my motivator and biggest critic, he always strives to bring out the best in me. Without the support of my parents I wouldn’t have been an author at late twenties.
Also, My brother and few friends supported my writing aspirations and whenever I was bogged down during the writing and publishing process they would cheer me up and get me back on track. Special mention to my publisher Notion Press who guided me throughout the publishing process and made it easy for me to realize the dreams of becoming an Author.
- What are your future projects?
I currently began the secondary research for my next book. This book will also address another important socio –political trafficking racquet that has been on news recently. I will begin my primary research soon by visiting some important places and once I have the data in hand, I will start writing the book. I would also be translating ‘The Highway Mafia’ into five other languages to reach out to more Indian and International audience.
- Is there any habit, belief or superstition you associate with your writing process?
This is a very interesting question, yes I do, I write in the night mostly at wee hours. I write my best between 10 p.m to 3.a.m. I have an habit of drinking red bull before writing, I do not know why , I don’t drink it any other time but I need Redbull or Black Coffee to write. Also, I stayed on a property which was on the Highway while writing this book and I actually sat on the front porch facing the Highway with the security guard at midnight. This aura helped me a lot to get the feel of the highway and to recreate few of our cattle trafficking stints into words.
- Our readers would like to savour a brief extract from your latest book.
However, the intent and passion in Arjun made him determined. “Okay, let’s go,” he said. On hearing this Arjun stepped on the accelerator and took off in pursuit of the truck; the auto transmission car helped him save some time as every millisecond was important now. Arjun’s mind was focusing on a few minutes earlier when the truck had made the dramatic entry and exit. He calculated the time and speed in his mind and he thought if he was right he would catch up with the vehicle in another ten minutes. He worried a little if the speed would cause any problems but pushed aside the thought as he had to focus on the task at hand. The farther from the toll they got, the lesser the space between the vehicles became. This helped Arjun’s pace; and as he was driving, the adrenaline rush felt like a guy en route to a blind date; the only difference being that there was despair in lieu of euphoria, and shame in lieu of pride. About five minutes later, he saw a sight that he would never forget for the rest of his life. Not because he hadn’t seen it before but because he hadn’t seen it with the insight that he had gained that day. There, on the sleepless highway, amid the dark night that was sparsely lit by only the light of a half-moon and a few shimmering stars,
Arjun saw the shadow of misery, the epitome of cruelty, and the personification of injustice that disgraced human civilization. At first he could only see the silhouettes of horns and light reflecting off of eyes that looked like fireflies in the gloom. As the distance closed he got a better glimpse of the ghastly sight. In the back of a speeding truck were several buffaloes tied in a closely-knit group. They were standing with their heads poking through the crude iron fencing of the open truck; they seemed weary from their long journey. The buffaloes’ eyes told a story of confusion and misery, and also reflected overwhelming fear. They seemed to know the gruesome fate that awaited them in a couple of days. Arjun’s stomach twisted; the sight made him a bit queasy. Nothing could justify such a horrendous act, nothing whatsoever. He heard Dan’s voice, “Arjun, you can start at the count of three, go as per the script we discussed,” and he went on, “Count one, two and three.”