Q & A with Raja Ratnam

Why did you decide to write your book?

I began to write in primary school. On a palm-sized slip of paper (to avoid being caught by the teacher) I set down my thought for the day, and passed it to my immediate neighbours. At work, I wrote analytical reports. For civil society, I wrote press releases. Writing was my surfboard, permitting me to ride the waves in many seas.

Who/what inspired you to write?

As I indicated above, the trigger for my first task was that suggestion from the spirit world. The accolades I received for my first book told me that I did have something worthwhile to say, and that I have said it well. The pre-publication endorsements I received for the next two books led me again to self-publishing. Instrumental in this decision was the response from a small but well-known Australian publisher that ‘the Australian public would not want to read about their country from the viewpoint of a foreigner’. At that stage, as he knew, I had lived in Australia for 50 years.

What was the most rewarding part of the writing process?

My three books on migration-related issues, Destiny Will Out, The Karma of Culture, and Hidden Footprints of Unity, did seek to contribute to building a bridge from whence I came to where I am, because they covered (drawn from my work experience as Director of Policy) the following intercultural issues associated with migration: ethnic affairs & multiculturalism; citizenship & national identity; refugee & humanitarian entry; and settlement assistance. These issues are highly relevant for a nation continually expanding, through an influx of newer and newer ethnocultural immigrants, whose integration into one Australian people is of paramount importance. A well-respected professor of history and politics has told me that he considers my writing as representing a sliver of Australia’s post-war history. Is there anyone else with the necessary background?

In order to understand my confusing experiences I then wrote my memoir The Dance of Destiny. This opened up my memory bank. The sporadic sorrow it evoked was horrendous. Yet, it was cathartic. Through the ensuing peace, I was able to operationalise the Hindu concept of a personal destiny (that is, set up the steps of a probable pathway), and to introduce to Western readers some Eastern spirituality. Writing this book did develop my spirituality; I now see human life in the Cosmos more clearly.

In the meanwhile, I had begun learning to write fiction with the Eurobodalla Writers Group in my locale. For fun, I published Pithy Perspectives. Bi-cultural in approach, the short, short stories – from 500 words to 6,000 words – range from wacky/weird to spiritual/philosophical, and beyond (read the wonderful reviews).

Then, feeling that I might be close to ‘collecting my wings’ (I was already OBE – over bloody eighty), I wrote a serious of essays for myself, summarising my conclusions (always tentative) about matters of significance to me. Lo and behold, I received a fantastic endorsement; the book had to be published (read the reviews on Musings at Death’s Door).

I have already placed four of my books with Palmer Higgs because, even after my demise, my royalties will continue to be donated in toto to designated charities. This is important to me. I wrote because, as I said earlier, I have something significant to say; I also wish to continue my contribution to humanity. The remaining two books will be transferred to Palmer Higgs, if possible.

Which books/authors have inspired you?

I am an avid reader, reading very widely. The first authors who influenced me were the classical writers like Dickens, Austen, et al. Of the many authors I have read, it was Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, a writer of renown, who impressed me with his holistic view of human societies.

Do you have any other tips for new authors (i.e. book launch, research, marketing etc.)?

In planning my writing, I begin with the readership I have in mind for what I have to say. I then lay out a structure with this message in mind. Indeed, with my short, short stories, I begin with the conclusion then focus on creating an arresting opening; the rest somehow seems to flow naturally. I learnt this approach from an academic scholar. Each book, each chapter should begin, he advised, with 2x2: what the book or chapter is about; and how I intend to treat it. This focuses the mind before writing.

Would you consider writing another book?

I will not be writing another book as I am almost 85. My ongoing posts on Wordpress/Facebook will, however, provide food for thought for those who seek it. I enjoy putting out what I have learnt over a lifetime, inviting others to share my knowledge and/or thoughts. The accolades/reviews shown on rajarasablog.wordpress.com and on www.phbooks.com should, I hope, be as honey to voracious bees; that is, as stimulating fodder. With that intent, I offer Pithy Perspectives (to be pronounced carefully) and Musings at Death’s Door at a discount for the period you have specified.