Heart & Brain
A SciFi Anthology Connecting Both!
By Ramana Rao MLV Genre: Science Fiction Fantasy Anthology
The title of the book is “Heart & Brain”, a sci-fi anthology that attempts to connect the both. The work is to depict Indian signature thought in science fiction milieu.
Random Factor: A woman aspiring to become a ‘natural’ mother in a futuristic society encounters a random factor that she hasn’t anticipated.
Sphere: An Artificial Intelligence psychologist aspiring to create a ‘natural’ AI lands himself in a strange situation that endangers his very own ‘sphere’.
Speck: As astronomy professor and scientist, who experienced the most exhilarating event and the most painful event of her life the same day, forty years ago, finds her ‘self’ in the most unexpected quarters.
Replay: An expert in Virtual Reality, who came to India to address a seminar with a hidden agenda, faces a situation that changes her life, forever.
Survival: a cosmic event that made a small physiological change in human race results in a series of events that not only endangers human existence but also lays a path for the destiny of human race – to be discovered and followed.
I have been a teacher since 1984 and critical thinking and verbal teacher since 2000. While I was a bad student during my education, I have become a good student during my teaching profession, learning more from my students than from my colleagues.
Though a published author in late 80s, I have become an academic author by writing a GMAT Sentence Correction book for Pearson India. Now, I am trying my hand in sci-fi and literary fiction. Heart & Brain is a book close to my heart because it explores the scientific side of emotion as well as emotional side of science.
I really appreciate your constructive criticism to improve my craft and a positive one, if you feel like giving, a pat on my shoulder to write more.
Can you, for those who don’t know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I am Ramana Rao, a teacher and aspiring writer. I am from Hyderabad, India. I have been in teaching since 1984. I am on the verge of retiring and am now planning to start a new career as a writer.
My becoming an author is a process, rather than an incident. Perhaps, the fibre has been in my right from the beginning. I have been teaching critical thinking for GMAT test takers since 2000. In the classroom, we actually try to achieve the very basic objective of story-telling – that is creating and sustaining interest. So, my authoring has been in a different ‘format’ all the while. That is in the form of teaching. The writing process as we all know was something I started in early 80s by writing short stories (in the usual sense, I mean), which were published in my vernacular. A teacher by profession, and a persistent student that I have to become by virtue of becoming a teacher are two facets that have tempted me to become an author.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
I think both things are in the same thing as far as I am concerned. I want to start a new career at the age I should retire. The other day, my classmate Raghu Ram told me that KFC owner started his career at 74. So, it might not be unique. But it is surely quirky in the place where I come from. Now I want to leave behind some legacy before I ‘depart’!
Tell us something really interesting that’s happened to you!
I think it is life itself! It has offered me many sweet memories and painful ones as well, each enriching the other. Of course, it has offered me a sweet family, with grown-up daughters and a son, all with their own families, luckily myself included in all the families!
What are your pet peeves?
Well, I have many. The most important one being the realization that I have never used my fullest potential in any of the fields I have experimented on. This will be my answer if the word ‘peeves’ means ‘sources of annoyance’.
Where were you born/grew up at?
Perhaps countryside has been a part of my childhood. I was born in a small village in Andhra Pradesh, India, and grew up in the pristine innocence of village, thoroughly absorbing the purity all through my childhood.
If you knew you’d die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?
Perhaps trying to write a few pages that might create a legacy I have always wanted to left behind, and spending a few hours with my grandkids who haven’t really seen the real ‘me’! hey, I mean it in a good sense.
Who is your hero and why?
It is certainly my departed wife! She knew how to love unconditionally and I believe that is really a herculean task. Loving a person with all his flaws is never an easy thing. I believe she had mastered that art. Her greatest weapon is innocence and what else do we need from life? That’s why she still lives in my mind, every minute of my consciousness.
What kind of world ruler would you be?
I sincerely believe that I don’t deserve that! If, by some miracle, I became one, I would like to become of the kind who understands pain of others, both physical and mental I mean. I believe the world today need such leaders with no hidden agenda. It may sound too idealistic or romantic. Still, it should’ve been the way!
What are you passionate about these days?
Certainly, about writing. If I am not so, I don’t deserve to be a writer. And there is one more thing. I am kind of reliving in my memories what I have lost in my real life.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
Honestly speaking, I am not much of a social animal. I prefer solitude and silence that ‘recharge’ my mind to make me strong enough to ‘enjoy’ company of others. But, remember, I am not a sociopath… it has just so happened that I like musing that can result from being alone.
How find time to write as a parent?
Well, as a grandparent? That is simple! Leave everything about their kids to your kids and you will have all the time in the world! Don’t try to dictate the terms of parenting to your sons or daughters, for they are living in an entirely different kind of world. I believe we should not judge the present by past standards.
Describe yourself in 5 words or less!
A human, though with flaws!
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I first ‘created’ a story to tell my teacher to escape punishment for not doing homework during my fifth class, I believe. I did not know that I was considering myself a writer then, but that was what I actually did when I was successful in the attempt!
Do you have a favourite movie?
I do! The Abyss is my all-time favourite. The reason is simple. If human mistakes are corrected by a power beyond our comprehension, it is really sweet, right?
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
Well, I am working on a novel soon. But, relating your question to my short stories, why not all of them? When you dream, why should dream in black and white? You can dream in Eastman colour or… with the latest technology whatsoever.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
Honestly speaking, none.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
If a writer seeks to select an avatar or a mascot, it should be a very difficult talk because he lives different lives in different characters. In my opinion, both pure white and pure black have their purities in their own right and in their own might. Moreover, a writer certainly understands that true feelings defy words and true emotions defy any form. So, I would like to select a ‘formlessness’ capturing the essence of both white and black as a mascot! It might be a strange choice, but I feel a befitting one!
What inspired you to write this book?
They always say that heart has no logic and science has no emotion. My firm belief that both of them are mutually complementary, rather than mutually exclusive, has made me write this book. I sincerely tried to attribute emotion to logic and logic to emotion! I believe intuition is the invisible fibre that connects both.
Read this excerpt from the short story ‘The Reply’, a story from this anthology. This depicts my inspiration.
"That is how technologies become successful, Ruth. A technology that needs an action going against innate human tendency can never be successful." Observing the confusion in almost all of them, she started to explain, "I will tell you a parallel to help you understand. Suppose your car's right wheel lands in a deep ditch. In which direction do you need to turn the steering wheel? Left? That is anti-clock-wise direction, am I correct?" She watched all of them nodding their agreement.
She knew she was able to kindle their curiosity, and as a psychologist, she knew how to use it. "The technology has been and should be designed that way. The philosophy behind this engineering is simple. Your body tends to tilt towards the left when it is losing its balance in the right-ward direction – your body movement has that innate tendency. And the steering wheel is also designed that way."
For the true teacher that she certainly was, making people understand complexities would give professional satisfaction, which was visible in Suvidha's face. "Suppose the steering wheel was designed in such a way that you need to turn the steering wheel in a clockwise direction when your car’s right wheel goes into a deep ditch, then there is a conflict between your 'natural' tendency and the movement required by the technology. Then obviously, a natural movement wins, and an accident becomes inevitable!"
The takeaway is this; any technology that does not consider human nature cannot survive. This is the primary thought that made me write the book.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I am currently working on a lit fiction with a strange agenda. It has no tales or twists. It contains just ‘raw emotions’ that take their origin in hearts and are churned in brain. I fondly hope that I will be successful in my current endeavour. I am also planning a sci-fi novel with the same basic premise! I sincerely seek all your support for this effort of mine.
Do you have any “side stories’ about the characters?
I believe that ‘side stories’ define or confine the nature of the characters. From that perspective, they are the ‘central’ stories in their own merit. The side stories in my characters decide the central nature of the characters. For example, the father of the protagonist, who crops up in just two or three sentences of the story The Sphere defines what the protagonist is! So is the case with Animisha’s husband in the story The Speck. I don’t want them to be called side stories. They are the canvas on which the character is painted! Can we imagine a painting without a canvas? Unfortunately, the significance of the canvas goes into oblivion when protagonist comes to the fore. Just as the subject of a painting does.
Can you tell us a little about the characters in “Heart & Brain”?
Well, they are as human as you are or as I am. The only difference is that they might have a different ‘canvas’ on which their lives are presented. The conflict between science and emotion is as old as that between human and nature.
For example, Suvidha, the protagonist of the story The Replay, is human because she has the conflict between her desire for revenge and her basic human nature. Usually, one should prevail at the expense of the other. What if both win and both lose at the same time? The battle field for the struggle is, of course, the arena of scientific innovation, making the age-old conflict a science fiction plot.
Pratima, a would-be mother in a futuristic society that does not allow women to give birth, is strong enough to face the random factor and the consequences resulting from her decision. When a human being is eager to embrace the sweet fruits of nature, he/she should be ready to embrace even the ‘sour’ realities of nature as well, right? after all, probability is factor that cannot be removed in any outcome.
I sincerely hope that all the characters are as real as the next-door neighbours of yours, and, at the same time, as chimeric as the dragons of the fantasies. Striking a balance between the two contradicting aspects in character-creation is the challenge I faced during the birth of almost every word! I earnestly hope that I have found a golden-mean.
How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
Well, they just jump into my story right from my own house or from my neighbouring one. Coming to concepts, they are ‘slight’ extrapolations of very common-sense things. Let me give you a simple example from the story Survival. We take many things for granted in our life. What if one simple thing is not so? We unconsciously breathe every second of our living life. What if it becomes ‘voluntary’? This is a simple idea and forms the crux of the story.
Where did you come up with the names in the story?
Well, the names of the characters are kind of ‘presaging’ elements. For example, the name ‘Suvidha’, which in Sanskrit means ‘a lady following the right path’, lives up to the sense of the word, of course, in the form of character! The same is the case with Animisha in the story The Speck. Well, I am not going to give the spoiler. Read the book and find it yourself!
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I do enjoy the pain and the pleasure of the characters that took their birth in my brain and, in my heart as well. I enjoy the life I impersonated or, you can say, I created to offer them. Only a woman can enjoy the true bliss of giving life. As a writer, I experienced at least a bit of it, during the mental battles I had to fight on their behalf (while I was writing the book), and they have to fight on my behalf (after the characters were born in the world of literature).
Tell us about your main characters – what makes them tick?
I believe any commercial fiction or movie can be successful only when the reader or observer identifies himself/herself with the character. They must be ‘that’ real and at the same time that ‘fantastic’! All the characters in all my stories are ‘main’ characters, because if they are not ‘main’, they don’t deserve to be ‘born’ in my mind. I believe this ‘psychedelic’ nature of the characters is that may, I fondly hope, make them tick.
As I told you earlier, the ‘canvas’ is important. Even the villain undertaking the most gruesome act is just as right and moral as the scrupulous protagonist. It is the background that makes the villain do that nefarious act and it is ‘our’ background that makes us judge the act. I believe I have undertaken this process of catharsis. I have attempted to ‘cut and paste’ a piece of your soul, my soul or anyone’s in the words I used to depict my story. This might make the characters tick with the readers.
How did you come up with the title of the book?
Heart and Brain is a title because the whole thing about them, nothing else. Hence the title. Mind you! Don’t expect a story by that title.
Who designed your book covers?
Please answer my question. Is it good? If this is the answer, I will disclose the names. If that is not the answer, then ‘I’ designed it.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book?
Certainly no. After the baby comes out of her body, can the mother do anything to change the baby? She has no moral right to do so. The same is the case with me. Once the words flowed out my mind and found their place on a page, I am as ‘outsider’ to them as you are!
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
After writing the book, the author ‘rediscovers’ his own self. This certainly happened to me and I am so addicted to the euphoria that I want more and more of it.
If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Let me dream in IMAX level! Susan Sarandon. I still remember her unparalleled performance in Dead Man Walking.
Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Well, I would like to tell two things. First, your constructive criticism hones my skill and positive feedback pats on my shoulder, encouraging me to move towards perfection, which is an eternally elusive objective. I will be thankful for both, more so in the case of the former.
Second, a good story should achieve what it is designed for – giving a thrill to the reader. Because of this, I have always liked great twists in the ending and have actually attempted to create them. A good story should come to life in the minds of readers ‘after’ they complete it. That has been my aspiration and your reaction after reading my stories will tell me whether I have been successful or not. Thanks for that!
What is your favourite part of this book and why?
Do we ask a mother whether she likes the baby’s nose or baby’s eyes more? She loves all of it. The same is the case with me! The problem is that a mother loves a weaker baby more because she cares for it more. I need to discover the answer for this question and that is possible only after the honest responses of my critics and readers.
If you could spend time with a character from your book, whom would it be? And what would you do during that day?
If I answer this question honestly, you would consider me a sentimental fool. Even at that risk, I want to answer. I would spend time with Sparsha – the wife of the protagonist in the story ‘The Sphere’. I remember her character because of the ‘unconditional love’ she offers. If I could, I would spend the day – by living my life ONLY for her. This is something I couldn’t do with my wife Vijji when she was alive. Despite my regret, I cannot do anything now. It is the real regret of my life.
Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
The characters are certainly based on real people, but the settings in which they live are from my imagination. For example, the character of Pratima, who wants to become a natural mother in The Random Factor was inspired the wife of my close friend, who unfortunately doesn’t have children.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story?
You cannot hijack yourself, right? The same thing is true even for my characters. They are the integral part of the story and the story is an integral part of them. Instead of using the word ‘hijack’, if you choose to use ‘elevate’, then, my answer is a certain yes! Then, both the story and the characters do have the reigns. Of my imagination and storytelling.
Convince us why you feel your book is a must read.
This is really a tough question. The difficulty doesn’t imply that the book is not worthy of your attention. I can interpret this question in two different ways! One as a marketing person, (which I am not, because I am an academician) and two as a writer, (one I certainly aspire to be).
Answering the question in the authority of the former is not actually my cup of tea. Read one story completely and if you really feel that the book is worthy of a few hours of your life, go ahead and read it completely. It is like offering a sample sachet of shampoo newly introduced into the market. But, I am confident that the book is certainly worthy of your time!
Coming to the second qualification, yes, I have something to add. Reading any book is like letting your consciousness live the ‘consciousness’ of another creative person. I am confident that at least a minute of your life gets translated into a few thoughts that are elucidated in these stories. You will find the battles you experienced in your mind in the minds of the characters and in the mind of the writer. The thrill of a rollercoaster ride is likely to be found in their minds, and subsequently in your minds!
Go ahead and see whether I am right or wrong!
Have you written any other books that are not published?
No. I have written two books, this being the second one. The first was an academic book ‘GMAT Sentence Correction’, published by Pearson India. However, I have written many books in my mind that are still awaiting publication!
If your book had a candle, what scent would it be?
A really great question! The scent would be that of human spirit and human emotion, both scents admixed to create ‘humanness’ in home sapiens.
What did you edit out of this book?
Being honest till now, I don’t think it makes any sense to be otherwise at this juncture. All of us appreciate ourselves in the mirror. There will be at least one feature that we wish we did not have. That is really true! I did find some characteristics that undermine the image of my characters. As their creator, I have the responsibility to at least hide them! I did that really, but don’t want to divulge it to my readers. The reason is pretty simple. Your kid should flawless to others!