She Reads South Asia


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Doctor Is In - An Interview with Sattar Memon, author of the Ashram

A Woman's Emancipation from Her Oppressive Culture and Fear of Men; A Physician's Overcoming His Inability to Cope with Death and Learning to Love

The Ashram awakens the consciousness and as Robert Gover (Editor, Writer’s Digest School) so aptly put it, “immerses the reader in a sensory bath that is India.” It is rich with culture and tradition. The characters are complex but so well-defined that we can easily relate to them, as they struggle with life and death questions and decisions; suffering as we all do.

Despite being fiction, it takes you to a time and place where suttee, although outlawed, still took place in reality. Steeped in mystery and spiritual enlightenment, it enthralls the readers and keeps them riveted to their seats as they anxiously turn from one page to the next, not wanting to put it down until the cat and mouse game, which will keep you guessing throughout, is solved and the secrets are revealed.

“It is the story of two people living on opposite ends of the world: one dreaming of death, the other running from it. Improbably, their fate lies wrapped in each other.” - Press Release

Dr. Jonathan Kingsley travels to an ashram in India, trying to escape his suicidal thoughts after the death of his wife. Hoping to find peace by helping others who seek out the shelter of the ashram, Jonathan encounters practices and rituals he never knew existed. As he searches for a reason to keep on living, a young woman struggles to keep her own husband alive, not only out of love, but for her own safety.

It is the hope of the author that those readers, who find themselves like Dr. Kingsley, battling with the demons of losing a loved one to suicide and going through the process of learning to love again or the women of this saga who are victims of abuse, will find a healing and a voice. The Ashram takes this fear and oppression and shows how such trials can lead into happiness and fulfillment.

Sattar Memon infuses this beautifully written story with all the love, experience and passion for life and writing that he has found within himself. It is this labour of love, which has been nurtured for ten years that has finally come to fruition and the results are EXTRAORDINARY! Definitely a novel worth waiting for! Allow yourself to be immersed in it and emerge a stronger person afterwards. Anyone reading The Ashram despite culture, background or walk of life, will be forever affected by the story it has to tell.

Simran: Where are you from and how has this influenced your writing?

Sattar M: I was born in a small village in Rajasthan, India. This is where most suttees happened. About 11 years ago I read a story in an Indian newspaper about a schoolteacher who was planning to sit atop a funeral pyre with her dead husband’s body and become what is called in India a “suttee”. I was devastated by her decision to allow herself to be burned alive with him, so as to “join his soul in heaven.” In a country where unfortunately, women are beaten, mutilated and raped, just because they are women, I couldn’t fathom why she would do this act voluntarily. Thinking that it would be a basis for a short story, eleven years later, it has become a novel. Also, being a cancer specialist for so many years, I have a lot of experience dealing with life and death situations.

Simran: When did your passion for writing begin?

Sattar M: The desire to write has been with me since childhood. And now, the dream has come true.

Simran: What is your favorite part about writing? Your least favorite?

Sattar M: Fantasizing. While penning down the character, I play the role in my mind. I even act and voice the dialogue for effect. (Yes, to avoid involuntary admission into a mental asylum, I keep my study doors closed). Second, it’s a great catharsis. Third, once the scene is complete, it flows in front of my eyes like a scene from a movie. There is nothing least favorite about writing.

Simran: What advice would you impart to aspiring writers?

Sattar M: Have patience, perseverance and a dream, but don’t quit your day job!

Simran: What challenges or obstacles do you encounter while writing? How did you overcome these challenges?

Sattar M: The first challenge was dispelling the fear that a medical doctor can’t write fiction. I went ahead and let the love I had for writing take over. Finding the time to write with an overwhelming work schedule was the second challenge. Keeping at it for ten years until I could complete it was how I overcame it.

Simran: Are there any other books, articles, short stories or poems that you have in print?

Sattar M: Yes, there‘s ‘Manohar’, which is a short story about the oppressed life of a poor gardener in India. ‘Valji, the Vegetable Wallah’, is a tale of an altruistic vegetable farmer, who is ruined by monsoon floods. ‘Indomitable Hope’ tells the saga of a struggling young breast cancer patient, who conquers her disease. ‘Send me an Angel’ is the true story of a WWII veteran, who fights against his imminent death - until a miracle helps him embrace the inevitable peacefully. Then there is ‘The Lesson a Patient Taught Me - Confessions of a Doctor’ and ‘Doctors, the Infallible Species’.

(The information on where each one of these was published can be found on the last page of ‘The Ashram’.)

Simran: The cover of the book is beautifully illustrated and really captures the essence of the story. Was it your concept to do it this way?

Sattar M: Yes, but it was painstakingly designed and redesigned by my friend Dr. Mahendar Paul, a famous, accomplished and much loved veterinarian from Cranston, RI.

Simran: For those not familiar with the term, an ashram is a spiritual hermitage where a guru or spiritual guide teaches. How is it that you chose it for the title of your book?

Sattar M: We all come to this place, rest stop, or spiritual hermitage to pay our dues, do our karmas and move on to the next step in the eternal cycle of nirvana. It seemed a fitting title for the story within its pages.

Simran: Do you see a portrait of yourself in Dr. Jonathan Kingsley?

Sattar M: Yes in some ways. I’m outspoken, loving, respectful…and not a bad doctor.

Simran: What message do you want people to come away with after reading The Ashram?

Sattar M: Hopefully, they will enjoy the story and it will have a positive effect both on their view of death and their ideas of women’s emancipation. Those readers, who find themselves like Dr. Kingsley, battling with the demons of losing a loved one (in this case, his wife) to suicide and going through the process of learning to love again or the women of this saga who are victims of abuse will find a healing and a voice. The Ashram takes this fear and oppression and shows how such trials can lead into happiness and fulfillment.

Simran: I understand you will be donating a portion of the proceeds to a deserving foundation.

Sattar M: The proceeds will be divided among several foundations that are connected to the basic theme of the book; including those who are involved in giving women who have suffered horrific tragedies a voice. My PR people are in the process of researching and contacting worthy charities.

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