Dr. Sandhya E: “Being a writer has complimented me as a Statistics Teacher to bring creativity to the otherwise abstract Subject”
Dr. Sandhya E. Malayalam writer, Statistics Teacher, Mohiniyattam dancer
Renowned writer, teacher and passionate about Mohiniyattam dance form, Dr. Sandhya E loves to wear too many hats, with least fuss. Although, she has written quite a number of books, her recent one being the collection of Malayalam poems, 4D. “If in Malayalam poet late Vayalar Rama Varma’s poem, Sandhya (Twilight) the poet had tried to put a sinthur on the parting day with one hand and with the other hand holding close the approaching night. But this Sandhya (pun intended, name of the poet and also mean Twilight) has apparently holding close to her both the day (story) and night (poem). Without the knowledge of twilight, the day and night interlace. This Sandhya is standing with an eerie silence between them. Precisely for that reason, how can this book not be dear to us”, writes author Ashtamoorthy, in his foreword of Dr. Sandhya’s collection of short stories titled: 4D, which is published by Green Books, Trissur.
Dr. Sandhya E bags many accolades for poems and short stories.
But before we know more about her literary and other pursuits, let us get to know her academics, which is astounding, to say the least. Dr. Sandhya E is Associate Professor of Statistics at Prajyoti Niketan College in Pudukkad in Trissur district of Kerala. Teacher, Professor or Scientist, all these and more befits this multifaceted genius.
Dr. Sandhya E is involved with three decades of research and 27 years of teaching. A first rank holder in her B.Sc. (Statistics) graduation, from Sree Kerala Varma College in Trissur, she also achieved third rank in M.Sc. (Statistics) from the Department of Statistics, University of Kerala. Subsequently, Dr. Sandhya pursued her M.Phil. also in statistics and secured A Grade. After she also accomplished NET/JRF from CSIR, Ph.D. (Statistics) from the Department of Statistics, University of Kerala and Research Associate-ship from CSIR at CUSAT. Feeling surprised about her academic achievements? Hold on! You will get flabbergasted, if you get to know more about this mild mannered, low profiled and soft spoken woman of substance. With her ego-less mannerisms and cheerful disposition, Dr. Sandhya E will create an enigma, if you hear her speak and the openness she displays with child like innocence and a motherly approach, something she might have imbibed close to three decades of teaching.
Dr. Sandhya’s academic recognition is even more mind-blowing. Involving in core research in a subject like Statistics has no correlation whatsoever with literature, leave alone performing arts and music. We have seen literary luminaries, but they remain in their own sphere. Pursuing Literature as a vocational study is common thing for budding writers and students with literary bend of mind. But, Statistics Research and Poetry or for that matter Mohiniyattam and Statistics! Do you think these kinds of varied passions can go hand in hand? Dr. Sandhya has proven that nothing is impossible. Coming back to the accolades she had received, Dr. Sandhya is the recipient of President’s Guide Award in 1979, Young Scientist Award conferred by Indian Science Congress Association in 1990, Prof MM Ghani Award for the best college teacher under the University of Calicut in 2011, Prof TSK Moothathu Best Paper Award in 2011, Prof Sivaprasad Foundation Award for Best College Teacher in Kerala in 2016; Sri Kerala Varma Puraskaram 2016 for outstanding Alumnus of the college and King Abdulaziz University Award for Scientific Publication in ISI cited journals (King Abdulaziz University is located in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia).
Beyond all these accolades, Dr. E Sandhya’s research activities even more impressive. She is a recognised guide of the University of Calicut and Mahatma Gandhi University. What is more, four students were awarded with PhD under her able guidance and currently two more students are pursuing their doctorate degrees under her tutelage. And that is not all. A whopping 50 research publications in various international and national journals have been published under her name including nine in conference proceedings. Sandhya has also presented 30 papers in various global as well as national conferences and seminars. She has iven 35 invited talks or extension lectures at various institutes in Kerala and other states including the lectures as a resource person in Refresher Courses.
Dr. Sandhya E is also a Reviewer to Mathematical Reviews of American Mathematical Society, in the US and a Referee to the Journal of the Indian Statistical Association in Pune; Statistical Papers, Dortmund in Germany; Applied Mathematical Letters in the US and Indian Journal of Paediatrics. That gives the wholesome picture of Dr. Sandhya, the scholar. Now let us get back to her literary and other pursuits.
Sandhya publishes poems and short stories in leading Malayalam periodicals such as Bhashaposhini, Mathrubhoomi, Madhyamam, Kalakoumudi, Keralakoumudi, Malayalam, Samayam, Akam, Janasakthi, just to name a few. Also, Sandhya has published many compilations of her literary works such as Patikal Kayarunna Penkutti (girl who climbs the steps) – a collection of her short stories, published by H&C Publishers Trissur in 2010, Perillavandiyil, (In an unnamed Vehicle) a collection of her poems, published by DC Books Kottayam in October 2015 and her collection of short stories by Green Books of Trissur called 4D in 2015. In addition to that, she has published another collection of poems, Sagaranidra, published by DC Books Kottayam in 2017. Anantharam Charulatha, a collection of short stories was published by Lipi Publications.
Sandhya is the recipient of several literary awards for her works. Her short story, Puzha Paranjathu (What the River said) fetched her the first prize in the short story competition held by Puzha.com in 2008. She again received the second prize for her short story, Patikal Kayarunna Penkutti in the Takazhi Cherukatha Puraskaram 2009. Sandhya’s short story, Jeevikkaan Manangal Athyanthaapekshithamaano? (Is divining a prerequisite to live?) bagged the Souhrdham Cultural Society Award 2013 and Kamala Surayya (Late Poet, Madhavi Kutty A.K.A. Kamala Das) Special Award in 2014. Sandhya also bagged the MS Surendran Foundation Award 2014 for her short story, Heathcliff and received the KMK Award 2015 and Nanma CV Sreeraman Award in 2016 for her short story Ormabank (Memory Bank). Furthermore, Sandhya’s short story collection Patikal Kayarunna Penkutti won the Kerala Kala Peethom Pakkanar Award in 2016. The same year, her collection of poems, Perillavandiyil fetched her the Kerala Kala Preethom Pakkanar Award. She also won the Thamarathoni Award of the Mahakavi P Foundation for her collection of poems, Perillavandiyil. The year 2016 was a milestone in her literary pursuit as the year saw many accolades flowing to her. She also received the Mazhavil Special Jury Puraskaram for her sort story, Ormabank in the same year. This year, her work, Perilla Vandiyil fetched her BCV Award and Avaneebala Award. In addition to these awards, Sandhya also received Chrulli Vasudevan Nambeesan Award for her poem, titled: Veendedukkal (Recovery). Last but not the least, her short story, Burj Khalifa received Thakazhi Sahitheeyam Ayappa Kurup Special Jury Award, the latest accolade she has received and also the trigger point for interacting with her to write a feature about this genius.
Sandhya has other areas of interests too. She is an amateur Mohiniyattam choreographer and dancer and performs whenever she gets a little bit of respite from her professional and literary commitments. Sandhya also heads and teaches dance to a women’s group, Ashtapournami and holds a Guinness World Records Certificate for performing Mohinyattam in which the most number of people participated at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on November 28, 2006. During her schooling days, Sandhya was the school leader and a member of Guides. She graduated in 1984 with first rank securing 99.7% marks, breaking the record.
After completing her PG with a third rank, Sandhya qualified in JRF (CSIR) and she joined for research under the guidance of Prof RN Pillai and she received her PhD in 1992. Subsequently, she worked as Research Associate (CSIR) in the Department of Statistics, CUSAT. In addition to that Sandhya had also pursued a PG Diploma in Higher Education from Indira Gandhi National Open University in 1999. Not content with that, she is also holding a masters degree in Psychology, also from IGNOU. Sandhya is a life member of both the Indian Society for Probability and Statistics (ISPS) and the Kerala Statistical Association (KSA).
She was also been a member of the Board of Studies in Statistics (UG), University of Calicut during 2008-2010 and Vice President of Kerala Statistical Association. Sandhya has been a question paper setter for three universities in Kerala. She has structured the syllabus for subsidiary statistics for B.Sc. (Psychology) in 2000 and 2014 of the University of Calicut. Sandhya was also part of the Committee in drafting the syllabus for B.Sc. Core and Complimentary Statistics for Psychology, Computer Science and Geography under Choice Based Credit and Semester System of the University of Calicut. Sandhya had been the Program Officer, National Service Scheme for two years during 2003-2005. She is the Coordinator of Research Committee and a member of IQAC in college. Also, Sandhya is in charge of Music Club, Debating Club, Dancers Club and Writers Forum. She is the Staff Editor of College Magazine and Editor of Multi Disciplinary Journal titled, Andromeda published from the college. She lives in Poothole with her husband, Dr Satheesh S, who is a Professor of Mathematics at Vidya Academy of Science and Technology and two sons, Aravind and Prahlad.
In a free-wheeling chat with The Indian.News Editor, Jayashankar Menon, Dr. Sandhya E talks about the literary and other aspects of her life. Excerpts:
TIN: Out of all your works, the short story collection, 4D has elicited lot of interest in the Malayalam literary circle. Can you share your experience of authoring this book?
SE: There are nine short stories in the collection of stories, 4D. Many of the stories in this book have fetched awards. When it comes to the experience, many of the stories in this collection I had not experienced it directly. Few stories are being heard in the society. Few of them I have first hand experience.
TIN: Also, yet another short stories collection, Patikal Kadanna Penkutti, which also elicited lot of interest. Can you throw some light on that book?
SE: In that collection of short stories too, incidentally, there are nine stories. The first story in that collection was much talked about. The name of that story is Aankuttikalude Amma (Mother of male children). I have two sons. So, naturally, many thought that story was based on my personal account. The circumstances women of female children and male children are different, when they undergo their lives. That way, there is an element of autobiography in this story. This story deals with two male children, particularly, when they are entering adolescence and how the mother manages to tackle their mood swings is the gist of the story. In this story, how a working mother is able juggle between her profession and maintain harmony in the family in a given day, I have narrated the birds eye view of it in a concise way. In the same book, there is another short story, titled: Puzha Paranja Katha (Story told by a river). In 2008, Puzha.com held a short story competition and this story won the award. This story deals with a lady executive and the issues she faces in her life.
TIN: In addition to being a story writer, you are also known as a poet. Can you speak about your passion towards poetry?
SE: Perilla Vandiyil (In the Nameless Vehicle) is the name of the collection of poems, published by DC Books in October 2015. The collection has 52 poems, which were published earlier. Many of these poems elicited lot of interest, few weren’t. Even then, this collection is one of my favourite work as it is my first poetry collection published in book format. I received Thamarathoni award for this collection of poems. So, this book is close to my heart.
TIN: Many of the poems in this collection deals with harsh realities of lives which happens in each household. Your observation is spot on. Can you share the cohesive focus you have in observing these types of situations…
SE: I was born late in the family. When I was a child, two of my elder sisters were grown up and parents too were aged. I hail from a conservative family. I never had anyone to play with, when I was a child. When I was a playful child my immediate sister was studying in Class X. The eldest sister was about to finish her graduation. At home, all were either grown up people or old including my aunts and their children who were living close by. In that sense, I had a lonely childhood. Even in the neighbourhood, I never interacted or played with the kids. I was always submerged in my thought my own lone world. I realised later in my life about the loneliness I had as a child. When I was a kid, I never realised that what I was actually missing. When I was around class III or so, I started reading, books like Narendranathan’s works. It was then I realised that there were other children too who had similar loneliness. Then I took to reading in a much more serious way. When I came to the world of reading it was natural progression to foray into the world of writing as well. Probably in my sub-conscious mind, I might have wanted to tell someone about my loneliness during my childhood and that might as well have triggered the inspiration to write later in my life. Both my sisters were literary students. One sibling was a post graduate in Malayalam and another too was a PG in English. That way, literature was part and parcel of our family. So, there always used to be lot of literary discussion at home and I got exposed to the literary luminaries through these endless discussions. My mother used to tell me lot of bedtime stories. Perhaps because of these combination of factors would have brought me to the literary world. I never had the habit of talking much as I was always either engrossed in my own thought or delving deep into the recesses of the ocean of knowledge.
TIN: Perilla Vandi, the collection of poems were well received, as many of those poems had contemporary relevance and when these poems were published in weeklies, even established and well known writers had lot of appreciation. what is your take on that?
SE: I am glad to share bits of experience from that collection of poems. There was this poem called Nissaram (Simple). That was published in Bhashaposhini magazine. After this poem got published, two weeks later, I got a registered letter to my college address. When I opened it, I was awestruck and found it difficult to trust my eyes. That letter was from one of the renowned poets, Balachandran Chullikad. The poet wrote that few of the poems had bruised his heart again. He had not mentioned whether he liked my poem or had dislike toward it. Nevertheless, I cannot even express now, how elated I was to see his letter. As far as I am concerned, that was the biggest achievement in my literary life. Many of the budding writers like me, who used hold Chullikkad in high esteem and adore his poems, when I received a letter from him, I was literally in cloud nine. In fact, I was yearing whether he read any of my poems. Just then the poem which was published in Bhashaposhini grabbed his attention and the eventual response from him that made me really happy.Similarly, through the literary path, I was able to connect with many great writers. Poet Rafeeq Ahmed had written a poem with the same name. And with the same poem, we were able to introduce ourselves.
TIN: Many of your poems, romance is the main theme. Can you elaborate on that…
SE: Romance is feeling that is there in every person’s heart. How much ever we write, romance never loses its novelty. If you take the poems, a majority of them would be based on love and romance. We are constantly in search of that eternal love, especially poets’ quest for it is common. In all romantic poems, there will be the reflection of it, the search of romance and the lack of it, the despair of love, the grief, the frustration…all these feelings will manifest in the poem, the laments and the intense feeling. Sometimes, when we tend to think that it is in fact love, will not be exactly the same feeling, rather it is infatuation. When you realise that it was a mere infatuation and not the lofty level of romance, the resultant feeling and the emotional outpouring makes a poem so poignant and touching. Romance is always close to any poet’s heart and it is human.
TIN: Which are the books and authors who have inspired you to pursue writing?
SE: When I started off reading, few child literature like Nandanar’s Unnikuttante Lokam, I even lost count of how many times I would have read that book. Even now I used to read that story to my children during Onam time. Similarly, I used to read almost all the books written by Narendranath. In all these books, there used to be a child character. I used to think that whenever I get an opportunity to write, I would love to write like the above mentioned authors. When I reached my adolescence, like many of us peers, MT Vasudevan Nair’s Manju (Snow) was my favourite book. Similarly, Malayatoor Ramaksrihnan’s Verukal (Roots) was my favourite book too. Importanly, MT’s books were a big draw back then. Likewise, Padmanabhan’s few stories. Madhavikutty, somehow, I could never comprehend then. Later, I got attracted to her works in a maverick way. In the poetry genre, I grew up hearing ONV Kurup’s poems, where my sisters used to recite and make me understand. Sugathakumari is another favourite poet. All these literary luminaries are all time favourite, although I also like many other authors and poets and their literary works.
TIN: You are a teacher and a poet too. How has your creative mind help you to deal with your Statistics students?
SE: A teacher is always involved in some creative pursuit or the other. Teaching involves lot of passion and creativity, devoid of it, we feel quickly bored with that profession. For me, my writings give motivation to be creative in my teaching profession too. My writings or literary pursuits compliment my profession. What I teach is the science of Statistics, which normally the perception is that it is abstract and dry. Even the children will not have great passion to pursue this vocation of study. Even students who join this course come with a preconceived notion that the teachers too will be mundane, devoid of any creativity and the proclivity teach in a creative way. To change that perception is cumbersome process. But when I face my students, they realise that I too am a creative person, who writes poems and stories, who has the same thought process like them and she too is emotional social animal, then the perception changes. The classroom environment changes. They take more interest in their studies. As a writer, I am amiable and approachable. Even children can meet me, discuss their personal issues like romances or some family issues. So, that way, being a writer has helped me to interact with my students in a cordial way.
TIB: You are also a dancer. Talk about your passion towards performing arts?
SE: I am not a professional dancer. Nevertheless, I was always passionate about dance. During my scool days, when children dance on stage, I used see and enjoy the aesthetics of dance. I never got that kind of opportunity to learn dance back then. But, when I went to Thiruvanathapuram to pursue my post graduation and when I started doing research, that was the time, I again got fascinated and started taking it serious. Wherever there was a dance concert in and around the city, I used to attend that event and enjoy it. I can’t be confined at home for too long. Back in Trissur, lot of cultural and other activities happen. In Regional Theatres, lot of dance programmes will be conducted. Since I am attracted to dance, I used to see a variety of performing arts such as Mohiniyattam, Kuchipudi, Bharathanatyam, Kathakali and more. In Thiruvananthapuram, if I come to know that a dance programme is happening somewhere in the city, I will be tempted to go as I was so passionate about dance. Though I don’t go for learning dance. I had two Gurus, Kalamandalam Shobha and Kalamandalam Husta Banu. I learned Mohiniyattam and hence I am more passionate about that dance form. Now what I do is self-composed choreography in Mohiniyattam. We have a small group consisting of housewives known as Ashtapournami, where I teach Mohiniyattam and Thiruvathirakali. We also perform at the Vadakunnathan Temple in Trissur.
TIN: As I writer, with whom you have indebtedness?
SE: KGS was the first person to make me understand that my writings were good and deserve to be published. He was the first person that I had showed my poems and short stories when I started pursuing seriously about writing and KGS really inspired me and instilled confidence in me that I will succeed as a writer. I was wanting to make him write a foreword for my first book, but, unfortunately, he couldn’t do that as he was held up in Bangalore. After that, for my following books, authors, Vishakhan and Ashtamoorthy wrote foreword. Both these authors really liked my short stories and wrote foreword with immense happiness. For my Perillavandi Attur wrote the foreword. I was a bit apprehensive to approach him and ask him for a foreword, as many told me that he might not be lenient on his comments and often he shred the writer in point to pieces, if the work is not up to the satisfaction of his stature. If we get a compliment from Attur, it would be more than the Nobel prize, Ashtamoorthy told me. So, I did go to Attur with a little bit of anxiety. He not only liked my poems, he had also told many of the senior literary figures that my poems are really excellent. Getting blessing from him is a great thing for me. Then about my friends as lot of them still encourage me. Out of them, one name I should be mentioning now. He is Dr. Chacko, who used to suggest me all major names of the magazines and encouraged me to send my poems and stories. At home front, they do read my poems or stories and appreciate it, but never be opinionated or suggest changes. Other than my friends, my colleagues in the college also encourage me. They not only complement me but would also take my poems and stories to their homes and make their people read and appreciate it.