An Empty Chair Interview with Saranya Murugiah

One writer down, but still so many to go. This time I’m talking with Saranya Murugiah (try saying that 3-times quickly), also known as Miss.Leo.Gal, a regular contributor on Bantaa91.

This is the first time I’ve met Saranya, so I’m not quite sure what to expect. I’ve read her work, and particularly liked her ‘International Student’ series. I’ve decided to make that the focus of our interview – partly because it could make for an interesting topic, but also because it’s the only series of hers I actually bothered to read.

I meet Saranya at Brisbane’s South Bank, overlooking the river. It’s a beautiful sight (in a gunky-brown sort of way). We exchange pointless Bantaa (#Bantaa91 #self-reference #chief-editor-am-I-doing-a good-job? #is this still funny?) about the weather and shit as the generally accepted social-contract dictates we should.

I admire her pleasant smile. It’s like a pinecone which tumbled all the way down the tree only to somehow end up back where it started… but you know, in a good way. It reminds me of my former college years back when I had no fucking clue what I was doing (wait, did I go to college? It’s hard to recall now – I feel like my memory is failing me from all those nights of endless drinking, oh wait… that’s my life right now, never mind).

I hope she’s doing better.

 

I seem to have become distracted for a few moments too many as Saranya is now looking at me with an expression of mild-to-severe concern (most likely somewhere in-between).

“Shall we begin?”

She asks cautiously.

Not wanting to scare off my next victim, pardon… subject, I get with the program and do just that…

 

“When did you first become interested in writing?”

“I first became interested in writing when I was 18. At the time, I was in a ‘General Studies’ class during A-levels. We would always discuss various issues in debate and try to form opinions. Following that, we had to write those opinions in a more formal style.

I always enjoyed those sorts of tasks because they gave me the freedom to express myself ways I had never done before. I was even inspired to start my own blog, although I haven’t exactly kept it on-track consistently since then.

However, when I came to Australia, I felt that people should know my story; I wanted them to know who I was and be an inspiration to them. It’s not always easy to leave your home, friends, and family and move to a whole new country. I know too many people who just get so comfortable with being where they are in their lives, but I’m not one of them.”

“Wait a minute, did you say you CAME to Australia? But that means you’re a… a…”

“Another-place-from-person!!”

 

A deathly silence falls over the riverside and even the birds pause mid-flight in shock. A frog by the bank drops its jaw (do frogs have jaws?) as if in incredulous anticipation of what might happen next.

Meanwhile, Saranya just stares at me blankly as if I’m an idiot (am I?)…

“Uhh… yeah.”

Well, if the frog is on her side, then I guess I can put my [insert negative personality trait here] aside and continue this ribbeting Interview…

 

“Oh, ok then. No worries.”

You might be asking yourself, dear reader how it might be possible that I was not aware of Saranya’s backstory. Her previous stories on that EXACT subject and my idiocy aside, surely I had noticed her slight accent by now… but this a written interview, not an audiotape, you hairsplitting nitpicker, you. And that would have gotten in the way of a semi-decent joke now, wouldn’t it?

Anyway, I’ve clearly oversold it at this point, and Saranya is about to take advantage of my inner-monologue and split. Let’s do this thing…

 

“Can you tell us a little about ‘A Kingdom of Happiness’? Would you like to plug your personal blog?”

Thankfully Saranya has the patience of a saint and didn’t pull the old ‘South Bank-shuffle’ on me while simultaneously making that an actual thing.

[Note to self: make ‘the South Bank-shuffle’ an actual thing]

 

She, the birds, and the frog resume their regular everyday disposition prior to my redundant ramblings, and – oh damn it, I’m doing it again, aren’t I?

“A Kingdom of Happiness is a personal blog with various random thoughts on it. It might not make sense to most people, but it’s an important way for me to tell my story. It’s where my life journey begins and it’s a good way to show people that things don’t always stay at that low-point in life.”

She smiles knowingly…

 

“What’s your typical inspiration for writing?”

“My inspiration usually comes from real life experiences and memories; I just write down random things that come into my mind and see where they go. If my stories serve to inspire or raise awareness of other people in my situation amongst my readers, then I’m satisfied.”

Simple, but to the point. Aren’t short and sweet answers just the best?

 

“How have you found life in Australia?”

“Hmmm…”

She contemplates as if she hasn’t already read the list of prepared questions I provided her, then continues…

“Finding my feet in a new country is tough, especially when I had some twenty-four years to build a life back home.”

“Sometimes I’m completely amazed at just being here and feel like I’m really going somewhere; other times I feel like I have no absolutely no idea what I’m doing.”

“It takes time to build a life in a new country, and I guess I’m still a baby in that sense – I still fall down at times. One baby-step at a time is how I manage.”

 

“What made you want to move to a new country in the first-place?”

“I made the decision because I have always enjoyed travelling and exploring my potential. I was getting too comfortable back home – always taking the easy way out and never really challenging myself.

I needed to get out of my parent’s house, and being the brown girl I am, I knew it was never going to happen unless I made the decision to either run away from home, or pursue something more meaningful in my life.”

“So I decided to raise the stakes and move to a new country entirely!”

“Besides, moving to the capital city of Malaysia was a lil too mainstream for my liking.”

She winks at me as if I should get the joke… I don’t.

For the ignorant boobs out there, Malaysia 🇲🇾  is in ASIA! Funny, right? Betcha didn’t know that! It’s nestled somewhere between Thailand 🇹🇭 and Singapore 🇸🇬 , and if you don’t know where they are, then I’m afraid I can’t help you…

 

“So why Australia 🇦🇺 ?”

“The reason I chose Australia is pretty basic.”

Kangaroos, kangaroos, oh please let it be kangaroos…

“Australia is the closest English-speaking country to Malaysia, so yeah.”

Damnit! It’s not the kangaroos… (#kangaroos)

“As much as I wish I was a millionaire, I’m not. Australia’s currency exchange rate was easier to deal with in comparison to the UK 🇬🇧  or US 🇺🇸 .”

I feel a swell of patriotic pride for being a citizen of her third choice.

“The reason I chose Brisbane out of all the cities in Australia (because there are so many to choose from, right?) was because I’m better-suited for the weather here than the others.”

Fair call…

“Plus, I have this amazing cousin living in Toowoomba!

For those amongst our international audience, Toowoomba is located 125km from Brisbane, or ‘just down the road’ by Australian standards…

“I knew that I’d need a support system when I moved country, so here I am!”

I can’t help but feel that she left out a few other positive qualities of my home country, but I’ll take what I can get.

 

“Is there anything in particular you miss from back home?”

“I miss the food.”

Now I get it…

I can’t help being a foodie, and I grew up on an island known as the ‘Food Paradise of Malaysia’.

No contest.

 

“What advice would you give someone planning to do the same as you have?”

“Be prepared to feel uncomfortable. You might have read plenty of articles in-advance and THINK you’re wise enough to move to a new country, but no.”

“You’ll soon begin to realise just how misleading that confidence you had prior to taking your first step really was.”

I can’t help but be reminded of how desperately I wished someone had advised me to bring toilet paper when I first moved to China…

“That doesn’t mean you can’t do it, of course. Luckily for me, I’m in a friendly country where all you gotta do is ask and people are more than happy to help you.”

This particular version of Australia is foreign to me, but I’m happy to take her word for it.

“You just need to be mentally prepared and get your ass out there and mingle with other people.”

Damned good advice. I should take it myself sometime, being as I am a foreigner in a strange land myself, wait… no. I’m in Brisbane right now speaking to Saranya in-person… yeah. The empty chair is real… (#premise)

 

“What’s your latest project in the works?”

“At the moment, I’m writing a piece about grief and relationships, but it’s far from ready yet. I write my thoughts down to clear my head when my brain get too cluttered, and lately, being a student and all, my mind has been more cluttered than usual trying to keep up with assignments and stuff.”

Throughout our interview, I’ve had a tingling feeling that Saranya has been holding back somewhat. I sense there’s something about her story that she doesn’t want to tell in all its juicy detail. Maybe she’s not comfortable enough with me yet (I wonder why?), or maybe I’m just not asking the right questions… At any rate, it’s time to hit her with a doosey…

 

“What is your relationship with Jai Reddy?”

Ha-haaa, I’ve got her! I’m a real journalistic investigator now – digging into people’s personal history and shit…

“I’d say he doesn’t feel the same way I do, but to me, he’s a great buddy!”

Well that was an anticlimax if ever there was one. I guess I’m not as good as I thought…

“Jai came about as a good companion when I was at my lowest point in life in Australia. He might not always know how to be an amazing friend back, but he always listens to me and offers solutions.”

That’s more like it…

“I’ll never forget him saying how he would always have my back. At the time, I was doing some crazy and impulsive things, and his support really meant something to me. I’ve had some amazing experiences with him, and I want to tell him that I’ve got his back too, if ever he needs me.”

I sigh with an air of senility…

 

“I’m so glad to hear you say that Saranya, because I have a surprise for you…”

Her eyes widen in utter bewilderment.

“Oh?”

I nod vaguely in the direction behind her. She slowly turns and spots a tall dark figure looming gloomily behind the bushes…

Could it be… is it really him… it is… It’s Jai’s back!

Saranya and a Jai’s back share an awkward embrace of friendship.

“Naaawwwwwww…”

I shed a tear as I watch the two backs walk off hand-in-hand into the sunset.

This is what makes it all worth it.

This is what makes…

Empty Chair Interviews

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