July 25, 2023

Double achievement for a KTU researcher from India – finished PhD and a novel in the same year

“My doctoral thesis was a catalyst for writing fiction,” says Vishnu Muraleedharan from India, who has recently graduated from Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) with a PhD. Vishnu was writing his first novel at the same time as his doctoral thesis and currently is finishing his third book.

Vishnu and Titty Varghese met more than ten years ago while studying at a university in India. By Titty’s idea, both of them decided to move to Europe for higher studies. For that, they both choose KTU Faculty of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities.

Vishnu Muraleedharan and Titty Varghese, KTU alumni from India

“We had an engagement ceremony in Lithuania, and afterwards – a marriage in a Hindu temple in Kerala, India while Titty was on her Erasmus trip for data collection,” explains Vishnu, adding that Titty was his main supporter during the demanding time while he was writing both scientific and fictional work.

The couple first moved to Lithuania in 2013.

Since that time, they together and separately travelled and lived in Finland, Dubai and the USA. However, now Vishnu and Titty consider Lithuania as their home.

“Culturally and society-wise Lithuania and India may seem very different. However, we have made friends who have become our family, and now we can see a lot of cultural similarities, too,” says Muraleedharan.

According to Titty, at home one has their family and friends’ support always, whereas, in a foreign country you have to rely on strangers. At first, Lithuanians stroke her as less cheerful than Indians, but this impression changed over the years. Titty thinks that people smile a lot more in Lithuania now than ten years ago.

“Around us, we have very welcoming and friendly people always willing to help. You only need to ask,” says Varghese.

Writing a thesis is somewhat similar to writing a novel

In 2022, Muraleedharan defended his doctoral thesis in political science at KTU Faculty of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities.

“Scientific writing helped me to polish my style,” admits Vishnu, thanking his supervisor Professor Thomas Bryer, who works both at the University of Central Florida and KTU, for his support and guidance.

Vishnu Muraleedharan and Titty Varghese, KTU alumni from India

For four years, every two weeks Bryer and Muraleedharan were meeting online for consultations. Although in academic writing one needs to base their statements on theoretical and empirical findings, and in fiction the narrative is based on one’s experiences and imagination, Vishnu believes that these two types of writing have a lot in common.

“To a great extent, my narrative ability to write fiction was facilitated by writing my PhD thesis. My supervisor helped me find my writing style and make it flow. This helped me to write my thesis and also, indirectly, influenced my fiction writing,” says Vishnu.

One year, from 2020 to 2021, Muraleedharan spent his days writing doctoral thesis, and nights – his first novel.

When asked about his writing rituals, Vishnu mentions having a special chair on which he sits and writes: outside in summer and the kitchen, in winter as he didn’t want to bother Titty and interfere with her sleep. However, the main help in accomplishing the gigantic task of writing a dissertation and a novel within the same year was his wife’s support.

“When Vishnu started writing his novel, I understood that he was doing something important. Inspiration is always motivating – for others, too. Our life consists of responsibilities, work, and things that we need to do, and we spend a lot of time fighting with harsh environment. When a person is writing, they are doing it for themselves. I see the charming nature of this process,” says Titty, who was the first reader of her husband’s work.

The third book will feature Lithuania

“To be able to write stories one needs to have experiences – my stories are set in the places that I’ve travelled and lived in. Imagination is important, but travelling, and meeting different people are the experiences I built my narrative on. Fiction also needs to be realistic, right?” says Vishnu, whose first novel Temple of Hope was published in India and is available for English speakers worldwide.

Temple of Hope tells the story of Duttan Ravindran, who, similarly to the author, is from Kerala in India. Like many young people, Ravindran has a dream of finding a secure job and creating a happy family. However, like many, he faces difficulties. According to Muraleedharan, his book focuses on a spiritual journey and emphasises the importance of soul-searching to find one’s true vocation.

Vishnu Muraleedharan and Titty Varghese, KTU alumni from India

Despite the novel being set in India and Dubai, its author says that the questions the book deals with are universal. According to Vishnu, the most important aspect of his story is finding a purpose in life while serving society.

“Wherever you live, when you are hit by a harsh reality you start to ask yourself: why is this happening to me? Who is giving the orders? What comes next? In this book, the main character tries to find these answers first by going to the most sacred and ancient place in India, Varanasi, and then – to meditate in the Himalayas mountains,” says Titty, who admits crying after finishing reading her husband’s first book.

In the meanwhile, the debut author has already finished writing his second book, which takes place in Kerala, West Bengal, Florida and California. The half-finished third book is telling about the experiences of an Indian student who comes to study in Lithuania.

Lithuanian and Sanskrit has 10 thousand similar words

The couple’s friends from Lithuania were also among the first readers of the Temple of Hope. After getting their appreciation, the Muraleedharan was encouraged to pursue publishing. For Titty and Vishnu, the support of their Lithuanian friends is very important.

“We speak Lithuanian now, so it’s easier for us to integrate into the local community,” says Vishnu.

In India, there are 22 official languages, among them – Hindi, the official language of the Indian government and Sanskrit, an ancient language that originated over three thousand five hundred years ago. Some parts of India, especially in the North, speak Hindi as their first language, but nobody uses Sanskrit to communicate. Instead, people from different Indian regions speak English among themselves.

After coming to our country, the couple from India found out that Sanskrit and Lithuanian have 10 thousand similar words. Jokingly they say that now they regret choosing Hindi instead of Sanskrit as their second language at school.

“India is vast and different – when you go from South to North you get different food, different tastes, culture and language. Lithuania is similar everywhere – bulviniai blynai in Kaunas and Vilnius taste the same,” says Titty with a smile.