Interview with Sujatha Sankaran

A Conversation with Sujatha Sankaran, Assistant Clinical Professor

Where are you in the family hierarchy? Please tell me about your family and growing up.

SSI am the second of two kids, and I have an older sister. I am also the baby of my extended family. Most of the extended family is in Southern India, and growing up I spent every summer with them. I am really close to my family; they are my support system. I was born in Miami and lived in New Jersey, Tucson, and Boulder where I went to college. When I was 7, we moved back to India and then returned. My parents were always open to moving and, even after my sister and I moved out, my parents moved around—from Florida, Virginia, then California. Moving around so much has had some bearing on my interest in global health because we spent so much time in places where I saw a lot of poverty. It was so informative and such a different way of living, more noisy and bustling. When I returned home, it seemed so quiet and different here. I think it definitely shaped who I am and who I became as an adult. I like being in a rural place, in a place of simpler living and being in the moment.

Is it true that Sujatha means beautiful? Was meaning important in choosing your own children’s names?

The meaning I was always told, which I hated, was “from a good family or background,” whereas my sister’s name meant “beautiful flower." There are probably different interpretations but I like your meaning better! My daughter’s name is a multicultural name, which can mean an Indian goddess or "illusion" or "the universe," and it is easier to remember than mine. My son’s name means "poet" or "seeker of knowledge."

When did you last talk yourself out of an impulse buy? And what was it?

I spent many years buying books and have an enormous book collection. It’s gotten to the point that my husband and I have been trying to downsize because we have a small house. There are a ton of books that I buy but haven’t yet read. There is a small used-bookstore near where we live, so these days I try to resist the impulse to even go into the store. Both my husband and I love to read. My favorite books are probably The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Midnight’s Children. As a reader, I prefer paper books as opposed to electronic books. I like the feeling of a book in my hand; the smell and feel of books is a familiar feeling that represents comfort to me.

Have you an artistic or creative side? What is your means of self-expression?

I like to write and it is something that I’ve done throughout my life—writing fiction and non-fiction. My sister is a published fiction author. Writing is a way for me to relieve stress and, now with the kids, I've been writing stories for my daughter and drawing pictures, even though I am not the best artist. Everyone who has kids probably feels that they could write a kids’ book because we're so used to reading them! I love kids' books: the illustrations and the use of language, the rhyming and alliteration. I would love to try writing a kids’ book.

Would you consider yourself an open book?

Probably not. I am open to people who I am close to but I do not put myself "out there" for everyone. When I put myself out there, sometimes I tend to be emotional and passionate and I may feel embarrassed, if it's a setting where I do not know people around me.

Who is the best cook you know and what specialty of his or hers do you particularly enjoy?

One of my best friends has a sister who is an amazing cook and writes a cooking blog and, like many of my friends, is a vegetarian. She does creative things with vegetables, like kale and other greens, and veggies that sometimes seem to be more difficult or unusual. I love to cook and I like using spices that I grew up tasting—coriander, cilantro, cumin, and turmeric—and using them with vegetables that may not be traditional in Indian cooking, like kale or butternut squash. I love making a butternut squash soup with coconut milk and adding Indian flavors. We get a community-sponsored agriculture vegetable box each week so lately there have been lots of squashes, sweet potatoes, and root vegetables, which I love roasting.

Is there a particular type of music to which you respond? Who are some of your favorite artists?

I love world music and musicians from Mali, India, and South America. I grew up playing the violin, in the classical Western tradition, and love violin music. I still have my violin and play it from time to time. I love listening to Indian violin music in the carnatic, classical South Indian music style. I like Ali Farka Touré, Amadou & Mariam, and Femi Kuti. I go through different phases and listen to different artists, depending upon my mood.

Thank you, Sujatha.

- by Oralia Schatzman

View Sujatha's professional bio | See previous faculty interviews