Writer and dancer Tulsi Badrinath is based in Chennai. Her first novel, Meeting Lives, was on the 2007 Man Asian Literary Prize longlist under a different title. She trained in Bharat Natyam from the age of eight and has performed widely in India and abroad. Her short stories have appeared in Namaste and Penguin’s First Proof 3. Her second novel, now titled Man of A Thousand Chances, was also on the Man Asian Literary Prize longlist, in 2008, and is about to be released. In an interview with Books Editor Yogesh Vajpeyi, she talks about her twin loves.
After your MBA from Ohio University, you worked for four years at Stan-Chart bank. What prompted you to switch?
Though the experience of working in the corporate world was very interesting, I found I wanted to express myself creatively. I had learnt Bharat Natyam from the age of eight, around the same time I started writing poems, and increasingly wanted to devote myself to these areas of artistic expression. Incidentally, my literary career began in the pages of Indian Express, when, in the 80’s, they carried a page called Youthink within the main newspaper, for literary efforts.
How did you conceive your first novel, Meeting Lives?
Having left the bank when my son was born, I found other women facing the same dilemma—whether to pursue a career or stay at home to raise their children. The book arose from my experiences of dealing with the new, often bewildering, experience of motherhood.
Why did you intersperse your narrative with verses from the Upanishadas and biographical texts of revered Vedantins?
I wanted to invoke the philosophy and world-view of Vedanta, and to see how far we practice it in our daily lives. The protagonist, Aditi, realises that in becoming a mother, she has also shaped a tiny human form, a new garment for an ancient atman.
Any continuity in The Man of Thousand Chances?
In my writing, I want to map both the geographical space we live in and the vertical spiritual space we occupy, to paraphrase Raja Rao, the writer-philosopher. The continuity in between my two novels is not so much in terms of theme, but in the exploration of this spiritual space. Meeting Lives looked at Vedanta, Man of A Thousand Chances examines the theory of karma.
How much research did it need?
It required some very specific research relating to coins and numismatics, as I was looking for certain themes to write about, and bring alive the character of the numismatist in my novel.
Is there any special reason for setting the novel against the backdrop of a museum?
Harihar, the protagonist, steals a rare gold coin from the museum where he works. This allowed me to write about the beauty of Indian art and aesthetics.
What does the protagonist Harihar signify?
Harihar Arora is a second generation North Indian settled in Madras. I thought it would be interesting to write about his life in south India.
Apart from storytelling, your fiction makes one think. Is this deliberate?
Well, I have always wanted to write fiction that rewards the reader at multiple levels, and something that offers new insights each time one returns to the book.
Writing and classical dance are your two passions. How do you integrate the two?
These are two distinct ways in which I express myself. They are complementary to each other, one using the body as an instrument of expression, and the other distilling thought in silence and near stillness.
What are you planning to write next?
A work of non-fiction