words: Ambica Gulati
I met Tulsi Badrinath when I was a full time, employed journalist in 2010. But destiny weaves a web with some people. It was just another interview with an author who had been nominated for the Man Asian Literary Prize longlist in 2008. She was a soft-spoken, approachable author, better than most egoistic ones I would meet often enough. But then we met again and I was no longer fully employed and Tulsi Badrinath had written a new book, Master of Arts. From then on I realized that Tulsi is not only soft spoken, she also has a soft heart. Reading the Master of Arts, I was struck by her creative spark and her reverence for people who are important in her life. Each chapter on the guru is followed by a chapter on Badrinath. So when I got a copy of Madras, Chennai and The Self, I was wondering what would be new in this. It has turned out to be better reading. There is the city, its real life people, its transition and its roots. There is a movement within the same circle of brightening up the culture and the roots, the good and the bad of the town, the history which gives it an air of grandeur and the ability of the city to absorb, retain, throw out and still grow. Excerpts from our email conversation:
Chennai is hometown. How difficult or easy is it to write about the places and people you know too well?
Writing is never easy. And for any book, one has to identify the angle of approach. Many books have been written on Madras, and on Chennai. The challenge was to do something new.
Are all the people you are talking about people you have personally known or know? What has been their reaction to this portrayal?
As I have said in my introduction, I had to go out of my comfort zone to write this book. I met and interviewed complete strangers who were kind enough to be a part of this book. I think they are quite appreciative of the portrayal not only of themselves but of the others as well.
Like most authors, why didn’t you weave some fictional story around the people and places you know so well?
I have written two novels set in Chennai, Meeting Lives and Man of A Thousand Chances. This book is one of narrative non-fiction.
Which has been your favourite portion of the book, the place you are fond of, the person you associate with?
My personal favourite is the chapter called Thinnais and Inner Spaces, excerpted here in Scroll.in
Who makes you happy in Chennai?
As everywhere in the world, the sight of a baby or young child.
From Madras to Chennai, what difference has the name made for the city, its culture, its people?
Madraspatnam and Chennapatnam were twin names of two settlements, the British and the native, side by side near Fort St George built in 1640. To quote from my book, ‘While Madras went on to lend its name to the larger southern peninsula or Madras Presidency, it also absorbed Chennai into its fold as it grew…In the past ten years especially, there has been rapid change of the sort that leads people to distinguish ‘hip’ Chennai from ‘boring’ Madras.’ The change of name has led to people referring to the traditional aspects of the city as old Madras and the newer mall culture as Chennai. But they exist in the same geographical space.
What is still the USP, the pulse of the city?
The emphasis on following traditions while accepting change, though at a much slower pace than other metros.
What keeps you rooted in writing about people you have known, as they are, rather than as you imagined them to be?
Some books are better written as non-fiction than fiction. When I want to imagine people, I turn to fiction.
What do we read from you in the future?
Read this book first! 🙂
Price: Rs 299
Publisher: Pan Macmillan India