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Up close with her city

Writter and dancer Tulsi Badrinath. Photo. M. Moorthy

Writter and dancer Tulsi Badrinath. Photo. M. Moorthy   | Photo Credit: M_Moorthy

A place never remains the same. Not just in terms of physical changes it undergoes with time but through people who occupy it too. But, as change is inevitable, so are certain constants that characterise a place. Banker-turned dancer-writer Tulsi Badrinath, in her latest book, Madras, Chennai and the Self: Conversations with the City, takes a close look at her city by creating layered images of it by traversing through her memories and putting between the pages stories of those who call it home.

In New Delhi for the launch of her fourth book, Badrinath, a Bharatanatyam dancer whose earlier books Meeting Lives and A Thousand Chances were long-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize, takes up a few questions on it.

Excerpts from the interview:

Which do you prefer, dancing or writing? What led you to do this book on Madras/Chennai in the excellent format you have chosen?

I love both, I cannot privilege one over the other. That said, the writer in me is always observing the world, including that of dancers.

Many books have been written on Madras/Chennai, mostly about its history. I believe that a city is defined by its people, and their experiences in turn colour their understanding of the place. When I read about Seshadri, the Iyengar priest who pursued his passion for karate, he exemplified for me the people in this city, who straddle the traditional and the modern with grace. I wanted to find more people like him and write about them.

At the same time, I did not want a bunch of interviews, there had to be my voice as well threading these different narratives together.

I feel the autobiographical chapters have come off better, do you agree?

Well, there is one chapter which means a lot to me because it describes a house where I spent a lot of time growing up. Today, Perunkulam House does not exist, and sadly M. Krishnan and his wife are no more. I’d like to think I've succeeded in taking people right into their home and introducing them to Indu and Krishnan.

Do you regret that the book is not appearing abroad?

E-books are accessible from anywhere. Pan Macmillan India commissioned this book and as with every book, it will have its own fate and its own way in the world.

Dancing gives a live audience and the experience of it is differently satisfying….

This links back to your first question. There is so much preparation that goes on before a performance but the actual event is something quite magical. It is never the same as the rehearsal.

I’ve written about that thrill of being on stage in Meeting Lives, my first novel. I was lost, far away. Perfect, perfected, in time and yet out of it, aware of my limbs held in position, but lost to everything else.

What advice would you give to new dancers and writers? Which should they opt for—dancing or writing? Isn’t writing more permanent?

I think advice has to be specific, tailored to each person’s abilities. That said, whatever compels you, drives you... submit to it.

Yes, the body is impermanent and one is trying to transcend time through the very mortal and imperfect vehicle of the body in movement. Books seem more substantial, but who can say if they will still be read ten, twenty years later? I am grateful that I have been given these two ways of living in the moment... dancing through them and then reliving the experience in words.

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Printable version | Aug 9, 2020 2:52:03 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/tulsi-badrinath-on-her-latest-book-madras-chennai-and-the-self/article6982200.ece

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