Hear the Nightbird Call
Anita Rau Badami's first novel was the hugely successful bestseller Tamarind Woman. Her bestselling second novel, The Hero's Walk, won the Regional Commonwealth Writers' Prize, Italy's Premio Berto, and was named a Washington Post Best Book of 2001. It was also longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize and the Orange Prize for Fiction, and shortlisted for the Kiriyama Prize. Her third novel, Can You Hear the Nightbird Call?, was released in 2006 to great acclaim and has been published in several languages.
Anita Rau Badami
Why is satire, feminine and at times strangely seductive, so important to you or your work?
I like using humour, irony, and gentle satire in my fiction to highlight the follies and failings of humankind. It is a necessary part of my writing because I believe that creating fiction is more than the act of telling a story. It is also a way of looking at society and the characters who make up that society, understanding them and their motivations, and critiquing their actions.
Death, both physical and metaphorical (Death of freedom, liberty), looms large in The Hero's Walk (Winner of the Regional Commonwealth Writer's Prize). Can you explain your understanding of this theme a bit for us?
This is a question that requires more than a page to answer. I believe that the various nuanced interpretations of death should be left for the reader to work out. I will go into just a few major ideas connected with death in The Hero's Walk. There is of course, the physical death of Sripathi Rao's daughter Maya and her husband Alan, which leads to the end of life in the west for their daughter Nandana. The child arrives in India, to stay with her grandparents Sripathi and Nirmala. For Sripathi, the loss of his daughter is also a loss of hope. But it leads to the regeneration of a different kind of life in the crumbling ancestral home in which he lives. So death is not an end here, but the beginning of something new. Then there is the death of Ammaya a washing away of ancient conventions and traditions, anger and sorrow, which in turn allows her daughter Putti to begin life on her own terms. Ammaya's dying gives Putti the freedom that she has never had, the kind of freedom that Maya was granted.
How free do you feel as a woman and a writer?
I have been fortunate in that I had extremely liberal parents when I was growing up in India. I was allowed to do anything I wanted to in terms of studies, a career etc. So I had a free, untrammeled life, which continues even now as a wife and a mother.
Your portrayal of the vibrancy of life in Madras in Tamarind Mem has been brilliant. Do you find Canada, where you now live, as vibrant as the India?
Tamarind Mem was set in many different parts of India not just Madras or Chennai as it is now called. Yes life in India was full and colourful and interesting all the time. Life here in Canada is different initially, when I arrived here, I thought that it was dull and uninteresting and missed the sights and smells and sounds of the east. However, over the years I have learned how to look at Canada, and the manner of perception gives it a new life definitely not the same as India but certainly as interesting.
While reading of the Tamarind Mem I have found that relationships as basic as mother-daughter relationship evolve as the result of modernisation. Do you see every personal and social relationship susceptible to external forces?
Yes, I do believe that almost every relationship is affected by what happens around us in the world and this does not just mean the immediate world of family and friends but the larger world too. So the politics of the middle-east, for example, certainly affects the ways in which we interact with our peers, our friends, our aunts, uncles brothers and sisters. I don't think anyone can seal themselves into a space and remain untouched by external events.
(R) thedailystar.net 2007