Memory of India strife inspires coming-of-age novel

Wed May 27, 2009 4:22am EDT
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By Tony Tharakan

NEW DELHI (Reuters Life!) - Hours spent trapped in a train as a child gave Indian-born author Anand Mahadevan the seeds of a coming-of-age novel set in a part of India wracked by civil strife over two decades ago.

"The Strike," Mahadevan's debut novel which is published in India this month, is about 12-year-old Hari and the tragic events that occurred when grief-stricken followers of Tamil Indian actor-turned-politician M.G. Ramachandran, better known as M.G.R, went on a frenzy of looting and rioting after his 1987 death from kidney failure.

Hari and his mother find themselves trapped with other passengers as striking workers in the southern state of Tamil Nadu block their train's path, and Mahadevan uses the experience to explore the religious, linguistic and class politics of India in the 1980s.

Mahadevan has lived and worked in Canada for the past seven years, where he teaches writing at the University of Toronto and Humber College.

"The Strike" was first published in Canada three years ago, and Mahadevan told Reuters via email that he was happy the book finally had an Indian audience.

Q: Are parts of "The Strike" autobiographical?

A: "The trigger for this novel was definitely the Christmas Day strike of 1987. I was 9-years-old when M.G.R died, and trapped in the Tamil Nadu Express at Ennore station. I was traveling with my parents and brother to some event at the family home. We waited and watched the agitated young men outside, distraught in their grief but also in their own way helpless as they trapped us for hours in a train where the water ran out and the toilets stank up.

"When I began writing this novel nearly seven years ago, I wanted to use this moment to represent the one-way door from childhood to adulthood. And so I began to write about a boy who is both lovable and yet troubling and I shadow his journey through various physical journeys."   Continued...