May 27, 2009 / 8:25 AM / 10 years ago

Memory of India strife inspires coming-of-age novel

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.”

Q: How long did it take you to finish and publish the book?

A: “I started work on the book in 2002 and worked on it for nearly three and a half years before it was published in Canada in Oct 2006. I am particularly pleased that the book will now have an Indian audience.”

Q: The train scenes seem real. Did such an incident actually take place after M.G.R’s death?

A: “While no accident occurred at Ennore train station, I took a great deal of care researching both the actions of people and events of the strike following M.G.R’s death from Indian newspapers and magazines and also using microfilm archives at the University of Toronto.”

Q: “The Strike” is an extremely visual novel. Did you get any offers to adapt it for the big screen?

A: “While no offers to film it have materialized yet, “The Strike” has been adapted for the stage in an exciting production by the award-winning American playwright Rebecca Nesvet.”

Q: You are currently teaching writing. Any plans to write full-time?

A: “Writing is a lonely occupation and so teaching and working with other writers allows me to form a community with others toiling away at words, shaping language into literature. So regardless of the success my books enjoy, I would love to keep up with my teaching for as long as I can.”

Q: What is your next book about?

A: “The next book is a fictional look at the lives and loves of two Sufi Muslim boys, cousins, one of whom goes to America and becomes westernized, the other who goes to London and becomes radicalized. The tension within the family polarized between its Sufi traditions and the future and the tension between the two cousins as they try to break free from the family ideals in separate ways fuels the novel till the events of 9/11 (the 2001 attacks on U.S. targets claimed by al Qaeda) force everyone home to Pakistan for an explosive encounter.”

Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee and Miral Fahmy

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