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Purse and Persuasion

Susan Visvanathan

By Tulsi Badrinath
Hachette, India, 2011, pp. 314, 395.00


Tulsi Badrinath has produced another elegant work, which explores the urban map in new ways. In this novel, she brings to our attention the banality of middle class chores and the concern with the details of these. It is the contradictions within the facade that interest Badrinath. Essentially, she has the eye of the passerby, but that passerby has been for decades looking into the hearts and lives of a North Indian diaspora community living in Chennai. The intimacy with which the map of Mount Road or other familiar mnemonics are created in this novel is interesting. Harihar, the nondescript clerk, who is assistant to a curator at the Madras Museum, steals a gold mohur which weighs two kilos, and which has exquisite calligraphy and images embossed. The coin was struck by Jehangir, who minted gold coins in dedication of his love for his Queen, Noor Jehan. She was a very powerful empress in Mughal India, who left a monument to her warrior father, filigreed in marble and semi precious stones, which still stands in Agra for us to see. Harihar steals the antique coin because he needs to have an extravagant wedding according to custom for his daughter. They belong to a wealthy clan of spare parts dealers who have shops near Mount Road. His choice of a profession in the Government is because he cannot bear the company of his overbearing brother, who has cheated him. The novel works with the idea that ethics and moral choices face everyone equally. How do novelists work with the idea that what people do are essentially the catalyst for narrative? Tulsi Badrinath does not have a prescriptive voice on documenting morality. The story teller in her just takes us along a rapidly escalating sense of panic on all sides, while the romance of an arranged marriage is provided with an unerring sense of knowledge of how it goes and why it works. The details of the preparations for the wedding of the loved daughter is very microscopic and like a stacatto text of reading wedding photographs. This is a technique which is often used by novelists, who if they have not been present at an event, will read the narrative off for you from any source. However the parallel structure of the plot which involves the theft of the gold coin (Harihar calls it ‘a loan’ from the Madras Museum where ...

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