Born in Rourkela in 1961, in the eastern state of Orisson in India, Anita Rau Badami moved often as a child due to her father's job as mechanical engineer for the railroads. She grew up speaking English and attended Catholic schools because they generally afforded better educational opportunities. "I've always wanted to be writer," she told an interviewer in Whitehorse, "and my family never trivialized it." At age 17, while attending a book fair, she wanted more books than she could afford, so her father loaned her money providing she repaid the loan in a month. Soon afterwards she sold her first article for 75 rupees. She earned a B.A. in English from the University of Madras and studied journalism at Sophia College in Bombay. She worked as a copywriter for advertising agencies in Bombay, Bangalore, and Madras, also writing stories for children's publications. She married in 1984. A son was born three years later. In 1991 her family moved to Calgary where she enrolled in a creative writing program. At the advice of Ven Begamudré, a writer-in-residence at the University of Calgary, she sent a manuscript to Penguin Books, hoping for some constructive criticism, and was surprised to have her first novel, which she began for a Master's thesis, was accepted for publication.

In her acclaimed Tamarind Mem (Penguin, 1996), the Indian family moves often because the father is a mechanical engineer for the railroads. The mother Saroja has the nickname "Tamarind Mem" because her temperment bears comparison to the sour fruit of the Tamarind tree ("South"). In Indian folklore the Tamarind tree is recognized as inhospitable to travellers. The mother is the focus for the second part of the book, in India; for the other, the daughter, Kamini, is a graduate student in Calgary. Whereas her mother Saroja was forced to marry and unable to pursue a medical career, Kamini has gone overseas to study. Frictions and misunderstandings arise between the mother and daughter as Kamini struggles to come to terms with her mother's lifelong unhappiness. The second half of the novel is told from Saroji's point of view as she travels alone, entertaining fellow passangers with stories about her long life. Badami says the novel arose after talking with her sister and realizing how often they remembered the same events differently. She began writing an autobiography but discovered she couldn't remember specific details. The novel served as her Master's degree in English Literature at the University of Calgary. With the urging of novelist Ven Begamudre, she shipped the manuscript off to Penguin Books on the same day she handed it in as a thesis.

Her second novel, The Hero's Walk (Knopf 2000), is the story of a relatively ordinary man, Sripathi Rao, who, at 57, is copy writer for an ad agency in Toturpura, a small seaside town. He is trying his best to maintain coherency and status in a fractious family within a crumbling ancestral house. Life becomes extremely complicated with the news that his estranged daughter Maya has died in Vancouver, leaving his eight-year-old granddaughter Nandana to be adopted into the Rao family's home and their hearts. "As always, characters grow first in my imagination and they bring their stories with them," wrote the author. "The Hero's Walk, curiously enough, did not begin with Sripathi Rao, unwilling hero of my novel. It all started with his mother and her determination to keep her daughter Putti with her for the rest of her life. At about the same time, I was wholly taken up with the idea of the 'hero' - both the epic and the silver-screen, larger-than-life varieties. After reading all that I could possibly read about these giant heroes, I realised that I actually wanted to explore the notion of the ordinary, garden-weed sort of person who bumbles through life hoping to reach the end of it all in a reasonable state of dignity. I wanted to write about the beauty, tragedy and the comedy of life. And the characters had to be the way we all are - brave, hopeful, ridiculous, and often plain horrible. Serendipitously, while I was tearing up my first draft and weeping tears of blood over it, a friend told me about two children in the US who had been abruptly orphaned and had to go to live with relatives in India. This became an important element in The Hero's Walk and became the connective tissue in a novel full of people trying to deal with violent change, loss, and displacement."; Anita Rau Badami was a finalist for the 2000 Kiriyama Pacific Rim Prize for Fiction for The Hero's Walk. After only two novels, she received the Marian Engel Award for an outstanding body of work in mid-career. Her novel Tamarind Mem was re-released as Tamarind Woman in 2002.

Badami's third novel Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? (Knopf, 2006) follows the lives of three women from the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 to the deadly bombing of an Air India plane off the Irish coast in 1985, killing all 329 people on board, bound for India via London. In Vancouver, Bibi-ji is haunted by the disappearance of two female relatives; her neighbour Leela must learn to adapt to a life of less privilege than what she might have been accorded in India.

Anita Rau Badami moved from Calgary to Vancouver in the early 1990s, but has since relocated with her family to Montreal.


Tamarind Mem (Penguin, 1996)
The Hero's Walk (Knopf 2000) $29.95 0-676-97225-X)
Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? (Knopf, 2006)

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2006] "Fiction"