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'Woman writer in mid-career'

Award-winning writer Anita Rau Badami competing only with herself, says Elizabeth Kuruvilla

india Updated: Dec 11, 2006 18:21 IST

Who is Anita Rau Badami? The back cover of her latest book, Can You Hear the Nightbird Call?, says she is a “woman writer in mid-career”. She’s got an award for being so — the Marian Engel Award. Strange.

She was only two novels down when she had this tag attached to her name in 2000. (Extending this logic of putting a timeframe to a writing career, 74-year-old V.S. Naipaul should have been a pensioner a long time ago.) She herself laughs a bit embarrassedly as she clarifies that she got this award for the “entire body of her works”.

For those who plumbed the depths of her compact, three-titles bibliography to emerge none-the-wiser, she was a short-story writer for sundry magazines before her thesis for a Master’s in English Literature — her first novel, Tamarind Mem (1996) — which she also submitted to Penguin Canada simultaneously, put her on the map of relatively better-known and better-selling writers.

It was after her second novel, The Hero’s Walk, though, that the titles started getting added on. “Pa, pa, ra pa,” says Badami, “It’s like blowing a trumpet.” Anita Rau Badami, Regional Commonwealth Writers Prize winner, Italy’s Premio Berto winner, Washington Post Best Book of 2001, International IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize long-list, Orange Prize for Fiction long-list, Kiriyama Prize short-list, Marian Engel Award winner... haaaaazir ho.

 Anita Rau Badami

“There are so many books around. I guess the marketing people have to play it up,” she says, resigned to the fact that she will be identified by — and sell more because of — the awards she’s cornered, or had a winning chance of doing so. Though, personally, she feels, “it is hugely gratifying ... to get a nod from one’s peers”.

With awards for books and authors emerging out of the woodwork — on the verge of becoming a dime a dozen — the community of novel writers appears to be in constant competition. Is there pressure to perform, and to win? “I would write regardless,” says Badami. For, she adds, she is in competition only with herself.