Commentator and columnist Renuka Narayanan’s latest book, A Madrasi Memoir, is all about tracing history through a personal lens. Commissioned by Seminar Magazine’s Malvika Singh, and launching tomorrow at Amethyst, it is a first in a series of ‘memory books’. Narayanan tells me that it is meant to be social history told through personal family history. Encompassing four generations, “it goes back a hundred years, beginning with my great grandfather, and stops roughly at the Emergency (1975),” says the Delhi-based author, adding that it is fact written in a fiction format to make it a better read. Published by the Academic Foundation, the book took about a year to finish and delves into the lives of the westernised Tamil Brahmins in twentieth century India who went against the grain and broke taboos.
Calling it the most “enormous century of change” for Indians, Narayanan talks about the Tamil Brahmins of the time who “broke all the rules”—from eating meat and marrying outside the caste—but adds that “each change had its own complications, like the men changed and they let the women out of the box, but only thus far and no further.” She adds that her narrative works at four levels: there is regional history (as Narayanan comes from North Arcot), community history, family history and personal history. “As a modern woman, obviously I won’t romanticise this patriarchal heritage. So while I look at who did what and why, it’s also a lot about women in a fossilised patriarchy and the consequences of that for them,” summarises Narayanan, who has just finished a book for Juggernaut on Hindu fables.
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