Bharatanatyam Dancer,
Author

If one can find a stable way to fund one’s passion, then one can pursue it. When I worked in the bank, the salary helped fund my dancing… costumes, jewellery, musicians…

Born in 1967 in Madras, Tulsi Badrinath has a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Stella Maris College and an MBA from Ohio University, Athens. After four long, dreary years in a multinational bank, Tulsi quit her job to pursue her twin passions, dance and writing. A Bharatanatyam exponent since the age of eight, Tulsi trained under her gurus The Dhananjayans and has performed widely in India and offshore. Madras, Chennai and the Self, Meeting Lives, Man of A Thousand Chances and Master of Arts: A Life in Dance comprise her bibliography.  Tulsi is a longlisted author for the Man Asian Literary Prize.

What made you leave the corporate world and follow your passions of dancing & writing? And were you certain that you’d be able to pursue them as vocations/professions?

The job in a multinational bank followed an MBA degree. It seemed the natural course of events. But there wasn’t enough work to occupy one the whole day. A lot of people hid behind files pretending to work!

I loved the dance form that I had been trained in since the age of eight and I wanted to write, but I can’t say I was certain I would make either my profession. I just followed a gut instinct.

When I became a mother, I quit my job. It was the right time to make that decision. Everyone said I was making a mistake giving up a very well-paying job. Others thought having a child was no reason to stay at home!


The job in a multinational bank followed an MBA degree. It seemed the natural course of events. But there wasn’t enough work to occupy one the whole day. A lot of people hid behind files pretending to work!


I loved the dance form that I had been trained in since the age of eight and I wanted to write, but I can’t say I was certain I would make either my profession. I just followed a gut instinct.

What sort of formal education is an absolute essential for your profession, in your opinion? And is an internship a good idea?

A degree gives one options. That’s why I did an MBA, I wanted something that would make me financially independent. My dance guru Dhananjayan too felt the need to get a degree by correspondence in the sixties, even though his future as a dancer seemed set. And when he left Kalakshetra suddenly, it did help him get a job.

My son, who plays the guitar brilliantly, had dreams of becoming a rockstar. I told him he could head in any direction he liked once he got his degree. Two years later, he wants to be a theoretical physicist. I think in today’s world, a Master’s is absolutely essential.

That said, I don’t think our schools and colleges give one much of a proper education. We’ve neglected our mother and father tongues, we’ve missed out on value education about the different religions of India in the name of imparting secular values in the English medium.

TulsiBadrinath24413If you had to pique the interest of a young person in dance, what would you say to him/her?

Dance is poetry made visual. All arts in India are interconnected. Through dance you will access poetry, sculpture, music, rhythm and mythology, expressing yourself through your body.

What are the new trends you notice that are changing the complexion of your profession? How do you see this profession faring 20 years down the line?

Writing: Attention spans are shorter and there is a whole wave of dumbed-down writing. Publishers prefer non-fiction. It is difficult to find good editors. 20 years down the line, only those who write for the sheer love of it will be still around.

Dance: Attention spans in kids are much shorter and they have many distractions. When I was a kid going to dance class, it was a magical world where all the mythological characters were conjured up and dissolved during the session. There was no TV, no iPad, smart phones, and no Facebook. You had hours to devote to your dance. I had learnt dance for more than eight years before I had my debut performance.

Today kids tell the teacher when the hour is up. They don’t have the long term perspective on their learning. Also since there are no barriers to entry, anyone and everyone sets themselves up as a guru, leading to a lowering of standards. 20 years later, there will be fewer people who want to take to the arts.

What do you do when you are stuck with a problem?

Consult the inner voice. Wait it out if no solution seems to offer itself. My father is no more, but he and my mother would offer advice if asked that arrived at the same solution from two different angles. Now that my son is 20, I often ask him as well. If I have a friend who is an expert in that area, I would ask the friend as well.


There have been books written by a syndicate of writers…but by and large the temperament of a writer tends towards solitude.

When we’re in school, we’re told cheating is bad – ‘Don’t talk to each other, don’t discuss.’ And then as we come out of it, we begin to realize that there’s something called “collaborative thinking” and it’s not bad! What’s your opinion?

Well, cheating is bad in the context of exams. And there are some schools where open book exams are held. Collaborative thinking is wonderful so long as the rules are clear. There too one should not pass off someone else’s work as one’s own. There have been books written by a syndicate of writers…but by and large the temperament of a writer tends towards solitude.

What would your advice be to a young person at the start of his or her career and confused about pursuing passion versus being pragmatic?

One has to be practical. Bills have to be paid. If one can find a stable way to fund one’s passion, then one can pursue it. When I worked in the bank, the salary helped fund my dancing… costumes, jewellery, musicians…many of the costs that are not entirely covered by the payment for a show.

TulsiBadrinath2013If you could do some time-travelling and go back to meet yourself at 17, 25, 35, what would you say to your selves then?

To the 17 year old… you think you will write a book of poetry, ha ha just you wait.
25…Another two years and you can quit this job!
35 (when my books hadn’t been published) Hang in there…It will happen. It must!
(And when my son was a naughty energetic eight-year-old) Hang in there…you will actually miss these days when he grows up! You can’t carry a six-footer.

What is the kind of supplementary informal learning you engage in that keeps you abreast of developments in the worlds of dance, art, and writing?

One never stops learning in the field of art. I have been my guru’s student now for 40 years. I learnt a new padam only recently that I then performed too.

The changes are to do with technology – less expensive costume jewellery, less expensive silk like material for costumes, etc.

What is most rewarding about doing what you do?

I am the boss of me.

Do you still have days when you think, ‘What the hell am I doing with my life?’ How do you get over that, if you do?

No. I have days when I don’t do any work and I regret the passing of that day. I have days when staying on track with both dance practice and writing is exhausting. I have had days when I wondered ‘why do I exist at all’… surely life can’t be about waking, eating, sleeping, in a loop. The only way to forget time is to throw oneself into one’s work. When I am writing or dancing, time is expanded, held at bay.


One never stops learning in the field of art. I have been my guru’s student now for 40 years. I learnt a new padam only recently that I then performed too.

 

How does one network in the beginning to get that initial presence felt, so people notice you?

The net provides many ways in which to do so. There are blogs, e magazines etc. Facebook provides people with the opportunity to self-promote. More importantly, one should always do one’s work well, with complete dedication; the big break might be around the corner.

Photographs of Tulsi in performance by Iyappan Arumugam
Interview conducted by Pooja Pande.