My novel, Balancing Act, is an unusual intersection of architecture and motherhood. The primary question I pose is whether motherhood can be a life’s work in these modern times. I draw parallels between the protagonist, Tara Mistri’s, work of raising a family and Kahn’s built masterpiece, the Salk Institute. Tara’s journey is about how she chooses between career and motherhood, informed by her analysis of her own life through the lens of her architectural training.
Architecture is central to the novel, both as Tara’s chosen field and as a metaphor for creating balance and structure in her life. At different times, by different people, the Salk is likened to both, a jewel and a soul-less building that might contain dentists’ offices. It is both sublime and profane, like life itself.
The book brings together many of my interests, and some subjects I feel passionately about – architecture, the built form and personal space, notions of feminism, the life and work of Louis Kahn, and the concept and implications of the creative life. In writing the novel, I learned more about architecture than I had ever known either as a student or as a practitioner. It brought me to the realization that architecture is not just a profession; it’s a way of life.
I had thought that like motherhood, the experience of architecture is universal. But I’m less sure of this now. There is definitely a cultural component to some elements of design. It depends on your point of view, it depends where you put the camera, as a film-maker might say. It certainly makes a huge difference, this point of view, to the narrative. In my novel, the story is told in the first person by Tara. In an earlier draft, I had written it in the third person. It would be entirely different told by her husband or a “working” friend. Similarly, I try to show that the interpretation of the Salk, indeed, the judgment of the Salk depends on who is making it. While for some it is the embodiment of perfection, for others it is merely reminiscent of their chiropractor’s office.
Meera Godbole-Krishnamurthy was born in Mumbai, lived in the Philippines, France, and many parts of the United States. She studied art and architecture at Oberlin College and Columbia University receiving her MArch from the University of Virginia in 1992. She has participated in writing workshops at Stanford University, the University of Iowa, UC San Diego, and the La Jolla Writers Conference. She was an adjunct at the NewSchool of Architecture and Design in San Diego. She lives in Mumbai with her husband, two children, and a well-travelled cat. Balancing Act is her first novel and explores themes of architecture, built space, the life and work of Louis Kahn, motherhood, and feminism.