Eclectic. Charming. Punchy. Stylish.
My poetry chapbook will be available next week, published by the gifted people at ‘the wind in the trees’.
Eloquent on manifold themes, the twenty-eight poems selected for this chapbook move with grace from the personal to the political to the worldly. Kavita’s work is by turns poignant, impassioned, droll and rousing. Her writing retains the original slant and subtle strangeness of Raincheck Renewed, while the poems have become a touch longer and more direct.
Patina is available as a hand-numbered limited edition.
Buy your copy now:
the wind in the trees: http://www.thewindinthetrees.com/
click and collect or order from your local Waterstones:
It has been eight weeks since the launch of May We Borrow Your Country, the new anthology by The Whole Kahani. It’s been an intensely busy time, that’s why this delay in posting about the launch.
The launch evening at Waterstones Gower Street was a huge success. Tickets had sold out days in advance and the immensely helpful staff at Waterstones ran an efficient waiting list on the evening as well as added on as much extra seating as they could.
Our lovely publisher Lynn Michell, director of Linen Press, introduced the contributors from The Whole Kahani before we read extracts from the book. The brilliant Preti Taneja, who wrote the foreword for the anthology, joined Lynn in cross-examining us on different aspects of the collective as well as our writing lives and goals.
Some people have this question when they go to an event: What should I wear? My question as the launch evening approached was not that (I never get too fussed about my outfit); it was: ‘What should I read?’
I have four pieces in May We Borrow Your Country, and rather belatedly, by popular request, I’m now giving you some clues about them. In order of appearance in the book:
The first piece is ‘Civil Lines – One Man’s Chronicle of Partition’. This is a poem sequence that narrates the experience of India’s partition from the perspective of a young man forced to flee his home. It is based on my maternal grandfather’s account, that I heard as a teenager. It took all these years to percolate and then to appear as a poem sequence. [By the way, I read an extract from this at the launch.]
The second piece by me in the book is a poem, set in England. Letter from the Glasshouse Opera. Instead of me giving you the context of the work, I’d like to place here comments from the foreword by Preti Taneja. What a reader makes of a poem is interesting to me, as naturally most poems are read without the writer standing nearby offering explanations. Here is what Preti writes:
[…In these poems] the full power of this collection is revealed. In the devastating Letter from the Glasshouse Opera Jindal thinks through ways of seeing: an unnamed writer relives the trauma of losing a loved one in a guerrilla war, while she is caught in a bright prism of music by Schubert and Mozart. The sounds and voices unlock memories, variations on themes: the relationship of men’s art to women, of west to east is one of appropriation, and so the lesson is learned. In exchange, our writer doesn’t choose to make material from her losses; she just has to: Everything you say and don’t say / will make it to the page even when it kills me. / You are fodder / and this is the straw I hold. / It is one way of looking at it,’ and later, Nancy was fodder; Mozart wrote an aria. / That’s one way of looking at it. The poem is a subtle call for a more complete way of seeing; it cleverly leaves readers to take this task forwards.
The third piece is also a poem: Jungle Drums Lead Us. I watched an interview with an American white supremacist leader where the interlocutor was trying to understand his point of view (or giving that impression, anyway) and was also trying to put forward his own arguments, which the interviewee didn’t want to hear. Given current science theories (which may prove accurate or not in the very long term) I was inspired to write this poem about the chasm between extreme beliefs and moderation and scientific facts as we know them today.
The fourth work is a short story: Where He Lives. This narrative is set in the fascinating city of Hyderabad although I deliberately don’t mention this in the story. It could be set anywhere because it’s about the displacement and disorientation one can feel within one’s own city and own culture. The point being you don’t have to travel far to feel a stranger.
The reason it’s set in Hyderabad, India, though, is because of the wonderful and intriguing mix the city offers: Buildings – ancient, colonial, modern Indian, and vast complexes still being constructed in the technology parks and suburbs. The mix of religions and peoples of the area offer so much in the way of traditions: languages, food specialties, spices, jewellery styles, crafts and the wonderful textiles created in the villages of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
It was also the people of Hyderabad who inspired me. I witnessed a young couple in the old city having a rather cute argument, a little bit like in the story; and also, elsewhere in the city, the impressive policewoman whom I describe. I met some college lecturers and their students. In my head they all converged into this story.
Excerpts from reviews:
‘The writing is superb throughout’
Tracy Fells in The Literary Pig and on Goodreads
‘Belonging and inclusion are the themes which bind together this offering of short stories and poems from The Whole Kahani, a collective of award-winning female writers of British-Asian origin.’
Jane Wallace in Asian Review of Books
‘The stories and poems form the beginnings of a picture of what it means to be British and of South Asian origin, what it means to have more than one set of cultural expectations, more than one home. Though the stories and poems offer many different perspectives, there is an overall feeling of pensiveness…’
Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone (*the subtitle quote is also from her)
And from readers who wrote Amazon reviews:
‘Kavita A. Jindal’s poems are brilliant and tautly composed.’
‘The Whole Kahani is a unique collective lending a fresh perspective to the British literary landscape. The panoramic sweep of these stories is impressive.’
‘Stories written by exceptionally talented women.’
I wrote earlier about how the reader can bring their own evaluation to a poem or story. Here is how a couple of reviewers have understood the essence of Where He Lives.
‘In ‘Where He Lives’ by Kavita A. Jindal, Sabina defiantly marries into a family that lives in the old city, where women go about veiled. At first her burqa is an inconvenient reality, but as she goes about, Sabina begins to identify women by their feet, their gait, even by the bags they carry. You can’t erase an identity by shrouding it in black, she discovers. In making choices where she can, starting with whether to eat or fast, Sabina finds crumbs of happiness and even a way forward.’
Latha Anantharaman in The Hindu newspaper
‘Straddling two cultures is something most of the characters face, even when they aren’t facing the difficulty of living in another country. Kavita A. Jindal’s story ‘Where He Lives’ requires a new bride to face the restrictions of living in the old city, where women must cover themselves fully and behave with extreme modesty. But identity isn’t one-sided. She sees a policewoman moving in and out of the city and wonders if she too can pass between these two ways of living successfully.’
Back to the theme of a more complete way of seeing, if you’d like to know more about the wider meanings of the book title May We Borrow Your Country, read my blog about it here.
If you haven’t already got a copy of the anthology, buy it now:
Linen Press: https://www.linen-press.com/shop/may-we-borrow-your-country/
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/May-We-Borrow-Your-Country/dp/1999604660/
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/May-We-Borrow-Your-Country/dp/1999604660/
Amazon India: https://www.amazon.in/MAY-WE-BORROW-YOUR-COUNTRY/dp/1999604660/
Read all about The Whole Kahani and the previous anthology Love Across A Broken Map here: https://kavitajindal.com/love-across-a-broken-map/.
//This chair you’re sitting on has been rickety for sixteen years, but you don’t throw anything away until it breaks, until it is fully unfunctioning…//
For National Writing Day 2018, I’m posting a very short story that was first published in The Moth magazine in 2012.
This story is set in South India.
It was translated into Romanian in April 2018 by the inimitable Dr Lidia Vianu and I read it (in English!) at the British Council Bucharest.
‘Sweet Pea’, Artist: Paul Wuensche.
You sit outside in a rickety chair by the banana palm and watch the last of the drizzle roll into a tight waterdrop at the edge of a leaf and prepare to drip on to the ground. You like to watch the water drip, the people pass by. The neighbour tying and un-tying the knot on his mundu, his legs thin and not hairy enough; he goes past your chair with a nod. The girl with coconut oil in her hair, too much oil, you want to tell her, too much, and does she wash her hair often enough? Because sometimes you can see lice flakes on her long plait. The two unmarried sisters whose skins don’t wrinkle or bag. For sixteen years you’ve watched them sashay past in their colour-coordinated saris, you’ve peered into their faces with an inquisitive eye but their skins have never lost the old lush beauty. How do they do that? If they knew, if you knew, somebody would have distilled their secret into a bottle and made a fortune.
This chair you’re sitting on has been rickety for sixteen years, but you don’t throw anything away until it breaks, until it is fully unfunctioning, and that’s the reason you’re not on the scrapheap yourself. Not kaput, not yet. You don’t know how long you could go on sitting here in your daily meditation, and neither do the passers-by. They’ve come to terms with the apparition of you just as you have. ‘That’s the old man who says he’s roamed the world. The one who says he’s been rich in other lands. He thinks he knows everything.’ They toss their heads to dismiss you, two steps after they’ve passed you, two beats after they’ve thrown you a toothy smile.
When you stopped working on the merchant ships, when you stooped to tinkering with the engineering of smaller vessels, when finally you snubbed going out on the little boats – on those puny soap-dishes, when you stopped sailing in all its forms, you decided to retire here, to your hometown, because the tip of South India was where you were born and where you thought you should return to die. There are days you regret your decision, but the new habits you have fallen into keep you going. You emerge at ten in the morning, washed and dressed, position your chair exactly ten paces from your front door and sit still, forming waves with your hands. You may look silly but you pay no heed. The waves you don’t want to crest are those in your head. You can sit here by the banana palm for the remainder of your life and no one need know about the unrest inside you.
People are kind. This is something you have always believed. Lalitha, next door, calls you in to share fresh appam, whenever she makes them, which is infrequently now because, like you, she can’t eat too much herself, and her children and grandchildren seldom sit down together with her. She grumbles that family meals are a rarity, but you know that in some parts of the world three generations eating together twice a week is an extraordinary occurrence.
You tell Lalitha that. In fact, you tell her all manner of things. You’ve even trusted her with your Big Idea. At eighty-two she has a handful of years on you, and you can rely on her to be discreet. You tell no one else of your Big Idea. ‘Cruise ships as fully-functioning old-age homes.’ It makes you chuckle to think that unofficially this may already be the case, some of the time, on certain cruises, but your idea is a serious one. You want a proper set-up. Quality and high standards. A hospital ship with a difference. Cruise liners: the old-age homes where you are still going somewhere.
Imagine that. Not the end of the road, not the way a care home tucked away on an English country lane really is the end of the road. Not the ‘I’m so helpless now, admit me here to die’ scenario. No, you’re thinking more of the ‘I’m so hopeless now, do send me on a cruise, darling’ scenario. You’re dreaming of the endlessly changing views of the ocean. Lalitha says, ‘Doesn’t it look the same, for days at a time? Sea today, sea tomorrow. Blue. Grey. Blue.’
You concede that to an undiscerning eye it could look the same for days. But even so, there is scope for change, you tell her, scope for land to jut into your horizon, beckoning your eye; scope for ambition. A chance to say, ‘I’ll stay alive till I set foot on that piece of land.’ As opposed to, ‘Should I stay alive for them to drip the same breakfast down my chin tomorrow?’ Lalitha is unconvinced, but what does she know?
If there had been more money and vigour to back up all the big ideas you’ve had, well, you don’t know where you’d be. On a cruise ship, at the very least. With carers to the left, carers to the right, carers behind…
When it comes to pass, as it will, who will know that the germination was here, in this rickety chair? The dream of the man with the thick white hair and vestiges of handsomeness in his jaw and lips. The man whose hands tremble like waves and over whose head hangs a small bunch of green bananas.
Lalitha asks about seasickness. She likes to put a spanner in the works, that’s her personality. She likes to drill holes in your Big Idea. You snap at her that seasickness is not specifically an elderly affliction. The seasick population can stay away. You wonder about her, about people like her. She’s lived by the sea all her life but never ventured on to its deceptive surface. Not even on a soap-dish. From the bow of a boat you used to look at the contours of land, those daring protrusions into ocean, and you felt sorry for all the trapped people in the miles and miles that ran inland. From the boat it was easy to tell that the sea just tolerated the land.
You tell yourself that this harmless wandering in the inane parts of your mind is good for you. It keeps you out of the insane parts. Your big ideas keep you steering onward, or round and round, but nothing spills out, nothing spills out to mark the street. Because if you drift off course, if you let yourself drift towards the beginning, or the days when everything mattered, then you are consumed, and your mind is as a room overwhelmed by the scent of sweet peas; so strong that it can make you sick.
In some parts of the world, you tell Lalitha, summer is a short-lived many-splendoured thing and the sweet peas are perfumed so as to make you gag. This is the kind of knowledge you impart to her quite smugly.
‘Sweeter than here?’ she asks, disbelieving again. ‘Flowers smell more strongly than they do here?’ She touches the purple flower pinned to her neat white bun and looks into the distance, thinking. ‘Sweet peas grow in the coolness of the hills.’
‘Not in England,’ you explain. ‘What I’m telling you is in the context of a short-lived summer. When long dreary months bring only the fragrance of damp bark and soggy grass, then filling a room with just-blossomed sweet peas from the garden can make you very ill.’
‘It’s always summer in Kotapuram,’ she says, in placating mode. And then she adds, ‘I like it better when you’re angry.’ This is what Lalitha says when she’s afraid a strange sentimentality will drown you. She wants you to rage instead at unknown foreigners. Lalitha, whose face and body are shrinking by the day, wants you to bang on the table and bawl out your furious questions, as if you’d been transported elsewhere, shouting at people in other lands: ‘Why do you take no notice of the sea? Of what it has brought to you? The cars you drive. The toys you break. The tea you drink. The beef you eat. The Christmas baubles you hang up. The gadgets that fill your rooms. Containers and containers and containers wending their way on water.’
None of this is relevant to Lalitha. You wonder if this is why she prefers it when you’re irate, when you swing your palm down to slap the rosewood and stop reminiscing about the nauseating sweet peas of an English summer.
About his new book ‘Why I Am A Hindu’ at Asia House UK
On 5 June I was in conversation with Dr Shashi Tharoor, the author and politician, about his new book ‘Why I Am A Hindu.’ We discussed, among several other topics and issues: his belief in reincarnation; the ideal outcome for the Babri Masjid site; casteism, spirituality, free will and superstition in Hinduism; and Artificial Intelligence.
Here’s a write-up from Luke Foddy of Asia House that covers some of our wide-ranging discussion:
// how many paise for each brown glass bottle, how much for each tin can //
I’m delighted that my poem Kabariwala features in “100 Great Indian Poems”, now available to order. This anthology is unique for its selected translations of Indian poetry in 27 languages spanning 3000 years of literature.
Kabariwala is one of the few poems written originally in English.
The book is edited by Abhay K and published by Bloomsbury India.
Kabariwala and a few other poems from the book can be read at Asia Literary Review here.
You can read an extremely well-researched and well-written review of the book at DesiBlitz. The article includes an interview with me about the story behind this poem: https://www.desiblitz.com/content/100-great-indian-poems-poetic-feat-feast.
One of the ‘firsts’ for me this year was the commercial installation of my short poem Optimism.
It has had the most amazing reactions. That’s made me look at the poem in a new light and read it to boost myself after disappointments. Considering I’d ignored this poem since it was first published in Raincheck Renewed in 2004, this installation has provided a new beginning in many ways.
An example of the response I’ve had:
A few days after the installation a neighbour knocked on my door. ‘Your poem!’ she exclaimed.
‘What?’ I wasn’t sure what she meant.
It transpired she’s been to the hairdresser to have her highlights done. ‘There I was, sitting at the shampoo basin, when I look up at the wall in front of me. Your poem! There. I read it – it was wonderful’.
Yes, my poem had ambushed her.
This was the brilliant idea of the owner of the hair salon, Thomas Gaughan, who selected this poem as artwork for his wall. Thomas said he’d wanted something inspirational. He’s really pleased with the effect and says that his clients love it. “Great words from Kavita that lift you up when you need it most.’
I’m proud too, because as my first commercial poem installation, it’s sited where you least expect it. Where the words come to you when you’re not in a ‘reading’ frame of mind. The context is surprising, just the way I like things to be!
I’m really glad that so many people are having their spirits lifted at the shampoo basin.
Pictures are of the installation at the William Thomas Gaughan hairdresser in London.
Graphic design by Tim Barnes of Chicken Print Design
Installation by Danillo Cooper
Vinyl cut wall transfer produced by Omni Colour
And a note about the project in the shape of a happy tweet or ‘life-sentence’ published in Mslexia December 2017: