From the judges: “The book’s boldness, beauty and courage make it utterly seductive.”
You can watch a video of the award ceremony here (Literature category is announced in the first 15 minutes): https://actas.co.uk/live/en/page/watchawards.
India, 1996. Waheeda, a principled and spirited young woman from Uttar Pradesh sets her sights on becoming a member of Parliament. But her romance with the scion of a Delhi business dynasty threatens that dream. Manual for a Decent Life plays out against the backdrop of a tumultuous time in Indian politics in a world where nothing is what it seems and danger lurks at every turn.
“This ambitious novel is both epic and intimate as Jindal moves seamlessly between domestic family scenes, the passion of an illicit love affair and the instability of political parties vying for power at any cost. The fast-paced, plot-driven drama unfolds against the turbulent backdrop of India in the 1990s. The writing is accomplished, the story is thrilling with a bombshell of an ending.”
This stunning crisply paced novel reveals its interwoven themes and storylines in social-realistic style. Manual For a Decent Life is excitingly ambitious, exploring dilemmas around politics, gender and sex at a fascinating moment in Indian history.
– Michele Roberts, author of the Booker-Prize-shortlisted Daughters of the House
The rapid pace of the plot makes for edge-of-seat excitement.
– Saleem Peeradina, author of Heart’s Beast: New and Selected Poems
A compelling novel that is impossible to put down.
– Manju Kapur, author of Difficult Daughters
A heart-searching novel with a wide sweep. Its themes of Indian family, female identity and power struggles are of contemporary significance.
– Russell Celyn Jones, author of The Ninth Wave
A work that will live with me for a long time. … A deftly rendered collision of place, religion, class, person, culture, and politics.
– Jason A. Reading in The Book Review. Read the full review here
It would be difficult to describe this novel as a piece of truly postcolonial literature, since it refuses to contextualise its narrative or its characters as reacting to a colonial past. In this, I found the approach of the author quite daring, and I admire her courage in presenting her work to an audience that will immediately comprehend the cultural context.
– Jenny Gorrod in Dundee University Review of the Arts. Read the full review here
It is a fascinating love story set in the political turmoil of that time, an account of how people adapt themselves to these shifts of power and values, as it raises important questions about the independence of women and the choices that they make in that society.
– Jennifer Wong
An authentic book that needed to be written… This world we see; restrictive and conservative, then glamorous and modern, makes the book unique.
– Mona Dash
I was particularly fond of, and impressed by, the wider set of characters each playing their parts in the overarching narrative. Waheeda’s friends and family feel very real. We are forced to contemplate the extent to which we are all prepared to risk not only our careers and social standing, but our family and friends simply to fulfil desire.
– Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone
Manual For A Decent Life is filled with energy and sensuality, and Jindal serves a satisfying feast for the adventurous reader.
– Gabrielle Barnby in Ars Artium
Lyrical prose and great characters kept me hooked to the end.
– Tracy Fells in The Literary Pig. Read the full review here
A riveting book. The kind you’d read in one sitting, if only you didn’t want to pause and reflect over the depth of the situations hidden behind the almost simple prose. The kind of book you want to re-read, immediately after turning the last page.
– Reader Review
A masterly account of one woman’s lone battle – (albeit aided and abetted patronizingly) to get elected. Woven into it are hauntingly lovely descriptions of the finer and grimmer versions of day to day life.
– Reader Review
Brilliant, edifying, terrifying.
– Reader Review
I had trouble putting this book down once I began. The writing is masterful.
– Reader Review
The main joys are the realistic characters, flawed and likeable, who populate the book.
– Reader Review
You can order from bookstores, including Waterstones (UK) and Barnes & Noble (US), or your local indie.
Also online from Bookshop.org
or Amazon (available globally), selected countries here:
Read the opening chapter of the novel at berfrois.
Today is National Lipstick Day. Who knew there was such a thing? Another new marketing gimmick for ‘stuff’. Turns out I have the perfect short story for today. Written a couple of summers ago, when it was hot, and you could run into a department store on a whim.
What if there has been no turning point in your life for twenty-two years? You wait for something to spur you into a change. There have been fluctuations, and movement, but no critical moments. Never have you thought: My Life Starts Now. Not even when you decided to live alone after having spent ten years in different flats with a variety of flat-mates. That decision was easy; not pivotal. It was what you preferred and you are content on your own. But where is the big plot of your life?
You’ve believed in letting life unfold. Not for you frenetic stabs at this or that. Life has ribboned out, but rather distractedly. When you look up from the steering wheel of your imaginary buttercup convertible as it rolls along a green and pleasant land you don’t see any huge signs marking junctions or routes you could take instead. The highway glides over vale and hill, then loops to you don’t-know-where.
The real bus you’re sitting in this afternoon wheezes on as you take in the cityscape from the top deck. The bus is hibiscus red, the roads and pavements are grey but it is summer and this year it is hot, people are a riot of colour. Those ditsy floral dresses, those linen shirts, those wide pastel culottes, those man-sandals. The bus inches along the jammed road. They will pedestrianise this thoroughfare one day, the city mayor’s office has a plan, because see how the street is rammed with shoppers. You gaze down at the glitzy store windows. It’s then the slogan catches your eye. THIS LIPSTICK WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE.
Who allowed that? The Advertising Standards Authority let that pass? Can a lipstick change your life? Heck, can it change anything?? Can it change your summer a teeny-weeny bit??? You lean forward, press the button so the ‘Bus stopping’ sign lights up with a ting. You run into the department store and prowl the cosmetics counters until you find the brand emblazoned under the slogan. Brand L. The heat is making you crazy, 30 degrees in London, yes, it’s making you pathetic, and making the pavements sigh, but never mind. You stand by the counter and say to the girl with triple-mascaraed lashes: ‘I want to change my life.’
She’s ready to serve but slightly startled. ‘The new lipstick?’ she asks. She’s smart. She pulls out a tray of sample colours. ‘Which shade would you like to try?’
‘All three of these will change my life?’ You sound like you’re gasping for air, but actually your shoulders are shaking. You’ve begun to laugh in a way that is unseemly. You control yourself and eye up the round smudges of colour. Your finger hovers over a vivid pink. Let me guess, you think, Watermelon Squeeze? Candy Too Sweet? Profound Rose? You have form here, you know about these things.
Witty & Wry with a Steely Heart*
Patina, launched in New York at the Matwaala festival in April 2019 has received tremendous reviews, excerpted below.
Jindal’s capacity for hard beauty and pride in her own unsentimentality…along with an irreverent playfulness made me want to see her take this tone to its limits, to interrogate her own premises berfrois
Both trenchant & calming…this is it! Asian Review of Books
Elegant forceful lyrics Ink Sweat and Tears
Beautifully contemplative The Lake
Powerful The High Window
Poignancy and grace laced in a rare simplicity Confluence
With magical simplicity, Jindal connects easily with readers The Book Review
* from the review by Colin Pink in The Lake.
Photo by Tim Tomlinson at the Red Room, New York City.
With Salman Rushdie at the NYU launch.
Full reviews can be read at:
Asian Review of Books: https://asianreviewofbooks.com/content/patina-poetry-by-kavita-jindal/
Also selected poems here: https://asianreviewofbooks.com/content/selections-from-patina-poetry-by-kavita-jindal/
Ink Sweat and Tears: http://www.inksweatandtears.co.uk/pages/?p=19254
The Lake: http://www.thelakepoetry.co.uk/reviews/june19/
The High Window: https://thehighwindowpress.com/2019/06/29/reviews-of-recent-chapbooks/
The Book Review: http://bit.ly/2lMi9Wt
Reading from Patina.
Yogesh Patel unwrapping Patina at the NYU launch.
I have to say Patina is an absolute treat. Couldn’t put it down. It’s like when you have something salty and then something sweet, then salty and sweet again and you cannot stop till you’ve finished the whole lot. Anuradha Gupta
An eclectic mix, with a contemporary feel and a subversive edge. Isabel Bermudez
A gem of a book. Arpita Sharma
Reading Patina is like sipping fine wine. SV
Order your copy of Patina
the wind in the trees: http://www.thewindinthetrees.com/books/patina
From your local Waterstones:
or order a signed copy from the author: https://kavitajindal.com/contact/
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 collection traverses continents and cultures, the old town and the new town, the sacrifices made for love and against love. The evocation of control in Where He Lives by Kavita A. Jindal has the reader on a knife edge. The exposition of Sabina’s narrative is dextrously controlled. The morsels about her past and her decision echo the obsession with hunger and food and the taking in of material into the body becomes a metaphor of existential control. If the skill of constructing a short story can be tested anywhere it is in its final line, and Jindal has us right in the palm of her hand until the end.’
Gabrielle Barnby in Riggwelter
‘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 Rebekah)
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.’
‘Trailblazers who provide an authentic lens on what it means to have dual British and Asian identity in a time of political uncertainty.’
Brown Girl Magazine
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/.
May We Borrow Your Country was shortlisted for the Saboteur Awards 2019 in the ‘Best Anthology’ category.
// 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: