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/.
May We Borrow Your Country was shortlisted for the Saboteur Awards 2019 in the ‘Best Anthology’ category.