Kavita is the co-founder of The Whole Kahani (The Complete Story), a collective of British fiction writers of South Asian origin. The group was formed in 2011 to provide a creative perspective that straddles cultures and boundaries. The Whole Kahani has published three anthologies: Love Across A Broken Map (Dahlia Publishing, 2016); May We Borrow Your Country (Linen Press, 2019), shortlisted for the Saboteur Awards, and Tongues and Bellies (Linen Press, 2021).
Tongues and Bellies Out Now!
‘These female authors are a force’
‘Rich, incisive and at times magical, this is a collection to be savoured and cherished.’
These stories play with lies and truth. Chameleon-like characters clutch at worlds that remain just out of reach. An old recipe, a robot, a key – these are clues to the people they once were or hope to be. Appetite and eating are often central in this collection as characters remember childhood meals, a mother’s cooking, meals with lovers and meals that turn out not as expected. Their appetite for food, as for life, is by turns bitter and sweet but never predictable.
May We Borrow your Country
‘Full of stories that dazzle with sensitive brilliance’
I have four pieces in May We Borrow Your Country and by popular request, I’m 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. I read an extract from this at the launch event.
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. 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.