The Whole Kahani of Kavita A. Jindal on not being a muse

The Whole Kahani of Kavita A. Jindal on not being a muse

When it comes to writing, there are poets you love for their choice of words and a muse at their creativity and self.

Kavita A. Jindal is very incisive about what goes on a paper. Even the lyrical nature of the prose in her outing as a novelist is captivating with its eloquence. Having kept pace with her writing, I have noticed a poet constantly scoring over her fresh crossbars. What impresses me about her life and struggle is the realism found in her optimism, aptly captured in this minuscule poem.

For the business leaders, it offers the picture of a froth of expectations and perception over any corporate lunch, where everyone dreams and expects everything knowing that small talks are the preparations for a hard bargain later on.

Kavita A. Jindal is an award-winning poet, novelist and essayist. Her novel ‘Manual For A Decent Life’ won the Brighthorse Prize and the ‘Eastern Eye’ Award for Literature. Her poetry collections are ‘Patina’, ‘Raincheck Renewed’ and ‘Raincheck Accepted’. Selected poems have been translated into several European languages. She is the co-founder of The Whole Kahani writers’ collective.

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Poet’s helping hand:

Historically, women were less visible than men as ‘creators’; they were also less able to be creators, although generally, the ‘muse’ was female. As was the supportive structure. I was commissioned to write a poem on the subject, and this tripped off my tongue. The speaker insists she can perform all the arts. She wants to retain the credit for her original ideas. I read it once a year as a rousing reminder that we are all capable of doing everything we wish to do, health, time management and sleep permitting, of course.

Q

Your earlier ‘Raincheck’ collections have a less noise of day-to-day narratives and images, while your last pamphlet, ‘Patina’, is relaxed about familiar contexts. A range of content is also eclectic. They are more narrative-rich to fit the prevailing trend. What brought this change to your approach? Where next from here?

A

Raincheck Renewed’ was more meditative because I wrote it in snippets and snatched quiet moments in the midst of child-rearing, freelance editing, and busy timetables. I was also writing just to write and not to publish, although obviously later the poems came together into a second collection. By the time I collated a selection of poems for ‘Patina’, I had been back in London for some years, and in a new writing phase, and I was publishing regularly.

You’re right that the trend is for a narrative; editors seem to like poems that have recognisable subjects and explain themselves subtly within the poem. But perhaps more importantly, I felt able to speak out more and voice my opinions, even if unpopular, as I had begun to think, ‘If not now, then when?’

My interests remain eclectic and wide-ranging, and I don’t expect to be restricted by theme or genre in my writing. I still do like to write abstract poems and shorter reflective pieces. Future poems will continue with freedom of thought and expression in varying styles and I aim to practise greater devotion to precision in craft, whatever the content or form.

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Q

Tell us more about your recent award-winning novel and how it is different.

A

Manual For A Decent Life’ is a world away from my life in poetry, almost a parallel writing life.

Involving years of research and graft it was sparked by an early interest in the trajectory of women politicians in India.

It’s set at the close of the 20th century, a time of political flux, but also great change in the country, before the digital age became all-encompassing. The novel has been categorised as historical fiction, literary fiction, a political thriller, a romance. I suppose it’s all of those. Through my two main characters I explore the clash of public and private lives and also the clash of rural and urban cultures.

It’s a complex book about society as a whole, and I’ve been delighted that so many book groups have read and discussed it, and more importantly, understood it. That is a reward for my two small indie publishers, one in the UK and one in the US, who appreciated the manuscript and brought the book into the world.

Unlike my poetry, which roams the globe restlessly, the novel is set firmly in the landscapes of northern India. Working on two dichotomous writing strands was good for me. I could indulge my love of Indian music, attire, food, fruit, insects, and flowers by slipping in references to all these in the novel. While in my poems, I could comment on the world, or the UK, or universal emotions.

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Q

For me, your three poems mark your footprints on a cultural journey you have taken: ‘Kabadiwala’ absorbing pure Indian moments, you leaving your town capturing the last view and the sentimental take of it from a window of a train leaving a platform, and the third one, a contrasting juxtaposition of the cultural traits of life in London through your journey on the London Underground carriage. I am missing here Hong Kong. Please, connect all dots for us.

A

You have astutely hit upon how my cultural journeys play out in my work. In fact the poem, ‘It was in May’, is set in South India, although I’m North Indian. I did live for a brief and formative period in southern India, and I’ve also lived in other parts of the country. ‘Kabadiwala’ is set in Delhi, as is a large part of ‘Manual For A Decent Life’.

As a young adult, I went to Hong Kong, living and working there on and off for 13 years. It was a marvellous city for a young person and I say that with some nostalgia, given unfolding events. In my spare time, I learnt about Chinese artefacts and traditions. A certain aspect of Hong Kong does make an appearance in ‘Raincheck Renewed’ in the social satire poems of ‘Aspiring to be a Tai Tai’.

There’s also a poem about buried pottery unearthed when Disneyland was built. And funnily enough, my first ever writing win in London was with the short story, ‘A Flash of Pepper’, set in Hong Kong. I am writing a series of vignettes about my time there and I hope that will fill the gap that you’ve pointed out.

My global span in terms of places of residence (and what fills my heart) is definitely: India, Hong Kong and London. London is now where I have stayed in one place longest. I believe it to be a city that rewards all interests (there is a museum for everything, no matter how esoteric) and I have a deep affection for its vibrant sprawl as well as the quieter part that I inhabit. India is so expansive, in every single way, that you could never write enough about it.

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Yogesh Patel runs Skylark Publications UK as well as the non-profit Word Masala project to promote South Asian diaspora literature. He is the recipient of many awards, including as Poet of Honour at New York University in April 2019. In this regular series for iGlobal, he profiles Global Indian poets from around the world.

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