By Amit Roy
THERE will be more to say by and by about Kavita A Jindal’s debut novel, Manual For a Decent Life, which was published in February this year (Brighthorse Books; £14.65 from Amazon).
Maybe I have led too sheltered a life, but I have to admit I was taken aback by some of the sex scenes in the book. Perhaps not too many Asian women writers are quite as explicit as Kavita.
Waheeda (‘Wija’ for short) Rela is a convent-educated Muslim woman, who is rebuffed when she tries to make love to her husband Nafis. He is not a bad person, but he is an artist who has lost interest in his wife and has taken himself off to lead a solitary life in the hills. The tale is set in Nulkazim, a small town in Uttar Pradesh, where Wija’s stepfather, Aseem, has set up a minor political party called the Nulkazim Peace Forum.
Wija is persuaded to give up the life of a college lecturer in Delhi to return to Nulkazim and go into politics which, as we all know, can be a dirty and dangerous business in India.
When the novel opens, we quickly learn that it is six months since Wija’s brothers, Rohail and Irfan, have somehow both been killed. The centre of her life is her young daughter Zahira (“Hira”).
Wija meets a tycoon’s son, Monish Selvani, a Hindu boy who is several years her junior. They quickly become lovers, though it is very complicated to arrange their trysts at his apartment during her visits to Delhi.
I was drawn into the novel which I read from beginning to end over about a week. It is laced with stolen sex, chatter between Waheeda and her girlfriends from school and the reality of booth capturing during Indian elections.
This is not to spoil it for anyone but I was pretty shocked by the brutal twist at the end which took me completely unawares.
London-based Kavita (whose name means poems), grew up between Hong Kong and England. She began writing poetry at the age, and is a founder member of a collective of British Asian women writers, The Whole Kahani, whose publications – short stories and poems, for example – I have previously covered. Manual For A Decent Life is quite a kahani (story).