Gregor Robertson, Mayor, City of Vancouver: “I am glad that our beautiful city has inspired such a fascinating collection of stories. Congratulations on the success of Pavitra in Paris.”
David Miller, former Mayor, City of Toronto: “I am very glad we have writers like you in our city.”
SAFF Canada South Asian Film Festival: “Absolutely beautiful, evocative and inspiring. We dream your dream Vinita. Thank You so much for sharing it with us.”
A review by Lise Watson, Publisher, Editor and Humanitarian:
It’s not easy to write a great short story, but when done well, we are carried off by the storyteller to a special place as if by magic. A writer must move swiftly to develop characters, settings and conflicts, and resolve them in suitable fashion.
Without a doubt, Vinita Kinra has done the genre proud with these eleven extraordinary short stories in Pavitra in Paris.
Kinra was born to Punjabi parents in Milton, Ontario. Two years later, the family returned to India where Kinra connected with her roots in a big way. After completing university, she accepted teaching positions in France, and eventually returned to Canada, first to Vancouver, and now she calls Toronto home. All of these experiences have informed Kinra’s writing in the most wonderful ways, and she is certainly delighted to share. Sink your teeth into these tales and you will want to savour every morsel. How lucky we are.
With the exception of the first story, The Curse of a Nightingale, which is set in Afghanistan, our journey starts and ends in India where tradition mingles with modernity, and our characters struggle to find clarity. Several of the protagonists make brave attempts at mediating the intersections between their home cultures and those they find in Paris, Vancouver and New York. To others, this is only an unfulfilled dream.
The situations may be specific to the South Asian experience, but Kinra’s key themes are largely universal: love and marriage, fading passions and compromise, lusting after the forbidden, bridging the generation gap, domestic abuse and violence against women, and inequities in class, gender and race. The range of characters and their circumstances is fascinating. There are arranged marriages and mixed marriages, snake charmers and camel traders, beautiful nature-loving young girls, evil in-laws, studious and ambitious young women and men, an urban engagement party and a faked death in a village, strolls through parks, a fateful meeting on a train and a perilous desert voyage, call-centre workers and shop attendants, a British suitor and a Canadian photographer, housewives, widows and a former Bollywood actress.
While each story is unique, there is an underlying melancholia that runs through them all. For instance, in the poignant Groom Bazaar, a personal favourite, in which the widow Sita and her son Rohan are enjoying the rambunctious celebration of Rohan’s engagement to his non-Indian girlfriend near Central Park in New York City until Sita is coerced into revealing the details of her own love story. She tells the tale of an arranged marriage with a twist, and discloses a long-hidden family secret to her son, with tear-filled eyes.
Kinra’s power of description is remarkable; we can almost smell the roti’s being prepared, taste the grilling hotdogs and fried onions, hear the songs of the birds and the congestion caused by too many auto rickshaws, feel the thirst of the desert traveller and the fear of the Afghan girl. And she is an expert in shocking surprise endings. We are lulled into a false sense of serenity and then smacked in the face in a heartbeat, time and time again. Be forewarned, there is some astonishing brutality in a few of these narratives, but this lends a necessary authenticity and respect for those who suffer thusly.
The collection aptly closes with fable-like, The Camel Trader, another personal favourite. In this story we follow Makhan Singh as he travels the vast Thar Desert in Rajasthan with his trusty camel, Veeru, to confront his missing camel supplier. He makes the dangerous journey despite the warnings he gets along the way, but what he finds when he reaches the supplier’s home is not at all what he expects. We close with Makhan reading a tragic letter left behind by the home’s former inhabitants, and left wondering how on earth he makes it back to the Pushkar bazaar, from whence he came.
As the end draws near, we find ourselves wanting more, much more. Thankfully the talented wordsmith has her first novel in the works. We will need to be very, very patient until it makes its entrance next year.
Lise Watson, M.A. in Higher Education is the founder, publisher and editor of Toronto World Arts Scene (TWAS) e-zine and website (www.twasonline.com) and has been an active member of the arts media in Toronto for many years. She is a regular contributor to Ken Stowar’s Global Rhythms on CIUT89.5FM. In 2011, Lise co-founded Kotu-Erinjang School Support to provide financial assistance to the Burbage Nursery School Kotu-Erinjang in The Gambia, West Africa.
A review by Ben Antao, Journalist & Author:
It is to the credit of Canadian culture that new literary voices continue to emerge from our multicultural mosaic. The latest voice I am privileged to record is that of Vinita Kinra, born in Milton, Ontario and educated in Jaipur and New Delhi (India), a writer of extraordinary talent.
Her first collection of short stories titled Pavitra in Paris is a delightful exploration of caste, class, arranged marriages, dowry anxiety, love and whimsy set in western and northern India as well as in Vancouver: places she’s lived in and knows well enough to recreate in fiction.
At least two of the 11 stories in the collection—Kamini and The Package Deal—cry out to be expanded to novel length.
Kamini, an old maid at 31, is finally married off to a well-to-do owner of a tea estate in Darjeeling. While her husband is away on business, Kamini has an affair with Nikhil, her neighbour’s eighteen-year-old son. This story is enlivened with lavish personification and description evoking all the five senses to lay bare a Niagara of emotions.
Here’s a sample of her descriptive prose about Darjeeling. “We will walk hand in hand through olive green forests of cedar, cypress and chestnut, in the gathering haze and dancing mist, and the dappled sunlight will dazzle our eyes by the confusion of light and shade. You will splash your soft feet in the crystal streams tumbling noisily from rocks to stones in picturesque hillsides.”
The Package Deal is an inspired story, ingeniously plotted, of love and arranged marriages, really two for the price of one dowry. The author keeps the narrative flowing with apt analogies tempering the characters’ thinking processes.
Vinita displays a wicked sense of form and style, and a deep understanding of human nature, as she navigates the reader through the ups and downs of this captivating story—another novel in the making.
The title story Pavitra in Paris is a humourous and entertaining narrative involving Pavitra, an untouchable servant, and his journey with his masters from India to Paris. At the airport waiting area Pavitra felt the need to rest after standing on his feet for long hours. “Looking around, he stretched his legs in front of him, letting out a muffled whine as he rested his bent back against vibrantly papered wall. The relief on his shrivelled face was similar to a bird flying out of its cage after long captivity, as he unstrapped his shoes and pressed his frosted feet lightly.”
The Perfect Match is a fairy tale story worthy of Bollywood creation. More than this, it sheds light on India’s new economy and the migration from villages to urban centres for work and happiness: also a satire on arranged marriages in Canada among new immigrants.
The 256-page book is published by Greengardens Media of Toronto.
Ben Antao, M.A. English, is a Canadian Goan journalist, author and former President of Canadian Authors Association (Toronto Branch). He has published five novels, several short stories, as well as two memoirs and two travelogues. He lives in Toronto.
A review by Maria Pia Marchelletta, President of Writers and Editors Network of Toronto:
Vinita Kinra’s short story book “Pavitra in Paris” introduces the western reader to the intricacies of the world of arranged marriages in Indian culture. A world she knows too well.
Her prose has a hint of elegance with poetic flare. The character in “The Curse of a Nightingale” compares herself to a “blooming daffodil.” The song is so brilliantly composed.
The emotions of her characters are vividly portrayed via effective usage of the simile. “By now, Ganesh was trembling like a wilted dry leaf as he replaced the flashlight from near the pillow of the empty bed,…” “Vinayakji’s eyes bulged like saucers…”
Vinita effectively portrays the turmoil experienced by her characters as she delves into their thought processes. “I smiled through my slit eye from behind my burqa on contemplating the title. Masked.I despised the merciless cloak that caged by blooming beauty in its shapeless prison.” The usage of the character’s name Nargis as a masked nightingale clearly displays her angst with these conformities. The author’s cleverness with employing this symbolism strengthens her message to the reader.
In summary, Vinita is a talented fictional writer. This fine collection of short stories is a must read.
Maria Pia Marchelletta is a poet, writer, artist and President of the Writers and Editors Network of Toronto.