Pavitra in Paris
A review by Ben Antao
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, 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 left 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.”
Splash! tells the story about a teacher teaching low caste students and his son falling in love with a low caste girl. The protagonist fakes suicide by drowning in a well to test his love for a Muslim woman. This story brings to light the caste prejudices present in the village of Bihar and its ghastly superstitions and horoscopes.
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 the villages to urban centres for work and happiness, also a satire on arranged marriages in Canada among new immigrants.
The 256-page book, price $17.95 US, is published by Greengardens Media of Toronto.
Ben Antao, a Canadian Goan journalist and author, has published five novels, several short stories as well as two memoirs and two travelogues. He lives in Toronto. He can be reached at email@example.com