Bandra Culling

Setting: Mumbai’s queen of suburbs called Bandra. Its bustling Catholic population people the plot of Connecticut-based author Nalini Jones’ debut collection of short stories titled What You Call Winter, which is being released in the Capital today.
Revolving around the lives of the people of Santa Clara (from six-year-old Jude Almeida, who is a witness to his godmother’s wild antics at the New Year party to 77-year-old Roddy D’Souza, who in the title story is haunted by visions of his dead father), these inter-connected stories beautifully weaves together their dilemmas, joys and concerns.
It’s migration which lies at the root of all it all. In the anthology, she looks at migration through the prism of another generation. “It’s the generation to which my parents belong.” But isn’t migration and dislocation the lot of the GenNext too? “Certainly. People of my own generation are faced with some of the same possibilities which are simultaneously difficult and exciting. And perhaps every person, whether he moves to another part of the globe or not, has to think about what it means to have a home,” says the author, who draws on her memories of visiting Bandra as a child.
In Santa Clara, her imagination meets her memories. “I’ve always loved coming to Bombay, and certainly my fondness for Bandra and my interest in its people was an inspiring factor. But because my experience of Bandra has always been in some ways restricted —- as a child, as a visitor — I felt I had to create a new place, a fictional place, to write more fully about the world my characters inhabited,” she says.
Jones also explores the idea of home in the book. She believes that like abstraction, home means different things to different people. So where does Jones feel to belong to? “I was born and raised in the States, but the connection I feel to India is strong because it was my mother’s home and because it’s still home for people I love — my grandparents, my uncle. I remember their house as it was when I was a child, and that sense of returning to a familiar and beloved landscape is powerful. Because of that, arriving at their house feels like a homecoming,” holds the author, who considers India as an incredible setting, full of dazzling possibility. “I’m very drawn to its multiplicity, and Bombay in particular is home to people of all sorts of religions, classes, backgrounds and interests,” she adds.
However, she feels most comfortable in a ‘home’ that is constantly shifting. “That’s the backstage at concerts and festivals. My father has worked in that world for my whole life, and I grew up in the wings of his productions,” explains the author, who feels a profound sense of belonging when she’s backstage at any musical event,” says Jones. That may not be the traditional idea of home but it’s the one she says she carries with her.
As a writer, her role, Jones states, is to explore character. “This means that I’m concerned with individuals, with identities in the most personal and precise sense. I don’t think you can work successfully in fiction with generalities or types,” adds the author, for whom writing is a “way of engaging with the world.” Writing is the way she copes with the most difficult, challenging, intriguing, exhilarating questions that the world throws at her. “I think about those questions through fiction and try to come to some new understanding or resolution by creating characters and following where they lead me. I don’t usually know where that will be, or what I’ll learn along the way. But for me, it is about that sense of first of need, and then hopefully, ultimately, of discovery,” says Jones, who likes the works of Kiran Desai, Suketu Mehta, Anita Desai, Amit Chaudhuri, Amitav Ghosh, Salman Rushdie and Vikram Seth. “Gerson da Cunha’s poetry has been an inspiration. And I’ve recently begun reading some of the essays of Naresh Fernandes, which I like tremendously,” she says.
Talking about the writer’s role in a world torn with strife, she agrees with Caryl Phillips argument that writers “provide alternative narratives, new ways of considering what’s happening to us. Fiction can help us come to a greater understanding of truth”. She adds that good writing makes it possible for us to connect with people who seem remote to us otherwise.
Jones is in India to research material for the next book. So, will it be India culling again? It might. We’ll stay tuned.

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