Pavitra in Paris
Stories for Life by Vinita Kinra
Greengardens Media, Toronto, Canada, 2013
Vinita Kinra, who has recently published her first book, Pavitra in Paris: a collection of eleven short stories (www.vinitakinra.com), was born in Canada in 1975. Her Punjabi family returned to their native India with her when she was a child so that she could grow up and be educated in her own culture. Eventually Kinra found her way to France to study, and later became a translator and teacher of English. In 2004, she came to Canada, and is now settled with her husband and daughter in Toronto, which she considers her home.
Pavitra in Paris demonstrates Kinra’s talent as a good storyteller. Some of the best stories are set in rural India where poverty and violence are common. In “The Inseparables” it is not a couple, but a young girl and a parrot that are bonded in life and death. Chanda, a homely and lonely schoolgirl, lives in Madhupan, renowned for its “magnificent milk-white Jain temples” that attract pilgrims, and permeate “the atmosphere with chaste spirituality.” One day, on her walk to school, twelve-year old Chanda notices a bright green baby parrot in the bushes and begins to feed it her lunch of guava fruit. She talks to the parrot, and over time, becomes obsessed with it. Chanda eventually has to leave her family and the village because of an arranged marriage that turns sour and brutal.
As depicted in these stories, the custom of arranged marriages often results in abuse, for after leaving her parents’ home, the young bride becomes, so to speak, the property of her husband and her in-laws. Although such marriages are more common in India, they can happen in Canada as well, as described in “The Perfect Match” in which a young woman named Lovely, who works in a jewellery store in New Delhi, bows to her parent’s wishes, and marries a Punjabi man from British Columbia – an alliance arranged over the internet. The man that Lovely had chosen for herself is rejected by her parents – a choice they come to regret when they see their “lovely” daughter appear on the webcam, bruised and desperate in her comfortable home in Vancouver.
Desperation is the state of many of the characters in this collection. The title story is about Pavitra, a sixty-year-old man facing destitution, abuse, and survival based on rats for sustenance. He is “rescued” by the well-to-do Brahmin, Anil, who takes him as his servant to Paris. The story revolves around how Pavitra, uneducated and naive, reacts like a “Mr. Bean” to a world that he is unprepared for, a world that includes airplanes and hotels. In the elevator of the Eiffel Tower, accompanied by Anil and his family, Pavitra is overwhelmed by the freedom and richness around him:
“As Pavitra ascended the tangle of iron plates, girders and bolts of the world’s best loved tower in an oblique elevator, the panorama below him emancipated his spirit. He loomed over the crowds, envisioning himself as a king attired in purple robes, wearing a gem-studded crown and watching over his commonplace subjects with an ingratiating smile….The therapeutic effect of the delicate lines, the dense heavy metal, and the staggering height – all left him inebriated with ethereal prowess.”
Yet Pavitra comes to a tragic end that same evening.
“The Curse of a Nightingale” which opens this collection, takes place in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, where Nargis, a young girl on her way to school, is drenched with acid by Taliban soldiers. Although one often reads stories of such brutality in the news, the author brings to life the poignancy of the young, artistic girl who suffers unthinkable pain, but still has the will to live and dream of a better world.
The quality of some of the stories in Pavitra in Paris can be uneven, and the language at times seems overly mannered, but overall, Kinra’s first book includes powerful stories, rendered memorable by their humanity and raw energy.