The beach……bougainvillea, frangipani, hibiscus; these words transport me from my home in rainy London to the seaside. I have always been fond of the sea and I must admit I blush a deep pink when my parents reminisce about the times when I used to run into the crashing waves as a tubby toddler. I can only imagine their experience of mixed emotions on seeing their child revelling in the joy of Mother Nature and at the same time feeling a tad anxious as a result of their instinct to protect.
‘Kalyana’ is a coming of age novel about a young girl (named Kalyana) who lives with her parents, older brother and aunt in a Fijian town. Khelawan is a wonderful storyteller who draws you into the experiences of life of an Indian family in Fiji spanning the late 60s to early 90s. She blends facts with fiction very well - be it the references to Fijian independence, the turbulent reign of the Indian political party or the rise of feminist influences.
I loved the descriptions of life in the Fiji Islands– the salty air, humidity, tropical flowers, palm trees, waves, sand, seashells, crabs….I can go on and on and on! I have to admit that I vicariously vacationed in Fiji during the course of the novel. As someone once said, “Between the pages of a book, is a lovely place to be”.
Khelawan’s style of writing is enthralling and I found it very hard to disengage. Upon reflection, I am so pleased that I read this book whilst on holiday as it would have been almost torturous to leave the confines of this prose for the performance of mere mundane chores that often constitute life.
Kalyana, the protagonist, manages to win your heart through her down to earth nature and endearing ways. Khelawan effectively demonstrates the influence of patriarchy in an Indian family through Kalyana’s relationship with her father, brother and uncle. Her relationship with her aunt Manjula is depicted beautifully and reminds you that aunts often are, our friends and guides. They know our family as well as we do and are often our strongest allies during family tiffs. Finally, Kalyana’s relationship with her mother can be described as being seen through a kaleidoscope where it takes on different hues through childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
Khelawan needs to be especially commended for bringing to light very sensitively, a debilitating social evil. I will not delve into its details but I have to say that the manner in which Khelawan addresses it within the mores of Indian culture is empowering to say the least.
There are few books that educate and entertain at the same time and I can confidently say that Khelawan through ‘Kalyana’ has masterfully achieved this feat. Forgive me for being a stickler when it comes to themes but I couldn’t resist comparing Khelawan’s triumph to deftly pushing a boat out into sea.