For historical lovers, here’s something on the different side. I’ve read an historical or two set in India but never from an Indian’s perspective. Let’s broaden our horizons.
My review will be posted before the years end but I wanted to share this with y’all before then.  For those who read before it’s posted please, feel free to share your thoughts. I’d love to know what you think!
faint promise of rain
It is 1554 in the desert of Rajasthan, and a new Mughal emperor is expanding his territory. On a rare night of rain, a daughter, Adhira, is born to a family of Hindu temple dancers. Fearing a bleak future, her father—against his wife and sons’ protests—puts his faith in tradition and in his last child for each to save the other: he insists Adhira “marry” the temple deity and give herself to a wealthy patron. But after one terrible evening, she makes a bold choice that carries her family’s story and their dance to a startling new beginning. Told from the perspective of this exquisite dancer and filled with the sounds, sights and flavors of the Indian desert, Faint Promise of Rain is the story of a family and a girl caught between art, duty, and fear in a changing world. 
Faint Promise of Rain  gives an atmospheric, compassionate look into the hidden world of a temple dancer’s family.  Anjali Mitter Duva had me spellbound throughout this suspenseful coming of age novel that delivers a rich, satisfying ending.” Sujata Massey, author of The Sleeping Dictionary 
Thank you for taking time to visit the Book Nook, Anjali.
What was it like growing up in France?
When people hear I grew up primarily in Paris, their eyes grow wistful. “That must have been wonderful,” they say. As a child, I didn’t give it much thought. Paris was just where I happened to live. But in retrospect, I realize how lucky I was. I was surrounded by one of the most beautiful, cosmopolitan and cultural cities in the world. Not to mention fabulous food. By the age of 12, I was navigating the subway system on my own. My parents took me to artsy movies. And so many other countries and cultures were easily accessible by car. Of course, it was not a typical Parisian household, whatever that might be. We spoke English at home. We listened to Indian music. Now I live in the US and speak French with my children. I wish I could give them even more of France than the language and our occasional visits, but we are bound by budgets and school vacations.  
What is an infrastructure specialist & why did that call to you?
My graduate degree was in city planning. That can mean a lot of different things. Some fellow students focused on the design and placement of buildings. Others approached urban planning from an environmental angle. Still others focused on services for city residents and businesses. My particular interest was in the complex networks of infrastructure that make a city function: roads, public transport, electricity, and water. Perhaps this interest came from my growing up in a city with excellent services. The web of pipes and tunnels that existed underground and kept the city running intrigued me. Traveling often to less developed countries, I also saw first hand how lack of proper infrastructure has such a devastating impact on public health and economic growth and development. As an urban planner, I focused on working with municipalities and utilities to extend service to underserved areas.  
How do you go from that to writer?
I had been working on a project in the electricity sector, funded by a large international institution. But then the institution pulled the funding, and all of a sudden I was without a job. Fortunately, through my employer, I landed a freelance writing gig for PBS on the subject of shifting global economic markets. So I spent six months on mostly self-directed work, doing research, writing, collaborating with editors, and working on my own schedule. It was fantastic. My husband and I had started thinking about having children, and I realized the freelance route might make it feasible for me to be a parent yet still hold onto my own work. It took a while longer for me to integrate fiction writing, but this shift is what enabled me to consider it at all. 

Did you always want to write?

I always wrote, but I never set out to be a writer until suddenly experience and inspiration came together and I started my novel. As a child and teenager, I kept journals, dabbled in poetry and stories that I showed to no one. Many of my family members had written and published books, so I knew that writing was a worthy pursuit, one that was well respected in my family, but nonetheless I didn’t pursue a writing career. Perhaps I was just too interested in many other things. But I realize in retrospect that I always observed things in words. I often found myself describing situations to myself in fully formed sentences, knowing that I’d no doubt want to describe them to someone else at some point. So I suppose there was always a writer self somewhere in me. 

What is Kathak dance?

Kathak is one of the seven (some say eight) classical dance forms from India. It is the only one to blend Hindu and Muslim traditions and aesthetics. Kathak started out, over a thousand years ago, as a storytelling medium. Itinerant dancers and musicians traveled from village to village bringing the stories of the great Hindu epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, to the people. Kathak then developed into a devotional temple dance. Young girls were “married” to the temple’s deity and served the temple as dancers. These young girls, usually given or sold to the temples against their will, had sexual duties toward wealthy patrons who, in exchange for their favors, helped support the temple. Then, the Indian subcontinent fell under Muslim rule as a series of new Emperors, expanding their territory from Persia, took over, forming the Mughal Empire. Mughal rule, kathak was brought into Muslim courts as a form of entertainment, performed by courtesans. It shed some of its overtly devotional aspects, and was heavily influenced by rhythms, patterns and movements from Persian dance. When the British supplanted the Mughals and came to govern India in the mid 1850s, they outlawed kathak for being supposedly immoral. For decades, the dance was kept alive by prostitutes in red light districts, until it finally re-emerged onto the national and international stage during India’s early struggle for independence in the 1920s and 1930s. 

Is the study and practice of this dance a lifetime commitment?  If it’s intricate and relates the history of a country I imagine it’s very involved.

Kathak can, indeed, be a lifetime commitment. For those who devote themselves to it, kathak becomes a way of life. It is intricate, and full of history, tradition, philosophy and mathematics. If one is so inclined, it is a spiritual and meditative practice as well. However, it is also possible to take up kathak as an adult, something that is rare in the dance world. I did not start studying kathak until I was almost 30. Some of the students at the dance non-profit that I helped co-found, Chhandika, begin in their 40s, even 50s. Of course we have many beginners who are children, and it tends to be the teens and young adults, or those who started young, who excel at the lightning fast spins and dazzlingly rapid footwork, but there is much more to kathak, and really anyone—male, female, child, adult—can benefit from the dance. 

Please tell us about FAINT PROMISE OF RAIN, your first novel inspired by Kathak dance.

Around the same time as I began kathak classes, I traveled to India with my husband, returning to one of my favorite childhood destinations, the medieval fortressed city of Jaisalmer in the Thar Desert, in the state of Rajasthan. The raw beauty of the area—temples and fortresses rising out of the golden sand—made a lasting impression on me. Combined with the legends of Rajasthan’s battle-filled history and my discovery of kathak dance, everything converged. And then I read a beautiful and haunting anecdote in a guidebook to Rajasthan: it’s possible for children to reach the age of five without ever seeing rain, and therefore the ceilings and walls of royal children’s bedrooms were sometimes painted with cloud designs so that when it did finally rain, they would not be afraid. I wrote this image down, and everything else started spilling out. 

Do you have a WIP you can share with us?

From my own knowledge of India’s history, I discerned how the stories of the country and of kathak dance paralleled each other, with matching upheavals as power changed hands in India from Hindu kings to Muslim Emperors to British colonialists and back into Indian hands. And so my plan is to write four books, each set at one of these times of transition.

FAINT PROMISE OF RAIN begins just as the new Mughal Emperor, Akbar, sets his sights on Rajasthan, still under the rule of independent Hindu princes. The second book, which I’m working on now, will be set in Lucknow in the 1850s, the years before, during and after the fall of the last Nawab, or Indian Governor, to the British. Lucknow, dazzling in its architecture before it was destroyed in battle, also happened to be a center of literature, music and dance, in large part due to the Nawab’s love of the arts. The main characters are a courtesan and her half-French son.  

Have you read anything lately you would highly recommend?

Right now, I am making it a point to read some local authors, some of my peers, people I want to support. Most recently I read A.X. Ahmad’s The Caretaker, which I really enjoyed, especially as I am familiar with all the settings. It’s a literary thriller, set mostly on Martha’s Vineyard, in which the protagonist is a Sikh, formerly of the Indian army. I also just finished Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng, which will definitely haunt me for a while. And I’m reading A Time to Dance, by Padma Venkatraman, which is aimed at a young adult audience, and which I’m considering as a pick for the children’s book club that I run, but is actually a powerful read for anyone, about a young Indian dancer who loses a leg but is determined to keep dancing.

anjali

Anjali grew up in France and has family roots in Calcutta, India.

​ She is a co-founder of Chhandika, an organization that teaches and presents India’s classical storytelling kathak dance. She lives near Boston with her husband and two daughters, and is at work on her second novel.
Photo by Kobo Writing Life/Michael Benabib
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