FOCUS: Out Of The Darkness

Kavita Nandan’s first novel Home After Dark traces the life of an intelligent, independent and highly educated professional woman and her quest for  happiness and fulfilment in her marriage. Kamini,
03 May 2015 09:14
FOCUS: Out Of The Darkness
Kavita Nandan, whose first novel, Home After Dark, will be launched in Canberra, Australia, on Thursday. The launch by Professor Jacqueline Lo is at the Australian National University’s Humanities Research Centre.

Kavita Nandan’s first novel Home After Dark traces the life of an intelligent, independent and highly educated professional woman and her quest for  happiness and fulfilment in her marriage.

Kamini, the protagonist, is the quintessential modern woman and, like many successful career women, struggles to find balance and harmony in her marital life.

Hers is a tale of love found and then lost, of hope and disappointment and of a painful disintegration of her marriage. In the end, she finds solace in self-introspection and emerges stronger with a better understanding of life.

Although the story traverses three countries – India from where Kamini’s mother hails, Fiji, her father’s and her home, and Australia where the family moved after the 1987 military coup – much of  the narrative focuses on the coup, its aftermath and the other coups that followed the events of 1987.

The first-person account of her life story opens enigmatically in the first few sentences when, as a baby, she is rushed to hospital in her mother’s arms by”the Colonel” in his car after she choked on her mother’s milk.

“She remembers that her mother “always insisted that it was the Colonel’s single intent that saved me”.

While this Indian Colonel in Delhi may be credited with saving her life by transporting her speedily to the nearest hospital, the other Colonel in Fiji was later to shatter her cossetted life in Suva, forcing the family to seek refuge in Canberra. Kamini was 18 when she left Fiji. She pursued and excelled in her academic studies, and obtained a doctorate in English. And it was here she met Gavin whom she later married.

Soon it became apparent that it was a troubled marriage, with Kamini the breadwinner and Gavin content to stay home and reluctant to seek employment.

Nearly 14 years after her sudden departure from Fiji, Kamini returns to Suva with her husband to take up a position as an English Language lecturer at the university.

She renews old friendships, links up with relatives and settles into the routine of academic life. Gavin, already used to an indulgent life, laps up the easy island lifestyle and this puts more strain on their marriage, and it’s downhill from here.

The turmoil in Kamini’s personal life and Gavin’s failure to understand and support her lead eventually to an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.

Kamini’s recollection of the day of the coup is worth quoting: “How could any of us forget the coup?  It had been an ordinary day.

Most of us only had a vague  idea of  what a coup was and even after  it happened, the word sounded foreign in our mouths as we ignorantly clucked out the ‘’p’’ like chicken on my cousin Ravi’s farm”.

“Most ordinary people, unfamiliar with the French term “coup” (short for coup-de’tat) initially mispronounced it as “coop” . But now with Fiji having lived through half-a-dozen coups, the word is as familiar as kana.

Kavita  Nandan, through the eyes of  her central character, gives us new perspective and insight into the coups. Too young to comprehend the reasons or the motives of the coup-makers, they only saw their devastating effect _ the pain and trauma _ on the faces of their parents and relatives.

In Kamini’s case, her father and his political colleagues faced the horror of being abducted and imprisoned. They saw and became part of an exodus of families seeking a home in foreign countries.

One of the more fascinating aspects of the coup that Nandan touches on is what happened to some of the coup-makers.

In the story, Kamini visits St Giles Hospital in Suva where she meets one of the staff members who gives her a tour of the facility and tells her: “Did you know that after the first coup, some of them stayed in these very rooms?”

“You mean the parliamentarians that had been deposed?”

“The perpetrators,” he replies.

“It was a sorry sight to see grown men falling apart. Some were crying like babies…” One of them was an extreme case who had delusions that he had killed the Prime Minister and used to howl in pain during sleepless nights.

Perhaps they were wracked by feelings of guilt. It is not an entirely unlikely scenario, given that the Colonel himself has publicly apologised for the coup and has expressed deep remorse for his treasonable action.

Kavita Nandan is a talented writer and storyteller. The book is obviously partly autobiographical and her characters are drawn from real life.

They are not wooden caricatures but living beings.  She skilfully merges the different strands of her narrative into a unified whole. Her language is crisp and elegant, vibrantly pictorial, yet precise and simple.

She is an acutely sensitive observer and can paint a touching picture of a simple ritual as this paragraph illustrates: “As Arun bent down to touch his parents’ feet, grinning at me, I looked over the bushes to see a Fijian lady walking past in her Sunday best, her umbrella closed and thrust forward as if it were guiding her to heaven.

“If only I could have such faith. Arun touched his   mother’s feet first then his father’s. As he rose, lifeless flowers, sprinkled a moment ago by his mother, fell from his head, one landed on his shoulder for a brief moment before it also dropped to join the others on the ibe.”

Towards the end, we find Kamini back in Canberra sitting in a park in a pensive and meditative mood: “When I opened my eyes the world had become still, it had changed its aspect. I was ready to get up and walk home. I felt the promise of another ordinary day. It began to rain softly,” she says.

She has emerged from the gloom and darkness of her troubled life into the clear light of day, just as her former home country, Fiji, has just recently come out of an area of darkness into the sunlight of freedom and democracy.



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