"In this debut collection, Jaya Padmanabhan has brought
together a diverse and memorable group of characters from many kinds of
backgrounds. With meticulous details and keen observation, she
brings them to life and makes us care about them - their poverty, their
loneliness, their tragedies and their triumphs."
- CHITRA DIVAKARUNI, author of The Mistress of spices and Oleander Girl
"Mustard Seeds is a big story. It’s packed full of emotions and
images. This gives it the feel of a tapestry and from the start the
soulful writing drew me in and I wanted to savour and explore the story."
- Laurel House Creative Workshops
"This is a story about the utter destruction of a family because of
their political beliefs. I appreciated its temporal balancing
act - suspending the story in a single present moment while simultaneously
revealing the protagonist’s past and gesturing toward his certain,
irreversible future. The theme of fire is a smoldering presence
- Shilpa Agarwal, Author of Haunting Bombay
"We had a remarkable number of submissions written in 1st person, and
I found that this story showcased the best that perspective offers: it
sustains a compelling and original voice."
- Ronica Dhar, Author of Bijou Roy
"Another excellent story, a saccade of epiphanies ‘limned by light
and shadow’, delightfully woven in exquisite language! The flashbacks
and present-time reflections merge into a prose poem that conveys a
depth of poignant feeling."
- Dr. John Yeoman, Writers' Village
"A chilling and beautifully crafted tale! The pacing of each
paragraph is immaculate. The perception is deep and compelling.
The emblem of the kitten as a metaphor for the lost innocence of the son
is well developed."
Dr. John Yeoman, Writers' Village
Q & A with Local Author Jaya
By Anita Felicelli, Apr 26, 2014
Jaya Padmanabhan's debut short story
collection Transactions of Belonging was
published by Leadstart Publishing yesterday. I
met Jaya when we took a fiction workshop
together in 2009 and was immediately impressed
with her talent. The stories she submitted
were intense, powerful and memorable. Jaya is
the managing editor of the widely circulated
Indian-American magazine India Currents (in
the interests of fair disclosure: I contribute
to India Currents). She is also a generous and
observant nonfiction writer.
Novelist Chitra Divakaruni noted the diverse
cast of characters in Jaya's collection,
writing, "With meticulous details and keen
observation, she brings them to life and makes
us care about them - their poverty, their
loneliness, their tragedies and their
triumphs." Jaya will read from Transactions of
Belonging on May 11, 2014 at 4 p.m. at Know
Transactions of Belonging is an evocative
title. Are the stories in your collection
organized around the theme of belonging?
Yes, in this collection I tried to examine the
give and take of belonging—the transactions we
enter into, the compromises we make, the
filters we use to justify our beliefs. In one
of the stories-"The Blue Arc"-a woman trapped
in the brothels of Calcutta cultivates a
relationship with a neighbor as her reason to
belong. In another one, a young boy searches
the reason for his alienation. The emotional
ups and downs in the stories are part of the
journey that I take the reader on.
When I hear the title of your collection, I
not only think of belonging, but also the
things that stand in the way of
belonging-displacement or dislocation. Where
do these stories take place?
Great question. True, many are about
displacement. Characters in the collection
find themselves in unfamiliar locales and
novel relationships. I have tried to get at
how we as individuals attempt to interpret our
encounters to shape our experiences. The
geographic boundaries that the characters
inhabit are incidental. Some are in India and
some are in the U.S. The story "His Curls" is
free of geographical boundaries and hence can
be placed or displaced anywhere.
When did you start working on this
collection? Also, related, you've worked in
many different capacities - have any of your
day jobs influenced your work?
I've worked on the collection for over three
years. Each one of my jobs exposed me to
untold stories and narratives waiting to be
written. I have always been a
writer-in-waiting and all these other jobs,
whether as a mother, a collections agent or as
a software engineer, presented a worldview, a
perspective, that I would never have been
privy to otherwise.
Do you have a favorite story in the
collection? What is it about?
I think I'd like to answer that by talking
about the story I had the most tumultuous
relationship with. The story "His Curls" is
the first short story I wrote and I spent over
three years debating what the ending should
be. Finally I left it ambiguous. The story is
about a mother who suspects her son is a
terrorist. The story's ending can be shaped
depending on how the reader views the world
around him/her. Finally, I found that the
ending settled into place as an engagement
with the reader. Agonizing about the story
taught me that every story did not need to be
tied into a neat knot. The beginning, ending
and even the middle can be as troubling as the
interior world the characters inhabit.
Which authors do you see as influences for
your fiction writing?
This is one of the most complicated questions
to answer. I have favorite writers for
different moods. I like Rohinton Mistry for
his compassionate voice; V.S. Naipaul for his
brilliant modulation; Toni Morrison for her
spare, stark prose; J.D. Salinger for the
timelessness of his tale; Margaret Atwood for
her inventiveness; Vladimir Nabokov for
writing the most startlingly perfect
multi-dimensional novel: Pale Fire, and the
list goes on.
Has your work with India Currents first as
a writer and later as managing editor
impacted the kinds of stories you're
interested in telling?
Working for a magazine like India Currents has
taught me the beauty of moderation and the
power of interrogation. It's been an
incredible learning experience. Mostly, I am
humbled by the talent I've encountered, the
beautiful voices I've worked with, including
this interviewer's. The stories I'd like to
tell today are the ones I encounter in my
everyday, the environment I live, love and
Are you working on anything new?
I'm working on a novel titled The Eleventh
Letter. It's been in the works for close to
four years. It has some of the characters that
you'll meet in one of the short stories.