#DesiCraftChat: Nandita Dinesh on how the hybrid, nonlinear novel form helped her write about the effects of war

Desi Books Ep 83 w/ N. Kalyan Raman Desi Books


(available at Anchor.fm, Spotify, Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, Breaker, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Overcast)

Hello and welcome to Episode 82 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt. Thank you for tuning in.

In today’s #DesiCraftChat, we have Nandita Dinesh discussing her debut novel, This Place That Place, and how the hybrid, nonlinear novel form helped her write about the effects of war, how her theater and performance background informed this book, why she wanted to explore nuanced and ethical ways to engage with contexts we may not understand, and much more.

#DESICRAFTCHAT WITH NANDITA DINESH — INTRODUCTION

Nandita Dinesh holds a Ph.D. in Drama from the University of Cape Town in South Africa, an MA in Performance Studies from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, and a BA in Economics & Theater from Wellesley College. An alumna of the United World College movement, Nandita has conducted community-based theatre projects in Kashmir, India, the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. In 2017, she was awarded the Elliott Hayes Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dramaturgy by Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas.

This Place That Place is about people earnestly searching for a way to preserve their friendship across seemingly insurmountable political divides. This Place That Place centers on two characters from opposing sides of an unnamed war. On the day of a family wedding, a stunning announcement dramatically shifts the relationship between This Place and That Place, sparking a government-imposed curfew that locks everyone inside. Suddenly finding themselves sharing the same isolated space, the two grapple with unexplored attraction, their deep and abiding admiration for each other’s work, and a bond they hope to save from being another casualty of war. Interwoven throughout are documents and past correspondence between the two, laying out their history and how each sees in the other hope for mending the rift between This Place and That Place. This Place That Place is a dialogue-driven, evocative, and inventive debut that functions as an allegory for Kashmir/India, Palestine/Israel, or any instance of occupied and occupier. But more than that, it offers a new way to think about the intersection of the personal and the political, a new way to reconcile nationalism and activism, and a new way to talk about conflict and two-sidedness.

This Place, That Place, Nandita Dinesh’s debut novel, centers on two characters from opposing sides of an unnamed war; people searching for ways to preserve their friendship across insurmountable political divides. #DesiCraftChat @DesiBooks

On a personal note, this is one of those rare debut novels this year that breaks a lot of the usual rules and deals with important, critical themes around war, protest, and how the human spirit carries on even in the worst of times. It isn’t a quick read and it left me questioning a lot of my own preconceived notions about what it is like to live in near-constant conflict and curfew, what protest really means, and why we need to keep looking for, as Nandita says here, nuanced and ethical ways to engage with things we don’t fully understand. Please get this book, read it, share it, and discuss it. It’s not your usual kind of desi book and it’s likely not going to get the attention it deserves unless we all make a conscious effort to uplift it.

Here’s Nandita Dinesh now.

#DESICRAFTCHAT WITH NANDITA DINESH

Edited excerpts from the interview:

Jenny Bhatt: So the first thing I’m curious about is what drove you to work with these kinds of fragmentary, hybrid forms and structures for this novel?

Nandita Dinesh: That’s a great question. I should start by saying that my background is in theater and performance studies. So that has been a huge part of my thinking and my writing for the last decade or so. And in fact, I had my start in “academic writing”: writing for theater and performance studies scholarship. And it was through this process that I realized that I’ve never been one to like sticking to the conventions of a form. So I remember, even in graduate school, going to my professors—and this was at NYU—it was in performance studies, very, “conventional academia.” And I went to my professors, and I said, can I please write my final paper for this class as a play? And they would often come back to be with: okay, well, if you can come up with enough of a theoretical framework to support it, go ahead. I give the backstory because I think this desire to think about how different forms come together, and how they play with each other, and how each story not only contains different elements thematically, but that each story perhaps needs its own way to look on the page has been something that’s really consumed my thinking for a long time. And so it was that background, that desire to always experiment with form, that that led to the way the novel has been structured.

The other part of it is in a more theoretical sense, I suppose. I’ve been working in conflict zones—some more active, some less active, some that are considered post-conflict (though, we can probably debate what that means.) And in all of these settings, one of the elements I found was that linear narratives tend to, in some way, seem to present conflicts as somehow being understandable, that there’s somehow these phenomena that can be presented in an almost linear form. And that’s something that, even theoretically, I haven’t agreed with, I find that my experiences in these conflict zones have been super-fragmented. And it’s about how you put these fragments together in some type of collage that then makes sense to each person differently. In my opinion, that’s the only ethical, the only real, way to make sense of conflict. And any other way to write about it just seems disingenuous somehow; that it offers a linearity that doesn’t exist.

“…linear narratives […] present conflicts as somehow understandable […] something that, even theoretically, I haven’t agreed with.” Nandita Dinesh on the hybrid nonlinear form of her novel, This Place, That Place #DesiCraftChat @DesiBooks

Jenny Bhatt: What would you want as maybe one or two of the most important takeaways to be for readers?

Nandita Dinesh: I would want readers—in terms of the content, I think—what I want readers to really question is: what are nuanced and ethical ways for outsiders to engage with contexts that we don’t understand? I think that’s a question that has plagued my work for the last decade. It’s something that really plagues the book. It’s this: at what point, can you get it—or can you ever get it—if you’ve never lived it? And if you can never get it, then should you even try? And what does it mean to try to understand the experience of others? I think that is one central question that I would love for readers to think about in terms of the content.

The other question that I would love for folks to think about is in terms of the form and what we expect novels to look like or what we expect poetry to look like. And what these assumptions say about the kind of schooling we’ve had or not had, or the kinds of worldviews we hold or not. And I think I would love for readers to engage in introspection about why do we expect books to look a certain way?

“…what are nuanced and ethical ways for outsiders to engage with contexts that we don’t understand? […] why do we expect books to look a certain way?” Nandita Dinesh on reader takeaways from her novel, This Place, That Place #DesiCraftChat @DesiBooks


You’ve been listening to episode 82 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt. Thank you for tuning in.

Today’s #DesiCraftChat was with Nandita Dinesh discussing her debut novel, This Place That Place, and how the hybrid, nonlinear novel form helped her write about the effects of war, how her theater and performance background informed this book, why she wanted to explore nuanced and ethical ways to engage with contexts we may not understand, and much more.

Episode 83 will be up shortly. Follow on Twitter @desibooks, Instagram @desi.books, Facebook @desibooksfb. Tag the accounts if you have requests or suggestions. Please go to the website if you’d like to sign up for the free, weekly newsletter. That’s desibooks.co. And please share this interview via social media so we can keep raising the tide of desi literature.

Stay healthy, keep reading, and write well.

This Place, That Place, Nandita Dinesh’s debut novel, centers on two characters from opposing sides of an unnamed war; people searching for ways to preserve their friendship across insurmountable political divides. #DesiCraftChat @DesiBooks

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