Anjali Mitter Duva Interviews Adhira from Faint Promise of Rain
Adhira is at the center of FAINT PROMISE OF RAIN. Born into a family of Hindu temple dancers just as a new Muslim emperor, Akbar, takes the throne in what will eventually become India, she is raised under the expectation that she will carry forward her family’s tradition. But history brings about a massive change in what was once thought of as “destiny.”
In this interview, Adhira is in her 50s, looking back on her life, as she does when she narrates the whole story.
AMD: Where and when were you born?
A: I was born in 1554 during what some people call “summer” just outside of Jaisalmer, in the desert state of Rajasthan. For the first time in five years, the region had a rainy season, albeit a brief one, and I am told I was born during the first rainfall.
AMD: What influence did your birth family have on you, your choices, your life? Explain why and how.
A: Ah, choices. That is an interesting word. Birth determines so much. For most, it determines everything. Our caste system is very strong. One is born a noble person, a warrior, a dancer… But now I wonder. My father was a firm believer in destiny; my mother had her doubts, although she could not voice them as such. All I ever wanted to do was dance—for Krishna, for myself, for the divine joy of it—and this pained her, because she could not understand this passion, and because of, well, the underside of life as a temple dancer. Yet I did make a choice when dire circumstances required it, and I do believe she would be pleased to see my station now. My brother Mahendra, however, born a dancer but determined to be a warrior, well… that is a whole other story.
AMD: How do you feel about your family, now that you’re an adult?
A: I lost my parents many decades ago. I haven’t seen any of my siblings in just as long. My days in Jaisalmer feel like a distant dream, especially as I have not been allowed to return there. I miss Hari Dev the most. My little big brother. His heart was—is?—so… good. So pure. I think everyone else in my family had a certain ambition, or goal, or desire. But not Hari. The one thing I do believe, in retrospect, about all of them, is that each one was acting to protect me. It’s just that what they thought they were protecting me from, and how they believed they could achieve this, was different for each. And sometimes flawed. Sadly so.
AMD: In your relationship with others, how are you different with family than you are with friends? Why?
A: Friends. Have I had friends? Do I have any now? Dayal, the father of my children, has become my friend, I would say. I trust him. I value his opinions. I seek his advice. When I was a child, I always felt a certain remove from my family. Not because I did not love them, but because none, other than Hari Dev, truly understood. My father passed on so much dance knowledge to me, I owe him more than I can say. I loved him for this, for the gift he gave me, but even he did not understand what was in me. Sometimes I think I might have found my way to Lord Krishna even without him. And of course, as hard as I’ve tried, it’s been difficult to absolve him completely of the role his dogged determination may have played in bringing about what happened that night by Ghadisar Lake. But no matter the time or place or people around me, I have always been true to myself.
AMD: What’s the one thing you have always wanted to do but didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t? What would happen if you did do it?
A: My brother Mahendra used to speak of riding his horse in the wide open desert, the diamond studded sky stretching like a canvas over the shadows of the dunes. He spoke of being one with the rhythm of the horse as it galloped over the sand, of feeling Vayu, the wind, blowing through his hair, and hurtling through space as though it, and time, would never end. I would like to do that, too. But I never will. Even Dayal would not agree to let me learn to ride a horse. It’s not befitting of my position.
AMD: What are you most afraid of?
A: To tell you the truth, I think everything I could be afraid of has already happened to me. It never occurred to me to be truly afraid until that night, and then it was too late. After that, how much is there to be afraid of? I knew I always had Krishna’s love, and I knew I would always have my dance, in some form or another. So many things have happened, and yet here I am.
AMD: What really moves you, or touches you to the soul?
A: While my memories of Jaisalmer are fading, one remains strong. Being at the temple alone at dawn. That was always my favorite time at the temple, so full of promise, and newness. It belonged to me, and only to me. The creatures of the night would still be in their holes, and the creatures of the day not yet out. The silhouette of the babul tree inside the temple would slowly take on texture as the light changed from grey-blue to soft purple, pink, orange. Ridges and knots in the trunk would appear slowly to my eyes, every detail brightening until I could discern the black trail of ants marching up the grey-brown bark, the white thorns on the branches. Little by little, all the wondrous details of creation would be revealed as Surya breathed life and warmth into me, the temple, the sky. I would step into the dance chamber, the stone floor still cold from night, particles of sand and dust dancing in the slanting rays of sun, and know this was a whole new beginning. Every day.
Anjali Mitter Duva is an Indian-American writer raised in France. She is the author of Faint Promise of Rain, an Amazon bestseller that was shortlisted for the 2016 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. She is also a co-founder of Chhandika, a non-profit organization that teaches and presents India’s classical storytelling kathak dance. In delving into the dance and its history, Anjali found the seeds of a quartet of novels. Faint Promise of Rain is the first. Educated at Brown University and MIT, Anjali is a frequent speaker at conferences, libraries, schools and other cultural institutions. In her spare time, Anjali runs a book club for children and the Arlington Author Salon. She lives near Boston, MA, with her husband and two daughters, and is currently at work on her second novel. Visit her at http://www.anjalimitterduva.com and on Twitter @AnjaliMDuva.