What’s your biggest secret? The thing you absolutely would not and perhaps cannot share with anyone, not even your spouse or most trusted friend?
What would happen if you were to share that information? Perhaps you might upset family traditions and go against cultural expectations. But would unburdening your truth liberate you and actually have a positive impact on your life?
This is just one of the aspects of ‘truth and secrets’ that writer Ravinder Randhawa explores in her new book, The Coral Strand.
She talks to me before anyone else in the press about The Coral Strand, and her project “A Month of Secrets”.
Tell us what The Coral Strand is about?
The Coral Strand is a mystery novel about power and cruelty, truth and secrets.
It’s set in two time periods: modern Britain and 1940’s Mumbai – with all its glitter, glamour and danger.
Sita, the main character, a young British Asian woman, whose past is shrouded in mystery, took a daring revenge on the strange guardians she ran away from, Emily and Champa. The revenge sparks a chain of consequences, which begin to crack the secrets of the past, inexorably linking the three women to each other, to the mysterious grey-eyed man Kala; a heart-breaking disappearance; and the turbulent, impassioned world of 1940’s Mumbai. Fascinating historical detail and the beauties of place and period, provide a rich background.
Given the complexities of British Asian life, are there challenges to writing British Asian characters?
The challenge of writing British Asian characters is almost the challenge of writing a new kind of human being, a new kind of character, because they’re at the convergence of major cultures (with lots of sub-cultures thrown in). British Asians have to think about and evaluate different kinds of moralities, religions, and loyalties. They have to work out their own value system, and the right way of being human. That quest forms the heartbeat of literature.
My main characters tend to be British Asian, although that’s not a hard and fast rule. Generally I don’t set out to reflect British Asian life specifically, but find that it enters the story organically, becomes part of the movement and tapestry.
What I think is crucial and challenging, is to create British Asian characters who are imaginative beings, existing in their own right, with all their uniqueness and flaws, whose known and unknown depths are such they give rise to stories which are wondrous and compelling.
So what is a Month of Secrets all about?
A Month of Secrets came out of a discussion about The Coral Strand, its theme of secrets, and the realisation that everyone, everywhere has secrets. They may just be secret thoughts, private musings or actions about which a person feels guilty. Secrets can be burdensome and heavy to bear, therefore the Month of Secrets, aims to provide a place where British Asians can, anonymously, unburden themselves, but also where we can learn from each other.
Surely secrets, lies, and truth are universal to all cultures and societies. Why make this project a race issue?
I’m not sure I see it as a race issue at all. But as a British Asian myself, I’m aware of the lack of opportunities for open discussion and debate, and of the role that secrecy and secrets play in the functioning of Asian society – given the complex and conflicting rules and expectations.
The PostSecretUK project already exists for the mainstream, so I thought it would be interesting to focus on the British Asian community, so that we can begin to look at ourselves and see what’s happening beneath the surface, and perhaps start to think and talk. (Details for taking in part are below)
One could argue that the unburdening of secrets isn’t just an exercise in disclosure, but actually has an impact on our mental health and well being.
Revealing a secret can be empowering both to the writer and to those who read it; allowing people to identify with others, broadening understanding and acceptance. A revealed secret often casts a spotlight on our deepest selves, our values and illusions.
How can British Asians experience a greater degree of freedom and mental well-being when sometimes, our ‘true selves’ aren’t acceptable to our communities and traditions? What can we do with our truths and secrets?
Firstly, let’s get our truths and secrets out into the open. As the Muslim Women’s Network did recently, when they wrote an open letter to Jeremy Corbyn demanding an inquiry into “systematic misogyny displayed by significant numbers of Muslim male local councillors” who have for years, it appears, sabotaged the attempts of Muslim women attempting to stand for public office, often using appalling and unacceptable tactics such as smearing their reputations. This may have been known in certain circles, but it certainly wasn’t known by the wider community, including the wider British Asian community.
Movement can only begin when something is known; when a thought is aired and discussed, or when we realise others have the same experience, are in the same boat.
“…a basic yet infinitely comforting – public acknowledgement that … none of us are alone in the extent of our troubles.”
Ravinder invites British Asians to “lighten their souls” and send anonymous secrets to:
P.O. Box 67099, London SW2 9LQ on a post card or letter.
The P.O. box ensures even greater anonymity.
Submissions will appear on Ravinder’s website, on the dedicated blog page ‘Secrets’
Readers can also visit The Post Secret UK project
If you would like to talk somebody about ongoing issues in your life you can contact the Samaritans. They are safe, free, and confidential.
I did not receive payment to write this review. Any payment for any advertising, sponsorship or product reviews will never influence content, topics, posts or opinions in this blog.