Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Entitled Interview with Rajni Mala Khelawan

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Rajni Mala Khelawan

Eye catching and mysterious, single word titles, especially names, can pique just the right amount of interest for a reader. Rajni Mala Khelawan worked with that principle when picking the title for her new novel, Kalyana (Second Story Press). Kalyana tells the story of its titular character, growing up in the Fiji islands in the 1960s and weathering the storms of adolescence and emerging womanhood.

We speak to Rajni today as part of our Entitled series, where we ask writers about how they come up with their titles, what a great title ought to do and their own favourite titles.

Rajni tells us about the real life inspiration for Kalyana, how her young daughter helped her come up with one of her favourite titles and how to deal with title doubt.

Open Book:

Tell us about the title of your newest book and how you came to it.

Rajni Mala Khelawan:

Kalyana is the title of my second book. In 2011 when I was working at an office in Calgary, my hometown, I saw the name Kalyana Mani on one of the binders. The name belonged to a new employee whose last name I don’t remember anymore. She only stayed one week, so I never got to know her personally. Though, the word Kalyana stuck in my mind. Later that week, when I went to my second job of waiting tables, I told my boss (who was of the South Asian origin) that I am in love with the name Kalyana, and if I had another daughter, I would surely name her that. The name sounded so powerful and strong. My boss then informed me the true meaning of Kalyana. She said it meant blissful, beautiful, and was a symbol of auspiciousness. I was struck yet again. Here was a word, a name that encompassed all that was good and joyful, yet nothing in this world was without pain and suffering. At that point, in my mind I was already turning the pages of a new book called Kalyana that would be about pain, suffering and loss. So, I started the book with the title.

OB:

What, in your opinion, is most important function of a title?

RMK:

I think the title (like Kalyana does) should hint at the theme, symbols, plot, characters and the general feel of the book. Kalyana is not only about a little girl named Kalyana, but it is about the liberation and bliss that comes from overcoming pain and suffering. And Kalyana is a strong sounding word, and ultimately, the book is about strong women.

OB:

What is your favourite title that you've ever come up with and why? (For any kind of piece, short or long.)

RMK:

The title of my first book is The End of the Dark and Stormy Night. I have always liked that title. Actually, I have my daughter (who was 8 years old at that time) to thank for that title as she came up with it. Now, when I first started writing, one of my dear friends said to never start a book with the words ‘it was a dark and stormy night’ because nobody would take me seriously as a writer. So that very day I wrote the first words of my debut book, “It was a dark and a stormy night…” The story flowed from there. But originally, I called the book The Non-Writer as it was about a guy who was experiencing a never-ending writers’ block. Though after completing the novel, I found the title to be unfitting. The book had a multitude of characters that were colorful, smart, and funny, and as important as Ravi, the non-writer. I scrambled for another title. And my daughter said, “The End of the Dark and Stormy Night, Mom. It’s a cheeky title like the book!” So I went with it.

OB:

What about your favourite title as a reader, from someone else's work?

RMK:

I adored Rebecca Godfrey’s novella The Torn Skirt. The torn skirt worn by a teenaged street girl named Justine, that the main character Sara is intrigued with, was really, in a greater sense, a symbol of the torn lives the teenagers in this book lived or the careless choices they made. And since I am such a movie buff, I have to add that I loved the title of Deepa Mehta’s Oscar nominated movie Water. I loved it for its simplicity. And I was amazed at how throughout the film Mehta stunningly portrayed water in its various forms, flowing or stagnant, and built upon the major moods and themes of the film: Tradition, like water, can be free flowing or unchanging.

OB:

Did you consider any other titles for your current book and if so what were they? Why did you decide to go with the title you eventually picked?

RMK:

After completing the book, I had a moment of doubt that Kalyana may not be the perfect title for the book, and maybe there was a better title. The editor I was working with at that time said Kalyana was perfect in its simplicity. And I quickly agreed, abandoning any further doubts.

OB:

What are you working on now?

RMK:

I am working on two things: A book of short stories that would presumably be titled Simple Complications and Other Short Stories; and another novel called In the Shade of a Bougainvillea Hedge.


Rajni Mala Khelawan is an emerging Indo-Fijian Canadian writer. In addition to being a visiting writer at The University of the South Pacific, Fiji Islands in August 2011, Khelawan was profiled on hit TV and radio shows such as Bollywood Boulevard, CBC Radio, Omni South Asian News, Asian Magazine TV and NUTV. Her first novel is The End of the Dark and Stormy Night. She lives in Calgary, Alberta.

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