Kitaab

Asia+n writing in English


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Kitaab Review: The Arithmetic of Breasts and Other Stories by Rochelle Potkar

by Monica Arora

breastsThe Arithmetic of Breasts and Other Stories by Rochelle Potkar (Kindle, 2014) doesn’t have just its Maths, but also its Chemistry, Physics and Biology in the right measure. These bold and tantalising tales of myriad men and women grappling with issues of relationships and passion, offer much insight into the dark recesses of the human mind pertaining to their romantic pursuits. Rochelle Potkar’s easy style of writing and her ability to conjure up images whilst narrating her “seven and a half stories” draws the reader into the worlds of the characters, and enables the reader to empathise with their peculiar predicaments.

Narain’s raw passion for Munika in the title story “The Arithmetic of Breasts” is so powerful and strong that it almost leaps out of the pages, and the intensity of their love-making is beautifully described with small, intimate details. Continue reading


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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Rosemarie Somaiah

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

Rosemarie Somiah PixLet’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

I started writing because someone was willing to pay me to do so. Otherwise I doubt I would’ve had the courage. Most of my first published works were commissioned and some of it ended up in performance. I still get paid, or invited, to write, and I use every such opportunity to say what I really need to say; to share a little of what’s banging and knocking around inside of me – all these questions that won’t go away. It’s still very, very scary, every single time.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

I usually have a few things going on at a time, because letting it sit at the back of my head is part of my writing process. Right now there are three active projects: I am working on ‘The Never Mind Girl 2’ because there are still many questions that I need to ask there. Then, there is a children’s picture book that is somewhat dark but important, because it is very real. I’m hoping that the right illustrator will turn up. I am also very excited to be working with several people, including a very talented young musician, on a performance piece of poetry. It astonishes and delights me when I retell other people’s stories on their behalf and they seem happy with it and feel it represents them accurately. Especially as I reshape and tell it from my perspective. Continue reading


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Of empathy and pathos: Review of Anu Kumar’s The Girl Who Ran Away in a Washing Machine and Other Stories

Very few writers even dare to test a reader’s credulity. Anu Kumar stretches it, almost risking collapse, in her latest collection of short stories: TNS

WashingMachinePacked in 128 pages are ten well-written short stories by Anu Kumar. She’s penned 19 titles, for young adults, children, and adults. I have read three of them, including two of her previous novels, Letters for Paul (Mapinlit) and It Takes a Murder(Hachette), which I reviewed here last year. This is her second collection, the first being In Search of a Raja and Other Stories, which I haven’t read so far, but plan to. Her current book is one of the first books published by an independent publishing house, Kitaab. Continue reading


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A fresh evaluation of the Burmese narrative through the female perspective: Interview with Nilanjana Sengupta

by Zafar Anjum

Nilanjana SenguptaThe Female Voice of Myanmar: Khin Myo Chit to Aung San Suu Kyi by Nilanjana Sengupta (South Asia edition: Cambridge University Press, India, under Foundation Books imprint, 2015) is a scholarly treatise on Myanmar. The book will be released in late September in Singapore. Sengupta is a Visiting Scholar at Asia Research Institute (National University of Singapore).

There aren’t many Indian writers who write on Myanmar, so this is an important work of scholarship. The publisher describes the book as a “commentary on the evolving state of Myanmar and female thought from colonial times to the present, seen through the eyes of four Burmese female activist-writers”.

The book presents a female perspective on the history and political evolution of Myanmar. Through an exploration of the literary works of four carefully selected women activists— four major voices in the book: Khin Myo Chit, Ludu Daw Amar, Ma Thida, Aung San Suu Kyi—who have also been prolific writers of their times, the book seeks a fresh evaluation of the Burmese narrative.

Tell us about your interest in Myanmar? What got you started on this project that tracks the lives and thoughts of four strong female voices of Myanmar?

If I really dig long and hard, I think my interest in Burma stems from a childhood spent in Calcutta. Frequent references to Burma are to be found in old Bengali literature when under the British, Rangoon or the beautiful mountainous town of Maymyo (later renamed Pyin U Lwin) was an alternate home to Bengalis; when many Bengali families considered Bengal to be their janmosthan (place of birth) but Rangoon to be their karmosthan (place of work). I cannot forget the Burma of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s novel Srikanta—a place where the hero comes of age and is forced to redress his moral and ethical perspective. Or the letters Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose wrote to his brother in 1925 when he was imprisoned in Mandalay, marvelling at the social status of Burmese women.

So if you ask about my interest in Burma, I would credit it to a strict mother who insisted I read Bengali literature at length before delving into anything Western!
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Excecutive Movements: Nandan Jha appointed VP Product and Sales, Penguin Random House India

Penguin Random House India CEO Gaurav Shrinagesh has announced the appointment of Nandan Jha as VP Product and Sales for Penguin Random House in India.  Former Senior VP Sales Ananth Padmanabhan is leaving Penguin Random House to head HarperCollins India as its new CEO. Padmanabhan replaces P M Sukumar at HarperCollins India who had recently resigned.

Jha, who fulfilled the same role at Random House India prior to the merger with Penguin in 2013, will be responsible for all sales and product development across the company.  He will take up his new position with immediate effect. Continue reading


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Excerpt: The Courtesans of Karim Street by Debotri Dhar

The Courtesans of Karim Street by Debotri Dhar, Niyogi Books, 2015, 2018 pp.

Chapter One

Excerpts from a Diary

Delhi, India, 1981

courtesansToday the walled city smells of turmeric. It sits in tiny orange heaps in the courtyard…earthy, pungent, slightly bitter. Last week I went to Khari Baoli, the spice market; I know all about the uses of turmeric. Other spices too, jaiphal and javitri and zaffran, their names rolling off my tongue like ancient Indian chants. Away from Amma’s cat-eyes, Shakuntala steals a pinch of the turmeric, mixes it with milk and smears the paste over her face. In the evening, she will glow like a firefly. She runs after me, her palms a bright, laughing orange, but, as always, she cannot catch me.

Outside, the sun glowers and the sky burns a gaseous blue. Houses in gaudy colours perch one on top of another.This is Shahjahanabad, the old city built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the seventeenth century. Back then the city was surrounded by a wall, I am told, its gates ironclad and fiercely guarded by sentries night and day. Some of the gates still remain, silent and watchful. Kashmiri Gate, Ajmeri Gate, Mori Gate. Ajmeri Gate opens on to Connaught Place, the central business district of New Delhi, with its Georgian architecture modelled after the Royal Crescent of Bath. Amma loves to go to Connaught Place, to get her record player mended and to buy new records. This new city is only a few kilometres away from the old one, but to Amma, another country, another people. When they pile her into the battered Ambassador and take her on a drive along Rajpath, all the way from India Gate and past the red sandstone buildings on Raisina Hill, she is very quiet. On those days, she wears one of her good saris and hangs gold jhumkas from the stretched holes of her earlobes. The bright-red lipstick misses her lips entirely, but when Shakuntala moves in to correct it with the pointy tip of a handkerchief, Amma will have none of it. “Ya Allah, Hey Bhagwan,” she says resolutely, her kohl-lined eyes flashing, and that, as her son says, is that.

I do like New Delhi; it’s well planned and decidedly spiffy. But, truth is, I prefer the untidy, impossible meanderings of the old city. I have walked endlessly through Chandni Chowk, the main street; I have explored the ruins of the Red Fort, meandered through the Jama Masjid, hovered around the old havelis. I have eaten aloo kachori and gajar ka halwa, slurped on kulfi and thandai, and not fallen sick even once. I have bought boxfuls of bangles, stacking them under my bed. Yet I want more of India, more. Last week I saw a sequinned white lehanga in the bazar and knew I had to wear it for an evening at the embassy, but he wasn’t too pleased, not even with the strand of white bela flowers I had tucked in my hair. He did not say anything, but he swirled his glass absently when I spoke to him. I’m afraid I am not a good wife, not for such an important man. It is such a grief I carry inside me, and cannot share with anyone. Except, perhaps, this old city.

Like me, this city is full of buried worlds; it speaks to me, it understands. At night, I see the wind blow out the hanging lamps. In the darkness I lie, amid the tinkle of ankle bells and the perfumed giggles of the courtesans. I walk about, I am restless for hours. I wait for dawn, for new excursions, for another knowing. The lanes before me are narrow, writhing, each one a snare. Where should I go today? What should I do? I don’t know. So many countries I have travelled…but it is here, in this city of shadows, that I will lose myself, and find myself. This sudden knowledge peaks inside me, pulling me out of the lingering ambiguity of last night’s half-dreams, and towards the clear summer sun.

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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Debotri Dhar

by Zafar Anjum

Debotri Dhar (on the left) at the launch of her debut novel in New Delhi

Debotri Dhar (on the left) at the launch of her debut novel in New Delhi

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

I write because I have stories to tell. Stories of love, loss and laughter, of travel, mutating histories and multiple geographies, of emotions and impossible choices. And because I’m in love with language, with the way words can hurt and heal…

courtesansTell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

My novel The Courtesans of Karim Street has recently been released. It’s a story set in India and the United States, and straddles the historical past and contemporary present. I wanted to write about courtesans, situating them in a shifting political, cultural and material landscape. The courtesans tend to be frozen in time and in our cultural imagination; on one level, I was therefore trying to recuperate their voice. At the same time, I also wanted to engage in cross-cultural conversations, and dismantle the hierarchies between the West and the rest through my narrative choices. So rather than a historical romance, I decided to do something more creative, hybrid and contemporary. It’s a fast-paced, entertaining story, with lots of romance and a hint of intrigue. The two key protagonists in the novel are Megan and Naina. Megan Adams is an academic, and some of the university classroom scenes are inspired by my day job as an academic in America. (Writing fiction is the night job, so to speak!) Naina is a music teacher who hails from a family of courtesans. These two women are supported by a rich array of other characters from the past and present. The story, ultimately, is of the future – of hope, friendship, and love. Continue reading


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Bai Li Wins Irish Literature Translation Prize 2015

Bai Li emerged victorious over three other Chinese translators after winning the Irish Literature Translation Prize 2015 on Aug. 20 at an award ceremony held at the Sinan Mansions in Shanghai.

Bai’s winning piece was her translation of the novel “The Empty House” by Colm Toibin, as announced by Lu Li’an, one of the judges of the prize and incidentally, an English professor at Fudan University.

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Indian Among 13 Authors Long-Listed for 2015 Booker

Indian author Anuradha Roy and British-Indian Sunjeev Sahota are among 13 international authors long-listed for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, the prestigious literary prize committee announced here today.

Roy has been picked for her third novel, ‘Sleeping on Jupiter’, and Sahota for ‘The Year of the Runaways’, the committee said.

“We had a great time choosing this list. Discussions weren’t always peaceful, but they were always very friendly,” said Michael Wood, chair of this year’s Man Booker judging panel.

“We were lucky in our companions and the submissions were extraordinary. The long-list could have been twice as long, but we’re more than happy with our final choice. Continue reading


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Publishing in India: ‘We Don’t Sell Authors, The Authors Sell Us’

Rupa’s chairman R.K. Mehra on the big changes and challenges in the publishing industry: The Outlook

‘Originality of idea, continuity of thought and a clear target market. Yes, Chetan Bhagat is one of the bestselling authors, but there are many such under Rupa’s banner. And what is important for us is not just big names; we ensure we take on everyone we think must be read. We don’t sell authors, authors sell us! Of course, we facilitate media interviews and book signing and other interactions, but that’s not much. Also, social media has a big role in book promotion.’

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