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12A, Judges Court Road: A Poem by Rohini Kejriwal


Rohini Kejriwal

Your stories of the family home in Kharagpur-

The Jaadu Ghar, Masonic ritual room, high ceilings, winding staircases –

They reminded me of home.

The first house that we lived in

Before the Great Partition of ’95.

I can see the wooden staircase,

Stairs steep enough to slit your tongue on your way down (It’s not polite to stare).

The red steel toy cupboard double my height

From the top of which my brother fell.

The mango tree on which we’d climb

To talk to the neighbours’ kid,

Exchanging paper boats for slingshots,

The treehouse of our dreams.

The vague memories of a dairy at the back,

Cows resting under a plumeria tree.

A big verandah overlooked the road,

Do you remember how it looked on Diwali?

We lined the railing with 10,000 ladis,

In the morning, red shreds everywhere.

Since the demolition, I can’t even look,

12A, just another house down the block.

Rohini Kejriwal is a freelance writer and photographer from Calcutta. She is always up for a good story, travelling, new music, strong coffee and the company of crows. A self-proclaimed beauty hunter, she curates her own daily newsletter of art, poetry and music called The Alipore Post.

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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Ravi Shankar

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

Ravi Shankar at JaipurLet’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

Wow, well start with the easy questions, eh? Well, I suppose, thinking of Rilke—whose poems and letters I’ve always loved but who I would sadly come to find out (in that way we eventually kill our heroes) was a kind of a pretentious deadbeat who shirked his responsibilities and mooched off the aristocratic patrons of the Hapsburg Empire in pursuit of his “pure” art—I have gone into myself and found that the need to write has spread its roots into my heart. I don’t know if I would die if forbidden to write, but having dug deeply, that mythic Rilkean imperative of “I must” is there, for better or worse. I write because I feel compelled to describe what I’ve seen and touched and tasted, the losses I’ve tallied, the places and people who’ve inspired me, all in pursuit of trying to better understand myself as a bicultural human being at the beginning of a new millennium. Those marks of signification help me fix the flux into something that might resemble, if not the answers, then at least the questions that are most relevant to ask when delving into the nature of our shared reality. Continue reading

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Review of Kafka in Ayodhya: Kafka or his Kafkaesque view of Life gives the Stories their Twisted appeal

Review by Usha Bande

KafkaFCHow, if Kafka were to step out of time? And what if he were to land in Ayodhya? He would just shrug his shoulders and laughing heartily say, “A joke, indeed! Of Borgesian proportion, ah!” That is what Kafka does in Zafar Anjum’s charming book Kafka in Ayodhya and Other Short Stories (Kitaab, 2016). In story after story it is either Kafka or his Kafkaesque view of life that gives the stories their twisted appeal. When he (Kafka) encounters the confused media asking him about the structure in Ayodhya, his reply is characteristically evasive, “Leave the structure as it is” he tells them and confounds the media further as he declares, “Incompletion is also a quality, a facet of nobility. At least, that is what I do with my works.” (p.21). Ingenious, indeed! Nothing in the scheme of things reaches finality and that is how tradition and innovation overlap, merge and get reconstituted. Soon one realizes that Zafar Anjum is not interested in any particular place –Ayodhya or Gaza or Singapore; he is directing his shafts at the general condition of existence, the absurdity of it all: the manifold facets of contemporary life, the hilarious, the meaningless, the irritating and yet the plausible and logical.

Kafka in Ayodhya is a tiny book — just 92 pages — containing eight stories that have minute observations on/of life and its vagaries. Every character seems to be wriggling with a sense of being trapped: here is a disgruntled lower middle-class man for whom rats become the prime objects of hunt (‘The Rats’); there, a tear-soaked tale of suffering in war-torn Gaza (‘The Thousand-Yard Stare’); and yet again an author’s enigmatic quest (‘E.D’). All the eight stories, published in various magazines of repute, are different in themes and settings but somewhere underneath each has a cognizable thread running – something intriguing with the curious existential manipulation of fate. Continue reading

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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Rakhshanda Jalil

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

Let me tweak Descartes and say, ‘I write; therefore I am.’ I think by now it is almost a compulsion; it defines who I am.

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

I always have more than one in various stages. So, there is a biography of the Urdu poet Shahryar which is almost two-thirds done; a translation of a novel by Krishan Chandar called Ghaddar which my publishers are hoping to pitch as a partition novel next year (2017 marks the 70th year of the annus horribilis that was 1947); an edited volume of critical writings on Ismat Chughtai which is nearly done; and a translated volume of short stories and poems by Gulzar on the partition, again due in 2017 to mark the 70th anniversary. And lurking somewhere in the future is a travelogue – on Ghalib’s journey from Delhi to Calcutta and back in the early 19th century.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

KLF LogoI worked for years as an editor in various publishing houses. I have also written journalistic pieces for various newspapers. My training for the Ph D taught me diligence and painstaking research. And then I have also been a translator for decades now. So all of these ‘roles’ have defined my writing style. As an editor, I produce a clean copy and have learnt over the years to do a self edit of everything I write. As a translator, I trained myself to do a close reading of texts and also learnt to value words and tease out their exact meanings. As a columnist, I learnt to write quickly and meet deadlines and be considered a reliable and swift writer. As a researcher, I learnt there are no short cuts to producing good writing. So everything comes together in a happy mix! Continue reading

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Singaporean Graphic Novel creates history, bags Singapore Literature Prize

14 Jul 16, SLP Award

Sonny Liew receiving his SLP Award

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (Epigram Books) by Singaporean writer Sonny Liew has created history in the annals of Singaporean literature. It has won the Singapore Literature Prize (SLP) in the English fiction category. This is the first time when a graphic novel has won the coveted prize.

In its review, The New York Times described the book as “a coffee-table victory lap” and a purported graphic biography of “Singapore’s greatest comics artist,” punctuated by examples of his work from 1944 (a childhood drawing of Donald Duck) to 2012 (an oil painting of Singapore’s prime minister Lee Kuan Yew). In fact, it is a ‘hugely ambitious, stylistically acrobatic work by the Singapore-based cartoonist Sonny Liew’ and Charlie Chan Hock Chye is Liew’s invention. This fictional life story of the artist becomes a ‘vehicle for both a political history of Singapore’s past seven decades and Liew’s visual homages to comics’ most commercially successful innovations’. The novel had come into the spotlight after the National Arts Council (NAC) withdrew its grant for the book just before it was launched last year. The matter was widely reported, making the book an instant bestseller. NAC had said that the book had breached funding guidelines through its “retelling of Singapore’s history (which) potentially underminds the authority or legitimacy of the Government”. Continue reading

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A Fond Look Back at the International Jet Set in Old Shanghai

Forbidden Love and International Intrigue in a Doomed World
By Taras Grescoe
Illustrated. 455 pp. St. Martin’s Press. $28.99.

Billed as the story of a love affair between the American writer Emily (Mickey) Hahn and the Chinese poet Zau Sinmay, “Shanghai Grand” may be more accurately described as a love song to 1930s Shanghai. Taras Grescoe has fallen hard for “the wicked old Paris of the Orient,” its barrooms thick with gangsters and newsmen, its alleys “scented with sweet almond broth, opium smoke and the chemical bite of Flit insecticide.”

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Reconsidering the Work of a Chinese Immigrant Writer of the 1930s

Fantasy and Failure Across the Pacific
By Hua Hsu
276 pp. Harvard University Press. $29.95.

HTHsiangFor critics and scholars, the greatest rewards are to be gained in bestowing attention on authors whose stock is already high. Why, then, should a writer look toward one of the forgotten? And how to select someone to elevate? This is the task that Hua Hsu, an associate professor of English at Vassar, sets for himself in his smart new book, “A Floating Chinaman: Fantasy and Failure Across the Pacific.” His chosen subject is the mostly unknown H. T. Tsiang (1899-1971), a Chinese immigrant who “created some of the most ambitious and, at times, bizarrely self-aware works of modern American literature.”

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India’s Culture Ministry Wants To Grade Writers And Artists On Their Popularity

The grading will determine whether they can participate in an event: Huff Post

The Ministry of Culture has come up with an absurd policy.

According to an Indian Express report, the culture ministry has decided to rate artistes and writers across the country. The ratings will determine which events they will be sent to.

The grading has already begun.

Under a pilot project, the ministry has already graded 185 artists into three categories — O (outstanding), P (promising), W (waiting), the report said.

The ministry has issued a notice saying only “applicants placed in the Outstanding and Promising Categories will be selected for participation” in festivals.

Read More

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Review of Saeed Naqvi’s “Being The Other: The Muslim in India” 

by Imteyaz Alam

Being the OtherSaeed Naqvi’s “Being The Other: The Muslim in India” (Aleph, 2016) is part memoir and part account of a series of unfolding events in modern India which he witnessed from close quarters as a journalist. Naqvi says that the shilanyas ceremony of 1989 at Ayodhya–that culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992–acted as the catalyst for writing this book which had gestated in his heart and mind over six decades.

The book is also an elegy to the syncretic Hindu-Muslim culture of Lucknow and its vicinity which was the cultural capital of erstwhile Awadh.  The noted journalist grieves in the  introduction of his book, “Rather, it’s a chronicle of my growing disillusionment, disappointment, with the direction in which the country is heading”.

Naqvi’s lucid language is a joy for the reader. The style is adorable and gripping. But the esteemed scholar fails to shed his biases. Only three chapters into the book and one encounters the writer’s elitist, sectarian prejudices. The writer quotes Akbar Allahabadi’s couplet:

Council mein bahut Syyed
Masjid mein faqat Jumman Continue reading

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Singapore Literature Prize: The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye wins English fiction award

CharlieChanFor the first time, a graphic novel has won the Singapore Literature Prize (SLP) – comic artist Sonny Liew’s The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye took the English fiction award at the SLP ceremony on Thursday (Jul 14) evening.

The graphic novel, which also won the Book of the Year accolade at the Singapore Book Awards in May, tells the story of a comic book artist during the formative years of Singapore’s modern history.

Kitaab’s poetry editor Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingde jointly won the Poetry prize for I Didn’t Know Mani Was a Conceptualist. The prize was shared with Cyril Wong.

The prize money of S$107,000 was shared between the winners.

All shortlisted SLP titles are available at MPH Bookstores until October 2017.



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