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Contradictions that define modern India: Review of Saeed Naqvi’s ‘Being the Other: The Muslim in India’

All in all, Saeed Naqvi’s new book titled Being the Other: The Muslim in India is a great contribution to understanding the making of Modern India and how the political economy succeeded in creating a divide among Hindus and Muslims.

By Amir Ullah Khan

Being the OtherIt is such a coincidence that I got to read Saeed Naqvi’s new book titled Being the Other: The Muslim in India (Aleph, 2016) just as we were getting ready to submit our report to the Chief Minister of Telangana. I have been a member of a committee set up by the state government to look into socio-economic inequalities and deprivation among Muslims. The question that we were asked to address was whether reservations in educational institutions and government employment be extended to the Muslim community or not. The report is ready and am sure will be debated over the next few days.

Saeed Naqvi’s book too discusses the various factors our report looked into. It was fascinating to read his book with its amazing insight into what being Muslim in India means today. For someone who has watched the last 7 decades of independent India closely, and written prolifically on the same, Naqvi is a rare breed. This book, partly autobiographical, partly lyrical, journalistic and descriptive, is a vivid account of the journey of a community within a nation. Continue reading


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Indonesia: A journey to fairyland

The Negeri Dongeng Nusantara (Nusantara fairyland) exhibition at Kemang’s Dia.Lo.Gue, which runs until Aug. 20, brings to life the stories of our nation through a series of illustrations from works of children’s literature.

The Negeri Dongeng Nusantara (Nusantara fairyland) exhibition takes us on a journey far, far away, yet it is somewhere close to our childhood memories.

When we were younger, chances are we were read stories about young princes and princesses, animals who talked, danced, and raced and knights and warriors who fought monsters to save the day. The stories came from books, books that contained pictures which communicated the reality — or in this case fantasy — of the stories, making us keen to read on and subconsciously absorb the moral lessons.

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Kumaon Literary Festival 2016 reveals a strong line-up of writers

KLF LogoThe second edition of the YES BANK Kumaon Literary Festival (KLF), that will be held from 11th to 15th October 2016, will feature an interesting mix of voices from all kinds of backgrounds and spectrums.

According to media statement by KLF, the festival shall play host to many famous names from the worlds of literature, publishing, cinema and politics. Authors like Amish Tripathi, Ravi Subrimanian, Preeti Shenoy, Jerry Pinto, Tuhin Sinha, Shinie Anotny, Hindol Sengupta, Dr. Rakhshanda Jalil, Nirupama Dutt, and many others have confirmed their presence for the festival. Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Justice A K Sikri, Justice S K Kaul, Shahid Siddiqui, Swapandas Gupta, Priyanka Chaturvedi, Nupur Sharma and other names from the world of politics and law have agreed kindly to be a part of the festival. Biographers like Sathya Saran, Aseem Chabra, Jai Arjun Singh, Akshay Manwani, Yasser Usman, Gautam Chintamani have all consented to be present at the Festival. Many speakers like Afia Aslam, Ali Akbar Natiq, Ameena Saiyid, Asif Farrukhi, Asif Noorani, Dr. Sabyn Javeri, Mohsin Sayeed shall all come from Pakistan to attend the festival. Speakers like Ajay Rawat, Anup Sah, Dr. Shekhar Pathak, Deepak Rawat, Mona Verma, C S Tiwari, Hridayesh Joshi, Sanjay Panday and others from the Uttarakhand heartland are going to be present at different sessions of the festival.

The first three days shall be held at Jim’s Jungle Retreat in Jim Corbett National Park, while the last two days shall be a closed door event at Te Aroha in Dhanachuli.

Thought-provoking panel discussions

The second edition of the Festival shall have sessions on a wide range of subjects.

Following are some of the highlight sessions of this edition of the festival: Continue reading


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Truth, Lies and Horse Operas: Myth and Cliché in The Literature of The Vietnam War

My novel, The Outside Lands, is set in 1960s San Francisco, during the Vietnam War. Siblings Kip and Jeannie Jackson are set adrift when their mother dies in an accident; Kip enlists to fight in Vietnam, and Jeannie joins an anti-war group that isn’t what it seems. I’m not American—I’m British—and I was born after the end of Vietnam War. I’m often asked about the challenge of writing about a time and place with which I have no direct connection; and whether, as a woman, it was difficult to write about a young man’s experience of war. But the central challenge of writing this novel wasn’t that I’m British woman in her thirties; it was navigating the wealth of cliché associated with a war that has been the subject of so many representations in film, television, and print. We can all summon up images of the war—platoons wading through rice paddies, Hueys choppering over misty hills, napalm blazing the jungle, straw huts burning. The challenge was to navigate these clichés and get away from rehearsed portrayals of the war.


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PEN to hold lit-teaching workshop in Davao

THE PHILIPPINE Center of International PEN (Poets, Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists) will hold the Davao leg of its literature-teaching training workshop series, “For Love of the Word: Workshops on Teaching Philippine Literature in High School and College,” on Aug. 22 and 23 in Davao City

PEN’s partners in the workshop are Ateneo de Davao University and the literature teachers’ organization, Samahan ng mga Guro ng Panitikan sa Davao.

The Davao workshop will focus on 21st Century Literatures from the Philippines. It will be held at F213, second floor, Finster Hall, Ateneo de Davao, Roxas Avenue, Davao City.

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In the animal body: Review of The Vegetarian by Han Kang

by Chandra Ganguly

VegetarianI was sitting in an open air café, out under a midday sun, as I read Han Kang’s Booker prize-winning book, The Vegetarian. I was cold. That is what the book does to you. The story turns the choicelessness in the life of a woman into a motif that chills and frightens the reader. The story centres around the decision of the protagonist, Yeong-hye’s decision to become a vegetarian. Her husband had married her because as he says in the opening lines of the book that he, “always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way.” The book then proceeds to turn that statement on its head.

Following a series of violent dreams, Yeong-hye decides to stop eating any form of meat. That begins a violent story of her fight for freedom and the societal suppressions and consequences of a woman’s right to choose and own her own body. The book is rife with instances of human cruelty, man to animals, man to man. “The lives of the animals I ate have all lodged there. Blood and flesh, all those butchered bodies are scattered in every nook and cranny, and though the physical remnants were excreted, their lives still stick stubbornly to my insides.” (p.56) These animals that were slaughtered in her childhood that she ate haunt her in the book. They and the dog that was tortured before being killed and eaten because it had bitten her, “… the dog is frothing at the mouth. Blood drips from its throat, which is being choked with the rope. Constantly groaning through its damaged throat, the dog is dragged along the ground…. As blood and froth mix together, I stand stiffly upright and stare at those glittering eyes.” (p.49) Continue reading


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There is still a lot of room for debut writing: Interview with Indian literary agent Kanishka Gupta

by Zafar Anjum

In this in-depth interview, novelist and now a well-known literary agent, Kanishka Gupta, talks about his journey of becoming a literary agent and shares his observations on the publishing trends in India. Gupta’s agency, The Writers Side, represents more than 400 writers. 

kANIMG-20151018-WA0002How do you look back onyour journey of being a literary agent? Did you always believe that you would succeed as an agent?

When I look back on my journey I marvel at how I managed to survive and get even this far. I have no qualifications to be a publishing professional and became an agent without a proper understanding of the role of an agent, nor did I have any contacts in publishing. I knew only Ravi Singh (then the head of Penguin India) who was introduced to me by novelist Namita Gokhale. Through him I met his colleague Vaishali Mathur, who was just setting up the Metroreads imprint. I remember how I sold some of my early books for zero advances because a publisher told me they had a no-advance policy. Later on, I came to know the same publisher was shelling out even seven-figure advances to big authors and foreign agents. I also didn’t know what an agency clause was and actually let my authors sign directly with publishers without any mention of myself in the agreement. Obviously the authors paid me my due share on time, but this is not how ‘professional’ agents function. One thing I did right was wait for the right manuscript to make my debut as an agent. Surprisingly my first two submissions–the now-famed Anees Salim’s two books and Singapore-based Navneet Jagannathan’s Shakti Bhatt-shortlisted Tamasha in Bandaragon–got multiple offers. I knew about auctions but didn’t know how they were conducted. I thought just because publishers had deigned to make an offer to a wannabe agent, I should fall at their feet with the manuscripts and shed tears of joy. I remember I learnt the process while actually auctioning them. A publisher called me and chided me for revealing the rival bidder’s name to her. ‘You never do that Kanishk,’ she said.

Apart from Shobhaa De and Namita Gokhale, I was lucky enough to find influential supporters along the way. The writer and journalist Sheela Reddy introduced me to a lot of senior journalists after I assisted her with her book deal. Rakhshanda Jalil introduced me to half of Pakistan’s literary community and several other writers because she liked my aggression. For a wannabe publishing professional who did nothing but invest Rs 7,000 in setting up a ghastly website, I got a lot of media attention. One week after the launch of my website, the noted writer and critic Jai Arjun Singh featured an interview with me in Sunday Business Standard alongside my guru Shobhaa De’s interview. Even more surprising was a half page devoted in the main Indian Express a few weeks later. I don’t think I can manage that even now. I think there were at least a dozen pieces on Writer’s Side when it launched and I can’t figure for the life of me why! Mine is the unlikeliest story in Indian publishing, like it or not! Continue reading


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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Jaishree Misra

by Monideepa Sahu

JM 2015Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

I generally only write when I have a story pressing away inside me, driving me a little crazy. Sometimes I write when I’m puzzled or troubled by something. It’s an excellent way of working one’s way through a prickly issue, and very therapeutic!

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

I discovered the story of Margaret Wheeler years ago, when I was researching my Rani Lakshmibai book. It fascinated me to think that an 18-year-old English girl, the daughter of General Wheeler, should marry the Indian soldier who kidnapped her during the riverside Kanpur massacre of 1857, subsequently seeming quite contented to live the life of a Muslim wife and mother. My original plan had been to write another straightforward work of historical fiction in order to work out what might have happened to Margaret. But, as I started to describe her kidnap and incarceration, the Nirbhaya rape hit the headlines. Watching scenes of public outrage on TV, it seemed suddenly a bit ludicrous to be dwelling so intently on a case that took place 150 years ago when women continue to be kidnapped from our streets, gang-raped and killed. The parallel story of Tara, the Delhi schoolgirl, emerged from that depressing reminder and I ended up entwining the two stories (one tragic and the other more hopeful) in a binary, half-historical-half-contemporary narrative.             Continue reading


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Kitaab Review: Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante

by Chandra Ganguly

51Q9KM+iF3L._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_I read Elena Ferrante’s Days of Abandonment during my first visit to New York, which coincided with the massacre of twenty people in a café in Bangladesh. In the big city, I found myself adrift between the busyness of the city, the meaningless and brutality of the lives lost in Bangladesh and the surreal state of abandonment of Olga in this book. Nothing meant anything, I told myself, and I struggled to make sense in the three realms I crossed and inhabited — reading the book on the subway, catching snippets of news on the papers and television, and navigating the busy roads and people of this city. For me, Mario, the protagonist’s husband, began to represent the fallacies and illusions we hold about love and life that for Olga become nothing but figments of her imagination and her longings for meaning and safety. In this city, like her, I too grappled with the underlying sense of the danger in everything, “…there began to grow inside me a permanent sense of danger.” (p.27)

In the book, Mario abandons his wife and family for a younger woman. His wife in turn loses her hold on reality and on the meaning of herself and her life. But then is it not true for all of us, no matter where we are in our lives, that our lives are suffused by the meanings we give to it, to our relationships and our experiences and choices? Ferrante pushed me in this book — or perhaps was it only the timing of my reading — into questioning what I was seeing and thinking in New York, “Everything was so random. As a girl, I had fallen in love with Mario, but I could have fallen in love with anyone: a body to which we end up attributing who knows what meanings.” (p.74) Random — that is the word I kept thinking about when I read about the victims of the Bangladesh attacks. Friends who went out for dinner, business partners, a birthday party, a place to have a drink, a pregnant woman’s farewell — is life as random as the decisions we make and are our ends just as randomly decided and finalized for us? Again and again, in Ferrante’s descriptions of Mario and Olga’s relationship with him and her life after he leaves her, I saw my search for a meaning to the human state. “Nothing was solid, everything was slipping away . . . I didn’t know how to find answers to the question marks, every possible answer seemed absurd, I was lost in the where am I, in the what am I doing. I was mute beside the why.” (p.107) Continue reading


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Literature key to success of Bengali films: Saswata Chatterjee

Kahaani actor Saswata Chatterjee feels whenever Bengali films have been rooted in literature, they have churned out good stuff. In fact, he feels the key to its turnaround have been in doing literature-based films. “The golden era of Bengali cinema was not only made possible by Uttam, Soumitra, Suchitra, Supriya although they were great actors. It was also because their films were based on works of writers like Bibhutibhusan Bandyopadhyay, Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay, and Sunil Gangopadhyay,” the actor said.

“The day Bengali cinema lost touch with literature and started aping the south, the middle class audience stopped going to the cinema halls and later the larger audience too stopped going,” Saswata said.

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