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Excerpts: Lanka’s Princess by Kavita Kane

lanka

Prologue: Kubja

He spotted her immediately. He could not tear his eyes away from her distant figure. Leaning against a roadside tree, she stood out in the thronging crowd on the streets of Mathura. Krishna stared at her for a long, thoughtful minute before he started to move  towards her.

‘Where are you going?’ asked Balram, perplexed. He looked at his younger brother, a darker version of himself. ‘We will be late. King Kamsa is waiting to meet us at his palace.’

‘Just a moment…’ replied Krishna, his eyes still seeking the woman. She was still standing near the tree, watching the bustling crowd around her, as if enjoying the street scene. She ignored  the young street urchins giggling at her. One attempted to throw a stone at  her.

She looked distinctly surprised as she saw a young, dark, handsome boy approach her. He could not be more than seventeen, his face boyish, with a wide, warm smile but there was a quaint air of maturity about him. It was his eyes—smiling yet mocking in their solemnity. He looked eerily familiar but she could not place him. Not that she could have forgotten such a good-looking face, she reflected, feeling a strange emotion rise within her.

‘Do you  live  here?’ asked Krishna politely,  smiling.

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Book Review: I Want to Destroy Myself: A Memoir by Malika Amar Shaikh

By Aminah Sheikh

malika

Born to Communist parents Amar Shaikh and Kusum Jaykar, Malika Amar Shaikh was raised in an inspiring environment at a time when history was being staged – Maharashtrian politics of the 1960s. Cushioned by her father, a legendary Marathi folk singer and trade union leader, Malika, who was an ailing child lived the world through books. And, her only outlet was her poetry.

Hirve, hirve gawat, phule bhovti jamat

Jaate mi, maaghaari yete mi…ramat, gamat

(In the green green foliage, the flowers dance

There will I follow, there will I prance.)

She had written her first poem at the age of seven. Riding on the loving shoulders of her father, a respectable man, Malika floated through the art, cultural and political circles as a school-going girl, observing and silently soaking in all that was on offer.

Published by Speaking Tiger, I Want to Destroy Myself: A Memoir by Malika Amar Shaikh, translated from Marathi by author, poet and translator Jerry Pinto, tells a tale of despair. The original autobiography Mala Udhhvasta Vhaychay was published in 1984. The book takes the reader on a journey of a girl, from being young, self-aware and with dreamy eyes, to a woman choking under the burden of her own choice. The choice of following her heart and loving a man who she believed would be her true companion.

When the man of her dreams Namdeo Dhasal, co-founder of the radical Dalit Panthers, is introduced to the reader, you are bound to fall in love just as she did. So honest is her memoir that it will jolt you and leave you wondering – how did she pull through!

I Want to Destroy Myself has been beautifully crafted by Malika as she shares some intense experiences in a matter-of-fact manner. From loving the rain as a girl, sitting with her family with a book in hand, to wading in almost waist-deep water with her husband during her menstrual cycle and ending up at a friend’s doorstep for shelter — one of the many moments when she swallows her self-respect — the book tells many stories. She arouses raging emotions in the reader that make the book a heavy read.

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Book Review: A Full Night’s Thievery by Mitra Phukan

By Manisha Lakhe

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As with any book of short stories, one tends to open a story and allow the writer to steer you into worlds you have not experienced. Mitra Phukan’s A Full Night’s Thievery takes us to Assam, and gives us a glimpse into the lives of her characters filled with music. But when those worlds are described in ways where Indian words like aanchal, punkha walas, Krishnasura tree, aalna, deuta intrude upon the senses, then the story comes second. It’s all ambience. Only ambience.

The book blurb promises that “music is a hard taskmaster” and you want to experience that. The bleeding fingers, the pain of missing a beat in front of an audience, the ecstasy of hitting the right notes and the loneliness of the riyaaz, we want to feel it all. But the characters don’t seem to be real. They’re given to rants (“The Choice”) where a Rudra Veena player is attempting to tell himself why he’s giving away his instrument. And after a couple of pages you wish the damned instrument would break to make him stop whining. If you’ve started with that story (since it’s the first in the book), then it sounds the death knell to the book, doesn’t it?

But if you’re like me, you’ll seek out the title story which is about a thief. And when you have trampled through pointless descriptions of characters in the little town who have nothing to do with the plot of the story, you realise that you saw the end coming a mile away. And who uses words like “delicious bits” for breasts? It’s practically Victorian.

The stories are charming, if you are unfamiliar with Indian writing. But if you have read works of regional authors translated into English, or Indian writers writing in English, you will realise that this book suffers the same fate. The descriptions seem to be written for non-Indians. Take the coconut seller in the train. His method of chopping the tender coconuts or how he cuts them after the “sweet” water has been consumed for the delicious “cream” seems to be utterly needless because Indians know what a tender coconut is and how to consume it.

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Pilgrim’s Progress: A poem by Sukrita Paul Kumar

Pilgrim’s Progress

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Born and brought up in Kenya, Sukrita Paul Kumar is a well-known poet and critic, who currently holds the Aruna Asaf Ali Chair at the University of Delhi. Formerly, a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, she is an Honorary Fellow of the International Writing Programme, University of Iowa (USA), as also of Hong Kong Baptist University and Cambridge Seminars. She is honorary faculty at the Durrell Centre at Corfu (Greece).

She has published several collections of poems and many critical books including Dream Catcher, Untitled, Without Margins, Folds of Silence, Narrating Partition, The New Story, Man, Woman and Androgyny and Ismat, Her Life, Her Times. As Director of a UNESCO project, she edited a volume of Urdu short stories in English, Mapping Memories. In 2006, she published, as its Chief Editor, Cultural Diversity in India (MacMillan India) prescribed at Delhi University. While her latest co-edited volume is Speaking For Herself: An Anthology of Asian Women’s Writings (Penguin India), she has also recently published Poems Come Home (HarperCollins) & Rowing Together (Rajkamal), bilingual books of poems with Gulzar and a fellow Hindi poet, Savita Singh. Her translations of fiction have been published by HarperCollins, Katha and National Book Trust (Blind, Stories of Joginder Paul and Sleepwalkers). Her poems have been translated into many languages including French, Chinese, Swahili etc. A recipient of many prestigious fellowships, she has lectured in many universities in India and abroad. Her paintings have been exhibited and published in several journals.

She has been the Guest Editor of several journals in India and abroad, including “Manoa: Crossing Over” (University of Hawaii), “Muse India” (Indian Literatures) and “Margaret Lawrence Review”.


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Seemanchal International Literary Festival- Taking Literature to the Grassroot India

Source: Kractivist.org

By Rahman Abbas

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Zafar Anjum, PN Balji, Jayanthi Sankar, Debanjan Chakraborty and Isa Kamari

I was surprised when Singapore based English author and publisher Zafar Anjum Emailed me and invited to attend Seemanchal International literary festival on 17-19 November in Kishanganj, Bihar. I kept thinking for hours that how this festival would take shape in one of the most backward regions of our country. On the other hand I was happy over the idea that festival of literature was shifting from superficial glare of metros and lights of hotels to rural India and amid people devoid of cultural activities.

On 16th November, I board flight from Mumbai to Delhi. At Delhi airport waiting for next flight for Bagdogra I met well known Urdu critic Shafey Kidwai and literary critic Nazia Anjum who is also English lecturer at AMU. We shared coffee and talked about festival and Kishanganj. Shafey was worried if there would be any audience, especially to attend sessions about gender discriminations and role of literature in contemporary society on which various foreign authors had to speak.  When we reached Bagdogra airport (West Bengal) we met English author and poet Abha Ayengar, senior journalist Ziya-us-Salam (The Hindu). From West Bengal to Kishanganj our journey was of two hours.  During the journey we saw beautiful tea gardens and green pastures. When Bihar approached greenery turned into dust and road into dilapidated state. We were chatting about festival and thinking what was there in store for next morning.

The venue was famous’ Insan school’ ground and stage was set for two days festival. We were around 20 authors mainly of English, Hindi, Urdu and Malay languages from India, Singapore and UK. Read more


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New Release: Feet in the Valley by Aswini Kumar Mishra

feet-in-the-valley

Rupa Publications’s latest novel Feet in the Valley is the story of a young man Somen, son of an honest railway official, who is trying desperately to redeem himself in the eyes of his small railway town community in Odisha—they have already written him off as a ‘failure’ who could not clear the Indian civil service exams.

Authored by Aswini Kumar Mishra, Feet in the Valley describes how, with the support of his family, Somen negotiates the serpentine path to success. Along the way, he must come to terms with many challenges and frustrations both at a personal and social level—from the venal and widespread corruption of the local public administration officials who treat drought relief funds as their personal bonuses, to the shameless culture of kowtowing to senior officials in exchange for favours; from the anger and satisfaction of supporting the forest dwellers in their struggles, to sorting out his own love-life. More than once, Somen is tempted to take the easy way out and abandon his ethics in pursuit of material success, but with the example of his honest father before him and his mother’s unwavering faith, he soldiers on.

The book gives the reader an unstinting picture of how corruption, nepotism and the culture of ‘bada sahibs’ pans out at a local level. It also paints a sharp outline of the pressures and pleasures of small-town social life, the idealism of love based on trust and mutual respect, and reinforces the message that the small guy can not only survive, but even triumph!

About the author:

Aswini Kumar Mishra is the current Secretary of the Odisha Sahitya Akademi. Feet in the Valley is his maiden English novel. He is a retired officer of Odisha’s state civil service.


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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Loh Guan Liang

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

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

The ability to write well is a gift, much like the ability to hold a tune, draw, shoot hoops or execute a perfect roundhouse kick. And like a muscle writing is something that demands practice, experimentation and reflection in order to improve. This drive to better my craft is why I write.

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

Bitter Punch is my second book of poems. This collection extends and expands on themes in my first book Transparent Strangers, such as the experience of urban living and the breakdown of human and spatial relationships. Bitter Punch is a collection hardened by age and well aware of what it seeks to accomplish through writing.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

Accessibility. Poetry, as with any art form, is artifice. Let’s not kid ourselves: poetry is difficult, pointless even, to most readers due to its abstract, technical nature. Poetry puts people off because that pretty pile of words they see/hear is hard to get into, not to mention the misinformed notion that poets are weirdoes. But we are not—not all of us, at least. Poetry can be relatable without obtuse technicality getting in the way of conveying experience.

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Excerpts: The Burning Forest: India’s War in Bastar by Nandini Sundar

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From Mining to Militarism 

Mining and militarism have a deeply intimate history. In 2003, when India liberalized its mining policy, the de facto Maoist control over the region was seen as constituting a major obstacle to rapid industrialization and land acquisition. Industry associations like the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) explicitly supported the government’s offensive against the Maoists and called for the involvement of the private sector in this effort:

The growing Maoist insurgency over large swathes of the mineral rich countryside could soon hurt some industrial investment plans. Just when India needs to ramp up its industrial machine to lock in growth and when foreign companies are joining the party – Naxalites are clashing with mining and steel companies essential to India’s long-term success.

Human rights activists argue that it is not a coincidence that Salwa Judum began just when the state government had signed a memorandum of understanding for a steel plant with the Tatas in June 2005. Around the same time, Essar was acquiring land for another steel plant in Dhurli and Bhansi villages, and both the Tatas and Essar were given captive iron ore mines on the Bailadilla hills. ‘Public hearings’ were held in Lohandiguda, Dhurli and Bhansi, in order to fulfi l the offi cial requirement under PESA of eliciting villagers’ ‘consent’:

The villagers under the leadership of Dantewada Adivasi Mahasabha and Sangharsh Samiti Dhurli, said that on 9th September the police forced them to sign No objection letters. Two constables were posted in each house. No outsider was allowed at the meeting place. People were not allowed to leave their homes or to talk to each other. According to villagers, at 9 a.m. they were forced into vehicles, and taken to the meeting location. Supporters of the opposition leader (Mahendra Karma) also helped the police in this process. The villagers related that they were taken into a room in twos, and pistols were placed at their temples to make them sign where told.

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Book Review: When the Wind Blows and Other Poems by Ashish Khetarpal

By Anurima Chanda

wind-blows

It is interesting how every culture’s literary history almost always begins in verse – for they say verse comes easier to mankind than prose. It is maybe for this inherent nature in all of us that makes us, at least at some point of time in our lives, try to dabble in the art of writing poetry. However, not all of us have the energy to sustain that spirit. Not all of us are able to give birth to the poet in us. But those that do, truly know the joy that it brings to be able to express oneself in rhyme and the pain that it takes to get that rhyme right. What is also pleasantly surprising is how similar these ideas generated in the early stages of writing are to that of the other poets at a similar juncture of creativity. Similar but how beautifully different – different in the way that they then go on to form roots of their own to branch out in their creator’s essence. This is what Ashish Khetarpal’s debut book of poetry When the Wind Blows and Other Poems (2016) offers you – the freshness of the early stages of birth, the resonances it bears to the poetic genetic makeup of mankind and the promise of branching out to create its own unique type.

As the wonderfully written blurb at the back of the book tells you, the poems in this collection are like leaves of the fall; painted in different colours of poetic thought, waiting to spiral away to glory on the winds of the reader’s sighs. In these multicoloured leaves, one will find carefully plucked memories from the poetic mind. Memories of how poetry entered his life, how it made his life colourful, how those colours brought him love, how love took on a life of its own, how love left him heartbroken at times and how it consumed him at other times – snippets from the poet’s everyday life told with an unabashed honesty to the point of baring his vulnerable naked soul to his readers without being afraid of its risky consequences. These poems remind you of what it felt like in those early stages of musing when everything seems like a tale that should be told, when it is important that every tale is dressed with precision and care, and when poetic inspirations are to be celebrated rather than surreptitiously hidden between the lines. It is this very raw spirit of his poems that will enchant and make one sigh – sigh in remembrance of a youth gone by.

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How the Seemanchal Literary Festival drew me out of my happy bubble, a first for a litfest: Rheea Mukherjee

Source: Scroll.in

By Rheea Mukherjee

Before I leave for Kishanganj, Bihar, friends and family have made a hundred comments. “A literary festival in a village in Bihar?” “Is it safe?” “How cool”.

I fly from Bangalore to Kolkata, and then Kolkata to Bagdogra, and arrive at 4 pm on a Wednesday. The sun is hazy-bright and in the middle of the sky. Our host Sarfaraz stands at the arrivals gate. He is here to accompany us from the airport on the two-hour drive to Kishanganj.

The Seemanchal International Literary Festival started as an individual dream, and then, as the founder himself said “was realised because it was a collective dream”. Singapore-based Zafar Anjum might have many accomplishments and books to his name, but Anjum’s roots are in Kishanganj. A boy from a large family who studied at the Urdu-medium Insaan school.

Anjum was acutely aware of two realities: literary fests are held primarily in elite big cities, and almost exclusively engage an elite audience. But literature wasn’t created to stay on the shelves of the bourgeois. The infinite power of writing and its potential to amplify ambition and social equality needed to be celebrated everywhere. The plain truth is this, very few would take up such a quixotic cause. Read more