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The Rumpus Interview with Anuk Arudpragasam

Editor’s note: Anuk Arudpragasam’s novel The Story of a Brief Marriage won the prestigious DSC prize for South Asian literature, 2017 at the Dhaka Literary Festival. In this interview with The Rumpus, September 2016, he talks about the book and his approach to writing it.

The Rumpus: One of the things that struck me most about the novel is how little historical context is given. Instead, the reader is utterly immersed in the present moment of the main character Dinesh. So often, we read a book set in war which also gives the reader a history lesson. I’m thinking particularly of Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie about the Nigerian civil war. Why did you decide to leave out this kind of context?

Anuk Arudpragasam: It is something I thought about, and there are a couple of reasons behind it. Because the subject matter of the novel is very graphic and it is so hard to be in the presence of, I think there is a natural tendency to find ways to divert one’s attention from these kinds of things.

To use a simple example, if you see somebody in pain or you see somebody suffering in some way, there are usually, if the pain is ordinary—of a conventional kind where somebody’s fallen say or somebody has been bereaved—there are established ways of providing some kind of therapy for the person who is suffering. If somebody is hurt you ask them if they’re okay. You give them a bandage, you rub them on the back. There are all these ways of helping them out. And then, there are situations in which there’s obviously nothing you can do in response to somebody’s suffering or somebody’s pain, and we tend to find other ways to deal with the person. You can’t actually help the person out, so you say, “I know how it feels” or “I’ve been there before” or you try to be with them in other ways.

There is an instinctive urge to act when confronted by the pain of another person, and I think this urge involves, in a way, a discomfort or anxiety about actually seeing that the other person is in pain. In trying to find a way to make their situation better, you’re doing something, and in doing something and in responding actively to someone’s pain, you are, in a way, free from having to contemplate the pain or reflect on the condition of the person. That’s not a bad thing at all.

I feel, though, when it comes to the suffering or the pain of people who are far away or in situations that are very different from your own, that the analog to giving somebody a Band-Aid or rubbing them on the back or talking to them is what you could call a political response. It is to say, “Who did that?” or “What was responsible?” or “When did this happen? How did this happen? Why didn’t anybody do anything?” And then to say, “It was these people. These people need to go to jail” or “These people need to be tried or taken to the international criminal court.” By making these kinds of political diagnoses—and I am not against them at all, they are natural and very necessary—by responding to the suffering of people far away in time and space in this very instinctive way, with some kind of plan for action, I feel that something often gets lost. And I feel that, at least in my case, what gets lost in my instinctive reaction to suffering is an understanding or a contemplation of the condition of the people who are suffering. So, in this situation, I wanted to give very little historical context and social and political context, so that this condition is forced on the attention of the writer or reader.

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The Inheritance Powder by Hillary Standing

By Mayeesha Azhar

The Inheritance Powder

Title: The Inheritance Powder
Author: Hillary Standing
Publisher: Red Door Publishing Limited (1st ed. 2015)
(Bangladesh: University Press Limited, 2016)
Pages: 356
Price: £8.99 (Kindle 2.99)

Intrigue in the Development Sector

Professionals in the development sector often complain that putting together the notoriously impersonal, jargon-filled proposals and reports eats away at their ability to write evocatively. In her novel, The Inheritance Powder, Hillary Standing proves that it is possible to be otherwise. A long career in international development allows her to draw out a relatively refreshing story from this field.

Like her, one of the two main characters is Carl Simonovsky, an agricultural economist based in London. He specializes in East Africa but feels compelled to take on an assignment in Bangladesh so that he can add to the income generating portfolio of his employer, the fictional Institute of Poverty Alleviation. Carl is needed for a cost benefit analysis of solutions to Bangladesh’s arsenic problem on behalf of an aid agency. He is not convinced he should take on the task—he has not heard of the problem before and has no experience in South Asia. His faith is dwindling in the kind of economic models he has been asked to make. However, he reminds himself that ‘in the last year, considerations of ignorance, ethics and scepticism had not stopped him from providing policy advice’ on topics as far-flung as tourism and healthcare in other geopolitical regions outside of his expertise. Even after he arrives in Bangladesh, Carl muses about this ‘small, slippery compromise with integrity’.

In Carl, the author puts a more human face on the stereotype of the ‘male, pale and stale’ international consultant. His hesitation, confusion and regret are just some of the aspects of the development sector that the book portrays realistically. The harried director of the aid agency who hires Carl’s services is, perhaps regrettably, seen all too often. Ahmad, the national consultant who knows all the key contacts and local context of the arsenic problem, but is only paid a third of Carl’s fees, is also uncannily familiar.

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Why a 19th Century American Slave Memoir is Becoming a Bestseller in Japan’s Bookstores

No one imagined that the Japanese translation of the book, Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs (1861), would become a long-selling hit in Japan when it was first published in 2013. It is the life story of a slave girl in the United States in the 1800s, and not something one would expect to strike interest in Japan, which while struggling with its own issues of race, has a 98% ethnically Japanese population.

And the woman who would push for the book to be translated and published in Japanese, Yuki Horikoshi, had no background in literature or translation, and at first found it difficult to find a willing publisher. “I didn’t meet the profile for what an author should be and it was hard to explain why this book was so compelling.”

The book is now on its eighth edition in hardback and was published in paperback this summer. In its first month in paperback, it sold 25,000 copies, a remarkable feat for a book of its genre. It’s what in Japan is called “a quiet bestseller.”

The book that fascinated Horikoshi has been compared to The Diary Of Anne Frank. It is considered a remarkable work in how it sheds light on the female experience of slavery, including the never-ending threat of sexual exploitation. It was thought to be a work of fiction but many believe the authenticity was definitively established in 1981.

Horikoshi remembers when she first read the book. It was the summer of 2011, the same year that Japan experienced the Great Eastern earthquake which resulted in nearly 16,000 deaths and a nuclear meltdown. Horikoshi, who works for a large consulting firm, was riding the bullet train on a business trip, looking for something inspirational to read. On her iPhone she downloaded a copy of the book, began reading, and was enthralled.

“I had gone to school in the United States and yet I had never heard of this book, nor really understood slavery. It was an eye-opening experience.”

In the protagonist’s resolution to fight against inequality and make herself a place in the world, Horikoshi saw inspiration for young Japanese people, especially women.

Japan is currently ranked 114 out of 144 countries in gender equality; women here face an uphill battle establishing themselves in the business world or in politics. The Japan Timesin a 2016 editorial, lamented how that even 30 years after laws mandating equal employment opportunities for men and women were introduced, women still struggle to get a fair shake in corporate Japan.

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BBC World Drama: International Radio Playwriting Competition 2018

RULES

1. Entry is only open to anyone who is over the age of 18 as at 31 January 2018 who is not normally a resident of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Channel Islands or Isle of Man (“UK”). Individuals who have lived or worked in the UK on a temporary basis for no more than 12 months at the time of entering the competition are also eligible. Professional and previously published writers are eligible to enter, but this is not a requirement of entry. We may require proof of eligibility.

2. Entrants must not be BBC, BBC Group company, British Council, The Open University or Commonwealth Foundation employees, close relatives of such employees or any person connected to the competition. Proof of age, identity and eligibility may be requested.

3. Entrants should write a radio play of approximately fifty three minutes’ length on any subject of their choice.

4. The entrants warrant, by submitting plays, that the play:
a) is the original work of the entrants,
b) is not an adaptation of an earlier work (for example a novel),
c) will not have been professionally produced in any medium (an informal play-reading is acceptable; a play-reading with a professional director and in front of a non-paying audience is acceptable, but a performance involving payment to actors and/or a paying audience is not) before 31 March 2019,
d) will not have been offered for publication, performance or broadcast or produced in any other form or medium to any other person or company before 31 March 2019, and
e) will not have been entered for any other competition before 31 March 2019.

A breach of these warranties will result in disqualification from the competition.

5. The winning playwrights will be deemed to have entered into an undertaking not to accept offers for their entries from other broadcasters or publishers before 31 March 2019.

6. All scripts submitted must be approximately 53 minutes in length – this usually equates to a minimum of 45 pages of A4 paper (or equivalent) and a maximum of 65 pages (note, a rough guide is a minute per page; please read and time your play before you send it). The play should have a maximum of six central characters (there may be up to 3 small “doubling” characters too, who don’t have more than a few lines each). There must be no central roles for children. Word count approx. 9000-10000 words

7. Your script should be accompanied by a short synopsis which outlines the complete story of the play. This must be no more than 400 words.

8. There are two categories for entry. One is for entrants who speak English as a first language and the other is for entrants with English as a second language. The BBC may require proof of eligibility for the selected category before announcing a winner. For translated entries, it is the responsibility of the entrant to ensure the translated script fully complies with these rules and entry requirements and the entrant must have the right to enter into a contract on the translator or translators’ behalf as per Rule 24. No additional payment can be made by the BBC for translations. • Please tick this box to confirm the translator has given permission for you to provide their personal details.

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HOCA Foundation presents “The World of Tintin”

Tintin

HONG KONG. – 11 October 2017 – HOCA Foundation is proud to announce a landmark exhibition exploring the adventures of global icon Tintin. The largest presentation in Hong Kong to date, it showcases 8 albums from the renowned “The Adventures of Tintin” series. The immersive experience, featuring vivid scenography, celebrates the imaginative world created by the Belgian illustrator and creator of Tintin, Hergé. Presented in collaboration with the Hergé Museum, “THE WORLD OF TINTIN,” will run from November 17 – December 26, 2017 at the new ArtisTree, venue sponsored by Swire Properties. A public two-day conference, as well as a series of educational comic art workshops will run in parallel, tailored for students in collaboration with local schools.

Created in 1929, the Tintin adventures have been translated into over 100 languages and sold more than 230 million copies worldwide. Each thematic section of the exhibition has been designed by HOCA Foundation to bring the intrepid boy reporter to life. “THE WORLD OF TINTIN” traces Hergé’s path from his first stories to his mature works, following Tintin as he crosses continents between North America, Africa, Asia, Europe and beyond.

A cultural touchstone of the 20th century, the canonical series of Tintin albums featured include Tintin in America; Cigars of the Pharaoh; The Blue Lotus; The Broken Ear; King Ottokar’s Sceptre; The Shooting Star; The Red Sea Sharks and Tintin in Tibet. Packed with gripping adventures, action and page-turning humor, the show highlights Tintin beyond the fictional narrative, offering a lens into the social and political contexts of its time. Visual art has played an important role in documenting historical events, and the series serve as vehicles to express Herge’s views on the conflicts and topics of his time. Ushering a new dimension in comic strips, the Tintin series has since been recognized as an important work of art that reflects the changing perspectives of its audience throughout the 1900s.

The welcoming exhibition also includes three specially created models of Tintin scenes, including a model of Tintin’s apartment; a large diorama of the ticker tape parade in Chicago from Tintin in America, highlighting Hergé’s sophisticated use of perspective; and a collector’s model of a street scene populated by signature Tintin cars, accurately rendered from the automobiles of the time. Flanked by colorful scenes set in vinyl throughout the space and reconstituted as the show’s wallpaper, the exhibition design transforms Hergé’s motifs into a compelling environment that befits his trademark characters and evokes the illustrator’s magical world and limitless imagination.

Committed to art education and enabling access to art for the wider public, HOCA Foundation also presents a 2-day public conference exploring the importance of comic art in contemporary society. The free event will feature panels exploring Tintin’s legacy, as well as a keynote lecture by Michael Farr, the world’s foremost ‘Tintinologist’. In collaboration with local schools, a series of comic art workshops, led by local illustrators will also activate families and students to engage with and be inspired by Tintin stories. All educational events are generously sponsored by blueprint and Semeiotics, with additional support from the ticket sales of Freespace at Taikoo Place, co-presented by Swire Properties and West Kowloon Cultural District Authority. (Please refer to Appendix I for full details of Educational Program)

To celebrate the first full-scale exhibition of Tintin in Hong Kong, 3 pop-up shops will also be presented around Hong Kong, at ArtisTree, CityPlaza and Central, presenting a wide range of Tintin gifts, books and memorabilia.

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Kenny Fries: From memoir to mortality and impermanence

When asked about his affection for Pikachu, American author Kenny Fries breaks into laughter. No, he says in an interview via Skype, the iconic Pokemon character had nothing to do with his decision to come to Japan. He came initially because, after applying for various fellowships, he was awarded the prestigious Creative Arts Fellowship from the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts in 2002 to research and write about disability in Japan.

Fries has a disability himself. He was born without fibulae, a condition that has no scientific name, and subsequently underwent multiple surgical operations. In addition to having published three books of poetry and an anthology, Fries has written two highly acclaimed hybrid memoirs. In his first, “Body, Remember: A Memoir,” he writes about the history of his physical and psychic scars and his sexual awakening as a young gay man. His second, equally innovative memoir, “The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin’s Theory,” blends biological research with his own experience of adaptation. This volume was awarded the 2007 Myers Outstanding Book Award.

At the beginning of his latest autobiographical book, “In the Province of the Gods,” Fries has just arrived in Japan. Having separated from his long-term partner, he is single for the first time in 18 years. Although nervous about being alone in a foreign country, and wondering if he will ever find another partner, he is rarely lonely. Thanks to the support offered by the fellowship, he is quickly introduced to a number of influential individuals including Masumi Muramatsu, the founder of Simul International, Japan’s “best-known school for interpreters”; Satoshi Fukushima, “a deaf-blind Tokyo University professor who runs Todai’s Barrier-Free Project”; and Mika Kimula, a singer who later puts Fries’ poems to music.


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Han Kang: ‘Writing about a massacre was a struggle. I’m a person who feels pain when you throw meat on a fire’

Early in 2015 a buzz began to build around a slim novel called The Vegetarian. It was about a woman who turned her face to the wall, refusing to eat meat and scandalising her friends and family, as a prelude to rejecting life itself. “It is sensual, provocative and violent, ripe with potent images, startling colours and disturbing questions,” wrote its Guardian reviewer.

Its author, Han Kang, is a poet, short story writer and novelist who has for years been one of South Korea’s best kept secrets. Her three-part fable of refusal hit the sweet spot for fiction in translation, or indeed any fiction: it mined universal truths from the culturally particular, it was both painfully close to home and mysteriously “other”.

She returns this year with a novel that is even more disturbing and provocative; it certainly splashes its violence across a bigger stage. Human Acts opens with the 1980 massacre of student protesters in the South Korean city of Gwangju and spares no detail in its scrutiny of the carnage: the slashed throat with its red uvula sticking out, the putrefying toes swelling up “like thick tubers of ginger”.

The writer who has borne witness to this devastation is a quietly spoken 45-year-old mother of one, with a growing circle of admirers in the UK. They include the psychotherapist Susie Orbach, who found in The Vegetarian a common interest in “pain, the body and how the struggle to be human involves many strange ways of trying to look after oneself in the face of hurt, cruelty, confusion”, and human rights lawyer Philippe Sands, for whom Human Acts is “an intense and magical achievement – a brutal yet lyrical reflection on the universal legacy of injustice seen through the prism of one act of atrocity”.

Han is a charismatically thoughtful woman, who wrote herself into the final section of Human Acts in order to explain why she felt compelled to tell the story. “I was nine years old at the time of the Gwangju Uprising,” it begins. Gwangju, a city in the south of the country, had been her home until four months before the massacre, when her father gave up his teaching job to become a full-time writer and moved the family to the capital Seoul.

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Poetry: When They Open Our Bodies They Will Find the Whales by Urvashi Bahuguna

Urvashi Bahuguna – When They Open Our Bodies

urvashi

Urvashi Bahuguna is a poet from India whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Nervous Breakdown, Barely South Review, Jaggery, The Four Quarters Magazine and elsewhere. She was recently shortlisted for the Beverly Prize and the Wingword Poetry Prize. She has a poetry pamphlet forthcoming from Eyewear Books (UK). She was awarded an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom in 2014. Her essays have appeared in Hindu Business Line, Scroll, Helter Skelter Magazine and others.


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Orhan Pamuk: Taking Photographs in Istanbul

In 1962, my father bought me a camera. My brother had been given one already, two years before. His was like a camera obscura, a black, metallic, perfectly square box, with a lens on one side and a glass screen on the other, on which you could see projected the image inside. When my brother was ready to transfer that murky image onto the film inside the box, he would push on the lever—click!—and as if by magic, a photograph would be taken.

Taking a photograph was always a special occasion. It called for preparation and ceremony. In the first place, film was expensive. It was important to know how many exposures would fit on a roll, and the camera kept a running tally of photographs taken. We spoke of rolls and exposure counts as if we were soldiers in some ragtag army running out of ammunition; we chose our shots carefully, and still wondered whether our photos were any good. Every photograph required a degree of thought and deliberation: “Does this look right?” It was around this time that I began to think about the significance of the photographs I took—and why I took them at all.

We took photographs so as to have something to remember the moment by. As subjects, we faced the camera and posed for others—mostly our friends and families but also our future selves—who would be looking back at this image months and years later. So really, we were having our photographs taken in anticipation of our own gaze back. When we faced the camera, we were “posing” for the future.

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Ten Books That Changed The World

Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh is the first significant text in world literature, and a perfect example of the power of written stories to shape history. By bolstering cultural cohesion across the region, the epic helped maintain the earliest territorial empire. Written in cuneiform, it disappeared without a trace because it was never transcribed into any other writing system, until it was rediscovered by accident two thousand years later. Saddam Hussein, a keen student of history, wrote a novelistic adaptation of the epic. To his great surprise, it failed to secure the survival of his regime.

Ezra’s Bible

Written texts became increasingly important for Jewish life during exile in Babylon, the most literate place on earth at the time. When the scribe Ezra led his followers back to Jerusalem, he held up him Torah scrolls and demanded that the returning exiles bow before them as they would to a god. It was the beginning of sacred scripture, giving rise to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. We have been living in a world shaped by sacred texts ever since.

Diamond Sutra

The Diamond Sutra commemorates the life of the Buddha by portraying his interactions with students and his daily habits in unusual detail. When the sutra was committed to writing long after the death of this great teacher, it became so influential that devoted monks carried it all the way to China. It was here that the Diamond Sutra encountered paper and print. With the help of these technologies, it spread to Korea, Japan and beyond, making Buddhism a world religion.

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