Everyone in the family thought my uncle, David, would never enlist. Some even thought he might never come back from India. But, true to his word, he came back, half his original weight and with twice the amount of hair on his head, talking about tulips sticking out of guns and civil disobedience and flying elephants (he experimented) and never, ever serving beyond the Green Line.

I imagined the bus coming to pick him up. He must have been sitting cross-legged on the hot concrete, reading a book. I liked to think it was Indian poetry. They must have called for everyone to board the bus. He would have looked over the pages of his book, some people he would have recognised from a previous line.

“The army is filled with lines and waiting,” he tells me, “and hot, dusty days.”

“You too, let’s go. Get on that bus,” the officer would say.

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Reviewed By Mitali Chakravarty

 

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Title: Vital Possessions

Author: Marc Nair

Publisher: Ethos books, Singapore

 

Vital Possessions is a collection of poems, haikus, monologues and photographs by award winning Singaporean poet and photographer Marc Nair. The content reflects the tussle between city life and nature.

Marc Nair takes us on a journey through ASEAN countries — Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia and of course Singapore. He finds nature pushing its way through the crevices of city life. In one of his haikus, accompanied by a photograph of a worn out wall with grass growing out of the gaps, he writes,

“Nature never fails

to push against the grain

of forgotten cities.”

When I see the picture and read the lines, what springs to my mind is the St Paul’s church in Malacca, built in 1521, a forgotten church of a bygone era. The monument has vegetation growing out of crevices, which many old buildings would have. However, a sense unique hopefulness is brought to the fore by Marc Nair’s brevity of words to create a picture perfect perspective.

Vinita Agrawal

Vinita Agarwal is an award winning poet and translator. She has authored number of books — Words Not Spoken, The Longest Pleasure, The Silk Of Hunger and Two Full Moons,

Recipient of the Gayatri GaMarsh Memorial Award for Literary Excellence, USA, 2015, the second prize at the TallGrass Writers Guild Award, Chicago in 2017, two consecutive prizes in the Hongkong Proverse Poetry Prize for 2017 and 2018, and joint winner of the Tagore literary prize for 2018, her poems have appeared in Asiancha, The Fox Chase Review, Pea River Journal, Open Road Review, Stockholm Literary Review, Poetry Pacific, Mithila Review, The Bombay Review, Mascara Literary Review, The Blue Fifth Review and other journals.

She was on the panel of judges for the Asian Cha contest in 2015 and for RLFPA Awards (International category) 2016. She has conducted workshops in colleges and institutes of Mumbai.

She has read at Kala Ghoda, SAARC, 100 thousand poets for change, Lucknow Literature Festival, U.S. Consulate, Hyderabad and Mumbai, Max Mueller Bhavan Mumbai, Delhi Poetree, Pentasi India Cappuccino and Women Empowerment Readings. She was featured live in the global transatlantic poetry broadcast. She is on the Advisory Board Of The Tagore Literary Prize

 

Nalini: Your poetry is personal, intense, out there on the pages to shout out loud what is not supposed to be spoken, to change the way people perceive women and the narrative around them. That’s what I feel when I read your works. I’m not sure if you agree with my assessment, but, it might still be true if we talk about poems like Where I come From, Bespoken, Woman, Park Street Rape Victim in your latest book Two Full Moons. So, here’s the question: Why do you write poetry? What is your goal?

Vinita: I write poetry to vent the thoughts simmering inside me. For me, poetry is the best medium to put across sentiments and emotions. Through poems we build something new on the ground — something that will shine like a sliver of truth when darkness descends and envelops us.

Nalini: When is a poem done?

Vinita: When I can read it without a pause and when I do not need to tweak it or edit it.

Nalini: At some point, we all end up writing poems about writing poetry. You have a couple in your book. Why do you think it becomes pertinent for a poet to write such poems and what purpose do they serve?

Vinita: Writing poems about poetry provides a perspective to this very fine art. The art is validated in the poet’s own words. I too have written a few poems about poetry and tried to express the utter necessity of reading and writing poetry. I wish poetry would resonate with more and more people.

Memory in 324 Words

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Adil Hasan was born in 1971 in Shillong, north-east India and has made Bangalore his home for the past eighteen years. He is a visual artist and freelance writer, having previously worked in the banking industry. Escape The Dark, an exhibition of his digital art was held in 2014. He is presently working on a mixed media project titled Great Industrial Dreams which pairs artwork with speculative prose and poetry. 

Sitesh Sen tried and failed one more time to fully understand what the muzzy indistinct female voice was describing about the timing of his train. It’s just the way the announcements were made at Howrah Station, with a shrill but unclear human voice trying to climb a sea of sounds across a creaking microphone. It didn’t suit his ears, ended up being just a gurgle of words that didn’t mean much. “And what was the need to have that funny jingle-sound at the end of each announcement?” Sen thought, “Like a dull doorbell taking off from the final incomplete word.”

Frustrated and flustered, Sen asked a man standing nearby about the announcement giving his train’s departure details. It didn’t help to know that it was four hours late. He was at the right place though, platform eight.

By Mariyam Haider

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Title: Becoming

Author: Michelle Obama

Publishers: Crown Publishing Group, Viking Press

Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, is powerful, personal and fulfilling. Her writing takes us with her on her journey, from growing up in Euclid Avenue on the South Side of Chicago to calling White House her home. In the course of this larger-than-life story, Michelle Obama offers her readers an insight into how a strong value-based system allowed her to take risks, commit mistakes and learn from them, address failure as a mentor, be honest to herself and develop authenticity as her crusading feature.

The book is divided into three segments: Becoming Me, Becoming Us and Becoming More. She sets the theme of the book in the preface by writing, “I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child — What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.” The title of the book is thus the threadline of how each one of us is in a constant flux of evolution and rediscovery, embracing the unknown and resonating with the deeper voice that commands us to remain true to ourselves.

Surrounded by the grandeur of the Himalayas in the Doon valley, it strikes me that the mountains only serve to unite with their allure of serene remoteness. People find the aloofness of mountains attractive and set about exploring and conquering them as they do the raging seas; thus, advancing the human race not just by exposure to geographic or cultural novelties but also intellectually, by challenging their own comfort zones. Words do similar things for writers. Writers get drawn out of their comfort zones to generate ideas that stimulate.

In a world connected by clouds and birds that do not accept geo-political barriers, thoughts and ideas waft from region to region, sometimes gaining local colour but always creating a sense of interconnectedness. To harness these ideas into a stream, writers need an easy access to a forum that reaches out to the rest of the world. This forum would have to be a confluence where words from writers reach out to unite, probe, create, describe and move all mankind.

By Archana Pai Kulkarni

Anees Salim

Acclaimed as one of our most gifted raconteurs, Anees Salim won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2018 for his novel, The Blind Lady’s Descendants. The book also won the Raymond Crossword Book Award for Best Fiction in 2015.

His other books include The Vicks Mango Tree (2012), Tales from a Vending Machine (2013), Vanity Bagh (Winner of the Hindu Prize for Best Fiction, 2013), and The Small-town Sea that won the Atta Galatta Bangalore Literature Festival Book Prize for Best Fiction, 2017, and was shortlisted for The Hindu Prize as well as the Tata Literature Live! Award, the same year.

Salim is Creative Director, FCB Ulka, Kochi, and an avid traveller.


Archana
: Anees, welcome to Kitaab! Congratulations on winning the Sahitya Akademi Award for The Blind Lady’s Descendants.

You are known to be a literary hermit and have mentioned that these recognitions have made you unnecessarily wary and self-conscious. Do you worry that the baggage of expectations that comes with awards, coupled with a surge in readers’ interest in you, may be too invasive and affect your writing? What makes you shy away from social interaction and literary platforms, when being out there could mean better sales and a larger readership?

Anees: Thank you. Yes, recognitions have put extra load on me and I have started discarding more story ideas than I used to do in the past. I don’t know if readers’ interest in my books has affected my writing because I haven’t written a book since The Small-town Sea was published.

Coming to my lack of social interaction, it has always been like this. All my books were released without official launches or book tours. And most of them have done reasonably well. But you are right, a few public appearances could have helped the books do better. The truth is I find it extremely hard to change myself.

Archana: The characters in your novels are consummate storytellers, be it the unnamed protagonist of The Small-town Sea or Amar Hamsa in The Blind Lady’s Descendants. Stories are also told from the perspective of a fish or a bird, narrators buoyed up by the protagonist who presumes what they are witnessing. ‘What did they see?’ is a recurring adjunct, a narrative device you use to offer an unusual overview, which cannot be relied upon entirely. Could you elaborate upon the choice and use of this tool?

Anees: Well, I believe children are the most imaginative and fearless storytellers. They have a unique way of looking at mundane things and their points of view can sometimes make you feel liberated. As a child, I used to imagine how birds would see my home, how my school would appear to earthworms, how chickens would heave a sigh of relief when we demanded lamb biriyani.  Since The Small-town Sea is narrated by a thirteen-year-old – my youngest ever protagonist – I thought of using my favourite childhood pastime as a tool.

Archana: Death arrives early in some of your books. Your characters seem accepting of it, including their own. While there is a sense of melancholy and foreboding that shadows their rumination upon death, the characters succumb to it willingly, as if this cessation of their lives, however premature, is elemental and not so unpleasant, an inspiration even. They seem to meet death halfway, walk towards it, so to say. You also juxtapose a death with a birth. Amar in The Bind Lady’s Descendants is born on the very day that Javi, his doppelganger, dies. Vappa in The Small-town Sea dies three days after the unnamed protagonist’s thirteenth birthday. Why this preoccupation with death, and the mention of birth and death days alongside? What does the subject do for you as a writer?