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What Else is There? Review of ‘Essays after Eighty’ by Donald Hall

by Chandra Ganguly

donald_hallAging and memories are part of the human landscape, tied together in a way that gives meaning to the whole human endeavour. Donald Hall sweeps across this metaphorical landscape with aplomb even as he describes his life in his aging body, the meaning of loss of a partner and loss of the functions of the human body. It is a book of nostalgia, but importantly, it is a book of courage, replete with the particular humour and intelligence of an unfading mind, a mind that is perhaps tired but in no way diminished or reduced by the aging body. There are memoirs galore on age and aging but what makes this particular collection, Essays after Eighty, stand out, is the humor.

The author spares nothing his gaze falls on, least of all himself. The pathos in the way he recalls his life is touching but in no way does it invoke pity. Humour as a device carries these essays into the sunset. He begins the collection describing the standing ovations his lectures now receive. Having just witnessed one such standing ovation at Bennington where he gave a lecture to a packed hall, it made me smile to read the raison d’etre of these standing ovations as, “The audience had just seen me stagger, waver with a cane, and labor to sit down, wheezing. They imagined my grandfather horrified, watching a cadaver gifted with speech. They stood and applauded because they knew they would never see me again.” (p.50) America’s erstwhile poet laureate is self-deprecating, his charm is in his humility, and his intelligence shines through in his dry humour. Even his wife, whose dying he still mourns deeply, is described as, “The more successful her poetry became, the more she permitted herself to be pretty.” (p.54) Continue reading


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One more lamp is extinguished: In memory of Dr. A. R. Kidwai

by Syed Saba Hafeez

kidwaiLast Wednesday morning I got the sad news about the passing away of Kidwai Saheb (Dr. Akhalqur  Rehman Kidwai; 1 July 1920 – 24 August 2016). Inna lillahe wa Inna elayhi ra’ajoon (To God we belong and to Him we will retun).

For those who don’t know him well, Kidwai Saheb served as governor of the states of BiharWest Bengal, and Haryana. He was a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament, from 2000 to 2004. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian award.

It is common to see adjectives like academician, chemist, politician, etc., being associated with him. Perhaps a correct way to describe him would be ‘parliamentarian and administrator’ instead of the word, politician. Indeed, he was one the finest administrators of his time whether serving an institution or a state.

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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Abeer Hoque

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

Abeer Hoque (photo by Kat Burdick)

Abeer Hoque (photo by Kat Burdick)

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

I can’t say it’s because I must. I’m privileged in that I have been trained to do many things (making spreadsheets, balancing budgets, editing, organising), and some of those things keep me housed and fed, happy even. I write (on the side, obsessively, as a career) because it makes me feel more satisfied than pretty much anything else I know how to do. I get intense pleasure from both the process and the end game. It took me a while to understand that liking to do something was important, more important than being good at something else. It’s definitely not an Asian immigrant thing to follow the joyous light but I’m a bit of a hedonist, so I got there eventually J.

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

My earlier work had to do with a kind of recording. My memoir, “Olive Witch,” is experiential, about what it was like for me as a Bangladeshi girl in Nigeria, a Nigerian born teenager in America, an American woman in Bangladesh. My linked stories collection, “The Lovers and the Leavers,” is loosely based on my own diasporic experiences and the stories of those I met while living in Bangladesh and India. My work in my latest project is a little bit different, more like trying to answer questions rather than tell stories. I just finished a draft of a novel called “Memory Alone.” In a way, it’s completely fictional, following the life of a white bisexual religious male drug addict in California. In a way, it’s the truth of what I imagine and wonder about relationships, addiction, memory, and dementia. Continue reading


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Olive Witch by Abeer Y Hoque: A review

By Syeda Samara Mortada

OliveOlive Witch by Abeer Y Hoque, is a personal journey and one of self-reflection. To start off, the description of Nsukka, a suburb in Nigeria and its landscape, from the green fields that Abeer and her sister Simi run through, to their daily life routine is too poetic and visionary not to be true to the word of Abeer’s actual childhood. However, the sudden shift of the story from narrative to (medical) report style writing, on many occasions jolts the reader, and makes them curious about the end result of the story.

Is it the lead character, Abeer herself who is admitted to a mental asylum? When we learn at one point that Abeer tries to commit suicide, that seems like a plausible option. But what demands praise is the neat way in which her story ties to that of her old friend Nneka, (whom she wonders about at certain points in the novel) and how she commits suicide; the life of these two girls who were once school friends in Nigeria is shown in juxtaposition, and even though both go through a period of crisis, one gets a second chance in life while the other does not. Continue reading


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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Jai Arjun Singh

DSC00174(1)Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

Clichéd but true: because I have to. Even if things had gone very differently for me (as they might easily have) and I had ended up working in a profession unrelated to writing, I suspect I would still have made notes, just for myself, in a little pad or on a blog every time I watched a film or read a book that stimulated me.

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

Oh, there are always many writing projects on hand – I think of even a 1000-word review or an 800-word column as a project that one has to devote serious thought and effort to. But my latest book, published in September 2015, is The World of Hrishikesh Mukherjee: The Filmmaker Everyone Loves – it is a critical study of the director’s work, which is widely categorised as “middle cinema” or “middle-class cinema”. I found myself wanting to write about him because I properly discovered these gentle films relatively late in my life, and found myself unexpectedly drawn to many of them – to the ways in which they made little observations about the workings of a society, couched in simple, comforting narratives.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

Sorry? Continue reading


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Story teller spins a yarn about India: Review of Ravi Velloor’s book, India Rising

by P N Balji

india-rising-fresh-hope-new-fears-ravi-velloor-book-reviewI am a sucker for books written by journalists. Partly because the language is racy and to the point; mainly because the journalists-authors are storytellers spinning stuff they won’t or can’t narrate in their newspaper articles.

From these vantage points, Ravi Velloor’s book, India Rising, doesn’t disappoint. He packs many stories neatly into 350 pages that range from wife swapping to India’s ability and new-found desire to play a strategic role in the world.

The book is also a guide to present-day journalists on how to cultivate sources, both in government and outside, and use the views collected to spin a coherent yarn of a subject or country they are reporting on. Continue reading


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A Dehlavi’s Aleph: Teacher, raconteur, and fount of Farsi scholarship

Blue-eyed and gentle of manner, Dr Syed Muhammad Yunus Jafari could charm anyone as a raconteur, till a few days ago, with his tales and anecdotes, his endless nuggets on the culture and architecture of Delhi, Agra and Lahore. This affable mien, of course, did not entirely reveal his true stature and the golden niche he occupied in the global circle of Indo-Persian culture. There was something falcon-like in his scholarly eye, the way he could sift out information from Persian and Urdu annals and join it to his evolving, composite vision. Over the three decades I was fortunate enough to know him, I never saw him pause or stop growing, despite the professional anguishes that sometimes dogged him.

Whenever I visited him, a few words of praise would infuse fresh zip in his voice…and again a caravan of rare facts and unknown nuggets. The praise was a matter of old-world grace, due deference to a titan: it came naturally to those who knew his life-work. The words of gratitude offered to him by other scholars in their works float out there like a chorus to his influence.

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Chinese Literature magazine to be released in Arabic starting October

The announcement of an Arabic edition of the magazine comes amid growing Chinese interest in the Arab world, both politically and culturally: Ahramonline

An Arabic edition of the magazine Chinese Literature has been launched during the Beijing International Book Fair and will be distributed, for free starting October as a periodical magazine issued every three months in partnership with the Egyptian cultural newspaper Al-Kahera.

The magazine, which is already published in 10 languages and comprises fiction, poetry and art, will be published under the name Beacons of the Silk Road, and will introduce contemporary Chinese literature to Arabic readers.

The news of the Arabic edition comes amid growing Chinese interest in the Arab world, on a political and cultural levels. Beit El-Hekma, a publishing house specialised in Chinese books, will be responsible for the content, while Al-Kahera will be responsible for printing and distribution.

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Censorship and sensibility in Indian literature

Writers in India today are not fully censored, but their freedoms are imperfect and broken, says Nilanjana Roy: FT

Perumal_Murugan_650 (1)We are backstage at one of Delhi’s older auditoriums, in a green room crowded with stiff, governmental furniture. The writer Perumal Murugan, a quiet man with the watchful eyes of a kestrel and a gift for stillness, is here to celebrate his court-ordered resurrection.

Murugan declared his death as a writer in January 2015, going into seclusion and requesting that his publishers remove his books from circulation. There was a rare sense of jubilation at seeing this Tamil novelist and poet with a large and loyal readership return from the brink of exile after the Chennai High Court ruled that he must be free to write. So few of the writers and artists, from the late MF Husain to Wendy Doniger or Salman Rushdie, who have been targeted by extremists from Hindu, Muslim or Christian hardline groups, had recovered their lost freedoms.

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An era of Urdu literature ends with Kashmiri Lal Zakir

“Jiyenge taaza gulab ban kar, ye teh hua tha, mareinge khushboo ka khwab ban kar, yeh teh hua tha”.

This couplet from the latest ghazal written by the pride of the region and literary stalwart, the legendary Kashmiri Lal Zakir (97), and immortalised by ghazal maestro Vinod Sehgal and others, is the veritable glimpse of the life of Zakir, who died today after rejuvenating the otherwise dying Urdu “adab” for over eight decades.

Zakir held prestigious posts in adult education and literary institutions like secretary, Haryana Urdu Akademi, for over 20 years and later that of deputy chairman. He travelled the world over working onUNESCO projects and for international seminars and mushairas. He felt uneasy this morning and died at 11.30 am, disclosed Zakir’s daughter, Dr Kamlesh Mohan.

Born on April 7, 1919, in Pakistan, Zakir, a postgraduate in English and Education, began his creative journey early on in life.

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