Two Nobel prizes were given out in Literature this year — making it a first in the 118 year old history of this award, where prize money of more than US$910, 000 will be given to each winner. Last year the literature award was cancelled for scandals that rocked the academy.
The award for 2018 went to Polish authoress, Olga Tokarcruz“for a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life,” according to the judges’ citation. The award for 2019 went to Austrian author Peter Handke “for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience”.
While Poland celebrates the win of their much awarded authoress whose works centring on migration and cultural transition have reflected “local life, but at the same time inspired by maps and speculative thought, looking at life on Earth from above”, Peter Handke’s selection has fallen under much flak over his works that “defend” the Serbian dictator who had been charged with war crimes in1999 and jailed subsequently , Slobodan Milosevic.
Recently, a course on dissent and resistance that was to be conducted by poet and playwright Alfian Bin Sa’at in NUS-Yale was dropped by the university. Sa’at had not been fully aware of the consequences that students could be going against the laws and risk arrest in pursuing the course curriculum.
The decision said the Yale President,Professor Peter Salovey, was made “internally and without government interference”.
In an earlier report, Professor Salovey had said: “In founding and working with our Singaporean colleagues on Yale-NUS, Yale has insisted on the values of academic freedom and open inquiry, which have been central to the college and have inspired outstanding work by faculty, students, and staff: Yale-NUS has become a model of innovation in liberal arts education in Asia.”
“Dadi, please stop throwing methi leaves on the answer sheets.” From where I was perched, I could watch over everyone in the courtyard. I had one eye on them, the other on the open pages of my history textbook.
The Indian Renaissance:
Social Reforms and Women Empowerment
Half of these words sat in the shadow of my head. I sat on the steps that went up to the roof of the house, a few peanuts in my fist, head resting ever so slightly on the iron railing through which I could see everyone if I rolled my eyes to the left.
It was difficult to concentrate with all the chatter. Everyone drags their chores to the centre of the courtyard, around our holy tulsi plant, during winter months. Whatever can be done in the sun is done in the sun. My grandmother was settled comfortably on a jute charpoy in this courtyard. The shadow of a towel hanging above her, on a clothesline that ran from a nail on one wall to the water pipe in the opposite corner, fell on her face. Like a starving cat with a heavy coat, her crisp starched puffy saree didn’t give away her small-boned figure. From up here she looked like a bundle of clothes, her back rounded and one knee pulled close to the chest, as she craned her neck into her work. She was sifting through small heaps of coriander, dill, and fenugreek, separating fresh leaves from the thick stalks. A quick pinch —and into a large dish with tiny holes they went. The stalks were thrown into a pile on the floor right next to her; they would later be disposed, into the flowerbed in the corner, where purple periwinkles bloomed scantily.
Arlene Yandug earned her PhD in Creative Writing from the University of the Philippines, Diliman. She teaches literature and creative writing at Xavier University where she also works as manager of XU Press and editor of Carayan, an online literary journal. She is currently editing an anthology of writers from Northern Mindanao, while working on her manuscript for her first poetry collection.
Myanmar modern poetry became popular and gained much momentum in 1970’s. They often appeared in the reputable journal, Moe Way Literary Magazine. The young poets liked the flavours explored in Htinn Yoo Pin Yeik (The Shade of Pine Tree), a collection of English poems which had been translated by the literary genius of Maung Tha Noe. The youth attempted to use the techniques used by poets translated in this pioneering collection.
Conventional poets criticized them for not following the classical styles of poetry writing. The old school poets said that modern poems did not follow the conventional versification forms. While conventional poets preferred “rhymes and rhyming systems”, modern poets used “rhythms and un-rhymes systems” in their poems which resembled “free verse” and allusions to literature and the world outside of Myanmar.
A well-known Myanmar modern poet Aung Cheint reinforced: “There are no hard and fast rules or ways to write Myanmar modern poetry. They read English poetry books and translated poems. They felt inspired by reading them and tried to compose modern poems like them. In that way, Myanmar modern poetry came into existence.”
Among those rebellious young poets, Maung Lin Yeik was one of the prominent exponents of Myanmar modern poetry. Though he worked as a technical school teacher, he wrote poetry that won admiration and praise from both fellow poets as well as the readers. As a part of Myanmar Poet Union in 2010, he participated in poetry readings and literary festivals within the country. He talked more about modern poetry than conventional one.
The rusty old bus skidded to a halt with a screech of brakes. The engine stopped with an ear-splitting sound. Exhaust fumes were winding into dark clouds. It was a routine picture. There was, however, plenty of room for controversy as to whether it could be called a bus. It was little bigger than a minibus and much smaller than an ordinary one. It looked like a tin-can with a turtle neck. People would call it murir tin. This grotesque shape was made by a local carpenter-cum- bus mechanic who went by the name of Dilu Mistry. Rumour had it that he was capable of making a jet engine only out of the motor accessories. However, the proof of the pudding was never in the eating in Dilu Mistry’s case. If ever asked, clever Dilu would wear a mysterious smile on his face that left a cryptic message that his hidden worth was one of the unsolved mysteries of the locality. Dilu Mistry’s name was so strikingly inscribed on the turtle-neck’s body that it would tickle your fancy on sight. But the optical attraction would fly out of the windows after you had squeezed into it through the narrow door. Jam-packed with passengers the motor turtle used to move so sluggishly that it would take the whole day to cover the distance of about fifty miles between Rangpur and Gaibandha suffering at least a couple of engine failures. It might have amused people to call it a buffalo-cart, but they were left with no second choice.
Haripada would travel between his home in Mithapukur and workplace in Rangpur once a week. Every Thursday he would come home in the evening, stay one day and two nights and the next Saturday go back to his workplace. He was a lecturer in English at a non-government college on the outskirts of Rangpur town. He joined the college immediately after he had completed his Master’s from Dhaka University. He could have got a much better job in Dhaka, but he missed it for no fault of his own. Dhaka on and after 25thMarch (1971) was blazing. The horrific Operation Searchlight was stalking through the city. Mujib had declared independence of Bangladesh and been taken prisoner. The marauding Pakistani armed forces had overrun the capital and unleashed a reign of terror upon the defenceless people. A mighty eagle swooped on the innocent chicks.
When the buffalo cart driver with a stubbly beard braked hard, the passengers dozing fitfully woke up with a start. But Haripada was not one of them. Nor was he wide awake. Seated by a window he was brooding over his life. How things had been out of joint over a few days! The son of Kalipada Master and the grandson of Bishnupada Master had to be Haripada Master. People would call him Professor. Lecturers of non-government colleges were professors in the eye of the common people. But Haripada was not happy with his position. He was not willing to take up his ancestral profession. He had rather a mind to serve in the civil service and had the ability too. But a violent storm from the western sky had dashed all his dreams.
“Get off the bus. You, the bloody Bengali. Get cracking.” A throaty voice boomed like a rumble of thunder.
My paternal grandpa was nearly bald. He did, however, have some hair to call his own until his last breath! This vision of my grandpa is etched in my mind to eternity and, that is why, I manage to crackup a smile when my heart weeps without his reciprocation.
“Remember me, as long as this life as a human still cares to remind you” — these words of his echo even today and render tranquility. The chapter of thata-thati* and me stopped being drafted when the relationship transcended beyond corporeal pages. The love, affection and care that is bestowed upon us is irreplaceable and truly defies the life-death continuum.
I am now twenty-one. My grandparents had been around me for two whole decades. I was cosseted beyond limits by the love they showered, their pampering and their pardoning. We used to all eat together, laugh and make merry at the dinner table, solve problems and discuss issues over a crumb of bread, tickle our funny bone while sipping a cup of coffee. The memories are endless, and the joy, the tears that well up are priceless.
A poem is not
a luminous firework
It is a lonely shooting star
from the forehead
of the firmament (“Poem”, 69)
(Excerpted from A Poem is Not a Luminous Firework: Sarita Jenamani in Her Poetry Workshop)
Constructed around four vibrant images, this definitional piece made me wonder if a poem is a curious construct for Sarita Jenamani. A moment later, I turned curious to find whether the poem comes in her grip, or gives her a slip, in a moment of becoming. To test this, I moved back and forth with seventy nine poems included in her collection Till the Next Wave Comes. In doing so, I found myself defining and redefining her poetics as any curious reader would do in the process of reading poetry. While reading the poems with shorter and longer breaks, I confirmed that a poem to her was a unit of a larger body of expression called poetry that sought its strength from sharp images and mixed metaphors, as also with acute turns of expressions and implied silences.
Jenamani’s poetry has allowed me a passage to a rich habitat of people and a veritable range of moods and modes of living. She chooses to draw upon locations near and far, conditions real and eerie, and people alive and lost in time. As she turns her words into images and images into metaphors, she transforms her memories into fantasies and conditions of living into those of loving. Her long and short poems are like breaths punctuated with regular strokes of strength. She survives through drifting and static scenarios that most of her poems represent.
Jenamani is a poet in English and Oriya. She lives in Vienna, Austria. She is the general secretary of Austrian Chapter of PEN International. She is the co-editor of an Austria based bilingual magazine for migrant literature Words & Worlds.
“Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for she was born in another time.”
― Rabindranath Tagore
One of the greatest writers of all times, Tagore spoke a truth which we can only understand to an extent. Are we limiting our children when we perceive literature as dying? Dying — because of technology? Is it dying only because of technology?
In an essay in Paris Review, David L Ulin, an essayist and writer concluded: “Literature is dead.” And this was despite his earlier vindication that technology, like Gutenberg, brought books to us. His fifteen year old after reading GreatGatsby declared that the last few chapters “ featured the most beautiful writing he ever read” and yet he said none of his peers would read such lovely writing and therefore, literature was dead.