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Understanding Rekhta

Are Hindi, Hindavi, Rekhta and Urdu different names for the same linguistic, literary and cultural heritage?

The three-day Jashn-e-Rekhta (Rekhta Festival) that concluded on Sunday once again drew our attention to the shared linguistic, literary and cultural traditions that have evolved over the centuries. This was the fourth edition of the annual event and the fact that it was able to attract the youth in great numbers was very significant. Their presence dominated all the sessions irrespective of their nature and young men and women flocked to poetry recitation at mushairas, serious academic discussions and celebrity-driven events.

So, what is Rekhta that was celebrated with such great enthusiasm and passion? It is one of the names by which Hindi / Hindavi / Urdu was known in the 18th and 19th centuries. When Ghalib chose to pay tribute to Mir, he wrote: “Rekhte ke tumheen ustad nahin ho Ghalib, kahte hain agle zamaane mein koi Mir bhi thaa.” (Ghalib, you are not the only master of poetry in Rekhta. It is said that there was Mir too in the past.) Rekhta has at least three meanings – broken, scattered and mixed. In comparison with the sophisticated and well-structured Persian, Rekhta or Urdu sounded broken and mixed as it had the linguistic structure of the khari boli and was colloquial in nature. There is a famous story about Mir, universally described as Khuda-e-Sukhan (God of poetry), who was approached for advice by some members of Delhi’s Muslim aristocratic families who had begun to write poetry in Rekhta / Urdu. After listening to their compositions, he bluntly told them that they were fit for writing in Persian but not in Urdu because the language could be learnt and imbibed only by sitting and spending considerable time everyday on the steps of the Jama Masjid.

Travelling to south

This language had its predecessor in Dakhini that had gone to Deccan from the north. As Amrit Rai has established in his book, A House Divided, the mixed language of the north – Hindi or Hindavi – travelled to the south first with the Nathpanthi Yogis led by Gorakhnath and later with the army of Alauddin Khilji under his famous general Malik Kafur who conquered Gujarat in 1297, Maharashtra in 1304, Andhra in 1307 and Karnataka in 1308. When Muhammad bin-Tughlaq shifted his capital from Delhi to Devagiri or Daulatabad, a large part of Delhi’s population went there and many of them stayed back even after Tughlaq retraced his step. They took there their language Hindi/Hindavi which was a mixture of Punjabi, Haryanavi, Khari Boli, Brajbhasha, Awadhi and Rajasthani.

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Satyajit Ray’s Prof. Shonku is ready for the big screen

Satyajit Ray’s eccentric character is being turned into a film by his son Sandip.

When Sandip Ray read the first draft of his father’s stories based on fictional scientist Professor Shonku in 1961, he was not even 10 years old. The character appeared to him a “bit eccentric and over the top.”

Soon after the stories on the old scientist created by Satyajit Ray were published in a Bengali periodical, accolades in the form of letters and phone calls started coming in.

Five decades later, Professor Trilokeshwar Shonku retains undiminished appeal, prompting Sandip Ray to bring the character to life on the big screen.

The film, Professor Shonku O El Dorado, produced by SVF Entertainment, one of eastern India’s largest production houses, is likely to hit the screens by the end of 2018.

“I have been thinking about making a film on Professor Shonku for a long time. With so many developments in the visual effects field, I think this is the right time,” Mr. Ray said. The film is based on one of the spell-binding stories in the Professor Shonku series, called ‘Nakur Babu O El Dorado’.

The main character, Professor Shonku, is a scientist-inventor, and along with the visual effects, the plot takes the audience to the forests of South America. The bilingual production in Bengali and English will be shot in both West Bengal and Brazil.

The director has made a number of films on Feluda, the iconic detective, and another of Satyajit Ray’s creations. The new venture will be both a “challenge and a nice change of pace after so many Feluda films,” he says.

Ray created Feluda, inspired by Sherlock Holmes, giving the character a resemblance to everything about the muse: physical features, methods and the chronicling of his adventures. But Professor Shonku is different. He is inspired by George Edward Challenger, better known as Professor Challenger, also created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Professor Shonku is an eccentric inventor, living in Giridih with his servant Prahlad and cat Newton.

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Call for submissions: The Best Asian Travel Writing 2019

The Best Asian Travel Writing series is the first of its kind, showcasing Asia’s finest travel writing. This second edition of TBATW is due for publishing in 2019.

We are looking for submissions from travel writers. The edition will choose the best twenty or so pieces from the submissions. By ‘Asian travel writers’, we mean all travel writers who belong to the continent of Asia, including the Middle East (West Asia).

We aim to amplify the voices of Asian writers in the field of travel writing and while priority will be given to authors who come from Asian countries, non-Asian authors who have resided in and written extensively about an Asian country will also be considered.

TBATW will include a wide variety of work that will capture the wonder, humour, fear and joy that greets us all every time when we travel. Importantly, it will also capture the frisson of excitement and uncertainty in the air when we embark on a journey to a new place, or even to a familiar one.

TBATW aims to corral stories on nature/conservation, cultural history, sociological and anthropological manifestations, the outdoors and adventure, gastronomy, and any other compelling idea you think that would meld into the edition and add to its freshness. Continue reading


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Chasing cutlets: on the warmth of food in children’s literature

Rather than being weighed down by pedagogy, children’s literature must set you free — to imagine, to recall, to revel in the warmth of shared food

Many children’s books in English these days are full of pedagogy. They focus on teaching children how to wash their faces, brush their teeth and tie their shoelaces. This is not the job of literature. Literature should teach kids how to be, not what to do. The greatest children’s book writers, like Sukumar Ray, Lewis Carroll or Dr Seuss, provide us a sensibility, a way of being, by drawing us into a world of wonder. And, not surprisingly, many of their books centre around food. What could be more useless, frivolous and also wondrous, than a book devoted to green eggs and ham? Ruya is three years old. She can’t read more than a few letters or count beyond 10. Yet, she already knows her way to the local sweet shop and samosa shop. I believe it has to do with her close reading, or viewing, of Abol Tabol. Ray’s characters are always eating, chasing food or under the threat of being eaten. There’s Bombagor’s Raja, chhobir framey badhiye rakhe aamsotto bhaja, who keeps dried sweet mangoes in picture frames. Or the monster in Bhoe Peyo Na (don’t be scared), who feigns weakness and then threatens to devour the reader. And of course, there’s Khuror Kol, (which could be translated as chacha’s contraption), a rhyme about an invention intended to make you walk faster by dangling food in front of you that you can never reach.

Shamne tahar khaddo jhole, jar je rokom ruchi

Monda mithai chop cutlet khaja kimba luchi

mon bole tae ‘khabo khabo’, mukh chole tae khete

mukher shonge khabar chote palla diye mote.

(Food hangs in front, according to your tastes

Sweets, chops, cutlets and luchis

The mind says ‘yum yum’, the mouth goes to gulp

The food rushes away and the mouth gives chase.)

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Writing matters: In conversation with Indira Chandrasekhar

 

By Shikhandin

Indira Chandrashekhar

Indira Chandrasekhar is a scientist, a fiction writer and the founder and principal editor of the short fiction magazine Out of Print. She also curates an annual short story contest along with DNA, called the DNA-OoP Short Story Prize. Indira has a Ph.D in Biophysics. She worked in scientific institutions in India, the US and Switzerland, before turning into a full time writer and editor. She co-edited the short story anthology, Pangea in 2012, Thames River Press, along with British author and Editor Rebecca Lloyd. Indira’s stories have appeared in Eclectica, Nether, Cosmonauts Avenue, Far Enough East, The Little Magazine, Guftugu and others.

Polymorphism, her first story collection, presents nineteen tightly wrapped and elegantly told stories in genres ranging from science fiction to slip stream to literary, often blurring the boundaries. The visual cues and the lingering effect created by her stories are at times disconcerting, even disturbing, and always memorable. As the blurb on the back cover says, ‘…Textured by the author’s scientific research on biological molecules and deeply informed by family stories, the collection explores humanity’s driving obsessions of life, fertility and relationships with tender, surreal expression.’

In an email interview Indira Chandrasekhar shares her writing journey and her views on the short story form with Shikhandin for Kitaab.

Shikhandin: First the obvious question, when did it all start, the writing, i.e.?

Indira: Writing fiction – as an adult – is significantly linked to place, to relocation and to realignment. I was working as a scientist at the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology in Zurich when I returned to India to live in Mumbai, a city I did not really know. It was as if settling into, rediscovering, restoring my identity in the context of the place that was home, and yet wasn’t, unleashed a need to find creative expression outside the more fundamental cultural framework of science. I started drawing again, and writing. The writing took precedence – as if the story asserted itself and wanted to find an outlet.

Shikhandin: You have a Ph.D in Biophysics, and you write stories. Is it like straddling two boats? Share your unique experience with us.

Indira: Thank you for that question. In some ways, yes, it could be seen as if I straddle two ways of interpreting the world. The one, structured, logical and fact-based. The other surreal, fantastical and fictional. And yet, ultimately, I see both ways as related to making sense of existence, be it through the interactions of minute molecular entities that influence how the biological, the mamallian, the human system functions, or through the complex relationships between individuals that impact the way we think about ourselves, live our lives and construct our societies.

Shikhandin: Tell us about your magazine Out of Print. Why this name in particular? How did this journey begin?

Indira: Out of Print emerged as a consequence of trying to place my own writing in literary magazines and journals. At the time, this is around 2010, there were few literary journals in India and South Asia available to writers of short fiction. Some wonderful people supported the idea and we managed to get started. We decided to create an online journal and yet truly pay tribute to the – I am struggling for the phrase: classical, traditional, standard, 20th Century – perhaps a better way of putting it is, the ever-evolving literary traditions we have used to understand and constantly tell stories. In other words, because we were emerging from the familiar print form, I called the magazine Out of Print.

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Voices unheard: Tribal literature from India to read now

India is rich with a diversity of religions, arts, customs, races, traditions, and languages. While the government of India recognizes twenty-two official languages, there are over 880 languages spoken in the country. Until recently, the tribal literature created in non-mainstream languages has not been very recognized or available for an Indian or global audience. One of the primary reasons for this is that tribal discourse, including folktales and songs, is mainly oral in nature. In addition, the communities who produce it tend to be far from developed metropolitan cities, and so their creative works have been largely overlooked.

However, the Indian government and prominent personalities, including social activists and politicians, have stepped forward to encourage the conservation and translation of these unheard voices and to share their literary gems with the world. Sahitya Akademi, India’s National Academy of Letters, has developed the Project of Indian Literature in Tribal Languages and Oral Traditions to preserve and educate people about this literature. And the author G. N. Devy has been influential in translating various indigenous languages into English and Hindi. When asked why tribal literature has been less visible than that of other Indian languages, Devy says, “After print technology started impacting Indian languages during the nineteenth century, the fate of the oral became precarious. A gross cultural neglect had to be faced by the languages which remained outside print technology.”

Here are a few books based on tribal literature that will transport you and enable you to appreciate the array of cultural diversity that this literature offers.

1. Mizo Songs and Folk Tales, edited by Laltluangliana Khiangte

Mizo folk literature comes from the Northeastern state of India called Mizoram. The Mizos are well known as “the singing tribe.” This compilation includes folk narratives, songs, proverbs, rituals, riddles, tales, and war cries. A unique and interesting feature of Mizo literature is that the primary source of the songs, poems, and tales can often be traced. For instance, the first known composer of these songs was named Hmuaki. Hmuaki was not only the oldest known composer, but she was also a woman, a significant fact given that she lived in ancient times. Listen to a Mizo folk song.

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Book Review: When Wings Expand by Mehded Maryam Sinclair

By Mitali Chakravarty

When Wings Expand

Author: Mehded Maryam Sinclair
Publisher: The Islamic Foundation
Total number of pages: 217
Price: US$ 9.95
ISBN 978-0-86037-499-2

When Wings Expand is a novel in the epistolary technique that highlights a young girl’s battle to accept losing her mother to cancer, conquering her fears and anxieties with love and deep-rooted faith. Though the author, Mehded Maryam Sinclair, intended this to be a book that would be ‘about how fully and conscientiously practicing Muslims see and deal with their losses’ (http://productivemuslim.com/interview-with-maryam-sinclair/), her narrative has transcended the boundaries of a single faith to reach out to the hearts of all mankind.

The protagonist, as in Young Adult fiction, is a young teenager called Nur (‘sacred light’). Located in Canada, she is battling her sense of loss as her mother succumbs to cancer. With the legacy of her mother’s love and faith, Nur discovers that ‘what makes a person different is how they choose to deal with the pain’. She learns to build on her strengths, travels back to her mother’s home in Turkey and finds courage in the love that surrounds her and her family. After she returns to her home in Canada, she slowly learns to help her younger brother as well as other young cancer-afflicted patients and their families come to terms with their pain. Her journey towards recovery helps her conclude that ‘It seems life has gotten bigger, like more things are possible — it’s like pain is a smaller thing inside a much larger me.’ She exudes a sense of light and joy to sufferers around her, proving to them that after a loss wings can still expand, as does that of the butterfly coming out of a chrysalis.

The image of the chrysalis runs through the book. The body of the butterfly shrinks and the wings expand after it emerges from the pupa so that it can fly. Nur feels this is what love and faith does to sufferers. Love and faith shrinks the body of their grief so that the sufferers can grow wings and fly towards a better future.

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‘Our grandchildren refuse to read in their mother tongue’

Dibyajyoti Sarma in conversation with renowned Bengali author Nabaneeta Dev Sen for Sakal Times.

Renowned Bengali author Nabaneeta Dev Sen and illustrator Proiti Roy were the winners of the second edition of the Big Little Book Awards 2017. Instituted by Parag, an initiative of Tata Trusts, the awards were announced on the closing day of Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai Lit Fest last Sunday.

A first-of-its-kind in India, the Big Little Book Awards seek to honour authors and illustrators who have contributed to the world of children’s literature. For authors, the focus is on one Indian language every year. The first edition of the awards focused on Marathi. This year, nominations were invited for authors writing for children in Bengali. The illustrators’ entries however were not limited to any language.

This year’s winner for children’s literature in Bengali, Nabaneeta Dev Sen has been writing for children since 1979. A feminist author, she has also written widely for adults spanning across several genres — novels, travelogues, short stories and plays.
Sakal Times spoke to Nabaneeta Dev Sen on the eve of her winning the award. Edited excerpts from the interview.

Bengali has a long history of children’s literature. How has it evolved?
Bengali children’s literature started with Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in the 19th century with tiny stories for children in his first Bengali wordbook for children, Varna Parichaya. Bangla children’s literature started with strong roots in Bengal. Upendrakishore Ray wrote Bangla children’s fables that we grew up on and my granddaughter also knows, although she does not read Bangla. Sayajit Ray, Upendrakishore’s grandson made his first classic children’s film Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne based on his grandfather’s short story.

Our children’s literature developed on its own with local fables, fairy tales, funny stories, and ghost tales, etc from the villages. And with endless tales from Sanskrit classics, Bengali children grew up on our own literary imagination for a long time, but soon the adventure stories and detective stories began to appear, whose basic idea was Western, but the story materials hundred per cent Bangla. Our generation knew Western stories along with the Bangla ones not only because there were many English medium schools in the cities, but also because the standard of teaching English was high in the Bengali medium schools as well.

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Master of the lean poem

Seven poetry collections over a span of 35 years might not seem too many, but what elicits surprise, no matter how mild, is that four of them were published in the past seven years. A readerly intimacy with the poems in Manohar Shetty’s Full Disclosure: New and Collected Poems is bound to assure you that the poet not only does not mind mildness, but revels –even excels – in it. After his third book of poems, Domestic Creatures (1994), he took a literary pause that lasted 16 years, during which time he “never slept, / Only passed out and woke up”, while never cringing “From that same old taunt: / ‘Yeh sala Manu ban gaya bewda’”. Addiction and poetry do not necessarily make great sleeping partners, yet their occasional camaraderie might lead to interesting outcomes in the arena of creativity. If alcohol did any damage to Shetty’s poetry, it doesn’t show. In fact, his post-hiatus fecundity confirms that the poet not only emerged whole and hale from the deep dark pit notorious for ending the careers of scores of artists, but also preserved the integrity, purity and vigour essential for writing elegant poems,

Those unsigned hard won
Stanzas in longhand given
Away as keepsakes,
As prayers, bookmarks,
Or anniversary cards;
A bequest with no return
Address—a piece of paper
Folded close to the heart.

Those in possession of his words would do well to copy some down on a sheet of paper, fold it and slip it into their shirt pockets, for the pull of a Shetty poem is such that it demands many celebratory re-readings. On the other hand, he doesn’t mind if his precious missives to the world, smugly lost in its collective distractions, go missing. No matter what happens, “He would be game to the last”, exhorting the interested reader/listener to “not be taken in by the rows / Of books touching the ceiling”, but to “Listen instead / To the scratch of words / On the page, any page, white / Or ochre with age”. In India, the relationship between ochre and age goes back to ancient times. The colour is still sacred to many, although in the past two decades or so, it has acquired connotations that are far from savoury. It seems unlikely that Shetty had this sense of the word in mind, but then, what’s poetry without its share of accidental implications?

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Book Excerpt: An Unsuitable Woman by Shinie Antony

An Unsuitable Woman

 

BIRDSONG

Jahnavi Barua

So, what have you decided?’

Directly above her is a scarlet minivet; he is a striking bird, with his scarlet and black plumage, and is sitting patiently, as if presenting himself to her. She tries to find the best angle for the picture. The branches of the tree are bare—it is almost winter—and the bird is flamboyant against the stark skeleton.

‘Are you going to answer?’

Her foot snags on a jutting root as she presses on the button and the bird flies away, casually, as if judging that enough time has been given and now he must move on.

On the viewing screen, she is left with a red blur, the exact colour and ferocity of anger. His voice is tinged with that colour, now, and every so often.

Beyond the small waterhole, a scarlet flash in a jackfruit tree.

She makes her way swiftly to the foot of the tree. The bird is perched, motionless, above her, his long tail balancing him just so. She raises her head, peering through the viewfinder trying to position the bird.

Warm breath against her neck. ‘What the hell do you think you are playing at?’ He tugs at her shoulder; she loses her balance and throws an arm out, gripping the tree trunk. The bird flies away soundlessly.

‘Listen, you have to decide one way or the other.’ His voice is now jagged with fury.

She is keeping him from the cricket match on TV; even on a holiday, in the middle of the forest, he remains glued to the screen. But he too is keeping her from her birds. Her jaw assumes a stubborn set. She thinks of all the times he has remained wedded to the television: when she lay ill in bed with dengue fever, shivering and frightened; when she walked their newborn son to sleep at night, frantic with pain from the C-section incision and worry; when she wanted to watch the birds on a late night programme.

‘Excuse me,’ she says and pushes past him, to the steps at the base of the small hill. She runs up the steps easily. He follows—she can hear him cursing—as he pants his way up slowly.

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