By Abhinav Kumar

 

4. Caption - Lothal city (left) and dockyard
Lothal city(Left) and dockyard

Everyone has a place they return to time and again or a thing they simply can’t resist while on vacation. Think beloved mountains or beaches, spas, street food, an 18-hole course or bungee jumping, et cetera. For me, it’s World Heritage Sites*: majestic reminders of a glorious, often mysterious past, scattered all over the globe, to be guided through, explored solo, photographed and cherished.

My search for such sites led me to Lothal — an enigmatic lost port-city, one of the central characters in the mysterious drama of the subcontinent’s origins. Part of a national obsession – the Indus Valley Civilisation: perpetually hiding in plain sight, its broken cities scattered across the north and west. Its script continues undeciphered, its story always tantalisingly beyond reach — confined, until that moment, within the yellowing pages of my schoolboy history books, with their prim descriptions of planned cities, streets meeting at right angles, baked bricks and standardised weights.

At a distance of just 80km from my hotel, Lothal was perfect. Lying forgotten in its ruinous state, Lothal was perfect.

***

Gujarat’s well-laid roads zipped past as we hurtled towards our destination. Bountiful rains this year, the driver Ratan informed me curtly, as we passed soaked paddy fields that glittered in the morning sun. Unprecedented. Looking out at the gentle, jovial cumulus clouds that glided past, I prayed that they withhold their yield until at least that evening.

 

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Title: The Doctor and Mrs A.: Ethics and Counter-Ethics in an Indian Dream Analysis

Author: Sarah Pinto

Publisher: Women Unlimited, 2019

Links: Women Unlimited

 

In the early 1940s, Mrs A. was a young housewife, three years married. She was unsettled, ill at ease in her new home, in what should have been a comfortable, secure life during a heady time. War was still on, the young men of her city and its surrounding countryside offered up as the rank and file in the British Army. Friends were away fighting, and those who were not debated their country’s future and wondered which vision of society would shape it. Her hero, Jawaharlal Nehru, was in prison, which upset her greatly.

When she met with Dev Satya Nand, an army doctor training young psychiatrists to serve on the front lines, he noted her demeanour with affection. Care and enthusiasm overrode clinical reserve. In his eyes, she was cultivated but aloof, empathetic but intimidating, tall and imposing yet timid and ‘tender’, ‘pensive and thoughtful from early school days’. Her contradictions were endearing, making her, perhaps, an ideal analysand, self-aware and reflective, yet mysterious, at times opaque. He wrote:

A beautiful fair-complexioned, dignified and artistically dressed, cultured and well-educated girl. She was taller than the average Indian girl, and attracted attention, as well as commanded respect wherever she was introduced. With large tender eyes, and refined tastes she could charm and even allure when she liked to do so. She was of a trusting nature, confiding and popular with the rich as well as with the poor.

At times she was dreamy and prone to be absent-minded now and then. But at others she would be the very life of a party, and could entertain very well.

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In 2008, the year it was published, A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif was long-listed for the Booker Prize. In 2009, it won the Best First Book Award from Commonwealth Book Prize. The writer won a national award in 2018, the third-highest civilian award of Pakistan, the Sitara-e-Imtiaz.

A Case of Exploding Mangoes is centred around General Zia ul Haq’s mysterious assassination in 1988. It is a comical take of the incident with real and fictionalised characters calling out for a laugh — a satire at best. The writer says “writing the novel was his attempt to make sense of Zia’s dictatorship and the military.” He added, “By mocking them…You’re also in a way trying to humanize them.”

The book was originally written in English and, therefore not easily read by many in Pakistan.  All the trouble started after the book was translated to Urdu. Now, the army is cracking down on the book — 250 copies have been confiscated.

Book review by Koi Kye Lee

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Title: Loss Adjustment

 Author: Linda Collins

Publisher: Ethos Books (2019)

 

Loss Adjustment is a non-fiction work by Linda Collins, a New Zealander who has lived in tropical Singapore for almost three decades. Collins, a wife, mother, and copyeditor with the republic’s English daily, The Straits Times, suffered a devastating loss when her only child, Victoria Skye Pringle McLeod, decided to take her own life on April 14, 2014. She was only seventeen.

The memoir takes an unflinching look at the devastation wrought on Collins and her husband, Malcolm McLeod, as they tried to come to terms with their daughter’s death. Loss Adjustment starts with a glimpse into Collins’s normal morning routine in their home, where she, like other mothers, rises early to prepare for her daughter’s first day of a new school term. However, the routine was disrupted when Victoria (lovingly called Vic) was nowhere to be found in their condo. Before discovering that her daughter was missing, Collins had a strange dream where Victoria said: “I’m free, I’m free”.

Panicked, Collins woke up Malcolm and they started searching for her. An ominous feeling loomed over Collins as she ran towards the hill that led to other condominium blocks. As they wondered where their only child was, the building security guard, Mohan, arrived on his motorbike. But something was amiss — the burly and kindly man was sobbing. He conveyed a piece of bad news — Victoria was dead. She had taken her own life by stepping off the ledge on the 10th floor of a condominium block.

Books to Film by Mitali Chakravarty

 

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Humility. Kindness. Gratitude.” and “Love is the answer.”

— The Good Day I Died: The Near-Death Experience of a Harvard Divinity Student by Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

Desmond’s post-structuralist book was released in good time to be wrapped as a Christmas present in Singapore — with the values he speaks of, it deserves that. Meanwhile, on Christmas, 2019, was released a film in United States that spoke of similar values — a film called Little Women adopted from a quasi- autobiographical series written from the 1860s to1880s by Louisa M Alcott, a movie that hopes to take Singapore by storm from 16th January, 2020.

As of January 12, 2020 — in two weeks of its world release — the film grossed $74 million in the United States and Canada, and $33.2 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $107.2 million. It has won much critical acclaim and was chosen by both the American Film Institute and the Time magazine as one of the top ten films of 2019. At the 77th Golden Globe Awards it received two nominations; in the British Academy Film Awards, it received five and six Academy Awards nominations —  with all three-nominations naming Saoirse Ronan for the Best Actress and the last two including Florence Pugh for the Best Supporting Actress, and Greta Gerwig for the Best Adapted Screenplay.

With a star-studded cast — Meryl Streep, Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Pugh, Timothée Hal Chalamet, James Norton — and more, the family drama centring around the American Civil War had the audience at the screening in its grip. It was little surprising while leaving the hall at the Singapore preview, that a woman was excitedly talking to a friend in part-Chinese part- English about how she empathised with the characters in Little Women. And through the screening, one could sense the audience palpitate emotionally in waves with murmurs rising and falling in a crescendo — fully absorbed by the events on the screen.

An exclusive interview with Avik Chanda

By Gargi Vachaknavi

 

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Avik Chanda is an author who is a Jack of multiple genres and, unlike the saying goes, emerges the master of most – including that of a best-selling non-fiction book. He has authored a book on the Mughal prince, Dara Shukoh, and it did so well that it beat William Dalrymple’s The Anarchy to the top of the Asian Age best seller list and even now it continues in the top ten bestseller’s list. 

Chanda has two decades of global Big 4 Consulting experience. He is a business adviser, entrepreneur, trainer and a speaker at the Outstanding Speaker’s Bureau; a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review Ascend and a columnist for The Economic Times. Recently, he has been nominated for the Forbes India 2020 ‘Great People Managers’ list. He is also now venturing into another one of his newbies — a start-up in the human resource technology domain which he has christened NUVAH ( ‘new’ was his explanation for the word which he spelt in all caps).

Avik Chanda has been published in more than twenty international journals and anthologies, including Queen’s Quarterly, Stride Magazine, Envoi, Aesthetica, and First Proofs (Penguin India). He has had a solo exhibition of paintings and published two poetry collections in Bengali (Protibhash and Jokhon Bideshe) and one in English, Footnotes (Shearsman, UK). His debut novel, Anchor, was published by Harper Collins in 2015, to high critical praise. His business book, From Command To Empathy: Using EQ in the Age of Disruption (Harper Collins, 2017), addresses the need for greater emotional enablement in the Indian workplace. The book received praise from leaders across both industry and academia, was widely featured in the national press, and is shaping collective consciousness in favour of better work-life integration. In 2018, the book was selected for Amazon India’s Best Reads under the category, Business, Strategy and Management.

Dara ShukohHis third book with Harper Collins, Dara Shukoh: The Man Who Would Be King, was published in October 2019. This work has received glowing reviews from world-renowned academics, authors and commentators, garnered tremendous attention in the national press, featured at prestigious literary meets, been acquired by Audible for audio-book rights. Juggernaut Books is also promoting the book as a mini blockbuster — publishing excerpts from the book — and it has also been on the Bestsellers’ List right since its publication. In this exclusive interview, Chanda reveals more about his muti-layered personality and his work.

 

When and why did you start writing? What moved your muse?

I’ve been passionate about books for as long as I can remember, and I suppose there came a time when I wanted to start writing my own books. Around the years 2003-2007, there was an earlier spate of writing — poetry, in English and Bengali. I produced a couple of collections besides publishing in individual magazines. The current run began about six years ago. In this period, I’ve published a novel, Anchor, a business book, From Command To Empathy, and my latest book, a biography of the Mughal Prince, Dara Shukoh — all three published by Harper Collins.

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

Gopuji tore away the blanket. His shirt was drenched in sweat. He dragged himself out of bed. When he foamed toothpaste in his mouth, he heard it again. It seemed to be a classical tune of great melancholy, of Western origin rather than a Hindustani one. It flooded his ears. His temples throbbed. Sudden chills in the forty-degree Mumbai heat and humidity. He remembered last night’s dream of feathered attacks. Yes, that was what it was. Wet wings slapping at him as if they would murder him in a pond or lake … hard forceps-like things clutching his neck … a thick fleecy rope winding around his neck … tighter and tighter, claws gripping him and tearing his flesh.

Even the memory of it sent streams of sweat down his body as he showered and got ready for work. The lilt lingered into his hearing.

Gopuji was accustomed to background music. In fact, he was more used to it than most average people. He was a filmmaker. How many times, while making films, had he ardently wished for a personal background score? A score that would act like lyrical second thoughts, drizzling around him, making his life more meaningful and understood by those around. Was it this wish that followed him now? This principle that if you wished for something strongly into the Universe it was bestowed upon you?

By Supriya Rakesh

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By the River

Close to the city of Paithan, somewhere in the west of the Indian continent, flowed the great river Godavari. In a small village that lay along its banks, lived a girl named Ilaa.

It was the spring of 1818, as the British would come to document it.

Ilaa belonged to a family of simple cotton farmers. Harvest season was here; and it was time to pick cotton from the fields. Traders from Paithan would be here in just a few weeks; bringing goods for barter. The bales of cotton had to be ready in time. While Ilaa’s family toiled away in the fields, she was sitting by herself, on the banks of Godavari.

“This is terrible!”

Ilaa picked up a pebble and flung it into the hungry water-currents with some force.

She had been forbidden to come to the fields today. In the morning, she wasn’t allowed to enter the kitchen to talk to her mother, or even pass by the devghar where she offered flowers to the Devi every morning. Also, her legs hurt if she walked too fast or sat too slow.

Evading the prying eyes of her grand-mother, she had left her designated corner behind the house to sit by the river; her only friend in such times. She often confided her loneliness to the river, though the waters seldom replied. But at least the Godavari listened, without scolding; something that could not be said of the humans in Ilaa’s life.

Reviewed by Neera Kashyap

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Title: The Angel’s Beauty Spots

Author: K.R. Meera

Translator: J. Devika

Publisher: Aleph Book Company, 2019

Starting her career as a journalist with Malayala Manorma, K.R.Meera went onto become a prolific and acclaimed Malayalam writer of short story collections, novellas, novels and children’s books. Her very first collection of short stories, Ormayude Njarampu (2002) won several regional awards. Her magnum opus and most famous novel, Aarachaar (Hangwoman) was translated into English by J. Devika in 2014. It won the prestigious Odakkuzhal Prize in 2013, the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award in 2014, the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2015 and was shortlisted for the DSC prize for South Asian literature in 2016. J. Devika once again is Meera’s translator of The Angel’s Beauty Spots. A writer, translator and feminist, she is a teacher and researcher at the Centre of Development Studies in Kerala.

The book comprises three novellas through which the book’s jacket says, “K.R. Meera explores the tragedy, betrayal and violence that arise out of the dark heart of love.” The first novella, The Angel’s Beauty Spots begins with Angela’s murder at the hands of her estranged ex-husband in full gaze of her two young daughters, the older one from him and the younger from a married ex-lover. Driven by a blind love, she had married this man only to discover the evil in him — when he pimps her to his friend in their own house. That their older daughter is privy to this, makes Angela feel that something has died within her.