(Deepavali & Kali Puja Special)

By Avik Chanda

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The village had long forgotten its own name. Once, a culvert drawn from the holy river had brought water here, filling the land all around with rice-fields. Hutments came up swiftly, growing into a sizeable village along the fringe of the fields, and extended up to the edge of the forest. One day, deep inside the forest, someone discovered an ancient temple. How old it was, no one could tell. But the Goddess within, which was made of stone, was intact: fiery, naked and many-limbed, the tongue protruding like a weapon, thirsty for obedience and worship. And perhaps blood. The villagers cleared a thoroughfare through the woods. Each evening, as the moon rose, they would proceed to the temple, kneel before the idol fearfully and pray. Women washed the yard and decorated it with rows of flowers, and on the night of the feast, a goat was sacrificed, to appease the Goddess.

Then the stream dried out, and after two rainless monsoons, famine struck. For two years, the villagers relied on the forest. The trees were all cut down, wood for the fires, the leaves and berries roasted and consumed. When even that was gone, and there was still no sign of rain, they began to slowly starve to death. Those that still had strength loaded their meagre belongings onto their cattle, or their own backs, and journeyed to the big city, where it was said that the householders ate only fine rice and always had starch to spare for the beggars. No one gave any thought to the old temple they were leaving behind, and to its Goddess that for some reason would not – or could not – protect them any longer.

A phaeton clopped to a halt in front of the abandoned temple. The carved arch gateway that was supported by columns on either side had collapsed, its debris almost blocking the entry path. Over the rubble, he could see the way ahead covered with an undergrowth of brambles. On the outer walls of the temple, plaster and paint had shed away, revealing an unwelcoming structure of ribs, tanned dark by the sun. The entrance, too, was dark and opaque, so that from where he sat, he couldn’t see what lay beyond. The temple had no dome. Had the roof itself collapsed, shattering everything inside?

From the back of the carriage, Aslam leapt onto the dust-covered ground and scurried around to help his master, flapping open a stack of steps. The Rai Bahadur got down delicately, always the right foot forward, dragging the other one painfully behind him, supported by the long, stiff cane with its ivory handle. He treaded over the concrete rubble, and then, transferring the cane to his right hand, hacked a walking path as best he could through the high brambles, beating down on the thickets, wincing, as the thorns sprang back in retaliation. At the entrance, he stopped to catch his breath, but it seemed like a very long moment. His throat was parched, and he could feel his whole body trembling with trepidation. He ran a hand through his wavy white hair, sweat dripping down his temples, took a deep breath, and then stepped into the dark.

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For successive days, there was this recurring dream that was troubling him. Each time, it was a female that appeared, each time in a different form. Even so, in the midst of his dream, he had the sense that they were all one and the same person, and so the experience of it was that of one single, unrelenting dream. On the first night, it was an old decrepit woman in tattered clothes, the sort one would associate with the casting and dispelling of spells, strange rituals and incantations in some alien, unknowable language. But in her eyes was a plea that went beyond the need for power.

Ramayana is an age old epic said to have been written by Valmiki, who was himself a reformed dacoit called Ratnakar. Ratnakar took to crime to feed his hungry family. 

Uttara Kanda, the seventh book of Ramayana explains it all in details. Sage Narada, a character who shuttles between heaven and Earth in Hindu lore, asked the bandit to check with his family if they would stand by him if he were punished. When they said they would not, the dacoit turned to God. Ratnakar was so ferocious that he could not pronounce the name on which Narada asked him to meditate and said ‘Mara‘ which means death. Eventually, he was covered by an anthill and the ‘mara‘ had become Rama. Then he created one of the greatest epic in the history of mankind Sanskrit, Ramayana.

Down the ages, it was converted to multiple languages, some of them being — Persian in the Mughal court, Awadhi Hindi by Tulsidas (1532-1623), Kannada, Tamil and more. The Tamil one was translated by famed novelist RK Narayanan into English as far back as 1972. Now, it has been proliferated into dozens of lore by the likes of Devdutt Patnaik, Chitra Divakaruni, Amish Tripathi and many more.

Recently Dastangoi revivalist, Mahmood Farooqui, adapted this lore for the inmates of Tihar jail, a prison in New Delhi. He used a version by Raghunandan Sahir which fulfilled the needs of uneducated prisoners in Tihar.

Book Review by Namrata

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Title: She Stoops to Kill — Stories of Crime and Passion

Editor: Preeti Gill

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books

Date of Publication: 2019

She Stoops to Kill is a collection of crime stories written by some of the most illustrious women writers of India. A chanced discussion at Guwahati airport between Preeti Gill and the featured authors about the rising crime rates featured in daily newspapers matured into an anthology of murder stories.

Preeti Gill is a renowned name in the literary circles, having worked in the publishing industry for more than two decades now. She has donned various hats during this period, ranging from being a writer, commissioning editor, rights manager, script writer, researcher and is now, an independent editor and literary agent.

This collection brings together a heady combination of renowned authors like Paro Anand, Venita Coelho, Uddipana Goswami, Manjula Padmanabhan, Janice Pariat, Mitra Phukan, Pratyaksha and Bulbul Sharma. Interestingly, each one of them is a stalwart in their own merit, having written award-winning titles but none had ever written crime or mystery. As the editor, Preeti Gill mentions in the introduction, “The writers I chose for this anthology don’t usually write crime, and much less murder, but once they decided to take this on I was absolutely stunned by the variety, the enthusiasm, the imaginative detail and also the macabre bloodiness of their stories.”

Front cover

Title: Kiswah

Author: Isa Kamari

Publisher: Kitaab

Year of publication: 2019

Price: S$18

Pages: 201

Links: Singapore Writer’s Festival

About:

It is a story of a honeymooning couple in Delhi, Agra, Kashmir, Kathmandu and finally Mecca. The story unveils the true nature of Ilham, the husband whom Nazreen thought was a pious and morally upright person. As it turned out he was overwhelmed by his sexual desire and abuses her. Nazreen maintained her calm and integrity and tries to seek solace in their final destination, Mecca.

As they were performed the Umrah, Nazreen was kidnapped by a taxi driver. Ilham was shocked and at a loss. Disappointed he left Mecca, blaming God for his misfortune. He vowed not to return to the Holy Land.

In Singapore, Ilham continued with his hedonistic ways and kept a Chinese mistress whom he met at a massage parlour. Susan had an ailing mother who dreamt that her sickness would only be cured if she visited Mecca. Incidentally, Ilham was coaxed by Nazreen’s friend to return to Islam and amend his ways. He decided to marry Susan who presented him with a condition: they must visit Mecca with her mother.

Ilham was in a dilemma. Would he return to Mecca? Finally, he did, but not without deep introspection. A mysterious event ensued. He met his destiny in front of the Kaabah.

Kiswah attempts to probe the relationship between sexuality and spirituality, by letting both confront one another to find peace.

 

Dara Shukoh

Title: Dara Shukoh: The Man Who Would Be King

Author: Avik Chanda

Publisher: Harper Collins India

Publication Date:  2019

Pages: 368

Price: Rs 699 

Links: Amazon

About:

Dara Shukoh – the emperor Shah Jahan’s favourite son, and heir-apparent to the Mughal throne prior to being defeated by Aurangzeb – has sometimes been portrayed as an effete prince, incompetent in military and administrative matters. But his tolerance towards other faiths, and the myths and anecdotes surrounding him, continue to fuel the popular imagination. Even today, over 350 years after his death, the debate rages on: if this ‘good’ Mughal had ascended the throne instead of his pugnacious younger brother, how would that have changed the course of Indian history?

Dara Shukoh: The Man Who Would Be King brings to life the story of this enigmatic Mughal prince. Rich in historical detail and psychological insight, it recreates a bygone age, and presents an empathetic and engaging portrait of the crown prince who was, in many ways, clearly ahead of his times. Eminent journalist Arun Shourie says, “The Book we need — about the man we need.”

 

jakarta

Title: Jakarta Jive Bali Blues

Author: Jeremy Allan

Publisher: Yellow Dot 

Year of publication: 2019

Pages: 350

Price: Rp.192,500

Links: https://afterhoursbooks.myshopify.com/products/jakarta-jive-bali-blues

About:

A true-to-life look by an insightful writer, Jakarta Jive / Bali Blues is a collected edition of two books chronicling a pair of seminal events in modern Indonesian history: the end of the Suharto government in 1998 and the terrorist attack in Bali in 2002, from the point of view of the people most profoundly affected: the Indonesians themselves.

by Mitali Chakravarty

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Isa Kamari

His books transport one to a past — a time where under the green creepers on a softly moving river, a boat sails and take one into a unique world of what has been. You discover how much the world has changed and how Singapore has evolved, you meet people who intrigue and bring to the fore the roots that created the little red dot. And yet some of his books look forward to a future – a world of harmony where technology and spiritual peace co-exist… Meet the author, winner of numerous awards and a voice to be reckoned with — Isa Kamari.

Isa Kamari was born in 1960 and lives in Singapore with his wife and two children. He is currently Deputy Director in the Architecture Division with the Land Transport Authority of Singapore, leading a team that manages the design and construction of transport infrastructures. While his profession is an architect, his passion lies in writing, though his architectural background has also found a way into some of his novels.

In all, he has written 9 novels, 3 collections of poetry, a collection of short stories, a book of essays on Singapore Malay poetry, a collection of theatre scripts and lyrics of 2 song albums — all in Malay. His novels have been translated into English, Turkish, Urdu, Hindi, Arabic, Indonesian and Mandarin. His collections of essays and selected poems have been translated into English. His first novel in English, Tweet was published in 2016. Isa was conferred the Southeast Asia Write Award from Thailand in 2006, the Singapore Cultural Medallion in 2007, the Anugerah Tun Seri Lanang from the Singapore Malay Language Council in 2009, and the Mastera Literary Award from Brunei Darussalam in 2018.

In this exclusive, he talks about his book Kiswah, whose translated version is being launched on 8thNovember in the Singapore Writer’s Festival; the  dramatisation of his novel, 1819 and much more…

 

Front coverYou will soon be launching Kiswah. It shuttles between various locales. Can you tell us the intent of this book? What led you to write it?

Isa: In the late 1990s, I was disturbed by the rampant spread of pornographic materials in in Singapore. Vendors openly sold X-rated VCDs near MRT stations, bus interchanges and bazaars illegally. There were also reports in the newspapers about the addiction to pornography amongst professionals and the young. At the same time, I knew from my wife, who was doing voluntary service at a welfare home, that there were many family breakups arising from sexual abuses. All these compelled me to ponder on the topic of manifestation of sexual life in relation to spirituality or the lack of it. The various locales — like Delhi, Agra, Kashmir, Kathmandu and finally Mecca — becomes the background for me to explore, confront, interrogate and somewhat find a resolution on the topic.

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

Ellen puts steaming bowls of soup on the table, while little May shows her granny some colouring she has done. But May really has eyes only for Eddie.

“You little coquette!” Ellen says, laughing. “Eat your soup before it gets cold.”

“So where do you work, Eddie?” asks Ellen’s mother, helping herself to an egg salad sandwich.

Egg salad sandwiches are Eddie’s favourite. With lettuce, just like this. His Mom used to make them this way, with onions and chopped pickle and not too much mayonnaise. And Ellen looks better than she did earlier, nicer hair. Kind of a chestnut brown, and the soft wave suits her.

What the hell’s wrong with me? Here I am, sitting at the table polite as can be, telling myself this creepo social worker’s not too bad looking, this stuck-up loser, as I grin and nod at her old bag of a mother. “And where do you work?” she asks me. Where the hell does she think? Who’s going to give Eddie Slocum a job? I mean, who am I going to work for; you think I’ll work for some jerk-off? Gofer this, gofer that?

A minute ago I was on my way out. For good, I mean. Jesus, I hate heights. That falling … But it doesn’t really go on all that long. You get used to it. After a few seconds everything goes black. Yeah. Nothing to it, once you get your feet wet.

By Sukanya Roy

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After a relaxing vacation with my parents in Shimla, I was back to my routine in Mohali.  As I sat working, suddenly the phone rang: “Tring, Tring.”

I could hear a soft-spoken lady from the other side, who introduced herself as Mrs. Dasgupta.

“Hello Nandini, I am Mrs. Dasgupta talking from Delhi, I got your contact details from Jeevansathi.com (Lifepartner.com). We are looking for a prospective bride for my younger brother, Naboneel.”

I was neutral. No excitement.  This was quite normal for me. For the past twelve months, I had put my profile on Jeevansathi.com, hoping to find my second life partner.

Every other day I received an ‘alliance’ related call and it had become an integral part of my daily existence. I had jotted down a two-page document introducing myself and had memorised it. I had also gone over the answers to a series of questions which were generally ask by the prospective. I wanted to be overprepared after my disastrous first innings.

I walked back home and started my preparations for baking cookies. Cooking for me is like stress-relief therapy after class.

As my hands neared the microwave, and I opened its door.

“Beep. Beep.” No, it was not the microwave. It was my phone.

by Geethanjali Harikumar

 

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Finally, the time had come for the vidai (farewell). It was time for Rasiya to leave her home of twenty years and to head to a new one where everything would be a novelty; even the smell of the earth and the rustle of the leaves. She no longer belonged to her father’s home, where she had learned to crawl, walk, read and write.

Rasiya heard someone calling out to the women in the house, asking them to bring the bride out. She saw Abdul, who had become her husband about a couple of hours back patiently waiting for her at the threshold. All the women in the family came and hugged her one after another. Every time the heavy bosomed aunts squeezed her tiny body, the sequins on her lehenga (a voluminous skirt, often a part of bridal gear) pricked her soft skin. The pink and orange lehenga was so special to her since it was bought by her brother, especially from Delhi.

She was taken out by a crowd of women. She looked for her mother among the sea of unfamiliar faces. Finally, she spotted her  mother, her Ammi, standing behind someone, as if she was not a part of this ceremony. Her eyes were welled up with tears and Rasiya rushed towards her. Ammi hugged her and kissed her forehead, and both of them broke into tears. Someone said, they ought to leave before midnight.

Her sister-in- law took her hand and led her towards the waiting groom. Her brother and father stood next to the groom and his party. Though her father was smiling, she noticed the shine of tears in his eyes. Yes, he was upset about his little girl leaving them. But at the same time it eased him to know that she was leaving for good. She was going to be safe in her new home where she would no longer have to wake up to the sound of firing or have soldiers banging the front door in the middle of the night. She would no longer need anyone to accompany her when she stepped out of the house, even if it was to the adjacent street.

The groom, who was no longer the groom but her husband, had a family restaurant in a town away from the border. The restaurant was founded by his grandfather back in the 30’s as a tiny tea-shop. Years later, as the town started to get filled with tourists, his father grew it and now it was one of the most sought-after eateries in town. Abdul lived with his parents in their family house, a mere stone’s throw from their restaurant. And now, Rasiya would live the rest of her life in that home, helping her husband with his business and her mother-in-law in running the house.

This year both the Nobel and the Booker prizes have been surrounded by controversies. The Booker Prize announced two winners — Margaret Atwood for The Testaments and Bernardine Evaristo for Girl, Woman, Other.

While rulings had been made earlier to rule out the eventuality for such an occurrence , a CNN report says: “This will only be the third time that a dual award has been given. In fact, the award changed its rules in 1993 to clearly state that ‘the prize may not be divided or withheld’ after the second two-author win.”

The £50,000 will be shared by the two writers.

Public opinion expressed in tweets said: “My only booker take is that it is a shame that the first black woman to win has to share the glory” and “The Booker has simultaneously delegitimized its own worth and diminished the achievements of a woman of color with this rousing double win.”