Ghost stories have always captured our attention… now we find them wander into the speculative genre. We find these stories in literature from giants like Rabindranath Tagore with his haunted palace in The Hungry Stones to modern online writers like Xu Yunfeng, Taiwanese writer Ho Ching-yao and Singapore’s own Russell Lee.
Recently in Taiwan, an attempt is being made to popularise this genre and assimilate it into pop culture. An exhibition on ‘Taiwanese Paranormal Literature and Contemporary Art’ is afoot in Taipei City till September 15 th. The curators tell us the aim of the exhibition: “We hope to help restore the paranormal to its former position of importance in Taiwanese culture.”
The moment that Shalini had waited for years had arrived. It was no longer a wait as the event was unfolding before her eyes…Accomplishment had never tasted more satisfying.
She took a deep breath as she sipped cold beer from a can and indulged in a bout of nostalgia…
Jolly Club had been the place where the richest families of Bhopal had gathered for their Sunday lunches. The club, situated in the heart of the city, housed the only restaurant that overlooked a shiny, turquoise swimming pool. During winters, the families preferred to be seated outdoor near the pool. These seats would be abandoned in summers as the affluent moved indoors to lounge in air-conditioned comfort. It was a busy place – the restaurant.
The lavish menu of kebabs was deemed to be among the best in town and the most popular feature. The resplendent exhibition of the most expensive sarees worn by women dining in the restaurant was the best in town too.
The Map of Bihar and Other Stories is Janet Swinney’s first collection of short stories. Her stories have been acknowledged in a number of competitions, including as runner-up in the London Short Story competition, 2014. She has been published in major journals and anthologies across Britain, America and India.
In this collection, Swinney provides a broad view of two cultures — British and Indian — apart from glimpses of others. These stories with their heterogeneity of social and cultural traditions range from those of the poor and the working classes to that of the monied, each with its distinctive speech and outlook, enriching the oeuvre with depth and authenticity. Swinney herself comes from a family of coal miners. She lived among coal mining families in a council housing state in the north east of England, though her father — an unschooled poet who died at the age of 52 — worked as a clerk with the local bus company.
‘You are right, Banerjee, about karun too being an emotion worth dwelling upon,’ Rao said. Then he cleared his throat to go on.
‘Raso vai sah … the name of God, just like God, is filled with rasa, our shastras maintain. But to be able to view it as such we need a certain objectivity; and most of us don’t have that. Which is why tragic incidents spell only sadness in our lives, they seldom transcend to the level of a tragic observation. If we had a heightened sense of objectivity, the entire world would appear to be a vast stage where countless dramas are being incessantly played out. These dramas are not enacted as per the rules of Bharata’s Natya Shastra. The thunderbolts here do strike from the heavens…’
‘Why don’t you cut short your preface?’ Nimbalkar cut in. ‘I will do that.’ Rao nodded with a smile. ‘But allow me to add one more observation before I start. What was the reason for me to fall sick and stop in Pandukeshwar for a rest? Was there a purpose in my coming across the dead body of Shiv Shankar Pillai after twenty years?’
Born and raised in Central Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, he moved to Australia where he graduated from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Simon Rowe not only has a passion for words, but also indulges in photography. Many of his works have appeared in TIME (Asia), the New York Times, the Weekend Australian, the South China Morning Postand the Paris Review. His short stories have been published in Flesh: A Southeast Asian Urban Anthology (2016), Another Time Another Place: A Collection of Short Stories (2015) and Noir Nation: International Crime Fiction No. 3(2013). He holds an MA in Writing from Swinburne University of Technology and is currently a foreign language instructor at Kwansei Gakuin University. He recently published another short story, ‘The Summer Hills of Pourerere’ , a story that talks of three teenage misfits forging a path through a harsh rural environment.
In this exclusive interview, he talks about travel, writing and teaching from Japan, the inspiration behind his stories, and his life as an English lecturer.
Kye Lee: Your stories have appeared in numerous publications. What made you start writing and for how long have you been writing?
Simon: That’s a long story! Growing up in rural New Zealand during the 1980s, my window on the world was National Geographic magazine. Naturally, I wanted to be a travel writer and photographer. My first story was about backpacking from Melbourne to Cape Tribulation in far-north Australia. I sold that tale to a newspaper in Melbourne and with the money bought an onward ticket. This became my existence for the next fifteen years and took me around the world three times. I finally settled in Japan where I now write short fiction, screenplays, and a blog called ‘Seaweed Salad Days’, about life in a traditional Japanese neighborhood.
Little Fen’s funeral took place three days later. I walked woodenly among three dozen fellow villagers in a procession led by Widow Liu, accompanied by the sad tune of trumpet and suona horns. It was a cold spring day. The sun was shining without giving away much warmth.
It pained me to look at the mother of my deceased friend. A piece of white cloth tied around her head, like a bandage on a head injury. She was being supported on each side by a friend. Her grief had whitened her hair and aged her twenty years. And her thin form resembled that of a dried shrimp.
The funeral procession came to the village’s graveyard, which lay on a gentle slope of a mountain some twenty minutes’ walk from the village. Little Fen’s body was put to rest on the edge of it, next to a large plot with castor-oil plants. When the wind blew, millions of tiny castor seeds made disturbing noises. Black crows squawked, their cries echoing in the trees, like whimpers from those no longer able to speak.
In 1981, Salman Rushdie’s second novel, Midnight’s Children, with its focus on Partition won a Booker Prize. And now, more than four decades later, his new novel Quichotte, due for release this September, has been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2019. But this time, his book is a take-off on Don Quixote, immortalised by sixteenth century Spanish writer Miguel Cervantes and often labelled as “the first modern novel”.
Midnight’s Children was given not just a Booker Prize but also a “Booker of the Bookers” Prize (1993) with its story set around the Partition of India and steeped in magical realism. His fourth book Satanic Verses (1988) was a finalist for the Booker Prize. However, a ‘fatwa’ was issued against his book calling for Salman Rushdie’s death by no less than Ayatollah Khomeini one year after it was published. India had banned the book as “hate speech” against a particular religious group.
Korea is on the move to open up and assimilate its heritage.
It plans to open a museum for its literature by December 2023 in Seoul’s northwest district with a budget of 60 billion won($53.6 million).
“The need to build a proper museum for Korean literature has always been there, but it has not been realized for a long time,” said Yeom Mu-ung, a literary critic who was named head of the institution in a press conference. He added, “The National Museum of Korean Literature should reflect on the history of colonisation, division, war, industrialisation and democratisation.”
Jaffna: Photo Credit: Samantha Weerasinghe, Wiki commons
The parcel arrived in a postal van and James’ wife, Doris, put it aside for James to return from work and open it. It was an annual ritual — its arrival and his opening of it. This cardboard box measuring one foot by one foot by ten inches, wrapped in brown paper, with colourful stamps all over the top right hand corner and cross-tied with twine, came all the way from Mathagal, James’ home village in the Jaffna peninsula to the North of Sri Lanka, by sea-mail, to Malacca in Malaysia, and it contained his very own piece of home.
Actually, two similar parcels arrived every year, the other one landing at the house of James’ brother Joseph in Singapore. Joseph, naturally a little sardonic and less nostalgic about the contents, let his wife Lily open the box. Nevertheless he appreciated the efforts put in by their sister in Mathagal for sending them this parcel, with a whiff of their homeland. He made Lily list each item in the box so that he would not forget them when he got Lily to write his sister a thank you letter in Tamil. His written Tamil was pretty rusty after near fifty years of disuse.
James came home at about 5.00 pm exhausted from office, saw his parcel and instantly his tiredness lifted. He hastily cut through the twine, tore off the brown paper and pried the box open, a boy-like delight showing on his face. A treasure-box of edible memories — fruits of the earth and sea!