Reviewed by Debraj Mookerjee

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Title: The Revenge of the Non-vegetarian
Author: Upamanyu Chatterjee
Publisher: Speaking Tiger; 2018

Some book titles are a giveaway. Given the political climate in India today, with so many conversations centred on the subject of meat eating, one might be forgiven for assuming that The Revenge of the Non-vegetarian, Upamanyu Chatterjee’s seventh book, a novella, is a satirical take on contemporary India. In English August(1988), and in The Mammaries of the Welfare State (2000), Chatterjee’s pen is acerbic, and educated-middle-class-privilege tipped, displaying a wit that wafts out of the 1970s generation in mainstream Delhi University. The temptation is to assume that Non-vegetarian presents more of the same. It does not. It is a sombre story, set in a small town (Batia) in early post-Independence India, and told with uncharacteristic restraint.

The Revenge of the Non-vegetarian features Agastya Sen’s father (who we met in English, August, writing peremptory letters to his ennui-stricken son), and hearkens back to an older milieu, both in terms of the frame, and in the person of Madhusudan Sen, ICS, sub-divisional magistrate in the small town of Batia. The murder of six people who Sen considers friends, or the murderer that sparks the tale of revenge, present little mystery. The suspense is built by the narrative that unfolds from the edges of the grim event and the role Sen plays in giving shape to it over a period in time with issues swiveling around death penalty. Unlike his spiritually dispirited son from the celebrated debut novel, in this somewhat less ambitious novella, Sen is self-possessed, intellectually restrained, committed to the world in which he enjoys the trappings of state power, and a steadfast friend.

The first Africans came to Japan in 1546 in a Portuguese ship as slaves and shipmates.  But that did not impact Japanese lore as much as the black samurai who came to Japan in 1579 in the service an Italian Jesuit missionary from  the Indies, India in the case of this missionary. (The term Indies was inclusive of the South East Asian areas influenced by Indian culture.)

His story has captured much media attention this year with Chadwick Boseman of Black Panther (2018) fame cast as the black samurai for an MGM movie and with Netflix planning an animation on him.

When the young man arrived in Kyoto in 1579, he was not a samurai. He rose to be one after a powerful Japanese  feudal lord, Oda Nobunaga, in the Sengoku period (1467 to 1600) took a fancy to him. He became a famous samurai known as Yasuke . After the death of his master, he became a ronin, a samurai without a master.

 

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Veteran actor, playwright and multi-lingual scholar, director Girish Karnad(1938-2019) died on 10 th June, 2019. He was eighty-one. He passed away peacefully at his home due to old age. He is survived by his widow, Saraswathy Ganapathy, his son Raghu Amay and his daughter Shalmali Radha.

He was cremated quietly by his family.  No fanfare or rituals were allowed as per his last wishes. 

Prime Minister Modi tweeted that this great Jnanpith Award winner will be remembered for “his versatile acting across all mediums,” and his work “will continue to be popular in the years to come”. Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi wrote that India “has lost a beloved son, whose memory will live on in the vast treasure trove of creative work he leaves behind”.

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I figured I must have fainted and dropped the phone. Probably I got a bump on the head, and that was the cause of the change in my eyesight. I hurried to pick up my phone before anyone could step on it. I saw my arm reaching out—but somehow my hand couldn’t pick the thing up. I tried several times, thinking I had bumped my hand as well as my head and numbed it, like when you hit your funny bone. The feeling was different, though. Not a flash of painful sensation in my elbow or tingling in the wrist. Just—nothing. I was puzzled. How could I have hurt myself so badly that I didn’t even feel any pain?

Thinking I’d go and find some help, I stood up slowly, my feet on either side of the smartphone to keep it from being stepped on. That’s when I noticed that there was no one nearby. Turning carefully, I saw that a small crowd had congregated in front of a train which had stopped on the other side of the platform. The light and the colours were still blinding, but the sounds from the scene came up only gradually. I began to hear exclamations, and one or two women screaming breathlessly. Suddenly, a brilliant flash of white rushed past me—two men in white uniforms, with a stretcher between them piled with blankets. A group of policemen followed closely behind. Like the light and the colours, the movement of the men was so intense it made me dizzy. The policemen hustled the crowd aside while the men in white jumped down in front of the train and busied themselves with something there.

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There are twenty two ‘scheduled’ languages in India and dialects run into many more. The 2001 census put the count of all spoken languages and dialects at 780, second only to Papua and New Guinea which leads with 839 languages. 

With such a huge babel of words at it’s disposal, some languages languish from neglect. Some profess Urdu is one such victim. Recently, much is being written about how Urdu is dying in the bylanes of Old Delhi .

Urdu, a language of the court and poetry, graceful and elegant in its usage, came to be recognised fully around the eighteenth century in India. Before that, Persian was used in the Mughal courts. Urdu evolved as a language that was used by both Hindus and Muslims, perhaps a language of harmony. It used the elegant Nastaliq script. 

By Ratnottama Sengupta

So much of sci-fi uses science as a starting point and then uses fiction to fill up the gaps in our present knowledge. We use what we know today to imagine a different tomorrow –- a better tomorrow — for the world. Still, sooner rather than later, sci-fi that looks out-dated as science fiction becomes a scientific fact. Don’t we all know that Sage Valmiki wrote in Ramayana of the Pushpak Vimana ( mythical flying chariots in Hindu lore) and the giant bird Jatayu that clashed in mid-space aeons before the Wright Brothers wrote their names into aviation history or before the Central Science Laboratory in UK estimated that worldwide, the cost of bird-strikes to airlines had soared to US$ 1.2 billion annually!

But why does this possibility of fiction becoming a fact excite me? Admittedly because of my association with Me and I, which my father, well-known author and scriptwriter Nabendu Ghosh, had written for his two grandsons, and was translated by my son Devottam Sengupta for his grandpa’s birth centenary. Published by Hachette India, the novel breaks the barriers of space and time. Let me quote from the synopsis to give readers a glimpse of this. “They all had the same question for Mukul: ‘Why didn’t you recognise us? And why did you look so dark?’ Mukul was perplexed. The day had started as any other Sunday morning would, with him going out to meet his aunt, his friends and his mentor Noni Kaku of the Telescope. But when everyone, including his own parents insisted that he was lying about his whereabouts, Mukul had to look around for this imposter. And he found Lukum, who had travelled light years to meet his intergalactic ‘twin.’ Little did Mukul know that he had set out on the longest Sunday of his life…”

 

Reviewed by  Haimanti Dutta Ray

 

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Title: Beyond the Himalayas Journeying through the Silk Route

Text: Goutam Ghose, Michael Haggaig

Photographs: Goutam Ghose

Publisher: Niyogi Books

Date of publication: 2019

Beyond the Himalayas Journeying through the Silk Route is  joint collaboration by award-winning Indian filmmaker Gautam Ghose and British writer and producer, Michael Haggiag. Ghose in his introduction has named this  venture ‘a film-book’ because it is based on his five-part documentary, a cinematic marvel, also named Beyond The Himalayas.

Made in 1996, his documentary had been screened extensively on Doordarshan (India), Discovery and BBC in the late 1990s. The book, Beyond the Himalayas, commemorates the silver jubilee of the journey he undertook to make the documentary in 1994. Ghose writes in his introduction:“The so-called ‘present’ is a fraction of fractions between  the past and the future and hence the present moments are stored in our memory as recent or remote past. …. This book narrates one such vivid memory , a once-in-a-lifetime kind of adventure.”

In his introduction to the book, Ghose reveals how he came across old negatives and slides which featured  their journey through the meandering valleys and endless deserts of the fabled Silk Road more than two decades ago in a ‘caravan’ of jeeps. Breath-taking reproductions of these negatives and slides intersperse the narrative which is based on the script of the documentary.

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South Korean writer, Hang Kan ,who was the winner of the Man International Booker prize in 2016 for her novel The Vegetarian, has joined the ranks of literary greats who are giving their writing for the Future Library Project in Norway started by artist Katie Paterson in 2014.

Katie Paterson, an award winning Scottish artist known to play with and find inspiration in nature using her imagination to create unique artworks based on natural phenomenons like glaciers,stars and the universe itself, planted one thousand spruce trees in the Nordmarka forest, just outside Oslo in Norway. The paper from these woods will be used in 2114 to print the books of the literary greats who are participating in the project, which include literary giants like Margaret Atwood and multiple award winning novelist David Mitchell and whose ranks Hang Sen joined last month.

 

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Dan Bloom is a journalist with an optimistic outlook and dreams of hope and happiness for the great green planet we live on. With his need to do something for the welfare of an endangered Earth, he came up with the term ‘cli-fi’, a new genre of fiction.

In an earlier interview last year, he said after reading the 2006 report released by The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and an interview with British scientist, environmentalist, futurist James Lovelock in The Independent, he was moved to act. James Lovelock wrote of population decimation due to global warming. Dan Bloom claimed: “That bit sent shivers down my spine.  It was a ‘eureka’ moment, a wake-up call.”

In 2011, he came up with the term ‘cli-fi’ while doing a marketing campaign for a near future novel he commissioned from a sci-fi writer in Oklahoma, James Laughter, that was titled Polar City Red. Well-known novelist Margaret Atwood tweeted about the novel, calling it a “cli-fi thriller”. Two years later in 2013, NPR (National Public Radio, USA) did a 5-minute radio segment about the new genre that was headlined ” So Hot Right Now: Has Climate Change Created A New Literary Genre?”

Dan Bloom, received his MA in speech and communications from Oregon University and  worked as a newspaper editor in Alaska, Japan and Taiwan. He is now retired and devoting himself fulltime to promoting cli-fi worldwide. In this exclusive to Team Kitaab, Dan Bloom  discusses the present and future of cli-fi and climate change.

 

 

Team Kitaab: What is cli-fi?

Dan Bloom: Cli-Fi is a standalone, independent literary genre that came to life in the early part of the 21st century, a popular term used by journalists, newspaper editors, headline writers, literary critics, book reviewers, academics and novelists in the Anglophone world. It became a buzzword and a nickname for novels that explored various issues of climate change, either directly or indirectly in theme or story. There is no cli-fi canon and there is no cli-fi agenda. Novelists go where their imaginations and storytelling skills take them. It’s a catchy linguistic portmanteau for “climate change fiction”.