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.”

Book Review by Kaiyi Tan

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Title: Sightlines

Author: Marc Nair

Photographer: Tsen-Waye Tay

Publisher: Math Press, 2019

I must first confess that I did not like Sightlines when I first read it. As I absorbed this book of poems with photography by Marc Nair and Tsen-Waye Tay, I couldn’t help but feel that a certain song-like lyricism was missing. Usually, my first instinct is to judge verses based solely on the quality of sound alone. Meaning can be secondary, as long as the words form a particular harmony. Knowing that Marc Nair is an established poet in Singapore with a huge reputation for spoken word, I was slightly disappointed.

But on my second reading, something very simple happened.

I followed the recommendation in Mr. Nair’s introduction: I read the poems with the images in mind. And suddenly, like Blake’s experience of seeing a world in a grain of sand, the entire book changed for me. Mr. Nair’s words, together with the stark and beautiful photography of Ms. Tay, emerged as mini-narratives of their own.

Two Nobel prizes were given out in Literature this year — making it a first in the 118 year old history of this award, where prize money of more than US$910, 000 will be given to each winner. Last year the literature award was cancelled for scandals that rocked the academy.

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Olga Tokarcruz
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Peter Handke

The award for 2018 went to Polish authoress, Olga Tokarcruz  “for a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life,” according to the judges’ citation. The award for 2019 went to Austrian author Peter Handke “for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience”.

However, earlier, Germany had revoked its decision to award him the Henrich Heine award.

While Poland celebrates the win of their much awarded authoress whose works centring on migration and cultural transition have reflected “local life, but at the same time inspired by maps and speculative thought, looking at life on Earth from above”, Peter Handke’s selection has fallen under much flak over his works that “defend” the Serbian dictator who had been charged with war crimes in1999 and jailed subsequently , Slobodan Milosevic.

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Alfian Bin Sa’at

Recently, a course on dissent and resistance that was to be conducted by poet and playwright Alfian Bin Sa’at in NUS-Yale was dropped by the university. Sa’at had not been fully aware of the consequences that students could be going against the laws and risk arrest in pursuing the course curriculum.

The decision said the Yale President,Professor Peter Salovey, was made “internally and without government interference”. 

In an earlier report, Professor Salovey had said: “In founding and working with our Singaporean colleagues on Yale-NUS, Yale has insisted on the values of academic freedom and open inquiry, which have been central to the college and have inspired outstanding work by faculty, students, and staff: Yale-NUS has become a model of innovation in liberal arts education in Asia.”

TBASS

 

“Dadi, please stop throwing methi leaves on the answer sheets.” From where I was perched, I could watch over everyone in the courtyard. I had one eye on them, the other on the open pages of my history textbook.

The Indian Renaissance:

Social Reforms and Women Empowerment

Half of these words sat in the shadow of my head. I sat on the steps that went up to the roof of the house, a few peanuts in my fist, head resting ever so slightly on the iron railing through which I could see everyone if I rolled my eyes to the left.

It was difficult to concentrate with all the chatter. Everyone drags their chores to the centre of the courtyard, around our holy tulsi plant, during winter months. Whatever can be done in the sun is done in the sun. My grandmother was settled comfortably on a jute charpoy in this courtyard. The shadow of a towel hanging above her, on a clothesline that ran from a nail on one wall to the water pipe in the opposite corner, fell on her face. Like a starving cat with a heavy coat, her crisp starched puffy saree didn’t give away her small-boned figure. From up here she looked like a bundle of clothes, her back rounded and one knee pulled close to the chest, as she craned her neck into her work. She was sifting through small heaps of coriander, dill, and fenugreek, separating fresh leaves from the thick stalks. A quick pinch —and into a large dish with tiny holes they went. The stalks were thrown into a pile on the floor right next to her; they would later be disposed, into the flowerbed in the corner, where purple periwinkles bloomed scantily.