Translated by Abhisek Sarkar

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

Chhabi has expired.

Chhabila died close to day break. She had been choked to death. Her one year old child Etim, following his usual morning practice, is trying quite hard to suck some milk out of one of her breasts.

Patuki has no inkling about who killed Chhabi. Although it is not unknown to him that this is not a natural death, he is yet to discover that the man he spotted approaching Chhabi’s house early in the morning was the killer. But the very next night Patuki would come to know who killed Chhabila. The one who would be his source of information is the most reliable of all. The rich and the poor, thieves and thugs, the good and the bad, all have respect for him. It is only Patuki who he speaks with. But the day is still young and he has to wait long for nightfall. How long will he have to cope with this hubble-bubble in his stomach, with this uncanny sensation running through his veins?

The man who visited Chhabila at dawn had also been seen coming out of her house late in the night. Patuki spends the whole of the night at the southern bank of the pond behind dense bushes, fishing pole in hand. Long aerial roots of a great banyan tree surround this place. These bushes entice him. The night has its own allure. Only Allah knows why people waste these hours sleeping. Patuki does not sleep; he cannot. The long fishing line of Patuki does not have a hook hence the float also is redundant. He has seen people climbing up his fishing thread from the water— many of them. They climb throughout the night and bless Patuki. Then they climb up those roots of the banyan tree. Now they turn into fireflies and fly around the Banyan pir.

A Republic Day Special

Nishi Pulugurtha reminisces about a past where India had emerged after the independence struggle as a republic with a strong belief in inclusiveness.

A group of young men were recruited to work at the newly set up laboratory in Bhubaneshwar. The laboratory was set up in 1961 by the Scottish geneticist John Burdon Sanderson Haldane. They had made India their home. The institution brought together myriads of people from various parts of India who made it their workplace and home.

Hari Pulugurtha, my father, joined this laboratory as secretary to Haldane. He had been recommended by his childhood buddy Ramshastri Mangipudi who by then was already working at the laboratory. The job entailed a move to Bhubaneswar from Vizag, Visakhapatnam that is. Till then, Appagaru (that is how we addressed my father) had been doing all kinds of odd jobs. Appagaru always believed in the idea of inclusivity, the idea that however different we might be, there is something that binds all human beings together. He would tell us stories of how they were such a myriad group of people at the laboratory and the fun and camaraderie that they had celebrating life in its various aspects and of all the great work that went on there.

Dara Shukoh

 

 

Title: Dara Shukoh: The Man Who Would Be King

Author: Avik Chanda

Publisher: Harper Collins India, India

Links: Amazon

 

 

In the majlises at his residence, Dara revelled at the prospect of pitching the proponents of different faiths against each other, in a theosophical joust. For a while, Jesuits, with their fervour of preaching and advocating the superiority of their faith, were the fashion of the season in Dara’s mansion. Father Estanilas Malpica, Pedro Juarte, Henri Buzeo and Heinrich Roth shocked and regaled those present, and later, after the debate was over, sat at table with the Prince and shared the wine together. As regards the Prince’s own views in the matter, as Bernier, who came to know him personally, commented: ‘Dara was in private a Gentile with Gentiles, and a Christian with Christians.’ This stemmed not from any innate sense of diplomacy – indeed, Dara had none – but a firm belief in the commonality between religions, an advocacy of the tenets that sustained like an unbroken thread across them, rather than the rituals and doctrines that separated them, causing strife and suffering.

And yet, there were times Dara was not so aloof from the world that none of its news reached him. There was strife and dissent in the empire – and it was directed against him. It was not only the greybeards at court, the statesmen and generals, who felt slighted by him. There was another, equally powerful enemy: the orthodox Islamic clergy. Since ages, there had been an unwritten agreement between the religious and administrative leadership. There was the rule of the Church – and that of noble kings, Brahmin priests and Kshatriya rajahs, and elsewhere across the Muslim empires, ulema and sultans divided the land and their people between themselves. But now, here was Dara, the Crown Prince of Hindustan, who challenged their authority; scorned them for their rigidity, and supposed lack of divine insight and spiritual experiences; and vilified them in his speeches and published writings. Dara had far overstepped his mark as a Prince of the realm, and amongst the disgruntled orthodoxy, there were rumblings of heresy.

Puolakka_Paula-2

Paula Puolakka (1982) is a Beat poet, writer, and MA (History of Science and Ideas) who has won poetry and short story contests held in the USA and Israel. In April 2019, her long essay concerning the problems with technology and the invisible warfare was given credit by The Finnish Reserve Officers’ Federation and in June 2019, Puolakka’s poem was given an honorable mention by Tiny Spoon Literary Magazine. Her work can be found through Poetry Potion. Puolakka has also been judging a few small writing contests in Finland.

To learn more, please go to: https://refiction.com/community/2019-01-10-paula-puolakka/

Book review by Namrata

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Title: The Prospect of Miracles

Author: Cyrus Mistry

Published by: Aleph Book Company, 2019

 

The Prospect of Miracles revolves around the life of Pastor Pius Philipose or rather, his death. Interestingly, in this long-awaited novel, author Cyrus Mistry’s primary character is a dead man. His seemingly natural death is perceived as unexpected to his adorners while his wife experiences the opposite. The rest of the story is about what everyone including his wife think of him.

Mistry — the novelist, needs no introduction. His novel Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature in 2014 while his other works have also won many awards and accolades. However, it must be noted that this is the first time, he has moved beyond writing about the Parsi community. Almost all his previous works revolved around the culture, with primary characters also being Parsi. His early works were clear reflection of all his observations of growing up as a Parsi in Mumbai. Few years ago, he moved to a non-descript location in South India which seems to have largely inspired him to write this story.

Set in Kerala, the story has the fragrances of that state neatly wrapped within. From lush cardamom farms, to the coconut trees swinging in the air. From the delectable flavours of the local delicacies cooked in coconut oil to the festive celebrations throughout the year — this story has it all in the backdrop while the core story unravels for the reader. While talking about the culture and traditions of Kerala, he also talks about the oppression and the staunch belief system prevalent there.

Reading Cyrus Mistry’s work is like walking through years of patriarchy prevalent in our society. Clearly reminiscent of one the many characters from Anita Nair’s literary gem Ladies Coupe, this book promises to leave a reader perplexed. With a complex array of characters and a non-symmetrical plot line, Mistry invites you in a world which is so similar to the real world and yet so different.

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

The man trudged up the red mud lane carrying a rucksack on his back and a tin trunk in one hand. He mounted the three steps from the lane and stepped over a metal stile flanked by gateposts. An elderly woman sat on the concrete platform in front of the big white house; she seemed to be waiting for him.

“Bayool Maami?” the man asked, joining his palms in formal greeting while introducing himself, “Shyam Kulkarni.”

“I was expecting you two hours ago, Painter Saheb,” Bayool said, rising slowly from the cement platform and hobbling into the sitting room, “Come, come. Sit,” gesturing to the sling back armchair.

Bayool was an elderly woman who wore dentures. Shyam noticed that when she smiled there were gaps in her dentures that made her teeth look natural.

“The bus broke down,” he said simply. “Bayool Maami, please call me Shyam.”

He sat in the armchair and looked around. Through the floor-to-ceiling bars that made up one wall of the sitting room, he observed a cottage nearby.

“You will live there,” Bayool said, pointing to the cottage.

The property adjoining Bayool’s seemed impenetrable with trees, briars and tangled creepers, but Shyam saw outlines of a roof and walls and broken down windows of a house through those trees.

Gariahat_front1

 

Title: Gariahat Junction

Author: Rituparna Roy

Publisher: Kitaab International, Singapore

Year of publication: January 2020

Pages: 150

Price: Rs.400/

Links: You Tube

About: Gariahat Junction is a collection of nine short stories, of contemporary Indian women who have reached a critical juncture in their lives. Set primarily in post liberalised, post-millennial Kolkata, it mostly explores the lives of middle-class Bengali women in or from the city.

 

 

79 Avatar - Antologia Indiana

 

Title: Avatar: Indian Science Fiction/ Fantascienza indiana

Author: Edited by Tarun K. Saint and Francesco Verso

Publisher: Future Fictions

Year of publication: 2020

Pages: 311

Price:$17.09

Links if any: Amazon

About: Avatar is the first ever bilingual anthology published in English and Italian language of new Indian Science Fiction. It has been edited by Francesco Verso, multiple award Science Fiction writer and editor of Future Fiction, together with Tarun Saint as guest editor. The aim is to bring together cutting edge and contemporary Indian Science Fiction that takes on board some of the most pressing challenges of this 21st century, post-modern and late post-colonial moment.

The Jamia Library which ironically completed its centenary in 2019 and is named after Dr Zakir Hussain,  the third President of India, was shut down after the violence on 15th December, 2019, where the police beat up and tear gassed protesters.

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Jamia and Gandhi

About six days later, on December 24th, two student decided to set up a makeshift library outside the premises. Sahil Ahmed and Tanya Sablok named the library ‘Read for Revolution’. They began by reading aloud books on Satyagrah (civil resistance based on holding on to truth) and Hindu-Muslim unity. They read from books like Hind Swaraj, Jamia Aur Gandhi (Jamia and Gandhi), and The Constitution.

“We wanted to have a non-violent Gandhian way of protesting,” Ahmed said in a report in The Hindu. Ahmed is doing a master’s degree in Peace and Conflict. Many students, artists and citizens gather to spend time reading at this library on the pavement. The books are often stacked on the boundary wall and the readers sit on mattresses on the ground and read.

220px-The_Story_of_My_Experiments_with_TruthA student called Abdul Rashid, who was reading Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography, My Experiments with Truth, said in a report to  The Citizen: “We cannot win this battle by violence. How can we even counter the state violence inflicted upon us? We are barehanded while the police are equipped with all kinds of weapons. So, the best way is to come out in large numbers and protest peacefully, sing songs, chant slogans and read books. The government will have to bow down if we keep protesting for our rights.”

He added, “Mahatma Gandhi’s message was to live with honesty and fight with the means of non-violence. We are following his path. We will fight till we can. This is our peaceful war against the illiterate government.”

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Indonesian mass genocide of 1965-66 led to a death toll of almost half to one million and replaced Sukarno with Suharto. Many were imprisoned in the Buru island jail. One of them was writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer, author of the Buru Quartet which was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1988.

Writers, intellectuals and teachers spent years of incarceration on the island devoid of basic facilities. One of them, Mars Noersmono, was in and out of jails while studying engineering and ended up in Buru island. He wrote a book, Bertahan Hidup di Pulau Buru (A Prisoner’s Life on Buru Island) which also had photographs of the island. He looked for a publisher for fifteen years and finally found one in Bandung. Few copies of his book found their way to the bookshelf.

He told a journalist from The Diplomat: “I wrote the book because I want the younger generation to understand the truth, and pay respect to those who did not survive… Writing has also lifted the burden I’ve been carrying for so long, and that’s a relief.  My dreams are now not so bad.”

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.