Dion D’souza talks about E.V. Ramakrishnan’s Tips for Living in an Expanding Universe (Poetrywala, 2018) and shows how it has acquired even more relevance today.
In Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977), the protagonist Alvy Singer, having found out as a child that our universe is expanding, decides to give up mundane activities like his homework. What’s the point, he demands petulantly, if it’s just going to blow up one fine day? (The universe, that is, not his homework.) And suppose one could travel into and back in cinema time (as the older and heartbroken Alvy does in the film) and slip the boy a copy of EV Ramakrishnan’s Tips for Living in an Expanding Universe, would that in any way serve to ease his anxiety? I doubt it. But what I can vouch for is the fact that Alvy’s excuses for not turning in his assignments would have been more innovative than the standard go-to of an unruly pet’s voracious appetite.
But, man of wavering faith as I may be, why, in this particular case, do I doubt? To put it simply, the vision of a capricious universe that Ramakrishnan offers us is not very reassuring: one where “nothing is permanent, only sorrows and stories” (‘Local Gods’) and “the end [is] always imminent/but the narrative, like a coroner’s/report on a mass suicide, drags on” (‘To a Writer in Exile’). Reality and identity are in a state of flux; and violence, disease or a natural calamity can at any moment rip through our fragile and illusory sense of order and stability. However, this is a vision we must face up to of necessity. (And have now been forced to…thanks, 2020!)
An exclusive excerpt from Fractured Forest, Quartzite City by Thomas Crowley, jointly published by SAGE Publications and Yoda Press under the Yoda-SAGE Select imprint. (Published in September2020)
Spirits: Transcendence, Sacred and Secular
Love of marijuana is yet another commonality linking the Sufis to the yogis. In many of the tantric texts, the virtues of the intoxicating plant are extolled. One text avers that marijuana is essential to ecstasy. The plant is referred to as “victory” and “Gorakhnath’s root”.And, as Sufis gather at Qutb Sahib’s shrine to smoke, sway and (occasionally) scream and shout, groups of Nath Siddhas convene close by, on the northern edges of Sanjay Van, where three Gorakhnath Mandirs have been erected.
One of these temples, by far the biggest, adjoins the main road and regularly holds large gatherings, culminating in a biannual mela that draws significant crowds. The smallest of the temples, by contrast, is just a low brick wall surrounding several idols, protected by a solitary priest who sleeps beside the temple in a makeshift tent. The third temple combines the remoteness of the small mandir with the sociality of the big one. It is set back, away from the paved roads, in the midst of the jungle of Sanjay Van. It houses a small community of Nath yogis, who receive regular visits from devout Hindus residing in the nearby neighborhoods.
I have a habit of staring at horizontal lines. Railway tracks always fascinate me.
These railway lines which align trains, crisscrossing and bisecting each other in their paths, are made of the metal – iron. It seems to be yesterday my father had tutored me on the need for a man to be made of iron, so as to overcome the pitfalls that life brings in its wake.
“You’ll never know the truth, son of mine! But when you’ll reach an age, when reflection and contemplation become your only activities, then you’ll realize that you’ve indeed come a long way.”
A long way. But how long is l-o-n-g? This conversation was held many years ago, when I had gone home for my vacations. My parents had decided that a boarding school education and discipline would smooth away the rough edges of my youth. But however much they tried, the edges had remained rough till I had maturity!
Inspired by a visit to her ancestral home in the late nineties, Zeenat Khan shares this personal essay dipped in nostalgia.
I had seen photos of the new house in Ghorashal* sent to me by my nephew Rupak. The ancestral home on the outskirts of Dhaka was built in the early nineties. It is a Victorian-looking, modern house. It has an open car porch and the veranda is covered with mosaic tiles, on which wicker chairs are set up for sitting in the evenings. The old abandoned pond has apparently been renovated and was complete with wide steps and a pathway, with flower bushes on both sides. From looking at the photos, the house seemed to be caught between two worlds; a mix of old and new. But it appeared to be a happy and inviting place.
One summer, in the late nineties, I was preparing for my visit home after fifteen years. I still can distinctly remember that I started to have mixed feelings about the visit for a multitude of reasons. My sentiments could be best described as similar to feeling very anxious. Looking back now, I know that the anxiety had a lot to do with my long absence, and my fear of facing all that was new in Bangladesh. By that I mean how everyone in the extended family will look, new births, new additions, and more importantly how will I feel seeing my aging parents. Moreover, I was not sure how I would deal with the loss of my eldest sister to cancer. I had always associated Dhaka with my sister, where she had stayed most of her married life. It had been only three months since her passing. My worries significantly increased thinking that after a short stay in Dhaka; I will have to go to my parents’ home in the village of my ancestors. That thought was both delightful and terrifying as I will be going to a brand new house. My nostalgic feelings are tied up with memories of the old house. I had no memories that are connected with the new house, and I was not really sure how a visit to the childhood home will actually feel.
An exclusive excerpt from The Bloomsbury Book of Great Indian Love Poems edited by Abhay K. (Published by Bloomsbury in October, 2020)
From the ancient land of India which has given the world, Kamasutra-a treatise on love, Great Indian Love Poems, selected and edited diligently by Abhay K., brings you the fragrant wine of Indian love poetry spread across three millennia, written in multiple languages by gifted poets like -Kalidasa, Mirabai, Bhratrihari, Jayadeva, Silhana, Surdas, Bihari, Muddupalani, Bhavabhuti, Venmaniputti, Vidyapati, Bilhana to just name a few.
This intoxicating book shows many facets of love-affectionate, playful, sensuous, erotic, unconditional, pining, aching, among others-leaving you with unforgettable experiences and lasting impressions.
A new ratnakosha of Indian love poems-a cornucopia of delights. A must read for one and all.
After about two months of non-fiction, self-help reads, I decided to go for fiction, a novel, a story that I can drown myself in. I decided to do a little readathon a few days ago and let the book completely hypnotize me and let it have my complete attention. After all, it deserves every bit of it because it had been a long time since I’d lost myself in a fictional world.
And yet, only a few books and few writers have this power, something that seems to come almost naturally to them, this inexplicable talent to drown the reader in the book. You are lucky enough to have found a book that does that to you. I consider myself to be extremely fortunate to have got to read a few books that give me the same feeling. One of those and the most prominent of those have to be Khaled Hosseini’s books.
“But it’s better to be hurt by the truth than to be comforted with a lie.”
The Curse: Stories by Salma ( Translated by N. Kalyan Raman)
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Year of publication: 2020 / October
Price: INR 350
In The Curse, acclaimed author and poet Salma blasts through the artifice of genre an language to reveal the messy, violent, vulnerable and sometimes beautiful realities of being a woman in deeply patriarchal societies. Loosely rooted in the rural Muslim communities of Tamil Nadu, these stories shine a light on the complex dramas governing the daily lives of most women moving through the world.
In the title story, a young spinster is caught between her desire for marriage and a dark family history that haunts her like a curse. In ‘Toilets’, a woman recounts in stunning, visceral detail how access to the most basic human space has been regulated by trauma, shame and the male gaze. In ‘The Orbit of Confusion’, a daughter writes a heartbreaking letter, struggling to come to terms with her anger and love for the woman who raised her. In these and five other emotionally charged stories that are at times humorous, even spooky, Salma crafts exquisite and contradictory inner worlds like Alice Munro with the playfulness and spirit of Ismat Chughtai—in a voice that is entirely her own. Available together for the first time in English—in a lively, nimble translation by Kalyan Raman—these stories will grab you by the throat and leave you fundamentally changed.
An exclusive excerpt from Bride of the Forest: The Untold Story of Yayati’s Daughter by Madhavi S. Mahadevan. Published by Speaking Tiger Books, 2020.
The forest was already a lush, tangled dream. In the runny light of dawn what appeared surreal to the girl’s eyes was the city of Pratisthan—the yellow of its brick walls, the disarray of its streets. The citizens were still abed. The network of narrow, paved alleyways was silent but for the sighs from the night just spent. However, the smells lingered and gossiped of the frenzied drinking and dancing, of clandestine desires and sated hungers, of enticement, seduction and indulgence. In the street of the courtesans, bruised garlands of marigold and jasmine drifted in sluggish drains. A tambourine lay in a pool of vomit. At the city’s intersections stood enormous clay lamps that had burned bright all night, but now held curls of blackened wicks, like stillborn worms. The only signs of life were the lean, brown stray dogs scavenging through animal innards and fishbones.
On lonely nights, even the hum of a refrigerator is company, the whirring of a fan is comforting, the tick-tock of a clock is reassuring. And, of course, the night sky is a loyal companion – I talk with the moon about you, and she tells me about the sun.
I try to remember the last time we hugged, let alone made love. I can’t recollect.
Something very toxic seems to have festered between us. How, when, why I have stopped scrambling for answers. Our descent into apathy is so deep-seated that I neither have the time nor inclination to make things right. The pulp has gone out of our relationship, and I know we’re both responsible for feeding it.
Yet, our relationship is not without tender moments. I find consolation in that thought and wrap those moments around me like a warm blanket. Some of us are hoarders of such moments, even if those moments are ephemeral and transient, few and far between: Like just last night you lovingly stroked my head while I was grinding my teeth in sleep, and then, I stopped grinding my teeth.