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Mohsin Hamid: ‘It’s important not to live one’s life gazing towards the future’

(From The Guardian. Link to the complete interview given below)

Mohsin Hamid appears to have a preternatural ability to summon up the spirits of his time. He finished writing his latest novel, Exit West, which was published early last year and shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, well before Trump and Brexit brought questions of borders and national identity to the forefront of the global narrative. The novel was in part a response to the migrant crisis that was unfolding in various corners of the world as Hamid was writing, but it also predicted with almost uncanny prescience the rise of nativist paranoia and racial intolerance, which have become such features of life in 2018.

The novelist Kamila Shamsie, a friend of Hamid, told me another story about his proleptic powers. “On September 9 or 10, 2001, I was having dinner with Mohsin in London and he told me about the book he was working on,” Shamsie said. “It was about a young Pakistani man doing very well in the corporate world in New York. Despite all his success, one day he found himself listening closely to a speech by an extremist Muslim – it wasn’t the religious content of the man’s words that caught his attention, but the political content. I saw Mohsin again on September 12, 2001. ‘Mohsin, your novel… ?’ I said. ‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘I think I have to go on writing it.’ ‘Of course you do,’ I said.”

That novel, Hamid’s second book, became The Reluctant Fundamentalist and was seen by many as the definitive literary response to 9/11. Certainly it was far more successful both critically and commercially than the attempts of more established authors to address the twin towers. John Updike, Martin Amis, Don DeLillo – the great and good of Anglo-American letters queued up to respond to the attacks, but it was Hamid’s protagonist Changez, bursting with charisma and ambition, who spoke with the greatest clarity and authority about what might have driven the terrorists to act.

Read more at The Guardian link here

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Book excerpt: Job be Damned by Rishi Piparaiya

job be damned - cover

From Chapter 13

SENIOR LEADER SPECIAL: EMPLOYEE MANIPULATION
Manipulating with appreciation and meaningless rewards

Anyone who is not a senior executive is requested to log off this chapter. We are going to be discussing manipulation strategies and insights into our deviousness will give you an unfair advantage.

Great, now that we only have top management reading, here goes: employees need to be kept motivated and engaged, at least occasionally. It’s a waste of time because they are really not important. While most corporations rhapsodically claim that their people are their most important asset, it is all bollocks. The most important asset of Google is its search algorithm—if that were to suddenly vanish, all their so-called most important assets would be sitting around doodling home pages in Mountain View. Likewise, the most important asset of Coke is its secret formula. The most important asset of Apple is its products. As the pointy-haired boss in Scott Adams’ The Dilbert Principle states, employees are in fact the corporation’s ninth most important assets, right after carbon paper.

That said, you still might have a few foot soldiers who need to be kept suitably engaged and it’s imperative that you identify them rather than waste your efforts in keeping everyone charged up. You can either use complicated psychological tools and personality tests or simply adopt the Job Be Damned Boffins and Bozos grid to pigeonhole all your employees.

Motivating the Boffins

Once you have classified all your staff, focus on motivating the boffins.

  1. Pretend to care about their development

Employees want to believe that someone gives a damn about them so act as if you do. Learning motivates early careers so pretend to share your vast experience—gift the latest management book or have them attend some wishy-washy training programme. Middle management professionals crave increased responsibility—ironic given that one’s sole objective should be to avoid work. Send them on international jaunts, award home-printed certificates and write them LinkedIn recommendations—anything that looks like a progressive step in their career will keep them motivated. The downside of investing in employees is that it makes them more marketable and they might leave to join competitors. However, effect drug-induced amnesia as part of the exit formalities—the ungrateful wretches should forget everything that they learnt at your expense.

Boffins: Must-have employees with useful skills and attributes

Divers Enthusiastic and eager to please; they dive straight into a project and get it started
Systematics Masters at organization, creating flow charts, to-do lists, pros and cons columns and schedules
Coordinators Enjoy directing things along and putting some order into chaos
Specialists Experts in one particular subject
Conscientious doers The engine of every team and the ones who do all the real work
Glib communicators Great at articulating complicated concepts to the people who matter

 

Bozos: Useless dead-weights who do more harm than good

Gyaani babas Spout theoretical wisdom unbacked by execution capabilities
Naysayers Party pooping, energy-draining pessimists who have all the reasons why your plans won’t work
Socialists Mother hens who don’t care about what gets accomplished as long as everyone is happy and participating
Conspiracy theorists Everything about the organization, team and task is a dark conspiracy
Dumbos Double-digit Iqs who incessantly ask irrelevant questions
Spectators Step back and watch, occasionally piping in with useless suggestions

 

  1. Conduct Employee Engagement Activities

Interacting with personnel is excellent for your morale. Conduct breakout meetings, hang-outs, online chats and parties. Have the occasional whine-and-dine lunch where you swallow the unpalatable canteen food while chatting with them. Keep the interaction one way—you talk, they listen. Have a Q&A session at the end but make a mental note of anyone who has asked you controversial questions and get your revenge in the next appraisal cycle.

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V.S. Naipaul, a writer of many contradictions and obvious greatness

(From the New York Times. Link to the complete article given below)

V.S. Naipaul, the Nobel laureate who died at 85 on Saturday, had so many gifts as a writer — suppleness, wit, an unsparing eye for detail — that he could seemingly do whatever he wanted. What he did want, it became apparent, was to rarely please anyone but himself. The world’s readers flocked to his many novels and books of reportage for “his fastidious scorn,” as the critic Clive James wrote, “not for his large heart.” In his obvious greatness, in the hard truths he dealt, Naipaul attracted and repelled.

He was a walking sack of contradictions, in some ways the archetypal writer of the shifting and migratory 20th century. His life was a series of journeys between old world and new. He was a cool and sometimes snappish mediator between continents. Indian by descent, Trinidadian by birth, Naipaul attended Oxford and lived in London, where he came to wear elegant suits and move in elite social circles. “When I talk about being an exile or a refugee I’m not just using a metaphor,” he said. “I’m speaking literally.”

His breakthrough book, after three comic works set in the Caribbean, was “A House for Mr. Biswas” (1961), a masterpiece composed when Naipaul was 29. It has lost none of its sweep and sly humor. It’s about a character, based on Naipaul’s father, who begins his life as a sign painter in Trinidad and Tobago and improbably rises to become a journalist. The first sign he paints reads, in words the industrious Naipaul seemed to take to heart: “IDLERS KEEP OUT BY ORDER.”

The richest and most eminently re-readable books of Naipaul’s fiction after “A House for Mr. Biswas” include “In a Free State,” an intimate suite of stories concerned with colonialism and the vagaries of power. Set in Egypt, America, Africa and England, it won the Booker Prize in 1971. “Guerrillas” was called “probably the best novel of 1975” by the editors of The New York Times Book Review. It is Naipaul’s most propulsive book. Set in an unnamed Caribbean country where the air is thick with postcolonial British dominion, it offers a complex portrait of the manners and motives of third world revolutionaries. It is an uncanny meditation on displacement. You never quite know where the novel is heading. Its author would later say, “Plot is for those who already know the world; narrative is for those who want to discover it.” His last great novel, set in postcolonial Central Africa, may have been “A Bend in the River” (1979).

Read more at the New York Times link here


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Book Review: Reshaping Art by T.M. Krishna

Reviewed by Vidya Acharya

Reshaping Art

Title: Reshaping Art
Author: T.M. Krishna
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Pages: 128 (Hardcover)

T.M. Krishna is a popular performing Karnatik musician – a vocalist and a musical maverick. An icon of our times, he is known for his socialistic turn of mind, which he wears on his sleeve and has, on several instances, stormed the Brahmanical Bastille of traditional classical Karnatik music.

Reshaping Art is a sociological study on the evolution and appropriation of various forms of art – particularly music in India and how it has been withheld by its blue-blooded masters from those less privileged due to economic and social circumstance. TMK has, through his own projects, sought to reverse this deprivation. He has based his work and writings on the optimism that certain communities can be uplifted by the simple act of their inclusion in enriching opportunities in Art, such as in Karnatik music, a field that has been held almost exclusively by a coterie of upper caste musicians of the Chennai region. He assumes that the best and most efficacious first step would be to invite such seekers of Art into concerts that are accessible and will eventually permeate society.

The premise to the discussion is that music and art are nascent to the human existence. As higher-level beings, we are meant to emote and express in refined, often tangible forms; it is vital to some of us, but not to all. A slim volume of 107 pages, Reshaping Art is a thought provoking study of the author’s efforts and philosophy, mainly towards Karnatik music.

Although the entire gamut of Art forms is included in TMK’s discussion, the book is a sophisticated treatise specifically on how and why he believes Karnatik music must be democratised in the region of its practice and immense popularity, and is an enriching read for followers of classical and contemporary music in India. It will prompt the reader to ponder on his/her own potential in participating in social upliftment as a catalyst, or, alternately, as an active absorber of the music.

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Country in Focus: Singapore Literature Prize 2018

By Mitali Chakravarty

 

 

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Past and present SLP winners, judges and organisers of the 2018 gala
(Photo credit: SBC)

The Singapore Literature Prize (SLP) gave out 19 awards for works in English, Malay, Tamil and Chinese across three categories – fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry at a gala organised by the Singapore Book Council (SBC) on August 6th, 2018.

The event included performances by the Nadi Singapura ensemble and the trio of Eunice & Friends. The well-known theatre actress, Karen Tan, compered the event peppering it with bits of humour and anecdotes.

 

 

The Nadi Singapura drummers give festive start to the ceremony

The Nadi Singapura Drummers

The Nadi Singapura band gave a ceremonial and colourful start to the event with their drumming. This was followed by a speech by Claire Chiang, chairperson of SBC and co-founder of Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts. As she has pointed out in her message, the SLP is ‘arguably the only literary award in the world that recognises such multilingual achievements’.

The awards were presented by former SLP winners, including Suchen Christine Lim.

Farihan Bahron, co-founder of a publishing agency and a much-awarded Malay writer, received two prizes this year, one for his poetry collection and a commendation for Malay fiction.

Farihan Bahron, the Malay writer who won awards for poetry and fiction together

Farihan Bahron

A.K. Vardharajan, one of the award winners for poetry in Tamil said that his book, Lee Kuan Yew’s Imaginary Childhood, had won the award because the book was about a very famous man, the founder of Singapore. However, he is an established writer himself and this book had won an award from the Singapore Tamil Writer’s Association in 2017.

Jeremy Tiang received the award for English fiction for his book State of Emergency, his debut novel mapping the leftist movements and political detentions in Singapore and Malaysia through a family saga spanning a large swathe of time, from the 1940s to the current day.

Lively performances by both the musical groups and video clips of the past winners discussing their reaction to the awards and its outcome punctuated the event.

Eunice and friends

Eunice & Friends

The concluding speech by the executive director William Phuan reflected the history and future of both the awards and of the outreach events organised by them through the year, which include the launch of a Chinese translation of Isa Kamari’s Malay novel Duka Tuan Bertakhta, in September 2018, the launch of a Singapore Literature Prize commemorative book featuring extracts from past SLP winning works in November and the fiftieth birthday celebration of the SBC this December.

The awards this year spanned the diaspora of cultures that thrive in Singapore. From when it started in 1992, the award has evolved to create a platform to recognise excellence in the variety that is iconic of this island. In 1992, the first Singapore Literature Prize went to Suchen Christine Lim and a commendation was given to Tan Mei Ching. Both the works were in the English fiction category. Now the awards span nine different categories in four different languages!

This award is regarded as the top literary award in Singapore. When asked what this award has done for the literary scene in Singapore, Suchen Christine Lim, regarded as a doyen of Singapore Literature, reflected, ‘The Singapore Literature Prize has brought some of Singapore’s best literary works to the attention of readers in Singapore and overseas.’ She added that it has also ‘helped to draw the public’s attention to new writers and new works like Jeremy Tiang’s State of Emergency.’ Suchen Christine Lim’s award winning book, Fistful of Colours was unpublished when she was given the first Singapore Literary Prize in 1992. Now both traditionally published and self-published books by Singaporeans and permanent residents are eligible for the award.

Nominated writers Charmaine Chan and Balli Kaur Jaswal

Nominated writers Charmaine Chan and Shubigi Rao

The evening was a paean to the literary efforts from diverse cultures. It ended with an interesting joint performance by the Malay drummers and the classical trio… a fitting end to a celebration of the evolving potpourri of Singapore literature.

(Photo credits: Mitali Chakravarty)

 

 


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Landays

(From Poetry Foundation. Link to the complete article given below)

I call. You’re stone.
One day you’ll look and find I’m gone.

 

The teenage poet who uttered this folk poem called herself Rahila Muska. She lived in Helmand, a Taliban stronghold and one of the most restive of Afghanistan’s thirty-four provinces since the U.S. invasion began on October 7, 2001. Muska, like many young and rural Afghan women, wasn’t allowed to leave her home. Fearing that she’d be kidnapped or raped by warlords, her father pulled her out of school after the fifth grade. Poetry, which she learned from other women and on the radio, became her only form of education.

In Afghan culture, poetry is revered, particularly the high literary forms that derive from Persian or Arabic. But the poem above is a folk couplet — a landay — an oral and often anonymous scrap of song created by and for mostly illiterate people: the more than twenty million Pashtun women who span the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Traditionally, landays are sung aloud, often to the beat of a hand drum, which, along with other kinds of music, was banned by the Taliban from 1996 to 2001, and in some places, still is.

A landay has only a few formal properties. Each has twenty-two syllables: nine in the first line, thirteen in the second. The poem ends with the sound “ma” or “na.” Sometimes they rhyme, but more often not. In Pashto, they lilt internally from word to word in a kind of two-line lullaby that belies the sharpness of their content, which is distinctive not only for its beauty, bawdiness, and wit, but also for the piercing ability to articulate a common truth about war, separation, homeland, grief, or love. Within these five main tropes, the couplets express a collective fury, a lament, an earthy joke, a love of home, a longing for the end of separation, a call to arms, all of which frustrate any facile image of a Pashtun woman as nothing but a mute ghost beneath a blue burqa.

From the Aryan caravans that likely brought these poems to Afghanistan thousands of years ago to ongoing U.S. drone strikes, the subjects of landays are remixed like hip-hop, with old words swapped for newer, more relevant ones. A woman’s sleeve in a centuries-old landay becomes her bra strap today. A colonial British officer becomes a contemporary American soldier. A book becomes a gun. Each biting word change has much to teach about the social satire that ripples under the surface of a woman’s life. With the drawdown of American forces in 2014 looming, these are the voices of protest most at risk when the Americans pull out. Although some landays reflect fury at the presence of the U.S. military, many women fear that in the absence of America’s involvement they will return to lives of isolation and oppression, just as under the Taliban.

Landays began among nomads and farmers. They were shared around a fire, sung after a day in the fields or at a wedding. More than three decades of war has diluted a culture, as well as displaced millions of people who can’t return safely to their villages. Conflict has also contributed to globalization. Now people share landays virtually via the internet, Facebook, text messages, and the radio. It’s not only the subject matter that makes them risqué. Landays are mostly sung, and singing is linked to licentiousness in the Afghan consciousness. Women singers are viewed as prostitutes. Women get around this by singing in secret — in front of only close family or, say, a harmless-looking foreign woman. Usually in a village or a family one woman is more skilled at singing landays than others, yet men have no idea who she is. Much of an Afghan woman’s life involves a cloak-and-dagger dance around honor — a gap between who she seems to be and who she is.

Read more at the Poetry Foundation link here


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The Lounge Chair Interview: 15 questions with Saikat Majumdar

By Neha Mehrotra

Head of the English department at Ashoka University, Saikat Majumdar is an academic, novelist and critic. He is the author of Silverfish (HarperCollins, 2007), Prose of the World: Modernism and the Banality of Empire (Columbia University Press and Orient Blackswan, 2013 and 2015), The Firebird (Hachette 2015 and 2017). The Scent of God (Simon and Schuster) is forthcoming in 2019.

The Firebird was one of Telegraph’s Best Books of 2015 and a finalist for the Atta-Galatta/Bangalore Literature Festival Fiction Prize in 2015 and the Mumbai Film Festival Word-to-Screen Market in 2016. His 2013 book on global modernisms was a finalist for the Modernist Studies Association Annual Book Prize in 2014.

In addition to being published by major journals such as PMLA, NLH: New Literary History, Cambridge History of the Indian Novel in English, Modern Fiction Studies, and Literary Activism: A Collection of Perspectives, Saikat’s writing also features regularly in mainstream publications such as The Hindu, Outlook, Times Higher Education, Hindustan Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, Times Literary Supplement, Indian Express, Caravan, Scroll, Telegraph, and Times of India.

Saikat Majumdar

Saikat Majumdar

How do you identify as a writer?

Primarily as a novelist. That’s the core to which I keep returning. I do other kinds of writing too, but I realize I do them all on a novelist’s terms. So my literary criticism is criticism by a novelist, and my nonfiction and newspaper essays are often novelistic in spirit and style. Not to say they are ‘fictional’ – hopefully I speak the truth when I mean to – it’s rather about the assumption of a voice of my own and a kind of an eye through which I see the world and think about it. Even when it’s the real world and not a fictionally crafted one. But since I actually do different kinds of writing, I like the term ‘writer’ and the looseness it evokes, and the way it avoids attaching itself to any particular genre or book. I’m not a fan of the word ‘author’ unless it’s used in connection to a particular work – it carries too much authority.

What impels you to write, especially the kind of books you write?

A ghost grabs me and makes me. Seriously, I don’t choose any of the themes or stories of my books – they always choose me and when I realize I have no choice whatsoever but to write, I know I have a real book there. Usually it’s a ghost from my past. A bit different with newspaper articles, or contributions to edited volumes or collections and there is more conscious choice there. But the books, the most important things, especially the novels, I can only write when I feel that absolute compulsion, and at one level I can never make out where they come from.

Tell us about your most recent piece of writing apart from what you have published.

This morning I put the finishing touches to an essay on Calcutta that is part of an anthology of writing by novelists on the cities they’ve written about, Writing in the City, edited by Stuti Khanna, with contributions from Siddharth Chowdhury, Manu Joseph, Amitava Kumar, Indra Sinha, Amit Chaudhuri, Rupa Bajwa, Anjum Hasan, Manju Kapur and several others. Much looking forward to seeing this in print and how everybody has approached the subject.

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Poetry: Facebook Girl by Peerzada Salman

Facebook Girl by Peerzada Salman

Peerzada Salman

 

Peerzada Salman is a Karachi-based journalist. He works for Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English language newspaper. He writes on art and culture. He did his MA in English Literature from the University of Karachi in 1994. He dabbles in fiction and poetry. Two of his short stories and four poems have been published in Critical Muslim, a magazine edited by Ziauddin Sardar and published by Hurst Publishers. He is also a filmmaker.


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How writing a short story collection is like starting a zoo

(From Lit Hub. Link to the complete article given below)

People are always saying, “I have an idea for a story.” But if a story starts in an idea it might as well give up and be a novel. I think ransacking your mind for story ideas builds up an immunity to the mysterious form itself. At some point you have to bow to the story’s elusiveness and refusal of paraphrase, that is, of expression as an idea. As Lucia Berlin said, “Thank God I don’t write with my brain.”

You saw something—even a word in somebody else’s story misread at first. You heard something. For a moment an awareness was yours, and you want it again, you want the words for it. It’s a kind of apparition.

Walter Benjamin says, “It is half the art of storytelling to keep a story from explanation as one reproduces it.” Reproduces!  Perfect word. Somewhere, the story already exists. You glimpsed it, you have to find it.

And then—it’s in the door like a stray cat. Then, for me, comes an occasional deceiving fondness, followed by the wish, in the middle of cooking or talking to somebody, to go get the story and grab it by the neck and be rid of it. This is after weeks, months. It’s my cat by then.

The very short ones are what I’m most interested in now—or most pressed to do. My stories have always been long, and now I want compression. The short shorts in my new book Terrarium (Counterpoint, August 2018) aren’t what I’d call flash fiction, maybe because the word “flash” is too—bright. Also, in our moment, it seems to be at the fingertips of anyone who write stories or wants to. I think readers believe it’s easy. Instead, like any short story, it requires concentration from the reader. And it’s not an invention of our period. I consider what’s now called flash fiction to be one manifestation of an art that goes back as far as we can see. Always, stories have been short and they’ve been long, depending on what overtook the storyteller and/or what the audience cried out for.

Read more at the Lit Hub link here


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Countries in focus: Singapore: Book review

Book review of The Magic Circle by Charmaine Chan

Reviewed by Mitali Chakravarty

The Magic Circle

Title: The Magic Circle
Author: Charmaine Chan
Total number of pages: 302
ISBN 978-981-11-3996-3
Publisher: Ethos Books, 2017
Price: S$18.60

The Magic Circle is a memoir by Charmaine Chan written for her sister who died of cancer. This book was justifiably short-listed for ‘The Singapore Literature Prize, 2018’. According to Jennifer Chen, the editor of The Peak, it is ‘a breathtaking rumination’.

The book is an attempt to recreate the sister she knew for her niece, Yazmin, and to bring the youngster closer to her maternal heritage and culture. Elaine, the sister who dies of cancer, spent a major part of her life in New Zealand and eventually married a New Zealander; her daughter, born and bred in New Zealand, was merely six when the mother passed away. On the brink of death, Elaine made an impassioned plea to her globetrotting sister, Charmaine Chan, writer, journalist, editor, poet and former lawyer from Singapore. ‘Don’t let Yazmin forget her Asian side, make sure she knows all the Asian dishes I love,’ she whispered. ‘Don’t let her forget me…’

Charmain Chan kept her promise and spent a decade creating a perfect memoir for her niece. She writes, ‘For her (Yazmin), I have sealed them(memories of Elaine and her heritage)into black and white, preserved them in print.’

The book is poignant when it deals with sorrow and the impending death that looms over her sister. A skilful weaver of words, Charmaine Chan creates a tapestry of images and feelings that bring to  the fore a lively, vivacious woman cut off from her propensity to enjoy life by the throes of a lingering death, a loving family, grief, a childhood full of sunshine and youthful nostalgia about a sister who formed part of a ‘magic circle’. The three sisters born and brought up in Singapore eventually moved to different corners of the world and had what Chan called ‘a magic circle’, an invisible bond, which was sundered by the untimely death of the middle sister Elaine.

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