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The Lounge Chair Interview: 15 questions with Janice Pariat

By Neha Mehrotra

Janice Pariat is the author of Boats on Land: A Collection of Short Stories, Seahorse, a novel and The Nine Chambered-Heart, a novella, published by HarperCollins India in November 2017 and HarperCollins UK in May 2018. In 2013, Janice won Sahitya Akademi’s Young Writer Award and the Crossword Book Award for Fiction; in 2015, she was shortlisted for the Hindu Literary Prize for her novel Seahorse.

Janice studied English Literature at St. Stephens College, Delhi and went on to study History of Art at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. She currently lives in Delhi; among other things, writes a monthly literary column ‘Paperwallah’ for The Hindu and teaches creative writing at Ashoka University.

The Nine Chambered Heart is currently being translated for publication into six languages, including Italian, Spanish, French and German.

Janice Pariat.jpg

Janice Pariat

How do you identify as a writer?

By writing? I don’t see what else would suffice. Although I’d hasten to add that identifying as a writer implies something of a stasis–and I think, for me, it’s about “being” a writer or seeing that identity (as with all?) as something that’s perpetually in flux. One is always “becoming” a writer. It isn’t some pleasant destination you arrive at, at the top of a mythical hill. It’s also an identity to which people are keen to prefix with labels – “woman”, “Northeast”, “Indian” – while I would prefer to shrug them all off. Labels say very little about me, and tend to skew expectations of what I should write, the kind of stories I should be telling, where my books should be set.

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

I’m afraid I’m not very good at anything else – painting, pottery, playing a musical instrument. I feel kinship though with literature and books and writing. Reading impels me to write. As does remembrance, and memory. Bleakness. Joy. Frustration. Fun. Anger. Sadness. At the risk of sounding like one of those terrifically earnest people, writing is at the very centre of everything I do because it helps me make sense of the world, to record it, unravel it, and give it away. They say we write the books we want to read? Perhaps. I guess I write the books I do to explore aspects of myself, and other people and the world that most intrigue me.

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

A terrible poem which must never see light of day. Hastily scribbled notes, which may make it into the next book. To be honest, I’ve been reading more than writing this summer.

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When a writer wants you and only you to design their cover

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

As an art director for the Simon & Schuster imprint, I’m fortunate to be able to work on some of the best books being published today and with some of the best editors in the industry. I often have more than enough on my plate designing and art directing our numerous titles, but because I truly love what I do, and I’m a bit of a workaholic, I also have an active freelance career in addition to my full-time job. In my free time, I design a wide range of fiction and non-fiction covers for publishing houses across the US and internationally.

When I was contacted by Grove Atlantic last year to design a memoir, I was thrilled—I had never worked with them before and I’ve always admired the books they publish. When a follow-up email mentioned that the author, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, had specifically asked for me—she found me through a Google search and said she loved the way I integrated illustrations and fonts—I was shocked and incredibly flattered . . . which quickly led to an overwhelming sense of dread that I would never be able to pull this off, and that all of my previous design work had been the result of divine intervention. Such is the roller coaster of creative work.

I soon got over myself and started working. I was immediately drawn in to Lisa’s beautiful manuscript, but it proved particularly difficult for me—I, too, had a messy, complicated, on-and-off relationship with my father for many years after my parents’ divorce. I’d never read anything else that captured the perspective of a young child dealing with a mercurial, often volatile, parent in quite the same way this book does. While it’s rare and wonderful to connect with a manuscript in this way, too much emotional investment can be detrimental to the design process. Often, if I truly love a book or connect with it on a personal level, there’s an added pressure to get it right—to do it justice.

Read more at the Lit Hub link here


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Book Excerpt: from Dead Serious (Walang Halong Biro) by Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles

These excerpts are from Dead Serious (Walang Halong Biro) by Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles. Manila: De La Salle University Publishing House, forthcoming November 2018

Walang Halong Biro copy


Hope in Hopelessness

by Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles
Translated from Filipino by Kristine Ong Muslim

It is a blessing to wait
for one’s death

Surely

it comes without
bearing hope

for the sake of hope even as it reinforces

how I must wait
and stay alive

Pag-asa sa Wala

Biyaya ang maghintay
ng sariling kamatayan

Tiyak na

ito’y darating hindi
nagbibigay ng pag-asa

sa wala gayunman pinananatili

sa akin ang paghihintay
na hindi mamamatay

 

Grave

by Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles
Translated from Filipino by Kristine Ong Muslim

It is a noble grave
my interior

A sprawling view
of doom

One foot
in the grave

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Book review: The Boat People by Sharon Bala

Reviewed by Krishna Sruthi Srivalsan 

The Boat People

 

Title: The Boat People
Author: Sharon Bala
Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 332
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In the world of the privileged, one is inundated with a plethora of choices – what to eat, what to wear, where to study, where to work, how to go to work, where to travel… each second, we unconsciously make decisions, choosing the best amongst the options available to us. It has become so ingrained in our psyche that we take choice for granted. What if you did not have a choice? Sharon Bala’s debut novel The Boat People examines this haunting question.

The book draws inspiration from an incident in 2010 where a Thai cargo ship named ‘MV Sun Sea’ docked at the coast of British Columbia, carrying on board nearly 500 Sri Lankan refugees. In the land of the free, the refugees aboard the ship found themselves suspected of terrorism, having forged ties with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and detained. Having fled the horrors of the civil war in Sri Lanka, Bala’s protagonist Mahindan finds himself in frosty Vancouver with precisely this fate awaiting him.

While Mahindan is in the detention centre, his six-year-old son is taken away from him, and placed with a foster family. Priya, a law student of Tamil origin, finds herself embroiled in proving Mahindan’s innocence to the law and in the process unearths some dark secrets within her own family. Bala also weaves the internment of Canadian citizens of Japanese origin during the Second World War into her tapestry through Grace Nakamura, a government appointed adjudicator with the Refugee Board. Grace, previously with the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure, is inexperienced in refugee law and has a bias against the refugees, partly due to the stand taken by her boss, a government minister. As she struggles with the burden of deciding the fate of Mahindan and others like him, her own mother who is battling early rounds of Alzheimer’s’, reminds her of the injustice meted out to Japanese-Canadian citizens during the war. Cruelly reminded that they were ‘aliens’, with slogans such as, ‘No Japs from the Rockies to the Seas’ openly chanted, the Japanese-Canadians were treated with suspicion and regarded as a threat to the harmony of the state until proven innocent. Kumi, Grace’s mother, slowly witnesses her own mind unravelling, and yet holding on to the strings of the past, she reminds Grace not to inflict upon people a gross injustice that had once been inflicted on her own ancestors.

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10 famous book hoarders

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

I have a hard time getting rid of books, and if you’re reading this space, you probably do too. As Summer Brennan put it, “what kind of degenerate only wants to own 30 books (or fewer) at a time on purpose?” Not anyone I know. But apparently, you only have to own one thousand books to qualify as a book hoarder. Which seems a bit low, to be honest—unless we’re talking about one thousand books in a New York City one-bedroom, in which case, sure.

In general, I’m interested in other people’s book collections. How many books, which ones, how are they kept, where are they kept? So, one rainy afternoon, I started poking around the book collections of famous people, to see which ones happened to be (technical or actual) book hoarders. Some of the results surprised me—though I admit I already knew about Karl Lagerfeld.

N.B. that of course this list is in no way scientific or exhaustive—no doubt there are scores of famous people out there with large libraries (disposable income and lots of space tend to make that possible), but either the actual numbers have never been documented, or I simply couldn’t (or didn’t) dig them up. Notables with high figures who didn’t make the top ten include Marilyn Monroe (400 books), George Washington (1,200 books), Charles Darwin (1,480 books), Oprah (1,500 books), Frederick Douglass (2,000-odd books), and David Markson (2,500 books). If you have any further intel on this score, please add on to the list in the comments as you see fit.

Karl Lagerfeld: 300,000 books

Karl Lagerfeld has more books than pretty much anybody. During a “master class” at the 2015 International Festival of Fashion and Photography, Lagerfeld explained: “Today, I only collect books; there is no room left for something else. If you go to my house, I’ll have you walk around the books. I ended up with a library of 300,000. It’s a lot for an individual.” No kidding. His collection includes books in French, English, and German, and in order to create more space in his home for all the volumes, he stacks his books sideways—that is, horizontally instead of vertically. Oh, and there’s a catwalk to reach the upper levels. This is Lagerfeld, after all.

Read more at the Lit Hub link here


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Poetry: Sunday by Dilantha Gunawardana

Sunday by Dilantha Gunawardana

Dilantha Gunawardana

Dilantha Gunawardana is a molecular biologist by training, yet identifies himself, as a wordsmith, papadum thief, “Best Laksa” seeker, poet of accident and fluke, hoop-addict, a late bloomer on all fronts, ex-quiz-druggy and humour-artist, who is still learning the craft of poetry. Dilantha lives in a chimerical universe of science and poems. His poems have been accepted for publication /published in Heart Wood Literary Magazine, Canary Literary Magazine, Boston Accent Lit, Forage, Kitaab, Creatrix, Eastlit, American Journal of Poetry, Zingara Poetry Review, The Wagon and Ravens Perch, among others. Dilantha has two anthologies of poetry, Kite Dreams (2016) and Driftwood (2017), published by Sarasavi Publishers, and is working on his third poetry collection, The Many Constellations of Home. Dilantha was awarded the prize for “The emerging writer of the year – 2016” in the Godage National Literary Awards, Sri Lanka, while being shortlisted for the poetry prize, in the same awards ceremony.
Dilantha blogs at – https://kite-dreams.com/


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When writing fiction hurts the people you love

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

I was sitting in the Science Center Library, reading Paradise Lost. This was in the late 1970s, when I was an English major at Harvard. There are famously gorgeous libraries at Harvard, but I preferred to sit in one of the uglier spaces, beneath buzzing fluorescent lights, with calculators clicking all around me. I was unlikely to run into anyone I knew in the Science Center, though there was no reason for me to be so furtive. It’s just the way I am, habitually keeping to myself. Private and solitary.

I came to the end of the poem. Adam and Eve, our guilty parents, cast out of the garden. But then: “The world was all before them, where to choose / Their place of rest. . . They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow, / Through Eden took their solitary way.” The lines hit a nerve and I burst into tears. Loud, gulpy, snot-filled sobs. In the middle of the Science Center, for everyone to hear. I could not stop. I sat in that cubicle and wept and wept.

Guilt has always moved me. I imagine the pain someone must have been in to do whatever awful thing he did and want him to have another chance. Such possibly kind, possibly stupid empathy is useful for a writer, but it’s not the whole story. My mother was a war survivor and I inherited her unspoken guilt at having made it out alive, but that doesn’t fully explain it, either. I feel guilty for being a fiction writer. I’m not referring to the self-doubt many of us feel about making up stories while the world burns. I’m talking about the suffering we cause by writing.

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Book Review: Karno’s Daughter by Rimli Sengupta

Reviewed by Suneetha Balakrishnan

Karno's Daughter

Title: Karno’s Daughter
Author: Rimli Sengupta
Pages: (Hardcover) 172
Publisher: Context (2018)
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Remember Baby Haldar’s gritty dark memoir of a domestic servant in Delhi, A Life Less Ordinary? If Baby narrated her dark journey from Kashmir to Murshidabad to Durgapur to Delhi, here is ‘Buttermilk’ in Kolkata making a daily commute on the 5.40 a.m. local from Subhashgram to ‘the city’. She goes round on foot then to Tollygunge and to Ballygunge to do kitchen, laundry and cleaning services at half a dozen homes. Why is she called Buttermilk? You get to know when it’s just six more pages to wrap up the book.

Buttermilk hails from a village in Sunderbans, from a farming family. She has a non-maid life back home where Karno Haldar, (yes, another Haldar by pure coincidence) her father, Bashona, her mother, and Buttermilk’s six siblings and her paternal grandparents lived. The village of her marital home, a joint family where agrarian duties are divided, comes later. Karno migrated to the city to pay off a loss of 150 kilos of rice; that’s how the family came to live at Ponchanontola, a Kolkata slum – all because of a crab, a huge crab, that Buttermilk had caught and brought home. This is the story that opens Rimli Sengupta’s debut book, Karno’s Daughter.

The opening chapter, suitably titled “Crab”, gives an impression of an opening in fiction. However, Karno’s Daughter is anything but fiction. It’s one of the best in narrative non-fiction that has been published in recent days in India. The story deals with the rough life of a people who have always lived in correlation to the earth, cultivating their own food.  In a world where hardly one percent of the urban population has an idea of what constitutes our agrarian crisis, Rimli Sengupta chooses an interesting vehicle to impart information on how small-holding rice farmers in rural Bengal subsist.

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Poetry: For Birendra Krishna Bhadra by Shikhandin

For Birendra Krishna Bhadra – Shikhandin

Birendra Krishna Bhadra

 

NOTE ON BIRENDRA KRISHNA BHADRA

Generations of Bengalis have woken up before dawn on a date specified by the Bengali Almanac or Ponjika, to listen to a man reciting the Mahishasura Mardini – an almost two hour adaption of scriptural verses (Chandipath) describing the slaying of the demon Mahishasur by the Goddess Durga. That day is Mahalaya, and it arrives every autumn, heralding the beginning of Devi-paksh, a time on earth so holy that any death that occurs within it ensures a direct passage to heaven for the departed; as for the child born, he/she is twice blessed.

The man whose voice pours out from every Bengali home and meets the chilly misty autumnal air is Birendra Krishna Bhadra. Born in 1905 in North Calcutta, he graduated from Scottish Church College in 1928, and was involved in theatre and other literary pursuits. He worked for All India Radio and was also a playwright, actor and theatre director. His recitation of Mahishasura Mardini, which All India Radio began broadcasting from 1931, made him a legend, so much so that in 1976 when AIR tried to infuse a fresh perspective to the programme by bringing in legendary Bengali actor Uttam Kumar, it failed to impress listeners.

Birendra Krishna Bhadra passed away in 1991, but his voice still resonates in Bengali homes across the globe. Even today, families, young and old alike, listen with rapt attention to his rendition. As a matter of fact, Mahalaya without Birendra Krishna Bhadra is unthinkable. Today his recitation of Mahishasura Mardini can be easily downloaded from the internet and heard on the go, whenever one wishes to, and not necessarily on the day of Mahalaya, but listening to him on Mahalaya is more than tradition – it is ritual.

For many Bengalis, even those who no longer practice many of the traditional modes of worship or have become agnostics, Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s voice still has the power to bring them down to their spiritual knees. Every year this voice gouges out hidden emotions in the hearts of Bengalis, no matter where they are scattered. For expatriate Bengalis, this day evokes deep nostalgia; it is also cathartic, emotionally and spiritually.

There is a saying in Bengali, Shobdo Brohmo – Sound is Brahma/The Creator. Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s powerful recitation makes us all, even the uninitiated, truly feel it.

 

 

 

Bio:

Shikhandin is an Indian writer whose story collection Immoderate Men was published by Speaking Tiger, 2017 (http://speakingtigerbooks.com/books/immoderate-men/). Vibhuti Cat, her first children’s book, was published by Duckbill in 2018. Shikhandin’s prose and poetry have won awards and accolades in India and abroad; she has been widely published worldwide. https://www.amazon.com/author/shikhandin


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Writing Matters: In conversation with Dr Gopi Chand Narang

By Rahman Abbas

K7

‘To write is to fight…’

Dr Gopi Chand Narang (born 11 February 1931) is one of the finest literary critics in the history of modern Urdu criticism. His works deal with the cultural study of classics, stylistics, oriental poetics, post-modernism, structuralism and post-structuralism. He has taught at Delhi University, University of Wisconsin, University of Minnesota, University of Oslo and Jamia Millia Islamia University, and in 2005, the University of Delhi named him Professor Emeritus. He is also Professor Emeritus at the Jamia Millia Islamia. The Aligarh Muslim University, Central University of Hyderabad and the Maulana Azad National Urdu University have conferred D.Litt. Honorus Causa on him. He is the only writer who has been decorated by the President of Pakistan as Sitara-e Imtiyaaz and by the President of India with the Padma Bhushan and Padma Sri. He was vice-chairman of the Delhi Urdu Academy (1996-1999) and the National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language-HRD (1998-2004), and Vice-president (1998-2002) and President (2003-2007) of the Sahitya Akademi, National Academy of Letters. His important books includes Urdu Zabaan aur Lisaniyaat (2006), Taraqqi Pasandi, Jadidiat, Maba’d-e-Jadidiat (2004), Urdu Ghazal aur Hindustani Zehn-o-Tehzeeb (2002), Sakhtiyat, Pas-Sakhtiyataur Mashriqui Sheriyat (1993), Adabi Tanqeed Aur Usloobiyat (1989), Amir Khusrow ka Hindavi Kalaam (1987), Saniha-e-Karbala bataur Sheri Isti’ara (1986), Usloobiyat-e-Mir (1985), Hindustani Qisson se Makhooz Urdu Masnaviyan (1961) and others.

His seminal work on Mirza Ghalib – Ghalib: Ma’ni-Afrini, Jadliyaati Waza, Shunyata aur Sheriyaat (Ghalib: Innovative Meaning, Mind, Dialectical Thought & Poetics (2013) has been considered a milestone in understanding Ghalib. Besides the Padma Bhushan (2004) and Padma Shri (1990), Narang has received hundreds of awards across the globe – Bharatiya Jnanpith Moorti Devi Award (2012), Madhya Pradesh Iqbal Samman (2011), the European Urdu Writers’ Society Award (London, 2005), Mazzini Gold Medal (Italy, 2005), Alami Faroghe-e-Urdu Adab Award (Doha, 1998), Sahitya Akademi Award (1995), Amir Khusrow Award (Chicago, 1987), Canadian Academy of Urdu Language and Literature Award (Toronto, 1987), Ghalib Institute Ghalib Award (1985), and the Association of Asian Studies (Mid-Atlantic Region) Award (US, 1982). Besides India and Pakistan, he has made presentations almost all over Europe, USA, Canada as well as Russia, Uzbekistan, China and Japan.

 

 

Rahman Abbas: You are the most discussed literary critic in the world of Urdu literature. How do you assess this unparalleled journey of your life which started from Balochistan when the subcontinent was undivided? Could you also put some light upon your early connections with Urdu?

Gopi Chand Narang:   I am simply a lover of Urdu. I was born in Balochistan. My mother tongue is Saraiki, but my father spoke Baluchi and Pushto. He was a scholar of Persian and Sanskrit as well. I was brought up in a multi-lingual, multi-cultural environ. The common speech of bazaar and school was Hindustani and Urdu. Language is nobody’s monopoly. It belongs to whosoever loves it. The newly independent India gave hope to many young people like me that there would be ample opportunities for fulfilling our ideals and aspirations. The Urdu Department at the Delhi University had come into being at the personal intervention of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who was Minister of Education, also played a role in this. As I later pursued my doctoral degree, I was extremely fortunate to have had guidance and patronage of some of the brightest minds of that time, including Dr. Zakir Husain (who later became President of India), Dr. Tara Chand, Dr. Syed Abid Husain, Prof. Mohd. Mujeeb, Khwaja Ghulamus Syeddain, Dr. Khwaja Ahmad Faruqi, Sajjad Zaheer, Prof. Ale Ahmad Suroor, Syed Ehtisham Husain, Maulana Imtiaz Ali Arshi, Qazi Abdul Wudood, Malik Ram, Masood Hasan Rizvi Adeeb, Najeeb Ashraf Nadvi, and Dr. Syed Mohiuddin Qadri Zore. These people symbolized values of our composite Indian heritage and they were true role models of our highest ideals. When I look back and remember these unique personalities, I cannot but feel very fortunate for having had them as my patrons and role models.

Rahman Abbas: Some years ago, due to your stark criticism of the fake modernism in Urdu, you were personally targeted. It was unfortunate that instead of countering your opinions, your minority identity was targeted. Did that affect you? What was your reaction then and now?

Gopi Chand Narang: It is a sad story. As a young writer you must have witnessed all that happened. As long as Ale Ahmed Suroor, Khalil ur Rahman Azmi, Waheed Akhtar, Sulema Arib, Mahmood Ayaz and some seniors were alive and active, they wanted to develop a dynamic model which was alive to India’s  new social and pluralistic needs. But soon after, when Shams ur Rahman Faruqi and his journal Shab-Khoon took over, a period of misconceived notions and a hidden agenda of sectarian fake modernism set in. This is a period of great turmoil and overlapping. Faruqi with his arrogant self-esteem, one-upmanship and know all bravado started polemics which had more sound than sense. He and his cronies, through over heated debates, set flawed standards for fiction, poetry and ghazal.  This confused and misguided a whole lot of promising young writers. Waris Alvi, Baqar Mehdi and some others resisted but they had no theoretical base. At this stage, avoiding labeling and indulging in the misguiding polemics, I switched from my earlier cultural studies and stylistics base and started writing on Theory (both Western and Oriental) and postmodernism. Across the border, Wazir Agha, Qamar Jameel, Intezar Husain, Jameeluddin Azmi, Zamir Ali Badayuni, Faheem Azmi and many other genuine writers joined hands. We wanted to respond to the new social and epistemological shift absorbing the new light of the times, stressing the freedom of the creative voice of the writer, while constructing a genuine model which should be alive to our own pluralistic cultural, realistic and truly subversive, ingenious and in tune with our practical complex social concerns.

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