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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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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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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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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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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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From Orwell to ‘Little Mermaid,’ Kuwait steps up book banning

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

No book, it seems, is too substantive or too insignificant to be banned in Kuwait. Recent targets of the government’s literary censors include an encyclopedia with a picture of Michelangelo’s David and a Disney version of “The Little Mermaid.”

David had no fig leaf, and the mermaid, alas, wore half a bikini.

“There are no hijab-wearing mermaids,” said Shamayel al-Sharikh, a Kuwaiti women’s activist. “The powers that be thought her dress was promiscuous. It’s humiliating.”

Kuwaitis like to think of their country as an enclave of intellectual freedom in the conservative Persian Gulf, a haven that once welcomed exiled Arab writers. But that self-image is becoming harder to sustain.

Responding to the demands of a growing conservative bloc in Parliament, the government is increasingly banning books.

In August, the government acknowledged that it had banned 4,390 books since 2014, hundreds of them this year, including many works of literature that had once been considered untouchable, setting off street demonstrations and online protests.

Read more at the New York Times link here


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Workshops: Singapore Book Council’s October workshops

SBC

1. Good, Clean Copy – How good editing can make you a great writer

1 OCTOBER 2018 (Mon) | 9:30AM – 5:30PM

Truman Capote famously said: “I’m all for the scissors. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.” In fact, many great writers refer to the editing stage as “where the real work happens.” The fine art of editing really can make good writing great and time and time again proves the old adage that less really is more. This workshop looks at distilling and crystallizing your writing to make it shorter, sharper and – most importantly – better. The workshop will include practical exercises and will teach you a number of tried and tested editing techniques. As Dr Seuss says: “So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”

Suitable for: Writers of any experience level, from both fiction and non-fiction, who want to develop a disciplined approach to their work and gain an understanding of the importance and effectiveness of good editing.

Trainer: Simon Clews – Simon is in great demand as a writing coach and has delivered training around the world, including in Singapore, Canada, the UK, Thailand and Hong Kong. Prior to that he ran the Melbourne Writers’ Festival for fourteen years, as well as a slew of other literary events, including Writers at Como, Writers at the Convent, Stories Alive and Crime & Justice.

Register here or https://academy.bookcouncil.sg/courses/detail/good-clean-copy-how-good-editing-can-make-you-a-great-writer#discount

 

2. The New Self-Publishing – How the entrepreneurial writer can challenge publishing’s status quo

2 OCTOBER 2018 (Tue) |  9:30AM – 5:30PM

There has never been a better time to be a writer; the power balance is shifting away from the traditional gatekeepers, the commercial publishers, and back into the hands of the writers. The traditional publishing process is fast becoming known as ‘legacy publishing’ and the canny writer is reinventing themselves as an entrepreneur with a significant digital presence. As part of this revolution, self-publishing has been reborn and is now a force to be reckoned with. Done properly, the new self-publishing allows the writer to carefully cultivate their audience and deliver a book to them that is a hotly anticipated product, rather than just being a small cog in the machine of the very speculative process that is traditional publishing. But it’s crucial to get this right. This workshop will look at taking advantage of this publishing revolution and avoiding any pitfalls that might come your way.

Suitable for: Writers of any experience level, from both fiction and non-fiction, who are new to self-publishing and who have a specific publishing project in mind.

Trainer: Simon Clews – Simon is in great demand as a writing coach and has delivered training around the world, including in Singapore, Canada, the UK, Thailand and Hong Kong. Prior to that he ran the Melbourne Writers’ Festival for fourteen years, as well as a slew of other literary events, including Writers at Como, Writers at the Convent, Stories Alive and Crime & Justice.

Register here or https://academy.bookcouncil.sg/courses/detail/the-new-self-publishing-how-the-entrepreneurial-writer-can-challenge-publis

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In the wake of Trump, YA novels highlight immigrant narratives

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

In 2017, the year of Donald Trump’s inauguration, the year he banned immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, the year he threatened DACA, there was a verifiable wave in young adult literature featuring immigrants and first generation Americans. It has continued in 2018, alongside Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, with the publication of novels like Samira Ahmed’s Love, Hate, and Other Filters, Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X, and Sandhya Menon’s From Twinkle, with Love.

….

Though deportations and anti-immigrant sentiment are not new phenomena in the United States, for teenagers born after the September 11th attacks and raised during Barack Obama’s presidency, the overt anti-immigrant rhetoric may feel unfamiliar. The stakes for both immigrant teenagers—and teenagers engaging with immigration policy for the first time—are incredibly high. The wave of young adult literature focused on immigrant narratives is both sorely needed and an act of resistance against the dehumanizing immigration policies of President Trump.

The novels discussed here focus on a mix of immigrants and first generation citizens. Their protagonists are Jamaican American, Haitian American, Chinese American, Iranian American, and Indian American. Some are struggling through poverty while others attend elite schools and struggle to live up to parental expectations.

Read more at the Lit Hub link here


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Taking stock of a half-century of service: Singapore Book Council’s William Phuan

(From Publishing Perspectives. Link to the complete article given below)

As the organization’s mission statement reads, the charity was founded in 1968 to address literacy issues in the island nation.

“That mission has since evolved,” according to the company’s media messaging, “into encouraging and supporting local content creation through writing, reading, illustrating and storytelling. The book council’s vision is focused on ‘Building Our Imagine-nation’ by developing creativity, imagination and original thought.

“The book council supports the community at all levels, from language programs for children, to aspiring individuals and professionals like writers, illustrators, storytellers, and relevant industry partners by providing a platform to learn, network, and collaborate. It also organizes events to foster professional and community engagement like the annual Asian Festival of Children’s Content and All In! Young Writers Festival. And it grants prestigious awards, like the Singapore Literature Prize, to recognize and encourage excellence.”

We start by asking Phuan where the organization now finds itself at 50.

Publishing Perspectives: How central to Singapore’s literary life has the Singapore Book Council become in its 50 years of serving the nation?

William Phuan: Singapore Book Council is the longest-running independent nonprofit dedicated to promoting Singapore literature in the four official languages—Chinese, English, Malay and Tamil.

Through its 50 years, the council has constantly and steadfastly played an integral role in literary life here, from the first book fair in 1969—the Festival of Books and Book Fair—to the various awards given out since 1976 to recognize writers and their works, including the country’s national literary award, the Singapore Literature Prize.

We also have provided training over the decades to boost the literary arts sector. And our current #BuySingLit movement [which promotes Singapore’s own authors and publishers] is another way the council has made significant and important contributions to Singapore’s literary life.

While there are many organizations that promote literary art in Singapore, the book council is the only one that has such a long history with good, longstanding relationships with key organizations like the National Arts Council, the National Library Board, the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism, the various book retailers and distributors, and quality local and international trainers.

Read more at the Publishing Perspectives link here