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.

 

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Title: The Doctor and Mrs A.: Ethics and Counter-Ethics in an Indian Dream Analysis

Author: Sarah Pinto

Publisher: Women Unlimited, 2019

Links: Women Unlimited

 

In the early 1940s, Mrs A. was a young housewife, three years married. She was unsettled, ill at ease in her new home, in what should have been a comfortable, secure life during a heady time. War was still on, the young men of her city and its surrounding countryside offered up as the rank and file in the British Army. Friends were away fighting, and those who were not debated their country’s future and wondered which vision of society would shape it. Her hero, Jawaharlal Nehru, was in prison, which upset her greatly.

When she met with Dev Satya Nand, an army doctor training young psychiatrists to serve on the front lines, he noted her demeanour with affection. Care and enthusiasm overrode clinical reserve. In his eyes, she was cultivated but aloof, empathetic but intimidating, tall and imposing yet timid and ‘tender’, ‘pensive and thoughtful from early school days’. Her contradictions were endearing, making her, perhaps, an ideal analysand, self-aware and reflective, yet mysterious, at times opaque. He wrote:

A beautiful fair-complexioned, dignified and artistically dressed, cultured and well-educated girl. She was taller than the average Indian girl, and attracted attention, as well as commanded respect wherever she was introduced. With large tender eyes, and refined tastes she could charm and even allure when she liked to do so. She was of a trusting nature, confiding and popular with the rich as well as with the poor.

At times she was dreamy and prone to be absent-minded now and then. But at others she would be the very life of a party, and could entertain very well.

Books to Film by Mitali Chakravarty

 

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Humility. Kindness. Gratitude.” and “Love is the answer.”

— The Good Day I Died: The Near-Death Experience of a Harvard Divinity Student by Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

Desmond’s post-structuralist book was released in good time to be wrapped as a Christmas present in Singapore — with the values he speaks of, it deserves that. Meanwhile, on Christmas, 2019, was released a film in United States that spoke of similar values — a film called Little Women adopted from a quasi- autobiographical series written from the 1860s to1880s by Louisa M Alcott, a movie that hopes to take Singapore by storm from 16th January, 2020.

As of January 12, 2020 — in two weeks of its world release — the film grossed $74 million in the United States and Canada, and $33.2 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $107.2 million. It has won much critical acclaim and was chosen by both the American Film Institute and the Time magazine as one of the top ten films of 2019. At the 77th Golden Globe Awards it received two nominations; in the British Academy Film Awards, it received five and six Academy Awards nominations —  with all three-nominations naming Saoirse Ronan for the Best Actress and the last two including Florence Pugh for the Best Supporting Actress, and Greta Gerwig for the Best Adapted Screenplay.

With a star-studded cast — Meryl Streep, Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Pugh, Timothée Hal Chalamet, James Norton — and more, the family drama centring around the American Civil War had the audience at the screening in its grip. It was little surprising while leaving the hall at the Singapore preview, that a woman was excitedly talking to a friend in part-Chinese part- English about how she empathised with the characters in Little Women. And through the screening, one could sense the audience palpitate emotionally in waves with murmurs rising and falling in a crescendo — fully absorbed by the events on the screen.

By Supriya Rakesh

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By the River

Close to the city of Paithan, somewhere in the west of the Indian continent, flowed the great river Godavari. In a small village that lay along its banks, lived a girl named Ilaa.

It was the spring of 1818, as the British would come to document it.

Ilaa belonged to a family of simple cotton farmers. Harvest season was here; and it was time to pick cotton from the fields. Traders from Paithan would be here in just a few weeks; bringing goods for barter. The bales of cotton had to be ready in time. While Ilaa’s family toiled away in the fields, she was sitting by herself, on the banks of Godavari.

“This is terrible!”

Ilaa picked up a pebble and flung it into the hungry water-currents with some force.

She had been forbidden to come to the fields today. In the morning, she wasn’t allowed to enter the kitchen to talk to her mother, or even pass by the devghar where she offered flowers to the Devi every morning. Also, her legs hurt if she walked too fast or sat too slow.

Evading the prying eyes of her grand-mother, she had left her designated corner behind the house to sit by the river; her only friend in such times. She often confided her loneliness to the river, though the waters seldom replied. But at least the Godavari listened, without scolding; something that could not be said of the humans in Ilaa’s life.

Reviewed by Neera Kashyap

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Title: The Angel’s Beauty Spots

Author: K.R. Meera

Translator: J. Devika

Publisher: Aleph Book Company, 2019

Starting her career as a journalist with Malayala Manorma, K.R.Meera went onto become a prolific and acclaimed Malayalam writer of short story collections, novellas, novels and children’s books. Her very first collection of short stories, Ormayude Njarampu (2002) won several regional awards. Her magnum opus and most famous novel, Aarachaar (Hangwoman) was translated into English by J. Devika in 2014. It won the prestigious Odakkuzhal Prize in 2013, the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award in 2014, the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2015 and was shortlisted for the DSC prize for South Asian literature in 2016. J. Devika once again is Meera’s translator of The Angel’s Beauty Spots. A writer, translator and feminist, she is a teacher and researcher at the Centre of Development Studies in Kerala.

The book comprises three novellas through which the book’s jacket says, “K.R. Meera explores the tragedy, betrayal and violence that arise out of the dark heart of love.” The first novella, The Angel’s Beauty Spots begins with Angela’s murder at the hands of her estranged ex-husband in full gaze of her two young daughters, the older one from him and the younger from a married ex-lover. Driven by a blind love, she had married this man only to discover the evil in him — when he pimps her to his friend in their own house. That their older daughter is privy to this, makes Angela feel that something has died within her.

Book Review by Namrata

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Title: The Doctor and Mrs. A.: Ethics and Counter-Ethics in an Indian Dream Analysis

Author: Sarah Pinto

Publisher: Women Unlimited

Year of Publication: 2019

 

How does one remember the future?”

Thus, begins The Doctor and Mrs. A by Sarah Pinto. Based on ethics and counter ethics in an Indian dream analysis, this book is an inspired example of thinking beyond the known.

Just before independence, somewhere in early forties, a young Punjabi woman identified only as Mrs. A decided to be a part of an experiment by a psychiatrist, Dev Satya Nanda, for his new method of dream analysis. Unbeknownst to him, she was in an unhappy marriage with a strong urge for freedom from all the bondage. Through this experiment they discovered hidden layers of her personality which included different reflections on sexuality, trauma, ambitions and marriage. Pinto revisits this conversation and explores it in the context of late colonial Indian society. Juxtaposing the past with the present, she delivers a thought-provoking analysis on gender and power.

The author, Sarah Pinto is a Professor of anthropology at Tufts University and has also authored a few books on women and inequality in contemporary India. She won the Eileen Basker Memorial Prize from the Society of Medical Anthropology for her work Daughters of Parvati: Women and Madness in Contemporary India published in 2012.

Reviewed by Rheea Rodrigues Mukherjee

(Sourced by Bangladesh country editor, Farah Ghuznavi)

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Title: Dust Under Her Feet

Author: Sharbari Zohra Ahmed

 Publisher: Tranquebar/ Westland, 2019

 

The particularly enchanting quality about Sharbari Zohra Ahmed is her ability to make under-discussed historical eras come to life while still holding potent resonance in the present era. Dust Under Her Feet, Ahmed’s debut novel, measures how much and how little we’ve changed both in South Asia and on a global scale, by drawing us into a rather cinematic setting.

The novel subverts our collective imagination of the 40s in India, a decade that was largely defined by the lead-up to Independence and the death of the British Raj. Our protagonist, Yasmine Khan, shows us a micro-culture of the second World War from her point of view. She has us compellingly engaged with the U.S army presence in Calcutta. The novel is set against the backdrop of the Chinese-Burman-Indian Theatre that evolved when the United States went in support of the Chinese against Japan.

Calcutta, because of geographical proximity, was critical to facilitate resource trade. The Allied forces built the Ledo Road that connected India to China, to deliver supplies, and a significant portion of the workforce was American. In fact, the road also came to be known as the Man-a-Mile road because of the number of American casualties during its construction. The Ledo road played a large role in facilitating the movement of US troops from India through Burma and into China during the early 40s.

Book Review by Debraj Mookerjee

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Title: The Free Voice – On Democracy, Culture and the Nation
Author: Ravish Kumar
Publisher: Speaking Tiger; 2019

Ravish Kumar is India’s most widely-discussed TV journalist. You either hate him, or you love him. There is no in-between. To say he is a polemicist is an understatement – he takes sides without apology. But here is the thing. In an India that is increasingly tilting to the right, with the mainstream media marking time to the drumroll of a muscular Hindu nationalist rhetoric, his voice stands apart, speaking for those cringing in corners, or daring to love and resist and protest. His latest work, The Free Voice — On Democracy, Culture and the Nation (translated from the Hindi ‘Bolna Hi Hai’, by Chitra Padmanabhan, Anurag Basnet and Ravi Singh) presents a more sustained exploration of such themes. The book was first published in 2018. The revised edition crucially accounts for the re-election of Mr Narendra Modi as second time Prime Minister in 2019.

Kumar is a Magsaysay Award winner for 2019, and his citation says that Kumar’s ‘Prime Time’ programme “deals with real-life, under-reported problems of ordinary people.” The citation adds, “If you have become the voice of the people, you are a journalist.” Yes, you guessed right, Ravish Kumar is a bit of a romantic, a small-town boy from the dustbowl state of Bihar who though his Hindi journalism (he’s bilingual, having studied in a missionary school) has made his mark in the national, even international landscape.

The year 2020 is here and if you are reading this message, we thank you for being with us and wish you a very Happy New Year!

This year has a special significance for Kitaab: we celebrate our 15th anniversary. That’s a relatively long time in the life of a webzine in this day and age of short attention spans, isn’t it?

Well, we are not patting ourselves on the back but please allow us to take us down the memory lane for a while to appreciate why we feel how we feel at this juncture of time.

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By Tan Kaiyi

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This is my 3,184th New Year—or so I’ve counted.

I might have forgotten a few years along the way with all those bloody calendar changes: the Chinese, the Mayan, Julian and the Gregorian. There are definitely miscalculations but once you go past your 3,000s, who really cares? It’s funny when I hear some young ones complaining about how old they are in their 30s or 40s—hell, even 70s. Why would you want to live so long?

There’s nothing new under the sun. Not that I would know.

From the rooftop, I look at the windows of the opposite block. Most of them are dim. I’m guessing the flats’ occupants are out for the last night of revelry of the old year. The ones that are lit contain groups of friends and families, choosing a quieter and homely transition. Some are alone. An old woman is sleeping in front of her TV, the soft glow of the screen accentuating the wrinkles on her face. I feel a tinge of envy when I see them.

Curious about what she is watching, I attune my hearing to her flat. From the strains of modern Mandarin, Indian and Malay pop melodies, I come to understand that the TV is tuned to a countdown show.

Two floors down, I see a lady at her dining table. She drinks a glass of wine by herself. I scan her flat for heartbeats and I locate her son’s in his own room. I try to read her mind, capturing her scattered thought streams. From the pieces I put together, she married young to a Korean man she met at a conference. They bumped into each other in an elevator which malfunctioned halfway. They struck up a conversation while they waited for the repairman to get their lives going again. However, years into the marriage, they found their fiery temperaments too incompatible and they decided to live apart. He would fly back to Singapore, or she would fly to him in Korea, on occasions to keep the marriage alive. This arrangement allowed them to maintain their bond, and the semblance of a family for their son, who rarely speaks to her. Right now, she wonders what would happen if she had taken another elevator instead. She feels that it would have been the better path.