By Gargi Vachaknavi

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Eric Khoo at the Bishwaratna Dr Bhupen Hazarika International Solidarity Award ceremony in Singapore

Eric Khoo, the acclaimed filmmaker from Singapore, has another feather in his cap. His films have been acknowledged for contributing to ‘international solidarity’ with the Bishwaratna Dr Bhupen Hazarika award this year.

Said Eric Khoo, the fourth recipient of this biannual award: “I believe that every person has intrinsic value beyond his or her race, religion, nationality or social class.  This belief I understand was also shared by the late Bhupen Hazarika in whose honour the Award for International Solidarity was named. In this spirit, my films seek to bring people together, despite their apparent differences and thus, I am truly privileged to receive this award and to be associated with the late Bhupen Hazarika and his philosophy of International Solidarity.”

The Bhupen Hazarika award  was instituted in 2011 by the Assam Sahitya Sabha ( Assam Literary Society).  Given to artistes who exhibit international solidarity through their works, the awards represent the best in bridging borders drawn by mankind as did the lyrics and writings of artiste after who the award is named.

Uma Trilok in conversation with Mitali Chakravarty

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Dr Uma Trilok

Dr Uma Trilok is a small vivacious woman, well-dressed and polite… almost more like a retired college professor. She could be a heroine of one of the novels she writes. But as one reads her poetry in both Hindi, Hindustani, Punjabi and English, one is left wondering what goes on behind that serene, calm exterior.

With her writing, Uma draws word pictures which vividly converse with herself as well as the world outside. Through them she asks questions which enquire and eventually appear on her canvas as expressions of love, anguish, loss, hope, smiles and unions. Acclaimed and awarded, she has the rare art of  balancing joy with pain which subtly leaves the reader with a profound sense of hope, courage and enterprise. “Her moving and touchy narrative brings out the deeply spiritual aspect of her writing,” writes India Today.

Besides being an acclaimed bilingual poet, her short stories and novels have been staged as plays. “She presents her lines with a  unique facility of phrase and depth of feeling. In the play of her words, myriad moods of anguish and  ecstasy come to the fore vividly,” writes the Journal of Poetry Society of India.

Uma Trilok has written award winning books including her much acclaimed debut novel, Amrita  Imroz: A Love Story. In all, she has penned 16 books. Here, in this exclusive, she talks of how she started writing and what she sees as her future.

 

Mitali: When did you start writing? Can you tell us what put you on the path of writing? What was your inspiration? Do you have any book, music or art that inspires you?

Uma: At the age of 32,  I was the heading a college for women in Mahashri Dayanand University. While sitting in a quiet environment, when students were taking their exams, a poem arrived, and I put it on a paper…That was the beginning.

Prior to that, I taught at Delhi University. Trained in Indian classical Music and Kathak dance, I sang at the All India Radio and gave dance performances at places like Triveni Kala Sangam, New Delhi. I had to conceal this part of myself from the conservative management of the women’s college. My journey as a poet started as a result of this trammel, way back in the 1970s. My creativity needed to flow somehow in some direction. I picked up the pen, a safe medium.

Writing was not a choice, it was a compulsion.

 

About seven decades ago, the colonials who swept through Asia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and earlier started their retreat. They had lost so much money fighting each other over their spoils during the World Wars that they could not afford the upkeep of their colonies.

One of the aftermath of the colonial rule in Asia was the formalisation of national boundaries. The Indian subcontinent was split into India and Pakistan( West and East, which later disengaged from the West and evolved as Bangladesh).The angst that started during the Partition of the Indian sub- continent generated violence that took more than 200,000 to 2 million lives. The figures remain disputed.

China Writer’s Association announced five winners of the highest literary award in China called the Mao Dun literary awards.

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Mao Dun

Mao Dun was the pen name of Shen Dehong, a 20th-century Chinese novelist, cultural critic, and the Minister of Culture for his country from 1949 to 1965. He initiated this award in 1982.  A four yearly affair, the prizes will be given out in Beijing this October.

The award winning novels and writers are The World by Liang Xiaosheng, The Story of Leading the Wind by Xu Huaizhong, Beishang by Xu Zechen, The Protagonist by Chen Yan and Brother Ying Wu by Li Er.

By Murali Kamma

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The cyclist at Church Square didn’t attract much attention initially, even though he was just going around in circles. Back then, in the era before cellphones and the internet, Church Square was an unsupervised, if not a seedy, public square — a sprawling, unevenly grassy open island where it wasn’t unusual to see gossiping idlers, walkers, yoga practitioners, and teenagers playing cricket or flying kites. Occasionally, people gathered there for a raucous political rally. A cyclist was perhaps less common, but even in the case of Rama—or Cycle Rama, as he became known—it was only after a few hours that he started drawing a crowd. And the reason for that was the amazing tricks he’d begun to perform on his black Hero bicycle.

At first, when he stopped pedaling and raised his legs without losing balance, while the bike continued to move steadily, it was unclear why he was doing it. But soon, there were murmurs of excitement when the onlookers realized he was a performer, an entertainer.

The growing interest didn’t faze Cycle Rama and he barely looked at anybody. Between his acts, he continued to pedal, going around in rough circles—and then, without a warning, he built up his momentum and became a stuntman again. There were whoops from the swelling crowd, but his poker face remained unchanged. As the news spread, a cricket match on the other side of Church Square broke up and Cycle Rama became the only draw in the area. The routines he performed were varied and he did them without stopping the bike or slowing it down drastically. On that first day, his ride ended only after it became dark and the crowd dispersed.

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Title: Not Native: Short Stories of Immigrant Life in an In-Between World

Author:  Murali Kamma

Publisher:  Wising Up Press

Year of publication:  2019

Pages:  190 pages

Price:  $20 ($15 if using PayPal)

Links if any:  www.MuraliKamma.com

About:  In this debut collection focusing on Indian immigrants in the United States, characters deal with conflict, growth, dislocation, and renewal in a new world. But their old world is present as well, and this “in-betweenness” shapes their lives. Once immigration involved leaving all behind, assuming a new identity with your new culture. Now we move back and forth — between continents, cities, our different mores no longer tidily compartmentalised, sometimes more migrant than immigrant. Straddling two worlds, the characters in this book are acute observers—and diffident interpreters—of a much larger world that will never feel fully familiar again.

 

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Title: Kashmir: Rage and Reason

Author: Gowhar Geelani

Publisher: Rupa Publications India

At the start of September, the Bras Basah National Library in Singapore will be a hive of activities with writers, books, illustrators and publishers exhibiting their wares and holding workshops to celebrate the upcoming Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC). The festival adopts “diversity” as its theme.

Organised by the Singapore Book Council, the tenth AFCC will feature 150 speakers, of who 104 are local and 47 are international. 

“AFCC has been championing diversity and Asian children’s books since its inception,” said the Executive Director of the Singapore Book Council, William Phuan, in a press release . “As we mark our 10th anniversary milestone, it is even more important that we continue to push to enrich the literary landscape with multicultural stories and diverse themes.” 

 

What are writers and artistes tweeting about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir? What is their attitude to the people in this region?

Rahul Pandita, author and conflict writer from Kashmir, tweeted that “In all, a majority of Kashmiris have no idea what abrogation of article 370 means. Argue with them for a minute and one realises they are totally ignorant. All they know is ‘India will now take away everything.’ From our sources we know NSA(National Security Agency) is aware of it. Big challenge.”

Mirza Waheed, Kashmiri writer and novelist who now lives in London, wrote, “August 11, 2019. Day 7 of Seige of Kashmir. We are not allowed to say Eid Mubarak to our families.” But is it a seige or an attempt to integrate the state into the country?

Vikram Chandra, a commonwealth prize winning American Indian novelist, wrote, “In his Aug 8 speech, PM Narendra Modi did say it was for every Indian to share the concerns of the citizens of J&K. Best way to do that today is to reach out to Kashmiris in other parts of India, spending Eid away from home. Make them feel that they ARE at home.”

Actress Shabana Azmi tweeted “Kashmiri Pandit Youth invite every Kashmiri who has been unable to travel home for Eid for a get together…”

Novelist and essayist Chetan Bhagat has taken a stand where he says, “August 5, 2019. Kashmir is finally free. Free to grow, free to make a future. #Article 370 goes. #OneCountryOneSystem.” And also, “Article 370 never gave Kashmiris freedom. It only created selfish leaders who created a terror filled society and robbed Kashmiri youth of opportunity. It is finally time for it to go. Anyone objects, tell them loudly: One Country, One System.”

Indonesian Independence Day is observed on August 17. It is a celebration of their declaration of independence from Dutch colonizers in 1945. The country was finally granted independence by colonials in December 1949. Sukarno, the first President, opted to commemorate 17 th August 1945 as the independence day of Indonesia, though it wasn’t until 2005 that the Dutch finally accepted Sukarno’s declaration!

With Sukarno and Suharto, writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer also made a bid for independence as he felt, “Each injustice has to be fought against”. Toer also known as Pak Pram the freedom fighter and writer spent some years in jail and under house arrest for his outspoken writing, both under the Colonials and under Suharto in the island of Buru. He came up with the Buru Quartet and eventually was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1988. He died in 2006. A google doodle did  mark his ninety second birthday in 2017.IMG_0632