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.

Recently, a review of Best Asian Speculative Fiction (2018) appeared in Southeast Asian Review of English positioning it as a unique collection groomed by editor, writer Rajat Chaudhuri, and series editor, Zafar Anjum, and set to mark a milestone within the genre. Read here a part of the review…

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Anthologies of Asian speculative fiction are relatively few and far between and when one does get published, it marks a significant milestone in the genre itself. In addition, writers, editors and commentators tacitly recognize the  importance  of  underscoring  the  source  of  and  inspiration  for  such  works,  namely  Asia.  This,  in  turn, immediately prompts some questioning. Apart from its cultural and geographical setting, what distinguishes Asian speculative fiction from the rest? How different are the works in terms of themes, style, tropes, idiom compared with those from Europe or Africa or any other continent? Why Asian? Why now? Is there a tradition of speculative storytelling in Asia? What counts as speculative fiction in the Asian context?

These questions demand theoretical and critical responses, and this collection of speculative tales with its bold claim of being the best Asian speculative fiction for 2018 presents a singular opportunity for both the casual reader and the academic scholar to begin scrutinizing the text and, more importantly, enjoying the sheer diversity of voices and imaginings emanating from the Indian sub-continent, Southeast Asia and East Asia as well as the Asian diasporas. Both established and emerging writers regardless of whether they identify with the genre are  represented  in  this  carefully  curated  collection,  and  almost  all  the  works  were  written  specially  for  the volume.

The result is a collection that encompasses a wide repertoire of voices and tales and which is potentially at the cutting edge of the genre. In  his  helpful  introduction  to  the  volume,  editor  Rajat  Chaudhuri  describes  speculative  fiction  as  an “adorable, shape-shifting, slippery creature” (xiv), and true to this broad  and  inclusive  characterization,  this collection does not disappoint with its selection of science fiction, fantasy, horror, dystopia and the various offshoots and permutations of these forms. It is apparent that beyond the term’s provenance associated with and manifested in the works of Robert Heinlein and Margaret Atwood, that is, speculative seen in terms of ‘what if’ hypothetical  situations  and  of  what  could  happen  in  the  future  based  on  the  technology  that  already  exists ‘speculative’ has become a catch all term for works which challenge or extend our notions of reality and truth.

Compiled by Mitali Chakravarty

 

And there’s a hand, my trusty fere!
And gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.

Auld Lang Syne, Robert Burns,1788

 

It is that time of the year again when we bid adieu to the old and party to welcome the new. And this year it is not just an old year but the old decade that ends – this new year we start the third decade of the second millennia. With much goodwill, as the poet Burns says, we asked some writers who have featured on our pages to contribute two of their favourite reads from this year and they obliged… A huge thanks to all these fantastic writers who share what their favourite books have been this year.

51otYV5ZqEL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_We start with Suzanne Kamata, an award winning writer from Japan, who has been a part of our magazine and the first Best Asian Short Stories in 2017. This is what Suzanne wrote: “One book which particularly impressed me was Under the Broken Sky, a novel-in-verse by Mariko Nagai, about a Japanese girl stranded in Soviet-occupied Manchuria. Although we often hear and read about the atrocities committed by the Japanese Army in Asia, we rarely hear the voices of the innocent bystanders, like children. Nagai manages to distill complicated and difficult events into crystalline free verse. Although this book was written with middle grade readers in mind, I would recommend it to adults as well. 

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Title: Beast

Author: Krishna Udayasankar

Publisher: Penguin SEA

Year of publication: 2019

Pages: 320

Price: SGD 20.90

Links : Penguin Random House

About: When mythical creatures commit a real crime, who gets to be the judge? It was always the same dream, a dream that began with darkness and blood. When Assistant Commissioner of Police Aditi Kashyap is called upon to solve a gruesome triple homicide, she is dragged into the terrifying world of the Saimhas — werelions — who have lived alongside humans, hiding amongst them, since ancient times.

 

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Title: Boys from Good Families

Author: Usha K R

Publisher: Speaking Tiger

Year of publication: 2019

Pages: 472

Price: Rs. 599/-

Links: Speaking Tiger

 About:  Thippy, the beautiful ‘girl from the outhouse’. Ashwath, only son of a feudal family of landowners. A love that could never be blessed by Destiny.

Disillusioned by his family’s rejection of his love for Thippy, stifled by its traditions and conservative ways, Ashwath leaves Bangalore for a university town in America’s Midwest. It is 1981, and the American economy is booming. Ashwath enjoys the three C’s of success: a condominium, a car and a credit card. But a decade later, when the market crashes, he sees the other side of the American dream—joblessness, dingy one-room tenements, and loneliness.

Casting its shadow over it all is Neel Kamal, his family home in Bangalore, now a piece of prime real estate. Ashwath is compelled to return after twenty-five years to lay claim to his inheritance. He finds that he has returned to a city changed unrecognisably by new wealth, a family who are strangers to each other, and a home that is now a contested piece of real estate, valuable enough to kill for. His childhood love has been transformed into the reigning deity of a new age ashram. His attempts to meet her lead to a violent spiral of events.