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Title: The Best Asian Short Stories, 2019

Editors: Hisham Bustani (Series Editor: Zafar Anjum)

Publisher: Kitaab

Year of publication: 2019

Pages: 377

Price: $25

Links: Kitaab Bookstore

About: War, loss, love, compassion, nightmares, dreams, hopes and catastrophes; this is literary Asia at its best. From a wide range of geographies spanning from Palestine to Japan, from Kazakhstan to the Malaysia, mobilizing a wide array of innovative narrative styles and writing techniques, the short stories of this anthology, carefully curated by one of Asia’s prominent and daring writers, will take you on a power trip of deep exploration of local (yet global) pains and hopes, a celebration (and contemplation) of humanity and its impact, as explored by 24 writers and 6 translators, many of whom identify with many homes, giving Asia what it truly represents across (and beyond) its vast territory, expansive history, and many traditions and languages. This book is an open celebration of multi-faceted creativity and plurality.

Contributors:JOEL DONATO JACOB (Philippines); LANA ABDEL RAHMAN (Lebanon): RAZIA SULTANA KHAN (Bangladesh); DEENA DAJANI (Palestine); ALAN IRID FENDI (Syria); SAMIDHA KALIA (India); SCOTT PLATT-SALCEDO (Philippines); ANITHA DEVI PILLAI (Singapore); ANGELO WONG (Hong Kong); ODAI AL ZOUBI (Syria); SIMON ROWE (New Zealand / Japan); SEEMA PUNWANI (Singapore); VRINDA BALIGA (India); NAMRATA PODDAR (India / USA); T.A. MORTON (Ireland / Hong Kong); HAMID ISMAILOV (Uzbekistan); SUCHI GOVINDARAJAN (India); YD CHANG (China / Malaysia); JOLIN KWOK (Malaysia); IMRAN KHAN (Bangladesh); YAN TI (Taiwan); ZIRA NAURZBAYEVA (Kazakhstan); KAISA AQUINO (Philippines); JOSE VARGHESE (India)

 

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Title: Scream to the Shadows

Author: Tunku Halim

Publisher: Penguin SEA

Year of publication: 2019

Pages: 360

Price: SGD 14.50

Links if any: Penguin Random House

About: Unconfined to a single theme, this new collection of twenty short stories by Tunku Halim offers five distinct worlds—the paranormal mysteries from ‘The occult world’, with its dark settings reveal supernatural existences in the characteristic Halim style.

By Sameer Arshad Khatlani

Poet-philosopher Muhammad Iqbal’s “tremendous work”, wrote German writer Hermann Hesse (1877–1962), belonged to the world of Islam apart from two other domains of the worlds of India, and of Western thought. In his book Incarnations, academic Sunil Khilnani echoes Hesse and notes that Iqbal (1877-1938) was “deeply engaged with the histories, themes, and conflicts embedded in Islamic thought and in literary traditions that fired his imagination”.

Islam was certainly an important theme of Iqbal’s poetry. But he also wrote about important figures of other religions glowingly in the spirit of his famous couplet: “Mazhab nahin sikhata aapas mei bair rakhna, Hindi hai ham vatan hai Hindustan hamara”*. “Hai Ram ke vajud pe Hindustan ko naaz, ahl-e-nazar samajhte hain is ko imam-e-hind,’’** wrote Iqbal, highlighting the reverence a vast majority of Indians treated Lord Ram with.

But of all the non-Islamic religious icons, Iqbal perhaps wrote most admiringly about Sikhism founder Guru Nanak, whom he hailed as “mard-e kaamil [perfect man]”. His poem titled Nanak starts with a lament that “our people paid no heed to the message of Gautam [Buddha]”; did not recognise the worth of that “jewel of supreme wisdom”. It then refers to Nanak and says the perfect man “awakened Hind [India] from a deep slumber”.

By S. Mubashir Noor

 

Coffee_Noor“Sir, could you repeat that?” The female voice on the phone asked.

“Are you deaf?” Mr. Holliday said. Without caffeine his patience wore thin every passing second.  

“I said there’s a huge fire. F-I-R-E. The old warehouse downtown. There was enough fabric here to burn Ipoh twice over.”

“Okay, okay, got it. First responders will be there in ten minutes. Tell everyone to stay calm. And you are?”

Mr. Holliday considered the question. 

“I am a champion. The Chinpo Coffee champion.” 

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Earlier in the day, Mr. Holliday sat in an open-air eatery tapping a Morse code on his temple. He wanted to tear out the throbbing vein and chop it into pieces so his head would stop pounding.  His body spasmed and ached from the lack of coffee — Chinpo Coffee. There was none at home. None at the supermarket. And now he was at his third cafe of the morning hoping someone, anyone still had a spoonful of the magic powder left. 

Should he start invading nearby houses next? Some paranoid old lady must have a pack or two stashed about. Why did bad luck have to follow him around like a tomcat in heat?

A nostalgic journey with writer and Sahitya Akademi Award Winner, Ather Farooqui…

To those who can’t get entry into the regular postgraduate degree courses at JNU, even nondescript courses like the part-time Diploma in Urdu journalism or the full-time course in mass communication run in the JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) campus by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting present a window of opportunity to be a part of this great institute. It is great with regard both to work ethic and ideology. To those who wished to work hard, these courses were/are a boon, as their mere presence in JNU campus would motivate them, irrespective of whether classes were conducted regularly or whether the course had any utility.

…The idealism inculcated in JNU stays with you, it seeps into your every pore and translates into action. This is why, even now, whenever there is public outrage over unjust government policies or an act of violence, JNU students and faculty are often seen leading protests, facing police tear gas and browbeating, and generally expressing their outrage in diverse fora and on social media. However, when they leave the familiar and venture out through JNU’s gates into the wide world outside, they realize that even the train ticket back home comes at the cost of greasing someone’s palms and that corruption is omnipresent, and also that the world doesn’t set much store by JNU idealism. It is this shock that most JNUites experience when they leave their beloved campus and which is why, whenever I meet a non-JNUite, I don’t tell them that they were unfortunate to miss out on the JNU experience, but rather that they are fortunate they didn’t go to JNU—because JNU spoils you for life.

…But life has also taken its toll on JNU. Its pride in its tolerance of diversity of every kind among its faculty, administrative staff or students, whether regional, linguistic, religious or of dress, is dented every time an attempt at uniformity occurs and every time dissent is pitted against one’s loyalty to the nation. The continent in which JNU was an island is catching up with it. Luckily, JNU still has the strength to resist and retain its pride.

I joined JNU in 1986 to pursue a part-time diploma in mass media in Urdu. I hail from the sleepy town of Sikandrabad in district Buland Shahr, located some 60 km from Delhi’s Kashmiri Gate Inter-State Bus Terminus (ISBT). I don’t think that in 1986 my one-horse hometown was any different from what it had been in 1947. The privileged lifestyle now enjoyed by the elite and some sections of the middle class was then the prerogative of just a handful of families. The Delhi of 1986 was not as claustrophobically or catastrophically crowded as it is today; it was quite unorganised and dirty nonetheless, despite the fact that existing roads had been widened and some new ones built, leading up to Asiad 1982.

Book Review by Namrata

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Title: Wild Boar in the Cane Field

Author’s Name: Anniqua Rana

Publisher: Amazon, 2019

‘My mothers found me a week after I was born.’

And so, begins the poignant story of Tara’s birth, her survival and her death. Anniqua Rana’s Wild Boar in the Cane Field is a testimony to the old adage — survival of the fittestHer observations of life of women in rural Pakistan combined with her knack of storytelling, ensures a reader is left enthralled.

Anniqua Rana lives in California with her husband and two sons. Apart from teaching English to immigrants and international students in community college, she also writes essays on gender and education.

Rana’s novel, Wild Boar in the Cane Field, journeys rural Pakistan where amidst the cane fields and smell of spices, we are introduced to Tara and her mothers. The prose is evocative and lyrical with descriptions that come alive in every passage.

 Recently, Sahitya Akademi Award winner for Urdu, Rahman Abbas, journeyed to the Institut National Des Langues et Civilasations Oriesntales (INALCO) in Paris to deliver a lecture. Translated Urdu novels are gaining in popularity and getting translated into multiple European languages, like German and French, he surmised. Novels in Urdu evolved around the 1940s-1950s with writers like Intezar Hussain and  Quartulain Haidar and books like Do gaz Zameen by Abdus Samad and Makaan by Paigam Afaqui. Makaan  is said to have been a major influence even on novelist Vikram Seth. 

Farhan Ahmad, Urdu lecturer, INALCO, Paris tells us about the talk given by Rahman Abbas in France.

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Sahitya Akademi Award winner Rahman Abbas with Academics in France

 

On 5 November 2019, INALCO, invited Sahitya Akademi Awardee, Urdu Novelist Rahman Abbas, to deliver a lecture on the topic “The Contemporary Indian Urdu Novels” in France. 

 The co-director of the department of South Asia and Himalaya studies and research scholar, Shahzaman Haque, introduced Abbas to faculty members and the students and said that Rahman Abbas was one of the major contemporary Urdu novelists of India. He thanked his department and his laboratory PLIDAM (Pluralité des langues et des identités) for financing the travel and accommodation of the Urdu author. 

He said that Rahman Abbas’s novel Rohzin had already been translated into German and would soon be available  in English, French and Hindi too. There is a growing demand for translation of Rohzin and other novels of Rahman Abbas in France. Rahman is known for his unique style of narration and his dealing with human sensibilities.

By Mitali Chakravarty

 

Hisham Bustani, the editor of this year’s Best Asian Short Stories from Kitaab, is an award-winning Jordanian author of five collections of short fiction and poetry. He is acclaimed for his bold style and unique narrative voice, and often experiments with the boundaries of short fiction and prose poetry. Much of his work revolves around issues related to social and political change, particularly the dystopian experience of post-colonial modernity in the Arab world. His work has been described as “bringing a new wave of surrealism to [Arabic] literary culture, which missed the surrealist revolution of the last century,” and it has been said that he “belongs to an angry new Arab generation. Indeed, he is at the forefront of this generation – combining an unbounded modernist literary sensibility with a vision for total change…. His anger extends to encompass everything, including literary conventions.”

Hisham’s fiction and poetry have been translated into many languages, with English-language translations appearing in prestigious journals across the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, including The Kenyon ReviewBlack Warrior Review, The Poetry ReviewModern Poetry in TranslationWorld Literature Today, and The Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly. In 2013, the U.K.-based cultural webzine The Culture Trip listed him as one of Jordan’s top six contemporary writers. His book The Perception of Meaning (Syracuse University Press, 2015) won the University of Arkansas Arabic Translation Award. Hisham is the Arabic Fiction Editor of the Amherst College-based literary review The Common, and the recipient of the Rockefeller Foundation’s prestigious Bellagio Fellowship for Artists and Writers for 2017. In this exclusive, he talks of what went into the selection of the stories and what makes him write.

 

You are author of five collections of short stories, poetry and hybrid forms. How many short story collections have you edited before? Were they in English or Arabic?

Hisham: I have a long list of editorial credits behind (and before) me. First of all, I am currently the Arabic Fiction Editor of the Amherst College-based literary review The Common, responsible for curating an annual country- or theme-based portfolios of Arabic short stories in English translation. So far we two of those portfolios were published, one from Jordan (Issue 15, Spring 2018) and the other from Syria (Issue 17, Spring 2019). The forthcoming portfolio in Issue 19 (Spring 2020) will feature stories in translation from Sudan. These portfolios are simultaneously published in Arabic in the Egyptian literary newspaper Akhbar al-Adab. So I’ve established alongside The Common’s editor-in-chief Jennifer Acker, and Akhbar al-Adab’s editor-in-chief  Tariq al-Taher, a trans-Atlantic literary collaboration in that respect.

Book Review by Samarpita Mukherjee Sharma

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Title: You Beneath Your Skin

Author: Damyanti Biswas

Publisher: Simon & Schuster India, Sept 2019

You Beneath Your Skin by Damyanti Biswas came into my radar when I was reading few excellent thrillers by Indian women authors. I had already been won over by the clever skills with which each of those stories had been crafted, so my expectations were on a rise. The blurb of the story says that You Beneath Your Skin is about relationships and crimes set in Delhi. However, what the last sentence might make you believe, the story isn’t your run-of-the-mill kind of crime committed by people in some relationship.

What You Beneath Your Skin  about is a whole lot of different yet related aspects of life. From personal relationships, each different from the other, to professional relationships, the story is mainly about Anjali and Jatin. While it has a lot to do about their relationship, there is a lot else that is quite important to the story that hold ground without taking allegiance from the protagonist couple.

We have Anjali, a single mother of Indo-American descent with an autistic teenage son. Anjali is a psychiatrist and works at a hospital. Her work extends to NGOs and the downtrodden. This takes her to the dark underbelly of the national capital, Delhi. She is shown as an independent woman who has a lot in her plate yet tries her best to add more to it and make everything work. Her son Nikhil is a teenager — a quite problematic age as it is — his autism adding to troubles for the mother-son duo. Nikhil’s condition, Anjali’s treatment of it, and how situations are handled have been described in a very smart and sensitive manner through the eye of someone who has probably worked with similar situations.