Translated by Shah Tazrian Ashrafi

 

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Bust of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay

I was in my bedroom, sitting on the stool, dozing with a hookah in my hand. A sliver of light was permeating, creating a clever shadow on the wall, a ghost dancing. Lunch wasn’t ready yet — I sat in a pensive state; I was dreaming as I puffed… If I were Napoleon, could I win the battle of Waterloo?

Right at the moment, an unexpected sound crept in, “Meow”.

As I tried looking, I couldn’t perceive anything. First, I thought that the Duke of Wellington had taken the shape of a cat and was approaching me to beg for some opium. Full of enthusiasm, tough as a stone, I thought I’d say that the Lord Duke shouldn’t ask for more, given that he had been awarded previously. Too much greed isn’t healthy. The Duke replied, “Meow”.

With careful observation, it dawned on me that this wasn’t Wellington! This was a petty cat that had drunk the milk reserved for me as I was busy arranging soldiers on Waterloo’s field — unaware of the cat’s theft. The beautiful cat, filled with satisfaction after finishing all the milk was intent on making its satisfaction known to this world.

In a mellifluous tone, it said “Meow!”

IMG_0683I did perceive that the cat was mocking at me, that it was laughing internally as, facing me, it thought; “Somebody dies drying the pond; somebody eats the koi.”

I perceive that the “Meow” had the intent of understanding what was on my mind. I perceive that the cat’s thought was, “I’ve finished your milk—now what do you say?”

By Mitali Chakravarty

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Nidhi Mishra, CEO and founder of Bookosmia

Nidhi Mishra is an ex-banker who pivoted from a ten year banking career to her passion for reading and luring others to read (admittedly, at times forcibly). Nidhi studied at Lady Shri Ram College , Delhi University, to pick up an Honours in Mathematics and a feminist flair on the side. An MBA from IIM Lucknow took her to a decade long career in the financial sector, finally quitting as VP, HSBC as she wanted to do something more meaningful with her time, which led her to found Bookosmia. Bookosmia (smell of books)  is a children’s content company hoping to make children fall in love with reading, writing and everything else around Indian stories. Over the last two years, the company has built a significant spread of content, across formats- physical books, digital stories and audio stories with one common thread — to curate homegrown, relatable and fun content for Indian children. In this exclusive, Nidhi talks of their present and future, how she feels book publishing is still viable and needed…

Mitali: You have founded a publishing firm, which took up a challenge and pulled it off… selling 1000 copies of a book that was seen as a failure by others in a week. What made you take up the book?

Nidhi: At Bookosmia, we look to not publish more than 2-3 physical books every year. A very strong driver for us is to be able to find the topic / basic storyline meaningful and one that moves us. It helps to start out being very clear to yourself and the team that book publishing is not about making great money — it is about using books as a medium to amplify reach of a certain cause. We took up this book because we were excited about the challenge of using a children’s story book as a medium to spread awareness of a dying Indian dance form in a fun way and we were confident that we would be able to tap into our steadily growing network of parents /schools/ organisations that engage with kids across India.

By Gargi Vachaknavi

The Asian Festival of Children’s content organised by Singapore Book Council from 5 th to 8 th September, 2019, celebrated its tenth year with the country of focus being Myanmar. There were talks and discussions on the need for book reviews, the need for diversity in children’s literature, translations and how to proliferate books from different cultures all over the globe.

Panel discussions and lectures dotted the event with delegates from USA, England, different parts of Asia and more. Some of the discussions were thought provoking. For instance, at the end of discussion on diversity with panellists from North American background ( academic Philip Nel, writer editor Emily Pan and Lisa Charlieboy) with moderator Avery Fischer Udagawa, the relevance of their experience to the Asian experience was put under scrutiny by a member of the audience as even Emily Pan grew up in USA identifying as an American. 

During a discussion on ‘Portrayal of Special Needs in YA (Young Adult Fiction)’, while award winning writer Suzanne Kamata focussed on the need to assimilate children with disabilities into the mainstream, Hannah Alkaff from Malaysia totted off statistics that proved more children would suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder( OCD ) over the years and therefore the need to create fiction like hers where children could identify with such issues. One wonders though why schools and caregivers would allow this rise in OCD to occur. Sarinajit Kaur from National Institute of Education, talked of how teachers could create not just better readers but generate hope in children by giving them books that are empathetic. 

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Bhupen Hazarika

Bhupen Hazarika was posthumously awarded the highest civilian honour in India this year, the Bharat Ratna. He was a man who dreamt, felt and sang international solidarity. An award for international solidarity was named after him in 2011 and was given out this year to Singapore film-maker, Eric Khoo.

Bhupen Hazarika was born in Assam, India, on 8th September 1926. He has been the recipient of numerous awards and accolades. His lyrics have crossed the borders of time and place and celebrate humanitarian concerns of mankind. Today we commemorate his 93rd birth anniversary with a recording of a Bengali rendition of his song, Aami ek Jajabar (I am a wanderer), by the maestro himself and a translation into English of the lyrics so that it can reach out to everyone with its large-heartedness and compassion…

Bhupen Hazarika’s rendition of Aami ek Jajabar (I am a wanderer)

I am a wanderer

(Translated by Mitali Chakravarty, edited by Nabina Das)

I am a wanderer.

The world has made me its own, 

I’ve forgotten my home.

I’m a wanderer.

I’ve seen the Ganga, the Mississippi

By Ratnottama Sengupta

 

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Gauhar Jaan, a singer and dancer who cut six hundred records in more than ten languages between 1902 and 1930, a woman who popularised Indian classical.

 

Chhaya. Tagar. Basana. Maanada-Panna-Radha. Hasina. Angelina. Gauhar Jaan… What do the narratives of these ladies have in common? They are all engaged in sexual activity for money.

So, what are the sobriquets for them? Prostitute, street walker, wench, call girl, escort, harlot, hooker, hustler, vamp, whore, temptress, tart, puta, fillet de joie, bawd, moll, courtesan, lady of pleasure, woman on the game, lady of the night, scarlet woman, concubine, paramour, cocotte, strumpet, trollop, wanton woman, devadasi, tawaif, baiji, ganika, randi, veshya

This is less than half the 75 synonyms in Thesaurus for the ‘woman of ill repute’. And this is without going into the term sex worker, coined by a certain Carol Leigh, in the last century that has seen people become ‘porn star’, ‘sex educator,’ ‘sexual trainer,’ and even ‘actress turned prostitute’.

Where has the word ‘prostitute’ come from? From the Latin word prostitus, found since the 16th century? But the past participle of prostiture — whether interpreted as ‘to expose publicly’ or read as ‘thing that is standing’ — does not have the abusive association the most ancient profession has. For that matter, the very phrase ‘oldest profession’ — a euphemism for prostitution when delicacy forbade the use of the word — is said to have acquired its opprobrious nuance only in the last lap of 19th century, after Rudyard Kipling used it in ‘On the City Wall’ (January 1889), a short story about an Indian prostitute. Kipling begins by citing a biblical reference:

A short story from Myanmar by San Lin Tun

Moe did not know what he could do while he sat in his chair and his mind drifted like a kite floating with the free flow of wind. Something dampened his strength and he felt frayed. He had been feeling this way for a couple of days. It started gradually till it took concrete shape in his mind, tending to block his mental processes. That is why he could not  focus on his job. He decided to try to deal with it…

Though he felt it, he could not name the sensation. He picked up the pen from the rectangular lacquer pen holder in front of him on the table, unconsciously. He did not intend to use the pen but his laptop. He sighed at his confusion and looked at his watch — fifteen past four in the afternoon. He stood up, pushed his laptop away and picked up his shoulder bag that lay in a slant against the foot of the table.

 

On 31 st December, 2017, some met in Fort Shaniwarwada in Pune to commemorate a historic event from January 1st 1818, a battle in which the Peshwas  (Brahmins) were defeated by the British forces though the loss was huge on both sides. This had been a part of the third Anglo Maratha wars which led to British domination in Maharashtra ultimately. 

The programme had speeches and cultural performances and police presence. The British victory nearly two hundred years ago was seen as a Dalit victory over Peshwas as Dalits had manned the British army against the Brahmin Peshwas. On January 1 st 2018, one Dalit was killed in the violence that ensued over the meet among different groups who clashed over differences of opinion.

IMG_0667Number of activists, some of them allegedly communists as Maoist involvement was suspected, were arrested over the event. What bordered on the ludicrous was that one activist was arrested for possessing incriminating documents like Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The judge is reported to have saidWar and Peace is about war in another country. Why were you keeping these books at your house?” 

Mahmood Farooqui in conversation with Gargi Vachaknavi

 Dastangoi is the art of Urdu storytelling that was popular all across India and could regale commoners and elites alike. That was in times of Mughal splendour. The performers were artists and writers rolled into one who left behind over 46,000 pages of published fantasies. The Dastans were the stories told by these storytellers, the gois. Unfortunately this art form completely vanished, leaving behind few memories.

Inspired by the scholarship of one of Urdu’s greatest living writer S. R. Faruqi, Mahmood Farooqui began its revival in 2005 and has since then trained dozens of other storytellers or Dastangos, staged over a thousand shows all around the world and has composed over a dozen modern Dastans for the genre. With all the innovations that he and his team have spearheaded, a virtually new genre of performance and a new kind of writing for the stage has emerged in our times.

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Mahmood Farooqui performing

Farooqui is an award winning writer and performer. He was awarded the Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar by the Sangeet Natak Akademi of the Union Government for his efforts in reviving Dastangoi. His book on the 1857 uprising Besieged: Voices from Delhi, 1857, was awarded the Ram Nath Goenka Award for the best non-fiction book of the year by the Indian Express Group. He has been a visiting fellow at the Universities of Michigan, US and Berkeley, California and was a Rhodes scholar at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. His latest book is A Requiem for Pakistan: The World of Intizar Husain. He has written over 15 modern Dastans for the stage and has trained nearly 50 people besides performing close to 500 shows himself. His wife, film maker Anusha Rizvi, is not only the producer of the Dastangois but also the award winning writer-Director of Peepli Live, a 2010 satirical comedy with the involvement of greats like Aamir Khan and Raghuvir Yadav.

Mahmood Farooqui and his troupe will be performing in Singapore on the 14thof September. In this exclusive, he talks to Gargi Vachaknavi of his work, of how a Dastangoi performance varies from normal theatre and what he is going to perform in Singapore.

 

Gargi: Why did you think of reviving Dastangoi, an art of 13 th century storytelling in Urdu? What is the potential you see that makes you feel it is necessary to contextualise it for the present day?

Farooqui: I was a student of history and had been active in theatre for many years when I came across the great S. R. Faruqi’s study of the world of Dastans. I had been reading Urdu literature all my life but had never really heard of this incredibly enchanting world. When I dug deeper, I was totally bowled over by the genius of the writers and the of the performers. Here was theatre in its purest form, one or two narrators, sitting still and holding an audience captive, just like our ancient rishis (sages) narrated epics and Shastras to rapt listeners. I felt that this was the most essential art form of the Indian subcontinent. From the word go, it was an instant success perhaps because in India everything, including religion is a story.

The innovation I made was to have not one but two narrators and our designer, Anusha Rizvi, kept the basics very simple so we brought it into the ambit of modern theatre by using techniques of lighting, stage decorum and presentation.