By Sobia Ali

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Everyday,  I  wait  till  your  father  has  gone  out  to  work, before  I  come  into  your  room  to  wake  you  up. He  does  not  like  my  attention  being  diverted  when  he  is  at  home. I  think  he  is  a  little  jealous  of  you. Or  perhaps  of  me, that  I  am  going  to  be  with  you  all  day  when  he  has  to  be  away. You  know  otherwise  he  is  absolutely  devoted  to   you, and  won’t  ever  like  to  part  from  you.

I  open  the  door  slowly, lest  I  startle  you. You  lay  there  on  the  dainty  curtained  bed, quite lost  under  the  flurry  pink  bed  sheets  and  blankets. For  a  moment I  panic  that  you  are  not  there. That  they  were  right, those  women  in  white  uniforms. Then  a  soft  pink  little  hand  peeps  out, a  small  plump  foot  jumps  out  of  all  that  velvety  pile. And  I  almost  laugh  out  loud  when  I  see  you  hacking  away  at  coverlet  in  anger  to  remove  it  from  your  face. I  remove  it  for  you, suddenly  impatient  to  see  your  milky, moon  face, haloed  in  curly  shiny  black  hair.

I  give  my  finger  to  you  to  hold  and  take  to  your  mouth. You  suck  and  bite  it  with  small  uneven  gummy  gums. I  tickle  your  belly, kiss  your  hands  and  feet, then  lift  you  unto  my  lap. I  giggle  as  your  thin  lips  curl  around  my  nipple  and  your  red  busy  tongue  lap  up  the  milk, gulping, slurping. How  I  love  to  suckle  you, baby.

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Finding humour in tense anxious situations has been the forte of award-winning and acclaimed author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes, Mohammed Hanif. While he has been under flak in his own country, Pakistan, after the aforesaid book was translated to Urdu, he had been invited to Hong Kong to give the PEN ( Poets, Essayists, Novelists) Hong Kong Literature & Human Rights lecture at Hong Kong University.

In a report published this year based on an interview at that time, we are told he had a tough time making it across the violence to the talk which needed to be rescheduled. Said a frazzled Hanif: “I’d rather have running water and safe streets, I’d rather have boring normality. If that means dull litera­ture, I’ll happily make that bargain.”

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Magical Language of Others by award-winning poet, EJ Koh, is a Memoir of an abandoned Korean child — not abandoned in the sense of thrown out but abandoned by parents who put their career before child rearing.

An article in Asian Review says, “It isn’t uncommon for immigrants to return to their countries of birth for better employment opportunities, but in this case Koh and her brother would be staying behind.

In her new memoir, The Magical Language of Others, Koh shows the damage that ensues when leaving one’s children during their teenage years for no reason but selfishness.”

Eun ji Koh and her brother were left behind in California to struggle it out on their own by parents who returned to Seoul for nearly a decade in quest of better prospects.

Koh did come out of it with the help of poetry, and her writing. In an interview in Wildness, she said: “When I was a girl, I had terrible nightmares every night. My mother told me there was a curse upon the women of our family (for no reason I know). We could afford neither peace nor ignorance of our dreaming lives. At twelve or so, I figured out that if I wrote down the dream each morning, it wouldn’t haunt me the rest of the day.” And that is how started her journey as an award winning poet and writer.

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Title: The Life of Z: Understanding the Digital Pre-teen and Adolescent Generation

Author: Debashish Sengupta

Publisher: SAGE India (SAGE Select), 2020

Links: Sage Publishers 

 

 

A radio buzzing in a corner, the transmission is unclear, the signal seems to be wavering. I adjust the antennae that we have fixed near the roof of the room. The voice on the side becomes better. By this time, I had repeated this ritual several times. However, the crackling commentary of the cricket match on the other side made up for all the hard work and irritation. Both me and my younger brother are stuck with the radio for the whole day. Our parents are not at home. My mother wanted to call our grandma and therefore she went to the post office to book a trunk call. It would take few hours of waiting before her turn comes and she can speak over the government run public land phone, before returning home. We had the whole day to ourselves. It took longer than expected for our parents to come back home. They could not find a taxi near the post office and had to walk for nearly a kilometer before they found a transport. Poor mom, she had to cook the dinner after a long day. Meanwhile, India had lost the match. We spent the whole evening helping our mom in the kitchen. Another uneventful day had come to an end. But we had some excitement coming-up. Sunday was just a day away when we will catch another episode of ‘Star Trek’ and by that time we should also be getting letter from my cousin brother who was sharing our secret encryption code, as he had promised in his last letter. This was to prevent elders from finding out the contents of our letter. And yes, he was also sending some photos from his recent vacation.

When I tell this childhood story of mine to my son, after listening to me with rapt attention, he tells me that there are technical flaws in my story. What? Technical flaws… I find his expression amusing, he finds it even more. He asks me – ‘Why were you listening to the radio and not streaming live cricket over internet?; Why did your parents go to the post office to make a call and not use their mobile to make a video call?; Why did your parents not call an Uber instead of walking a long distance?; Why didn’t you order food over an app instead of letting your tired mom cook the dinner?; Why did you wait for Sunday to watch your favourite show and not stream it over Netflix?; And why were you waiting for days for a letter instead of using WhatsApp or Instagram?’

 

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Preeti Vangani is a poet & personal essayist. Her work has been published in  BOAAT, Juked, Gulf Coast, Threepenny Review among other journals. She is the winner of the RL Poetry Award 2017 and her debut book of poems titled Mother Tongue Apologize was published in Feb 2019 (RLFPA Editions). She holds an MFA from the University of San Francisco.

 

By Hanish Rahane

Dedicated to the Mission to Seafarers and Seamen’s Club Tilbury

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Back in the year 2011, I was 22 years old — a ‘soldier’. It was December when the following events transpired. At the age when boys struggle to find their place in the world, a time when all thoughts and opinions are either black or white, my ‘soldier’ had decided to leave his surroundings and venture out to the sea. I was a panch sahab (5th engineer) on the majestic ship- MV Red Fin.

The crew was of mixed nationality. Our Chief was from Bangladesh. The other engineers from China, the Captain was from Russia, and the crew, from the Philippines. The voyage was from Mumbai to London over the Arabian sea and through the scenic Suez Canal. It was a day in the month of December when we were calling at the port of Tilbury docks near London. It was the last port of our voyage. Tilbury, at the time was a small, shoddy town whose only claim to fame was the newly built port. Also, ours was the very first ship to enter this new port and, as most of it was still under construction, the area around it still seemed like a muddy wasteland.

Now, any young seafarer will tell you that the moment the ship touches the jetty there are certain frequencies of sounds and vibrations that completely disappear on account of being ‘damped’ by the solid bulk of land. There are numerous such unconscious sensory observations that get registered in the seafarers mind continuously — awake or asleep, in dreams or in reality.  I call it the sailor’s sixth sense. The fuel transfer pump stopping to draw suction due to a choked strainer, the auxiliary blowers cutting in as the speed was reduced during manoeuvring, the sound of the telegraph bell ringing or the customary series of a hundred alarms as soon as you turn the engines off — sounds like muffled air horns– these were events that were automatically registered in my mind while I was in a state of deep sleep. And, hence, what happened might seem strange to a normal person. But I woke up knowing that we had berthed, although I had not seen it happen.

An excited panch sahab rushed towards the gangway ladder, scribbled his name on the gangway register, hurriedly snatched the nearest walkie-talkie, informed the Captain of his departure, and was soon out and about, walking along the muddy road, in this strange new land which he had only dreamt of visiting. But the story is neither about me nor the ship nor the landscape. The story is about one person in particular. As I walked into The Seaman’s Club that evening, a small tavern littered with the obscene commentary of crass sailors and drunken blue collared port workers and crane operators, a peculiar looking gentleman caught my eye. It was just a matter of time before he came over and introduced himself as Herman.

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Herman, the German, was not a very good-looking man. He was short, stalky and spoke with a very strange accent which was neither German nor English. Herman was born in Munich a few years after the war had ended. His mother was Sudanese and his father, a Roman Catholic German. Let’s call him Senior Herman. Not much of Senior Herman was disclosed to me during our interaction but from what I gathered, he worked with the Catholic Church in a big capacity and was sort of a public figure back in his hometown.

Every January, India hosts the largest literary festival in the world — the Jaipur Literary festival. Founded in 2006, it gathers the glitterati of the literati in the Diggi Palace Hotel in the heart of the historical city. The festival directors are writers Namita Gokhale and Willian Dalrymple.

This year, it stretched from 23rd to 27 th January and hosted around 300 writers. Speakers this year include well-known names like Nobel laureate (2019) Abhijit Banerjee, Javed Akhtar, Madhur Jaffrey, Aruna Chakravarti, KR Meera, the controversial Shashi Tharoor, Magsaysay award-winning journalist Ravish Kumar and many more. Authors from other countries included Man International Booker Prize Winner (2019) Jokha Alharthi, Elizabeth Gilbert, Paul Muldoon, Stephen Greenblatt and Christina Lamb. More than 200 sessions stretched across five days with writers from 20 countries and literature in more than 25 languages.

Earlier, it had hosted names like Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth and more big names. Subjects like climate change, the water crisis, history, economics, politics, feminism, fiction and non-fiction all came under discussion in these sessions. Even the poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz that created such a stir in India was under discussion.

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Tapei International Book Exhibition

Taiwan will hold an international book exhibition from February 4 th to 9th in the  Taipei World Trade Centre. This year Korea will be the guest of honour.

Last year more than half-a-million visitors peopled the fair. The fair was started in 1987 by the ministry of culture to give more opportunities for local writers and publishers to mingle across the globe.

This year, it will showcase 1 million books from 67 countries. The books cover a wide range of subjects — from manga to fiction, from academic titles to journalism.

Anuradha Kumar, the author of Coming Back to the City, Mumbai Stories, in conversation with Mitali Chakravarty

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Anuradha Kumar has been writing for two decades and in that span of time has authored eight novels, including Letters for Paul (2006), It Takes a Murder (2013) and two works of historical fiction written under the psuedonym of Adity Kay: Emperor Chandragupta (2016) and Emperor Vikramaditya (2019). She also writes for younger readers, and contributes to Scroll.inEconomic and Political Weeklythewire.intheaerogram.com, and other places. She was awarded twice (2004, 2010) for her stories by the Commonwealth Foundation, and has received awards from The Little Magazine and Hindu-Goodbooks.in. Recently, she has brought out a novel, Coming Back to the City, Mumbai Stories. In this exclusive, she tells us more about her journey as a writer.

You have written eight novels and children’s stories/books. How many years of your journey as a writer does that span?

About two decades. I’d my first collection of short stories out from Writers’ Workshop in 2002. What I remember is the lovely handwritten note Prof. Lal (who set up the workshop) sent me in acceptance of my manuscript; that, and a translated copy of his Avyakta Upanishad. I sort of remember what he wrote in that note. For a long time, those words encouraged me. I forgot them at times, but early words of encouragement and support stand by you, especially in not so good times. 

Can you tell us about your latest book, Coming Back to the City, Mumbai Stories? How did it come about? You have been living overseas, did you return to Mumbai and then write it?