A Republic Day Special

Nishi Pulugurtha reminisces about a past where India had emerged after the independence struggle as a republic with a strong belief in inclusiveness.

A group of young men were recruited to work at the newly set up laboratory in Bhubaneshwar. The laboratory was set up in 1961 by the Scottish geneticist John Burdon Sanderson Haldane. They had made India their home. The institution brought together myriads of people from various parts of India who made it their workplace and home.

Hari Pulugurtha, my father, joined this laboratory as secretary to Haldane. He had been recommended by his childhood buddy Ramshastri Mangipudi who by then was already working at the laboratory. The job entailed a move to Bhubaneswar from Vizag, Visakhapatnam that is. Till then, Appagaru (that is how we addressed my father) had been doing all kinds of odd jobs. Appagaru always believed in the idea of inclusivity, the idea that however different we might be, there is something that binds all human beings together. He would tell us stories of how they were such a myriad group of people at the laboratory and the fun and camaraderie that they had celebrating life in its various aspects and of all the great work that went on there.

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Paula Puolakka (1982) is a Beat poet, writer, and MA (History of Science and Ideas) who has won poetry and short story contests held in the USA and Israel. In April 2019, her long essay concerning the problems with technology and the invisible warfare was given credit by The Finnish Reserve Officers’ Federation and in June 2019, Puolakka’s poem was given an honorable mention by Tiny Spoon Literary Magazine. Her work can be found through Poetry Potion. Puolakka has also been judging a few small writing contests in Finland.

To learn more, please go to: https://refiction.com/community/2019-01-10-paula-puolakka/

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Title: Gariahat Junction

Author: Rituparna Roy

Publisher: Kitaab International, Singapore

Year of publication: January 2020

Pages: 150

Price: Rs.400/

Links: You Tube

About: Gariahat Junction is a collection of nine short stories, of contemporary Indian women who have reached a critical juncture in their lives. Set primarily in post liberalised, post-millennial Kolkata, it mostly explores the lives of middle-class Bengali women in or from the city.

 

 

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Title: Avatar: Indian Science Fiction/ Fantascienza indiana

Author: Edited by Tarun K. Saint and Francesco Verso

Publisher: Future Fictions

Year of publication: 2020

Pages: 311

Price:$17.09

Links if any: Amazon

About: Avatar is the first ever bilingual anthology published in English and Italian language of new Indian Science Fiction. It has been edited by Francesco Verso, multiple award Science Fiction writer and editor of Future Fiction, together with Tarun Saint as guest editor. The aim is to bring together cutting edge and contemporary Indian Science Fiction that takes on board some of the most pressing challenges of this 21st century, post-modern and late post-colonial moment.

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Indonesian mass genocide of 1965-66 led to a death toll of almost half to one million and replaced Sukarno with Suharto. Many were imprisoned in the Buru island jail. One of them was writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer, author of the Buru Quartet which was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1988.

Writers, intellectuals and teachers spent years of incarceration on the island devoid of basic facilities. One of them, Mars Noersmono, was in and out of jails while studying engineering and ended up in Buru island. He wrote a book, Bertahan Hidup di Pulau Buru (A Prisoner’s Life on Buru Island) which also had photographs of the island. He looked for a publisher for fifteen years and finally found one in Bandung. Few copies of his book found their way to the bookshelf.

He told a journalist from The Diplomat: “I wrote the book because I want the younger generation to understand the truth, and pay respect to those who did not survive… Writing has also lifted the burden I’ve been carrying for so long, and that’s a relief.  My dreams are now not so bad.”

Books to Film by Mitali Chakravarty

 

Little Women Poster

Humility. Kindness. Gratitude.” and “Love is the answer.”

— The Good Day I Died: The Near-Death Experience of a Harvard Divinity Student by Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

Desmond’s post-structuralist book was released in good time to be wrapped as a Christmas present in Singapore — with the values he speaks of, it deserves that. Meanwhile, on Christmas, 2019, was released a film in United States that spoke of similar values — a film called Little Women adopted from a quasi- autobiographical series written from the 1860s to1880s by Louisa M Alcott, a movie that hopes to take Singapore by storm from 16th January, 2020.

As of January 12, 2020 — in two weeks of its world release — the film grossed $74 million in the United States and Canada, and $33.2 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $107.2 million. It has won much critical acclaim and was chosen by both the American Film Institute and the Time magazine as one of the top ten films of 2019. At the 77th Golden Globe Awards it received two nominations; in the British Academy Film Awards, it received five and six Academy Awards nominations —  with all three-nominations naming Saoirse Ronan for the Best Actress and the last two including Florence Pugh for the Best Supporting Actress, and Greta Gerwig for the Best Adapted Screenplay.

With a star-studded cast — Meryl Streep, Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Pugh, Timothée Hal Chalamet, James Norton — and more, the family drama centring around the American Civil War had the audience at the screening in its grip. It was little surprising while leaving the hall at the Singapore preview, that a woman was excitedly talking to a friend in part-Chinese part- English about how she empathised with the characters in Little Women. And through the screening, one could sense the audience palpitate emotionally in waves with murmurs rising and falling in a crescendo — fully absorbed by the events on the screen.

An exclusive interview with Avik Chanda

By Gargi Vachaknavi

 

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Avik Chanda is an author who is a Jack of multiple genres and, unlike the saying goes, emerges the master of most – including that of a best-selling non-fiction book. He has authored a book on the Mughal prince, Dara Shukoh, and it did so well that it beat William Dalrymple’s The Anarchy to the top of the Asian Age best seller list and even now it continues in the top ten bestseller’s list. 

Chanda has two decades of global Big 4 Consulting experience. He is a business adviser, entrepreneur, trainer and a speaker at the Outstanding Speaker’s Bureau; a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review Ascend and a columnist for The Economic Times. Recently, he has been nominated for the Forbes India 2020 ‘Great People Managers’ list. He is also now venturing into another one of his newbies — a start-up in the human resource technology domain which he has christened NUVAH ( ‘new’ was his explanation for the word which he spelt in all caps).

Avik Chanda has been published in more than twenty international journals and anthologies, including Queen’s Quarterly, Stride Magazine, Envoi, Aesthetica, and First Proofs (Penguin India). He has had a solo exhibition of paintings and published two poetry collections in Bengali (Protibhash and Jokhon Bideshe) and one in English, Footnotes (Shearsman, UK). His debut novel, Anchor, was published by Harper Collins in 2015, to high critical praise. His business book, From Command To Empathy: Using EQ in the Age of Disruption (Harper Collins, 2017), addresses the need for greater emotional enablement in the Indian workplace. The book received praise from leaders across both industry and academia, was widely featured in the national press, and is shaping collective consciousness in favour of better work-life integration. In 2018, the book was selected for Amazon India’s Best Reads under the category, Business, Strategy and Management.

Dara ShukohHis third book with Harper Collins, Dara Shukoh: The Man Who Would Be King, was published in October 2019. This work has received glowing reviews from world-renowned academics, authors and commentators, garnered tremendous attention in the national press, featured at prestigious literary meets, been acquired by Audible for audio-book rights. Juggernaut Books is also promoting the book as a mini blockbuster — publishing excerpts from the book — and it has also been on the Bestsellers’ List right since its publication. In this exclusive interview, Chanda reveals more about his muti-layered personality and his work.

 

When and why did you start writing? What moved your muse?

I’ve been passionate about books for as long as I can remember, and I suppose there came a time when I wanted to start writing my own books. Around the years 2003-2007, there was an earlier spate of writing — poetry, in English and Bengali. I produced a couple of collections besides publishing in individual magazines. The current run began about six years ago. In this period, I’ve published a novel, Anchor, a business book, From Command To Empathy, and my latest book, a biography of the Mughal Prince, Dara Shukoh — all three published by Harper Collins.

By Gargi Vachaknavi

War is peace.

Freedom is slavery.

Ignorance is strength.

― George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-four

 

Doublespeak in Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty-four (1949), was a way in which an oppressive regime brainwashed its common population. In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), people were fed ‘soma’ and taught rhymes in praise of the intoxicant so that they would live in a state of morbid obedience. In both the books, rebellion or democratic principles were non-existent. The contexts in these novels were based on world orders around the two world wars and while much is being quoted from Hitler’s and Himmler’s regime to create parallels, the fact that we are witnessing the triumph of democracy gets lost in the goriness of the events.

‘Hum Dekhenge’ has been at the fringes of a controversy with a panel condemning the non-Hindu status of the poem. Faiz Ahmed Faiz had written this poem against the Zia regime in 1970s to inspire people to look forward to better days – a secular attempt to energise people weighed down by the burdens of tyranny. Intolerance for another world view seems to stare us in the face and generate endless violence and bloodshed. This situation brings to mind a story written by Satyajit Ray which won him national and international acclaim in 1980 — a dystopic story but with a positive end — a story that earned kudos as a film called Hirak Rajar Deshe (In the Land of the Diamond King). It is a sequel to the 1969 production of Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne — another one of Ray’s highly regarded and awarded masterpieces.

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A DVD cover of Hirak Rajar Deshe

Hirak Rajar Deshe depicts a totalitarian regime by the Hirak Raja or the Diamond King who brainwashes people with the help of a machine called ‘jantarmantar’ and a weird scientist who feeds rhymes into it, rhymes like these, which could be perhaps seen as eternal because they seem to be playing out the current reality with all the attacks on universities and their inmates —

Lekha pora kore jei, onahare more shei

(Those who study, die of starvation)

 

Janaar kono shesh nai, janaar cheshta britha tai

(There’s no end to learning, so to try to learn is pointless)

Compiled by Mitali Chakravarty

In 1980, Satyajit Ray made a movie with a story he had written which won him both national and international acclaim — Hirak Rajar Deshe (In the Land of the Diamond King). A sequel to his earlier Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, this film depicts a tyrant who brainwashed people with a machine to think: “Lekha pora kore je, anahare more she (Those who study, die of starvation).”

Does this strike a chord? 

Perhaps that is why we find educational institutions coming under flak and violent strikes on professors and students who are trying to study and lead a peaceful life. The attack on Jawaharlal Nehru University students yesterday has the social media filled with empathy for the victims. Is this reenactment of Hirak Rajar Deshe?

Poetry by well-known writers of yore used to  express student solidarity and hope has also been coming under attack. In Kanpur,  IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) students organised a meet to show solidarity towards the students of Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi and recited a well-known poem  by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a 20th century legend who was even nominated for the Nobel Prize. One of the faculty and fifteen students initiated a complaint  and demanded expulsion of the protest organisers, accusing them of “spreading hate against India”. A panel was set up to ban the poem. The empowering poem that led to all this controversy  is called ‘Hum Dekhenge’ (we will see). 

Rahman Abbas
Rahman Abbas

Rahman Abbas, the 2018 Sahitya Akademi winner for Urdu, had much to say in favour of Faiz’s poem: “It is disgusting to have to give clarifications of Faiz’s poem ‘Hum Dekhenge’ to absolve it from being called critical of the Hindu faith or any faith. It is as absurd and laughable as  absurd as claims such as the RSS was a cultural wing of the Jamat-e-Islami of Pakistan, or Rabindranath Tagore’s Novel Gora was anti-Christian, or Kabir had mocked Charlie Chaplin in his dohe*. Such absurd parallel could only be drawn by an insane or moron appointed to create deflection and disharmony.

“Faiz Ahamd Faiz is best known for being a revolutionary poet who aesthetically merged romanticism with the desire for a revolution, a social struggle or peoples uprising against the tyrant rulers. His poetry and life were a struggle to become the voice of the voiceless — it challenges dictatorship and repression. ‘Hum Dekhenge’ can be seen as the voice of the masses against the tyrant rulers or dictators who have subjugated poor people. The poem is a beacon of hope against darkness spread by authoritarian regimes. The poet imagines a world where tyrannical persecutors would be defeated and people will govern crushing falsehood and its followers. The tyrant rulers will be humiliated when their crowns will be thrown off and the people will reclaim being the God of the planet. The people will rule — we all are people — and we should celebrate that time and that day as it is a victory of people over tyrannical systems.