Category Archives: 2020

Essay: You Only Live Twice by Anusree Ganguly

Anusree Ganguly writes a literary essay exploring two novels (Jagari & Beloved) highlighting how both are a window into deplorable social conditions and say something about the herculean courage of its men and women.

Two masterpieces – ‘Jagari’ (The Night Vigil, in Bengali) and ‘Beloved’ – but both have a common thought as its takeaway – to have an upside-down world, made awry by outside forces, put right by combating fear with courage, once, to taste life at its toughest and, two, sometimes to look death in the face. If Jagari (author: Satinath Bhaduri) answers the imperative of “Who’s awake?” with the spirit of the one who owns his mind, even if the body is not free to roam; then Beloved (author: Toni Morrison) answers the imperative of the ‘red heart’ – the love for all experiences, good or bad, intensified by the fear of desolation that inheres in love displaced – by answering the stirrings of ‘rememory’ with love for life, and sometimes for death. Jagari is not just the story of an imprisoned freedom-fighter’s family (each chapter a look into the strength of the human mind – the husband, wife and the two sons – in distress but never sinking in it); and Beloved is not just the story of a slave who is also a runaway from the unhappy condition of slavery. Both authors evince an interest in the human being as survivors against ailing times taking a fall in life without fear, yet arms opened wide for memories or ‘rememories’. 

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Book Excerpt: A Bend in Time: Writings by Children on the Covid-19 Pandemic

A glimpse from A Bend in Time – Writings by Children on the Covid-19 Pandemic (Published by Talking Cub, children’s imprint of Speaking Tiger, 2020)

Introduction by Bijal Vachharajani

Right now, according to the good folx at UNESCO, globally about 1.3 billion children and youth are at home, as schools and colleges shut to try to control the COVID-19 pandemic. The children in this book’s pages are among them. As is most probably you, the reader.

These twelve children and young adults reflect so many thoughts, questions, narratives. The depth of their thoughts doesn’t astound me—children are way smarter than groan-ups. But not all children get to tell their stories. Not all of them have access to the Internet, to facilities, to online schooling, to socially distanced homes and neighbourhoods. While some are safe at home, so many have had to walk for miles to get to their homes. Inequalities have come to the forefront, and it’s vital that privilege be examined and challenged. And so many children in this book are thinking about that.

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Essay: The Agony and the Ecstasy of Being Different by Manish Gaekwad

In this deeply personal and moving essay, Manish Gaekwad talks about his experiences of growing up in a brothel and being queer

I was five when the boys started petting me and kissing me in places other than my flushed cheeks. Once, when I was at home in Kolkata, a lady peeped through the door and saw that a boy older than me was lying on top of me and rubbing himself vigorously in ways that adults do. He must have seen someone do it to his mother. He was trying to replicate it to see where it goes. 

It went sore. 

His mother thrashed him. My mother thrashed me. I did not understand why I was being beaten for doing nothing. I was merely lying down and I don’t recollect how I got there. I did not have words then to express what I felt. I sensed that what was giving the boy pleasure was not acceptable to adults. 

Soon, I too got a taste of that pleasure. 

We were disappearing behind curtains, playing hide and seek in the afternoon when the women were sleeping after lunch. We were kissing and fondling behind those curtains, in plain sight of the very women who had objected to it. A boy once pulled my trousers down and shoved his face in my crotch. Another time he spooned me under a quilt where we were hiding to be startled. My body tingled with the thrill of these secret games. The games children saw adults play through peep holes. 

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Short Story: Realities by Nabanita Sengupta

Meera

I have to dress myself in red today. Sorry Somesh, for being unfaithful to you. I could have fought them all but for our children. They say I must agree to their plan. They are both so grown up now – Jia and Sahil! They advise me on everything as if I am a little child. But marriage? No! No! That cannot be! Everyone tells me that I have been married to Pratik for years. But why do I draw a blank at that? Pratik is nice, familiar, comfortable; we even share the same house! Just the other day I had to chase him out of my room – he was lazing around as if he belonged there! And then there is that wedding album! They carry a hundred of our wedding pictures – happy moments frozen in four by six glossy papers. Such vibrant colours – if only my memory was as sharp as these. But memory fails me. It becomes as fuzzy as a Delhi winter morning, unfocussed, blurred yet somewhere just within reach. Only I have no access to it. By the way, have you ever known anyone who forgets her own wedding? All of them forget that I am a widow, Somesh’s widow. It is not for me to marry. I remember pishi, my father was so protective about her, yet could he save her from a heartbreak? She left eating fish, gave away all her ornaments, wore only white and remained buried under the weight of various rituals and customs. She looked like a ghost biding her time in this world. Wasn’t this the fate of all widows? Wasn’t this what grandfather told her, she being the apple of his eyes? I remember feeling so sad for her. I wanted to find a prince charming to take her away from this repressive world. When I said that to her once, she smiled – a smile of such sadness that my heart shattered into a thousand pieces. I never repeated it to her again. But look at my own children – harping about their own mother’s wedding in which they too claim to have participated! Disgusting, yet I cannot bring myself to be angry with them for a long time. If they are mistaken, it is my duty to lead them to the truth.

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Remembering Rahat Indori – A people’s poet by Mohd Raghib-ul- Haque

Raghib pays a heartfelt tribute to Rahat Indori (1950-2020)

Not many poets become famous enough to become a part of our day to day lives and  even fewer are frequently quoted to mark protests or dissent in times of social upheaval. His poetic age spans almost five decades where he participated in hundreds of mushairas and wrote several lyrics for Hindi cinema. Indori is very often quoted on social media platforms. Interestingly, he also trended for a while on Twitter too. His couplets are used as placards in several protests in India while he was also quoted many a time in Indian Parliaments and speeches in the public gatherings. All these led to his public popularity, making Urdu poetry  familiar to a wider range of audience who have less or no acquaintance to Urdu as a language. 

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Hindi Poetry # 1: Ganga by Unknown – Recited by Uma Rai

This poem titled ‘Ganga’ is a poet’s tribute to the Ganges, the civilizational font of India with divine attributes, and an earnest cry to keep the sacred river clean and free of pollution. The poet’s name is unknown and it has been recited by Singapore-based actor and wild life activist Uma Rai. The visuals for this poem have been taken from various sources and we express our gratitude to them.

Shadow City: All about childhood, ancestral roots, heritage, culture and familial ties

Namrata explores Kabul through Taran N Khan’s Shadow City which according to her isn’t just about a city.

Stories in Kabul begin with the phrase ‘Yeki bood, yeki na bood.’ There was one, there was no one.

Taran N Khan (Shadow City)

Taran N Khan’s first book, Shadow City takes us around Kabul highlighting the varied experiences the city and its people have been through over years. It is neither a memoir, nor a travelogue. Lying somewhere in between, Khan has found the perfect voice to depict a place which has been through so much and yet continues to thrive in various ways.

Growing up in Aligarh, Khan grew up with a fascination for Afghanistan due to her Pashtun background. After completing her education in Delhi and London, she has now decided to call Mumbai her home for the time being. Her works have been widely published in India and internationally, including in Guernica, Al Jazeera, the Caravan and Himal Southasian. Her writing has also received support from the MacDowell Colony, the Jan Michalski Foundation for Writing and Literature and the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia, among others.

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“It’s easy to be seduced by a story, to be persuaded that what you are hearing is true.”- Avni Doshi

Rituparna Mahapatra in conversation with Avni Doshi talking about her journey, the writing process and the future plans.

Photo credit: Sharon Haridas

The first sentence came to me as a revelation, within it was the shape of the whole story. I wanted to begin with something powerful!

Avni Doshi, writer of Indian Origin, longlisted for Booker 2020.

Not many can claim their debut novels to make it to the list of the World’s most prestigious literary awards. Dubai based Indian novelist Avni Doshi has done that; her debut novel ‘Burnt Sugar’ has been long-listed for the 2020 Booker prize. The novel made it to the ‘Booker Dozen’ after judges assessed 162 novels, published in the UK  or Ireland between October2019 and September 2020. 

Burnt Sugar’  was earlier released in India under the title ‘Girl in White Cotton‘ to critical acclaim. The judges at the Booker panel called it an “‘utterly compelling read’ that examines a complex and unusual mother- daughter relationship with honest , unflinching realism” it is “emotionally wrenching but also cathartic, written with poignancy and memorability”. 

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New Releases from Asia – August 2020

Turmeric Nation: A Passage through India’s Tastes by Shylashri Shankar 

  • Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books
  • Year of publication: 2020 / August
  • Pages: 336
  • Price: INR 499
  • Releasing Soon

Book Blurb

What exactly is ‘Indian’ food? Can it be classified by region, or religion, or ritual? What are the culinary commonalities across the Indian subcontinent? Do we Indians have a sense of collective self when it comes to cuisine? Or is the pluralism in our food habits and choices the only identity we have ever needed? 

Turmeric Nation is an ambitious and insightful project which answers these questions, and then quite a few more. Through a series of fascinating essays— delving into geography, history, myth, sociology, film, literature and personal experience—Shylashri Shankar traces the myriad patterns that have formed Indian food cultures, taste preferences and cooking traditions. From Dalit ‘haldiya dal’ to the last meal of the Buddha; from aphrodisiacs listed in the Kama Sutra to sacred foods offered to gods and prophets; from the use of food as a means of state control in contemporary India to the role of lemonade in stoking rebellion in 19th-century Bengal; from the connection between death and feasting and between fasting and pleasure, this book offers a layered and revealing portrait of India, as a society and a nation, through its enduring relationship with food. 

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Essay: What’s wrong with cultural elitism? – A case against high culture by Jahnabi Mitra

For the longest time I took pride in the fact that I would listen to only Begum Akhtar and the like. I took pride in naming several world movies and having remembered their directors. But what is not on record is that I started reading fairly late into my teenage years and started out with a railway copy of Bhagat’s Two States during my high school years, which I discreetly disposed of on my bookshelf in my later years. 

My journey to develop a ‘refined taste’ was a rather self-imposed one; the one where I decided not to listen to certain genres of music, or avoid watching certain films. This intent to culturally ‘polish myself up’ was my regular homework, which was led by an unconscious need to fit into certain sects of society and a need to appease an imaginary audience. 

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