By Tamizh Ponni

“Hey, don’t go too far,” yelled Rekha, adjusting her hat. The popsicle in her other hand was melting with all possible haste not letting Rekha relish it at her own pace.

“I am good. Jeez! I am a grown-up now! Stop being nannyish!”replied Madhu as she carefully collected the sea urchin shells. They fascinated her for some reason. With an enclosed dome-like structure and a muricated exterior, they resembled Madhu’s actual persona.

“You get back here now. It’s not safe in there,” Rekha yelled not paying any heed to her daughter’s backtalk.

“Ma! I am 35. Treat me like an adult. Pleaaaase…,” Madhu begged with a babyish pout. Now that her hands were almost full with the precious collection, Madhu was frantically looking for a place to unload.

“Age isn’t going to magically instil maturity in you or stop me from protecting you,” Rekha replied dryly, biting her popsicle.

“Protect me from what? Ocean waves?” asked Madhu jokingly and chuckled.

“From your own silliness. Now come back. Let’s enjoy the view and the waves from here,” said Rekha patting on a spot next to her on the beach mat.

“Alright, Alright,” Madhu sighed and returned. She wanted to sit for a while too. The cool, salty breeze calmed her mind and helped her take her mind off the previous week’s madness. She wanted to discuss it particularly with her mother but didn’t know how to begin.

As Rekha opened the box containing egg Samosas, the aroma of its filling fuelled Madhu’s hunger. She gladly took one and took a sizeable bite. Munching on the lunch, the duo were devouring the fresh sea breeze with their legs stretched.

“Is something bothering you?” Rekha asked without looking at her daughter.

Suralakshmi Villa

Title: Suralakshmi Villa

Author: Aruna Chakravarti

Publisher: Macmillan

Year of publication: 2020

Pages : 313pages

Price : Rs 650

Links : Amazon

About: Suralakshmi Choudhury, a gynaecologist based in Delhi, falls in love at the age of thirty-one, marries and has a son. Suddenly, five years after his birth, she abandons everything including the house gifted to her by her father and her flourishing medical career, to travel to an obscure village in Bengal and open a free clinic for women and children. She leaves her son behind but takes along a poor Muslim girl, she has adopted. What makes her take this strange decision? Suralakshmi’s actions confound her relatives and it is from their accounts of the incidents, letters, memoirs, and flashbacks – from a more distant past – that the story comes together and the layers and nuances in the enigmatic character of Suralakshmi are brought to light.

In Suralakshmi Villa, Aruna Chakravarti blends the narrative of the novel with history, legend, music, religion, folklore, rituals and culinary practices of both Hindus and Muslims, and creates a fascinating tapestry which reveals the syncretic nature of Bengal and her people.

 

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Title: Calling Elvis: Conversations with Some of Music’s Greatest: A Personal History

Author: Shantanu Datta

Publisher: Speaking Tiger

Year of publication: 2020

Pages: 230

Price: INR 399

Links: Speaking Tiger 

About: Shantanu Datta’s career as a journalist placed him at the forefront of music reportage in India for much of the past three decades, and therefore gave him unprecedented access to the greatest performers from around the world who played in the South Asian subcontinent. This book compiles, for the first time, the detailed interviews he conducted with seminal artistes like Roger Waters (Pink Floyd), Ian Anderson and Martin Barre (Jethro Tull), Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) and many others including Dr L. Subramaniam, John McLaughlin, Sting, Jean-Luc Ponty, Carlos Santana and Amyt Datta. His candid, informed conversations with these enduring legends provide a rare glimpse into the minds of those trailblazers who influenced entire generations with their music. Datta’s own life too emerges in vignettes throughout the book, as he deftly weaves together his professional life with the personal through shared threads of melody and song.

Written with an exceptional depth of knowledge, Calling Elvis is an absolute treat for musicians and music-lovers everywhere.

Book review by Tan Kaiyi

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With the rise of the Asian Century, the global community typically shines its spotlight on the economic progress of the region. Much is made of the advancing wealth of nations like India, China, Singapore and Vietnam. But while the economic progress is an easy unifying narrative that could be woven through the different countries, equally important — but much more challenging — is charting the breadth and depth of the Asian literary imagination.

The Best Asian Short Stories 2019 is up to the monumental task. The editor of the anthology, award-winning author Hisham Bustani, highlights the main obstacle to the endeavour when assembling the collection:

“…there is no such thing as a well-defined, self-contained, concrete, unified Asian identity…”

He explains the issue by contrasting it with Europe. While similar to Asia with a geography that contains multiple language and cultures, the region “claims a unique identity and set of ‘European values’ that separate it from others…” This consequently gives a literary landscape in the region a halo of universalism. Whether it is true at heart or not is certainly up for debate, as Bustani rightly points out that some communities like Turkey are isolated from the Eurocentric ideological bloc.

An experimental narrative from Myanmar

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A city is emitting fragrance without a reason — such a sweet, soothing smell! People living in this city behave like bees. They go hurriedly, work fast, eat quickly, sleep less, do not gamble, quarrel less, and laugh a lot. The city is very beautiful and splendid. It has spacious parks, tall trees, perfect housing, clean air and is plastic free. The residents enjoy their lives to the fullest. Children can play happily at all times and everywhere lost in wonder — as if they were in a perpetual Disneyland. Peace and harmony reigns supreme. The city is charming and stately. Even big cities like Paris, New York, Venice, Sidney or Tokyo cannot compete in beauty and grandeur to the fragrant city.

The residents are very hardworking, energetic, and ambitious. Also, they do not much care about any politics, even, social, and economic matters. They are only focused on attaining satisfaction in life. They tend to do what they think is right — informally and independently. They have no worries over food, cloth, and shelter. They have plenty. The system is very good; there are no hurdles that need to be overcome in everyday life. The long term plans provided by the government are perfect. They welcome any immigrants who come to this city heartily. Food is abundant, people are sweet, and places are nice and fanciful.

They communicate with each other using their special olfactory lingua franca. Only the city dwellers can understand. They just only have to conjure ideas which travel like waves. These waves spread from their brains and touch another person’s skin or any part of the body, they can accept the waves and decipher the meaning. They do not have to exert to make a sentence. They do not have to speak like us or worry about knowing a language. They can communicate with each other easily.

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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.

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Nobody with his head screwed on would consider visiting a tiger reserve with family and friends on his honeymoon. I know. But my husband-to-be is a man with a difference. As they say, you get to know the guy after it’s too late to wriggle out of the commitment. I should have known; this is my second go at matrimony.

Until last month, things were cruising along perfectly. Pun intended. We were debating between an Alaskan and a Mediterranean cruise for our romantic getaway. You get the picture—why I want to hitch my wagon to his, that is—DK is loaded, and my mission is to help him make the best use of his money. Then he drops the bomb, over lobster thermidor at the Otters’ Club.

“Darling, did I tell you Mahee is coming for our big day? Although the poor child is burdened with coursework, she requested the school to give her a fortnight off for her grandfather’s wedding, and guess what, they agreed!”

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

Snow.

From the hills that surround the town it indifferently drifts. Upon bare soil and barren rocks, upon the base of trees, it sweeps. From my window this morning, the trees were grey, feathery and clinging like ghostly hands to the low clouds but now, in the wintry breathe of evening, they are like conquering warriors marching down shadowy slopes. My boots, hard and heavy, follow empty pavements. A car, a van, a bus, occasionally passes through our slushy streets. There is hardly a sound except for the click, click, click from the pedestrian crossing.

I’ve walked here all my life. I know every crack in the pavement, every blemish on the shop walls, every angle of the stooping buildings, every flutter of the koinobori, the carp-shaped wind-socks that now colourfully flutter high up over the gorge to mark the change of season. Hundreds there are, strung up on lines, but one has fallen far below and is stuck between two jagged rocks, one end flapping like a useless flag as the river tries to drag it away.

I’ve never left this place, this hot spring town where tourists flock like hungry gulls during the holiday season. There are better jobs elsewhere but I choose to remain a janitor at the high school. That’s all I’ve been these thirty- eight years. I’ll retire next month. They’ve kept me well past retirement age as I do a pleasing job. Now I have to go though as I’m too old.

 

JUMPSTART: Generating New Writing
Wanting to write, but not sure how to start? Stuck in a rut where your writing is concerned? Jumpstart will help you perceive the world in a new fashion, fuel your creativity and give impetus to new writing.

Date & Timing:
Sat 21 Sept: 2:00pm – 5:00pm

Click here for Tickets

BREVITY: The Art of Flash Fiction
Wanting to write fiction, but don’t know how to start? Already creating stories, but having trouble condensing your thoughts down within a word count? Or are you fascinated by very short stories and simply want to try your hand at developing one?