About the book:

The Bride’s Mirror (Mirat ul-‘Arus) was the first bestseller in Urdu. First published in 1869, within twenty years it had gone into several editions and sold over 100,000 copies. An English translation was published in England in 1903 by G. E. Ward, and the book has been almost continuously in print ever since. The novel tells the story of two sisters, Asghari and Akbari, who are married to two brothers in Delhi. Akbari, the spoilt, mean-tempered and impetuous sister, fritters away all the advantages she is offered and makes a mess of her life. Asghari, who has to contend with all sorts of disappointments and setbacks, prevails in the end and makes a success of everything she turns her hand to.

All through its existence, The Bride’s Mirror had been hailed as one of the most important works of Urdu literature ever published. The portrait it provides of the lives of those who lived in Delhi over a hundred years ago is an indelible one.

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When the news of Batúl’s death reached him, Dúrandesh Khán sáhib was very greatly distressed, and it was with a troubled heart that he wrote to his daughter the following letter:

By Sushant Dhar

Nikos Kazantzakis
Nikos Kazantzakis in Antibes, 1956 
Photograph by Henri Chaillet

I rose and held out my hand to the rain like a beggar. I suddenly felt like weeping. Some sorrow, not my own but deeper and more obscure, was rising from the damp earth: the panic which a peaceful grazing animal feels when, all at once, without having seen anything, it rears its head and scents in the air about it that it is trapped and cannot escape. I wanted to utter a cry, knowing that it would relieve my feelings, but I was ashamed to. The clouds were coming lower and lower. I looked through the window: my heart was gently palpitating. What a voluptuous enjoyment of sorrow those hours of soft rain can produce in you! All the bitter memories hidden in the depth of your mind come to the surface: separations from friends, women’s smiles which have faded, hopes which have lost their wings like moths and of which only a grub remains – and that grub had crawled on the leaf of my heart and was eating it away. My misery lasted for years, perhaps even to this day. I was born, after all, on Friday the eighteenth of February, the day of souls, a very holy day indeed, and the old midwife clutched me in her hands, brought me close to the light, and looked at me with great care. She seemed to see some kind of mystic signs on me. Lifting me high, she said, “Mark my words, one day this child will become a bishop” (Zorba the Greek).

And came Nikos Kazantzakis, the one who stared back at the abyss with unflinching courage.

It was the seventh day of November, 2016. I was sitting quietly in my room, looking through the window, watching the red dot disappear behind the snow clad mountains. I had finished reading Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Nietzsche’s ‘superman’ had taken hold of my mind. While browsing the web, I came around a breath-choking prologue: ‘I collect my tools: sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing, intellect. Night has fallen; the day’s work is done. I return like a mole to my home, the ground. Not because I am tired and cannot work. I am not tired. But the sun has set.’

These sentences were written at the time when Kazantzakis had a premonition of Charon coming soon to visit him. The words stunned me. I looked for the author and the book. I hadn’t read anything about Nikos Kazantzakis. Reading Report to Greco, Kazantzakis’ autobiographical novel, was akin to being part of the author’s spiritual journey. The moment I started reading Greco, I was transported into a different realm of writing. I hadn’t ever experienced such joy of reading. Pure philosophy. The uphill path. It was like reading something written with blood. The central theme of all his writings is the battle between soul and flesh; the unaccommodating ascent to the summit. All of his works speak of harmonizing the two forces that are fighting within each human being. He writes about real freedom; to hope nothing, to deliver man from man, to deliver god from god, to erect our personal bridges and jump over the abyss.

By Neha Mehrotra

Janice Pariat is the author of Boats on Land: A Collection of Short Stories, Seahorse, a novel and The Nine Chambered-Heart, a novella, published by HarperCollins India in November 2017 and HarperCollins UK in May 2018. In 2013, Janice won Sahitya Akademi’s Young Writer Award and the Crossword Book Award for Fiction; in 2015, she was shortlisted for the Hindu Literary Prize for her novel Seahorse.

Janice studied English Literature at St. Stephens College, Delhi and went on to study History of Art at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. She currently lives in Delhi; among other things, writes a monthly literary column ‘Paperwallah’ for The Hindu and teaches creative writing at Ashoka University.

The Nine Chambered Heart is currently being translated for publication into six languages, including Italian, Spanish, French and German.

Janice Pariat.jpg
Janice Pariat

How do you identify as a writer?

By writing? I don’t see what else would suffice. Although I’d hasten to add that identifying as a writer implies something of a stasis–and I think, for me, it’s about “being” a writer or seeing that identity (as with all?) as something that’s perpetually in flux. One is always “becoming” a writer. It isn’t some pleasant destination you arrive at, at the top of a mythical hill. It’s also an identity to which people are keen to prefix with labels – “woman”, “Northeast”, “Indian” – while I would prefer to shrug them all off. Labels say very little about me, and tend to skew expectations of what I should write, the kind of stories I should be telling, where my books should be set.

What impels you to write, especially the kind of books you write?

I’m afraid I’m not very good at anything else – painting, pottery, playing a musical instrument. I feel kinship though with literature and books and writing. Reading impels me to write. As does remembrance, and memory. Bleakness. Joy. Frustration. Fun. Anger. Sadness. At the risk of sounding like one of those terrifically earnest people, writing is at the very centre of everything I do because it helps me make sense of the world, to record it, unravel it, and give it away. They say we write the books we want to read? Perhaps. I guess I write the books I do to explore aspects of myself, and other people and the world that most intrigue me.

Tell us about your most recent piece of writing apart from what you have published.

A terrible poem which must never see light of day. Hastily scribbled notes, which may make it into the next book. To be honest, I’ve been reading more than writing this summer.