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Love in the Time of Numbness; or, Doctor Chekhov, Writer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee

When my mother’s mother began to die of a mysterious, undiagnosable neurological illness, the first thing she lost was her sense of taste. For most families, perhaps, this would be a rather inconsequential loss, but this had severe repercussions for us. As the matriarch of our heaving, multi-generational family, she had always helmed the kitchen with an efficient, if somewhat despotic, hand. Because all the food in that household was cooked by her—years earlier, an attempted takeover by one of the uncle’s wives had been swiftly and tyrannically rebuffed—my grandmother was, in fact, the ultimate arbiter of taste. For decades, this had been a relatively stable and blissful arrangement: she was an acutely talented cook. But as her taste buds numbed, week by week, the food turned from mild to well-seasoned to intolerably spicy. It was, perhaps, a kind of neural compensation for her—the way people with early hearing loss often begin to speak more loudly—but the fish curry now went off on the palate like a thermonuclear bomb. The lentils exfoliated the tongue. The fried spinach was an incinerating terror; the okra, an endurance sport. When even the white rice, the final refuge of the Asian tongue, began to arrive at the table with halved Thai bird peppers on top, the seeds squinting above it, we squirmed in terror. But we steeled ourselves and kept eating: numbness begetting numbness.

Read More at The New Yorker


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Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Irwin Allan Sealy (without capital letters)

By Aminah Sheikh

Each of the authors interviewed for Kitaab’s Lounge Chair have been unique, and this email interview with Irwin Allan Sealy was no different. Along with his responses he sent us a note which we’ve decided to retain as part of his interview. You’ll see why…

His note:

i sense a distinct persona here but a reluctance to lower the mask. i’m not sure you can use “let’s” and at the same time absent yourself but i’ll take your questions seriously; there’ll be some loss if you automatically adapt my answers to your house style. for example i prefer not to use the capital i for me, or for that matter capitals of any kind, but fight a losing battle with autocorrect. it’s your call!

Yours ias

(Editor’s note: We decided to publish the interview without editing the manuscript for capital letters).    

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

i write to sort out impressions accumulated in my body and ideas formed in my head over a lifetime; the two camps are perpetually at war. i write to ward off that madness, but equally for the pleasure of making something out of nothing. i write for the delight certain patterns yield. i write to make sense of an apparently barbarous world. i write to explain the persistence of goodness. i write for a living. i write to escape my fate, to step out of myself. i write to rescue the past, to examine alternative worlds. i write to explore an assigned topic (like this), to assess my motives, to plan a course of action, to understand last night’s dream (there was a marsh), to scrutinize loose notions, to reach out to persons far away in space and time, and because i detest the telephone. Continue reading


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Storytelling: From kitchen to public space

Jnanpith award winner Girish Karnad traced the tradition of storytelling to its evolution as a folklore and ballad to eventually form the bedrock of culture.

In this context, he highlighted the contribution of poet and folklorist A.K. Ramanujan for his scholarly pursuit of oral traditions and for systematically studying them.

Mr. Karnad was delivering the inaugural lecture of the Mysuru Literature Festival here on Sunday. It was organised by the Mysuru Literary Forum Charitable Trust and Books Club-2015.

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Arundhati Roy’s first novel for 20 years goes on sale

Arundhati Roy’s eagerly-awaited second novel goes on sale worldwide on Tuesday, two decades after her prize-winning debut The God of Small Things propelled her to global fame and launched her career as an outspoken critic of injustice in her native India.

Roy became the first Indian woman to win the prestigious Booker Prize with her 1997 work, which sold around 8m copies and turned the young author into a star of the literary world.

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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Ather Farouqui

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

To be honest, I haven’t enjoyed writing for a long time now for reasons beyond my control. I enjoy reading mainly contemporary texts in English. I also read a lot of Urdu poetry, mainly classical poets and poets of modern sensibility, including the modernist poets of the Progressive Writers Movement.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

 My latest translation is of The Life and Poetry of  Bahdaur Shah Zafar written by Aslam Parvez. My endeavour was to make a wonderful book that has for long been confined to a narrow Urdu readership available to the wider English-speaking world.  Continue reading


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Arundhati Roy’s new novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, draws mixed reviews

arundhati_royFT has described Arundhati Roy’s second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, as “Compelling”.

“Ultimately, Roy’s admirers will not be disappointed,” writes Claire Messud in her FT review. “This ambitious new novel, like its predecessor, addresses weighty themes in an intermittently playful narrative voice. Whereas The God of Small Things — the tale of Rahel and Esthappen, a pair of twins, and their family’s tra­gedies in Kerala, southern India — approaches big issues such as caste divisions and molestation through the personal and domestic, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness embarks from the outset with a broader societal perspect­ive.”

“Now, finally, the second novel has come out, and it is clear that her politics have been part of its gestation,” writes Joan Acocella in the New Yorker. ““The God of Small Things” was about one family, primarily in the nineteen-sixties, and though it included some terrible events, its sorrows were private, muffled, personal. By contrast, “The Ministry of the Utmost Happiness” is about India, the polity, during the past half century or so, and its griefs are national. This does not mean that Roy’s powers are stretched thin, or even that their character has changed. In the new book, as in the earlier one, what is so remarkable is her combinatory genius.” Continue reading


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The lesser society reads, the safer writers are: Mustansar Hussain Tarar

Tarar is perhaps the most popular of contemporary fiction and travelogue writers in Urdu. He claims he has the capability to write another Aag Ka Darya, a novel on the Partition written by Qurratulain Hyder, but she could not have written a novel like his Bahao that talks about the disappearance of a civilisation.

Tarar’s mass popularity is perhaps the reason why he keeps distinguishing himself from other Pakistani writers. No other Pakistani writer has been honoured like him, he says: a lake in the northern areas has been named after him. But, in the same breath, he says critics need to pay attention to other contemporary fiction writers, particularly Khalida Hussain and Sami Ahuja.

Source: The Herald


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Book Review: A Tenant of the World by Madhura Banerjee

By Nilesh Mondal

A Tenant of The World_COVER-1Title: A Tenant of the World

Author: Madhura Banerjee
Publisher: Power Publishers
Pages: 79
Price: Rs 110

 

“The world is but a book, and those who don’t travel read only one page”, Augustine Hippo said, thus making travelling and literature two sides of the same coin, one a necessity for the other. Travelling doesn’t just open up new places to us, it also opens our eyes to newer perspectives, enables us to see the same places in a different light. Madhura Banerjee’s debut collection of poetry, A Tenant of the World, published by Power Publishers, aims to do just that by introducing us to familiar places, and helping us look and familiarise ourselves with them through her eyes, an attempt in which she succeeds to a large extent.

Madhura establishes from the beginning of the book itself what her idea of travelling is: the mingling of myriad cultures and taking the stories from one city and spreading it into the corners of another. Poetry for her is akin to the traveller’s spirit, unperturbed by boundaries and borders, spread across a range of geographical dissimilarities. The scope of her poetry stretches from the mountains of Kashmir, Himachal and North Bengal, to the age-old cities of Lucknow and Calcutta and even the illustrious desert of Rajasthan. Her voice is bold and seldom constricted, easily shifting from the dreamy narratives about the majestic Himalayas, to the nostalgic ruminations about changing cityscapes. This versatility of narration is in all probability, the most interesting part about her book.

This becomes apparent when we consider two very different poems, the first one called ‘If Pahalgam Were Love’, where she writes:

“Love is the conical shaft of highway highlights
Caught mid-flicker, against the wicker of fir,
Letting the red molten wax of daybreak
Flow into the valley of flowers mid-bloom”

The serenity in her tone however is swapped for one that depicts a sense of urgency in the poem ‘Bengali Jetties’, where she writes:

“When it rained at an unusual hour
In an unusual time that April,
It filled the trails of your footprints-
A muddy assurance of your departure-
Weighing down the red dust,
Making agony resist the summer wind.”

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‘The Ryukyu Kingdom: Cornerstone of East Asia’: A look at Okinawa’s distant past

By Iain Maloney

On May 15, Japan will mark the 45th anniversary of the return of Okinawa.

For 27 years prior, the U.S. administered the islands, a continuous period of occupation that began after the Battle of Okinawa in June 1945. This makes the new translation of Mamoru Akamine’s “The Ryukyu Kingdom: Cornerstone of East Asia” both welcome and timely. Many Okinawans today still feel like the put-upon runt of Japan’s prefectural litter.

Okinawa enjoys very little investment, its people have relatively low employment prospects and the prefecture shoulders the burden of hosting and supporting 50,000 U.S. armed forces personnel. For many Okinawan people, this has meant putting up with noise, threats of air crashes (such as happened in 2016), and a string of crimes committed by U.S. servicemen.

It is worth remembering amid all this that the island chain was once an independent kingdom, and according to Akamine, something of an important power broker in the region. In fact, he goes so far as to call it, in his subtitle, a “cornerstone of East Asia.” Read more

Source: Japan Times


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Book Review: The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam

By Imteyaz Alam

golden-legendTitle: The Golden Legend
Author: Nadeem Aslam
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Pages: 376
Price: Rs 599

Reading Nadeem Aslam is like living with the characters of his novel. The words keep echoing, the scenes keep flashing and the characters stay with the readers much after one finishes the book. The author has a penchant for detailing scenes, events, emotions and expressions in his writings. The reader experiences and visualizes colour, smell, sound, pain, fury, and cries, smiles, and laughs in the course of reading his stories. In fact, the portrayal is so vivid and engrossing that the reader is transported to the imaginary world created by the writer. Without rousing the sentiments, the author lets readers simmer with the empathy and sympathy for the characters.

“Many things in my books come from real life; but a novelist has to be careful in transporting a real event into the landscape of a novel. It is patient work, like moving a lake from one place to another with a teaspoon,” writes Nadeem Aslam about his own craftThe writer of five novels including Maps of Lost Lovers and The Blind Man’s Garden, and the winner of several coveted awards, has powerful context and content in his writings. His technique is that of meticulous weaver birds, of a master chef, of a music composer and of a brilliant painter. His sentences are lyrical, profound and precise. No word is out of place, no sentence is out of context. He involves the reader by the gripping content and by powerful imagery. Reading stirs the heart and mind. No wonder if he is associated with several literary movements; realism, postmodernism, imagism, and post colonialism.

Nadeem Aslam migrated to England from Pakistan at the age of 13 with his communist father who escaped persecution at the hands of General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime. He enrolled at college but dropped out, never to complete it. He lives in England but closely monitors the development in South Asia. The same is reflected in his writings too.

The Golden Legend is a timely, relevant and captivating novel. The story, set in the fictional city of Zamana in Pakistan, covers religious extremism, hatred and intolerance in society. There is a suffocating environment for religious minorities and also for liberals. The hatred in the society is so ingrained that even an eleven-year-old refuses to accept a drink from Helen, a Christian lady. Later on, the boy sneaks in, wielding a knife to attack and check whether Helen has a different colour of blood, as told to him by his mother.

Margaret adopts the Muslim name Nargis and wears a false identity all her life to avoid harassment, and remains in disguise. Massud, a fellow architect, falls in love with her in college and marries her. The architect couple later on employs Lilly and Grace for help in their work. Helen, daughter of Grace and Lilly receives the best possible education in Zamana with the help of the architect couple. Grace is killed by a person who is freed from jail when he memorizes the Quran in jail. Massud is killed in crossfire during an assassination attempt on an American citizen. The American retaliates by reckless firing that kills Massud and others. Later on, Nargis is tortured by a General from military intelligence to pardon the American and accept blood money invoking sharia law. A young Kashmiri terrorist, Imran flees from training camp in Zamana when he realizes that militants of training are up to brutal killings. He donates blood to Massud and later on comes closer to Nargis and Helen. Aysha, daughter of a cleric is widowed when her husband is killed in an American drone attack in Waziristan. Being a martyr’s wife she is prohibited to remarry. She falls in love with Lilly. The city Zamana is facing a dreadful new phenomenon that the secrets of people are revealed by a mysterious man from a mosque’s loudspeaker. One day, the loudspeaker announces the affair of Aysha and Lilly. Lilly escapes but the wrath of believers fall on his fellow Christians. Nargis, Helen and Imran escape when the frenzied crowd attacks Nargis’s house. They take refuge on an island designed and developed by Massud and Nargis.

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