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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Ananda Devi

Ananda

By Aminah Sheikh

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

This is the kind of question, like “what do you write about”, that plunges me into a regular quandary because it’s as if I were being asked to summarize my life in one paragraph. I actually don’t know how I came to writing because I started as a child, almost as soon as I began to read and write, and it grew up with me. But I realized its importance when I was around 12 years old and started writing my first “novels”. I obtained my first literary prize at 15, published my first collection of short stories when I was 19 and never really looked back. I would say that I began to write because it was a way to break the silence – both mine and that of Mauritian society around me, which is one where things are left unsaid, where there is a kind of culture of stifling real feelings, and where, as in many other parts of the world, a large number of people are condemned to be unheard and at times invisible. My first novel, after my collections of short stories, was a first person narrative about a prostitute of Port-Louis, the capital of Mauritius. Written in the eighties, it broke a taboo in many ways, including the sexual violence being described and the sensuality of the writing. I’ve sometimes been described as a writer who writes for the voiceless. But this is a little too grand and emphatic for me. We are all voiceless in certain ways, and writing delves deep into our psyches, into fears and obsessions that fear to reveal themselves because they make us vulnerable.

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

The novel I have just completed and that will be published early next year was probably one I found most difficult to write because it broke away from my usual literary haunts. For instance, in all my novels, the place where the story is set is extremely important and plays a major part in the narrative. Whether it is Port-Louis, or Terre Rouge, in Mauritius, New Delhi or London, my characters tend to take on part of their meaning from their surroundings, which closely reflect their states of mind. This roots them in history – their own and the larger history of the place – in their being, in their becoming. In this last novel, however, I do not name the place; it could be any modern city, and there is hardly any description of the outer environment of the main character. This is because the story is told by a morbidly obese 16-year-old for whom, in a way, the “place” is her body. It is her prison and her shrine. She is captured by this inflationary process, trying to come to terms with it, with the fact that her mother left her with her father when she was still a baby, and her father, who adores her, also destroys her by constantly feeding her the most delicious food. He has also created the myth that the protagonist is obese because originally her mother was expecting twins, and that somehow, one was absorbed by the other. So the girl is both constantly shadowed by this invisible sister, and believes she has in a way devoured her inside the uterus. At the same time, it is a very contemporary novel because it talks about the constant “eye” of social media and the virtual world on all of us and on her especially, which turns her into a monster that is constantly being watched. The virtual world is the fourth dimension in which we now live, whether we like or not, and that has unleashed the most negative traits in people, mockery, aggression, hate, racism, behind the walls of anonymity. It all ends in an orgy of self-inflicted violence, the nihilism that is reflected in the many different sorts of violence surrounding us.

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A.K. Ramanujan: A Lonely Hero

The narrative around the pioneering Indian English poet and translator must rescue him from his image of a remote icon into a living inspiration.

Translation, by definition, always entails some loss of the original substance. All translations are sooner or later revealed as imperfect and eventually, even in the case of the most exemplary performances, come to be regarded as provisional.

—Susan Sontag, The World As India

AK. Ramanujan (or AKR), who taught at the University of Chicago for 30 years, has remained an iconic figure for the Indian literary community for a long time. After making his mark first as an Indian English poet in the mid 1960s, he won enduring fame in India and abroad for his pioneering translations of classical Tamil poetry, and later, of Bhakti poetry in Tamil and Kannada. During the latter half of his career, AKR worked on compiling and translating folk tales from across India in as many as 20 languages. As a scholar and intellectual, he also contributed essays throwing light on several important aspects of Indian culture related to our language systems and oral/written literary traditions. Though he did not spend much time on translating contemporary works, his translation of U.R. Ananthamurthy’s Kannada novel Samskara, first published in 1976, was a landmark achievement, catapulting the novel and its author to national and international fame. Along with a prodigious output in several genres, AKR also wrote poetry and fiction in Kannada throughout his life. After his untimely demise in 1993, AKR’s papers (poems, folk tales, essays) were collected and edited for publication in several volumes.

For his achievements, AKR was held in high esteem by his peers and contemporaries. To Indians, he had that extra sheen of a non-resident genius, working in fields not easily accessible to Indians of that period. He continues to be venerated here as a translator, scholar and thinker by succeeding generations of Anglophone Indians. It would seem, however, that in the current discourse on Ramanujan and his writings, he is always looked at in isolation, a venerable figure not related to his contemporaries or his successors in a substantive way.

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How the bestseller ‘The Vegetarian,’ translated from Han Kang’s original, caused an uproar in South Korea

Before publishing his famous Chinese poetry translation “Cathay” in 1915, Ezra Pound apparently had no knowledge of Chinese at all. Instead, he worked from second-hand notes by another translator, boldly imposing his Imagist vision on classical Chinese poetry. Not surprisingly, he made quite a few errors in the process. And yet today, “Cathay” has become a deeply admired modernist classic; “The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter” appears in many poetry anthologies. The work is hardly considered a translation at all. A classics professor recently told me that he feels the same way about Pound’s “re-creations” of the elegies by the Latin poet Sextus Propertius: “I don’t even the think of the changes as errors,” he said. The translator’s version has become canonized.

Would Pound’s free interpretations have been just as praised had he translated novels? Or if he published his works a century later?

The question came to mind as I pondered the recent controversy in South Korea over Deborah Smith’s brilliant but flawed translation of Han Kang’s novel “The Vegetarian.” Originally published in 2007, Han’s work received critical acclaim but didn’t enjoy a particularly wide readership. Many South Korean readers initially found the novel to be bizarre: a dark, surreal tale of a woman who refuses to eat meat and descends into madness.

All that changed when “The Vegetarian” won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize. The award landed the book on American and British bestseller lists as media attention focused on Smith, a then-28-year-old British graduate student, making much of the fact that the translator had started to learn Korean only six years earlier.

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Asymptote’s Blockbuster Summer Edition

Asymptote’s Summer issue presents new writing from 27 countries. An exciting journey through stories and poems with master story-tellers and contest winners.

Asymptote’s blockbuster Summer edition features new fiction by master story-teller Finalized_Summer_2017_FB_announcementMercè Rodoreda, interviews with Kafka translator Michael Hofmann and 2017 Prix Net Art winner Bogosi Sekhukhuni, as well as the first love poems by Nobel front-runner Ko Un, who poignantly captures the longing of “the world…in want of the world.”

Asymptote also announces — and showcases — the 2017 Close Approximations contest winners, picked from a total of 343 entries by David Bellos and Sawako Nakayasu.

Find out which six emerging translators walk away with a total of 3,000 USD in prizes by reading the judges’ citations here.

Watch out for the journals’ fabulous content on FacebookTwitter, and Tumblr.

Discover new work from 27 countries + contest winners at http://asymptotejournal.com

 


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Excerpts

Eve out of her Ruins by Ananda Devi

Eve out of Her Ruins_Cover Spread

Eve

The inspector finally agreed to take me to the morgue. I don’t know how he did it, but he managed to get me in. He must have connections. That, and he feels sad for me. I don’t care how he did it, I just care that I’ll get to see Savita.

In the morgue, both the light and smell are greenish. I thought the movies would have prepared me for this. But movies have nothing to do with reality. It’s totally different here. The filth in the corners. The ceiling blooming with mold. Chemical smells coming from the    walls.

My whole body goes weak. The place is heavy with their presence. Everybody who came through here has left traces. On the walls, on the ground, on the ceiling, in the air. Like invisible lips sealed to their silence. Nobody ever leaves completely.

The inspector holds me by my arm and says, you don’t have to.

No, I’ve never had to.

I shake my arm free. I don’t want to turn back.

After what she’s gone through, I can go through everything. And then, in my head, I saw her a thousand times like this. I keep seeing her, in that envelope of death. And now I actually do see her. Unmoving and pale. Her face glazed, rigid, solid. The bruises still on her neck from the murderer’s fingers. I know her, yet she is wholly unrecognizable. Her youthfulness, I think. When death comes to someone so young, it makes her unrecognizable. And there’s a bluish, almost purplish tint to her skin. I reel from the strangeness of it all.

But I do recognize her mouth. I hold on to that. That mouth with its darkened edges is her mouth, Savita’s mouth, I’m happy to see it again in all its perfection at last, yes, I haven’t started to forget her features like I’d feared a second ago, I haven’t betrayed her, I still have that memory of her mouth in me as something so precious that, for the rest of   my life, all my senses will bring it back to me.

I explain to her that I was by the stream, and that was the reason I didn’t hear anything. I tell her that for me, it’s life that’s distorting my features and making me unrecognizable.

My hand touches her cheek. I lean in, but the inspector holds me back. No, he says.

He takes me to a small café where the flies are more plentiful than the diners. I want for him to tell me something, for him to ask for something in exchange for the service he’s rendered. He doesn’t ask for anything. But he asks me questions. By the dirty window, I see the world going by. Yes, there’s a world, over there, out there, that doesn’t know Savita and where lives haven’t stopped along with hers. I tell him everything, without really knowing why. How old I was when I began, where I went. I describe these places he knows so well. His questions take me further and further. My actions are getting crazier, I can tell. That’s what he thinks: this girl is crazy.

He looks at me as if he can’t believe me: And you’re still alive? he says.

What was the use of it all? he asks, again. His big hands on the table are trembling and fiddling with a paper napkin to the point that there aren’t anything but shreds left. I wouldn’t like to be a criminal he’d arrested. There isn’t any skin that would resist those hands.

I finally answer his question:

To slip through the cracks. To… To what?

To go on.

The next question had to be, go on to where, but he doesn’t ask it. His eyes are tired and my thoughts are completely blank. I was thinking about buying myself a life. But I don’t know which one.

He asks me if I have any health problems. I know what he’s talking about, but I pretend not to understand. I show him the blue bruise on my cheek, which has turned yellow: these sorts of problems, yes, every day, I   say.

He isn’t looking at me anymore, I think he’s trying to imagine what they did to me, what they made me do, what they’ll make me do again, in the mirror behind the bar I see us and I know I look young, too young, a bit of string, a little burned thing, and I know he’d like to keep me from slipping further down, but he doesn’t know anything at all.

Suddenly, he gets angry:

What if I shoved you in prison for a bit of time, you’d have to stop, that’d make you get better, wouldn’t it?

I get up to leave. The conversation’s over. There’s nothing else to say.

It’s hard to keep believing, he says quietly. But you have to defend yourself. I want you to stay alive.

He takes me back to Troumaron. In the car I don’t say anything. But I remember something he said: Savita wasn’t raped. I think he said that to reassure me. But then why was she killed? There was no anger there, no sexual violence. For the fun of it? Or to shut her up?

We pull up in front of the buildings. The sky is low. Here, there’s always something watching. Some spirit that’s vibrating, living, malignant.

He comes and opens the door of the jeep for me. I’m not used to that. Before I step down, he slips something into my bag.

Only use it to protect yourself, understand? he says very quietly.

I look down. I don’t know why he did that. I didn’t give him anything.

He holds me by the shoulders as I step down, and rubs them a bit.

He’s talking in English. Be good, he says. I shrug. It’s too late to be good.

It’s only once he’s gone that I realize that we were right in the middle of all the buildings. Every window’s facing us. Everybody saw me come back to Troumaron in a police car, everybody saw the inspector whispering in my ear. I colluded with the enemy. As usual, I’d done what I shouldn’t have. I can almost hear through these windows what everybody must be thinking furiously: this time, she went too far.

The ground starts to give way beneath my feet and cave in just as I walk into my apartment building.

But, after all, there was never any ground under my feet.

***

Excerpted from ‘Eve out of her Ruins’ by Ananda Devi published by Speaking Tiger

***

With brutal honesty and poetic urgency, Ananda Devi relates the tale of four young Mauritians trapped in their country’s endless cycle of fear and violence: Eve, whose body is her only weapon and source of power; Savita, Eve’s best friend, the only one who loves Eve without self-interest, and who ha plans to leave but will not go alone; Saadiq, gifted would-be poet, inspired by Rimbaud, in love with Eve; Clélio, belligerent rebel, waiting without hope for his brother to send for him from France.

Eve out of her Ruins is a heartbreaking look at the dark corners of the island nation of Mauritius that tourists never see, and a poignant exploration of the construction of personhood at the margins of society. Awarded the prestigious Prix des cinq continents upon publication as the best book written in French outside France, Eve out of her Ruins  is a harrowing account of the violent reality of life in her native country by the figurehead of Mauritian literature.

About the Author:

AnandaAnanda Devi is a Mauritian writer of Telugu and Creole descent. She has published eleven novels as well as short stories and poetry, and was featured at the PEN World Voices Festival in New York in 2015. She has won multiple literary awards, including the Prix du Rayonnement de la langue et de la literature françaises (2014), the Prix Mokanda (2012), the Prix Louis-Guilloux (2010), and the Prix RFO du livre (2006). Devi was made a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 2010.

 


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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Perumal Murugan

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By Aminah Sheikh

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

We do a lot of things, not knowing why. The same is true of writing. I don’t have a clear answer to this question. It could be said that I write because writing is my second nature.

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

My novel Poonachi Allathu Oru Vellatin Kathai (Poonachi or The Story of a Goat) was published in January 2017. It tells the story of a goat’s life in its entirety. In the novel, I experimented with writing both in the conventional mode of storytelling as well as deviating from it. Writing about a goat was more suited to my heart than writing about human beings. I share my experiences and perspectives through my writing. But for that, I don’t think of conveying anything or achieving anything with it.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

My style of writing is very simple. Many stories lie buried in my heart. Of these, I select the one which takes a complete form, and when time and state of mind are conducive, I sit down to write. Life is a multi-layered entity. It is writing with this understanding that perhaps defines the aesthetic of my work.

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Mohsin Hamid: Writers need to create ‘optimistic visions’ of the future

Mohsin Hamid

Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid believes it’s important for writers to help society imagine radical, optimistic new futures. He spoke with DW about his latest book, “Exit West,” a story about migration and basic humanity.

DW: “Exit West” is a parable of a world where doors stand open, with migration as the central theme. Do you believe the freedom to migrate should be a basic human right?

Mohsin Hamid: I think it should. We are at a state now where we have embraced partial equality. We think that if you are a man or a woman, you should be equal. If you’re black or white, you should be equal. If you are religious or atheist, gay or straight, you should be equal.

And yet, we seem unprepared to say that if you are born in Mogadishu or in Hamburg, in New York or in Lahore, you should be equal. We recoil from the idea of equality, regardless of the place of birth. I don’t think that’s sustainable. Eventually, it will be accepted that regardless of where someone was born they have an equal right to live where they choose. This might be 100 years from now, or it might be 500 years from now.

And I think it will be liberating for us. Slavery was not abolished only because slavery demeaned the humanity of people who were slaves; slavery demeans the humanity of people who are masters. And in this sense, trying to live in countries which claim to champion equality while fundamentally denying it to people born in other places demeans people as well. So we all have to gain. But it’s a multigenerational process.

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Mohsin Hamid among those shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize

American heavyweights Paul Auster and George Saunders are to go head to head for this year’s Man Booker prize, as major names from fiction fall by the wayside for two new faces on the 2017 shortlist.

The prize judges, chaired by Baroness Lola Young, announced their shortlist of six titles on Wednesday morning. Alongside Auster and Saunders, the 29-year-old British debut novelist Fiona Mozley has secured a place in the final line-up, as did American first timer Emily Fridlund. Continue reading


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South Side Stories: Long list of DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2017

Past winners of the DSC Prize include HM Naqvi of Pakistan, Shehan Karunatilaka of Sri Lanka, Jeet Thayil and Cyrus Mistry from India. Jhumpa Lahiri won it in 2015 for The Lowland. Last year, the winner of the prize was Anuradha Roy for her book Sleeping on Jupiter. 

The long list for the coveted DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2017 was announced by writer, publisher and chair of the jury panel, Ritu Menon, at Delhi’s Oxford Bookstore on Thursday. The list comprises 13 novels, written by authors of four nationalities. It includes seven writers from India, three from Pakistan, two from Sri Lanka and one American writer based in India. Some of the books that have made it to the list include Aravind Adiga’s Selection Day (pictured), Karan Mahajan’s The Associations of Small Bombs, Perumal Murugan’s Pyre (pictured), Pakistani author Omar Shahid Hamid’s The Party Worker, Anuk Arudpragasam’s The Story of a Brief Marriage, Anjali Joseph’s The Living, Ashok Ferrey’s The Ceaseless Chatter of Demons (pictured), among others. The prize is worth US $25,000 and is open to authors writing about South Asia and its people. The long list for the coveted DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2017 was announced by writer, publisher and chair of the jury panel, Ritu Menon, at Delhi’s Oxford Bookstore on Thursday.

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Author Meghna Pant wins Bharat Nirman Award

01-meghna-pant

Meghna Pant, the award-winning author of ‘One & A Half Wife’, was felicitated with the prestigious ‘Bharat Nirman Award’ for her contribution to the field of literature. The award was given to her by the Bharat Nirman Foundation during the 3rd edition of the Asiad Literature Festival 2017, which aims to reward and empower women and promote the beauty of Indian literature.

The Asiad Literature Festival seeks to felicitate individuals who have made an outstanding contribution in their field of expertise. The noted author was bestowed with the award for her work and contribution as a pioneer amongst women writers. Read more

Source: The Indian Panorama