by Tanima Das
I wake up with a jolt as the bulky jeep screeches to a stop. Bhuto gestures at me to wait while he hurries out, slamming the door shut. I yawn, and try to stretch out my arms, but grimace to grab my shoulder instead. A sharp shooting pain is knotting up in my neck. Cursing Bhuto for choosing the bumpiest of all roads, I try to massage out the discomfort.
Bhuto is back soon with hot tea in a clay pot accompanied by toasted bread and questionable butter on a steel plate. He smiles at me revealing his stained buck-teeth. A stench from his unwashed mouth fills the air inside the jeep. I pass him a gum and proceed to get out.
“It’s not safe, babu,” protests Bhuto and extends his hands to block my way.
“Shut up,” I say and slap away his arms.
I sit down on a tree stub to have my breakfast while Bhuto, with his huge frame, tries to block me from view. Two men are visible at the eatery across the street but their worried faces seem to be enveloped by whatever issues fate has chosen to hurl at them. But Bhuto imagines that they might want to keep an eye on me.
The food would have tasted good actually, had it not been for the scratchy, fake moustache that Bhuto has pasted onto my upper lip. I look angrily at Bhuto. He looks back at me with devotion. Read more
Book review by Gracy Samjetsabam
Title: Paper Lions
Author: Sohan S. Koonar
Publisher: Speaking Tiger (2019)
Sohan S. Koonar is a physiotherapist by training but his love for story-telling has bagged him the Judges Choice Award in the Toronto Star Short Story Contest and the first Burlington Library Literary Excellence Award. His self-published novel Karam’s Kismet got mentioned in sixteen dailies and periodicals in the US. He is a founder of a multi-clinic company and an inventor of international patents too. Koonar has lived in four continents — Asia, Africa, Europe and North America — and spends the year in his family homes in Canada, Italy and India. Paper Lions, published by Mawenzi House in Canada and Speaking Tiger in India, is a novel that explores the rich culture and history of Punjab and its role in the coming of age of India as a nation.
Paper Lions is an epic multi-generational saga of Punjab. Koonar draws on a vast canvas to present a picture in pre- and post-independent India. The novel is a five-part story of what transpires in the inchoate state of Punjab from 1937to 1965. Raikot, located a few kilometres from Ludhiana, is the locale. While the narrative revolves around three main characters — Brikram, Basanti and Ajit — and their families, it also weaves a yarn of rural Punjab in those times.
The book explores a myriad of characters — some from nomadic tribes, such as the Bajigars and some are just villagers — the dairyman, the matchmaker, the astrologer, the Giyani (Sikh wise men), the politicians, the publicists, the head of the cattle yard, the bootlegger, the snake-catcher, the Brahmins, the school headmaster and more. The characters reveal the customs and mindset of the people based on caste and clan, their religion, and the trials and tribulations that time and history brought forth. Read more
Book Review by Namrata
Title: The Doctor and Mrs. A.: Ethics and Counter-Ethics in an Indian Dream Analysis
Author: Sarah Pinto
Publisher: Women Unlimited
Year of Publication: 2019
“How does one remember the future?”
Thus, begins The Doctor and Mrs. A by Sarah Pinto. Based on ethics and counter ethics in an Indian dream analysis, this book is an inspired example of thinking beyond the known.
Just before independence, somewhere in early forties, a young Punjabi woman identified only as Mrs. A decided to be a part of an experiment by a psychiatrist, Dev Satya Nanda, for his new method of dream analysis. Unbeknownst to him, she was in an unhappy marriage with a strong urge for freedom from all the bondage. Through this experiment they discovered hidden layers of her personality which included different reflections on sexuality, trauma, ambitions and marriage. Pinto revisits this conversation and explores it in the context of late colonial Indian society. Juxtaposing the past with the present, she delivers a thought-provoking analysis on gender and power.
The author, Sarah Pinto is a Professor of anthropology at Tufts University and has also authored a few books on women and inequality in contemporary India. She won the Eileen Basker Memorial Prize from the Society of Medical Anthropology for her work Daughters of Parvati: Women and Madness in Contemporary India published in 2012. Read more
Book Review by Debraj Mookerjee
Title: The Free Voice – On Democracy, Culture and the Nation
Author: Ravish Kumar
Publisher: Speaking Tiger; 2019
Ravish Kumar is India’s most widely-discussed TV journalist. You either hate him, or you love him. There is no in-between. To say he is a polemicist is an understatement – he takes sides without apology. But here is the thing. In an India that is increasingly tilting to the right, with the mainstream media marking time to the drumroll of a muscular Hindu nationalist rhetoric, his voice stands apart, speaking for those cringing in corners, or daring to love and resist and protest. His latest work, The Free Voice — On Democracy, Culture and the Nation (translated from the Hindi ‘Bolna Hi Hai’, by Chitra Padmanabhan, Anurag Basnet and Ravi Singh) presents a more sustained exploration of such themes. The book was first published in 2018. The revised edition crucially accounts for the re-election of Mr Narendra Modi as second time Prime Minister in 2019.
Kumar is a Magsaysay Award winner for 2019, and his citation says that Kumar’s ‘Prime Time’ programme “deals with real-life, under-reported problems of ordinary people.” The citation adds, “If you have become the voice of the people, you are a journalist.” Yes, you guessed right, Ravish Kumar is a bit of a romantic, a small-town boy from the dustbowl state of Bihar who though his Hindi journalism (he’s bilingual, having studied in a missionary school) has made his mark in the national, even international landscape. Read more
Book review by Shah Tazrian Ashrafi
Title: Letters of Blood
Author: Rizia Rahman
Translator: Arunava Sinha
Publisher: Bengal Lights Books (2016)
Rizia Rahman was one of the most eminent authors of Bangla Literature. Among others, she received the Bangla Academy Literary Award, Ekushey Padak, and Arannya Literature Award for her outstanding contributions to literature. An author of more than 50 novels, she passed away on 16 August 2019.
Presented by Library of Bangladesh and translated by Arunava Sinha, Letters of Blood —Rokter Okkhor (1978) — is a novel by the late Rizia Rahman that explores the lives of the women who have been (directly and indirectly) forced into prostitution, and examines how the intricacies of their lives hold them captive in a physically and mentally hostile ecosystem. It is a window into a system that lives on the fringes of the society constantly bobbing on fickle grounds.
The novel is populated by characters from as young as twelve to as old as being on the brink of death — a feat that reflects the reality seen in the brothels.
Kusum is a fourteen-year-old, often starving and sick, whose “undernourished body hasn’t amassed enough capital”. Because she hasn’t received any customer for two days, she hasn’t been able to eat. For many women in the brothel, who are still under the control of their pimps, life is like that — the more the customers, the further the shadow of starvation. When she steals a little food, out of desperation, Kalu, her pimp, beats her black and blue as everyone else goes on about their business. No one bats an eye. The pimps are free to kill the women in their clutches without anyone sparing a glance. Read more
It is that time of the year again when the biennial Singapore Literary Prize invites published writers and poets to apply for this grand award of S$10,000, a plaque and the limelight.
Probably, one of the most prestigious awards in Singapore, this was founded in 1991, one of the first recipients of it being writer Suchen Christine Lim for her vibrant novel inclusive of the disparate cultures housed in this island, Fistful of Colours. The first award was handed out by diplomat Tommy Koh to Lim in 1992.
2018 saw a gala ceremony, where the award for the English novel category went to Jeremy Tiang’s State of Emergency. There were a total of nineteen awards given out in different categories and for the four different national languages: English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. A total of 172 submissions had been made in 2018. Read more
By Mehreen Ahmed
Blood oranges were endowed with a certain pigmentation. I called it the fruit’s pizzazz, because of its lustre, which defined it and gave it the distinctive characteristics of dark flesh. I wanted it to grow in mother’s orchard. But the gardener said it wouldn’t grow here, because the climate wouldn’t allow it. If the blood orange didn’t flourish in this soil, then neither did many things in this culture. All these nefarious old customs and habits that had become fossilised, resisting change, inhibiting growth.
One afternoon, I sat in the balcony of mother’s house. A brilliant midday sun shone yet another monsoon day. I took a sip of lemonade my mother made with the orchard’s freshly squeezed lemons. Lemons, which grew in our orchard. I was recovering at her place, from an illness. Lemons and limes were not the only citrus that grew in this orchard, oranges too. Except, the blood orange.
The monsoon winds whipped up my spirits. The orchard revitalised as the winds touched it to a new glow. The wet fern unfurled along the mossy edges on the orchard’s brick fence. Nature’s drama ensued. These were months of recapitulations. They always were. Recapping past events that happened not only in my life, but also in the lives of the others. A maid once worked in our house some years now. I don’t know, I found myself thinking about her without a reason. Her loyalty had far surpassed that of any other who worked for us then. Her name was Lily. She was our loving Lily of the Valley. She possessed an exceptional quality of gritty honesty. Read more
Fatima Ijaz, is currently teaching English and Speech Communication at Institute of Business Administration, Karachi. She is an English graduate from Hartwick College, N.Y and York University, Toronto. She also holds a Master in English Linguistics from Eastern Michigan University. She won first prize at the Mclaughlin Poetry Contest in Toronto, 2007. Her work was featured in a poetry and art collaboration for #NomeansNo at the Music Mela, Islamabad’18 and at Art Baithak, Karachi University in March 2019. Her work has been published in Zau, Red Fez, Rigorous, The Write Launch, Abramelin, Della Donna, Whirlwind, These Fragile Lilacs, Writer’s Asylum and Praxis magazine.
By Dr Naina Dey
Lucy Villa was a beautiful house almost palatial in grandeur and standoffishness. Built on a large patch of sloping land it was surrounded by a once lush garden of myriad fruit trees and exotic flowering plants. Now with years of neglect, the fruit trees had gone wild and the plants that had managed to survive, were smothered by weeds and brambles. No shears trimmed the wayward shoots, no one watered the plants that stood under the scorching sun and waited for merciful rain. The only fountain had run dry, its water trough sickly yellow and green with slime, its stone fairy now decrepit. At night however, Lucy Villa was an elfin realm. Its colourless walls, broad balustrades, wide balconies and layered terraces, gleamed in the moonlight though its tall elegant windows looked dark and forbidding.
Lucy Villa was named after the wife of a sahib who had it built with the intention of enjoying the quiet of this far-flung town and to entertain the occasional guest. Unable to bear the death of his beloved collie and then of his childless wife, the sahib had returned to England leaving the house under the care of a friend who lived in the city. That was more than two decades ago. At present it was under the supervision of an attorney, a little bald sly-eyed man.
When we entered the house, it was still furnished with whatever Hamilton sahib had left behind. Moth-eaten carpets and teak furniture inlaid with delicate floral motifs in brass adorned the living room. The rest of the rooms were bare their dusty floors emanating a suffocating musty smell. The house itself was still in excellent condition despite the neglect barring a few damp patches. The walls had been white-washed for the new tenants. It was a pity that a house fit for a prince was in disuse for this long. It also became evident shortly after we had moved in that this was a house of disrepute.
As I stood one evening under the oleander tree just outside the walls, two Sikh boys on a scooty had screamed raucously – “Bhootiya Bungla (haunted bungalow)!” and sped away as fast as they could leaving me confused and angry. True, the house stood by itself, its high walls and garden isolating it from the rest of the neighbourhood. It was hardly unusual for houses which were once dwelling places of the rich, who preferred privacy, to be associated with strange stories once they had been abandoned. Read more
Book Review by Nabina Das
Title: Bulletproof: A Journalist’s Notebook on Reporting Conflict
Author: Teresa Rehman
Publisher: Penguin Random House India, 2019
Conflict journalism is a term that evokes certain hard-hitting images in the head. These are mostly to do with the news coverage of militaristic activities, hyper-masculine behavior and code of conduct, and a breakdown of order in a state or society. And the immediate corollary that follows is that a male journalist must be at the helms writing about wars and skirmishes across countries and continents, an extraordinary brave and exclusive act. This nearly is a post-colonial post-truth — if one may use such jargon — even in the 21st century. The first thing that comes in the reader’s mind after reading Teresa Rehman’s Bulletproof is the sense of foreboding laced with hope and empathy. Unlike a lot of war or conflict journalists we have known and read, she shuns frills or any show of sensationalism. More than conflict, her focus is peace.
An award-winning journalist specializing in combat reporting from the Northeast and Kashmir, Rehman recounts in this book her dangerous forays in a matter of fact tone. The chapters are each devoted to major assignments she undertook as a fulltime journalist. The book starts with the meeting with Th. Muivah, the vastly charismatic leader of Naga liberation, chief of the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah). It’s a fascinating account full of details one doesn’t see in run-of-the-mill reports on Naga insurgency from especially mainland India. Here one sees Muivah not simply as a militant Naga leader, but as a human being with a sense of humor, and “Uncle” to his followers.
With most accounts of conflict journalism being a male bastion that is also loud and demonstrative, Rehman writes in a remarkably balanced voice sans any overt dramatization. As a woman writing about experiences that normally would have any seasoned journalist all warped and twisted, her accounts flow with grace and human consideration. The reader also gets glimpses of places like Dimapur, its dingy hotels, the alleyways, and even of the accompanying driver or attendant (who apparently had no clue why Rehman was visiting Nagaland). Read more