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The man who saw the future: Yashwant Chittal and his place in modern Indian literature

The city — as a place of immense possibility and wrenching displacement — made only a fleeting appearance in Kannada literature in the decades after Independence. In the 1970s, Bengaluru was more Malgudi than Mumbai, more a sleepy town of towering rain trees and slow living than the city it burst into three decades later. For readers, a foretaste of life in a teeming metropolis came in Shikari, a novel written in 1979 by one of the most important Kannada writers and modernists, Yashwant Chittal. “To read Chittal is to see the whole nightmare and vision of a city,” says Girish Karnad, writer, filmmaker and playwright.

That nightmare is seen through the eyes of Nagappa, the protagonist of Shikari, an engineer at the peak of his career in a chemicals company in Bombay. The novel begins, dramatically, by shoving Nagappa right into a mysterious ordeal: “As the situation he found himself in began to make some sense to Nagappa, he recalled K, the hero of Kafka’s novel The Trial that he had read years ago. Just like it had happened with K, somebody must be spreading false rumours about him.” Those rumours have led him to be suspended from his job on “serious charges” that have not been specified. As the novel proceeds, Nagappa is swept away by a swirl of paranoia and conspiracy in a cut-throat, competitive world in which nothing is as it seems to be. In an essay written for the Outlook magazine in 2012, author Aravind Adiga had described Shikari as a searing Bombay novel, and Chittal as a novelist “who has captured the city as well as Suketu Mehta or Salman Rushdie”. An English translation of the novel, Shikari: The Hunt, published by Penguin Random House, releases this month.

So, who was Chittal? What is his place in modern Indian literature? How does he imagine an urban modernity? Was he the man who saw tomorrow?

Yashwant Chittal was born in Hanehalli village in Uttara Kannada district in August, 1928, in a family of remarkable talent — the eldest of five brothers, Damodar, was a lawyer and politician; Gangadhar, five years older than Yashwant, was one of the finest modern Kannada poets.

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The Legacy and Works of Lu Xun — The Father of Modern Chinese Literature

Lu Xun (鲁迅) was the pen name of Zhou Shuren (周树人), one of China’s most famous fiction authors, poets, and essayists. He is considered by many to be the father of modern Chinese literature because he was the first serious author to write using modern colloquial language.

Lu Xun died on October 19, 1936, but his works have remained prominent over the years in Chinese culture.

NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL INFLUENCE

Widely recognized as one of China’s best and most influential authors, Lu Xun remains strikingly relevant to modern China.

His socially-critical work is still widely read and discussed in China and references to his stories, characters, and essays abound in everyday speech as well as academia.

Many Chinese people can quote from several of his stories verbatim, as they are still taught as part of China’s national curriculum. His work also continues to influence modern Chinese authors and writers around the world. Nobel-prize-winning author Kenzaburō Ōe reportedly called him “the greatest writer Asia produced in the twentieth century.”

IMPACT ON THE COMMUNIST PARTY

Lu Xun’s work has been embraced and to a certain extent co-opted by China’s Communist Party. Mao Zedong held him in very high esteem, although Mao also worked hard to prevent people from taking Lu Xun’s sharp-tongued critical approach when it came to writing about the Party.

Lu Xun himself died well before the communist revolution and it’s difficult to say what he would have thought of it.

EARLY LIFE

Born on September 25, 1881, in Shaoxing, Zhejiang, Lu Xun was born into a wealthy and well-educated family. However, his grandfather was caught and nearly executed for bribery when Lu Xun was still a child, which sent his family tumbling down the social ladder. This fall from grace and the way once-friendly neighbors treated his family after they had lost their status had a profound effect on the young Lu Xun.

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10 Syrian Writers You Should Know

Syria’s literary tradition is just part of the rich and beautiful cultural heritage of a country which has faced many difficulties and hardships. Here we profile ten of Syria’s most prolific and influential writers, who have made a name for themselves both nationally and internationally.

Salim Barakat

Born in Qamishli in northern Syria, of Syrian and Kurdish descent, Salim Barakat’s literary works focus on Kurdish culture and heritage and explore its place in the wider Arab world. A prolific writer, Barakat has published dozens of novels, short story collections, and poetry anthologies, and is distinguished from his contemporaries for the innovative use of style and theme within his writing. He has been credited by literary critics for introducing the genre of magical realism to Arabic literature, with works such as The Caves of Hydrahodahose incorporating elements of the fantastic and mythological – including a society of centaurs – in order to reflect on contemporary culture and society.

Ali Ahmad Said Esber (Adunis)

Ali Ahmad Said Esber, known by his pen name Adunis, is arguably one of the Arab world’s most prominent poets, and has been regularly nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature since 1988. Adunis’ poetry epitomizes modernity and rebellion, building on the historic tradition of Arabic poetry in order to subvert it; his poetry often deals with themes of transformation, exile and reform, and he rejects classic poetic structure and form in order to experiment with verse, meter and prose poetry. He has been internationally recognized, and was awarded the prestigious Bjørnson Prize in 2007 by the Norwegian Academy for Literature and Freedom of Expression, as well as winning the Goethe Prize of the City of Frankfurt in 2011.

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Lu Xun: What is Revolutionary Literature

“Only when revolutionaries start writing will there be revolutionary literature.”

Editor’s Note: A speech by the Chinese writer Lu Xun (1881-1936) delivered in 1927 at the Whampoa Military Academy (re-presented in lithub.com). Known for his short stories and trenchant essays, Lu Xun is considered to be one of China’s greatest modern writers. In 1926, he had to flee the country after protesting against the killing of some students in a demonstration. What he says in this speech from his book Jottings Under Lamplight (HUP) is as applicable to nations and regimes today as it was in the early 20th century.

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I thought: Literature, oh literature, you are a most useless thing. Only those without power talk about you; no one with real strength bothers to talk, they just murder people. Oppressed people who say a few things or write a few words will be killed. Even if they are fortunate enough not to be killed, and shout out, complain of their suffering, and cry out against injustices every day, those with real strength will still continue to oppress, abuse, and kill; there is no way to deal with them. What value does this literature have for people, then?

The natural world also works this way. When a hawk hunts a sparrow, it is the hawk that is silent while the sparrow squawks. When a cat preys on a mouse, it is the cat that is silent while the mouse squeals. The result is still that those who cry out are eaten by those who remain silent. If a writer does well and writes a few essays, he might garner some fame for himself in his time or earn a reputation for a few years. This is like how after a memorial service, no one mentions the feats of the martyr; rather, everyone discusses whose elegiac couplets are best. What a stable business this is.

However, I’m afraid that the literary specialists in this revolutionary place are always fond of saying how close the connection between literature and revolution is. For example, they say literature can be used to publicize, promote, incite, and advance the revolutionary cause, and thus bring about revolution. Still, it seems to me that this sort of literature has no strength because good literature has never been about following orders and has no regard for its effects. It is something that flows naturally from the heart. If we write literature according to a pre-selected topic, how is that any different from the formal prose of an imperial examination? It has no value as literature, not to mention no ability to move people.

For revolution to occur, what is needed are revolutionaries; there is no need to be overly anxious about “revolutionary literature.”

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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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Excerpts: Behold, I Shine – Narratives of Kashmir’s Women and Children by Freny Manecksha

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Chapter Six
MAINE NAZIRA, AA KHA?
Memory as Women’s Resistance

Parveena Ahangar holds many sobriquets — from Iron Lady to Mother of Kashmir — but she is best known as the founder and chairperson of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) — which makes her one of the most prominent Kashmiri women in resistance.

It was on a May 2011 morning, with needle-fine rain falling incessantly, that I was first taken to Parveena’s home by the young journalist Junaid Rather. The grey sky had drained the landscape of all colour creating a mood of melancholia. Parveena, dressed in black, sat huddled with a kangri. She was unwell but strained her voice to recount her story. It was a tale she had been compelled to tell and retell and yet it had not lost its poignancy.

Parveena spoke of the 1990s. Her son, the seventeen-year- old Javed Ahmad Ahangar, had passed the tenth class and had gone to his uncle’s house in Batamaloo where he hoped to pursue further studies. For some days, Parveena was plagued by forebodings, natural perhaps in an era when crackdowns were rampant, but she was particularly disturbed by a black dog in her dreams.

It was the early hours of 17 August 1990. In the morning there was a knock at her door. Parveeena was told that her son, along with three other boys, had been picked up by the National Security Guard personnel and taken to the Hari Niwas interrogation centre. Parveena suspected that the troops were on the lookout for a militant who had the same name as her son and that they picked up Javed, who had a speech impediment, because he had failed to answer questions with alacrity.

More than twenty-six years later, the second-hand accounts of the anguish and terror that her young son underwent before he was taken away, still haunt Parveena. ‘I heard he had been stripped. That he was calling out for me and that he desperately wanted a glass of water.’

In the early days after her son’s disappearance, a distraught Parveena see-sawed between the hope that her son was alive and would be released, and the reality that he had failed to appear even as the other boys were set free. Finally, surfacing from extreme sorrow, she took the first step in the long odyssey of a mother in search of her son and a woman in pursuit of justice.

After an FIR was filed at the Shergari police station and persistent inquiries were made at the Batamaloo branch, Parveena was informed by the Deputy Inspector General that her son had met with an accident, was in the army hospital in Badami Bagh, and would soon be released. When there were no signs of his discharge, she approached the Director General of Police who, in turn, directed her to the Superintendent of Police, in charge of allowing family members to meet detainees. He provided a vehicle for her to visit the hospital. There, an exhaustive search yielded no results. It says much of her early political acumen that she saved the pass she had received at the hospital. This was later proof to show the way a cover-up had been attempted.

Finally, Parveena received crucial information by way of a witness who knew her son. Apparently, he had seen Javed getting beaten by three men near Hari Niwas. This witness went on to offer his testimony when an inquiry was ordered by thecourt.

What followed was a lengthy court battle over more than two decades in which four petitions were filed. Significantly, despite a court inquiry and report in March 1992 that indicted the alleged perpetrators, the Ministry of Home Affairs refused sanction for prosecution. In 1999, MHA indicated a charge sheet should be filed and sanction could be sought again. But till date no sanction has been given.

Even as legal proceedings dragged on, Parveena hunted for her son, personally, visiting jails and camps in Kashmir, Jodhpur, Hiranagar, Meerut and Delhi (Tihar) and the dreaded interrogation centres like Papa I and Papa II.

While she did not recover her son, she did get a profound understanding of the world of enforced disappearances and the institutionalized denial of justice and custodial violence. Parveena recalled, ‘I met so many parents whose sons had suffered enforced disappearances after they were taken away by security troops. I met wives whose husbands had left home and never returned. And I realized that I was not alone.’ Empowered by this discovery, Parveena began organizing the families of the missing. They met frequently at a friend’s place, in her kitchen and discussed a line of action—for both justice and social welfare. In 1994, the APDP was formed with the help of human rights lawyer Parvez Imroz.

Soon after this first meeting in Kashmir, I met Parveena in Mumbai where she had come to address a press gathering. I realized why she was called the Iron Lady. Looking pointedly at the audience, she asked why there were separate laws for crimes by Kashmiri civilians and those perpetrated by the army and why those responsible for enforced disappearances and custodial deaths were being granted immunity under AFSPA?

***

Excerpted from Behold, I Shine: Narratives of Kashmir’s Women and Children by Freny Manecksha, published by Rupa Publications India.

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Set in Kashmir, Behold, I Shine focuses on the struggle of women and children in Kashmir, on what it means for them whose children are missing, who live the lives of half-widows; on what it means to stand up to authority, to ikhwanis and to the horrors unfolding everyday in their lives. It brings into focus activists like Parveena Ahangar who go through insurmountable losses yet fight back to start human rights organisations that help other women like her to fight for their rights. Behold, I Shine puts together the narratives of such women and their spirit in fighting against multiple odds.

About the Author:

Freny Manecksha is an independent journalist, published in the Himal Southasian and the Times of India and has reported extensively from Kashmir.


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Modern Burmese Literature — Its Background in the Independence Movement

FLASHBACK

A look at the history of modern Burmese literature from The Atlantic‘s February 1958 issue.

It was only in the 1920’s, when agitation for independence led to a national awakening, that Burmese classical literature came into the curricula of the schools and Rangoon University, and serious writing in Burmese was supported by the cultural leaders of the country.

We find the earliest examples of literature in the Burmese language in hundreds of inscriptions carved on stone which still survive from the kingdom of Pagan dating back to the eleventh century. Next we have books written on dried palm leaves, such as the Maniratanapum, a fifteenth-century collection of ancient traditions, or Bhikkhu Ratthasara’s Hatthipala Pyo, a long poem based on Jataka stories of the lives of the Buddha.

Nawadegyi and Natshinnaung were our great poets of the Toungoo dynasties, and the pandit Binnyadala has left us an exciting prose chronicle of the long struggle between the Burmese King of Ava and the Mon King of Pegu. Much of our history comes down to us from the Egyins, historical ballads that were sung at the cradle ceremony of a new-born prince or princess. Dramatic literature flourished at the courts of Ava and Shwebo, in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, with the themes for poetic plays drawn first from the Jatakas and later, through contact with Siam, from Hindu sources such as the Ramayana.

Our last dynasty had its court at Mandalay (1857-1885) and here were gathered poets, dramatists, and writers of chronicle. Their works were inscribed on heavy paper folios, folded in pleats, called parabaiks, and often were very beautifully illustrated in vivid color. (See Training Elephants, Plate 38 in the art section.) With the British annexation of Burma in 1885 came new forces which were completely to change the patterns of Burmese writing: the printing press and the influence of Western education and literature. Our classical dramas in court style gave way to plays for a less refined audience, and these, in turn, to popular novels based on Western models.

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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Keki N Daruwala

 

keki

By Aminah Sheikh

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

I write to express myself, and there is a hell of a lot in me to express.

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

Am trying to say many things in my book. Firstly what a short story can do and achieve. The title story “Daniell comes to Judgement” is about how fate conspires to deal with a corporate honcho who is trying to exploit a brave girl. The second story about Garima is about a divorce, the wife returning to her mother’s house and after all the dejection, the garden getting watered and suddenly the fragrance from the buried bulbs revives her. And the passages at the end of the story simply have to turn lyrical — language always has to keep pace with the twists and turns of a story. And don’t forget the story “Bars”, based on my experience in the National Commission for Minorities – pastors being arrested for converting a corpse! Hey Prabhu, the Hindutva police under a Hindutva regime in MP can do anything.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

Writing aesthetic. Koi aesthetic vesthetic nahin Madam. Jo dil mein aya likh diya.

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‘There is no language in the world which is pristine and pure.’

Interview with Professor David Shulman, Renee Lang Professor of Humanistic Studies at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and author of “Tamil: A Biography”. By A.S. PANNEERSELVAN

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His Tamil: A Biography (published by Harvard University Press) has an important but rare trait, rare in the documentation of Indian languages: retaining a critical distance despite the writer’s love for the language. The threat of linguistic hegemony posed by the pan-Indian nature of Sanskrit and the role of Tamil in wresting a space for heterogeneity are political realities. The perch from which Shulman looks at Tamil gives him the space to negotiate this minefield with erudition. Probably, at a deeper level, his peace work in Israel, which exposed the injustices perpetrated by Israel by showing the human dimension of the occupation, helps him look at linguistic traditions in an organic manner rather than in political silos generated by colonial and the postcolonial politics.

The Tablet magazine captured well the nature of Shulman’s journey when it wrote: “Scholar David Shulman has made an improbable journey, geographically and academically: from small-town Iowa to Jerusalem, where the Hebrew University professor received the Israel Prize in 2016 for his research on southern India. The rigour in Shulman’s erudition is tempered by a deep pathos and love for his subject.” Shulman is an expert in Hebrew, English, Tamil, Telugu and Sanskrit and reads Greek, Russian, French, German, Persian, Arabic and Malayalam, and has an abiding interest in Carnatic music and in the Kutiyattam dance form.

Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline.

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