Bhaswati Ghosh

Iraqi writer Hassan Blasim came to me rather unremarkably. In the dead of Canada’s fierce winter in January 2017, I had a sudden desire to read and cook from conflict zones around the world. I say sudden, but given the blood-stained cloud that hangs over Syria, Yemen, Iraq and much of the Arab world and parts of Africa, this couldn’t have been all that abrupt a thirst. The Corpse Exhibition and Other Stories of Iraq, Blasim’s debut short story collection, was one of the first books I borrowed from the library for my quest.

I didn’t make much of the simple black cover of The Corpse Exhibition, translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright. Nothing — not its blackness or even a statutory warning on the cover (had there been one) — could have prepared me for what lay inside. Such was the emotive force of Blasim’s words that despite the macabre scenarios they pressed between themselves, I kept turning the book’s pages with hypnotic urgency.

The sharpness of Blasim’s storytelling knife stabbed me with the very first story in the collection, titled The Corpse Exhibition. Written in the backdrop of the Iraq War, the story puts a chilling spin on the practice of displaying executed bodies in public. The narrator, evidently the leader of an organization involved with curating corpse exhibitions, speaks in a clinical tone to a prospective new hire. The emphasis on the aesthetics of the displays — the boss cites as a prime example the naked corpses of a breastfeeding mother and her child, placed under a dead palm tree with not a trace of wound on their bodies — layers the story with a degree of perversion that’s so disturbing it is riveting.

By Anurima Chanda

wind-blows

It is interesting how every culture’s literary history almost always begins in verse – for they say verse comes easier to mankind than prose. It is maybe for this inherent nature in all of us that makes us, at least at some point of time in our lives, try to dabble in the art of writing poetry. However, not all of us have the energy to sustain that spirit. Not all of us are able to give birth to the poet in us. But those that do, truly know the joy that it brings to be able to express oneself in rhyme and the pain that it takes to get that rhyme right. What is also pleasantly surprising is how similar these ideas generated in the early stages of writing are to that of the other poets at a similar juncture of creativity. Similar but how beautifully different – different in the way that they then go on to form roots of their own to branch out in their creator’s essence. This is what Ashish Khetarpal’s debut book of poetry When the Wind Blows and Other Poems (2016) offers you – the freshness of the early stages of birth, the resonances it bears to the poetic genetic makeup of mankind and the promise of branching out to create its own unique type.

As the wonderfully written blurb at the back of the book tells you, the poems in this collection are like leaves of the fall; painted in different colours of poetic thought, waiting to spiral away to glory on the winds of the reader’s sighs. In these multicoloured leaves, one will find carefully plucked memories from the poetic mind. Memories of how poetry entered his life, how it made his life colourful, how those colours brought him love, how love took on a life of its own, how love left him heartbroken at times and how it consumed him at other times – snippets from the poet’s everyday life told with an unabashed honesty to the point of baring his vulnerable naked soul to his readers without being afraid of its risky consequences. These poems remind you of what it felt like in those early stages of musing when everything seems like a tale that should be told, when it is important that every tale is dressed with precision and care, and when poetic inspirations are to be celebrated rather than surreptitiously hidden between the lines. It is this very raw spirit of his poems that will enchant and make one sigh – sigh in remembrance of a youth gone by.

Diversity

by Chandra Ganguly

As I write this, Trump has won the Republican nomination. A man openly extolling hate and separation and retribution and segregation has won a wide circle of support. It is a matter of great shame and concern. The world watches. 

I am standing in line at the Chicago airport waiting for coffee. I have missed a connecting flight and I am tired and disheveled. The lady behind the counter tells me, “I love your nose ring.” “O, thanks,” I say to her and touch it self-consciously. She then asks me, “Are you Muslim?” I look up at her startled. Invasion happens in many ways, some gentle and some pre-announced and as a woman of color in America, it happens frequently enough that I should be used to it — but I am not. I nod my head vaguely, not a yes, not a no. I take my coffee and I walk away from her.

There it was again, the question all Americans who are not white are asked, the question about origins, that tells you that you are here but you are not from here. I pass a newsstand. Donald Trump looks at me from the cover of almost every magazine. “I am not an outsider,” I think as I pass him by.

All other snow pales in comparison to Suzuki Bokushi’s account of a Japanese winter world: The Smart Set

snowIs there a place on Earth where people had to shovel snow from their roofs during winter every day? Where they lived like moles under the snow? Where there was never a question whether or not there would be snow at the end of the year?

In fact, there was: near the western coast of the Japanese peninsula, where weather conditions have always been markedly different from the coast of this country facing the Pacific Ocean. The seasonal winds coming from Siberia pick up evaporation from the Sea of Japan which helps to increase their humidity. Clouds form and as they pass the high mountains they cool and transform into masses of snow that almost defy description. Snow begins to fall towards the end of October.

By Arunava Sinha

 Editor’s Note: There is a gap in English fiction today. This crevice is filled with thousands of stories, cultural microcosms, inventive structures, and “taboo” subjects. They are the stories told in other tongues that haven’t been translated. Even if they were, what would be the literary merit of translating stories into a language as limited as English? Is it time to expand our vocabulary, borrow from the ingenuous emotions and poetic skills that other languages possess? (Rhea Mukherjee)

Arunava Sinha
Arunava Sinha

The greatest value that translations of Indian literature into English can bring to the English-speaking world is not in the form of brilliant fiction yet to be discovered by the West. There’s no denying that aspect, but that’s not where the real enrichment comes from.

Instead, what those accustomed to reading English fiction will gain is the awareness of a whole new range of human experiences and emotions, which are not captured by literatures elsewhere in the world because they do not exist in those places. From socioeconomic realities to internal states of existence, every aspect of life will yield new richness through reading translated Indian fiction.

Take the word “mon” in Bangla, which appears in Hindi as “man”. In the ontology that English-reading people have acquired through their books, the heart and the mind are binary—neither word can be used to refer to the other. In Indian languages, however, this word represents neither the heart nor the mind exclusively. It takes a position, contextually to the rest of the text, on a continuum between the heart and the mind, between emotion and reason, between feeling and knowing. 

by Rheea Mukherjee, Blogs Editor, Kitaab

Ikthisad Ahmed sticks firm to his views as he eloquently expresses the hum and tune of Bangladeshi writing: “Ours is a nation of struggle, ours is a culture of struggle. Bangladeshi writers, regardless of the language in which they write, have acute senses of justice, anguish and humanity. We burrow deep to find the revolutionary spirit inherent to us, and extract beauty from those wells.”

Sharbari Zohra Ahmed is not as convinced and believes that those of Bangladeshi descent can at best provide a diluted sense of the identity. Moreover, she believes, there is the need to be recognized as writers without the frills and thrills of Bangladeshi exotica. She lays down her opinion with thick confidence: “When I was starting out, agents and editors were disappointed and unwilling to accept the fact that I was not exotic in my style or interested in the ‘displaced immigrant ‘ theme. One actually said to me, ‘Can you write more about being Bangladeshi and American at the same time?’ The problem was that I was not culturally conflicted enough. My Bangladeshi and American identities were not constantly at odds. That feeling of being an ‘other’ happened more powerfully after 9/11, when being Muslim and American was deemed mutually exclusive. But I was not conflicted by it.”

What role, then, does Bangladeshi writing have in a publishing world that either slots literature as authentic translations, or westernized exotisized South Asian literature? Is the roar of revolution and the country’s immense history owed more attention and regard from the outside world? Kitaab’s Asia Uncensored presents two positively compelling sides of the story, if not to persuade you to one side, then to keep you informed of the larger picture, and the grey strokes of literature, nationalism, and identity.