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Book Review: Mirror Image by Rama Gupta

By Dr Usha Bande

Mirror Image

 

Title: Mirror Image.
Author: Rama Gupta
Publisher: Prabhat Prakashan, 2017
Pages: 238
Price: Rs. 500/-

 

Rama Gupta’s Mirror Image is a collection of 17 stories written in a simple narrative style, depicting realistic and actual scenarios and experiences that most of us past middle age go through (or have gone through). As the title indicates, the stories are a reflection of life; they focus on the spontaneous response of the main characters as they encounter small quirks of fate that have great implications in their lives. These are stories of men and women, mostly from urban upper middle-class but some represent different age groups and class like ‘Sumangali’ and ‘Bye-Bye, Blackbird’. The point of view is primarily that of the female narrators; the narratives delve into the psyche of men, women and children and as such, the portrayal revolves round how the principal characters respond to the attitudes and events in their lives.

Rama Gupta started writing these stories after her retirement, a time when many would close the logbook of an active academic life. Not Rama! She has always had dogged determination and ambition to do something new. In that sense, this is a big wish come true.

Of the seventeen stories, two stories fall neatly into the rapidly growing diasporic experience. The experiences of immigrants in a multicultural country like Australia are outlined in ‘Bye-Bye Blackbird’ and ‘Darkness under the Blazing Sun.’ One more story that is set partly in India and partly in Australia is ‘The Love of a Good Daughter.’ The average reader can easily feel the wistful, quiet sadness of the overall situation, and a reader familiar with the immigrant experience knows the truth behind the emotion of a parent who sees his/her child withdrawing into a shell; a well-settled man suddenly feeling lonely and helpless during a calamity, or a daughter settled in Australia being callously negligent of her mother who has come to help her with her new-born. Aannant gains his composure when the floods recede. Seeing river Brisbane flowing in its usual smooth rhythm, Aannant, after days of uncertainties, understands the significance of connectedness as he decides to help people to fight the aftermath of the devastating floods.
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Book Excerpt: From Life Among the Scorpions by Jaya Jaitly

Jaya Jaitly - Life Among the Scorpions

17

GOOD AND BAD MATCH-FIXING

Tehelka Sting I

CONSPIRACIES AGAINST PEOPLE PERCEIVED TO be in ‘power’ are meticulously planned and have a carefully orchestrated process. The perpetrators are efficient, stealthy, networked and rich. It is easy to go after unsuspecting innocents and paint them as criminals. With ample help from a blood-thirsty media, a gullible and inflammable public and the cynical adage that ‘politics is not about fact, it is about perception’, they always have an advantage.

On 22 June 2000, George Fernandes, Digvijay Singh and I were on a morning flight to Rajkot to attend a state Samata Party conference. The Times of India was at hand. On the very front page was a small column headed, ‘Jadeja fixes a good match’. It stated categorically that ‘cricket star Ajay Jadeja has married Aditi Jaitly, the daughter of Samata Party president Jaya Jaitly, in a secret wedding’ (see photo section). A ‘close friend from the ITC golf course’ is quoted as saying, ‘Jadeja confessed that he has married Aditi’ with additional information about him keeping it a secret because he planned to make a film with Sonali Bendre and it would ‘affect his star status’. We were stunned. My daughter was in London for a dance performance. Ajay was there for a match, I think, and of course they had been classmates at Sardar Patel Vidyalaya and good friends since the age of eleven, but they had been extremely careful not to flaunt their friendship in an age where a celebrity’s personal life is front-page material for voyeurs. Family respect and propriety within honest, liberal attitudes were values we brought up our children with. For a very brief second, I was hurt that my daughter would get married behind my back. I was instantly ashamed of losing faith in her openness, but if I had momentarily faltered, why would the media and public not believe it? I called Aditi in London as soon as we landed in Rajkot, where the media obviously made our poor Samata Party conference secondary to this.

Aditi had just woken up when I told her what The Times of India said. She burst out laughing and said, ‘Ma, it’s so ridiculous you should throw the newspaper in the dustbin.’ Ajay and Aditi were both quite used to gossip being written about Ajay and did not give it a second thought.

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Writing Matters: In conversation with Charles Adès Fishman and Smita Sahay, editors of Veils, Halos & Shackles

By Shikhandin

16th December 2017 came and went. With barely a murmured remembrance. That’s five whole years since Nirbhaya, the name this brave girl, Jyoti Singh Pandey, was hailed by, the one who fought her attackers and then fought to survive in hospital. Ultimately she could not overcome her grievous injuries. So what happened? Why are we still not enraged? Have we slipped into our usual drugged sleep of forgetfulness?

Sometimes protest becomes still. We lose heart and start to despair. I like to believe that it is during times of stillness that protest gathers steam. During that still period, we need poetry. The poetry of protest. That is why I dare to visualise Veils Halos & Shackles in the hands of not just random or selective readers but anyone who wishes to become more conscious across societies, across the world. Even those who are not diehard fans of poetry; yes, even them. I visualise this book as reading material in classrooms, and not just for literature or liberal arts students. It is no longer enough to be outraged by newspaper and television reports. Poetry must outrage us. Oppression fears poetry. The winds of change feed on poetry. Hence the need for Veils Halos & Shackles: International Poetry on the Oppression and Empowerment of Women, edited by Charles Ades Fishman and Smita Sahay, published by Kasva Press, 2016.

Here we get behind the scenes regarding the making of this volume and also try to get an understanding of what the editors – Smita Sahay and Charles Fishman – experienced.

Shikhandin: Tell us about the beginning, that little seedling from which this book grew, apart from the accounts of the horrific crimes that sowed the original seed. And why the name/inspiration behind it – Veils, Halos & Shackles?

Charles Fishman: Thank you for this opening question, Shikhandin, and for the others that follow. I’m delighted that Smita has agreed to respond to your questions, whenever possible; wrestling with complex issues effectively and persuasively is one of her many gifts as a poet and thinker.

Smita Sahay: Charles and I were in conversation about his last book of poetry, In the Path of Lightning, and I found sanity in his justice-demanding yet hope-and-love-filled verses in the days after Jyoti Singh Pandey was assaulted and later passed away. There was no way to come to terms with what had happened and I was mute within my fury and grief. The violence with which Jyoti’s life had been snuffed out had left Charles, thousands of miles away from India, as horrified. As we tried to find comfort in each other’s emails, our intent to give artistic expression to this fury led us to conceptualise Veils, Halos & Shackles. We first contemplated co-writing a book, but then we were convinced that there were multiple voices that needed to be united and decided to go ahead with an Indo-American anthology. This initial version of the anthology grew organically into the international volume of Veils, Halos & Shackles that eventually came out, and this expansion is proof that sexual violence is more universal than we admit, that survivors are caged unspeakably within their own suffering and that uniting in the face of sexual violence is possibly the only way to fight it.

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Book review: Vegetarians Only by Skybaaba

By Mitali Chakravarty

Vegetarians Only

Title: Vegetarians Only: Stories of Telugu Muslims
Author: Skybaaba (Editors: A. Suneetha and Uma Bhrugubandha
Publisher: Orient Black swan
Pages: 140
Price: ₹ 325/-
ISBN: 9788125060741

Vegetarians Only is a collection of short stories by Skybaaba, the pen name of Shaik Yousuf Baba, translated by a team of translators, edited by A. Suneetha and Uma Maheshwari Bhrugubandha.

The narratives reflect the lives of Telugu Muslims, their joys, their sorrows, their poverty, lack of education and the dreams that they have dared to dream despite their bleak socio-economic circumstances.

What is striking about the stories is the love and compassion with which the characters and their concerns are portrayed. Perhaps, having grown up in the midst of these people, Skybaaba’s empathy paints the stories with a vividness that transports us into a world peopled by his creations.

In his foreword, the author states that his creations are drawn from real life.One wonders if his title story, Vegetarians Only, is part autobiographical as the author is also a socially conscious journalist like the character he creates. The story is about a young couple looking for rented accommodation in a city where they have just arrived. The protagonist is a journalist and his wife, a student. The issues and marginalization faced by the twosome in the story would be reality for any young couple starting out with limited funds anywhere in the world. However, in the course of the story, the protagonist views his circumstances from the perspective of a social reformer. His experiences make him conclude that ‘With the exception of the dalits, and the madigas in particular, all other castes are in fact untouchable.’ According to the book’s glossary, Madigas are listed as a ‘formerly untouchable caste’ in Telugu.

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The top 10 Queer and Feminist books of 2017

10. Spinning by Tillie Walden

This graphic memoir from On A Sunbeam’s Tillie Walden deals with young queer love (and first kisses, competitive figure skating, and being a teen girl. In a Drawn-to-Comics-curated interview with Ngozi Ukazu, Walden says:

“[E]very coming-out story is so unique that I think it’s really important that we share with each other what ours was. And readers have related in really fascinating ways. You know what one of my most common questions at school visits is? ‘How do you come out?’ Kids actually ask me this, in front of their peers and teachers. It’s unbelievable to me, it’s so brave. And I’ve realized that because I talk about this hard moment in my life and I’m showing them that I made it through it, they suddenly feel like they can approach this topic with me. It’s mind blowing. Really.”

9. To My Trans Sisters edited by Charlie Craggs

This collection of letters from nearly 100 trans women, including Juno Dawson, Isis King, Rhiannon Styles, Laura Jane Grace and Juliet Jacques, is meant to advise and empower women at the beginning of transition. In an interview at Dazed with Kuchenga Shenje, who was also a contributor, Craggs says:

“Most people just don’t know trans people in their day to day life. I didn’t know any trans people when I transitioned. I only met my first trans person when I was like a year or two in. You feel quite alone and you don’t have anyone to ask those questions. You can’t ask your mum or your cis friends because they just don’t know the answers. So, I wanted to create that source of information and inspiration. I call this book an anthology of trans excellence. The girls and the women that I literally clung on to. I researched them and clung on to their stories in early transition, I just didn’t know any other trans people so I read every Wikipedia page. I read every autobiography. I watched every film. I watched every documentary. I watched all the YouTube videos. It’s like a place where I’ve collected all those amazing women to tell the next generation: ‘Yeah, these are the women who you need to know about.”

8. We Are Never Meeting in Real Life: Essays by Samantha Irby

In her second essay collection, Meaty author Samantha Irby explores The Bachelorette, poop, lesbian porn, family, bodies and more. In an interview atHazlitt with Scaachi Koul, Irby says about her art:

“[M]y approach is always to make my essays poop length. For a couple reasons: one, it’s just practical. I understand that between Instagramming cute dinners and bleeding the planet’s resources dry, people don’t have a lot of time to devote to sitting down with whatever musings I have about my butthole, but everybody poops and most people like to keep a book handy for the toilet, and six or seven pages is just enough time to be entertained while getting your business done without worrying about your butt falling asleep. Same goes for a subway commute or keeping it on your bedside table—I know I’ve got a handful of pages in me before I pass out on top of the book, creasing it into oblivion, and I assume other people are like that, too?”

7. Living a Feminist Life by Sara Ahmed

In Living a Feminist Life, Sara Ahmed interrogates the idea of the feminist origin story as a result of rites of passage, and instead argues for feminism as an ongoing action.

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Why Rupi Kaur and her peers are the most popular poets in the world

John Ashbery’s death in September gave my world a lurch, as the 90-year-old eminent American experimentalist was my favorite living poet. But the compensation was to discover how many others felt the same way. The appreciations became a rare public conversation about poemsrather than about Poetry, and what it is or isn’t (as in last year’s exhausting brouhaha over Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize) or whether it’s “dead,” or corrupted by elitist obscurism, or replaced by popular music, or secretly thriving. On social media, people posted their favorite Ashbery poems and passages, like this one from 1977’s “The Other Tradition,” which might seem to refer to those cyclical debates: “They all came, some wore sentiments / Emblazoned on T-shirts, proclaiming the lateness / Of the hour … ”

It was sweet while it lasted. But now the T-shirts have come a-blazing again, because the 25-year-old Canadian poet Rupi Kaur has published her second book, “The Sun and Her Flowers.” Kaur is the kind of poet who prompts heated polemics, pro and con, from people you never otherwise hear mention poetry, because among other things she is young, female, from a Punjabi-Sikh immigrant family, relatively uncredentialed and insanely successful. Her first collection, “Milk and Honey,” has sold two and a half million copies internationally since it was published in 2014. “The Sun and Her Flowers” debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times paperback fiction best-seller list in October, and has remained near the top ever since.

These are airport novel numbers, not poetry ones. Ashbery’s publishers were delighted if any of his books sold north of 10,000 copies, which generally happened only if he’d won the Pulitzer or National Book Award that year. But Kaur established herself not in poetry journals but on platforms like Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram (where she has 1.8 million followers, and posts glamorous shots of herself). And she’s only the biggest of several popular “Instapoets” who have graduated from being retweeted by Kardashians to publishing books, including Tyler Knott Gregson, Lang Leav, Amanda Lovelace and the pseudonymous Atticus.

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Book Review: The Perennial Journey by Mamta Sehgal

By Dr Usha Bande

The Perennial Journey

 

Title: The Perennial Journey
Author: Mamta Sehgal
Publisher: Rubric Publishers (in association with Blackspine and Times Group), 2017
Pages: 165
Price: Rs. 325/-
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Mamta Sehgal’s The Perennial Journey is a collection of short write-ups. These pieces purport to demonstrate that you do not need to be defeated by anything; that you can have peace of mind and a never-ceasing flow of energy if you place your trust in God. Though the blurb on the book claims to take the readers on a spiritual journey, the author does not define or theorize spirituality. Written in a direct and straightforward style, these simple pieces guide the readers on the path of everyday life by invoking Krishna Consciousness. Mamta Sehgal knows that spirituality is not simply the opposite of materialism and also that no single definition of the spiritual way of life could suffice to convey its deep meaning. Spirituality is an active process and its objective is growth and transcendence. We, who are standing at the crossroads of material and spiritual realities, need to make a choice, to focus on our capacities to know, to love, and to trust justice, truth and peace. If we are able to do that, we have chosen a spiritual way of life. With narratives, stories and anecdotes from mythology and quotes from the Gita, the author tries to channelize our thought process. Each tiny piece that runs into a page and a half reflects on life, soul, spirit and the journey towards self-realization. Each page is a quest for Truth and the journey is ever-lasting — that is the ‘perennial journey’ of the title.

The book is divided in four sections: God, Soul, Life and Introspection. The sections are not mutually exclusive and together they create the conceptual reality of Krishna Consciousness where fear, expectations, greed, domination, violence and other aberrations of the phenomenal world vanish. Krishna Consciousness becomes the tool to help you carry on with your difficult journey. Consciousness refers to a state of being in which the mind is functioning in its clear, rational and inquisitive state. Consciousness begets change.

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2017: The year Asian-American writers broke into mainstream of US literary publishing

Led by Viet Thanh Nguyen, Jenny Zhang and the poet Ocean Vuong, this year has seen widespread praise for a variety of authors for bringing their stories about the immigrant experience to English reader.

After years on the peripheries of US fiction and poetry, Asian-American authors have stepped into the spotlight during 2017. Books by writers of East and Southeast Asian heritage led by Viet Thanh Nguyen, Jenny Zhang and the poet Ocean Vuong are among the hottest trends this year.

It marks the emergence into the centre of the US literary world of a previously marginalised group.

Transcultural writers, born to immigrant parents in the US or immigrants themselves as children, are channelling their experiences into writing that, with perfect historical timing, challenges readers to resist attacks on immigrants’ rights and to see refugees as individuals with unique stories.

The experiences of displaced people are central to the work of this new generation of Asian-Americans, and their books cross genres and forms.

Vuong, who recently won the Forward prize for best first collection, arrived in the US as a refugee from Vietnam in 1990. His poems in Night Sky With Exit Wounds mix migration with myth and eroticism. His images stick in the reader’s mind and, though it is never said explicitly, feel as if they are etched in the memory of the young gay Asian man navigating the 21st-century US in subsequent poems.

The stories in Nguyen’s The Refugees are set in Vietnam and among refugee communities in California. The author disarms the reader, consistently complicating our sympathies. What came before and after the characters’ journeys across the Pacific pervade the collection. His book is dedicated to “all refugees, everywhere”.

The privileged twenty-somethings in Tony Tulathimutte’s satirical novel, Private Citizens , inhabit a different San Francisco tech scene in the 2000s – but like Nguyen’s characters, they’re alive to the nuances of Asian-American experience. Tulathimutte’s Thai-American protagonist, Will, is accused of being paranoid about racism, but he is clearly on to something as he witnesses the lives of Asians overlooked because, he says, “they’re outside the black-white binary”.

There is a thrilling and almost wild energy about Jenny Zhang’s long sentences in the connected stories of Sour Heart. The brutality of communist China is vividly remembered and the hardships of immigrant life graphically enumerated by young narrators, among them a girl who says: “Going to school in Little Neck was the only thing – short of spending eighty grand on a down payment for a new house, short of having hundreds of thousands of dollars for private tuition – that stood any chance of saving me from a life of misery, poverty and pain.”

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Top 10 books about growing old

We have all seen old age in action and often it is not a pretty sight. Chances are, it strikes suddenly. “It is,” said James Thurber, “one of the most unexpected of all the things that can happen to a man.” In Paolo Sorrentino’s film Youth, an elderly composer played by Michael Caine sums it up: “I’ve become old and I don’t know how I got here.”

But we should never allow catastrophe to get in the way of good humour and practical common sense. “One of the most irritating things about getting old,” a friend of mine once said at lunch, “is not having any idea of how much longer one has got. Take George’s dinner jacket. He’s nearly 80. His old one is practically falling to bits, but what is the point of getting a new one if he isn’t going to get decent use out of it?”

I am confident that my own dinner jacket will see me out. Being a mere 78, I am still enjoying late middle age. However, I am all too aware that senectitude is lurks around the corner and it occurred to me that, before it strikes, I could do worse than fill the unforgiving minute with a few light-hearted observations on the perils and pleasures it may bring. Most of the writers below have taken a positive, and often wry, look at old age, while never forgetting that beneath the eccentricities that accompany advancing years lie uncertainty, grief and thoughts of mortality.

1. The Summer of a Dormouse by John Mortimer
Mortimer was only too aware that the price to be paid for getting old is making oneself looking ridiculous. The opening sentence says it all: “The day will come in your life, it will almost certainly come, when the voice of God will thunder at you from a cloud: ‘From this day forth thou shalt not be able to put on thine own socks.’” Reading this collection of theatrical anecdotes, gossip, fond memories of friends and witty observations made while growing old disgracefully reminds one that possibly the greatest pleasures of old age is reminiscence.

2. A Positively Final Appearance by Alec Guinness
Guinness is equally reassuring to those of us who wonder what enjoyment can be found in old age. Chock-a-block with opinions on books read, plays and films seen, stories of happy times spent with old friends such as Alan Bennett, Irene Worth and John Wells, and the joys of life at home in Hampshire, this diary is interspersed with poignant accounts of the death of friends and funerals attended.

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Book Review: Boy of Fire and Earth by Sami Shah

By Dibyajyoti Sarmah

Boy of Fire and Earth

 

Name: Boy of Fire and Earth
Author: Sami Shah
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Pages: 360
Price 499

Could you ever imagine a full-blown fantasy novel set in the murky underbelly of modern-day Karachi? A fantasy novel rooted in Islamic concept of heaven and hell? A fantasy novel where the archetype of evil itself, Iblis (The Devil of The Bible) makes an appearance as a lovable rogue? Perhaps not, especially in the context of today’s polarising attitude to the religion itself. This is one of the reasons that makes Sami Shah’s incredible Boy of Fire and Earth such a joy to read. It takes you back to the days of Arabian Nights and Dastan-e-Amir Hamza, via of course, the western import of video games, comic books and the all-encompassing influence of Neil Gaiman.

For a while, modern South Asian writing is flirting with creating its own brand of fantasy fiction mixing local fantasy elements with established western tropes, as Ashok Banker did recently in Awaken. However, this concoction never felt as original as it does in this book. This is perhaps because Shah prepares you by setting up the rules before he unveils his big adventure.

So we meet our intrepid hero Wahid, a sickly but smart middle school teenager with just two close friends who share his love for science fiction and video games. He falls in love with a classmate and his friends begin experimenting with drinks, as occasional gun fires and bomb blasts continue to rock parts of Karachi. It’s the real deal and life is good, until Wahid meets with a car accident, sees his friend die and witnesses his would-be girlfriend’s soul being sucked away from her body by a shadowy figure.

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