By Dhruva Bhat

I had never been to a Starbucks before. Their green-and-white signs punctuating every street were an exciting reminder that I was in the U.S. for the first time; they hadn’t quite launched in Chennai before I left. (Five years later, they haven’t quite landed in Chennai either, still struggling to break into the market. Coffee is a Tamil ritual—dark decoction made in a tall filter, mixed with boiling milk and a mound of sugar, served steaming in a steel tumbler in a larger saucer, consumed at home, in restaurants, on the side of the street, under a banyan tree. For those who enjoy that sort of thing, a grande latte is a pale imitation that costs about ten times as much). I had heard of Starbucks, of course— seen the insides of their stores in TV shows and scrolled past selfies on social media of friends traveling abroad with their Starbucks cups. I had just never been to one.

I didn’t want to do anything so crass, so nouveau middle-class as to take a photo with a Starbucks cup; I didn’t even want to make time for a trip to a Starbucks, to put it on my list of things to see and do in Atlanta. That behaviour reminded me too much of the families in India who would dress up in garishly sequinned saris and crisp khakis to spend the day at a mall, who would totter at the bottom of an escalator gripping the handrails being too nervous to get on, who would talk too loudly and eat too messily and visit all the shops but buy nothing. I didn’t want my American cousins to give me the look my friends and I gave those people when we went to the mall; I had traveled internationally before, I knew that America was just one of a hundred and ninety other countries in the world, I was going to Harvard for God’s sake—I just also really wanted to go to a Starbucks.

When I saw one in the middle of the CNN Center plaza, I decided I would get coffee there. I could justify it; I was jet-lagged and tired. We had been walking around Atlanta, it was a hot day, and I needed something to cool me down. More specifically, I wanted a cold coffee: the kind I had had so many times in Chennai, milky, creamy and saccharine sweet, more a caffeinated milkshake than actual coffee. And so I headed over to the Starbucks, asking my father if he wanted anything. He said no. I had guessed he’d say no— he had probably converted the price of coffee from dollars to rupees and immediately decided against it. I knew you weren’t meant to convert currencies in your head when buying things because that would paralyse you; moreover, that was something middle-aged Indian men who were in the U.S. to visit their sons did before exclaiming: “Can you believe coffee costs so much in this country!”

Women’s Day Special

Sarita Jenamani, poet, essayist, feminist and the PEN Austria general Secretary, explores poetry and women 

 

“You are a poem, though your poem’s naught.” This was said by well known American poet and critic, Ezra Pound (as quoted by H. D., End To Torment (New York, 1979), p. 12.), of a woman poet. Is it a fair statement?

On the other hand, American writer, feminist and activist, Audre Lorde said, “ For women, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity for our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.”

Since ages and across the cultures, women are more close to words than to silence. The medium of poetry has always played an important role in the process of communication.  Poetry written by women opens up like linen of plentitude and possibility in every cultural scenario. Women write to record their history and as part  of the common legacy of literary history. Female poetic practises forms an important part of women’s literary history.

Modern women writers reflect feminism and elaborate female identity in their works. Writers’ movements, their techniques and thematic works are necessary to understand women’s issues and feminine concepts in different situations and stages of their lives. They develop a female framework through figurative languages. Women’s poetry is all about decoding the silence, this is a search of the unspoken. Poetry has often been noted as a form of resistance and a powerful way to give voice to those who do not have it. Through the richly woven carpet of women’s poetry, ornamented by various texts and textures, women express themselves and mould their destiny. Their voices are loaded with the enormous power of language and individuality. In them exists an obsession for writing and speaking within the subversive tradition.

By Mitali Chakravarty

 

Delhi was a beautiful town — a lifetime ago, an age ago, an era ago.

Gulmohars and Amaltaz blooms announced the onset of summer and before that a spray of different flowers — verbena, phlox, pansies, sweet peas, calendulas, roses, dahlias, chrysanthemums, gladioli and many more — announced the onset of winters and spring in Delhi. Gardens and roads bloomed with the colours of nature. The residents of Delhi were considered lucky by people from other parts of the country. I remember an uncle from Calcutta saying that Delhi was comparable to London!

Surely, the buildings are still there — but right now one needs to skirt past pan stains, turds and the stench of urine when one explores the lordliest of structures in Delhi — the Connaught Place. Earlier there was a huge fountain in the middle of Connaught Place in a large circular garden. The fountain spewed water the colours of rainbows with lighting at night. To me, it was the most fascinating sight on Earth — watching the water change colours and sometimes even become like a candle flame.

There was no Shaheen Bagh. And roads had cosmopolitan names — Curzon Road, Minto Road, Shah Jahan Road and many more. I remember the name Curzon particularly because I went there to visit my future aunt for the first time. She lived in an apartment in Curzon Road. She eventually became my aunt when my uncle opted to marry her— an aunt whose mother was a Kashmiri and father, a Punjabi. My uncle of course was a Bengali. We grew up in a Delhi where our neighbours came from diverse cultures, where we mingled with people from diverse religions and lived in harmony with differences. Tolerance was not a problem. I remember we had a boy in our school whose father was a Hindu and mother a Christian. We even had family members of mixed heritage. That was in the 1970s and 1980s.

By Ronald Tuhin D’Rozario

 

I have never been intrigued about the world of ornithology nor by the phonetics of a Horbola ( a Bengali word covering the sounds of birds, animals and other things of everyday life) but can identify the sounds – call, hum or chirp — of certain birds that have a strong attachment to my childhood memories. Humans have this unfailing dependency on instincts which make them to try to classify everything that their senses gather. Just as I have dissected the DNA of light depending on their changing textures during different times of the day into thin, thick, bright, warm  and dull, I feel an urge to relate each call of these birds to various ragas signifying a different hour of the day. My usage of the word, ‘to relate’ now creates a ‘relationship’ between me and the birds as — ‘relatives’ converting their calls into a recital around the sphere of my consciousness. Crows, pigeons, sparrows, parrots and bulbuls are some of the birds whose sounds have grown with me like my age.

As I write, my thoughts intensify into an introspection of my life with these birds. Apart from their sound heralding the advent of a season, a wakeup call at dawn or just making  me aware of their presence in my vicinity, I realise that during various stages of my life, there have been some birds whom I have caged for my amusement and there have been some I have consumed on my plate.

Quite strangely now in all these years, for the first time, a deep sense of guilt gnaws at me. In order to justify my belief in my own guilt, I begin to accept the punishment given by avians. When a bird has spoilt my shirt with its dropping or stooped low enough to slap my head with a wing during their flight, I accept it as an expression of disgust over certain habits of mine.

By Abhinav Kumar

 

4. Caption - Lothal city (left) and dockyard
Lothal city(Left) and dockyard

Everyone has a place they return to time and again or a thing they simply can’t resist while on vacation. Think beloved mountains or beaches, spas, street food, an 18-hole course or bungee jumping, et cetera. For me, it’s World Heritage Sites*: majestic reminders of a glorious, often mysterious past, scattered all over the globe, to be guided through, explored solo, photographed and cherished.

My search for such sites led me to Lothal — an enigmatic lost port-city, one of the central characters in the mysterious drama of the subcontinent’s origins. Part of a national obsession – the Indus Valley Civilisation: perpetually hiding in plain sight, its broken cities scattered across the north and west. Its script continues undeciphered, its story always tantalisingly beyond reach — confined, until that moment, within the yellowing pages of my schoolboy history books, with their prim descriptions of planned cities, streets meeting at right angles, baked bricks and standardised weights.

At a distance of just 80km from my hotel, Lothal was perfect. Lying forgotten in its ruinous state, Lothal was perfect.

***

Gujarat’s well-laid roads zipped past as we hurtled towards our destination. Bountiful rains this year, the driver Ratan informed me curtly, as we passed soaked paddy fields that glittered in the morning sun. Unprecedented. Looking out at the gentle, jovial cumulus clouds that glided past, I prayed that they withhold their yield until at least that evening.

By Gargi Vachaknavi

War is peace.

Freedom is slavery.

Ignorance is strength.

― George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-four

 

Doublespeak in Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty-four (1949), was a way in which an oppressive regime brainwashed its common population. In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), people were fed ‘soma’ and taught rhymes in praise of the intoxicant so that they would live in a state of morbid obedience. In both the books, rebellion or democratic principles were non-existent. The contexts in these novels were based on world orders around the two world wars and while much is being quoted from Hitler’s and Himmler’s regime to create parallels, the fact that we are witnessing the triumph of democracy gets lost in the goriness of the events.

‘Hum Dekhenge’ has been at the fringes of a controversy with a panel condemning the non-Hindu status of the poem. Faiz Ahmed Faiz had written this poem against the Zia regime in 1970s to inspire people to look forward to better days – a secular attempt to energise people weighed down by the burdens of tyranny. Intolerance for another world view seems to stare us in the face and generate endless violence and bloodshed. This situation brings to mind a story written by Satyajit Ray which won him national and international acclaim in 1980 — a dystopic story but with a positive end — a story that earned kudos as a film called Hirak Rajar Deshe (In the Land of the Diamond King). It is a sequel to the 1969 production of Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne — another one of Ray’s highly regarded and awarded masterpieces.

IMG_3194
A DVD cover of Hirak Rajar Deshe

Hirak Rajar Deshe depicts a totalitarian regime by the Hirak Raja or the Diamond King who brainwashes people with the help of a machine called ‘jantarmantar’ and a weird scientist who feeds rhymes into it, rhymes like these, which could be perhaps seen as eternal because they seem to be playing out the current reality with all the attacks on universities and their inmates —

Lekha pora kore jei, onahare more shei

(Those who study, die of starvation)

 

Janaar kono shesh nai, janaar cheshta britha tai

(There’s no end to learning, so to try to learn is pointless)

By A. Jessie Michael

Of all the major festivals in the world, none I think is more universally celebrated than Christmas. There is something in the air in December that reaches far and wide.

When I arrived in China in 2012 to teach, I found a dismal artificial, Christmas tree with tangled streamers, in my classroom, in March of all months! The students who had put it up had no notion of the origins or the meaning of Christmas (or any other religious festival) except that it was universally fashionable to celebrate this thing called Christmas, in December, with a tree. It did not occur to them that it should have been taken down in January. It was in Florida and Australia that I discovered the Christmas Shops. I could not imagine that they stayed open all year round. At Christmas, Floridians have Santa Clause, sleigh, reindeer, and lights and whatnots on their rooftops, down the driveway and all around the garden. Sydney lights up the city and has amazing light displays of the nativity on the outside walls of a Church. Singapore lights up Orchard road and makes it a tourist attraction. No city is spared this dressing up.

In the Gardens Mall in Kuala Lumpur near where I live, this year it is a White Christmas! There were white trees laden with white cotton and white streamers; there were white swans, still, on a glassy lake and deer motionless under cotton laden trees. There were even polar bears in mid-prowl on snow. Outside it was 33 degrees Celsius. The hotel lobbies in the city are even more beautifully done up. When our children were small, we used to take them hotel-lobbies just to view the decorations.

The origins of Christmas are religious and holy but always seen as a time for joy for everyone.  Over the years with the advent of Santa clause with his legendary beginnings and his multiple selves, followed by Rudolph and his red nose competing with the Baby Jesus, Christmas has taken on two separate lives, the sacred and the secular. The first sings of the Child in the manger and the other of jingle bells and chestnuts on the fire. The sacred is Middle-Eastern, the secular is undeniably Western what with snowflakes and sleighs- bells. Yet there is no tension between the two. Somewhere in between, the twain do meet. The droves of people at the Mall with their children and cameras seem genuinely happy. The mood is infectious. I know for a fact that many non-Christians and total non-believers put up trees and exchange gifts just not to miss out in this season of goodwill.

91RK0gVPWQL.jpgFor believers in my city and in other towns in Malaysia, I know the churches will overflow at every service — the Christmas eve services and the morning ones. It is always the case.  The giving-trees are up where one can hang gifts for orphans. Christmas choir performances are on full swing if you care to check your events page on Facebook. At the same time, embassies are running their Christmas charity bazaars. There are the untold tales of those who celebrate with almsgiving. They visit the prisons, the homeless, the orphans or the aged with food, gifts and cheer. It is the season of giving and prayer and the season of joy, one in which even the saddest of hearts will smile a little and the hardest of hearts will melt a little. Everybody is in the mood, even the naysayers, who, like Scrooge, stomp their foot and  say — “Bah! Humbug!” Scrooge then did a volte face.

Charles Dickens  had captured the essence of the season beautifully in his novel written in 1843, A Christmas Carol — that charity, compassion and love reign supreme in this holy season.

At a press conference last month, the Islamic Foundation of India announced their decision to build a mosque in Sahranpur  that would outdo all others in splendour. The foundation plans to collect Rs 100 crore from the 10 crore Muslims  who vote in India. This money will be used to build a bulletproof, earthquake proof mosque with engineers brought in from Belgium. The structure will be made of glass, wood, steel, silver and gold with 11000 laser lights adding to the glitter, they claim. In this essay, read what Sahitya Akademi Winner Ather Farooqui has to say.

 

Let me begin by bluntly saying that to criticize any issue, however fake or farcical it is, related to Islam is quite dangerous. Indian Muslims are quite averse to any introspection even regarding the worst social evils; unfortunately no Muslim organization that has an impact on Muslim minds tries to address this. The role of religious leadership in this regard has been along expected lines.

A significant chunk of literate Muslims, particularly the neo-educated, are no different from, rather worse than, the erstwhile elite which was pro-establishment. Of these educated Muslims, the alumni of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), who still take pride in calling themselves Old Boys, form a sizeable portion. Their association world over is officially called AMU Old Boys Association with few exceptions of AMU Alumni Associations.

Clearly, they don’t consider girls a part of society. Educational backwardness of the community is the subtext of every discussion on Muslims, without any effort to address it. For example, AMU alumni across the world relish a grand dinner on the birth anniversary of the founder Syed Ahmad Khan every year. If they remember their founder over a cup of tea and spend the same amount on education, they can build a university every ten years or establish at least three functional intermediate inter colleges in different parts of India.

Apart from marriage and other institutions, we see wastage of money by the impoverished community on the same pattern as the Hindu middle class. The ugliest among them is the tradition of animal sacrifice on Eid.

I am in no way criticizing the right of sacrifice on Eid-ul Azha, popularly known as Baqar-e Eid or Bakar-e Eid, where flaunting money on most expensive goats has now become fashion more than religious duty. This can be rationalised in two ways: sacrifice male goats that are reasonably priced, and, in case of families with many members who are obliged to make a sacrifice, replace the goats with a buffalo. The calculation is simple; one buffalo can be sacrificed for seven people. Not all seven need to be from the same family. So, any seven people can contribute. It was a trend some twenty years ago, but now it is a social stigma even for those who cannot afford mutton for guests in the normal course. Worst is the competition to sacrifice the most expensive goats.

I was not surprised when, about fifteen days ago, after the debate on the Supreme Court Ayodhya judgment had subsided, there was an announcement from the people of Saharanpur about building a grand glass mosque with a hundred crore budget. It was all over the media, but did not attract attention of the social media tribe that started the day abusing the RSS or making mockery of the Prime Minister and the BJP government.

9/11 has always been a date to dread ever since 2001 when the New York twin Towers were bombed down by a terror attack. This year too, 9/11 left a feeling of dread in the hearts of many as the Supreme Court gave a verdict on the Ram Janmabhoomi issue… In this article, Zafar Anjum traces the Ayodhya  movement from the 1990s to pause on a pertinent question he had asked in his short story published in 2015, ‘Kafka in Ayodhya’ — “…what is more pleasing to God? Your temple after destroying a mosque or the suffering of those whose place of worship you destroyed?”

While TV journalists and anchors dissected the verdict and its fallout, my mind briefly traveled back to 1992, the year the Babri Masjid was demolished. I was studying at Aligarh Muslim University then. The Ayodhya movement was at its peak and we knew that something sinister and violent was going to erupt, so we made our way to our hometown in Bihar in late November. I was at my maternal grandfather’s place when the news came of the demolition of the Babri Masjid. We saw the then Prime Minister of India Narasimha Rao appear on TV and offer apologies and shed some tears. Later on, we learnt that Rao could have done more to stop the demolition but he chose not to. Through Rajiv Gandhi and later through Rao, the Congress Party had, wittingly or unwittingly, made its own contributions to the Ram Temple movement.

By Sameer Arshad Khatlani

Poet-philosopher Muhammad Iqbal’s “tremendous work”, wrote German writer Hermann Hesse (1877–1962), belonged to the world of Islam apart from two other domains of the worlds of India, and of Western thought. In his book Incarnations, academic Sunil Khilnani echoes Hesse and notes that Iqbal (1877-1938) was “deeply engaged with the histories, themes, and conflicts embedded in Islamic thought and in literary traditions that fired his imagination”.

Islam was certainly an important theme of Iqbal’s poetry. But he also wrote about important figures of other religions glowingly in the spirit of his famous couplet: “Mazhab nahin sikhata aapas mei bair rakhna, Hindi hai ham vatan hai Hindustan hamara”*. “Hai Ram ke vajud pe Hindustan ko naaz, ahl-e-nazar samajhte hain is ko imam-e-hind,’’** wrote Iqbal, highlighting the reverence a vast majority of Indians treated Lord Ram with.

But of all the non-Islamic religious icons, Iqbal perhaps wrote most admiringly about Sikhism founder Guru Nanak, whom he hailed as “mard-e kaamil [perfect man]”. His poem titled Nanak starts with a lament that “our people paid no heed to the message of Gautam [Buddha]”; did not recognise the worth of that “jewel of supreme wisdom”. It then refers to Nanak and says the perfect man “awakened Hind [India] from a deep slumber”.