by Fakrul Alam

Every year, twice a year, during winter and summer vacations, my family would travel to Feni, where we would spend our holidays in our Nana Bari, the home of my Nana or maternal grandfather.

For days before the journey, our excitement would keep mounting. For one thing, Amma would make frequent trips to Nawabpur, or what was then called Jinnah Avenue , to buy fabrics or wool which she would then sew/darn/weave into clothes or woolens to gift her family members when in Feni. She would also spend more time in the kitchen than usual, cooking as many dishes as she could for my father, the only of us who would be staying behind since he had his office to attend to; he would join us, if at all, for a few days at the end. For days before she left, Amma would repeat instructions to our household helps till by the time we would leave we had memorized what they were supposed to be doing while we were away. Moreover, she would spend the last few days before the journey packing and repacking since she had to ensure that we had everything we needed, not only for the fortnight or so we would spend in Feni, but also for the journey back and forth.

by Fakrul Alam

Tuesday, 10 th October 2006

The R. K. Narayan centenary conference begins fifteen minutes late (subcontinental standard conference opening time!). On stage for the inaugural session in the very impressive auditorium of the Mysore wing of the Central Institute for Indian Languages (CIIL) are representatives of the three organizers of the conference: Mr. S. Jithendra Nath of the Bangalore branch of the Sahitya Akademi, Professor Harish Trivedi, Chairperson of the Indian Association of Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (ACLALS); and Mr. B. Mallikarjun, the Assistant Director of CIIL. Mr. Nath is brief and punctilious in making his points as is Mr. Malliakarajun, both of whom are here by default, standing in for others who could not show up. Also absent is someone we were all looking forward to hearing: Keki N. Daruwalla, member of the Sahitya Akademi, representing no doubt its English language interests, and identified pithily in the conference brochure as “Eminent Poet”. It is left to Harish Trivedi to explain that he has not been well and thus could not be present. But the absentees don’t matter: Harish makes up for their inability to come and the succinctness of the other speakers— not by being long-winded (he is incapable of that!) but by giving us the perspective necessary to begin proceedings: this is R. K. Narayan’s hundredth birthday (he, died, we remember, on 13 May, 2001); Mysore, the place he has immortalized as Malgudi in his fiction is the right setting for the occasion; and his achievement is so great that it was fitting that the Akademi, ACLALS, and CIIL should have got together to organize a conference bringing together a relatively small group of Narayan devotees/scholars from all over the world and across India for a three-day conference. Harish is witty and gracious; in the course of his speech his charm seemed to have wafted to the almost ineffable allure of Narayan’s work to set participants in the right mood for all subsequent sessions.

by Fakrul Alam

Australian Salute

My attention was attracted by it almost as soon as I stepped out of Sydney airport and pretty soon I was doing it too—the Australian salute! The gesture consists of the fingers of your hand raised half voluntarily as if to swat away something occupying facial space and upsetting one’s mental equilibrium, but in the end the movement is obviously nothing more threatening than a half-hearted attempt to brush away the pesky, ubiquitous Australian fly. Indeed, I now realize I had seen it often in cricket broadcasts: Big Tony Greig, it is obvious, was doing it in the sidelines, while commentating, as was modestly built Rickie Ponting while taking guard, or brawny Bret Lee when darting in to bowl his lightning-quick balls. And my wife and I were going to do it again and again the three weeks we spent in Down Under Land whether in and around the cities of Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, or Brisbane, where we were to spend 21 pleasure-filled “high” Australian summer (late December to early January ) days!

by Fakrul Alam

Teaching Literature . Oxford : Blackwell Publishing, 2003. 177 pp.

Nearly thirty years ago, when I first went into a classroom in the University of Dhaka to teach English literature I remember how terrified I was. I had spent a couple of days reading for the class and half of a sleepless night writing out the lecture itself. I think I had written out my lecture in its entirety—twenty pages at least! —and then memorized it. And yet once in the classroom I managed to blurt it out in about forty minutes, leaving me with ten minutes of sheer agony and embarrassment.

by Fakrul Alam

Like the city that it focuses on, Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found ( Delhi:
Viking Penguin, 2004, 584 pages) is a big, sprawling book.  The result of a two and a half year stay by someone who had once grown up in the city and who is now a journalist and fiction writer based in New York—an even more gargantuan metropolis—the book is an intense, sustained look at a unique city. Reading it, one becomes aware that the city is humongous and contains multitudes. No two people will see it the same way though any one who has visited the city even once will see it even more vividly how unique it really is through Mehta’s book.

by Krishnan Unni P.

The Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationlism by Nyla Ali Khan, London and New York: Routledge, 2005.

Transnationalism is an idea that encompasses various discursive and cultural formations of nation’s ideologies, culural practices and modes of resistance. Literature, viewed in this context, becomes an accurate tool of expressing the agonies, sentiments and sensitive issues that often lurk within the nations. Writers who have a wide panorama of incorporating into their works issues that cross beyond the borders are global writers despite their merits and demerits. Nation becomes the foremost platform for these writers to expand and shrink, to extend and substitute because it is a different aspect of nationalism that they wish to highlight. Nyla Ali Khan’s The Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism makes an attempt to study the different types of nationalisms and deviant discourses connected to them in the writings of V.S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Amitava Ghosh and Anita Desai.

by Zafar Anjum

romesh_gunesekera “I don’t know where my home is,” said Romesh Gunesekera, answering a question on being an   immigrant writer. “I think writers are one of the worst people to ask this question,” he added.

The well-known Sri Lanka-born novelist and poet, now living in London, was speaking at a gathering at the Asian Civilizations Museum’s auditorium yesterday evening. Captain Elmo Jayawardena, novelist, philanthropist, and a pilot with the Singapore Airlines, moderated the open discussion.

by Zafar Anjum

Fame is a double-edged sword. One wrong move and the famed head is rolling on the ground.

And who would know it better than Kaavya Viswanathan?

This 19-year old Harvard sophomore shot to fame last year when her debut novel, How Opel Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got A Life was picked up by US-based publishers Little, Brown & Co. for a whopping USD 500,000 in a two book deal. On top of that, Kaavya got a movie deal from DreamWorks.

by Zafar Anjum

In Woody Allen’s film, Bullets Over Broadway, Cheech (Chazz Palminteri), a gangster, takes over an under-production Broadway play (he was there to protect the third lead actress of the play, his boss’s keep), rewrites the dialogues and the scenes, makes it a highly successful drama in public and eventually, makes the poor playwright realize that he has no talent to be in the business of creativity. The gangster, who came from the streets, was more creative than the writer who came from the university!

Something like this is happening in India now. A former mafia don, Babloo Srivastava who is based in India, is making his literary debut, and if the Indian media is to be believed, is making quite a splash about it. Babloo once worked with notorious mafia don, Dawood Ibrahim. Now he is turning a new leaf—he is becoming a writer.

by Zafar Anjum

Singapore is doing its best to promote reading and writing in the city state. The recently concluded Singapore Writers Festival 2005 (held once in two years) was a remarkable success that offered 80 events by 63 writers over a period of ten days.

But literary festivals alone do not inform a vibrant writing culture. Publishing of local talent is also an impotant factor. In terms of local publishing, very few local titles are published in Singapore. According to one report, Marshall Cavendish, Singapore’s largest book publisher, does not publish more than two to six local books a year. Other major publishers promoting local writing such as Ethos and Landmark Books are now more focused on publishing general and reference books that have guaranteed sales. Publisher SNP, which used to sponsor the Singapore Literature Prize of the National Book Development Council of Singapore, has also reportedly scrapped its local fiction list.