Somewhere deep inside inland India, a group of women wearing bright orange, yellow and red coloured sarees gossiped under an early morning summer sun. Dense groves of lush green banana trees stretched for miles around them. Rows and rows of bananas dangled from these trees, like an upside-down crown. Overhead the sky looked like a clean, light-blue canvas with not a single cloud or bird in sight.
These women had skin the colour of charcoal, sharp eyes and loud laughter. With their hair tucked behind their ears and the loose end of their sarees tied around their waist, they sit under the shade of these trees. In their daily lives full of drudgery and routine, this is perhaps the only hour they don’t resent. They share stories about their childhood, spent in their maiden homes, far this village of lush green banana trees, none of which belong to them. Now, they are just women who live in ruins, on the edges of the world, like those extra empty spaces, on the edges of manuscripts, unseen, unheard and unwanted.
‘Who can free a captive bird mourning in his cage?
You must bring your own Freedom, O, Gardner.’
Ghulam Ahmad Mehjoor
“I’ll be back early tomorrow, you don’t need to worry about me,” Syeda tried to sound reassuring. “He will protect us”, she said to Tariq, as she packed the oily turmeric rice in a large steel lunch carrier. She placed the container in an empty plastic cement bag, hoisted it on her head and took Mishaal’s hand in hers. The faithful were reciting their durood in the mosque after Fajr prayers. The golden thread of dawn had just emerged in the skies, and she embarked on this perilous journey to Srinagar.
The scorching heat of the afternoon followed by the sudden downpour had made it difficult for the people to fly kites on the occasion of Raksha Bandhan. But now that the deluge had stopped, the people emerged on their roofs as ants emerged from their castle. The downpour had cooled the evening and cleared the sky and brought some relief to the people. The Trikuta hills and several other hills and mountains that surrounded the plain region betrayed their dominance. As far as one could see from the rooftops, the silhouette of the giant mountains didn’t fail to mark their presence. The beautiful sunset had created an ambient atmosphere of trance. Streaks of pink golden rays ran parallel above the stretched silhouettes of mountains. Everyone was taking in the cold breeze of August evening, conscious of the rhythmic movements of inhalation and exhalation. The various plants and trees surrounding the houses had not dried yet. Drops of water remained present on the leaves as morning dew. Just as a snail glides along the path slowly, the dewdrops on the leaves glided and merged into each other and eventually fell off the leaves into the soil beneath. The aroma of the earth that arose from the merging of aqua and soil stimulated the olfactory pleasures of the beings. The people had started coming to their rooftops from every house. Some people were here to play the sport; some were to help, and others were the spectators.
Two brown sparrows perched on the parapet undisturbed took note of their surroundings, contributing their part as spectators from different species. A purple sunbird perched on a high bough of a tree sang a song to summon his comrades to witness the once-in-a-year moment. The initiation of the event started with loud music on the loudspeakers. Pieces of electrical tape were being cut and wound on the fingers lest these get severed by the ‘pucca dor'(a string of either plastic or cotton covered by powered glass) which they had specially ordered. The people made sure that the triangle of the thread (kite knots) was perfectly aligned and anchored and they rubbed the dorsal side of the kite on their head and looked assertive as if their weapon of choice was ready to hunt others’ down. When the people were immersed in tying the kite knots, a tailor bird referred to as ‘darzi’ by the locals paid a brief visit to the lawns, and gardens of the neighborhood and retreated to its niche stitching leaves to make its nest. The helpers of the kite flyers held the kite from its horizontally opposite corners in their hand hiding their face and traced some steps back making the length of string between them tighten and on the count of three, gave a little push up which was then maneuvered by the kite flyers.
In this video, India/US-based writer Namrata Poddar reads from her short story, Chutney, published in The Best Asian Short Stories (edited by Hisham Bustani and Zafar Anjum, Kitaab Singapore, 2019). More about the anthology can be found here.
An excerpt from ‘Preface to the Special Anniversary Edition’ in Gay Bombay: Globalization, Love and (Be)longing in Contemporary India, Special Anniversary Edition by Parmesh Shahani, published by SAGE Publications India.
PREFACE (pp. xviii-xxi)
Another change personally over the years has been my own persona. From being someone who was rather shy 15 years ago, to being a flamboyant over the top fashionista who is regularly featured in our country’s fashion magazine “best dressed” lists, it’s been quite a ride! In fact, my fashionista journey began in 2008 with one of the first Gay Bombay book release events at the office of the fashion magazine Verve that I had just taken over as Editorial Director of. I wore a rather risqué rani pink silk kurta for that party with most of the top buttons open. I had also painfully waxed my chest – never again. (The risk-reward ratio just isn’t worth it!) From there to being a regular at fashion weeks and parties over the years, even though I’m not directly involved with the glamour business any more – what can I say except that I’m loving every moment of it. Whether in fashion or in business, or as a blue tick holding micro influencer in the digital world, I am in a different place today than I was in 2008, and I consciously use my vantage point to push for queer visibility and inclusion, wherever and whenever I can.
Born in Gorakhpur in 1960, K.K. Srivastava did his Masters in Economics from Gorakhpur University in 1980 and joined Civil Services in 1983. Author of three volumes of poetry: Ineluctable Stillness (2005), An Armless Hand Writes (2008; 2012) and Shadows of the Real (2012), his poems have been translated into Hindi (Andhere Se Nikli Kavitayen—VANI PRAKASHAN ,2017) and his book Shadows of the Real into Russian by veteran Russian poet Adolf Shvedchikov. His fourth book Soliloquy of a Small Town Uncivil Servant, a literary non-fiction was published in March 2019 by Rupa Publications, New Delhi. Currently he is working as Additional Deputy Comptroller and Auditor General in the office of Comptroller & Auditor General of India.
Namrata reviews One Drop of Blood by Ismat Chugtai based on the battle of Karbala.
Published by Women Unlimited (An Associate of Kali for Women), 2020
Featured in Hindustan Times as one of the interesting books early this year, One Drop of Blood by Ismat Chugtai is a unique book in many ways. Firstly, it is the last work of Ismat Chugtai and secondly, it so different from her usual line of work.
One drop of Blood is based on the battle of Karbala fought in 680 A.D. in present-day Iraq between Yazid, the reigning Caliph and his mighty soldiers and Imam Husain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad with his small army. According to the Islamic calendar Muharram is the first month of the year and the second holiest month, after the month of Ramzan. Muharram is also a period of mourning the martyrdom of Imam Husain and his family (including his infant grandchild) in the battle of Karbala.
Vibrant and Dusty- A Book Review of Bhaunri: A Novel and Daura: Excerpts from the Confidential Report on the Collector of a district in Rajasthan by Pallavi Narayan
The covers of Bhaunri and Daura, with the silhouette of a tribal girl on the former and a tree with roots and flowering branches on the latter, are inviting. The earthy colours of claret and mustard on both bring to mind the rolling deserts of Rajasthan, which is where the narratives are based. Indeed, the descriptions of rural living are minute and bring the reader right into the homes of the characters in Bhaunri, and into the tehsildar’s bungalow in Daura. While the novels are not intertwined, they speak to each other, taking the reader through the timeless vistas of Rajasthan and then plunging into a roiling mass of emotions.
Flashes of iridescent colour, the swish of lehengas, the sweat of day-to-day living, the thirst that the desert induces in the subconscious take due precedence in the rendering of the characters. The portrayal of the landscapes is bound into quiet, controlled prose. Mystical experiences are brought alive by a lone flute amongst the dunes swaying with camels in its sway; a smattering of kohl that transforms beckoning eyes into that of a jadugarni, a female magician. Seemingly everyday occurrences are granted significance in the wee hours between day and night. The fineness of the prose is undercut by the intensity that the female protagonists bring to the novels.
Taran N. Khan takes us through the lanes of Kabul, creating an elegant cartography of poets, museums, archaeologists and local book markets.
Written on the City
The road to Kabul is made of stories. A fragment of a memory leads me to the afternoon when I first read about the city, in a book I found on Baba’s shelves. The adults were deep in sleep; the house filled with the kind of stillness in which fables begin. The short story I perused was written by the legendary Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore in 1892.
Today is Saadat Hasan Manto‘s birthday. Considered to be one of South Asia’s finest fiction writers, he is known for his candid and honest style of writing which was often considered provocative. There has been a lot of debate on his style of writing since time immemorial. While one may continue to argue on that but the fact still remains, that he is one of the greatest short story writers till date. Which leads us to the question: Why does Manto arouse antagonism amongst the intelligentsia?. Let’s try to decipher that.