In an article in The Guardian, we are told : “Based on a standard 35-hour week, the average full-time writer earns only £5.73 per hour, £2 less than the UK minimum wage for those over 25. As a result, the number of professional writers whose income comes solely from writing has plummeted to just 13%, down from 40% in 2005.”
So, writing does not pay. Then why do writers write?
Uma Trilok in conversation with Mitali Chakravarty
Dr Uma Trilok is a small vivacious woman, well-dressed and polite… almost more like a retired college professor. She could be a heroine of one of the novels she writes. But as one reads her poetry in both Hindi, Hindustani, Punjabi and English, one is left wondering what goes on behind that serene, calm exterior.
With her writing, Uma draws word pictures which vividly converse with herself as well as the world outside. Through them she asks questions which enquire and eventually appear on her canvas as expressions of love, anguish, loss, hope, smiles and unions. Acclaimed and awarded, she has the rare art of balancing joy with pain which subtly leaves the reader with a profound sense of hope, courage and enterprise. “Her moving and touchy narrative brings out the deeply spiritual aspect of her writing,” writes India Today.
Besides being an acclaimed bilingual poet, her short stories and novels have been staged as plays. “She presents her lines with a unique facility of phrase and depth of feeling. In the play of her words, myriad moods of anguish and ecstasy come to the fore vividly,” writes the Journal of Poetry Society of India.
Uma Trilok has written award winning books including her much acclaimed debut novel, Amrita Imroz: A Love Story. In all, she has penned 16 books. Here, in this exclusive, she talks of how she started writing and what she sees as her future.
Mitali: When did you start writing? Can you tell us what put you on the path of writing? What was your inspiration? Do you have any book, music or art that inspires you?
Uma: At the age of 32, I was the heading a college for women in Mahashri Dayanand University. While sitting in a quiet environment, when students were taking their exams, a poem arrived, and I put it on a paper…That was the beginning.
Prior to that, I taught at Delhi University. Trained in Indian classical Music and Kathak dance, I sang at the All India Radio and gave dance performances at places like Triveni Kala Sangam, New Delhi. I had to conceal this part of myself from the conservative management of the women’s college. My journey as a poet started as a result of this trammel, way back in the 1970s. My creativity needed to flow somehow in some direction. I picked up the pen, a safe medium.
Basanti: Writing the New Woman is an intense collaborative literary project expressed in the medium of the novel. This almost century old classic has been translated to English this year. The story was originally authored by nine avant-garde members of the Sabuja group: Annada Shankar Ray, Baishnab Charan Das, Harihar Mahapatra, Kalindi Charan Panigrahi, Muralidhar Mahanti, Prativa Devi, Sarala Devi, Sarat Chandra Mukherjee, and Suprava Devi.
The word Sabuja ( green) is ‘a symbol of youth, novelty freshness and so on’. The group played a metaphorical role in presenting new voices in literature, exploring emerging viewpoints and providing innovativeness in the process of creating a work of fiction.
Basanti has been translated into English (in 2019) by two well-known scholars of literary and translation studies, Himansu S. Mohapatra, Former Professor of English at the Utkal University, India, and Paul St-Pierre, Former Professor at the Department of Linguistics and Translation, Université de Montréal, Canada. The translation carries the original ‘appeal’ made in 1924 for collaborative publication in the landmark journal, Utkala Sahitya. The novel had appeared as serials in Utkala Sahitya between 1924 and 1926. It was first published as a book in 1931.
The translation has succeeded in reinforcing the concept of the ‘new woman’ that was created in the persona of Basanti almost a century ago. Basanti tells the story of a young spirited girl from Cuttack, a bit of a rebel in the conservative social milieu of early twentieth century Odisha. She is accomplished in literature, writes essays for periodicals,
Nabina Das’s poems appear in Poetry Foundation, Prairie Schooner, Indian Literature (National Academy of Letters), Caravan, Sangam House poetry, The Indian Quarterly, Economic and Political Weekly, Dhaka Tribune, The Yellow Nib Anthology (Queens University, Belfast), and Six Seasons Review, among several others. Her third poetry collection and fifth book Sanskarnama (Red River, 2017, India) has been mentioned as one of the best poetry books of 2018 (OPEN Magazine). Nabina is a 2017 Sahapedia-UNESCO fellow, a 2012 Charles Wallace creative writing alumna (Stirling University, Scotland), and a 2016 Commonwealth Writers feature correspondent. Born and brought up in Guwahati, Assam, India, Nabina’s other poetry collections are Into the Migrant City (Writers Workshop, 2013, India), and Blue Vessel (Les Editions du Zaporogue, 2012, Denmark). Her first novel is Footprints in the Bajra (Cedar Books, 2010, India) , and her short fiction volume is titled The House of Twining Roses: Stories of the Mapped and the Unmapped (LiFi Publications, 2014, India). A 2012 Sangam House, a 2011 NYS Summer Writers Institute, and a 2007 Wesleyan Writers Conference creative writing alumna, Nabina is the co-editor of 40 under 40, an anthology of post-globalisation poetry (Poetrywala, 2016, India).
The moment that Shalini had waited for years had arrived. It was no longer a wait as the event was unfolding before her eyes…Accomplishment had never tasted more satisfying.
She took a deep breath as she sipped cold beer from a can and indulged in a bout of nostalgia…
Jolly Club had been the place where the richest families of Bhopal had gathered for their Sunday lunches. The club, situated in the heart of the city, housed the only restaurant that overlooked a shiny, turquoise swimming pool. During winters, the families preferred to be seated outdoor near the pool. These seats would be abandoned in summers as the affluent moved indoors to lounge in air-conditioned comfort. It was a busy place – the restaurant.
The lavish menu of kebabs was deemed to be among the best in town and the most popular feature. The resplendent exhibition of the most expensive sarees worn by women dining in the restaurant was the best in town too.
I was visiting my parents in Bombay after some years, and a friend had dropped in. When I walked her to the gate, Herbert was standing across the road. As he crossed over, he greeted me, “Utuma!”
But for that, I would not have known him, for the yellow-eyed, shabbily clad dark youth had little in common with the chubby, curly haired neighbourhood boy who had anglicised my name in our childhood.
“Seeing you after a long time!” Herbert exclaimed.
“Fifteen years at the least,” I replied.
“Where are you living now?” he wanted to know. I told him that I had moved to Delhi and asked him when he had got back from Kuwait.
“When Mummy died,” he said. “You know that we’ve sold the house?”
The Assassination of Indira Gandhi (2019) is a collection of short stories on different themes and motifs by acclaimed writer Upamanyu Chatterjee. Winner of the prestigious Indian Sahitya Akademi Award and the French Officier des Arts et des Lettres, his debut novel, English August: An Indian Story, was made into a highly successful film.
The title of his new book, The Assassination of Indira Gandhi, is at once striking, for it echoes a dark chapter in 20th century history, the assassination of one of India’s most iconic prime ministers and the social tensions that followed within the country. The title aptly sets the tone for the stories that are a tour de force of the trials and tribulations of modern India’s journey. This assortment of twelve short stories covers diverse themes and settings, each one of them, delving into the issues that strike at the heart of the emerging idea of India.
The skyscrapers along the nameless street grew four times bigger that afternoon, like a dozen of Hulks coming to life all at once. I picked up pace, but tripped over something and fell down on the sidewalk. The result was a palpable twinge on my left arm. There was a clothesline tied across what seemed to my eight-year-old self as two gigantic green skyscrapers and on it hung my mother’s petticoats and a pair of her old red ribbons. “Slow down, it’s going to pour,” she called out to me from faraway. But I was so close to where I wanted to be; I couldn’t wait.
“Fresh catches for only 50 taka (rupees in Bengali) per kilo!” fishmongers cried from the ferry terminal down the street. I walked down gingerly through its slushy stairs. Across the mighty river, Chandannagar sparkled with lights that brought to life mythological birds and animals and vivid blooming flowers sketched on display boards. And then I saw the silvery hilsa (fish found in the Indian subcontinent) — gleaming with a touch of regal pink, stacked all around.
I was still eight, sitting at the doorstep of my mother’s old kitchen and watched her fry ring-shaped pieces of the hilsa in mustard oil. She put two heaped spoons of steamed rice on my plate and mixed it with the oil of hilsa roe and a pinch of salt with her turmeric stained peaky fingers. “Let me pick out the bones for you,” the warmth in her voice echoed from the other end of time and coiled into a globe of ache in my chest. The pain on my left arm was no longer obscure.
Title: Voice of the Runes – When Souls Connect, But Vengeance Speaks Author: Manjiri Prabhu Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2018. Voice of the Runes begins with a vision and a death. The stage is set and readers plunge into the mystery even before they have seen Lund University, Sweden, the setting for Dr Manjiri Prabhu’s Nordic noir. The thriller brings back Re Parkar, the investigative journalist with the ability to sense things and chase visions. With him in this adventure is Magdalena Lindberg, Maddy, who assists him in tracing the messages the runes offer.
The story begins with Professor Heinz delivering his annual address to the university’s students a day before the university’s 350thyear celebrations. He is a revered practitioner of runology – a controversial subject in an academic atmosphere that relies heavily on its scientific temperament; Maddy is his research assistant. As he delivers the lecture, he turns to a moment of drama, shuts his eyes and picks out a rune stone from his bag. The first kiss of stone and the professor collapses, suddenly, shockingly.
The stunned silence that follows will soon give way to chaos, suspicions, intrigue, arson, vandalism, treachery and deaths while Maddy interprets the clues in the runes for Re Parkar and they arrive closer and closer to the truth — a truth that will shock and unnerve the characters as well as the readers. Manjiri Prabhu delivers a masterstroke by bringing in this twist in the tale, firmly establishing the story’s emotional core.