A Republic Day Special

Nishi Pulugurtha reminisces about a past where India had emerged after the independence struggle as a republic with a strong belief in inclusiveness.

A group of young men were recruited to work at the newly set up laboratory in Bhubaneshwar. The laboratory was set up in 1961 by the Scottish geneticist John Burdon Sanderson Haldane. They had made India their home. The institution brought together myriads of people from various parts of India who made it their workplace and home.

Hari Pulugurtha, my father, joined this laboratory as secretary to Haldane. He had been recommended by his childhood buddy Ramshastri Mangipudi who by then was already working at the laboratory. The job entailed a move to Bhubaneswar from Vizag, Visakhapatnam that is. Till then, Appagaru (that is how we addressed my father) had been doing all kinds of odd jobs. Appagaru always believed in the idea of inclusivity, the idea that however different we might be, there is something that binds all human beings together. He would tell us stories of how they were such a myriad group of people at the laboratory and the fun and camaraderie that they had celebrating life in its various aspects and of all the great work that went on there.

Compiled by Mitali Chakravarty

 

And there’s a hand, my trusty fere!
And gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.

Auld Lang Syne, Robert Burns,1788

 

It is that time of the year again when we bid adieu to the old and party to welcome the new. And this year it is not just an old year but the old decade that ends – this new year we start the third decade of the second millennia. With much goodwill, as the poet Burns says, we asked some writers who have featured on our pages to contribute two of their favourite reads from this year and they obliged… A huge thanks to all these fantastic writers who share what their favourite books have been this year.

51otYV5ZqEL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_We start with Suzanne Kamata, an award winning writer from Japan, who has been a part of our magazine and the first Best Asian Short Stories in 2017. This is what Suzanne wrote: “One book which particularly impressed me was Under the Broken Sky, a novel-in-verse by Mariko Nagai, about a Japanese girl stranded in Soviet-occupied Manchuria. Although we often hear and read about the atrocities committed by the Japanese Army in Asia, we rarely hear the voices of the innocent bystanders, like children. Nagai manages to distill complicated and difficult events into crystalline free verse. Although this book was written with middle grade readers in mind, I would recommend it to adults as well. 

By Mohd Salman

 

Everyone was happy when the Thief died.

It was the postman who had found her, sitting in her armchair behind the unlatched main door, eyes closed as if asleep. In that peaceful tableau, a reign of terror had come to an end.

For sixty years, the Thief held sway over Bijliya, a little hamlet of barely a hundred houses. Over the greater part of three generations, shopkeepers learned to put locks on their cashboxes, dhaba (roadside eatery) owners chained their plates and tumblers to the tables, landlords prowled the orchards, and families took care to not let on that they had money and valuables to spare.

This was not easy. The Thief operated in broad daylight, her identity known to all. Secondly, you couldn’t keep her out. In a place as tiny as Bijliya, she was practically family.

Her name, though, was not thief-like. Shehzadi. Princess. But wasn’t it thieving, plunder, pillage and murder that made people kings, queens, princes and princesses in the first place?

Generations came and went as Shehzadi pilfered money, food and valuables. The world outside changed over those sixty years. So did the façade of the village and the interiors of the houses. But out on the street, the Thief was a constant. At the stroke of midnight on 15 August, 1947, as the world slept, Bijliya awoke to picked pockets. In 1962, when China crossed the border into India, the first sethh (rich businessman) of Independent Bijliya noticed a rupee missing from his day’s earnings. When Bangladesh was born in 1971, so too were new grudges for the travelling Kashmiri salesman who found a rug missing from his cart. When men, women and children in Bijliya cheered the World Cup win in 1983, they didn’t notice the vanishing cartons of mangoes from the local market, the mandi, as they huddled round the Seth’s radio. When the villagers tuned into the Indian version of ‘Who wants be a Millionaire?’ — Kaun Banega Crorepati — in 2000, Amitabh Bachchan’s baritone masked the sounds of chickens being stolen, umbrellas disappearing, and plates of drying chillies and papads vanishing into the night. Every few years, the clergy of every religion practised in the village would be at each other’s throats. But in their hatred of the Thief, they were all united.

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Money, money, money!

How much is a writer paid?

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?

In a blog  at The Writing Cooperative, money or fame is not listed as a reason for writers to write. And yet, in a real world, writers cannot survive without money. 

But contradictions exist.

Uma Trilok in conversation with Mitali Chakravarty

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Dr Uma Trilok

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.

Writing was not a choice, it was a compulsion.

Book review by Arnapurna Rath

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Title: Basanti: Writing the New Woman

Authors: Annada Shankar Ray, Baishnab Charan Das, Harihar Mahapatra, Kalindi Charan Panigrahi, Muralidhar Mahanti, Prativa Devi, Sarala Devi, Sarat Chandra Mukherjee & Suprava Devi : Translated by Himansu S. Mohapatra & Paul St-Pierre

Published by: Oxford University Press, 2019

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

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).

by Aparna Amte Bhatnagar

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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…

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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.

 

It took me a while to recognise Herbert.

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?”