By Mitali Chakravarty

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Sameer Arshad Khatlani is an author-journalist based in New Delhi. He has been a Senior Assistant Editor with Hindustan Times, India’s second-biggest English newspaper with a circulation of 10 million daily, since July 2018. Khatlani worked in a similar capacity with The Indian Express, India’s most influential newspaper known for its investigative journalism, until June 2018.

Born and raised in Kashmir, he began his career with the now-defunct Bangalore-based Vijay Times in 2005 as its national affairs correspondent. He joined Times of India (TOI), one of the world’s largest selling broadsheets, in 2007. Over the next nine years, he was a part of the paper’s national and international news gathering team as an Assistant Editor. Khatlani has reported from Iraq and Pakistan and covered elections and national disasters. He received a master’s degree in History from prestigious Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi.

The other side of the divide coverKhatlani is a fellow with Hawaii-based American East-West Center, which was established by the US Congress in 1960 to promote better relations and understanding with Asian, and the Pacific countries through cooperative study, research, and dialogue. Penguin in 2020 published Khatlani’s first book, The Other Side of the Divide: A Journey into the Heart of Pakistan. Eminent academic and King’s college professor, Christophe Jaffrelot, has called the book ‘an erudite historical account… [that] offers a comprehensive portrait of Pakistan, including the role of the army and religion—not only Islam’. In this exclusive, Khatlani talks of his learnings from the journey into Pakistan and his extensive research on these issues.

 

Your book is about your around a week-long sojourn to Pakistan as a journalist for Times of India. What event were you covering for TOI and which year was this? Was it prior to Modi being elected the PM?

I went to Pakistan in late December 2013 for my first and last trip to that country at the invitation of the World Punjabi Conference for a peace conference in Lahore. This was five months before Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in the summer of 2014 and around the time my former employer—Times of India—was involved in a campaign called Aman ki Asha for promoting greater people-to-people contacts between India and Pakistan for conflict resolution.

In conversation with Team Kitaab

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“One World, One Faith One Race, One Colour, Just A Different Face” – this is the motto of a man who juggles between three worlds; the world of IT, the world of cinema and the world of poetry. Born and raised in Goa, Tagore Almeida shuttled between Goa and London to emerge with an ideology of a world united in peace. Tagore’s passion is cinema. He has already scripted two commercial films in India and written, produced and directed a handful of short films, some of which have featured in short film festivals across the world, including the Cannes Short Film Festival. A computer science graduate from the UK who has worked in London, Dubai and Singapore,  he has just completed writing his first novel, is in the pre-production phase of his next short film ‘The Forgiveness’. In this exclusive, he talks of what makes him tick and what drew him to spoken word as a form of poetry – a style which he has exploited eloquently to question the social trauma faced by many with an impactful poem called “Whose Side?”

 

You have an interesting name — Tagore Almeida. Was this something you adopted or was it given to you by your parents?

My late father was initially a journalist and has also authored two books in Konkani back home in Goa. He admired Rabindranath Tagore immensely and felt that if he named his son after the great man, his son too would show signs of great literature. Ooops, let’s not go there!

So, you have started moving towards your father’s expectations! You have taken to words. Now you have started putting your poetry in a format called spoken word and have started putting it on you tube. Can you tell us a little more about this form? Most people use visuals with words but you only use words and no photos Why?

A friend of mine back home encouraged me to get on board spoken word late last year. He was frustrated like most of my friends that I wasn’t doing much with my verses and had been spending a lot of my time writing films. So I finally decided to give it a go, just to test the medium. So I shortlisted twelve of my verses and said I was going to focus on those over the next eighteen months.

By Mitali Chakravarty

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A versatile woman of arts and letters, acclaimed and celebrated, Aruna Chakravarti’s writing has been acknowledged by awards like Vaitalik Award, Sahitya Akademi  Award and Sarat Puraskar. Chakravarti talks of interactions with greats like writer Sunil Gangopadhyay and actress Sharmila Tagore to discuss her books and translations in festivals. Her books are often a protest against social ills which linger beyond the past. Her first novel  The Inheritors ( 2004, Penguin)  was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and her third, Jorasanko ( 2013, Harper Collins) received critical acclaim and also became a best seller. Daughters of Jorasanko ( 2016), a sequel to Jorasanko, has sold widely and received rave reviews.  Her translated works include an anthology of songs from Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitabitaan, Saratchandra Chattopadhyay’s Srikanta (which won her the Sahitya Akademi Award) and Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Those days, First Light and Primal Woman: Stories. Chakravarti was the  Principal of a prestigious women’s college of Delhi University for ten years. She is an academic, creative writer and translator with fourteen published books — three novels, one book of short stories, two academic works and eight translations.

22fa274f-4a0d-4c09-8935-35685fae7e7eChakravarti’s latest work, a novel titled Suralakshmi Villa, published by Pan Macmillan this year, will be her fifteenth book. The launch scheduled for 25th February, 2020, in Delhi’s  India International Centre will have a panel discussion on the book by eminent academics for half-an-hour followed by a multi-media presentation of an excerpt from the book created by the author herself. In this exclusive, Chakravarti talks of why and how she writes and more.

 

Since when have you been writing? What inspires you to write?

I used to write prolifically as a child. Poems and stories would pour out of me in a joyous, unthinking stream and I loved the feeling it gave me.

Things changed when, after joining the English Honours course in college, I was introduced to the academics of literature, taught the principles of criticism and how to distinguish good writing from mediocre. I became disillusioned with my work. I found it wanting on so many counts.  I felt I was useless as a writer. Self- criticism is good but, in my case, it verged to the point of negativity.

I stopped writing altogether.

There was a gap of twenty-five years before I picked up the courage to write again.

To answer the second part of your question my juvenilia reflected whatever I was reading at the time, mostly poems and stories written by English writers, and was hugely imitative. But my adult work is derived directly from living experience. It is from the world around me that I draw inspiration.

Rituparna Mahapatra in conversation with Arundhathi Subramaniam in the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature

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The brochure at the prestigious Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature held in Dubai from 4th -9th february described Arundhathi Subramaniam as one of the finest poets writing in India today. She was one amongst many internationally acclaimed authors invited to the festival such as Mitch Albom, Jo Nesbo, Markus Zusak, Jokha Alharthi (Man International Booker winner 2019).

Widely translated and anthologized, Subramaniam’s collection When God is a traveller was shortlisted for the T.S Eliot Prize. Popularly known as the biographer of the mystic Sadhguru, her book on him,  Sadhguru: More than a life, went on to be a bestseller. Her other bestselling books include The Book of Buddha and Adiyogi: The Source of Yoga (co-authored with Sadhguru).

She recently edited the acclaimed Penguin anthology of sacred poetry, Eating God. Recipient of many awards and fellowships, she has donned many creative roles as poet, critic, editor, and curator.

In an exclusive interview, the very eloquent Subramaniam spoke about her personal spiritual quest, her passion for literature around the sacred; her love for poetry, performing arts, God and what does Bhakti* poetry explore.

 

You are one of India’s finest poets. When did you start writing poetry?

I have been writing poetry if we may call it that, from a very young age, maybe since I was six or seven years. As a child, I loved the music, the rhythm in poetry. My earliest encounters being nursery rhymes and I got hooked to it. I grew up in Bombay where I did my BA in English Literature at St Xavier’s college, and subsequently my MA at the University of Mumbai. Those years were important learning years for me since I learnt about the craft from gifted teachers. After that came my years of association with the Poetry Circle of Bombay, which gave me an opportunity to be with people who were equally smitten with poetry and learn from them. It was there I understood that writing poetry as a craft required rigorous discipline. It was here that I met fellow poets like Menka Shivdasani, Jerry Pinto, Ranjit Hoskote and many others, who kept my inquisitiveness alive and nurtured it. The first poem which may be called a poem was titled ‘Amoeba’, which I wrote when I was around 19. It went into my first book, On Cleaning Bookshelves (2001).

51WNPe-6mpL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Though poetry is your forte, it’s your prose, the book on Sadhguru, More than a Life, published by Penguin, which was widely acclaimed, and it went on to be a bestseller. Jerry Pinto said of that book, “Nothing less than a thriller. After the first page, I couldn’t put it down“. Tell us, what made you choose to write this book? How did it happen, Did it come naturally to you or was it a conscious effort?

Thank you for asking this question. It was in 2004 May, that I first heard Sadhguru speak in a Mumbai auditorium. I had gone there with many misgivings. I had many years of active spiritual quest and one part of me was actively seeking guidance and another part of me was resisting it, all the time. I have a kind of love-hate relationship with the notion of a ‘Guide’, I have a problem with hierarchies. So, I went to it with curiosity and resistance, but the talk itself was the turning point.

Anuradha Kumar, the author of Coming Back to the City, Mumbai Stories, in conversation with Mitali Chakravarty

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Anuradha Kumar has been writing for two decades and in that span of time has authored eight novels, including Letters for Paul (2006), It Takes a Murder (2013) and two works of historical fiction written under the psuedonym of Adity Kay: Emperor Chandragupta (2016) and Emperor Vikramaditya (2019). She also writes for younger readers, and contributes to Scroll.inEconomic and Political Weeklythewire.intheaerogram.com, and other places. She was awarded twice (2004, 2010) for her stories by the Commonwealth Foundation, and has received awards from The Little Magazine and Hindu-Goodbooks.in. Recently, she has brought out a novel, Coming Back to the City, Mumbai Stories. In this exclusive, she tells us more about her journey as a writer.

You have written eight novels and children’s stories/books. How many years of your journey as a writer does that span?

About two decades. I’d my first collection of short stories out from Writers’ Workshop in 2002. What I remember is the lovely handwritten note Prof. Lal (who set up the workshop) sent me in acceptance of my manuscript; that, and a translated copy of his Avyakta Upanishad. I sort of remember what he wrote in that note. For a long time, those words encouraged me. I forgot them at times, but early words of encouragement and support stand by you, especially in not so good times. 

Can you tell us about your latest book, Coming Back to the City, Mumbai Stories? How did it come about? You have been living overseas, did you return to Mumbai and then write it?

An exclusive interview with Avik Chanda

By Gargi Vachaknavi

 

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Avik Chanda is an author who is a Jack of multiple genres and, unlike the saying goes, emerges the master of most – including that of a best-selling non-fiction book. He has authored a book on the Mughal prince, Dara Shukoh, and it did so well that it beat William Dalrymple’s The Anarchy to the top of the Asian Age best seller list and even now it continues in the top ten bestseller’s list. 

Chanda has two decades of global Big 4 Consulting experience. He is a business adviser, entrepreneur, trainer and a speaker at the Outstanding Speaker’s Bureau; a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review Ascend and a columnist for The Economic Times. Recently, he has been nominated for the Forbes India 2020 ‘Great People Managers’ list. He is also now venturing into another one of his newbies — a start-up in the human resource technology domain which he has christened NUVAH ( ‘new’ was his explanation for the word which he spelt in all caps).

Avik Chanda has been published in more than twenty international journals and anthologies, including Queen’s Quarterly, Stride Magazine, Envoi, Aesthetica, and First Proofs (Penguin India). He has had a solo exhibition of paintings and published two poetry collections in Bengali (Protibhash and Jokhon Bideshe) and one in English, Footnotes (Shearsman, UK). His debut novel, Anchor, was published by Harper Collins in 2015, to high critical praise. His business book, From Command To Empathy: Using EQ in the Age of Disruption (Harper Collins, 2017), addresses the need for greater emotional enablement in the Indian workplace. The book received praise from leaders across both industry and academia, was widely featured in the national press, and is shaping collective consciousness in favour of better work-life integration. In 2018, the book was selected for Amazon India’s Best Reads under the category, Business, Strategy and Management.

Dara ShukohHis third book with Harper Collins, Dara Shukoh: The Man Who Would Be King, was published in October 2019. This work has received glowing reviews from world-renowned academics, authors and commentators, garnered tremendous attention in the national press, featured at prestigious literary meets, been acquired by Audible for audio-book rights. Juggernaut Books is also promoting the book as a mini blockbuster — publishing excerpts from the book — and it has also been on the Bestsellers’ List right since its publication. In this exclusive interview, Chanda reveals more about his muti-layered personality and his work.

 

When and why did you start writing? What moved your muse?

I’ve been passionate about books for as long as I can remember, and I suppose there came a time when I wanted to start writing my own books. Around the years 2003-2007, there was an earlier spate of writing — poetry, in English and Bengali. I produced a couple of collections besides publishing in individual magazines. The current run began about six years ago. In this period, I’ve published a novel, Anchor, a business book, From Command To Empathy, and my latest book, a biography of the Mughal Prince, Dara Shukoh — all three published by Harper Collins.

By Gargi Vachaknavi

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In the heydays of ABBA, there was a popular song called ‘Nina Pretty Ballerina’, which spoke of a girl who led an ordinary life but became  the ‘queen of the dancing floor’ when she stepped into the role of a ‘pretty ballerina’. Sarita Jenamani is a bit like that. She works as a marketing manager in Austria but turns into a lyrical whiplash when she picks up her pen to write poetry.

Sarita Jenamani, with a background of  economics and management studies in India and Austria, is a poet, a literary translator, anthologist, editor of a bilingual magazine for migrant literature – Words & Worlds – a human rights activist, a feminist and general secretary of PEN International’s Austrian chapter in the literary world.

Perhaps the most conspicuous aspect of her personality is her poetry that has so far been published in three collections, the latest being Till the Next Wave Comes. English is the chief medium of her creative process. The other two languages she writes in are, Odia, the state language of the place of her origin Odisha (India), and German, the language of her country of residence, Austria. She uses these languages for translation projects that she undertakes from time to time. Sarita translated Rose Ausländer, a leading Austrian poet, and an anthology of contemporary Austrian Poetry from German into Hindi and Odia. She has received many literary fellowships in Germany and in Austria including those of the prestigious organisations of “Heinrich Böll Foundation” and “Künstlerdorf Schöppingen”. In this exclusive, she talks of how poetry empowers her to find her individuality and address social issues, of how being in PEN has taught her that thought stretches beyond all borders and of a past and present that shuttles between varied cultures.

 

What moved your muse? When and how did you start writing?

Actually, I did not want to be a poet rather poetry, as Neruda once said, arrived in search of me. All my joys, sufferings, passions, and memories that significantly leave deep impact on me, turn into ash, sink into my being and again rise like a phoenix in the lines. This provides me the pleasure of seeking an enigmatic truth in some ancient temple. Such feelings compel me to write poetry. Poetry for me is an act of introspection, self-realisation and a sanctuary.

By Mitali Chakravarty

 

Hisham Bustani, the editor of this year’s Best Asian Short Stories from Kitaab, is an award-winning Jordanian author of five collections of short fiction and poetry. He is acclaimed for his bold style and unique narrative voice, and often experiments with the boundaries of short fiction and prose poetry. Much of his work revolves around issues related to social and political change, particularly the dystopian experience of post-colonial modernity in the Arab world. His work has been described as “bringing a new wave of surrealism to [Arabic] literary culture, which missed the surrealist revolution of the last century,” and it has been said that he “belongs to an angry new Arab generation. Indeed, he is at the forefront of this generation – combining an unbounded modernist literary sensibility with a vision for total change…. His anger extends to encompass everything, including literary conventions.”

Hisham’s fiction and poetry have been translated into many languages, with English-language translations appearing in prestigious journals across the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, including The Kenyon ReviewBlack Warrior Review, The Poetry ReviewModern Poetry in TranslationWorld Literature Today, and The Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly. In 2013, the U.K.-based cultural webzine The Culture Trip listed him as one of Jordan’s top six contemporary writers. His book The Perception of Meaning (Syracuse University Press, 2015) won the University of Arkansas Arabic Translation Award. Hisham is the Arabic Fiction Editor of the Amherst College-based literary review The Common, and the recipient of the Rockefeller Foundation’s prestigious Bellagio Fellowship for Artists and Writers for 2017. In this exclusive, he talks of what went into the selection of the stories and what makes him write.

 

You are author of five collections of short stories, poetry and hybrid forms. How many short story collections have you edited before? Were they in English or Arabic?

Hisham: I have a long list of editorial credits behind (and before) me. First of all, I am currently the Arabic Fiction Editor of the Amherst College-based literary review The Common, responsible for curating an annual country- or theme-based portfolios of Arabic short stories in English translation. So far we two of those portfolios were published, one from Jordan (Issue 15, Spring 2018) and the other from Syria (Issue 17, Spring 2019). The forthcoming portfolio in Issue 19 (Spring 2020) will feature stories in translation from Sudan. These portfolios are simultaneously published in Arabic in the Egyptian literary newspaper Akhbar al-Adab. So I’ve established alongside The Common’s editor-in-chief Jennifer Acker, and Akhbar al-Adab’s editor-in-chief  Tariq al-Taher, a trans-Atlantic literary collaboration in that respect.

by Mitali Chakravarty

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Isa Kamari

His books transport one to a past — a time where under the green creepers on a softly moving river, a boat sails and take one into a unique world of what has been. You discover how much the world has changed and how Singapore has evolved, you meet people who intrigue and bring to the fore the roots that created the little red dot. And yet some of his books look forward to a future – a world of harmony where technology and spiritual peace co-exist… Meet the author, winner of numerous awards and a voice to be reckoned with — Isa Kamari.

Isa Kamari was born in 1960 and lives in Singapore with his wife and two children. He is currently Deputy Director in the Architecture Division with the Land Transport Authority of Singapore, leading a team that manages the design and construction of transport infrastructures. While his profession is an architect, his passion lies in writing, though his architectural background has also found a way into some of his novels.

In all, he has written 9 novels, 3 collections of poetry, a collection of short stories, a book of essays on Singapore Malay poetry, a collection of theatre scripts and lyrics of 2 song albums — all in Malay. His novels have been translated into English, Turkish, Urdu, Hindi, Arabic, Indonesian and Mandarin. His collections of essays and selected poems have been translated into English. His first novel in English, Tweet was published in 2016. Isa was conferred the Southeast Asia Write Award from Thailand in 2006, the Singapore Cultural Medallion in 2007, the Anugerah Tun Seri Lanang from the Singapore Malay Language Council in 2009, and the Mastera Literary Award from Brunei Darussalam in 2018.

In this exclusive, he talks about his book Kiswah, whose translated version is being launched on 8thNovember in the Singapore Writer’s Festival; the  dramatisation of his novel, 1819 and much more…

 

Front coverYou will soon be launching Kiswah. It shuttles between various locales. Can you tell us the intent of this book? What led you to write it?

Isa: In the late 1990s, I was disturbed by the rampant spread of pornographic materials in in Singapore. Vendors openly sold X-rated VCDs near MRT stations, bus interchanges and bazaars illegally. There were also reports in the newspapers about the addiction to pornography amongst professionals and the young. At the same time, I knew from my wife, who was doing voluntary service at a welfare home, that there were many family breakups arising from sexual abuses. All these compelled me to ponder on the topic of manifestation of sexual life in relation to spirituality or the lack of it. The various locales — like Delhi, Agra, Kashmir, Kathmandu and finally Mecca — becomes the background for me to explore, confront, interrogate and somewhat find a resolution on the topic.

By Mitali Chakravarty

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Shishir Sharma

He is a well-known figure on television. He is a prominent actor in films… a good friend to famed actor Nasseruddin Shah and actress Ratna Pathak. He is kind to young filmmakers who start their career and does short films for them as he recently did in Singapore. He starred in Kitaab and Filmwalla founder Zafar Anjum’s first short film that has been shown to the public — a fourteen-and-a-half-minute movie called The Sacrifice with a talented actress from Singapore, Renita Kapoor.

And yet this man has a secret, a small office in Mumbai where he spends time by himself and writes. Meet Shishir Sharma, the character actor who can be seen on stage in theatre, on the silver screen, both in Indian television and cinema.

And what does the actor write?

You would think… it would be something for the screen or maybe about his life. But no, he writes about his parents and his father’s past. For spoilers, the story starts as a romantic one. Picture this: 1951 — in sepia tone — A young man in his early twenties goes off to get milk as does a fifteen-year-old girl. This would be a common thing but, wait, the story does not end there. The two meet and they travel in the opposite direction from their home on train to spend time with each other unbeknown to their families and, a few years later, they are married, and they have their first child — Shishir Sharma.

Talking to Shishir Sharma was not just a privilege but like a walk through the annals of Indian theatre and film history. His parents were involved with theatre and films, including the Leftists IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association founded in 1943 to bring cultural awakening among Indians during the independence struggle). Though his father earned a living through his small business, the interest in theatre and films stayed. He was even part of the production unit of NFDC (National Film Development Corporation) when the legendary film Garam Hawa was filmed in 1970s, says Sharma. Based on an unpublished story by the noted Urdu writer, Ismat Chugtai, this award-winning film gives a poignant telling on the impact of the 1947 Partition.

Living in Mumbai moving around with friends Naseeruddin and Ratna Pathak, Sharma was cajoled into theatre in 1974 by a person no less than Satyadev Dubey, an Indian theatre director, actor, playwright, screen writer and director and winner of numerous national awards ultimately crowned by the fourth highest civilian honour in India, Padma Bhushan. He had trained outstanding actors like Amrish Puri, Amol Palekar and, later, Nasseruddin Shah, Ratna Pathak and Neena Kulkarni, says Sharma. He was picked together with Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak. He tells a story of how Dubey came into Pathak’s house and found the three friends having a meal. He asked them to join his group. Sharma refused initially but eventually gave in.

From theatre he moved to television in 1993 with Swabhiman that came after Buniyad, both popular television serials in the early days of soaps in India. They were very well paid in those days, says Sharma.

Satyam, his first film was in Telugu. That came after some more years. Sharma started acting in a number of Telugu movies. And he actually has a Telugu tutor coming in to teach him the language. “All the characters I play are not really Telugu. They don’t want the pukka (pure) Telugu accent.”

 

Then came more films, this time in Hindi; among them, the national award-winning films, Uri and Raazi, and short films, like Roganjosh, where he and Naseeruddin Shah, were back together. Roganjosh, written and directed by Sanjeev Vig, won the Best Filmfare Award in the category of short films and is an emotional telling of how the terrorist bomb blast of Bombay Taj in 2007 destroyed the lives of everyday men and women. He was picked for this movie, Sharma says, because of his forty-four-year-old friendship with Naseeruddin Shah. Their mutual camaraderie was an asset to the film.