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Book Excerpt: Do We Not Bleed: Reflections of a 21st Century Pakistani by Mehr Tarar

Do we not bleed

 

The Story of Shazia Mustaq

In the second decade of the twenty-first century, education in Pakistan faces a catastrophe of unparalleled proportions. According to a 2015 UNESCO report, Pakistan has nearly 5.5 million children who are out of school, the second highest number in the world after Nigeria. Pakistan also has the highest number of illiterate adults in the world, after India and China.

According to the Pakistan Education Statistics Report, 2013–2014, the total number of out-of-school children at primary level in the country has dropped from 6.7 million in 2012–2013 to 6.2 million.

An October 2014 report by Alif Alaan, a campaign to end Pakistan’s education emergency pointed that there are 25 million boys and girls out of school—that’s nearly half of all children in the country. In relative terms, most out-of-school children are in Balochistan. More than half of the country’s out-of-school children live in Punjab. Across the country, it was harder for girls to go to school. Girls made up more than half of all out-of-school children. A majority of the parents of girls did not allow them to study, while boys were mostly unwilling to go to school. Older children are more likely to be out of school. Around 70 per cent of out-of-school children have never been to one before. Girls mostly drop out of school to help with household work. Children from poor families are far more likely to be out of school. The education system is unable to retain enrolled students

Said Shazia Mustaq, ‘My siblings didn’t get a chance to study, and that caused me immense pain. I think that is what got me thinking about education. Sometimes, I wish there was some magic wand that all illiterate people, out-of-school children become educated. I wish it for the whole world, and especially for Pakistan. Bas paadh jaiyan sab. Because of lack of education, Pakistan, my homeland, has divided into all these classes.’

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Book Review: The Lucknow Cookbook by Chand Sur and Sunita Kohli

Reviewed by Shikhandin

Lucknow Cookbook

Title: The Lucknow Cookbook
Authors: Chand Sur and Sunita Kohli
Publisher: Aleph
Pages: Soft Cover, 228

Years ago, before Narcopolis, the DSC Prize winning author Jeet Thayil had shared a moment during a reading at a poetry festival. He had said that he read and collected cook books, not because he cooked, but because he enjoyed reading them. Cook books provided both welcome relief from an excess of poetry, and also stirred up creative juices. His words had immediately resonated with the men and women, many of whom were poets, writers and artists, present among the audience.

Thayil’s words came back to me when I held my reviewer’s copy of The Lucknow Cookbook written by the mother and daughter duo, Chand Sur and Sunita Kohli. Books from Aleph are a pleasure to hold and behold. This book of recipes and family food lore does not disappoint. A comfortably sized book with an elegant outer cover and a rich olive green inner cover, it immediately leaps at you from the shelf. Since no food book is complete without appetite inducing pictures, The Lucknow Cookbook has them too. Bang in the centre, an eight-page long visual feast, spread back to back with photographs of Lucknowi fare laid out in style, rather like an Awadhi dastarkhwan, as Sunita Kohli notes in her forward, ‘a Persian term literally meaning a meticulously laid out ceremonial dining spread…’

The Lucknow Cookbook is one family’s chronicle of what turns out to be more than just about food. It is about an era, a city and a society where culture and refinement absorbed from various influences produced food, the first and foremost expression of good hospitality, that was as intricate and nuanced as the art and architecture, the jewellery and furniture of a people who loved to live well.

Lucknow, according to Kohli, ‘had a high degree of refinement as compared to Delhi. It was known for its “tehzeeb, tameez aur nafaasat (manners, etiquette and sophistication).”…Lucknow was home to some of the most vibrant and artistic expressions of its time.’ Even in comparison with Lahore, a vibrant city in its own right, Lucknow stood out. In her words again – ‘The hospitality in Lahore is extraordinary and its food is legendary. There are some striking similarities to the cuisine of Lucknow. But one difference is that the cuisine of Lahore is more robust, in the tradition of the Punjab. The traditional cuisine in Lucknow is more refined, more aromatic, more aesthetically creative and it is served with a greater nazaakat (elegance).’ For Lucknow is the place where Hindu and Muslim traditions blend and become something exclusive to the city, whose chefs ‘took the best …, absorbed them into their current cuisines and made it into a uniquely Lucknowi experience.’

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A crash course in diversifying your bookshelf

Is your reading list looking a little monochrome? We’ve compiled 15 books to help you broaden your horizons

In the past year, I’ve made a conscious and intentional effort to read in an inclusive and representative way. For me this means reading perspectives that differ from mine, about experiences that are new to me, and learning from people who have lived in ways that offer precious teachings. It also means reading nonfiction and fiction in equal measure. Consuming the news and nonfiction about important but heavy topics can be emotionally draining; whereas poetry and comics can uplift us when we feel weltshmerz or despair.

This is why I’ve put together a list of books by writers, poets, and artists from a range of backgrounds. When read in the order presented, it creates a narrative arc of its own. The list builds from a slow crescendo of more accessible books to heavy-hitters that draw on academic and historical research, finishing with a few books that unearth the kinds of futures we want to create.

These titles will humble you and fill you with wonder. But most important, they will hopefully also inspire you to create your own stories in ways that are most representative of your experiences.

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China’s fiction and nonfiction bestsellers of 2017

Fiction bestsellers in China last year were dominated by non-Chinese authors, according to OpenBook, while homegrown authors sold better in nonfiction.

One of the most reliable fixtures on the monthly fiction bestseller lists from China’s OpenBook has been Japanese author Higashino Keigo, best known for his mystery novels. In 2017, his Miracles of the Namiya General Store had its second year at the overall top of OpenBook’s China’s charts. In both 2016 and 2017, this was the biggest seller.

Keigo’s dominance doesn’t stop there. Three of his works are in the Top 5 on the annual charts, with Journey Under the Midnight Sunand The Devotion of Suspect X at Nos. 4 and 5, respectively.

The Afghan-born American author Khaled Hosseini and Scotland-based Claire McFall complete the Top 5 on the list, with Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and McFall’s Ferryman.

One of the most noticeable trends in the fiction bestseller list is the dominance of foreign authors. When Publishing Perspectives pursued the question of why so many fiction bestsellers in China are by non-Chinese authors, we were told that there are three factors in play.

  • Many Chinese readers have an interest in leading international popular titles, a factor evident in the familiar Western books on the list.
  • Television and film production, often attached to one of these titles, can be a key driver.
  • And some authors—chief among them is Japanese author Higashino Keigo—gain a kind of cult status and can generate years of sales on reputation and across many books.

OpenBook in China is similar to Nielsen in the UK or NPD in the United States, providing research and analysis on the evolving Chinese publishing industry. Below is OpenBook’s list of bestselling fiction titles in China in 2017:

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Reminiscence: A Country Called Magyar by Saumya Dey

I grew up in eastern Arunachal Pradesh, in a comely little town called Roing. To its north and east lay an arc of hills. They were ancient as all hills are. But they looked especially grave and grandfatherly because their cheeks were thickly wooded. A mostly leaden sky domed those hills and our town; rain lurked in some corner of it always. Often, sometimes several times in a day, like some brazen bandit, this rain rode upon dark stallion like clouds and came swooping down upon the land.

On some days, alas, they seemed so far apart, the rain did not raid the land. I remember we used to rejoice then. The washing would finally get a chance to dry, and I to frolic in the backyard, to build my castles and to explore my strange continents where even stranger peoples lived. On such days Baba and I took a walk in the evening. We generally walked down the road that led one to the southern limits of our town. It was a pretty road, even for a pretty little town. Much of it was flanked on either side by gulmohar and amaltas trees. As we walked past those little houses and a line of shops, I quizzed Baba on everything that was of pressing concern to me then, from how hot it is on the sun to why the leaves are not purple. He, on the other hand, would quiz me on the books or comics that I might be reading. Sometimes, I would say, “You know, if I get the chance to, I can make magic better than Mandrake.” I do not recall that he ever showed any disbelief.

The house in which we lived will appear strange to a plains dweller. It was wooden and rose above the ground on stilts of cement, each about four feet high. The teak planks that made its floor showed a few faint cracks at places. I knew all of them by heart. But to me they were not mere cracks but mighty canyons and valleys. They never posed a problem to me however, for I was a giant and could leap across them as one leaps across a rut in the earth.

Winter clothed most of the year. Winter flung its cape upon the land by the end of September, its hem hung in the air till the end of April. But no matter how long the wait, winter gave way to spring. It always does, everywhere.

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Book Review: Work by Thich Nhat Hanh

Reviewed by Erica Taraporevala

Work

 

Title: Work: How to Find Joy and Meaning in Each Hour of the Day
Author: Thich Nhat Hanh
Publisher: Aleph
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Work, by Thich Nhat Hanh, presents me with a unique dilemma. The book is simple, complete and powerful, so much so that  adding words to describe it seems to be at odds with the intent and energy of this book. How does one review and do justice to deep simplicity?  Thich Nhat Hanh tells the story of a Bodhisattva named Never Disparaging, who had made a vow to go to every person and tell them, ‘I don’t dare to underestimate you. You have the capacity to become a Buddha, a person with great awareness and compassion.’ This is all Never Disparaging did. He did just that irrespective of whether the person was rich or poor, educated or uneducated, a butcher or a farmer, a vagabond or a king. Some people thought he was mad, a simpleton, and left him alone and some thought that he was making fun of them and beat him up. Never Disparaging, however, continued his work till the end of his days.  It seems to me, that this book continues to do the work of Never Disparaging.

Right Livelihood is one of the main tenets of Buddhism, where one engages oneself in work that nurtures our ideals of compassion not only for ourselves and our loved ones but for all humanity and all sentient beings.  The reality of our times is that we live in a dog-eat-dog world and most businesses and jobs reflect this philosophy. We find ourselves spending most of our waking hours struggling just to survive.  What I liked about this book is that this reality about our working lives, the struggle that the layman must face is acknowledged, embraced and recognized as the hallowed practice ground. The author follows us around gently as we rush through our day, brushing our teeth, gulping down breakfast, packing kids off to school, negotiating our way through irate and rash traffic on our way to work, facing impossible time lines, working with disgruntled co-workers, getting back home, finishing up chores, getting the children to complete their homework and flopping into bed. At each step the book offers simple non-intrusive, and enjoyable gathas that do not consume time. These tools and insights truly give us the power to bring peace joy, compassion and meaning into these real-time moments that our lives are made of. This book works for all, whether you are a butcher, a teacher, an arms dealer, an accountant or a monk.

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Book Review: 1984: India’s Guilty Secret by Pav Singh

By Nilesh Mondal

1984 India's Guilty Secret

 

Title: 1984: India’s Guilty Secret
Publisher: Rupa Publications India (2017)
Pages: 295
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1984: India’s Guilty Secret does something most books in its genre can’t – it keeps its promise. It’s a scathing and almost brutal journalistic read rich with data and mention of instances that have become a permanent fixture in the memories of one of the largest communities of our country, unfortunately. While most books in the genre of journalism either manage to alienate their readers by the use of jargon or disappoint by eventually turning out to be shallow fluff pieces lacking anything of relevance, this book by Pav Singh fulfils on both counts. It manages to pull in the reader by the sheer honesty that leaps out of every page, and keeps them firmly invested by a streamlined account of facts and discussions which affirm the need to learn more about our history in order to understand the present scenario in our country.

In the foreword, the author apologises for and justifies the use of gory and violent details, and it is an apology made for a reason – this book contains distinct and often detailed descriptions of the atrocities committed against the Sikh community in the wake of the infamous 1984 riots. However, the real horror of the incidents discussed in this book, does not come from the details but rather from the calm way in which the author chooses to talk about them. Pav Singh plays both roles to perfection here, as a narrator who isn’t divorced from the trials and tribulations of the Sikh community as a whole, at the same time, as a journalist, focussing more on facts to support his arguments, relying on the readers’ understanding of the truth and not just their sympathy. At recurring intervals the author reminds us that it’d be a grave error on our part to call the chaos that unfolded in those four days, a riot. Riot is spontaneous, he reminds us, but what happened in 1984 was something that had been planned well in advance, against a community which had no idea what violence awaits it and was thus unable to either fight back or even defend itself; massive propaganda and media blackouts were used by the forces in power to make sure there was no escape from the death and destruction that’d follow, making it in essence, something much closer to the genocide initiated by Hitler during WW II. Indeed, stories from the Nazi camps and inhuman circumstances that had plagued Germany are used at many instances, as a method of drawing parallels between these two occurrences separated by time and space but brought together by intent and its fallout.

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Book Review: The Perennial Journey by Mamta Sehgal

By Dr Usha Bande

The Perennial Journey

 

Title: The Perennial Journey
Author: Mamta Sehgal
Publisher: Rubric Publishers (in association with Blackspine and Times Group), 2017
Pages: 165
Price: Rs. 325/-
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Mamta Sehgal’s The Perennial Journey is a collection of short write-ups. These pieces purport to demonstrate that you do not need to be defeated by anything; that you can have peace of mind and a never-ceasing flow of energy if you place your trust in God. Though the blurb on the book claims to take the readers on a spiritual journey, the author does not define or theorize spirituality. Written in a direct and straightforward style, these simple pieces guide the readers on the path of everyday life by invoking Krishna Consciousness. Mamta Sehgal knows that spirituality is not simply the opposite of materialism and also that no single definition of the spiritual way of life could suffice to convey its deep meaning. Spirituality is an active process and its objective is growth and transcendence. We, who are standing at the crossroads of material and spiritual realities, need to make a choice, to focus on our capacities to know, to love, and to trust justice, truth and peace. If we are able to do that, we have chosen a spiritual way of life. With narratives, stories and anecdotes from mythology and quotes from the Gita, the author tries to channelize our thought process. Each tiny piece that runs into a page and a half reflects on life, soul, spirit and the journey towards self-realization. Each page is a quest for Truth and the journey is ever-lasting — that is the ‘perennial journey’ of the title.

The book is divided in four sections: God, Soul, Life and Introspection. The sections are not mutually exclusive and together they create the conceptual reality of Krishna Consciousness where fear, expectations, greed, domination, violence and other aberrations of the phenomenal world vanish. Krishna Consciousness becomes the tool to help you carry on with your difficult journey. Consciousness refers to a state of being in which the mind is functioning in its clear, rational and inquisitive state. Consciousness begets change.

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Book Excerpt: From Sudeep Chakravarti’s The Bengalis

The Bengalis 2

5

Āmādér Rōbindrōnāth

Tagore plus

The Bengalis are a lot more than Rabindranath Tagore, our most-cited cultural icon, Subhas Chandra Bose, West Bengal’s most-cited political icon, and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh’s most cited national icon. Although we might often seem to be striving, quite correctly, to escape the stereotype of being longhaired poets or rebels with or without a cause, that our three most famous sons—bongōshontān—have bestowed on us, we actually adore these images of us. Culture and cause, even reflected culture and cause, provide for some a core, for others a sheen with which, in our minds and through our days, we keep ordinariness at bay.

These three aside, there are several Bengalis who are known to the world outside Banglasphere. However, many not-Bengalis are unaware that a number of these worthies are Bengalis or have Bengali roots. Some of our greatest are not known outside Banglasphere but that’s fine too. It’s enough if we laud our own, if others do too, that’s a bonus.

Let me name a few here (numerous others appear elsewhere in the book), those whose names and influence have transcended our chauvinistic borders or, even if they haven’t, have enriched or enervated our lives in Banglasphere and outside it, shaped us for better and worse. If these judgement calls invite energetic and emotional debate — so be it.

Let’s begin with Satyajit Ray. In the 1950s, he marked the beginning of a certain global acclaim for Indian cinema and moved generations with a mix of realism and class. My former colleague and Ray aficionado Sumit Mitra recalls that time in Calcutta:

During the release of the Apu trilogy, between 1955 and 1959, his apotheosis was complete. The coffee-house crowds began to referring to him by his pet name, ‘Manik-da’.

Gatecrashing into his home on Lake Temple Road in Ballygunj on flimsy excuses became so common a cultural pastime that Sandip, his schoolgoing son, always full of pranks, posted a notice on the front door demanding an admission fee of eight annas. By the ’60s, he was too famous a figure to visit his favourite haunt, the corner room of the Chowringhee coffee house, which was called—still is—the House of Lords.

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10 Books set in Tokyo: Reading the motley city

Tokyo has been a subject of literature for centuries, and continues to inspire writers today. These ten fiction and non-fiction works capture Tokyo’s unique character, revealing multiple aspects of the city from its arts scene to its pop culture, and down to the depths of its underworld.

Fiction

After Dark, Haruki Murakami

Internationally acclaimed Japanese novelist, Haruki Murakami has published many works set in Tokyo, including Norwegian WoodThe Wind-up Bird Chronicle and After Dark, which was originally published in 2004. In After Dark, Murakami depicts one night in the city from midnight until dawn, using a third person perspective to portray the many characters which occupy this night time sphere. From Denny’s Restaurant to a ‘Love Hotel’, the locations of the novel are reminiscent of the seediness of a bustling street in Shinjuku’s Kabukicho. Murakami captures the urban midnight landscape of Tokyo where different people’s lives interlink and where the boundary between today and tomorrow, reality and dream are blurred.

Almost Transparent Blue, Ryu Murakami

Ryu Murakami’s Almost Transparent Blue is based upon events from the author’s own life during the 1970s in Fussa-city, Tokyo, when he was in his twenties. Ryu, a hero of the novel, is living in an apartment located near the American military base in Fussa. On the margins of this base, Ryu and his companions lead a life of sex, drug and violence without any hope for the future. Although the story is depicted through Ryu’s perspective, Murakami maintains a sense of objectivity about everything which occurs, and relates it without any trace of empathy. Through the novel’s haunting emptiness, Murakami achieves a poetic depiction of the devastating life of the Japanese youth during the 1970s.

OUT, Natsuo Kirino

Natsuo Kirino’s OUT, the first Japanese novel shortlisted for the Edgar Awards Best Novel prize, is a story about four women working for a bento factory in the suburbs of Tokyo. Plagued by problems in their families and jobs, they are desperate to get out of such a tedious and repetitive life. This desperation manifests itself in a tragic form, as they are suddenly led into the violent underworld of Japan after one of them impulsively kills her abusive husband. In OUT, Kirino depicts the dark side of modern Japanese society with a profound insight into the reality of ordinary people’s lives right after the collapse of the ‘bubble economy’.

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