Category Archives: opinion

Hong Kong Poet Kit Fan: How ‘Writing Poetry is Largely a Solo Act’

By Tammy Lai-Ming Ho and Jason Eng Hun Lee

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Author of two poetry collections, Kit Fan (范進傑) was born in 1979 in Hong Kong and currently resides in the UK. His first volume Paper Scissors Stone (Hong Kong University Press, 2011) won the inaugural Hong Kong University (HKU) Poetry Prize, and his second collection As Slow As Possible (Arc, 2018) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for Autumn 2018 and listed in The Guardian’s 50 biggest books of Autumn 2018 and in The Irish Times Best Poetry Books of the Year. Other accolades include being shortlisted for the 2017 TLS Mick Imlah Poetry Prize and The Guardian 4th Estate BAME Short Story Prize consecutively in 2017 and 2018. His novel-in-progress Diamond Hill, about the last shanty town in Hong Kong, received a Northern Writers Award 2018. A regular reviewer for the Poetry Review, Kit’s work traverses between Hong Kong and European cultures and histories, as well as between poetry and fiction.

As part of an ongoing collaborative project entitled ‘Anglophone City Poetics and the Asian Experience’, Kit talks to Tammy Lai-Ming Ho and Jason Eng Hun Lee about his first poetic influences, his migration to the UK as a young writer, his musings on Hong Kong from afar, and his perspectives on the evolving Asian cityscape.

Tammy Ho & Jason Lee: How long have you been writing poetry? Can you list some important moments in your early experiences as a poet?

Kit: I’ve been writing for roughly 18 years. One of my first inspirations came from a commission by Hugh Haughton who challenged me to write a poem about me being brought up by and in a library. Other important moments include: reading Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘Crusoe in England’; meeting Christopher Reid who asked me to send my poems out to editors; having my poem ‘Reading Thom Gunn’s Notebooks at Bancroft Library’ published in the Poetry Review (UK). Read more

Bollygarchs: How Indian Billionaires Can Change India

Book Review by Mitali Chakravarty

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Title: Billionaire Raj

Author: James Crabtree

Publisher: One World, 2018

Billionaire Raj by the former Financial Times Bureau chief in India, James Crabtree,  is a journalistic assessment of not only how the British Raj in India has been replaced by entrepreneurs and politicians who work symbiotically to create a close nexus of exclusive crony capitalism but also gives an optimistic outlook for the future… with a few strings attached.

The book comes across as a series of clear well-researched articles strung together thematically in logical order. From British Raj, India moved to ‘License Raj’, where a license was needed to start any venture. Once that was lifted, the age of billionaires sets in. He has compared this period to the Gilded Age of American history, an era in the nineteenth century of robber barons and rich bankers, just after the American Civil War.

Crabtree plunges in with stories of people he calls ‘Bollygarchs’, a new term which has evolved to define billionaire-entrepreneurs with Russian oligarchic tendencies like, Vijaya Mallya, Ambani and Adnani and more. The best way to understand the Bollygarchs is perhaps to imagine the flashy Bollywood culture (like that seen in the Bollywood blockbuster Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham) brought to life. Read more

Want to be Smarter or Richer in Life? Here’s How Literature can Help You

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Literature perhaps does not seem profitable to most. But what recent findings have shown is that reading good literature helps build attitudes that can lead to a better chance at success. Would you or would you not want to take on the challenge of a good book?

Carl Sagan, a legend in our times with his Pulitzer Prize winning Cosmos ( book and TV series), an iconic, successful figure who demystified science for mankind, relived the wonder of books and reading: “What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you…Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”  Read more

Elif Shafak Faces Flak from Turkey

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Elif Shafak,  the award winning Turkish- British writer, who writes in Turkish and English,  is under investigation by prosecutors from Turkey along with other writers, for infringing obscenity laws. Said the writer:

“In the World Economic Forum’s gender gap report, Turkey ranks 130 of 149 countries. Only around 15% of child and adult sexual abuse cases are reported. The number of child brides is alarming. We need to talk about our problems rather than pretending they do not exist. The art of storytelling should dare to talk about difficult subjects.

“In all my novels I have tried to give voice to the voiceless. I have written about outcasts, minorities, the displaced and exiled … I wanted to make their stories heard. So I really find it tragic that instead of changing the laws, building shelters for abused women and children, improving the conditions for the victims, they are attacking fiction writers. That is very sad.” Read more

Book review: The Hippie Trail – A History by Sharif Gemie and Brian Ireland

Reviewed by Sujata Raye

The Hippie Trail

Title: The Hippie Trail – A History
Authors: Sharif Gemie and Brian Ireland
Publisher: Aleph

The Hippie Trail is a long awaited book about the history of an era that still evokes fascination. While the ‘hippies’ who made the journey from the west to the east were ordinary people, to the people of the countries they passed through, they were not. They had fixed ideas about white women, formed from images in magazines and in films, and, sometimes, looked upon these visitors as intruders, ‘people looking for drugs and sex’; but that was not the truth, as the 57-58 interviews in the book tells the reader. By the time they finished their journey and returned home, the travellers themselves did not remain ordinary any longer. There were those who were fascinated by the Eastern religion, more specifically the development of Western Buddhism and Hinduism, and by practices like yoga, meditation and alternative medicine. Many looked at their journey as an inner journey; they were simply not interested in drugs.

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The emperor of oleander blossoms

(From The Hindu, by Parvati Sharma. Link to the complete article given below)

The Mughals have garnered many adjectives over the centuries. Once, when the world looked in awe at the power and wealth of Hindustan, they were simply ‘Great’. More recently, as Hindustan locks itself in a manic tussle with its past, they are ‘foreign’ or ‘invaders’, often both. Perhaps it’s time for a calming epithet: the Mughals were, without question, literary.

The first of them, Babur, is known for defeating Ibrahim Lodi in Panipat, but almost equally renowned for his autobiography. It’s not that kings hadn’t written before. Julius Caesar was composing accounts of his Gallic campaigns in 1 BC. The earliest autobiography — an account of a person’s life, not a record of events — was St. Augustine’s Confessions, written circa 400 AD. Babur, living a millennium later and a world away, invented the form for himself with Baburnama, the first personal memoir in Islamic literature. And he did it with flair — “both a Caesar and a Cervantes”, as Amitav Ghosh has described him — writing with lucid ease, whether of the pangs of his first love or his battle strategies. (The first autobiography in an Indian language, incidentally, may be Ardhakathanak (‘Half Life’) by Banarasidas, a Jain merchant who wrote in Braj Bhasha, and in verse, in the 17th century.)

The urge to write

In the centuries after Panipat, the Mughal empire grew into a global superpower, then shrunk to a wretched speck. The last Mughal ruled little besides the Red Fort, but he did preside over an efflorescence of Urdu poetry: Ghalib, Momin and Zauq shone bright in his court, and Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’ was no mean poet himself. Imprisoned and exiled after the Uprising of 1857, the frail emperor would write Na wo taj hai na wo takht hai, na wo shah hai na dayar hai (‘No crown remains no throne remains, neither ruler nor realm remains’). The urge to write, however, that remained: Bahadur Shah is said to have etched his verses on the walls of his prison, with charcoal, when he was denied paper and pen.

Babur may not have been entirely displeased. In a letter to his son, Humayun, Babur offers equally urgent advice on how to rule and how to write. The unfortunate Humayun is ticked off on both counts: his desire for solitude is “a fatal flaw in kingship”, and his prose is convoluted. “Who has ever heard of prose designed to be an enigma?” writes Babur, exasperated. Humayun must write, instead, “with uncomplicated, clear, and plain words”.

Read more at The Hindu link here

Why translation deserves scrutiny

(From The New York Review of Books. Written by Tim Parks. Link to the complete article given below)

Is translation a discipline or a cause? A catalogue sent to me by a small American publisher begins by naming all the translators of the foreign titles the company is offering, inviting the reader to thank and celebrate the people who have made the English versions of these books possible.

I go to a university seminar on translation whose program is headed with a quotation from Paul Auster: “Translators are the shadow heroes of literature, the often forgotten instruments… who have enabled us to understand that we all, from every part of the world, live in one world.”

I go to a translation conference where the keynote speaker observes with satisfaction that the period when a speaker might show an example of translation, criticize it, and suggest his or her own supposedly better version—“the time of the ‘Translation Police’”—is thankfully over. Toward the end of the same conference, a revered pioneer of Translation Studies is pleased that “everything we have heard here makes a mockery of pedantic questions of fidelity and the old tendency to hierarchize some translations as good and some as bad.”

When a member of the “Translation Police” does show his face, he is rebuked. I open The New York Times and find an angry letter from a number of well-respected names in the translation community. They are attacking Benjamin Moser’s negative review of Kate Briggs’s recent book on translation, This Little Art. Moser had taken issue with Briggs’s remark that “we need translations. The world, the English-speaking world, needs translations. Clearly and urgently it does; we do.” He felt the claim needed qualification: Which translations, why? He was also unimpressed by Briggs’s enthusiasm for the first translator into English of Thomas Mann’s novels, Helen Lowe-Porter, whose German, it is generally agreed, had shortcomings that led to there being a large number of mistakes in the English versions. Those writing the letter to the Times deplore Moser’s “simplistic and retrograde… insistence on accuracy.” Translation is a complex subject, they observe, and accuracy not such an easy issue to pin down.

Read more at the New York Review of Books link here

The mother archetypes of crime fiction

(From Crime Reads. Link to the complete article given below)

There are precious few happy kids of loving mothers in crime fiction. Perhaps that’s inevitable, since crime fiction shows us flawed individuals, at times of great crisis. Fiction in general might offer up Mrs Bennet, Marge Simpson, Marmee Marsh, Molly Weasley and Lorelei Gilmore but in the mystery world it’s slim pickings. Until you turn to the dark side, that is . . . True villains abound. With them, though, we also find more nuanced portrayals of mothers, struggling, out of their depth, trying but failing.

I’ve written lots of mothers in the course of twenty-odd novels. My aristocratic lady detective packed her heir and spare off to boarding school after WW1 without a backward glance. In my modern novels, mothers of the protagonists seem to be either dead, overseas or pretty awful. So when I made Donna Weaver, the protagonist of Go To My Grave, the only child of a loving single mother I foresaw fun of a kind I’d never had before, writing two-hander scenes for the pair of them with in-jokes and acts of affection. Then I realized that for Donna to be in true peril as the story unfolds, she had to be alone. I packed her mum off to a wedding expo and we all had to make do with texts and phone calls.

But here’s a different kind of fun: With honorable mention going to Livia Soprano, Margaret White in Carrie, Erica Donato in Triss Stein’s Brooklyn series, and Corrinne Dollenganger, in Flowers in The Attic, this my personal top seven.

Read more at the Crime Reads link here

Writing Matters: In conversation with Dr Gopi Chand Narang

By Rahman Abbas

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‘To write is to fight…’

Dr Gopi Chand Narang (born 11 February 1931) is one of the finest literary critics in the history of modern Urdu criticism. His works deal with the cultural study of classics, stylistics, oriental poetics, post-modernism, structuralism and post-structuralism. He has taught at Delhi University, University of Wisconsin, University of Minnesota, University of Oslo and Jamia Millia Islamia University, and in 2005, the University of Delhi named him Professor Emeritus. He is also Professor Emeritus at the Jamia Millia Islamia. The Aligarh Muslim University, Central University of Hyderabad and the Maulana Azad National Urdu University have conferred D.Litt. Honorus Causa on him. He is the only writer who has been decorated by the President of Pakistan as Sitara-e Imtiyaaz and by the President of India with the Padma Bhushan and Padma Sri. He was vice-chairman of the Delhi Urdu Academy (1996-1999) and the National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language-HRD (1998-2004), and Vice-president (1998-2002) and President (2003-2007) of the Sahitya Akademi, National Academy of Letters. His important books includes Urdu Zabaan aur Lisaniyaat (2006), Taraqqi Pasandi, Jadidiat, Maba’d-e-Jadidiat (2004), Urdu Ghazal aur Hindustani Zehn-o-Tehzeeb (2002), Sakhtiyat, Pas-Sakhtiyataur Mashriqui Sheriyat (1993), Adabi Tanqeed Aur Usloobiyat (1989), Amir Khusrow ka Hindavi Kalaam (1987), Saniha-e-Karbala bataur Sheri Isti’ara (1986), Usloobiyat-e-Mir (1985), Hindustani Qisson se Makhooz Urdu Masnaviyan (1961) and others.

His seminal work on Mirza Ghalib – Ghalib: Ma’ni-Afrini, Jadliyaati Waza, Shunyata aur Sheriyaat (Ghalib: Innovative Meaning, Mind, Dialectical Thought & Poetics (2013) has been considered a milestone in understanding Ghalib. Besides the Padma Bhushan (2004) and Padma Shri (1990), Narang has received hundreds of awards across the globe – Bharatiya Jnanpith Moorti Devi Award (2012), Madhya Pradesh Iqbal Samman (2011), the European Urdu Writers’ Society Award (London, 2005), Mazzini Gold Medal (Italy, 2005), Alami Faroghe-e-Urdu Adab Award (Doha, 1998), Sahitya Akademi Award (1995), Amir Khusrow Award (Chicago, 1987), Canadian Academy of Urdu Language and Literature Award (Toronto, 1987), Ghalib Institute Ghalib Award (1985), and the Association of Asian Studies (Mid-Atlantic Region) Award (US, 1982). Besides India and Pakistan, he has made presentations almost all over Europe, USA, Canada as well as Russia, Uzbekistan, China and Japan.

 

 

Rahman Abbas: You are the most discussed literary critic in the world of Urdu literature. How do you assess this unparalleled journey of your life which started from Balochistan when the subcontinent was undivided? Could you also put some light upon your early connections with Urdu?

Gopi Chand Narang:   I am simply a lover of Urdu. I was born in Balochistan. My mother tongue is Saraiki, but my father spoke Baluchi and Pushto. He was a scholar of Persian and Sanskrit as well. I was brought up in a multi-lingual, multi-cultural environ. The common speech of bazaar and school was Hindustani and Urdu. Language is nobody’s monopoly. It belongs to whosoever loves it. The newly independent India gave hope to many young people like me that there would be ample opportunities for fulfilling our ideals and aspirations. The Urdu Department at the Delhi University had come into being at the personal intervention of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who was Minister of Education, also played a role in this. As I later pursued my doctoral degree, I was extremely fortunate to have had guidance and patronage of some of the brightest minds of that time, including Dr. Zakir Husain (who later became President of India), Dr. Tara Chand, Dr. Syed Abid Husain, Prof. Mohd. Mujeeb, Khwaja Ghulamus Syeddain, Dr. Khwaja Ahmad Faruqi, Sajjad Zaheer, Prof. Ale Ahmad Suroor, Syed Ehtisham Husain, Maulana Imtiaz Ali Arshi, Qazi Abdul Wudood, Malik Ram, Masood Hasan Rizvi Adeeb, Najeeb Ashraf Nadvi, and Dr. Syed Mohiuddin Qadri Zore. These people symbolized values of our composite Indian heritage and they were true role models of our highest ideals. When I look back and remember these unique personalities, I cannot but feel very fortunate for having had them as my patrons and role models.

Rahman Abbas: Some years ago, due to your stark criticism of the fake modernism in Urdu, you were personally targeted. It was unfortunate that instead of countering your opinions, your minority identity was targeted. Did that affect you? What was your reaction then and now?

Gopi Chand Narang: It is a sad story. As a young writer you must have witnessed all that happened. As long as Ale Ahmed Suroor, Khalil ur Rahman Azmi, Waheed Akhtar, Sulema Arib, Mahmood Ayaz and some seniors were alive and active, they wanted to develop a dynamic model which was alive to India’s  new social and pluralistic needs. But soon after, when Shams ur Rahman Faruqi and his journal Shab-Khoon took over, a period of misconceived notions and a hidden agenda of sectarian fake modernism set in. This is a period of great turmoil and overlapping. Faruqi with his arrogant self-esteem, one-upmanship and know all bravado started polemics which had more sound than sense. He and his cronies, through over heated debates, set flawed standards for fiction, poetry and ghazal.  This confused and misguided a whole lot of promising young writers. Waris Alvi, Baqar Mehdi and some others resisted but they had no theoretical base. At this stage, avoiding labeling and indulging in the misguiding polemics, I switched from my earlier cultural studies and stylistics base and started writing on Theory (both Western and Oriental) and postmodernism. Across the border, Wazir Agha, Qamar Jameel, Intezar Husain, Jameeluddin Azmi, Zamir Ali Badayuni, Faheem Azmi and many other genuine writers joined hands. We wanted to respond to the new social and epistemological shift absorbing the new light of the times, stressing the freedom of the creative voice of the writer, while constructing a genuine model which should be alive to our own pluralistic cultural, realistic and truly subversive, ingenious and in tune with our practical complex social concerns.

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