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Book Review: Wayfaring by Tikuli

Reviewed by Bhaswati Ghosh

Wayfaring

 

Title: Wayfaring
Author: Tikuli
Publisher: Leaky Book (2017)
Pages: 136

Tikuli knows her mountains well. Not only their physical scale and magnitude, but also the silence and solitude they subsume. Like mountains, she knows how to stand tall amid loneliness and rocky treacherousness. And like them, she has harnessed this solitude to distill it into something beauteous.

If solitude is nature’s essential condition, loneliness, its second cousin, is a function of being human. As Wayfaring shows, we don’t always choose loneliness; sometimes it chooses us. When it does, it’s seldom romantic and more like one’s own shadow, impossible to disown. This is Tikuli’s relationship with the pain of loneliness. Her words bear scarring anguish, and yet instead of exhausting the spirit, they nourish it. Such is the luminescence of her expressions; they betray a heart that’s gone through fire to turn into gold.


I listen to the silence of the trees
as the leaves spiral down and dance
to imaginary music along the pathway,
they cling to my worn sneakers,
my gaze follows two pairs of wings
chasing each other in the clear, blue sky [Trail]

Where she diverges from the mountains is in her movement, voluntary or not. She and her poems drift through different terrains as the section names evince: Trains, Exile poems, Remembrance, Travel, Mosaic, Acrostics, Delhi poems. The “Train” poems set the tone of this roving spirit with quickening grace. Between the span of two poems, Mist and City Metro, the scene changes from rhododendron-flanked valleys to a shopping bag laden cityscape. Even in the movement, there is a steadiness that comes with a contemplative eye, one that pauses long enough at the view out of a train window before letting it escape. The poet’s attention is equally unwavering inside the train. The Local Train is a photographic example of this and places the reader inside the packed coach of a train in motion. In Rain, a short poem, train and rain magically become one.

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Remembering the conscience keeper

It is time to recite poems of Raghuvir Sahay as they not only relate to woes of the common man but are also in sync with the socio-political reality of today.

Why are poets like Kabir, Tulsidas, Rahim, Ghalib or Faiz considered to be great? The answer to this question lies in our urge to repeatedly visit and revisit them on account of their relevance to our lives. In different everyday situations, lines from their poetry come to our mind without any effort on our part as they fit those situations so well, shed light on them and illuminate them to make us comprehend them better. At a time when the country is witnessing fundamental changes in its political, economic, social and cultural life and anti-democratic tendencies are bent upon creating a fear psychosis, Raghuvir Sahay (December 9, 1929-December 30, 1990) is one of the few modern Hindi poets whose poetry continues to resonate in one’s mind because of its ability to bring the irony of the situation and the helplessness of the ordinary citizen into sharp relief.

Besides being a front-ranking poet, Raghuvir Sahay was also the editor of news weekly Dinman which, for nearly two decades, remained the most prestigious and respected magazine in Hindi. Sachchidanand Hiranand Vatsyayan, known to the literary world as “Agyeya”, had conceptualised and launched the magazine in 1965, bringing together talents like Raghuvir Sahay, Manohar Shyam Joshi, Shrikant Verma and Sarveshwar Dayal Saxena on its staff.

Starting young

In 1969, he handed over the baton to Raghuvir Sahay who had already worked as a journalist in Hindi dailies Navjeevan and Navbharat Times, and the news division of the All India Radio. Sahay edited Dinman from 1969 to 1982 with such great distinction that it was compared with Time and Newsweek.

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Book Review: Hills of Slow Time by Ananya S. Guha

By Namrata Pathak

Hills of Slow Time

 

Title: Hills of Slow Time
Author: Ananya S. Guha
Publisher: Dhauli Books, Bhubaneswar, 2017
ISBN: 9788193546703
Price: ₹ 250

 

“The hills I have known, paraded with / my destiny, the hills that moulded clay into my mythic doll. Yes these were the hills I knew. Molten clay, shrapnel hirsute legs the hills were/ not man made” (“Hills of Slow Time”).

What strikes you first when you take up Ananya S. Guha’s latest collection of poetry is the incongruity of time – time is a snail-paced, animating, pulsating organism that crawls backwards and eats its own trails. As the title tells you, all the poems are steeped in the “hills of eternity”, a place that does not boast of the usual synchronicity of time – it seems the poet has hijacked time and stolen it away. Time is a keep. Here are Guha’s “hills of slow time”, mostly the pine-shrouded, icy, and pinkish Shillong, a city that dances bare foot on the poet’s dreams, lifts his spirits, rigorously kneads his thoughts – a place that is born again and again in Guha’s verse with a new skin, a new throbbing propensity. The poet contends, “There must be a story in these”, but the hills also reflect a grim vehemence, especially at times when they “lie comatose/in disappointment”, in total abandonment. Guha is more than aware of the Janus-faced hills; this is a facet that is dualistic – he has pinned the hills down as both utopic and dystopic; partly the charm of the poet lies there.

There is “a story” in the hills that Guha excavates, digs deep, to unbare for you. Mark that the “bluish strokes of the sun’s haze” matches with the agility of a “quiet bird” plummeting to pluck at “an oceanic vastness” – mind the movements of escalation, the act of zeroing in to the ground, giving in to the gravitational pulls, also defying it, flying high in the sky – mind the game of physics here. As evident in most of Guha’s poems (that are published elsewhere), Shillong, for him, is nostalgia. It is that viscous desire that drips from the pine spikes in wintery nights, those one, two, three droplets of incandescent light. Shillong’s sky is an empty vessel. You fill it up with whatever colour you choose. Sometimes it is leaden; at times it is tangerine; also a dash of florescent green of the hills that it mirrors; and it can also be the colour of the onlooker poet’s eyes – dreamy, probing, and deep. Guha’s representation, the imbrications here, transports us to a realm that is an admixture of contrary traits or opposites – we have the meeting point between the living and the non-living, the biotic and the abiotic, the mass and the matter, the universal and the specific, not to mention the subjective and the objective.

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The man who remade Arabic poetry

Adonis’s poems reflect a lifelong argument with his culture.

In March, 2011, when civil protests broke out in cities and towns across Syria, the country’s most famous poet, Adonis—who is in his eighties and has lived in exile since the mid-nineteen-fifties—hesitated to support the demonstrators. Although he had welcomed earlier uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, he flinched when Syria’s turn came. In an editorial published in al-Hayat, a leading Arabic newspaper, in May, 2011, by which time more than a thousand protesters were dead and government tanks had shelled several towns, Adonis wrote, “I will never agree to participate in a demonstration that comes out of a mosque.” He portrayed the opposition as young naïfs, easily coöpted by canny Islamists who dreamed of establishing a religious authoritarianism that would be even worse than the Baathist regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Adonis’s assessment of the demonstrators echoed the rhetoric coming from the regime, and many readers were dismayed. For the past sixty years, he has tirelessly called for radical change in every sphere of Arab life, and he is the author of some of the most revolutionary poems in Arabic. Sadiq Jalal al-‘Azm, an eminent philosopher at the University of Damascus, was bewildered that Adonis, “the man of freedom, transformation, revolution, progress, and modernity,” should “disparage if not condemn the Syrian revolution from its outset.” But for Adonis the Syrian uprising was no revolution. In a recent interview in French (he has lived in Paris since the mid-nineteen-eighties), he claimed, “It is impossible, in a society like Arab society, to make a revolution unless it is founded on the principle of laïcité ”—the French term for a stringent secularism. Long before the emergence of the Islamic State’s caliphate, Adonis warned that the alliance of theology with state power was the region’s most deep-rooted danger.

Adonis’s long poem “Concerto al-Quds,” published in Arabic in 2012 and now available in an English translation by Khaled Mattawa (Yale), is the poet’s secularist summa, a condemnation of monotheism couched in the form of a surrealist montage. Its subject is Jerusalem—al-Quds, in Arabic—the spiritual center for all three monotheistic faiths and the site of their most apocalyptic imaginings. In the Islamic tradition, Jerusalem was the first qibla (the direction faced in prayer), the starting point of the Prophet Muhammad’s trip to the heavens (al-mi‘raj), and also the place where the archangel Israfil will blow his trumpet on the Day of Resurrection. In Judaism, the city is the site of the First and Second Temples, both destroyed, and the envisaged site of a third. In the Book of Revelation, John beholds a “new Jerusalem” descending from the heavens and hears a voice describing the life to come: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

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Kaveh Akbar is poetry’s biggest cheerleader

Ever eavesdropped on two poets having a conversation at a coffee shop? Iranian-American poet Kaveh Akbar has created an online space that lets you do that without leaving your bed.

Akbar runs DiveDapper, which focuses on interviews with major voices in contemporary poetry. It’s packed with profiles of writers like Morgan ParkerOcean VuongWendy Xu, and Max Ritvo — to name just a few. Every other Monday, he posts a new interview transcript.

The site grew out of Akbar’s own life in poetry, and his struggles with addiction. “The oldest recognizable poem in my book ranges back to when I got sober,” Akbar says; his debut collection, Calling a Wolf a Wolf, came out this past September. “I suddenly had 16 hours a day to fill with something new. My entire life up to that point was predicated on the pursuit of this or that narcotic experience. When that was uplifted, I had to find something else.”

Writing became his path out of that old life. “I was so hungry to be having conversations about the poetry that was exciting me, so starved for that sort of dialogue” as he worked towards an MFA and split 60 hours a week between different jobs all while beginning his recovery. “DiveDapper became a way for me to manufacture those dialogues directly with the sources.”

When Akbar started out, he says, he was worried that if he cold-called someone like the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Sharon Olds, she’d be rightfully confused. Now, DiveDapper has become the way Akbar approaches great poets — but what he didn’t expect was that the interviews would turn into real, substantial friendships.

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Poetry: Looking for an Answer by Pawan Hira

Looking for an Answer by Pawan Hira

Pawan Hira

Pawan Nooroo Heera (Pawan N Hira) holds an advanced degree in English Language and Literature from India. He is a Poet and in that capacity works primarily with English language and his native language, Koli Gujarati. 

He runs a digital magazine, ‘The Quiet Letter’ (quietletter.com) as a founder and Editor to support new writers across boundaries.  He writes in English and has completed a final draft of his debut novel. He wants to earn a Master’s degree in Creative Writing; at present he is working on a short story collection and long form essays related to culture, migration, and education. 


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John Berger contemplates life and death at the graveside of Mahmoud Darwish

A few days after our return from what was thought of, until recently, as the future state of Palestine, and which is now the world’s largest prison (Gaza) and the world’s largest waiting room (the West Bank), I had a dream.

I was alone, standing, stripped to the waist, in a sandstone desert. Eventually somebody else’s hand scooped up some dusty soil from the ground and threw it at my chest. It was a considerate rather than an aggressive act. The soil or gravel changed, before it touched me, into torn strips of cloth, probably cotton, which wrapped themselves around my torso. Then these tattered rags changed again and became words, phrases. Written not by me but by the place.

Remembering this dream, the invented word landswept came to my mind. Repeatedly. Landswept describes a place or places where everything, both material and immaterial, has been brushed aside, purloined, swept away, blown down, irrigated off, everything except the touchable earth.

There’s a small hill called Al Rabweh on the western outskirts of Ramallah, it’s at the end of Tokyo street. Near the top of this hill the poet Mahmoud Darwish is buried. It’s not a cemetery.

The street is named Tokyo because it leads to the city’s Cultural Centre, which is at the foot of the hill, and was built thanks to Japanese funding.

It was in this Centre that Darwish read some of his poems for the last time—though no one then supposed it would be the last. What does the word last mean in moments of desolation?

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Writing Matters: In conversation with Charles Adès Fishman and Smita Sahay, editors of Veils, Halos & Shackles

By Shikhandin

16th December 2017 came and went. With barely a murmured remembrance. That’s five whole years since Nirbhaya, the name this brave girl, Jyoti Singh Pandey, was hailed by, the one who fought her attackers and then fought to survive in hospital. Ultimately she could not overcome her grievous injuries. So what happened? Why are we still not enraged? Have we slipped into our usual drugged sleep of forgetfulness?

Sometimes protest becomes still. We lose heart and start to despair. I like to believe that it is during times of stillness that protest gathers steam. During that still period, we need poetry. The poetry of protest. That is why I dare to visualise Veils Halos & Shackles in the hands of not just random or selective readers but anyone who wishes to become more conscious across societies, across the world. Even those who are not diehard fans of poetry; yes, even them. I visualise this book as reading material in classrooms, and not just for literature or liberal arts students. It is no longer enough to be outraged by newspaper and television reports. Poetry must outrage us. Oppression fears poetry. The winds of change feed on poetry. Hence the need for Veils Halos & Shackles: International Poetry on the Oppression and Empowerment of Women, edited by Charles Ades Fishman and Smita Sahay, published by Kasva Press, 2016.

Here we get behind the scenes regarding the making of this volume and also try to get an understanding of what the editors – Smita Sahay and Charles Fishman – experienced.

Shikhandin: Tell us about the beginning, that little seedling from which this book grew, apart from the accounts of the horrific crimes that sowed the original seed. And why the name/inspiration behind it – Veils, Halos & Shackles?

Charles Fishman: Thank you for this opening question, Shikhandin, and for the others that follow. I’m delighted that Smita has agreed to respond to your questions, whenever possible; wrestling with complex issues effectively and persuasively is one of her many gifts as a poet and thinker.

Smita Sahay: Charles and I were in conversation about his last book of poetry, In the Path of Lightning, and I found sanity in his justice-demanding yet hope-and-love-filled verses in the days after Jyoti Singh Pandey was assaulted and later passed away. There was no way to come to terms with what had happened and I was mute within my fury and grief. The violence with which Jyoti’s life had been snuffed out had left Charles, thousands of miles away from India, as horrified. As we tried to find comfort in each other’s emails, our intent to give artistic expression to this fury led us to conceptualise Veils, Halos & Shackles. We first contemplated co-writing a book, but then we were convinced that there were multiple voices that needed to be united and decided to go ahead with an Indo-American anthology. This initial version of the anthology grew organically into the international volume of Veils, Halos & Shackles that eventually came out, and this expansion is proof that sexual violence is more universal than we admit, that survivors are caged unspeakably within their own suffering and that uniting in the face of sexual violence is possibly the only way to fight it.

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Book Review: Review in Perspective of Veils, Halos & Shackles

Five years ago, in January 2013, Charles Ades Fishman and Smita Sahay conceived of Veils, Halos & Shackles, dedicated to ‘Jyoti Singh Pandey, Nadia Anjuman and the uncountable number of other women and girls who have been victims of gender violence’. 

This is a two-part feature consisting of the book review and an interview with Charles Fishman and Smita Sahay. Today we carry the review to be followed by the interview tomorrow.

By Shikhandin

Veils, Halos & Shackles

 

Title: Veils, Halos & Shackles: International Poetry on the Oppression and Empowerment of Women
Edited by Charles Ades Fishman and Smita Sahay
Publisher: Kasva Press, 2016
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On the night of 16th December 2012, in New Delhi, Jyoti Singh Pandey was raped and tortured – which included the removal of her intestines with a metal rod – in a moving bus, and thrown out. She and her friend lay on the road for a long time before anyone stopped to help. She died in Singapore a few days after. For those who would like to know the details, it is here in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Delhi_gang_rape.

New Delhi is a city notorious for its treatment of women, where assault of all kinds occur with alarming regularity, with percentages being somewhat more than in the rest of India. This time, there was such brutality involved that it shook a nation which is normally in a state of extreme torpor with regard to women’s dignity and safety. India erupted into nationwide protests and not just through marches and candle lit vigils. In the hearts of Indian women and sane Indian men, a single voice seemed to rise – ‘Enough!’ The world too, took note, with horror. That was five years ago.

Since then, newspapers, television channels and other media, including social, have regularly reported similar outrages meted out to women and children, both girls and boys. At times it seems like the number of incidents has increased, and that instead of a nation trying to become better, India has regressed into perversion and misogyny. A number of cases have been reported of foreign objects being inserted into girls as young as two. The crime rate seems to be spiking. Women and survivors from other genders braving social media with their protests and stories are being trolled regularly. Parents are still worried sick for their daughters when they come home late or are unreachable on their phones.

Did Nirbhaya die in vain?

The rumble went deeper than imagined. It created fissures at depths where visibility is near non-existent. Nirbhaya was the turning point.

Now people are increasingly open. They refuse to be intimidated into silence. We hear of more cases because more people are reporting them. There is greater support and understanding for survivors and victims not just in India, but across the world, for while India may have a terrible reputation with regard to all those who identify as women, the situation is far from good even in developed and apparently liberal societies.

Across the world, much needs to be done. In India, we are a long way away from being a safe and respectful society towards girls and women and gay men. The change, unfurling all around us, often so quietly we barely note its presence, is shaking the core of our society. However slowly, however timidly. There is protest through vigils and media outcries. Much of it is inner dissent. A lot of it is quiet. Some of it pours out in artistic expressions.

The shape of protest is protean. The colours of its pain and beauty are myriad. Protest’s life span is longer than that of placards, and the decibel level of its call is higher than that of individual angry voices. The storm brewing, gathering and collecting force has a language. One of the languages of this protest is poetry.

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The best contemporary Iraqi writing about war

As I write this, I am reeling from the latest immigration announcement from our ricocheting president saying he wants to restrict “certain” Iraqis from coming to our shores. He has promised to ban many other refugees outright, including desperate and suffering Syrians, but this one cuts me particularly deep because of the war we inflicted on Iraq, the Iraqis I have met, and the Iraqis I have read.

Seven years ago, I began work on two novels about the Iraq War and its aftermath from the point of view of both American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. As part of my research, I sought Iraqi refugees to interview, as well as all the books and poems by Iraqis I could read. That was when I discovered how difficult it is to find Iraqi literature in translation, at least in America—a fact I consider shameful, given that our war killed some half a million Iraqis and displaced a fifth of the country. That said, I did discover a few books of prose and poetry that have managed to filter through the barriers of American suspicion and indifference, mostly thanks to independent and university presses. These are a few of my favorites.

The first contemporary Iraqi writings I found in English were on a blog written by someone calling herself Riverbend, a 24-year-old woman who began sending dispatches from Baghdad during our “shock and awe” bombing campaign in March of 2003. A computer programmer fluent in English, she reminded me of my students: smart, articulate, funny, irreverent, and full of heart. Her voice was the most potent antidote I could find at the time to the growing Western view of Iraqis as incomprehensible religious extremists. One of the delights of reading a daily blog is that, like the diaries of Samuel Pepys, it chronicles life in real time. Riverbend describes how the quotidian grows increasingly more difficult in Baghdad as power outages multiply, people disappear, and the US disbanding of civil servants and police allows looters and kidnappers to rampage unchecked. She shows readers how her sympathy for American soldiers broiling in their body armor under the blistering Iraqi sun turns into a bitter anger against those same soldiers as they kill and maim. She describes the increasing cynicism among Iraqis as the US puts in one puppet government after another. When Riverbend and her family were eventually driven from Baghdad to Syria, she stopped writing (with the exception one farewell post in 2013, when the war was a decade old). But her entries were eventually collected into the book Baghdad Burning, published by the Feminist Press in 2005, so they remain available to all.

Sinan Antoon, I’jaam, an Iraqi Rhapsody
(trans. Rebecca Johnson and Sinan Antoon)

By 2007, a handful of other Iraqi writers had finally found their way to translation in the US. Although they had fled Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship or earlier wars and were not yet writing about the current war, their voices were essential to my research. One of these writers was Sinan Antoon, a poet, novelist, and filmmaker who left Iraq in 1991 and now teaches at New York University. I’jaam, an Iraqi Rhapsody, his first novel, was published by City Lights in 2007 and reads as much like a surrealist parable as a satire. Dreamlike, chilling, and ironic, the story follows a student who is thrown into an Abu Ghraib-like prison for no reason, where he is brutalized and subjected to an irrational set of interrogations straight out of Kafka, and where his nightmares and reality uncannily converge. Antoon, who opposed the US invasion of his country in 2003, has tackled the current war since, publishing more novels and several books of heartbreaking poetry, my favorite being The Baghdad Blues (Harbor Mountain Press, Vermont, 2007).

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