Reviewed by Neera Kashyap

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Title: The Angel’s Beauty Spots

Author: K.R. Meera

Translator: J. Devika

Publisher: Aleph Book Company, 2019

Starting her career as a journalist with Malayala Manorma, K.R.Meera went onto become a prolific and acclaimed Malayalam writer of short story collections, novellas, novels and children’s books. Her very first collection of short stories, Ormayude Njarampu (2002) won several regional awards. Her magnum opus and most famous novel, Aarachaar (Hangwoman) was translated into English by J. Devika in 2014. It won the prestigious Odakkuzhal Prize in 2013, the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award in 2014, the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2015 and was shortlisted for the DSC prize for South Asian literature in 2016. J. Devika once again is Meera’s translator of The Angel’s Beauty Spots. A writer, translator and feminist, she is a teacher and researcher at the Centre of Development Studies in Kerala.

The book comprises three novellas through which the book’s jacket says, “K.R. Meera explores the tragedy, betrayal and violence that arise out of the dark heart of love.” The first novella, The Angel’s Beauty Spots begins with Angela’s murder at the hands of her estranged ex-husband in full gaze of her two young daughters, the older one from him and the younger from a married ex-lover. Driven by a blind love, she had married this man only to discover the evil in him — when he pimps her to his friend in their own house. That their older daughter is privy to this, makes Angela feel that something has died within her.

Compiled by Mitali Chakravarty

In 1980, Satyajit Ray made a movie with a story he had written which won him both national and international acclaim — Hirak Rajar Deshe (In the Land of the Diamond King). A sequel to his earlier Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, this film depicts a tyrant who brainwashed people with a machine to think: “Lekha pora kore je, anahare more she (Those who study, die of starvation).”

Does this strike a chord? 

Perhaps that is why we find educational institutions coming under flak and violent strikes on professors and students who are trying to study and lead a peaceful life. The attack on Jawaharlal Nehru University students yesterday has the social media filled with empathy for the victims. Is this reenactment of Hirak Rajar Deshe?

Poetry by well-known writers of yore used to  express student solidarity and hope has also been coming under attack. In Kanpur,  IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) students organised a meet to show solidarity towards the students of Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi and recited a well-known poem  by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a 20th century legend who was even nominated for the Nobel Prize. One of the faculty and fifteen students initiated a complaint  and demanded expulsion of the protest organisers, accusing them of “spreading hate against India”. A panel was set up to ban the poem. The empowering poem that led to all this controversy  is called ‘Hum Dekhenge’ (we will see). 

Rahman Abbas
Rahman Abbas

Rahman Abbas, the 2018 Sahitya Akademi winner for Urdu, had much to say in favour of Faiz’s poem: “It is disgusting to have to give clarifications of Faiz’s poem ‘Hum Dekhenge’ to absolve it from being called critical of the Hindu faith or any faith. It is as absurd and laughable as  absurd as claims such as the RSS was a cultural wing of the Jamat-e-Islami of Pakistan, or Rabindranath Tagore’s Novel Gora was anti-Christian, or Kabir had mocked Charlie Chaplin in his dohe*. Such absurd parallel could only be drawn by an insane or moron appointed to create deflection and disharmony.

“Faiz Ahamd Faiz is best known for being a revolutionary poet who aesthetically merged romanticism with the desire for a revolution, a social struggle or peoples uprising against the tyrant rulers. His poetry and life were a struggle to become the voice of the voiceless — it challenges dictatorship and repression. ‘Hum Dekhenge’ can be seen as the voice of the masses against the tyrant rulers or dictators who have subjugated poor people. The poem is a beacon of hope against darkness spread by authoritarian regimes. The poet imagines a world where tyrannical persecutors would be defeated and people will govern crushing falsehood and its followers. The tyrant rulers will be humiliated when their crowns will be thrown off and the people will reclaim being the God of the planet. The people will rule — we all are people — and we should celebrate that time and that day as it is a victory of people over tyrannical systems.

At a press conference last month, the Islamic Foundation of India announced their decision to build a mosque in Sahranpur  that would outdo all others in splendour. The foundation plans to collect Rs 100 crore from the 10 crore Muslims  who vote in India. This money will be used to build a bulletproof, earthquake proof mosque with engineers brought in from Belgium. The structure will be made of glass, wood, steel, silver and gold with 11000 laser lights adding to the glitter, they claim. In this essay, read what Sahitya Akademi Winner Ather Farooqui has to say.

 

Let me begin by bluntly saying that to criticize any issue, however fake or farcical it is, related to Islam is quite dangerous. Indian Muslims are quite averse to any introspection even regarding the worst social evils; unfortunately no Muslim organization that has an impact on Muslim minds tries to address this. The role of religious leadership in this regard has been along expected lines.

A significant chunk of literate Muslims, particularly the neo-educated, are no different from, rather worse than, the erstwhile elite which was pro-establishment. Of these educated Muslims, the alumni of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), who still take pride in calling themselves Old Boys, form a sizeable portion. Their association world over is officially called AMU Old Boys Association with few exceptions of AMU Alumni Associations.

Clearly, they don’t consider girls a part of society. Educational backwardness of the community is the subtext of every discussion on Muslims, without any effort to address it. For example, AMU alumni across the world relish a grand dinner on the birth anniversary of the founder Syed Ahmad Khan every year. If they remember their founder over a cup of tea and spend the same amount on education, they can build a university every ten years or establish at least three functional intermediate inter colleges in different parts of India.

Apart from marriage and other institutions, we see wastage of money by the impoverished community on the same pattern as the Hindu middle class. The ugliest among them is the tradition of animal sacrifice on Eid.

I am in no way criticizing the right of sacrifice on Eid-ul Azha, popularly known as Baqar-e Eid or Bakar-e Eid, where flaunting money on most expensive goats has now become fashion more than religious duty. This can be rationalised in two ways: sacrifice male goats that are reasonably priced, and, in case of families with many members who are obliged to make a sacrifice, replace the goats with a buffalo. The calculation is simple; one buffalo can be sacrificed for seven people. Not all seven need to be from the same family. So, any seven people can contribute. It was a trend some twenty years ago, but now it is a social stigma even for those who cannot afford mutton for guests in the normal course. Worst is the competition to sacrifice the most expensive goats.

I was not surprised when, about fifteen days ago, after the debate on the Supreme Court Ayodhya judgment had subsided, there was an announcement from the people of Saharanpur about building a grand glass mosque with a hundred crore budget. It was all over the media, but did not attract attention of the social media tribe that started the day abusing the RSS or making mockery of the Prime Minister and the BJP government.

 Recently, Sahitya Akademi Award winner for Urdu, Rahman Abbas, journeyed to the Institut National Des Langues et Civilasations Oriesntales (INALCO) in Paris to deliver a lecture. Translated Urdu novels are gaining in popularity and getting translated into multiple European languages, like German and French, he surmised. Novels in Urdu evolved around the 1940s-1950s with writers like Intezar Hussain and  Quartulain Haidar and books like Do gaz Zameen by Abdus Samad and Makaan by Paigam Afaqui. Makaan  is said to have been a major influence even on novelist Vikram Seth. 

Farhan Ahmad, Urdu lecturer, INALCO, Paris tells us about the talk given by Rahman Abbas in France.

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Sahitya Akademi Award winner Rahman Abbas with Academics in France

 

On 5 November 2019, INALCO, invited Sahitya Akademi Awardee, Urdu Novelist Rahman Abbas, to deliver a lecture on the topic “The Contemporary Indian Urdu Novels” in France. 

 The co-director of the department of South Asia and Himalaya studies and research scholar, Shahzaman Haque, introduced Abbas to faculty members and the students and said that Rahman Abbas was one of the major contemporary Urdu novelists of India. He thanked his department and his laboratory PLIDAM (Pluralité des langues et des identités) for financing the travel and accommodation of the Urdu author. 

He said that Rahman Abbas’s novel Rohzin had already been translated into German and would soon be available  in English, French and Hindi too. There is a growing demand for translation of Rohzin and other novels of Rahman Abbas in France. Rahman is known for his unique style of narration and his dealing with human sensibilities.

By Meenakshi Malhotra

 

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Nabaneeta Dev Sen

What do you say when a doyenne in the field of literature dies? That she was a colossus in the field of literary studies? Any summing  up  of the achievements of Nabaneeta Dev Sen would sound and seem like  a comprehensive survey of a substantial chunk , if not the entire field of comparative literature in India.

Nabaneeta Dev Sen was one of the finest minds in the world of literature, in terms of both her creative and critical work. A pioneer in the field of Comparative Literature, she is often perceived  as having played a transformative role in  transforming  Comparative  Literature  as a discipline in India,  from a mechanical reading of texts across languages to a rigorous theoretical discipline. Nabaneeta Dev Sen’s scholarship brought her international fame and acclaim. She was not only a scholar and researcher , but also a popular teacher both in Jadavpur, as well as in the many institutes where she taught ranging from reputed academic institutions in the United States, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Germany, France, Japan and Israel. A graduate of Presidency College, she had  masters’ degrees from Jadavpur and Harvard universities and a PhD from Indiana university.

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Amrita Pritam

October 31st, 2005, fourteen years ago, Amrita Pritam breathed her last. The writer- poetess, who with her avant-garde outlook, was the first woman  to win the prestigious Sahitya Akademi award in 1966. The  Padma Shri followed in 1969 and then the Padma Vibhushan — the second highest Indian civilian award — in 2004 along with the highest literary recognition given to ‘immortals of literature’, Sahitya Akademi Fellowship. Her unconventional stance towards life and powerful writing, the creator of Pinjar, Ajj Aakhaan Waris Shah Nu ( Today I Invoke Waris Shah), impacted moderns, like versatile poet, Nabina Das. In these lines, Das jubilates the inspiration provided by Pritam…

 

Love Story between Composing

by Nabina Das

 

You reached

out for the days

of waiting, still-live

cigarette butt-ends

on the expectant

ashtray (the smitten

one) that the Urdu

Two novels by Rahman Abbas, a Sahitya Akademi award winning novelist in Urdu, have been picked by Penguin Random House for their Vintage imprint, which is known to publish “the world’s most thought provoking and powerful books”. Both the novels are  acclaimed. Rohzin won the Sahitya Akademi award in 2018 and Khuda Ke Saaye Mein Aankh Micholi was awarded the Maharashtra State Akademi Award in 2011.

Rahman Abbas said, “I have lost many things in my life due to my decision to write my novels, exactly as I wanted to write them but fortunately, I have regained a lot without compromising on my writing. The news that my two novels would be published by Penguin-Random House in English has pleased me beyond words. It’s like a dream coming true before my eyes. I’m very thankful to Zafar Anjum of Kitaab and Jayapriya Vasudevan of Jacaranda for having made it possible.”

Book Review by Richa Mohan

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Title: Lone Fox Dancing, My Autobiography

Author: Ruskin Bond

Publisher and date of publication: Speaking Tiger, 2017

Ruskin Bond is an award-winning author. He won the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize in 1957, for his very first novel, The Room on the Roof. Since then he has been honoured with various awards including the Sahitya Akademi Award for English writing in India in 1993, the Padma Shri in 1999, and the Delhi government’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. He was conferred with the Padma Bhushan in 2014. In fact, his autobiography, Lone Fox Dancing, won the 2017 Atta Galatta-Bangalore Literature Festival Book Prize.

So how do you review the work of a master? Actually, you don’t. You simply flow with the magic of the master weaver of tales and feel lucky that you had a chance to, once again, experience the power of beautiful storytelling.

It is said greatness is born of suffering, and the story in the book is testament of that. You are transported to a simpler time and life, such that you actually end up yearning for them — for the days when pen and paper, and tales in the night, were an everyday reality.

Book Review by Gracy Samjetsabam

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Title: The Assassination of Indira Gandhi

Author: Upamanyu Chatterjee

Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2019

 

The Assassination of Indira Gandhi (2019) is a collection of short stories on different themes and motifs by acclaimed writer Upamanyu Chatterjee. Winner of the prestigious Indian Sahitya Akademi Award and the French Officier des Arts et des Lettres, his debut novel, English August: An Indian Story, was  made into a highly successful film.

The title of his new book, The Assassination of Indira Gandhi, is at once striking, for it echoes a dark chapter in 20th  century history, the assassination of one of India’s most iconic prime ministers and the social tensions that followed within the country. The title aptly sets the tone for the stories that are a tour de force of the trials and tribulations of modern India’s journey. This assortment of twelve short stories covers diverse themes and settings, each one of them, delving into the issues that strike at the heart of  the emerging idea of India.