Suralakshmi Villa

 

Title: Suralakshmi Villa

Author: Aruna Chakravarti

Publisher: Macmillan, 2020

Links : Amazon

 

Two days went by. On the third, Ayub drew up at an ancient stone ghat slippery with moss and lichen.

‘Why are you stopping at this God-forsaken spot?’ Muneera exclaimed. ‘We’ll get nothing here.’

‘The next ghat is two and a half miles away. And it’s already past noon.’

Suralakshmi, Pratul and Tara looked around. All they could see was dense forest without a sign of human habitation. The trees had crept right up to the bank. Yet there was a wide stone ghat which, though crumbling in parts, had obviously been impressive once.

‘What is this area called?’ Pratul asked.

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Nabendu Ghosh

On the 103rd Birth Anniversary of her father, well-loved writer and Bollywood persona, Nabendu Ghosh, senior journalist Ratnottama Sengupta gives a recap of last year’s celebrations where Sahitya Akademi award winner Shirshendu Mukherjee, an important Bengali writer, talked on her father and his contribution to literature. 

By Ratnottama Sengupta

IMG_0437It was the 102nd birth anniversary of Nabendu Ghosh. The bookstore celebrated the day with actor Ramanjit Kaur’s dramatised reading of ‘Fatima’s Story’ from That Bird Called Happiness, an anthology of stories by Nabendu Ghosh translated to English. Feminist writer Sreemoyee Piu Kundu focused attention on the women protagonists who outnumber and  outweigh the men at the centre of the stories in the collection by the Bengali writer.

The most significant part of the evening unfolded when renowned Bengali writer Shirshendu Mukherjee started speaking of Nabendu Ghosh’s writing. Significant, not only for its impact on him when he was a young reader, but also because like his senior, Mukherjee too has lent weight to the Indian screen with  his stories and scripts. So, when the author of watershed novels like Rashmonir Shonadana (Rashmoni’s jwellery, later screened as a highly popular movie, Goynar Baksho, meaning ‘The Jewel Casket’, by Aparna Sen), Manab Jamin ( Man and Earth) and Ghoon Poka (Woodworm) started to speak, Ratnottama Sengupta simply played the tape recorder.

Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay’s speech on Nabendu Ghosh  at Starmark/ 27 March 2019, Starmark, Kolkata, 27th March 2019. (Translated from Bengali by Ratnottama Sengupta)

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Shirshendu Mukherjee with two young fans

The Partition of 1947, that carved Pakistan out of India, affected many people, both directly and indirectly. Close to 2 million lives were lost in an unprecedented genocide; 14 million people were uprooted. The resultant refugee crisis affected generations that followed. Sectarian violence became endemic. Carnage and sexual violence was intense; mass abductions and forced conversions were on a scale not seen for a long time. “Some 75,000 women were raped, many of them were disfigured or dismembered,” William Dalrymple wrote in The New Yorker of June 22, 2015.

Both Nabendu Ghosh and I were affected indirectly. We — his family and ours — were not among those who had to cross over with bedding on their heads and mats under their arms. We were among the fortunate ones who were safely housed in the ‘new’ homeland. We faced no trauma while leaving our roots behind. But the loss of our birthplace created a deep wound that has refused to go away with the passage of time. It is a dull ache that has now become a part of my ribcage. I am not certain about Nabendu Da since he was only four years old when his father, a successful advocate in Patna High Court, had relocated from his family home in Dhaka. But for me the loss of my homeland — the soil my ancestors had lived in and where I had grown up on, which I knew as my own country, which was part and parcel of my identity, of my very being — had overnight become a ‘foreign’ land — is a sorrow that still weighs on my soul even at this ripe age of 77 years.

My Fathers Son_Front Cover

 

 

Title: My Son’s Father: An autobiography

Author: Dom Moraes

Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2020

 

 

 

 

1

Almost I can recall where I was born,

The hot verandahs where the chauffeurs drowse,

Backyard dominion of the ragged thorn

And nameless servants in my father’s house…

—‘A Letter’ from Poems (1960)

 

Missing my father is my first real memory of him. The summer before he went to war he had been a loved, distant figure, sitting at evening on the verandah of our flat with a sequence of young English officers on their way to the Burma front (the poet Alun Lewis, who died there, was one of them), all inhaling the rich flesh of cigars, sipping beer, talking: not my world that summer. My world was in the oval park outside our flat in Bombay, a park eyelashed with palm trees, above which, like a school of enormous airborne white whales, barrage balloons floated. Above these the glaring sun pulsed like an eye: vultures soared up towards it on tremendous, idle wings. Down on my knees in the rough scurfy park grass, a vigilant nanny nearby, I stared at the texture of the earth, the texture of a stone, the texture of a fallen leaf, all eroded to red dust by the sun. A spy, I hovered above ants busy in the red dust; grasshoppers stilting up into the air; briefly settled, hairy flies. Vivid colours stained my eye. Behind our flat was the Arabian Sea, an ache and blur of blue at noon, purpling to shadow towards nightfall: then the sun spun down through a clash of colours like a thrown orange, and was sucked into it: sank, and the sea was black shot silk, stippled and lisping, and it was time for bed.

At morning the sea was a very pale, indolent colour, ridged with wavy lines like Greek statuary. When I woke, I went into my parents’ room. They lay in twin teak beds: above them, on a wooden stand, loomed a three-foot plaster Christ, fingers clapped to where a raw heart swelled from its chest, for my mother was religious. Sometimes on Sundays she took me to church, though my father never came. He was not religious, my mother explained mysteriously to me, because he had been educated in England.

Anyway, there they lay, my gods, tranquil and powerful, in charge of the day ahead, my father reading the newspapers, my mother varnishing her nails. I ran to my mother first, since except in moments of stress I was gruff and shy with my father. Even so early in the day, she smelt of flowers. I buried my head between her small breasts, and was happy. Over us that summer Christ cocked an apparently benevolent eye.

The day unfolded like a year: breakfast, served silently by the bearer: scraping up cornflakes as I listened to my parents talk: shopping in the car with my mother (waiting, impatient, for her to emerge from the Army & Navy Stores, while the chauffeur strove to amuse me with funny faces): then the park with my nanny: the weeks, months, years, of one burning afternoon, breathing the turning world, vigilant: nightfall, my father on the verandah, the English officers drinking beer: bedtime, when I thought the chirping of crickets was the noise the stars made. It seemed to go on forever, before my father went to war.

Book Review by Mitali Chakravarty

Suralakshmi Villa

 

Title: Suralakshmi Villa

Author: Aruna Chakravarti

Publisher: Panmacmillan, 2020

 

In these troubled times, where exclusivity seems to be the norm, Suralakshmi Villa, a novel by Sahitya Akademi winner, Aruna Chakravarti, seems to rise like a tsunami with its syncretic lore spanning different parts of India—Delhi and Bengal, especially the hinterlands of Malda — and flooding the narrative with gems of not just culture and fantasy but also feminist and progressive concerns.

Developed out of her short story of the same name on the advice of Ruth Prawar Jhabarwala, an eminent author and the subject of Chakravarti’s PHD dissertation, the story is narrated from various perspectives. It is an interesting technique as the story rolls out different aspects of the development of women and society across almost half-a-century — from post-independence to the pre-internet days.

The first introduction to the Villa in the book is given by the youngest generation — Joymita, an avant-garde journalist. The story coils around generations of Indranath Choudhary’s clan or should one take a non- patriarchal stand and say — Suralkashmi’s family? Suralakshmi was the middle daughter of the man who build separate houses for each of his five daughters and named them after the girls. Suralakshmi was perhaps the most unusual of all the sisters and therefore a good protagonist for any novelist. Was she a feminist or did she live by her beliefs? We have to read to discover.

Chakravarti, in Jorasanko, her best- selling historical novel, took up the concept of abarodh, a kind of purdah that was practiced among women in Bengal prior to the late nineteenth- early twentieth century. In this one, she pauses a little on abarodh but introduces women who have already moved out of the confines of the purdah and have a right to decide their lives, though the less-educated and impoverished have difficulty in finding their independence. She says in an interview: “Like all my other novels Suralakshmi Villa focusses on the lives of women. It is about two sets of sisters. The first belongs to a wealthy, modern, enlightened, household of Delhi. The other, a goatherd’s daughters living in a slum in Malda, comes from the dregs of society.  But close inspection reveals that there is not much difference in their lives and fates. There is emotional violence in one world…both physical and emotional violence in the other.”

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Institute National Des Langues et Civilisations Orientales INALCO, (Paris) has included acclaimed Urdu novel Rohzin in its academic study from the recent semester. Rohzin is the fourth novel by Rahman Abbas and the one for which he was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award for 2018.

It was published in 2016 at the Jashn-e-RekhtaDelhi and has been widely debated in India, Pakistan, The Middle East, Canada, Switzerland and Germany.

Many scholars and literary critics consider Rohzin to be the most beautifully and creatively written novel in the recent times in Urdu language. Critic and former President of Sahitya Akademi (New Delhi), Professor Gopi Chand Narang, said that Rohzin is an important turning point in the history of Urdu fiction. Sahitya Akademi Award-winning literary critic, Nizam Siddiqui, has said that no novel as major as Rohzin has appeared in the second decade of the 21st century in Urdu.

By Mitali Chakravarty

Aruna pic

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.

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.