By Farah Ahamed

The aim of tragedy, according to Aristotle is to bring about a ‘catharsis’; to arouse in the spectators’ pity and fear and to purge them off these emotions so that they left the theatre with an understanding of the ways of gods and men. The audience witnessing the changes in the fortunes of the protagonist creates the catharsis. He wrote:

“Tragedy is an imitation, not of men, but of action and life, of happiness and misery.”

IMG_0810To Die in Benares*, (2018) translated from the French by Blake Smith, is a collection of seven stories, which have this cathartic effect.  I will illustrate this by analysing the first story “A Paper Boat in the Ganges”, which centres on the life of Fougerre who has to confront Aristotlean obstacles in his life; colonialism, mythological gods, and fate. Set in Pondicherry at a time when it was still under French occupation, the story covers almost fifty years and presents a compressed montage of brisk, vivid scenes each with intense gesture and detail.It opens with these weighty lines:

“India is probably the only country where fate’s grip on the lives of individuals is so easily accepted. Life isn’t fair. People say it a lot. People hear it said still more often.”

The introduction sets the sombre mood for fate to hijack the character’s life with the ‘epic proportions of the cruel Gods of ancient Greece’. We find the two protagonists — Manu and his Tamil friend, Fougerre — in the sixth grade at a school managed by the French Government. The school is attended by French, and Indian students whose fathers are retired French soldiers or French functionaries, who have a strong attachment to French culture and some Tamilian students like the narrator, Manu, and Fougerre who are less so.

Fougerre, in particular, is an “outsider”. He is a dark-skinned Tamilian, which his white French classmates associate with their servant classes. A reticent and timid boy from a more modest background than his white French classmates, Fougerre is hardworking, bright and meticulous. His white peers copy his perfect homework, and resent “his remarkable brilliance”, because he reminds them of their servants. Manu, in particular, is jealous of Fougerre’s artistic skills.

Book Review by Mitali Chakravarty

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Title: Not Native

Author: Murali Kamma

Publisher: Wising Up Press, 2019

Not Native is a collection of short stories by Murali Kamma, an accomplished short story writer and the managing editor of Khabar, an American Indian magazine. The stories are of “Immigrant Life In An In-Between World” we are told in a subtitle on the title page of the book.

What is this ‘in-between world‘? It is the world created by migrants to America between 1983 and 2018 — both in America and India. Like the characters in his stories, Kamma with these narratives “straddles” between his country of birth, India, and the country he migrated to, America.

Kamma has divided his book into four parts — perhaps to focus on subjects that he felt were important for the immigrant population. The first part, ‘Sons and Fathers’ has four stories centering around the topic mentioned in the sub-heading. They address unique situations; in one the abandoned son on a holiday to India rediscovers his father in an ashram; in another death rituals of his father make the immigrant who returns to India feel more isolated and there is yet more tellings on the different worlds occupied by the fathers and sons. The one that is most poignant one, in which a bridge is built through generations, is set in US. The bridge is built with a story about the world’s oldest man and a proposed “interview” to be conducted by the granddaughter.

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

Snow.

From the hills that surround the town it indifferently drifts. Upon bare soil and barren rocks, upon the base of trees, it sweeps. From my window this morning, the trees were grey, feathery and clinging like ghostly hands to the low clouds but now, in the wintry breathe of evening, they are like conquering warriors marching down shadowy slopes. My boots, hard and heavy, follow empty pavements. A car, a van, a bus, occasionally passes through our slushy streets. There is hardly a sound except for the click, click, click from the pedestrian crossing.

I’ve walked here all my life. I know every crack in the pavement, every blemish on the shop walls, every angle of the stooping buildings, every flutter of the koinobori, the carp-shaped wind-socks that now colourfully flutter high up over the gorge to mark the change of season. Hundreds there are, strung up on lines, but one has fallen far below and is stuck between two jagged rocks, one end flapping like a useless flag as the river tries to drag it away.

I’ve never left this place, this hot spring town where tourists flock like hungry gulls during the holiday season. There are better jobs elsewhere but I choose to remain a janitor at the high school. That’s all I’ve been these thirty- eight years. I’ll retire next month. They’ve kept me well past retirement age as I do a pleasing job. Now I have to go though as I’m too old.

By Sunil Sharma

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It was a daily ritual.

On the way to office, Grandpa would peep in to find the little Neha sitting quietly in the corner, her red-nosed, big-eyed clown near the books, on the bare stone floor.  He would say nothing and leave.  As soon as the cook, that fat old lady, went out to chat with the neighbours, Neha, now empress of a silent cottage near the small railway station in the middle of the desert, winked at the clown and said: “Come on, let us play, my little brother.”

The clown, waiting for the invitation from his human mistress, would nod, jump up and down, roll and make faces at the puny girl.  Neha screamed with laughter, eyes lit up.  His red nose twitching, white hair under a faded cap, the ill-matched bright-hued tunic upon a thin body, the clown danced, his painted enormous eyes full of laughter and kindness.  Neha and the clown played together in the silent house.  When the cook returned home, the clown shrank back and resumed his place either on the iron table or the pile of the books.  Neha sat quietly, staring out of the barred window, at the huge expanse of the moving sand and across the stretch of desert, at the village many miles away from the railway station, shimmering in the hot sun.  Bare brown hills, except an occasional babool tree here and there, loomed up high in the arid landscape of hot sun, shifting sands and a cold moon.

Book Review by Koi Kye Lee

The Mad Man and Other Stories

Title: The Mad Man and Other Stories

Author: A. Jessie Michael

Publisher : Maya Press Sdn Bhd 

 

The Mad Man and Other Stories is a collection of short stories written by A. Jessie Michael, a retired Associate Professor of English. No stranger to writing short stories since the 1980s, Michael has also received honourable mentions for the Asiaweek Short Story Competition. Her stories have appeared in The Gombak Review, The New Straits Times, Malaysian Short Stories, Her World, Snapshots,and 22 Asian Short Stories (2015).

The Mad Man and Other Stories contain 13 short stories she has written over the last 30 years, and it involves events she remembers during old and contemporary Malaysia. The book was launched in 2016 at the sixth installment of the Georgetown Literary Festival.

In the volume’s titular story, “The Mad Man”, four children observe Govindasamy paying obeisance to Hindu gods. One of the children, Joe, says that he is mad, while Pauline dismisses her cousin and claims that Govindasamy is just “a little crazy when it is full moon”. Inviting them into the outhouse after his prayers, Pauline notices the statues of Hindu deities and comments that Govindasamy is praying to the wrong God. Irritated, he responds:

Your god, my god, it’s all the same.

TBASS

Ranjana is a rummy fiend.

She is eyeing her cards with the smile of a sphinx.

Soon her fingers will wield magic, and she will complete, with a flourish, her fourth consecutive run. Natasha will throw her hands up in surrender. Sara will curl her lips. Mrs. Sawhney, a veteran member of the Prometheus Club, will wink at her, with a rakish grin only a septuagenarian can pull off. Four decades ago, Mrs. Sawhney was pretty much like Ranjana herself, only slightly more voluptuous. The coterie of women in the club yearned to be like her, although they wouldn’t admit it even at gunpoint.

Ranjana, daughter of a celebrated diplomat and wife of the Honourable Commissioner Surendra Raghuvanshi, evoked similar emotions amongst her peers. The genteel curve of her brows, arched over eyes twinkling with an adamantine sheen, her high patrician nose, and her plummy, sophisticated voice made her the mascot of an aristocratic lineage. Surendra was quite a dark horse in his circle. His burning ambitions only added to his boyish charms and pushed him higher up in the ranks at a dizzying speed. Forty-three and at the top of his game already! Everything about him exuded a heady animal magnetism people found hard to resist. He was a connoisseur of art, music, and vintage collectibles. It was no big surprise that he chose a wife as delectable as everything else he possessed. If Surendra was a dark horse, Ranjana was a chestnut gazelle. Her slender frame moved with fluidity and grace. Her kohl-lined eyes were dark as absinthe and equally intense. So was she. Strong-minded and opinionated, men found her airs hypnotic. Women had a more visceral reaction, a melange of awe, envy, and resentment.

Book Review by Namrata

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Title: She Stoops to Kill — Stories of Crime and Passion

Editor: Preeti Gill

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books

Date of Publication: 2019

She Stoops to Kill is a collection of crime stories written by some of the most illustrious women writers of India. A chanced discussion at Guwahati airport between Preeti Gill and the featured authors about the rising crime rates featured in daily newspapers matured into an anthology of murder stories.

Preeti Gill is a renowned name in the literary circles, having worked in the publishing industry for more than two decades now. She has donned various hats during this period, ranging from being a writer, commissioning editor, rights manager, script writer, researcher and is now, an independent editor and literary agent.

This collection brings together a heady combination of renowned authors like Paro Anand, Venita Coelho, Uddipana Goswami, Manjula Padmanabhan, Janice Pariat, Mitra Phukan, Pratyaksha and Bulbul Sharma. Interestingly, each one of them is a stalwart in their own merit, having written award-winning titles but none had ever written crime or mystery. As the editor, Preeti Gill mentions in the introduction, “The writers I chose for this anthology don’t usually write crime, and much less murder, but once they decided to take this on I was absolutely stunned by the variety, the enthusiasm, the imaginative detail and also the macabre bloodiness of their stories.”

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

Ellen puts steaming bowls of soup on the table, while little May shows her granny some colouring she has done. But May really has eyes only for Eddie.

“You little coquette!” Ellen says, laughing. “Eat your soup before it gets cold.”

“So where do you work, Eddie?” asks Ellen’s mother, helping herself to an egg salad sandwich.

Egg salad sandwiches are Eddie’s favourite. With lettuce, just like this. His Mom used to make them this way, with onions and chopped pickle and not too much mayonnaise. And Ellen looks better than she did earlier, nicer hair. Kind of a chestnut brown, and the soft wave suits her.

What the hell’s wrong with me? Here I am, sitting at the table polite as can be, telling myself this creepo social worker’s not too bad looking, this stuck-up loser, as I grin and nod at her old bag of a mother. “And where do you work?” she asks me. Where the hell does she think? Who’s going to give Eddie Slocum a job? I mean, who am I going to work for; you think I’ll work for some jerk-off? Gofer this, gofer that?

A minute ago I was on my way out. For good, I mean. Jesus, I hate heights. That falling … But it doesn’t really go on all that long. You get used to it. After a few seconds everything goes black. Yeah. Nothing to it, once you get your feet wet.

TBASS

 

“Dadi, please stop throwing methi leaves on the answer sheets.” From where I was perched, I could watch over everyone in the courtyard. I had one eye on them, the other on the open pages of my history textbook.

The Indian Renaissance:

Social Reforms and Women Empowerment

Half of these words sat in the shadow of my head. I sat on the steps that went up to the roof of the house, a few peanuts in my fist, head resting ever so slightly on the iron railing through which I could see everyone if I rolled my eyes to the left.

It was difficult to concentrate with all the chatter. Everyone drags their chores to the centre of the courtyard, around our holy tulsi plant, during winter months. Whatever can be done in the sun is done in the sun. My grandmother was settled comfortably on a jute charpoy in this courtyard. The shadow of a towel hanging above her, on a clothesline that ran from a nail on one wall to the water pipe in the opposite corner, fell on her face. Like a starving cat with a heavy coat, her crisp starched puffy saree didn’t give away her small-boned figure. From up here she looked like a bundle of clothes, her back rounded and one knee pulled close to the chest, as she craned her neck into her work. She was sifting through small heaps of coriander, dill, and fenugreek, separating fresh leaves from the thick stalks. A quick pinch —and into a large dish with tiny holes they went. The stalks were thrown into a pile on the floor right next to her; they would later be disposed, into the flowerbed in the corner, where purple periwinkles bloomed scantily.