Book review by Koi Kye Lee

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Title: Loss Adjustment

 Author: Linda Collins

Publisher: Ethos Books (2019)

 

Loss Adjustment is a non-fiction work by Linda Collins, a New Zealander who has lived in tropical Singapore for almost three decades. Collins, a wife, mother, and copyeditor with the republic’s English daily, The Straits Times, suffered a devastating loss when her only child, Victoria Skye Pringle McLeod, decided to take her own life on April 14, 2014. She was only seventeen.

The memoir takes an unflinching look at the devastation wrought on Collins and her husband, Malcolm McLeod, as they tried to come to terms with their daughter’s death. Loss Adjustment starts with a glimpse into Collins’s normal morning routine in their home, where she, like other mothers, rises early to prepare for her daughter’s first day of a new school term. However, the routine was disrupted when Victoria (lovingly called Vic) was nowhere to be found in their condo. Before discovering that her daughter was missing, Collins had a strange dream where Victoria said: “I’m free, I’m free”.

Panicked, Collins woke up Malcolm and they started searching for her. An ominous feeling loomed over Collins as she ran towards the hill that led to other condominium blocks. As they wondered where their only child was, the building security guard, Mohan, arrived on his motorbike. But something was amiss — the burly and kindly man was sobbing. He conveyed a piece of bad news — Victoria was dead. She had taken her own life by stepping off the ledge on the 10th floor of a condominium block.

Compiled by Mitali Chakravarty

 

And there’s a hand, my trusty fere!
And gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.

Auld Lang Syne, Robert Burns,1788

 

It is that time of the year again when we bid adieu to the old and party to welcome the new. And this year it is not just an old year but the old decade that ends – this new year we start the third decade of the second millennia. With much goodwill, as the poet Burns says, we asked some writers who have featured on our pages to contribute two of their favourite reads from this year and they obliged… A huge thanks to all these fantastic writers who share what their favourite books have been this year.

51otYV5ZqEL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_We start with Suzanne Kamata, an award winning writer from Japan, who has been a part of our magazine and the first Best Asian Short Stories in 2017. This is what Suzanne wrote: “One book which particularly impressed me was Under the Broken Sky, a novel-in-verse by Mariko Nagai, about a Japanese girl stranded in Soviet-occupied Manchuria. Although we often hear and read about the atrocities committed by the Japanese Army in Asia, we rarely hear the voices of the innocent bystanders, like children. Nagai manages to distill complicated and difficult events into crystalline free verse. Although this book was written with middle grade readers in mind, I would recommend it to adults as well. 

Book review by Mitali Chakravarty

Front cover

Title: Kiswah

Author: Isa Kamari

Publisher: Kitaab, 2019

Isa Kamari is a well-known legend in the Singapore literary community. He has won numerous awards — the Anugerah Sastera Mastera, the SEA Write award and Singapore Cultural Medallion, the Anugerah Tun Seri Lanang. He has been written about and discussed in Universities. With ten novels, nine of which have been translated into English — and some into more languages like Arabic, Mandarin, Urdu and Turkish — three poetry books and plays under his belt and one novella written in English by him, one can well see him as a maestro of storytelling.

The last translation of his novel Kiswah has been launched in November at the Writer’s Festival in Singapore. Isa, a reformer at heart who claims to write only when he is very moved, authored and published three novels together in 2002. Intercession was to do with much needed comments on Islam — an outcome of the 9/11 bombing in New York; The Tower was to do with an individual’s own journey through materialism to a more spiritual plane and the last, which is what will be dealt with here, was Kiswah, a critique on the effects of pornography on young minds.

Most of Isa’s books can be seen as the journey of the protagonist towards self realisation. The issues he takes up are of global concern, though he claims to focus on the Malay community in his books.

The S.E.A. Write Award (South East Asian Writers Award) has been revived after a three-year break with three writers from Singapore selected for the honour. The three winners have been selected for the three years, 2016-2018, when this prestigious ASEAN award was put on hold to mourn the passing of the late King Bhumibol.

Ovidia Yu gets the award for 2016; ChiaJoo Ming for 2017 and Peter Augustine Goh for 2018.

Yu, a writer of light detective novels set in 1930s Singapore, said, her first reaction was “amazement and disbelief… mostly because I write humorous murder mysteries and, on the literary hierarchy, that ranks far below poetry and literary novels”.

“It feels like a validation of something I deeply believe – that whatever we set out to write has first to entertain,” she added.”Reading is only a luxury we can’t afford if it’s not fun. After all, we somehow afford bubble tea and mobile phones.”

By Tan Kaiyi

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Marc Nair… courtesy Marc Nair

Poet. Photographer. Singer. Bearded botak (bald man). As an artiste, Marc can be best described as a living kaleidoscope. His creative work can be hard to pin down. So far, he has written and edited twelve books of poetry, the latest being Sightlines, a collection of poems and travel photography co-created with photographer Tsen-Waye Tay. He plays with a band, Neon and Wonder, and set numerous poems to music with his band mates. He is also active in Singapore’s poetry slam scene, and participates in regular sessions at Blu Jaz Cafe.

If that’s not all, he is passionate about photography and the principal photographer of Mackerel, an online culture magazine he founded. He also collaborated with well-known Singaporean satirical personality Mr Brown in an online video that made fun of a MasterChef judge who misunderstood the nature of chicken rendang. Responding to his criticism that the chicken was not crispy enough, the song playfully (shown in the video below) corrects the judge with an appropriate understanding of the Malay delicacy:

The lines sing out:

Hello, this is not KFC,

Rendang not supposed to be crispy.

If you don’t know what is Asian food,

Don’t tekan auntie on the TV.

by Mitali Chakravarty

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Isa Kamari

His books transport one to a past — a time where under the green creepers on a softly moving river, a boat sails and take one into a unique world of what has been. You discover how much the world has changed and how Singapore has evolved, you meet people who intrigue and bring to the fore the roots that created the little red dot. And yet some of his books look forward to a future – a world of harmony where technology and spiritual peace co-exist… Meet the author, winner of numerous awards and a voice to be reckoned with — Isa Kamari.

Isa Kamari was born in 1960 and lives in Singapore with his wife and two children. He is currently Deputy Director in the Architecture Division with the Land Transport Authority of Singapore, leading a team that manages the design and construction of transport infrastructures. While his profession is an architect, his passion lies in writing, though his architectural background has also found a way into some of his novels.

In all, he has written 9 novels, 3 collections of poetry, a collection of short stories, a book of essays on Singapore Malay poetry, a collection of theatre scripts and lyrics of 2 song albums — all in Malay. His novels have been translated into English, Turkish, Urdu, Hindi, Arabic, Indonesian and Mandarin. His collections of essays and selected poems have been translated into English. His first novel in English, Tweet was published in 2016. Isa was conferred the Southeast Asia Write Award from Thailand in 2006, the Singapore Cultural Medallion in 2007, the Anugerah Tun Seri Lanang from the Singapore Malay Language Council in 2009, and the Mastera Literary Award from Brunei Darussalam in 2018.

In this exclusive, he talks about his book Kiswah, whose translated version is being launched on 8thNovember in the Singapore Writer’s Festival; the  dramatisation of his novel, 1819 and much more…

 

Front coverYou will soon be launching Kiswah. It shuttles between various locales. Can you tell us the intent of this book? What led you to write it?

Isa: In the late 1990s, I was disturbed by the rampant spread of pornographic materials in in Singapore. Vendors openly sold X-rated VCDs near MRT stations, bus interchanges and bazaars illegally. There were also reports in the newspapers about the addiction to pornography amongst professionals and the young. At the same time, I knew from my wife, who was doing voluntary service at a welfare home, that there were many family breakups arising from sexual abuses. All these compelled me to ponder on the topic of manifestation of sexual life in relation to spirituality or the lack of it. The various locales — like Delhi, Agra, Kashmir, Kathmandu and finally Mecca — becomes the background for me to explore, confront, interrogate and somewhat find a resolution on the topic.

Book Review by Kaiyi Tan

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Title: Sightlines

Author: Marc Nair

Photographer: Tsen-Waye Tay

Publisher: Math Press, 2019

I must first confess that I did not like Sightlines when I first read it. As I absorbed this book of poems with photography by Marc Nair and Tsen-Waye Tay, I couldn’t help but feel that a certain song-like lyricism was missing. Usually, my first instinct is to judge verses based solely on the quality of sound alone. Meaning can be secondary, as long as the words form a particular harmony. Knowing that Marc Nair is an established poet in Singapore with a huge reputation for spoken word, I was slightly disappointed.

But on my second reading, something very simple happened.

I followed the recommendation in Mr. Nair’s introduction: I read the poems with the images in mind. And suddenly, like Blake’s experience of seeing a world in a grain of sand, the entire book changed for me. Mr. Nair’s words, together with the stark and beautiful photography of Ms. Tay, emerged as mini-narratives of their own.

ALFIAN
Alfian Bin Sa’at

Recently, a course on dissent and resistance that was to be conducted by poet and playwright Alfian Bin Sa’at in NUS-Yale was dropped by the university. Sa’at had not been fully aware of the consequences that students could be going against the laws and risk arrest in pursuing the course curriculum.

The decision said the Yale President,Professor Peter Salovey, was made “internally and without government interference”. 

In an earlier report, Professor Salovey had said: “In founding and working with our Singaporean colleagues on Yale-NUS, Yale has insisted on the values of academic freedom and open inquiry, which have been central to the college and have inspired outstanding work by faculty, students, and staff: Yale-NUS has become a model of innovation in liberal arts education in Asia.”

By Gargi Vachaknavi

IMG_0689A private viewing of a film?

That sounds exclusive and enticing… made one feel like a star. But it was just a start — a start to showcase what a small group of talented individuals can do.

The idea for the fourteen-and-a-half-minute film brewed over a cup of coffee where writer Tanuj Khosla shared his story with actress Renita Kapoor. Kapoor said she always wanted to play a dark character and the story offered that.

Set in an indeterminate interior, in this case Kapoor’s house in Singapore, the film mapped the life of a stand-up comedian couple in India (and there is no way to figure out where the locale is if it is all within a room). We know the country because the dialogues mention the fact that the husband is a top comedian in India. The movie is mainly conversation between the couple — in a mix of colloquial Hindi with a smattering of English — the way any person would in a well-to do Hindi speaking Indian home.

The story takes a strange twist.

The wife is Kapoor. And the husband? The husband is no less than actor Shishir Sharma, a well-known actor on stage, television and Bollywood in India.

For fifteen minutes, no one spoke. No one moved. And all eyes were glued to the screen that told a gripping tale with a strange twist at the end.

Zafar Anjum, the founder of Kitaab and Filmwallas made his grand debut as a director of this film – The Sacrifice. Why would Zafar Anjum — a writer with a number of books under his belt and some published by Penguin — move to direction and filmmaking?

By Mitali Chakravarty

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Shishir Sharma

He is a well-known figure on television. He is a prominent actor in films… a good friend to famed actor Nasseruddin Shah and actress Ratna Pathak. He is kind to young filmmakers who start their career and does short films for them as he recently did in Singapore. He starred in Kitaab and Filmwalla founder Zafar Anjum’s first short film that has been shown to the public — a fourteen-and-a-half-minute movie called The Sacrifice with a talented actress from Singapore, Renita Kapoor.

And yet this man has a secret, a small office in Mumbai where he spends time by himself and writes. Meet Shishir Sharma, the character actor who can be seen on stage in theatre, on the silver screen, both in Indian television and cinema.

And what does the actor write?

You would think… it would be something for the screen or maybe about his life. But no, he writes about his parents and his father’s past. For spoilers, the story starts as a romantic one. Picture this: 1951 — in sepia tone — A young man in his early twenties goes off to get milk as does a fifteen-year-old girl. This would be a common thing but, wait, the story does not end there. The two meet and they travel in the opposite direction from their home on train to spend time with each other unbeknown to their families and, a few years later, they are married, and they have their first child — Shishir Sharma.

Talking to Shishir Sharma was not just a privilege but like a walk through the annals of Indian theatre and film history. His parents were involved with theatre and films, including the Leftists IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association founded in 1943 to bring cultural awakening among Indians during the independence struggle). Though his father earned a living through his small business, the interest in theatre and films stayed. He was even part of the production unit of NFDC (National Film Development Corporation) when the legendary film Garam Hawa was filmed in 1970s, says Sharma. Based on an unpublished story by the noted Urdu writer, Ismat Chugtai, this award-winning film gives a poignant telling on the impact of the 1947 Partition.

Living in Mumbai moving around with friends Naseeruddin and Ratna Pathak, Sharma was cajoled into theatre in 1974 by a person no less than Satyadev Dubey, an Indian theatre director, actor, playwright, screen writer and director and winner of numerous national awards ultimately crowned by the fourth highest civilian honour in India, Padma Bhushan. He had trained outstanding actors like Amrish Puri, Amol Palekar and, later, Nasseruddin Shah, Ratna Pathak and Neena Kulkarni, says Sharma. He was picked together with Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak. He tells a story of how Dubey came into Pathak’s house and found the three friends having a meal. He asked them to join his group. Sharma refused initially but eventually gave in.

From theatre he moved to television in 1993 with Swabhiman that came after Buniyad, both popular television serials in the early days of soaps in India. They were very well paid in those days, says Sharma.

Satyam, his first film was in Telugu. That came after some more years. Sharma started acting in a number of Telugu movies. And he actually has a Telugu tutor coming in to teach him the language. “All the characters I play are not really Telugu. They don’t want the pukka (pure) Telugu accent.”

 

Then came more films, this time in Hindi; among them, the national award-winning films, Uri and Raazi, and short films, like Roganjosh, where he and Naseeruddin Shah, were back together. Roganjosh, written and directed by Sanjeev Vig, won the Best Filmfare Award in the category of short films and is an emotional telling of how the terrorist bomb blast of Bombay Taj in 2007 destroyed the lives of everyday men and women. He was picked for this movie, Sharma says, because of his forty-four-year-old friendship with Naseeruddin Shah. Their mutual camaraderie was an asset to the film.