Seated on a divan covered with a white sheet, her hair whiter than the wings of a heron, grandma looked like an awkward mass of marble; it seemed as though there was not a single drop of blood in her body. White had crept up to the edges of her grey eyes which, lusterless, reminded one of casements that were barred, of windows hiding fearfully behind thick curtains. Her presence, shrouded in what could be likened to a stationery cloud of finely-ground silver, was dazzling, and a snowy-white, blinding radiance seemed to emanate from her person. Her face shone with the glow of purity and chastity. This eighty year-old virgin had never known the touch of a man’s hand.
She was like a bouquet of flowers at thirteen with hair that fell below her waist and a complexion that shimmered with youthful silkiness and translucence. But her youth had been ravaged by time; only the softness now remained. Her beauty was of such renown in those days that her parents, afraid she might be whisked away by jinns, couldn’t sleep at night. Indeed, she didn’t appear to be of this world.
At fourteen she became engaged to my mother’s uncle. He was as dark as she was fair, although otherwise he was exceedingly well-proportioned and manly in appearance: what a sharply delineated nose he had, just like the blade of a sword, hooded eyes that were ever watchful, his teeth a string of pearls. But he was unusually sensitive about his inky complexion.
During the engagement celebrations everyone began teasing him.
Indonesian mass genocide of 1965-66 led to a death toll of almost half to one million and replaced Sukarno with Suharto. Many were imprisoned in the Buru island jail. One of them was writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer, author of the Buru Quartet which was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1988.
Writers, intellectuals and teachers spent years of incarceration on the island devoid of basic facilities. One of them, Mars Noersmono, was in and out of jails while studying engineering and ended up in Buru island. He wrote a book, Bertahan Hidup di Pulau Buru (A Prisoner’s Life on Buru Island) which also had photographs of the island. He looked for a publisher for fifteen years and finally found one in Bandung. Few copies of his book found their way to the bookshelf.
He told a journalist from The Diplomat: “I wrote the book because I want the younger generation to understand the truth, and pay respect to those who did not survive… Writing has also lifted the burden I’ve been carrying for so long, and that’s a relief. My dreams are now not so bad.”
Rizia Rahman was one of the most eminent authors of Bangla Literature. Among others, she received the Bangla Academy Literary Award, Ekushey Padak, and Arannya Literature Award for her outstanding contributions to literature. An author of more than 50 novels, she passed away on 16 August 2019.
Presented by Library of Bangladesh and translated by Arunava Sinha, Letters of Blood —Rokter Okkhor (1978) — is a novel by the late Rizia Rahman that explores the lives of the women who have been (directly and indirectly) forced into prostitution, and examines how the intricacies of their lives hold them captive in a physically and mentally hostile ecosystem. It is a window into a system that lives on the fringes of the society constantly bobbing on fickle grounds.
The novel is populated by characters from as young as twelve to as old as being on the brink of death — a feat that reflects the reality seen in the brothels.
Kusum is a fourteen-year-old, often starving and sick, whose “undernourished body hasn’t amassed enough capital”. Because she hasn’t received any customer for two days, she hasn’t been able to eat. For many women in the brothel, who are still under the control of their pimps, life is like that — the more the customers, the further the shadow of starvation. When she steals a little food, out of desperation, Kalu, her pimp, beats her black and blue as everyone else goes on about their business. No one bats an eye. The pimps are free to kill the women in their clutches without anyone sparing a glance.
On 16th December, Bangladesh celebrates Victory Day — a day when they gained sovereignty after a battle with Pakistan in 1971, a battle in which India backed Bangladesh. Here is a translation of a story by the acclaimed writer Sarder Jayenuddin set between pre and post-independent Bangladesh… a poignant story of sacrifice and heroism
Translated by Sohana Manzoor
It was the middle of the Bengali month of Ashwin*. The early nights were too warm, but the late nights were cool and sweet. It was difficult to get up from sleep. On such a night, I was in a deep slumber when there were quick and firm knocks on the door. Someone was urging us to open the door.
Even though I had been in deep sleep, I felt restless. It was not just me, but everybody felt uncomfortable during those days. How could we sleep in peace? The country was being plundered by the Pakistani Army shamelessly. They were killing people and burning homes. My situation was even worse as I had been absconding for quite some time. Basically, I had been on the run for four to five days. And then the boat I had taken was attacked by robbers. We had almost died. Even though we survived, we encountered some others who had jumped into the river to save themselves from the robbers. Actually, that was the main reason why the passengers of our boat were able to get away.
Okay, so we survived. But then, even after arriving at this remote village of Pabna, I felt scared stiff. The military could come here too. They might arrive any moment. The only hope was that they would not come at night. They were apparently terrified of the Mukti ( Mukti Bahini, the freedom fighters). So, who was knocking at the door? And it was quite loud by now. I sat upright and was sure that it would be robbers. Just as I had taken courage on the other day in the river, I took a deep breath and asked again, “Who is it? What do you want?”
A steady voice replied from the other side, “Be quiet. Where is the Professor? Call him.”
Jonathan Urqueta was born on 18 September 1991 in the Colchagua Valley, Chile. He was raised in Marchigüe, a huaso (country) village in the central region of Chile, where he learned the names of trees, got to know birds by their song, and had a hard and, at the same time fragrant, childhood soaked in criollismo (Creole). From the age of eleven he started travelling in Chile, from the south to the north, and passed through many transversal valleys, resting in some of them for a couple of years. He owes his survival to a couple of occupations that he learnt on his path. Today he works and lives in Vicuña, a town in Elqui Valley, caught in the eternal sun of the Norte Chico (small north). Always captivated by folklore and natural landscapes, regionalism and social questions, he has been writing since the age of fourteen. Urqueta has been working on publishing his poetry for the last couple of years.
As a researcher on contemporary translated texts, I was invited to participate in a prestigious two-week summer school on challenges of translation in July 2019, organised at the Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile. With my prior knowledge of Spanish and interest of many years in South American literature, this workshop gave me the perfect opportunity to delve into the beauty and strife of producing and examining translated poetry and fiction, in the esteemed company of some of the foremost, and emerging, translation studies academics and translators across continents. This is the 40th year of Chile-Singapore relations, making this text a privilege for me to pen. Cultural and literary events to bring together Chileans and Singapore residents, and to discuss pertinent issues, are being organised through the year
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…
“I think that’s how I found the way to the English garden,” Kyeong-hui said to me that day.
“I think I played on the swing.”
“Pardon me?” I asked, not understanding.
“There were so many things … inside and outside the wall … A swing, a cherry tree, and flowers … So I forgot to go home.”
“I think the same will happen to you.”
“I think you went to the English garden and played on the swing too.”
Kyeong-hui was the first person forbidden to me. She lived with us, but no one talked about her. No one called her or mentioned her name. No one even looked at her. If we happened to cross paths, my family acted as if she were invisible, though she rarely emerged from her small room. We weren’t allowed to touch her, to make eye contact with her, or to gaze at her as if she were real. The only thing we were allowed to do was move out of the way so that she could pass, or so that her body wouldn’t brush against ours. Naturally Kyeong-hui never joined us at the table, not for a single meal.
Oddly, my parents expected us to adhere strictly to their rules regarding Kyeong-hui, but gave us no direct orders or warnings. Not once were we told that talking to her, or about her, was forbidden. If we ever pointed towards her corner room on the second floor or thoughtlessly uttered her name, we merely received a sharp “Shh!” which flicked like a whip from their mouths.
I was in my bedroom, sitting on the stool, dozing with a hookah in my hand. A sliver of light was permeating, creating a clever shadow on the wall, a ghost dancing. Lunch wasn’t ready yet — I sat in a pensive state; I was dreaming as I puffed… If I were Napoleon, could I win the battle of Waterloo?
Right at the moment, an unexpected sound crept in, “Meow”.
As I tried looking, I couldn’t perceive anything. First, I thought that the Duke of Wellington had taken the shape of a cat and was approaching me to beg for some opium. Full of enthusiasm, tough as a stone, I thought I’d say that the Lord Duke shouldn’t ask for more, given that he had been awarded previously. Too much greed isn’t healthy. The Duke replied, “Meow”.
With careful observation, it dawned on me that this wasn’t Wellington! This was a petty cat that had drunk the milk reserved for me as I was busy arranging soldiers on Waterloo’s field — unaware of the cat’s theft. The beautiful cat, filled with satisfaction after finishing all the milk was intent on making its satisfaction known to this world.
In a mellifluous tone, it said “Meow!”
I did perceive that the cat was mocking at me, that it was laughing internally as, facing me, it thought; “Somebody dies drying the pond; somebody eats the koi.”
I perceive that the “Meow” had the intent of understanding what was on my mind. I perceive that the cat’s thought was, “I’ve finished your milk—now what do you say?”
Bhupen Hazarika was posthumously awarded the highest civilian honour in India this year, the Bharat Ratna. He was a man who dreamt, felt and sang international solidarity. An award for international solidarity was named after him in 2011 and was given out this year to Singapore film-maker, Eric Khoo.
Bhupen Hazarika was born in Assam, India, on 8th September 1926. He has been the recipient of numerous awards and accolades. His lyrics have crossed the borders of time and place and celebrate humanitarian concerns of mankind. Today we commemorate his 93rd birth anniversary with a recording of a Bengali rendition of his song, Aami ek Jajabar (I am a wanderer), by the maestro himself and a translation into English of the lyrics so that it can reach out to everyone with its large-heartedness and compassion…
Bhupen Hazarika’s rendition of Aami ek Jajabar (I am a wanderer)
I am a wanderer
(Translated by Mitali Chakravarty, edited by Nabina Das)
31 st August,2019, is the birth centenary of avant-garde writer and poet, Amrita Pritam. Not only were her life and works a rebellion in time and place but some of them flowed with love flavoured by her unusual personality.
One such poem by Amrita Pritam, ‘I will meet you yet again’, has been translated by Dr Uma Trilok, an authority on the avant-garde centenarian and herself a powerful writer and poet. The poem has been recited by no less a person than the legendary Gulzar in original Punjabi . Born Sampooran Singh Kalra, Gulzar is one of the foremost personalities to dominate Bollywood , an Academy Award winning Indian film director, lyricist and poet. In 2007, the maestro brought out an album, Amrita Pritam, recited by Gulzar.
Recitation of ‘Main Tenu Fir Milaan Gi’ by Gulzar in Punjabi
I will meet you, yet again
(by Amrita Pritam, translated by Dr Uma Trilok)
I will meet you
I do not know