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Poetry: For Birendra Krishna Bhadra by Shikhandin

For Birendra Krishna Bhadra – Shikhandin

Birendra Krishna Bhadra

 

NOTE ON BIRENDRA KRISHNA BHADRA

Generations of Bengalis have woken up before dawn on a date specified by the Bengali Almanac or Ponjika, to listen to a man reciting the Mahishasura Mardini – an almost two hour adaption of scriptural verses (Chandipath) describing the slaying of the demon Mahishasur by the Goddess Durga. That day is Mahalaya, and it arrives every autumn, heralding the beginning of Devi-paksh, a time on earth so holy that any death that occurs within it ensures a direct passage to heaven for the departed; as for the child born, he/she is twice blessed.

The man whose voice pours out from every Bengali home and meets the chilly misty autumnal air is Birendra Krishna Bhadra. Born in 1905 in North Calcutta, he graduated from Scottish Church College in 1928, and was involved in theatre and other literary pursuits. He worked for All India Radio and was also a playwright, actor and theatre director. His recitation of Mahishasura Mardini, which All India Radio began broadcasting from 1931, made him a legend, so much so that in 1976 when AIR tried to infuse a fresh perspective to the programme by bringing in legendary Bengali actor Uttam Kumar, it failed to impress listeners.

Birendra Krishna Bhadra passed away in 1991, but his voice still resonates in Bengali homes across the globe. Even today, families, young and old alike, listen with rapt attention to his rendition. As a matter of fact, Mahalaya without Birendra Krishna Bhadra is unthinkable. Today his recitation of Mahishasura Mardini can be easily downloaded from the internet and heard on the go, whenever one wishes to, and not necessarily on the day of Mahalaya, but listening to him on Mahalaya is more than tradition – it is ritual.

For many Bengalis, even those who no longer practice many of the traditional modes of worship or have become agnostics, Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s voice still has the power to bring them down to their spiritual knees. Every year this voice gouges out hidden emotions in the hearts of Bengalis, no matter where they are scattered. For expatriate Bengalis, this day evokes deep nostalgia; it is also cathartic, emotionally and spiritually.

There is a saying in Bengali, Shobdo Brohmo – Sound is Brahma/The Creator. Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s powerful recitation makes us all, even the uninitiated, truly feel it.

 

 

 

Bio:

Shikhandin is an Indian writer whose story collection Immoderate Men was published by Speaking Tiger, 2017 (http://speakingtigerbooks.com/books/immoderate-men/). Vibhuti Cat, her first children’s book, was published by Duckbill in 2018. Shikhandin’s prose and poetry have won awards and accolades in India and abroad; she has been widely published worldwide. https://www.amazon.com/author/shikhandin

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Workshops: Singapore Book Council’s October workshops

SBC

1. Good, Clean Copy – How good editing can make you a great writer

1 OCTOBER 2018 (Mon) | 9:30AM – 5:30PM

Truman Capote famously said: “I’m all for the scissors. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.” In fact, many great writers refer to the editing stage as “where the real work happens.” The fine art of editing really can make good writing great and time and time again proves the old adage that less really is more. This workshop looks at distilling and crystallizing your writing to make it shorter, sharper and – most importantly – better. The workshop will include practical exercises and will teach you a number of tried and tested editing techniques. As Dr Seuss says: “So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”

Suitable for: Writers of any experience level, from both fiction and non-fiction, who want to develop a disciplined approach to their work and gain an understanding of the importance and effectiveness of good editing.

Trainer: Simon Clews – Simon is in great demand as a writing coach and has delivered training around the world, including in Singapore, Canada, the UK, Thailand and Hong Kong. Prior to that he ran the Melbourne Writers’ Festival for fourteen years, as well as a slew of other literary events, including Writers at Como, Writers at the Convent, Stories Alive and Crime & Justice.

Register here or https://academy.bookcouncil.sg/courses/detail/good-clean-copy-how-good-editing-can-make-you-a-great-writer#discount

 

2. The New Self-Publishing – How the entrepreneurial writer can challenge publishing’s status quo

2 OCTOBER 2018 (Tue) |  9:30AM – 5:30PM

There has never been a better time to be a writer; the power balance is shifting away from the traditional gatekeepers, the commercial publishers, and back into the hands of the writers. The traditional publishing process is fast becoming known as ‘legacy publishing’ and the canny writer is reinventing themselves as an entrepreneur with a significant digital presence. As part of this revolution, self-publishing has been reborn and is now a force to be reckoned with. Done properly, the new self-publishing allows the writer to carefully cultivate their audience and deliver a book to them that is a hotly anticipated product, rather than just being a small cog in the machine of the very speculative process that is traditional publishing. But it’s crucial to get this right. This workshop will look at taking advantage of this publishing revolution and avoiding any pitfalls that might come your way.

Suitable for: Writers of any experience level, from both fiction and non-fiction, who are new to self-publishing and who have a specific publishing project in mind.

Trainer: Simon Clews – Simon is in great demand as a writing coach and has delivered training around the world, including in Singapore, Canada, the UK, Thailand and Hong Kong. Prior to that he ran the Melbourne Writers’ Festival for fourteen years, as well as a slew of other literary events, including Writers at Como, Writers at the Convent, Stories Alive and Crime & Justice.

Register here or https://academy.bookcouncil.sg/courses/detail/the-new-self-publishing-how-the-entrepreneurial-writer-can-challenge-publis

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Country in Focus: Korea

Book Review: Was that Mountain Really There? By Park Wan-suh (Translated by Hannah Kim)

Reviewed by Anushka Ray

Was that Mountain Really There

Title: Was that Mountain Really There?
Author: Park Wan-suh
Translator: Hannah Kim
Publisher: Kitaab International Pte ltd
Pages: 332
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Autobiographies typically present the picture of perfect bravery; they are a testament to fortified bulwarks authors build up as they trudge along, with a complimentary voice depicting a clear story line and eventual victory. Was that Mountain Really There? is rare in its sense where the narrator remains at her core so impenetrably humble and human, it is no longer a retelling of a story. Instead, it becomes a reflection on adolescence, a growing up which just so happened to coincide with the 1950-1953 Korean War. Park Wan-suh upholds an honest narrative voice, with a raw sincerity that transforms even the most tumultuous of moments into something delicate and fragile.

Every word has a distinct purpose. Even the seemingly mindless title is explained in the author’s foreword, with the retelling of how Wan-suh witnessed the construction of a new gymnasium in replacement of a hideous mound in her hometown. This development, although praised by the neighbourhood, somehow struck a chord within her, as she campaigns to immortalize the memory of the small hill. The strange memory effortlessly portrays the sense of futility which existed in her childhood, especially growing up in an age where everything around was demolished. It is this fear of history being forgotten which compelled Wan-suh to publish the novel, a way to tell the world ‘that’s how we lived’.

Was that Mountain Really There? explores the life of author Park Wan-suh as a 20-year-old caught in the Korean War in 1951. Accompanied by her relatives, Wan-suh navigates the eruptive state of Korea, where the constant battle for power between the North and South Koreans controls their actions. She navigates the country both literally and figuratively, as she briefly escapes Seoul and finds a short-lived refuge in Gyoha (part of the then country Paju) before returning home. While a palpable fear is instilled from the opening pages with Wan-suh’s brother suffering from a North Korean inflicted gun wound, there is a clear reluctance to encounter South Korean soldiers due to the family’s previous communist history. All this accumulates to a constant state of paranoia when faced with any militia, and an underlying commentary on whether either army was in the right. This paranoia sustains throughout the novel but gradually grows subdued and muted, dictating their decisions yet not exposing them to any violence.

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Book Review: Reshaping Art by T.M. Krishna

Reviewed by Vidya Acharya

Reshaping Art

Title: Reshaping Art
Author: T.M. Krishna
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Pages: 128 (Hardcover)

T.M. Krishna is a popular performing Karnatik musician – a vocalist and a musical maverick. An icon of our times, he is known for his socialistic turn of mind, which he wears on his sleeve and has, on several instances, stormed the Brahmanical Bastille of traditional classical Karnatik music.

Reshaping Art is a sociological study on the evolution and appropriation of various forms of art – particularly music in India and how it has been withheld by its blue-blooded masters from those less privileged due to economic and social circumstance. TMK has, through his own projects, sought to reverse this deprivation. He has based his work and writings on the optimism that certain communities can be uplifted by the simple act of their inclusion in enriching opportunities in Art, such as in Karnatik music, a field that has been held almost exclusively by a coterie of upper caste musicians of the Chennai region. He assumes that the best and most efficacious first step would be to invite such seekers of Art into concerts that are accessible and will eventually permeate society.

The premise to the discussion is that music and art are nascent to the human existence. As higher-level beings, we are meant to emote and express in refined, often tangible forms; it is vital to some of us, but not to all. A slim volume of 107 pages, Reshaping Art is a thought provoking study of the author’s efforts and philosophy, mainly towards Karnatik music.

Although the entire gamut of Art forms is included in TMK’s discussion, the book is a sophisticated treatise specifically on how and why he believes Karnatik music must be democratised in the region of its practice and immense popularity, and is an enriching read for followers of classical and contemporary music in India. It will prompt the reader to ponder on his/her own potential in participating in social upliftment as a catalyst, or, alternately, as an active absorber of the music.

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The rare women in the rare book trade

(From The Paris Review. Link to the complete article given below)

In Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Clarissa Dalloway picks up the phone and receives a solo lunch-party invite intended for her husband, from another woman. Clarissa puts down the phone and reels over “the dwindling of life; how year by year her share was sliced; how little the margin that remained was capable any longer of stretching, of absorbing, as in the youthful years, the colours, salts, tones of existence, so that she filled the room she entered.”

Mrs. Dalloway, a book about an aging woman who is no longer valued by society, has increased in value as it has aged. The corrected 1928 typescript, with Woolf’s musings scribbled on its pages, now sells for £27,500. What is a woman worth as she ages? What is a book by a woman worth as it ages? The answers are braided into the realities of the book trade, which is still an old boys’ club. As you’d expect, the expensive books are by men: Joyce, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and Hemingway. “No twentieth-century women command those prices,” said Heather O’Donnell, owner of Honey & Wax Booksellers. “Woolf tops out in the mid five figures, and Gertrude Stein and Zora Neale Hurston are relatively cheap.”

Although it’s true that old white men have always run the large, moneyed, century-old rare-book trade—buying and selling books for a living—women have made enormous inroads as private and institutional collectors. Things started shifting in the seventies. Second-wave feminism gave women a voice, and female collectors started patching the historical holes by seeing value and relevance in objects that men had ignored. When you put your gaze on a manuscript and call attention to it, you create value in the eyes of others. Curiosity creates a market.

Read the complete article at the Paris Review link


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Mushtaq Ahmad Yusufi: The man who taught us humour

(From Herald. Link to the complete article given below)

Baba was behind the steering wheel. I was sitting right behind him beside ammi and my younger brother, peeking out of the window with an inquisitive gaze. Our car was briskly negotiating a road in Buffer Zone, a predominantly Urdu-speaking neighbourhood of Karachi. We were headed to a mushaira that baba had put together. There, I was finally going to see this Mushtaq Ahmad Yusufi that he always spoke about.

A taped tennis ball came flying in through the open window and smashed baba’s spectacles. He fell on his side from the impact and the car screeched to a halt. A shard of glass tore into his right eye and as he lay cupping it with his hands, blood trickled down from between his fingers.

Across the street, a group of boys was playing cricket. The bowler had delivered the ball so quick that both the batsman and the keeper missed it and it traveled all the way to baba’s window. As we got out of the car panicking, the boys came running to apologise. Baba was taken to the hospital and we were taken home. I didn’t see Yusufi that day, but baba did. He managed to convince the doctors to delay the surgery to remove the shard until the next morning; they washed out his eye and fixed him up with bandages. The mushaira was saved and so was baba’s eye. I got busy growing up and we soon stopped telling the horrific tale at family get-togethers. I didn’t revisit the incident for over a decade — until 2014. Yusufi hadn’t forgotten it. He recalled it years later at an event of Anjuman-e-Sadat-e-Amroha, and the speech made it to the book, Sham-e-Sher-e-Yaraan.

Baba didn’t stop talking about Yusufi. As a child, all I knew was that Yusufi was a funny man who he would quote often and everyone would chuckle. His frequently employed superlatives filled me with enough envy to steal Zarguzasht from his room. Yusufi’s language was beyond comprehension and my mental faculties failed to process the humour. However, I compensated by expressing unnecessary amusement at the few sentences that I understood. I was engaged in an activity of a higher order and felt important.

Zarguzasht fulfilled my pubescent longing for refinement. I would take special care in casually slipping it into everyday conversations with friends. I was automatically better than them because I knew Yusufi and they didn’t. It was a great feeling to have.

In Pakistan, anything upcoming is either seen with disinterest or dread. This, however, was not the case when, in 2014, word went around that Yusufi is ready with his fifth book, Sham-e-Sher-e-Yaraan. The excitement was evident. Even President Mamnoon Hussain flew in to inquire about his health and tell him that the work is eagerly awaited. It was as if the moribund Urdu literary milieu was being brought back to life against its wishes. Yusufi hadn’t published in 24 years. Urdu humour was bereft of vitality and Yusufi was willing to once again breathe life into it.

Read the complete article at this Herald link


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Book review: Paper Asylum by Rochelle Potkar

Reviewed by Paresh Tiwari

Rochelle Potkar

Title: Paper Asylum
Author:
Rochelle Potkar
Publisher: Copper Coin (2018)
Pages: 103
Price: INR 295/-

 

Among the many sub-genres of poetry, haibun might be the hardest to categorise. Is it in essence poetry or prose? Or a tapestry woven from the two threads by a skilled practitioner? Is it distilled from personal experience or a product of the fanciful flight in a fabulist world created by the poet?

Haibun, despite being a 500-year-old form, assiduously escapes the narrow confines of a definition. Yet, the critical elements of this form – sincerity, brevity, suspension of cleverness, living the moment, and experiencing the world afresh (to name but a few) – are universal. They lay the foundation for works which stop being a collection of words, images, memories, or feelings and invite the reader to embrace the poetry and own it.

Rochelle Potkar’s full-length prose poetry collection, Paper Asylum, is humanity turned inside out, flesh, bones and soul, painted skilfully on every page. Her poetry deftly navigates a plethora of complicated subjects and themes – love and lust in their myriad shades, longing, pain, loss, gears of society, growing up in a world that makes little sense, and the multifarious joy at finding and being found in the bargain. These poems are explorers journeying through the self and its projection on the universe beyond.

Potkar’s prose poems (most of which could be categorised as haibun) strengthens my belief that one of the qualities of good poetry is its ability to surprise. Much like life itself. In that sense, I propose that poetry and life are one and the same. Paper Asylum brims with life, in all its visceral, raw, urgent, messy glory.

Sample this:

He missed her after the breakup. Although he was the one who had broken off. He didn’t know what came into him when he got too close to women. When he poured everything into her like an ocean into a jug of wet earth.

 He felt deeply wronged.

                                                                                                                                           fish catch –

                                                                                                                                 the boat swinging

                                                                                                                                           in surrender

– “About Turn”

 

Anyone who has ever had a breakup would instantly recognise the truth in those lines. The hunger of loneliness and the need are not only palpable but instantly identifiable.

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The surprising literary history of skin care

(From the Paris Review. Link to the complete article given below)

The story of Bulgakov’s Margarita is part of a long tradition, from Snow White’s wicked stepmother (who wanted to remain “fairest of them all”) to the Germanic legends that granted vigorous youth to men heroic enough to slay a dragon. There’s a spectacular example of youth enchantment in Ovid’s Metamorphoses when Jason defeats a dragon to get hold of a golden fleece, then implores his wife—the sorceress Medea—to rejuvenate his father, Aeson, using a potion of herbs so exotic they could have been taken from a modern cosmetics catalogue. In her dragon-harnessed chariot, Medea makes a tour of the most glamorous and outlandish sites in the Greek world in order to gather herbs. She fills twinned holes in the earth with the blood of a sacrificed sheep, adds wine and milk, then dips flaming torches in before setting them ablaze. Into a cauldron go roots from Thessaly, sands from Oceanus at the earth’s limit, and powdered rocks from the Far East.

Medea used a desiccated old olive wand to stir the brew; as she did so, it sprouted leaves, then grew heavy with olives. Spatters from the broth caused flowers and grass to spring up on the cold dark earth. At this final sign, Medea felt ready to proceed: she slit Aeson’s jugular veins and poured in her potion. “Quickly his beard and his hair lost their whiteness … New flesh filled out his sagging wrinkles, and his limbs grew young and strong. The old king marveled at the change in himself, recalling that this was the Aeson of forty years ago.”

*

The earliest known text concerned with the elixirs of youth is an early Chinese commentary on the I Ching, the “Book of Changes,” in which chemical substances and processes are tentatively correlated with the book’s famous hexagrams. The I Ching takes for granted that the universe and all beings in it are caught up in cycles of transformation and suggests that the astute application of mystical and medical knowledge can influence those changes for the better.

In Europe, alchemists were obsessed with generating gold, but in China, they preferred to work on youth elixirs. A string of Chinese alchemists claimed to have created a rejuvenating potion; Joseph Needham, the historian, scientist, and Sinologist, was so struck by the frequency with which Chinese emperors were poisoned by these drugs that he tabulated a list of victims. In around 300 A.D., a Chinese alchemist called Ge Hong collated various recipes. Three centuries later, a more detailed treatise specified the inclusion of obscure, exotic substances such as mercurial salts and compounds of sulfur. There are more than a thousand different names for these potions, most of which carried the same basic mineral ingredients.

One of Ge Hong’s near contemporaries in the West, a Byzantine called Synesius, believed that the physical transformations effected by alchemy were less important than the mental positions adopted by its practitioners. A true alchemy of youth didn’t require a laboratory or precious exotic substances; all that was needed was the right kind of incantation and a change in attitude.

Read more at this link from the Paris Review


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The surprising practice of binding old books with scraps of even older books

(From Atlas Obscura. Link to the complete article given below)

From the earliest days of bookmaking, binders made use of scraps. Sometimes, it was just mundane material: leases or contracts that had expired or been rendered moot by a scribe’s mistake. In other cases, the bindings illustrate some seismic cultural shift. In these instances, the materials indicate to modern scholars what was important to the people assembling books—or, conversely, what had little or no value to them.

After the Reformation, for example, when Catholicism gave way to Protestantism in Britain, monastic libraries were dissolved and centuries’ worth of manuscripts were suddenly homeless and largely unwanted. This made them “available to a burgeoning print trade,” Heffernan says, “and they could be torn up into strips, or wrapped whole around books.” The change of faith sapped the Catholic materials’ “value as documents to be read,” she says. But their value as raw material—such as vellum, made from animal skin—remained.

Stumbling across one of these hybrid items now feels kind of magical—as if geography and time have collapsed into your hands. But repurposing scraps in this way wasn’t at all unusual at the time, and Heffernan suspects that it wouldn’t have made much of a difference to readers. “To us, the manuscripts that have been wrapped around books are signs of destruction,” Heffernan says. But to early modern readers, slicing and dicing a text was just a strategy for taking care of other, more coveted objects—like wrapping a textbook in brown paper today. Oversized choir books, which could be twice as tall as a folio, went a long way: “Not quite half a cow,” Schmidt says, “but still a substantial piece of leather.” It was simple practicality. “It’s a moment of typical practice for 16th- and 17th-century bookbinders that seems utterly, delightfully weird to us,” Heffernan says.

Read more at this link from Atlas Obscura


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Poetry: Words – After Aleem by Rehan Qayoom

Words by Rehan Qayoom

Rehan Qayoom is a poet of English and Urdu, editor, translator and archivist, educated at Birkbeck College, University of London. He has featured in numerous literary publications and performed his work internationally.  He is the author of About Time and other books.