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Looking forward — 2018: When it comes to literature, mythology rules the roster, says Namita Gokhale

Publishing is an unpredictable business. Even so, one of the trends in the world of books that I discern in 2018 and coming years, is mythology. The space for books based on Indian mythology has grown immensely since the time I wrote the children’s Mahabharata and In Search of Sita (2009), and I foresee that it will grow even further in the years to come.

This is because in India, people relate a lot to myth; myths form a reference point for our contemporary lives.The success of books in this genre have led to so obscure figures from Indian mythology being brought into the limelight such as Urmila, Menaka, etc. My latest book is on Ghatotkach, and the response to it has been amazing. Reader or publisher fatigue with mythology space hasn’t started.

I truly think that the dumbing down of the publishing industry is finally being reversed, and this is a trend that will become more evident in the coming year. Until a few years ago, it was believed that the stupider the book was, the more readers you would get. Now, even the aspirational readers want to be challenged now by what they read. They are no longer satisfied with reading material simply because it is easy to assimilate; they want books that will stimulate their minds.

I also predict that speculative fiction, especially quality speculative fiction—a genre that not many Indians wrote in—will take off in a big way. Short, nano stories will also find their place, but provided the writers find the right format. Another trend that will slowly unfold over the years to come is that of enhanced fiction—audio books and the like, which bring into play the other sensory facilities such as voice, even smell, some say and are interactive. These serve to make reading a complete experience.

Many people in the publishing industry say that literary fiction has had its day—I agree with this assessment, but with some reservations. It is true that in many ways, literary fiction had become narcissistic and self-obsessed in recent years. Publishers also liked to play it safe; they need to be a little a less cute and a bit more adventurous.In contrast, genre fiction, especially crime fiction, has taken off in a big way in recent years. But even here, we need more of quality and perhaps, less of quantity.

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The lasting legacy of Central Asia’s writers: The founding fathers (Part 1)

The disintegration of the Soviet Union in late 1991 left all the former republics scrambling. Self-rule was a surprise for many, certainly for the leadership in Central Asia.

Among the many pressing matters in those days was establishing signs of sovereignty — a flag, a national anthem, and so on.

They also needed a history; roots for building a new nation and national identity. No heroes had emerged from independence — the U.S.S.R. simply fell apart and suddenly there were five countries in Central Asia.

Lacking contemporary heroes, the five governments searched the rich history of Central Asia, looking for known figures who could assume the role of founders of these new nations.

The respected writers of Central Asia’s past were obvious choices.

The “founding father” for Tajikistan became Ismail Somoni, the late 9th-century conqueror whose Samanid Empire included what is now northern Iran, northern Afghanistan, and Central Asia south of the Syr-Darya River. His tomb is in Bukhara, in what is currently Uzbekistan.

Tajik authorities also claimed as native sons two of the best-known writers from the late, and post-Samanid, period — Abu Abd Allah Jaar ibn Muhammad al-Rudaki, or Rudaki (858-941); and Abu Ali Ibn Sina, or Avicenna (980-1037).

The Father Of Persian Poetry

Rudaki is called the father of Persian poetry and is credited with making enormous contributions to modern Persian language. But he was also a prototype for Central Asian writers. Rudaki composed verse and he also played music.

In a time and place where illiteracy was high, music helped carry poetry throughout the region and would continue to be a main transmitter of Central Asian poetry for the better part of the next millennium.

Rudaki was also from Panjikent in what is now western Tajikistan. His tomb is there today, reinforcing Tajikistan’s attachment to the poet.

Curiously, the mausoleum was originally built in 1958, by Soviet authorities (they dug up the body first to make sure he was really there). Such was the respect Rudaki commanded, and still commands.

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Nazm for the Messiah

Urdu poetry is replete with references to Ibn-e-Maryam, the son of Virgin Mary, writes Rakshanda Jalil in the Indian Express.

Ibn-e Maryam, the son of the Virgin Mary, is a recurring figure in Urdu poetry. Sometimes appearing as an icon of fortitude, sometimes as the healer and provider of succour and mercy, Isa Masih, as Jesus Christ is called in Urdu, is the embodiment of love that Iqbal describes as hararat li nafas-ha-e-masih-e-Ibn-e-Maryam se (“the ardour of love’s breath taken from the Son of Mary”). Perhaps the most often-quoted reference to Ibn-e Maryam is by Mirza Ghalib who called out to the saviour in this enduring couplet: Ibn-e Maryam hua kare koi / Mere dukh ki dawa kare koi (Let there be a Son of Mary / To find a cure for my grief)

And there is Ghalib again invoking the life-giving figure of Christ in this lesser-known couplet: Lab-e-Isa ki jumbish karti hai gahvara-jambani / Qayamat kushta-e-laal-e-butan ka khwab-e-sangin hai (The lips of Christ quiver like a rocking cradle / Apocalypse is the terrifying dream of the killing of the jewels of the beloved).

Darshan Singh Duggal wrote an entire poem entitled Ibn-e Maryam describing Jesus as rooh ki azmat ka aina (“the mirror reflecting the greatness of the soul”), ahinsa ka payami (“the messenger of non-violence”), the one who gladly wore the crown of thorns upon his head: Teri himmat muskurai ranj-o gham ke daar pe / Tera azm-e sarfaroshi rooh ke maidan mein (Your courage smiled at the scaffold of grief and sorrow / You had the courage to lay down your life in the field of life).

The Urdu poet, forever subversive, forever looking for new ways to invoke old icons is irresistibly drawn to the figure of Christ on the cross as this verse by Saif Zulfi demonstrates: Phaila tha masih-e-waqt ban kar / Simta to saleeb ho gaya hai (When he scattered he was like the Messiah of his Time / When he gathered, he became a crucifix).

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Contemporary Nepali literature: Fiction — the short story

Nepali short story has achieved its present state of development in shorter time than other genres. This area of literature has already been enriched by a number of classic world-class short stories. The contribution of the figures such as Guru Prasad Mainali, Pushkar Samser Rana, Posan Pande, Indra Bahadur Rai, Biseswor Prasad Koirala, Bhimnidhi Tiwari, Bhawani Bhikshu, Paarizaat can hardly be exaggerated. The short story writers like Ramesh Bikal, Parashu Pradhan, Sanat Regmi, Dhruba Sapkota, Shailendra Sakar, Nayan Raj Pandey, Benju Sharma, Sita Pandey and their peers are those well esteemed writers who join the past with the present. These writers have written stories of artistic intent with themes related to Nepal and Nepali’s cultural life and have made short stories even popular among Nepali people.

In the ’60s Nepali stories saw a change in their characterization and tone. It was the most influential movement Teshro Aayam (The Third Dimension) that has its impact on short stories too. Indra Bahadur Rai, one of the trios to launch the movement is a very innovative short story writer. Although the Third Dimension triggered an intellectual debate in literary circles and provided a stimulus to Nepali literature, it could not produce a generation to follow it. So its impact gradually wore off. Indra Bahadur Rai has come up with Leela Lekhan (Leela Writing). It’s a literary theory to approach literary works and a philosophy in itself. His Kathputaliko Man (The Heart of a Puppet) is the first collection of short stories based on Leela Lekhan. Some writers are putting it into their works successfully.

Realism has been the sustained base of Nepali short stories from the past to the present. Other trends include progressive ideology, psychological realism and experimentalism. Leela lekhan and other post modernist experiments operative in the latest decade seem to shake realism. Writers are breaking away from the established norms and values and are seeking to explore new heights and new horizons. This group of writers has been providing Nepali readers with thoroughly new texts. Village life, life in Kathmandu and Darjeeling, the lives of women in a male-dominated society, caste, class, and ethnic relations, the Gurkha soldier, poverty, corruption and most recently the impact of technological development on life have been the recurring themes of Nepali short stories.

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The Orange County writer who saved Vietnam’s wartime literature, poem by poem, dies

When the Communist forces pushed into Saigon in the final days of the Vietnam War, Vo Phien sensed that his country’s past was about to be erased. Books would be burned, history lessons rewritten, entire cities stripped of their names.

Fearful of what was to come, he resolved to collect and preserve literary treasures, essays that had appeared in newspapers and magazines, books that might soon be banned, even diaries — anything that captured the raw emotions and nervous energy of wartime.

What emerged years later, after he landed in America as a refugee with little more than his wife and teenage daughter, is a volume of Vietnamese writings that otherwise might have vanished.

Vo, a prolific Vietnamese writer himself who made a living crunching numbers for the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Assn., died Tuesday at a medical facility in Santa Ana. He was 89, though in Vietnamese culture he was considered to be 90 based on the lunar calendar.

Among Vietnamese Americans, Vo is considered one of the diaspora’s towering literary minds, someone with an eye for the melancholy of the era, a writer who captured the rich detail of the culture, Vietnamese village life and the war itself.

But it was the exhaustive collection “Van Hoc Mien Nam, Tong Quan,” an overview of South Vietnamese literature from 1954 to 1975, that endeared him to fellow expatriates. The book featured the work of more than 200 authors and documented the period’s artistic and literary movements. Its 1999 debut was followed by six other books exploring genres such as poetry and plays.

Born Doan The Nhon on Oct. 20, 1925, Vo grew up in Binh Dinh, a province in Central Vietnam. By the time he was 20, he had joined the anti-French revolutionary movement but became disenchanted with communism and went to work in the Ministry of Information for the Republic of Vietnam.

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Book Review: She Wore Red Trainers by Na’ima B. Roberts

By Mitali Chakravarty

She Wore Red Trainers

 

Title: She Wore Red Trainers
Author: Na’ima B. Roberts
Publisher: Kube Publishing Children’s Books
Published in 2014
Total number of pages: 261
Price: US$ 12.95
ISBN 978-1-84774-065-6

 

 

Published in 2014, She Wore Red Trainers by Na’ima B. Roberts is a young adult novel set in South London. The arena is a Muslim community that is closely knit and believes Islam to be the saving grace in a world devoid of morality, where only married love is ‘halal’ and therefore acceptable and 18-year-olds are encouraged to succumb to their ‘emotional’ needs and tie the knot. As one of the characters, Auntie Azra, contends,

‘…if a young person feels that they are physically and emotionally ready to be in a relationship, Islam encourages them to do it the right way, with honour. Why do we see nothing wrong with 13-year-olds having sex — which they do — but have such a problem with the idea of an 18 or 19 year old getting married?’

Perhaps, this is a valid concern in a society where dating is the norm from early teens.

The hero Ali and the heroine Amirah are 18 and live by Islamic precepts. They are different from others in their community at the start of the novel as they have dreams of doing something beyond marriage. Amirah feels, ‘If there is one thing I’ve learnt in my short time on earth, it is you don’t have to look, behave or think like everyone else to achieve. Just be sincere, work hard…’ Through the course of the novel the youngsters, in the tradition of Young Adult fiction, journey to a discovery – in this case, ‘halal’ (or accepted) practices of Islam suit them the most.

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Han Kang: ‘If I was 100% healthy I couldn’t have become a writer’

Han Kang is a South Korean writer whose novels in translation include Human Acts and The Vegetarian – for which she won the 2016 International Man Booker prize. Her latest work, The White Book, is a moving autobiographical meditation on loss and grief.

Your new book tells the story of your sister who died two hours after she was born. What made you want – or feel able – to write about that now?
I didn’t plan to write about my elder sister. I was raised by my parents who couldn’t forget her. When I was writing Human Acts, there was a line of dialogue: “Don’t die. Please don’t die.” It was strangely familiar and it hovered inside me. Suddenly I discovered that it was from my mother’s memory: she told me she kept saying those words repeatedly to the sister who had died before I was born.

You write about how you had “been born and grown up in the place of that death”. How did it affect you growing up?
It was not just about the loss. It was about how precious we are. My parents told my brother and me: “You have been born to us in such a precious way and we have waited for you for a long time.” But there was grief as well. It was a mixture of mourning and a sense of precious life.

You acknowledge in the book that if your mother’s first two babies hadn’t died, you and your brother wouldn’t have been conceived. How does that feel?
When my mother was pregnant with me, she was very sick, so she was taking lots of medication. And because she was so weak, she considered abortion. But then she felt me move inside her and decided that she would give birth to me. I think that the world is transient and I was given this world by luck.

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Satyajit Ray’s Prof. Shonku is ready for the big screen

Satyajit Ray’s eccentric character is being turned into a film by his son Sandip.

When Sandip Ray read the first draft of his father’s stories based on fictional scientist Professor Shonku in 1961, he was not even 10 years old. The character appeared to him a “bit eccentric and over the top.”

Soon after the stories on the old scientist created by Satyajit Ray were published in a Bengali periodical, accolades in the form of letters and phone calls started coming in.

Five decades later, Professor Trilokeshwar Shonku retains undiminished appeal, prompting Sandip Ray to bring the character to life on the big screen.

The film, Professor Shonku O El Dorado, produced by SVF Entertainment, one of eastern India’s largest production houses, is likely to hit the screens by the end of 2018.

“I have been thinking about making a film on Professor Shonku for a long time. With so many developments in the visual effects field, I think this is the right time,” Mr. Ray said. The film is based on one of the spell-binding stories in the Professor Shonku series, called ‘Nakur Babu O El Dorado’.

The main character, Professor Shonku, is a scientist-inventor, and along with the visual effects, the plot takes the audience to the forests of South America. The bilingual production in Bengali and English will be shot in both West Bengal and Brazil.

The director has made a number of films on Feluda, the iconic detective, and another of Satyajit Ray’s creations. The new venture will be both a “challenge and a nice change of pace after so many Feluda films,” he says.

Ray created Feluda, inspired by Sherlock Holmes, giving the character a resemblance to everything about the muse: physical features, methods and the chronicling of his adventures. But Professor Shonku is different. He is inspired by George Edward Challenger, better known as Professor Challenger, also created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Professor Shonku is an eccentric inventor, living in Giridih with his servant Prahlad and cat Newton.

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Call for submissions: The Best Asian Travel Writing 2019

The Best Asian Travel Writing series is the first of its kind, showcasing Asia’s finest travel writing. This second edition of TBATW is due for publishing in 2019.

We are looking for submissions from travel writers. The edition will choose the best twenty or so pieces from the submissions. By ‘Asian travel writers’, we mean all travel writers who belong to the continent of Asia, including the Middle East (West Asia).

We aim to amplify the voices of Asian writers in the field of travel writing and while priority will be given to authors who come from Asian countries, non-Asian authors who have resided in and written extensively about an Asian country will also be considered.

TBATW will include a wide variety of work that will capture the wonder, humour, fear and joy that greets us all every time when we travel. Importantly, it will also capture the frisson of excitement and uncertainty in the air when we embark on a journey to a new place, or even to a familiar one.

TBATW aims to corral stories on nature/conservation, cultural history, sociological and anthropological manifestations, the outdoors and adventure, gastronomy, and any other compelling idea you think that would meld into the edition and add to its freshness. Continue reading


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‘Our grandchildren refuse to read in their mother tongue’

Dibyajyoti Sarma in conversation with renowned Bengali author Nabaneeta Dev Sen for Sakal Times.

Renowned Bengali author Nabaneeta Dev Sen and illustrator Proiti Roy were the winners of the second edition of the Big Little Book Awards 2017. Instituted by Parag, an initiative of Tata Trusts, the awards were announced on the closing day of Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai Lit Fest last Sunday.

A first-of-its-kind in India, the Big Little Book Awards seek to honour authors and illustrators who have contributed to the world of children’s literature. For authors, the focus is on one Indian language every year. The first edition of the awards focused on Marathi. This year, nominations were invited for authors writing for children in Bengali. The illustrators’ entries however were not limited to any language.

This year’s winner for children’s literature in Bengali, Nabaneeta Dev Sen has been writing for children since 1979. A feminist author, she has also written widely for adults spanning across several genres — novels, travelogues, short stories and plays.
Sakal Times spoke to Nabaneeta Dev Sen on the eve of her winning the award. Edited excerpts from the interview.

Bengali has a long history of children’s literature. How has it evolved?
Bengali children’s literature started with Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in the 19th century with tiny stories for children in his first Bengali wordbook for children, Varna Parichaya. Bangla children’s literature started with strong roots in Bengal. Upendrakishore Ray wrote Bangla children’s fables that we grew up on and my granddaughter also knows, although she does not read Bangla. Sayajit Ray, Upendrakishore’s grandson made his first classic children’s film Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne based on his grandfather’s short story.

Our children’s literature developed on its own with local fables, fairy tales, funny stories, and ghost tales, etc from the villages. And with endless tales from Sanskrit classics, Bengali children grew up on our own literary imagination for a long time, but soon the adventure stories and detective stories began to appear, whose basic idea was Western, but the story materials hundred per cent Bangla. Our generation knew Western stories along with the Bangla ones not only because there were many English medium schools in the cities, but also because the standard of teaching English was high in the Bengali medium schools as well.

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