In conversation with author Osman Haneef, about his debut novel Blasphemy (Published by Readomania, April 2020) and his inspiration behind it all.

Osman Haneef dons many hats with equal élan. He has worked as TV actor, a strategy consultant, and a diplomatic adviser, and was selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2017. Recently, he made his debut as an author with Blasphemy.

Haneef’s debut story of a Christian boy in Pakistan accused of blasphemy is gut-wrenching and thought-provoking. As noted writer and journalist Aatish Taseer says, ‘In this novel of quiet creeping horror, Haneef forces us to confront the supreme evil that lies at the heart of Pakistan’s Blasphemy law.

Team Kitaab was in conversation with him recently, where we spoke about his debut novel, his inspiration behind it and the journey so far, before giving us a glimpse of what’s in store for his readers in future.

“Why, I wondered, while watching the leaves change colour in the fall, were there very few serious yet engaging books on love, its many moods and multiple meanings?”

From book’s Preface by Debotri Dhar

Featuring essays from prominent writers like Makarand Paranjpe, Alka Pande, Malashri Lal, Rakshanda Jalil, Mehr Farooqi and Zafar Anjum, this collection of essays on love is a much-needed read at this time when the definition of love, is being challenged.

Published by Speaking Tiger, this book gives historical and cultural perspectives on Indian love (swayamvara, arranged marriages, and desi romance); the immortal love of Radha and Krishna that transcends theology; the story of a powerful, sexually desiring and desired courtesan/nagarvadhu. The essays explore various themes like inter-religious love, love-jihad, same-sex love, a Dalit’s journey to finding love in times of dating apps etc.

Why does Hamlet dilly-dally in avenging the murder of his father? His father’s ghost clearly exhorts him to do it. He knows it is his duty and he must do it though he does not like it. 

“… O cursed spite 

That ever I was born to set it right.” 

Taking his cue from these lines, Goethe observes, “A beautiful, pure and most moral nature, without the strength of nerve which makes a hero, sinks beneath a burden which it can neither bear nor throw off; every duty is holy to him- this too hard. The impossible is required of him- not the impossible in itself, but impossible to him.” 

I find myself awakened by a sudden jerk and the ratchet of a handbrake. I look around the dark to find my colleagues sound asleep, still, snuggled up in their leather seats serving as make-shift beds. From my periphery, I sense Lakmal’s silhouette navigating his way towards me, past the heaps of camera bags dumped along the narrow aisle, the nimbleness of his feet matching his dexterity on the wheel. Both of us gesture for a smoke. He grins – milky teeth illuminating in the darkness like saltwater pearls. 

Rituparna Mahapatra in conversation with Tishani Doshi

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Photos credits: Carlo Pizzati

“Girls are coming out of the woods,/ wrapped in cloaks and hoods,/ carrying iron bars and candles/ and a multitude of scars.”

“Even those girls / found naked in ditches and wells, / those forgotten in neglected attics, / and buried in riverbeds like sediments / from a different century”.

These lines from the title poem of Tishani Doshi’s book, ‘Girls are coming out of the woods‘ in 2017, came at a time when the world, India, in particular was waiting to explode & rage at the heinousness towards the ‘female’. Doshi painted an imagery about what it meant to be a woman; the dangers of being one, on a larger canvas, talking about women brutalised and murdered ; their stories refusing to be forgotten. It touched the nerve of a society attuned to not ‘speaking out’. This book went on to be shortlisted for the Ted Hughes prize in 2018.

Book Review by Kajoli Banerjee Krishnan

usha

 

Title: Boys from Good Families

Author: Usha K.R.

Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2019

 

It was twenty-five years ago that Usha K.R. stepped into the literary world with ‘Sepia Tones’ that won the 1995 Katha Short Story Award. Her first novel Sojourn was published in 1998. Her subsequent novels The Chosen (2003), A Girl and a River (2007) and Monkey-man (2010) have been critically acclaimed.  A Girl and a River was awarded the Vodafone Crossword Prize in 2007. Amongst her other short stories are ‘Elixir’, that appeared in Boo, An Anthology of Ghost Stories and ‘The Boy to Chase the Crows Away’ that was shortlisted in the Best Asian Short Stories 2017 by Kitaab.

Usha’s fifth novel Boys from Good Families traces the story of Ashwath. Living with his parents and sister Savitri in ‘Neel Kamal’, their family home, he grows up within a conservative household in the city of Bangalore during the 1970’s and 80’s. Ashwath finds his parents rigid in their beliefs, expectations from them and his extended family dreary and claustrophobic. A romantic at heart and somewhat undecided about his future, he enjoys exploring the city and its surroundings, watching films and starts to fall in love with a remarkably capable and charming Thippy.

This phase abruptly comes to an end when his parents come to know of his affection for Thippy who lives with her family in the outhouse of ‘Neel Kamal’ and is considered a social unequal. They throw out Thippy and family.

My Fathers Son_Front Cover

 

 

Title: My Son’s Father: An autobiography

Author: Dom Moraes

Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2020

 

 

 

 

1

Almost I can recall where I was born,

The hot verandahs where the chauffeurs drowse,

Backyard dominion of the ragged thorn

And nameless servants in my father’s house…

—‘A Letter’ from Poems (1960)

 

Missing my father is my first real memory of him. The summer before he went to war he had been a loved, distant figure, sitting at evening on the verandah of our flat with a sequence of young English officers on their way to the Burma front (the poet Alun Lewis, who died there, was one of them), all inhaling the rich flesh of cigars, sipping beer, talking: not my world that summer. My world was in the oval park outside our flat in Bombay, a park eyelashed with palm trees, above which, like a school of enormous airborne white whales, barrage balloons floated. Above these the glaring sun pulsed like an eye: vultures soared up towards it on tremendous, idle wings. Down on my knees in the rough scurfy park grass, a vigilant nanny nearby, I stared at the texture of the earth, the texture of a stone, the texture of a fallen leaf, all eroded to red dust by the sun. A spy, I hovered above ants busy in the red dust; grasshoppers stilting up into the air; briefly settled, hairy flies. Vivid colours stained my eye. Behind our flat was the Arabian Sea, an ache and blur of blue at noon, purpling to shadow towards nightfall: then the sun spun down through a clash of colours like a thrown orange, and was sucked into it: sank, and the sea was black shot silk, stippled and lisping, and it was time for bed.

At morning the sea was a very pale, indolent colour, ridged with wavy lines like Greek statuary. When I woke, I went into my parents’ room. They lay in twin teak beds: above them, on a wooden stand, loomed a three-foot plaster Christ, fingers clapped to where a raw heart swelled from its chest, for my mother was religious. Sometimes on Sundays she took me to church, though my father never came. He was not religious, my mother explained mysteriously to me, because he had been educated in England.

Anyway, there they lay, my gods, tranquil and powerful, in charge of the day ahead, my father reading the newspapers, my mother varnishing her nails. I ran to my mother first, since except in moments of stress I was gruff and shy with my father. Even so early in the day, she smelt of flowers. I buried my head between her small breasts, and was happy. Over us that summer Christ cocked an apparently benevolent eye.

The day unfolded like a year: breakfast, served silently by the bearer: scraping up cornflakes as I listened to my parents talk: shopping in the car with my mother (waiting, impatient, for her to emerge from the Army & Navy Stores, while the chauffeur strove to amuse me with funny faces): then the park with my nanny: the weeks, months, years, of one burning afternoon, breathing the turning world, vigilant: nightfall, my father on the verandah, the English officers drinking beer: bedtime, when I thought the chirping of crickets was the noise the stars made. It seemed to go on forever, before my father went to war.

Book Review by Mitali Chakravarty

Suralakshmi Villa

 

Title: Suralakshmi Villa

Author: Aruna Chakravarti

Publisher: Panmacmillan, 2020

 

In these troubled times, where exclusivity seems to be the norm, Suralakshmi Villa, a novel by Sahitya Akademi winner, Aruna Chakravarti, seems to rise like a tsunami with its syncretic lore spanning different parts of India—Delhi and Bengal, especially the hinterlands of Malda — and flooding the narrative with gems of not just culture and fantasy but also feminist and progressive concerns.

Developed out of her short story of the same name on the advice of Ruth Prawar Jhabarwala, an eminent author and the subject of Chakravarti’s PHD dissertation, the story is narrated from various perspectives. It is an interesting technique as the story rolls out different aspects of the development of women and society across almost half-a-century — from post-independence to the pre-internet days.

The first introduction to the Villa in the book is given by the youngest generation — Joymita, an avant-garde journalist. The story coils around generations of Indranath Choudhary’s clan or should one take a non- patriarchal stand and say — Suralkashmi’s family? Suralakshmi was the middle daughter of the man who build separate houses for each of his five daughters and named them after the girls. Suralakshmi was perhaps the most unusual of all the sisters and therefore a good protagonist for any novelist. Was she a feminist or did she live by her beliefs? We have to read to discover.

Chakravarti, in Jorasanko, her best- selling historical novel, took up the concept of abarodh, a kind of purdah that was practiced among women in Bengal prior to the late nineteenth- early twentieth century. In this one, she pauses a little on abarodh but introduces women who have already moved out of the confines of the purdah and have a right to decide their lives, though the less-educated and impoverished have difficulty in finding their independence. She says in an interview: “Like all my other novels Suralakshmi Villa focusses on the lives of women. It is about two sets of sisters. The first belongs to a wealthy, modern, enlightened, household of Delhi. The other, a goatherd’s daughters living in a slum in Malda, comes from the dregs of society.  But close inspection reveals that there is not much difference in their lives and fates. There is emotional violence in one world…both physical and emotional violence in the other.”