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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.


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Short story: The Dog Catchers by Mir Arif

The old city rises out of the mist on the Buriganga River on a cold wintry morning. Slowly, it gropes its way into the many byzantine alleys that are proverbial for their lost tales and histories. After a long, chequered life, these alleys still contain old houses with frieze cornices, fretted eaves and worn out wooden doors and casements; mosques with egg-shaped domes and towering minarets; centuries-old red forts; kattras and landing ghats — all witness to many generations of local and foreign rule.

The alleys of this part of the city are packed with people and shabby tea stalls, groceries and trinket-selling vendors. Houses with one or two feet frontage scrabble for the sun all year round. Throughout the winter their residents come out on the street to gather in the narrow, twisted alleys, to squat by small fires. Children hopscotch all day and chase after stray dogs that are periodically inoculated by dog catchers.

Today is such a dog inoculation day. A small group of dog catchers gathers at the intersection of Dhakeshwari Temple Road. A faded blue jeep waits for them. They carry odd instruments: three hand nets with wooden handles and large hoops; a long pincer that closes on hinges made of iron clamps; and an obsolete rifle equipped with darts to tranquilize dogs that bark too much or are identified as disease-stricken.

There are five dog catchers in the group, all wearing white caps with an embossed seal on the front panel that reads: Mosquito Repelling Department. Since the city is yet to diversify its Animal Control Department, which is supposed to respect differences between the canine and the mosquito world, these men will always masquerade as catchers of the entire animal kingdom, except their own species. The youngest one in the group is a little boy in grey sweater, who carries a frayed leather bag with many pockets. Each of them is full of syringes and vaccine-filled vials that will inoculate dogs against rabies. The little boy seems to be excited and hoots like an owl. The eldest, the leader of the group — a middle-aged man with a thick beard — hushes the boy, slapping the back of his head, ‘Save it for when you notice a dog, you little punk!’ The other dog catchers, of mixed ages, notice it and remain silent; they haven’t been able to rub the sleep from their eyes yet.

A small crowd, amused by the dog catchers’ instruments and the little boy’s hooting, swirls around them like bees. They swarm the group on all sides until the blue jeep driver revs up the engine and whooshes past them. But before it reaches the next bend that leads to the Lalbagh Fort, a three-and-a-half-centuries-old architecture, the driver stops the car. The little boy in grey sweater hoots cheerfully as he spots two half-asleep dogs lying curled up on the pavement.

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After decades of dwarfs and elves, writers of color redefine fantasy

(Courtesy The Christian Science Monitor)

N.K. Jemisin, the first black writer to win the Hugo Award for best novel, packs a powerful idea into a few lines of dialogue in “The Fifth Season,” in which an otherworldly woman’s search for her daughter resonates with the emotions of African-Americans after the Civil War desperate to reunite families ravaged by slavery.

“There’s a hole, a gap,” Ms. Jemisin writes. “In history.”

History suffers when perspectives are left out, Jemisin points out. The same may be said of literature. After decades of dwarves, elves, and other Norse-based mythology, the world of fantasy is changing, incorporating the myths and legends of cultures around the world.

While the field was largely dominated by white men in decades past, today diverse writers are bringing new voices to the conversation, imagining futures based on more inclusive readings of the past, and creating multiethnic worlds that can help people understand their own. Certainly, speculative fiction writers since at least Octavia Butler – the first science-fiction writer to win a MacArthur grant – have looked beyond Europe for inspiration. But no longer can they be dismissed as niche. From the $1 billion-plus box office of “Black Panther,” directed by Ryan Coogler, to this spring’s breakout debut novel, “Children of Blood and Bone,” by Nigerian-American author Tomi Adeyemi, audiences and readers are flocking to well-drawn worlds inspired by African and Asian countries.

Read More at this link