Mani Rao Portrait 2 by Tom Langdon 2.1 MBMani Rao is the author of eight books of poetry, two books in translation, and a New & Selected Poems forthcoming from Poetrywala India. She has essays and poems in numerous journals including Wasafiri, Meanjin, Washington Square, Fulcrum and West Coast Line and in anthologies from W.W. Norton, Bloodaxe and Penguin. Mani has performed at literary festivals in Melbourne, Vancouver, Hong Kong, Singapore, Chicago and New York PEN World Voices, and translations of her poems have been published in Latin, Italian, Korean, Chinese, Arabic, French and German. She was Visiting Fellow at the 2005 Iowa International Writing Program, and the 2006 University of Iowa International Programs writer-in-residence. She has an MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry) and is a PhD candidate at Duke University. has links to her work.

In this interview with Kitaab’s editor Zafar Anjum, Rao shares the story of her journey as a writer so far:

 You have an interesting name. Mani can also be read as Ma’Ni, which means ‘meaning’ in Urdu. Tell us a little bit about your name, your origins and how you came to live in Hong Kong.

In Sanskrit and related languages, ‘Mani’ means ‘gem.’ Mani is actually a part of my name ‘Nagamani,’ which means ‘snake-gem,’ or ‘the gem on the hood of a cobra.’ It comes from a dream my mother had when she was pregnant with me.

I was born in 1965, raised in India. At the time, our school only had the sciences, no humanities. Dad worked in atomic power project colonies, cosmopolitan spaces with a concentration of engineers and scientists — not unlike J.G.Ballardian locations. I had been writing since my early teen years, and was desperate to get into literature, so I went on to do a B.A. in English. Writing was my only marketable skill. I had two obvious career options—journalism, and advertising. Convinced that financial self-reliance was the most important thing for a woman in India, and expecting that advertising would be more lucrative than journalism, allow me to gain my independence faster, I joined advertising as a copywriter. After some detour, I landed in Mumbai as a copywriter, working in Trikaya (now Grey) and then, by 1992, I was associate creative director at HTA (now JWT). In the early 90s, the Indian economy was opening up to multinationals, and suddenly, one began to dream of bigger budgets and international markets. A couple of my colleagues were the pioneers, they sent telexes to ad agencies in Hong Kong, set up interviews, went there with their portfolios and found jobs! Urged by their success, I too went ‘shopping’ in 1990, to Singapore and Hong Kong, with my ad portfolio. I did not succeed right away, the gulf war was imminent, no one was hiring. Eventually – and that is another story – I moved to Hong Kong in 1993.

As the inimitable Khalil Gibran has stated, ‘Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.’ Leela Devi Paniker’s stories have that depth and pathos, the few reluctant albeit genuine smiles, the tears of grief and longing and eventually eternal hope, sprouting from the womb of the earth, whilst inducing the character(s) to move on and rediscover life, says Monica Arora in this review

Bathing-elephantsOnce in a while, there comes along such a deep-rooted and evocative piece of prose that leaves readers spellbound and mesmerized for days after putting the book away.  Leela Devi Panikar’s ‘Bathing Elephants’ has this lilting, haunting, melancholic quality that touches the deepest cockles of the heart and wrings one, inside out!

Following her debut collection of short stories entitled ‘Floating Petals’, all six tales in ‘Bathing Elephants’ are characterized by simplicity of expression and brevity. The author brilliantly conveys so much pathos and emotion in very few words and uses an easy narrative tenor throughout the manuscript.



It’s your freshman year in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, when you live with two other Indians in a one-bedroom apartment. A girl from Bombay, Radhika, and you share the bedroom while her boyfriend Rahul sleeps on the futon in the living room. He wakes up early every morning, folds the sheets away in the particleboard chest of drawers in the living room, pushes the futon upright, and smoothes out its cushions before either you or the girl are up. In the first few weeks that you live with them, before you know to stay in bed until after Radhika has taken a shower and breakfasted with him, you learn that Rahul will read quietly while waiting for her to get up. During those initial mornings, he smiles at you as you enter the living room, and hurries back to his book, and you try to be as quiet as possible as you take your cereal bowl out of the cupboard. The uneasy silence always lasts until she wakes up and joins you.

They say little to each other, lacking the coy banter you have heard between your friends and their boyfriends in Delhi. Radhika and Rahul are a solemn couple, but inseparable. Even their names sound inevitably connected—Radhika and Rahul, Rahul and Radhika. They cook together, wash dishes together, go out for study sessions and the nearby IHOP, and take all the same Engineering classes. You often try and imagine their courtship—sometimes you picture them meeting at a party thrown by one of the other Indian students. They would have been the only two to not get up and dance to the techno music. They would have remained seated the entire evening, too polite to share a couch. Later, they might have kept running into one another at different places—the library, the cafeteria, the financial aid office—until they looked for each other so much that they believed themselves in love.

Jaiwanti Dimri reviews A Box of Stolen Moments by Usha Bande. New Delhi: Lifi Publications, 2014. Rs. 160,  pp 164.

a-box-of-stolen-moments-book-84629A Book of Stolen Moments by Usha Bande is a collection of twenty one short stories that capture, or to say, click on some momentous and revealing moments in the lives of people belonging to various regions, nationalities and ethnic identities. Written in the early 1970s and 1980s, these stories were published in journals and magazines. However, the basic thematic concerns and issues addressed in these stories are still very much contemporary and contextual as they touch upon the simple yet penetrative, day-to-day realities of life in terms of the joys and pains and the twists and turns of life. Based on the ‘lived experiences, observations, reaction to and interaction with life” (Preface) by the writer’s own admission who is a fine mix of an academic scholar and creative writer, the collage of these tales unfolds the multi-faceted moods and manners of the people like the flow of the river. 

Jeet Thayil-NarcopolisFollowing on the success of its first three creative writing workshops in India, the University of East Anglia (UEA), where the United Kingdom’s oldest and highest-ranked school of creative writing is located, is organising a fourth workshop to be held in Calcutta from 28th August to 5th September 2014.

The theme of this workshop is Exploring the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction, and it will be led by Amit Chaudhuri, award-winning author and UEA Professor of Contemporary Literature, and Booker-shortlisted novelist and poet Jeet Thayil.

Shekhar Gupta’s book is a handy compendium that illustrates a tumultuous timeline, writes Pradyot Lal

Anticipating IndiaArmed with an unpretentious style and powered by the sheer pull which political anecdote and gossip has for the great Indian middle class, Shekhar Gupta has effectively sustained his column week after week. He writes on subjects as varied as the last relics of the quota raj to the decline in the fortunes of the Indian National Congress, and has sought to position himself as an involved bystander in the world around him.