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Short story: The Red Floor by Shahbano Alvi

I look around and find myself in a big room with white walls and a red sparkling floor. I love it and secretly want to put my cheek next to it, to feel its cool, red surface. It is a room that I am going to share with my aunt and her daughter. For the next three years I am going to live with them. What fun! Everything is so different here. I don’t miss home at all. And tomorrow I will see my new school too!

♠♠♠

It’s my first day in school. I have never seen such a huge school building before. They tell me it is a hundred and ten years old. The staircase that goes up to our classroom is in a dark tower with a tiny yellow bulb fighting a losing battle with the darkness all day long. I get a magical, frightening feeling going up them, as if I am in a storybook castle.

My English teacher, Miss Tring, is very dainty with china blue eyes that sparkle dangerously when she is angry. Miss Wilson is Irish with sooty blue eyes and the loveliest smile till she is offended; she is our head mistress and also our Mathematics teacher. The Science teacher is Miss O. Massey, a Goan Indian. I love her dark skin and tired beady eyes.

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Book Review: Reclamation Song by Jhilmil Breckenridge

Reclaiming the Power of the Feminine

Reviewed by Soni Somarajan

Reclamation Song cover

Title: Reclamation Song
Author: Jhilmil Breckenridge
Publisher: Red River
Pages: (Paperback) 100
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Holding Reclamation Song in my hands is sheer joy – here, at last, is a book of poetry made beautifully, an object of art in itself. Much thought is given to the cover design, the choice of paper, and the font – in this case, a Fell Type. The publisher, Red River, seems to have insight into how poets would love their books to be designed, evocative of the content as well as the fine delicateness of poetry itself. Thanks to Jhilmil Breckenridge, the poet who is also a painter, the illustrations in the book complement a poetic landscape that refuses to wear off days after.

The 55 poems in Reclamation Song are anything but ‘let it be light, it should float’ kind that Jhilmil aspires to, because the personal tragedy and anguish – the crux anchoring this collection – is of an enormous scale. The verse may be light but the effect is anything but floating, the weight of angst becoming our own – threatening to undo the objectivity of a review. For a debut collection, it has everything going for it – including a glowing introduction by the Master himself, Keki Daruwalla, who terms it ‘solid poetry grounded in pain’. Also, add a cluster of luminous blurbs from the who’s who in the world of letters.

Divided into three sections, we can easily say the first, “Overtures” hinges on the autobiographical – a diverse terrain: separation from children, graveyards, being born dusky, the mother’s influence, a lost childhood, abuse, longing, meeting expectations, and relationship dynamics. One begins to picture a comfortable couch, each poem a session of opening up – the release of the memories, vulnerability subject to public gaze, the poetry an attempt in and becoming the catharsis.

In “Letter to Liam”, notice the contrast between ‘I feared for your life and I let go’ and the delicateness of ‘grass and the daisies’. We focus on the poet’s earnest efforts for control over the turn of events as recalled from memory, the loss of her children. In the light of past events, note the second stanza’s ‘I love you more than words can express’ escalating into a superlative trope, ‘like an endless daisy chain’ – the mother’s love rendered in an unusually higher register, disguising a scream of helplessness. In “Love and Other Stories”, love of another kind, bruised by life’s experiences, comes full circle, inwards: ‘So now the safest place for my heart/ is with me. It beats a triumphant song…’

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10 great reads from the feminist lesbian sci-fi boom of the 1970s

(From Literary Hub. Link to the complete article given below)

When I was a little girl with little crutches and braces, science fiction was the only place I saw disability represented in a positive way. Of course, the characters weren’t named as disabled. They were humans adapted for high-G worlds who couldn’t exist back on Earth without an assistive exoskeleton or aliens who had to use adaptive breathing mechanisms because their world had a methane-based atmosphere. These characters could be benevolent space farers, evil pirates bent on the pillage of our planet, or just regular people trying to make a living mining in the outer rim asteroid belts. They could be anything and I grabbed hold of that.

I kept reading science fiction. Sturgeon’s story “Affair with a Green Monkey” spoke to my still unnamed lesbian self, the ultimate heroism of Heinlein’s Podkayne and L’Engle’s Meg helped me become sturdy in a world that didn’t expect that of me, and the integrity of LeGuin’s characters (Semley!) has served me well for 50 years.

It was the mid-70s, and I was in my mid-twenties—immersing myself in feminism and coming out—when (from my point-of-view) women, often lesbians, simply took over science fiction. Women had always been there, but the sheer volume of mind-twisting feminist plots and not-creepy lesbian characters on bookstore shelves was heady stuff. By the 80s I was part of a feminist bookstore, and you bet I expanded and carefully curated our science fiction section with great joy. It was as if I and this genre that had supported me most of my life were evolving together. My own bookshelves, despite many moves and purges, are still filled with books from those times. They’re piled around me while I write. Here, I’m going to mostly choose the most forgotten. (Readers will be pissed about the ones I leave out; heck, I’m already mad at myself.)

Read more at the Lit Hub link here


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Poetry: I Don’t Know the Word for Depression in Mandarin by Vanessa Crofskey

I Don’t Know the Word for Depression in Mandarin by Vanessa Crofskey

Vanessa Crofskey

Vanessa Crofskey is a mixed race Chinese poet, born and raised in New Zealand, who misses Malaysia often. Her writing has appeared in Cahoodadoodling, Uptalk Mag, Kate Mag, Dear Journal and The Machinery. She has performed across Auckland, and was the 2015 UoA’s Slam Champ. Her work is introspective, identifying everyday racism, diaspora and what it means to search for home.


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Vertebrate Publishing’s new climb: Bringing adventuring women into the picture

(From Publishing Perspectives. Link to the complete post given below)

The UK’s Vertebrate Publishing is an independent house that focuses on mountain biking and climbing—sports found near its base in Sheffield. And its managing director, Jon Barton, can describe Vertebrate in a way that few publishers today might be able to match: the house has a strong, stable consumer base of male readers.

But given current events, Barton is heading down a new path in his trail-fans’ title list.

Waymaking, an anthology about women’s outdoor adventuring, is a new release set for October 4.

The book is edited by Claire Carter, Helen Mort, Heather Dawe, and Camilla Barnard, and it’s about “redressing the balance of gender in outdoor adventure literature” according to the company’s promotional material.

With writings from Katie Ives, Bernadette McDonald, Sarah Outen, Anna McNuff, filmmaker Jen Randall, and other accomplished women adventurers, the book is meant to jibe with “an era when wilderness conservation and gender equality are at the fore.”

In Publishing Perspectives’ exchange with Barton, our first question was whether the anthology, rather than being a one-time token event, marks a new direction he intends to pursue.

“A very big yes,” he says. “Mountaineering literature specifically, and adventure lit in general, is horribly underrepresented by women.”

“Some of this has to do with strong female role models arriving late in the day,” Barton says, “so their story—and stories they’re inspiring—are still evolving.

“And a lot of it has to do with publishing and market habits. Waymaking is a stepping stone along the way for us.”

Read more at the Publishing Perspectives link here


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The legendary Iranian poet who gives me hope

(From Lit Hub. Link to the complete article given below)

I grew up in a house with very few books, but there was one that came with my family from Iran and never let me go: a slender, battered book of poetry my mother displayed on the mantle, next to photographs of our family and the country we’d been forced to flee. The cover showed a woman with kohl-lined eyes and bobbed hair, and the Persian script slanted upwards, as if in flight from the page. That book wasn’t an object or even an artifact but an atmosphere. Parting the pages released a sharp, acrid scent that was the very scent of Iran, which was also the scent of time, love, and loss.

I wouldn’t know this for a long time, but Forugh Farrokhzad, the author of that book, died in a car crash eleven years before my family left Iran for America. She was just 32 and when she died she was the country’s most notorious woman. Her poems were revolutionary: a radical bid for self-expression and democracy written in a time and place which showed little tolerance for either, particularly when women voiced the desire for them.

Like the thousands of other Iranians who left Iran in the late 1970s, my family escaped the country in a hurry. It was 1978, a year on the edge of political upheaval. Soon there would be gunfire and tanks and dead bodies heaped in the streets. In 1978 no one could know that, but many people—especially the poets and artists—sensed it.

That was almost 40 years ago. I was five, and yet the details are strangely vivid: my grandmother sitting me on her lap to watch the pop diva Googoosh on television while my mother packed our suitcases. It was winter, and the snow was falling fast that night in Tehran. “We’ll be back soon,” my mother kept saying, but something in her made her walk over to the bookshelf and pick up her favorite book—a book of poems by Forugh. Something in her must have known she would need it.

Read more at the Lit Hub link here


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Book Review: The Circle of Life and Other Stories by Haimanti Dutta Ray

Reviewed by Nilesh Mondal

The Circle of Life and Other Tales

Title: The Circle of Life and Other Tales
Author: Haimanti Dutta Ray
Publisher: Locksley Hall Publishing (LLP), 2018
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Considering it is her debut book, the author writes The Circle of Life and Other Stories with a wild abandon and an almost childlike glee, which becomes both the boon and a bane for this collection. What you first notice in these stories are their characters; most of the characters are well fleshed-out, relatable and carry the general essence of being a Bengali in their subtle habits and mannerisms. The author uses her understanding of the Bengali culture to its fullest while drawing out her characters, giving them voices which are at times unique, at times a reverberation of how the community functions.

‘The Final Curtain’ talks about the famed theatre circuit of Kolkata and one man’s journey through life and later, death on the stage. Another story, ‘Mimesis’, features a man and woman who love each other but never really learn how to understand and navigate through the subtleties of their relationship, leading to a tragic, if not unpredictable, conclusion. The characters in both stories, although entirely different from each other in behaviour, hold the same pattern of being souls who live in the present but have their roots stuck somewhere firmly in the past, quite like the city in which these stories are set. Not only are the characters relatable but also the struggles they go through. Whether it’s the marital problems that the characters in ‘Mimesis’ try to deal with or the themes of mortality and loss in ‘The Final Curtain’, the grief and guilt that the characters struggle with remind readers of their own lives. In doing so, the stories become less of fiction and more of a slice from our everyday existence, fragile to a fault and fraught with problems, but with hope and empathy as their saving grace at the end of each day. Her description of the pousmela, the Bengali fair celebrating spring, or the artworks of Rabindranath and Abanindranath Tagore, evoke a sense of deep nostalgia in every Bengali reader, at the same time bringing to the non-Bengali reader a taste of the culture.

However, the characters are only part of the larger stories, which unfortunately suffer repeatedly from other factors. These are largely bad pacing and the conclusions that neither befit the beginnings nor do justice to the erratic assembly of characters. ‘Wait Until Dark’, for example, starts off as a whodunit but eventually devolves to something that can hardly be taken seriously by the end. The endings of most stories are disappointing, building the narrative to a point where it can’t carry through its own momentum. The characters have similar voices, a problem that becomes all the more evident because the stories showcase a wide variety of people from various facets of life, and who are therefore, expected to speak differently.

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Book review: To My Violin by Geeta Varma

Musical Notes from a Courtyard Corner

Reviewed by Shikhandin

To My Violin

To My Violin – Geeta Varma

Title: To My Violin
Author: Geeta Varma
Publisher: Kavya-Adisakrit
Pages: 40

There are some women who wear their accomplishments like jasmine strings looped into their hair. When they pass by, you get a waft of mild perfume, that’s all. It seems to matter little whether you noticed or not. At day’s end, they will take off the flowers without a thought; self-effacing, no doubt, but what they create – their offerings of the day – linger, though not in a demanding kind of way. If you stop to observe, watch, hear or read, you would know how the quietest of voices can move in the smallest, and most immeasurable of ways.

Reading To My Violin, a slim offering of poems, in the light of a night lamp, in a room where we shut the summer out by artificial means, and that means also the sounds and scents of a summer night, I feel her gentle chiding in the very first poem. It’s an untitled poem of ten short lines that remind me of the hypocrisies sitting skin to skin in our society.

In “1961 The Refugee Colony”, Varma sketches exactly that, seven stanzas in swift strokes. What spreads out in the double page is not a pattern of words but complete scenes from a panel of miniature paintings. When you lift your eyes to the top of the page you see a solitary line, a caption of sorts, floating in white space: ‘Some pictures remain…’ The next poem is also dated – “1965 Back in Kerala”. It’s as if Varma had travelled to the place where she had been a tourist watching the refugees in their colony and now is back again in her home state. Here too are pictures that remain. Specifically, of two women characters, one ‘a small figure, small face, small eyes behind thick/ glasses’, and the other who ‘was huge/ and filled the doorway! /she had a loud voice too’. Both loved to feed sweets and other things cooked lovingly.  But while the first, the one in the refugee colony had a secret, Varma’s Ammooma in Kerala was confidently visible, just like the ‘huge bindi/ on her forehead’. One can’t help but ponder – is there a link between the two poems. The unsaid is unsettling.

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Book Review: Elixir by Sinjini Sengupta

Reviewed by Dr Usha Bande

ELIXIR

Title: Elixir
Author: Sinjini Sengupta
Publisher: Readomania Publishing, 2017
Price: INR 250/-

 

When a debut novel grips your imagination and disturbs you for long after you have put it down, it certainly is a work to reckon with. Sinjini Sengupta’s Elixir belongs to this category. It grasps the fine line between dream and reality, light and darkness, and life and death to expose the turbulent psyche of its protagonist, Manisha. The novel’s subtitle succinctly classifies it as “A Dream of a Story” and “A Story of a Dream”.  Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, A Dream within a Dream highlights the unreality of this world as ‘Maya’ (illusion, a dream) that is suggestive of the two worlds Manisha inhabits. Yet, to read Elixir as a dream-novel would be to limit its scope. To me, it is the story of the mysteries of the human mind told with masterly strokes. A whole lot of complexity comes to the fore and the novel turns out to be both delirious and dreary, constantly vacillating between the nebulous and the luminous.

In a way, Elixir is a quest novel about the protagonist’s journey to grapple with her self. In the bargain she loses her equilibrium and slides into neurosis. She is not psychotic, but she could well be a border-line case. The beginning encapsulates the problem of marital incompatibility and discord with the resultant silence leading to other complications. The labyrinthine structure is woven around the victim-protagonist and the plot navigates us through the work-a-day life of Manisha Roy, an efficient and award-winning executive vis-à-vis Manisha, the unfulfilled wife and dreamer in search of “pure happiness”.

What is this “pure happiness” she seeks? Do her dreams provide her an escape route from her agonizing existence? Will she find inner peace? A reader has to make his/her way through ominousness, sadness and mystery and get answers to these questions.

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Book excerpt: The Driftwood by Pratima Srivastava

Driftwood

The winter this year had knocked in early. It was mid-November and the chilly mornings had now become foggier.  The crowd of morning walkers in the park behind the Joshi home had thinned considerably over the week.

The bell in the old church rang five times to signify the hour of the day. Shweta’s granny had been up much earlier though. An early riser all her life, here at Shashank’s place, she found it difficult to lie in bed after five. Nonetheless, she forced herself to be under the bright maroon quilt, keeping her eyes closed, as she knew that if she switched on the light, Shashank, sleeping in the adjacent room, would be up as his sleep would be disturbed by the light.

But Shashank had been awake long since. For an hour after midnight, he had been sitting in his bed gazing outside. The silhouette of the trees against the dimming sky had been swaying to and fro. A little afar, an uneasy silence brooded over the cluster of shanties beyond the road. Night never fully descended on the haphazard row of a dozen odd houses sprung over a piece of wasteland. With the nights becoming longer and cooler, some of the inhabitants preferred to sit by the fire and gossip the cold night away. Harsher the weather, greater the buzz; such was the norm. For Shashank, however, sleep was at a premium that night. During such hours of profound aloofness, he would become restless and feel as if he had been invaded, torched and shelled by an army of memories. They descended upon him from all sides, coiling around him, like a famished python, tightening its hold if the prey twitched even a muscle.

Memories of Udit were not letting Shashank sleep. Udit was lurking in his mind, playing hide and seek, a game that he so enjoyed as an infant. Shashank could almost see him—a lean figure, brushing his teeth, not caring to close the tap; leaving his wet, crumpled towel in a heap on the bed after a bath; one slipper lying  upturned here and the other flung away no one knew where. Shashank could almost hear the faint sound of the refrigerator door being opened. Stealing goodies from the fridge in the still of the night was a habit that stayed on with Udit, till the day he left home, maybe even now, who knows ….

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