A nostalgic journey with writer and Sahitya Akademi Award Winner, Ather Farooqui…

To those who can’t get entry into the regular postgraduate degree courses at JNU, even nondescript courses like the part-time Diploma in Urdu journalism or the full-time course in mass communication run in the JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) campus by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting present a window of opportunity to be a part of this great institute. It is great with regard both to work ethic and ideology. To those who wished to work hard, these courses were/are a boon, as their mere presence in JNU campus would motivate them, irrespective of whether classes were conducted regularly or whether the course had any utility.

…The idealism inculcated in JNU stays with you, it seeps into your every pore and translates into action. This is why, even now, whenever there is public outrage over unjust government policies or an act of violence, JNU students and faculty are often seen leading protests, facing police tear gas and browbeating, and generally expressing their outrage in diverse fora and on social media. However, when they leave the familiar and venture out through JNU’s gates into the wide world outside, they realize that even the train ticket back home comes at the cost of greasing someone’s palms and that corruption is omnipresent, and also that the world doesn’t set much store by JNU idealism. It is this shock that most JNUites experience when they leave their beloved campus and which is why, whenever I meet a non-JNUite, I don’t tell them that they were unfortunate to miss out on the JNU experience, but rather that they are fortunate they didn’t go to JNU—because JNU spoils you for life.

…But life has also taken its toll on JNU. Its pride in its tolerance of diversity of every kind among its faculty, administrative staff or students, whether regional, linguistic, religious or of dress, is dented every time an attempt at uniformity occurs and every time dissent is pitted against one’s loyalty to the nation. The continent in which JNU was an island is catching up with it. Luckily, JNU still has the strength to resist and retain its pride.

I joined JNU in 1986 to pursue a part-time diploma in mass media in Urdu. I hail from the sleepy town of Sikandrabad in district Buland Shahr, located some 60 km from Delhi’s Kashmiri Gate Inter-State Bus Terminus (ISBT). I don’t think that in 1986 my one-horse hometown was any different from what it had been in 1947. The privileged lifestyle now enjoyed by the elite and some sections of the middle class was then the prerogative of just a handful of families. The Delhi of 1986 was not as claustrophobically or catastrophically crowded as it is today; it was quite unorganised and dirty nonetheless, despite the fact that existing roads had been widened and some new ones built, leading up to Asiad 1982.

This year, in the Singapore Writer’s festival, one of the books  launched is a translation of Isa Kamari’s Kiswah, a novel which was created with two more in 2002 — Intercession and The Tower. While these novels focus on spiritual evolution by evolving religious lore, in two of them at least the protagonist is an architect.

So, what does architecture have in common with literature? 

Russian author Ayn Rand  found some answers in The Fountainhead (1943), where the protagonist, architect Howard Roarke moves towards her theory of Objectivism,  a theory which the author herself defined as “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” 

Do Kamari’s books, though studied in a religious light by Henry Aveling of Monash University, also subscribe to Objectivism?

By Tan Kaiyi

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Marc Nair… courtesy Marc Nair

Poet. Photographer. Singer. Bearded botak (bald man). As an artiste, Marc can be best described as a living kaleidoscope. His creative work can be hard to pin down. So far, he has written and edited twelve books of poetry, the latest being Sightlines, a collection of poems and travel photography co-created with photographer Tsen-Waye Tay. He plays with a band, Neon and Wonder, and set numerous poems to music with his band mates. He is also active in Singapore’s poetry slam scene, and participates in regular sessions at Blu Jaz Cafe.

If that’s not all, he is passionate about photography and the principal photographer of Mackerel, an online culture magazine he founded. He also collaborated with well-known Singaporean satirical personality Mr Brown in an online video that made fun of a MasterChef judge who misunderstood the nature of chicken rendang. Responding to his criticism that the chicken was not crispy enough, the song playfully (shown in the video below) corrects the judge with an appropriate understanding of the Malay delicacy:

The lines sing out:

Hello, this is not KFC,

Rendang not supposed to be crispy.

If you don’t know what is Asian food,

Don’t tekan auntie on the TV.

 

Kamila Shamsie is a British Pakistani writer who was given the German Nelly Sachs Prize.This award, named after the 1966 Nobel laureate, is given to a writer whose work shows “tolerance, respect and reconciliation”.

However, this month the award was withdrawn by the award committee for Kamila Shamsie’s support of BDS ( Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement), which opposes the long- term occupation of Palestinian lands by Israel peacefully. Hundreds of writers have protested this move.

Kamila Shamsie herself expressed regret over the committee’s recent decision:

“In the just-concluded Israeli elections, Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to annex up to one third of the West Bank, in contravention of international law, and his political opponent Benny Gantz’s objection to this was that Netanyahu had stolen his idea; this closely followed the killing of two Palestinian teenagers  by Israeli forces – which was condemned as ‘appalling’ by the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process,” she said.

Last year after the Nobel Prize was cancelled and an alternative Nobel Prize in Literature, also known as Academy Prize, was given to Marys Conde, a Guadeloupean ( a region of France in the Carribbean), this year the Nobel committee is announcing two awards as if to make up for lost time.

The award was first given in 1901, by the will of Alfred Nobel, to  “the person who, in the field of literature, produced the most outstanding work in an idealistic direction”, judged to be French poet, Sully Prudhomme, that year. Tagore, VS Naipaul, Wole Soyinka, Kenzaburō Ōe,  Toni Morrison have been among the luminaries of this award. This year the winners will be announced on Thursday 10 October, 2019.

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Money, money, money!

How much is a writer paid?

In an article in The Guardian, we are told : “Based on a standard 35-hour week, the average full-time writer earns only £5.73 per hour, £2 less than the UK minimum wage for those over 25. As a result, the number of professional writers whose income comes solely from writing has plummeted to just 13%, down from 40% in 2005.”

So, writing does not pay. Then why do writers write?

In a blog  at The Writing Cooperative, money or fame is not listed as a reason for writers to write. And yet, in a real world, writers cannot survive without money. 

But contradictions exist.

China Writer’s Association announced five winners of the highest literary award in China called the Mao Dun literary awards.

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Mao Dun

Mao Dun was the pen name of Shen Dehong, a 20th-century Chinese novelist, cultural critic, and the Minister of Culture for his country from 1949 to 1965. He initiated this award in 1982.  A four yearly affair, the prizes will be given out in Beijing this October.

The award winning novels and writers are The World by Liang Xiaosheng, The Story of Leading the Wind by Xu Huaizhong, Beishang by Xu Zechen, The Protagonist by Chen Yan and Brother Ying Wu by Li Er.

 

What are writers and artistes tweeting about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir? What is their attitude to the people in this region?

Rahul Pandita, author and conflict writer from Kashmir, tweeted that “In all, a majority of Kashmiris have no idea what abrogation of article 370 means. Argue with them for a minute and one realises they are totally ignorant. All they know is ‘India will now take away everything.’ From our sources we know NSA(National Security Agency) is aware of it. Big challenge.”

Mirza Waheed, Kashmiri writer and novelist who now lives in London, wrote, “August 11, 2019. Day 7 of Seige of Kashmir. We are not allowed to say Eid Mubarak to our families.” But is it a seige or an attempt to integrate the state into the country?

Vikram Chandra, a commonwealth prize winning American Indian novelist, wrote, “In his Aug 8 speech, PM Narendra Modi did say it was for every Indian to share the concerns of the citizens of J&K. Best way to do that today is to reach out to Kashmiris in other parts of India, spending Eid away from home. Make them feel that they ARE at home.”

Actress Shabana Azmi tweeted “Kashmiri Pandit Youth invite every Kashmiri who has been unable to travel home for Eid for a get together…”

Novelist and essayist Chetan Bhagat has taken a stand where he says, “August 5, 2019. Kashmir is finally free. Free to grow, free to make a future. #Article 370 goes. #OneCountryOneSystem.” And also, “Article 370 never gave Kashmiris freedom. It only created selfish leaders who created a terror filled society and robbed Kashmiri youth of opportunity. It is finally time for it to go. Anyone objects, tell them loudly: One Country, One System.”

By Dr Meenakshi Malhotra

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Toni Morrison

What can you say about a writer who gave a voice and identity to a whole people — a group and a community whose silences are made to speak and sing in her books? A writer whose voice rang out with passion, courage and conviction  to detail the sub-human conditions in which her people had lived?  A trailblazer whose works depicted the toils and travails of a long suppressed people whose experiences were unrecorded in history books? A writer whose passionate courage helped her to articulate her convictions about the dehumanisation of a whole race?

Morrison was born in 1931 and grew up in a family atmosphere which provided a context for arousing a keen interest in the stories, narratives, folklore, myths and rituals of the African American community. This early interest is evident in the rich oral quality of her writings, its lyrical cadences and it’s measured and “layered polyphony’’. Later, she studied English and Classical Literature from Howard University in Washington D.C. where she acquired her BA degree. This was followed by a Masters from Cornell University in 1955.

Subsequently, she taught at Howard  University for two years. She also got married to a Jamaican architect named Harold Morrison in 1958 and they had two sons, before divorcing in 1964.The next few years Morrison wrote, juggled teaching assignments and also did a twenty year stint with Random House as an Editor. This platform enabled her to identify writing talent and she was able to help many aspiring young African American writers to get published.