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?

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A Nobel laureate, a legend and a writer par excellence who can perhaps only be imitated but never surpassed — Rabindranath Tagore lived and wrote more than a century ago. Yet, he lives on through his works and becomes the nodal point of festivals, arguments and awards.

Tagore founded the University of Shantiniketan, which he named Visva Bharati. Tagore himself gives us the purpose of having this institution:“Visva Bharati represents India where she has her wealth of mind which is for all. Visva Bharati acknowledges India’s obligation to offer to others the hospitality of her best culture and India’s right to accept from others their best.” 

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Tagore, Gandhi and Kasturba Gandhi at Shantiniketan

By Sohana Manzoor

From her fifth-floor apartment window Neera could see the roof-top of the three-storied building that stood at some distance. She looked at the sun-drenched houses in the winter noon and wondered listlessly if people still used such gigantic mosquito-curtains like the one drying on the roof of the next-door. It looked like some green magic net big enough to catch a genie. And what were in those jars? Pickles, perhaps? Or maybe guava jelly? The child in her heart gave a shout of glee and, for a moment, she thought she had a whiff of her grandmother’s guava jelly emanating from the kitchen. But her grandmother had died years ago, and the house where she had lived was gone too.

IMG_0786The large pre-Pakistan era house that was her Nanabari, her maternal grandfather’s home, had been given to developers some years ago. While Neera could understand the practical reasons, her heart cried incessantly at the loss. The cluster of coconut trees standing at the bedroom-window of Neera’s apartment often made her sadder than ever even though she also considered herself luckier than most people of Dhaka where it was difficult indeed to get a breath of fresh air. But at her Nanabari, there were four such coconut trees. Images from her childhood when her uncles and aunts had made watches and spectacles for her with the tough and shiny dark green coconut leaves stood out fresh in her mind.

The S.E.A. Write Award (South East Asian Writers Award) has been revived after a three-year break with three writers from Singapore selected for the honour. The three winners have been selected for the three years, 2016-2018, when this prestigious ASEAN award was put on hold to mourn the passing of the late King Bhumibol.

Ovidia Yu gets the award for 2016; ChiaJoo Ming for 2017 and Peter Augustine Goh for 2018.

Yu, a writer of light detective novels set in 1930s Singapore, said, her first reaction was “amazement and disbelief… mostly because I write humorous murder mysteries and, on the literary hierarchy, that ranks far below poetry and literary novels”.

“It feels like a validation of something I deeply believe – that whatever we set out to write has first to entertain,” she added.”Reading is only a luxury we can’t afford if it’s not fun. After all, we somehow afford bubble tea and mobile phones.”

Book Review by Mitali Chakravarty

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Title: Not Native

Author: Murali Kamma

Publisher: Wising Up Press, 2019

Not Native is a collection of short stories by Murali Kamma, an accomplished short story writer and the managing editor of Khabar, an American Indian magazine. The stories are of “Immigrant Life In An In-Between World” we are told in a subtitle on the title page of the book.

What is this ‘in-between world‘? It is the world created by migrants to America between 1983 and 2018 — both in America and India. Like the characters in his stories, Kamma with these narratives “straddles” between his country of birth, India, and the country he migrated to, America.

Kamma has divided his book into four parts — perhaps to focus on subjects that he felt were important for the immigrant population. The first part, ‘Sons and Fathers’ has four stories centering around the topic mentioned in the sub-heading. They address unique situations; in one the abandoned son on a holiday to India rediscovers his father in an ashram; in another death rituals of his father make the immigrant who returns to India feel more isolated and there is yet more tellings on the different worlds occupied by the fathers and sons. The one that is most poignant one, in which a bridge is built through generations, is set in US. The bridge is built with a story about the world’s oldest man and a proposed “interview” to be conducted by the granddaughter.

Introduced and translated by Pallavi Narayan

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Jonathan Urqueta

Jonathan Urqueta was born on 18 September 1991 in the Colchagua Valley, Chile. He was raised in Marchigüe, a huaso (country) village in the central region of Chile, where he learned the names of trees, got to know birds by their song, and had a hard and, at the same time fragrant, childhood soaked in criollismo (Creole). From the age of eleven he started travelling in Chile, from the south to the north, and passed through many transversal valleys, resting in some of them for a couple of years. He owes his survival to a couple of occupations that he learnt on his path. Today he works and lives in Vicuña, a town in Elqui Valley, caught in the eternal sun of the Norte Chico (small north). Always captivated by folklore and natural landscapes, regionalism and social questions, he has been writing since the age of fourteen. Urqueta has been working on publishing his poetry for the last couple of years.

As a researcher on contemporary translated texts, I was invited to participate in a prestigious two-week summer school on challenges of translation in July 2019, organised at the Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile. With my prior knowledge of Spanish and interest of many years in South American literature, this workshop gave me the perfect opportunity to delve into the beauty and strife of producing and examining translated poetry and fiction, in the esteemed company of some of the foremost, and emerging, translation studies academics and translators across continents. This is the 40th year of Chile-Singapore relations, making this text a privilege for me to pen. Cultural and literary events to bring together Chileans and Singapore residents, and to discuss pertinent issues, are being organised through the year

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.

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

Snow.

From the hills that surround the town it indifferently drifts. Upon bare soil and barren rocks, upon the base of trees, it sweeps. From my window this morning, the trees were grey, feathery and clinging like ghostly hands to the low clouds but now, in the wintry breathe of evening, they are like conquering warriors marching down shadowy slopes. My boots, hard and heavy, follow empty pavements. A car, a van, a bus, occasionally passes through our slushy streets. There is hardly a sound except for the click, click, click from the pedestrian crossing.

I’ve walked here all my life. I know every crack in the pavement, every blemish on the shop walls, every angle of the stooping buildings, every flutter of the koinobori, the carp-shaped wind-socks that now colourfully flutter high up over the gorge to mark the change of season. Hundreds there are, strung up on lines, but one has fallen far below and is stuck between two jagged rocks, one end flapping like a useless flag as the river tries to drag it away.

I’ve never left this place, this hot spring town where tourists flock like hungry gulls during the holiday season. There are better jobs elsewhere but I choose to remain a janitor at the high school. That’s all I’ve been these thirty- eight years. I’ll retire next month. They’ve kept me well past retirement age as I do a pleasing job. Now I have to go though as I’m too old.

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Nicanor Parra … courtesy Arteaga

With protests staged by environmentalists of different ages in many parts of the world, one is left wondering if this is not a major issue that needs to be addressed by the literary community over other issues as it links to our basic survival. These lines by Nicannor Parra, the famous Chilean poet, say it all.

The mistake we made was in thinking

that the earth belonged to us

when the fact of the matter is

we’re the ones who belong to the earth.

He redefined himself as an eco poet in the latter part of his career and said: “The eco-poet also works with contradiction, he defends nature, but he cannot fall into the trap of a new dogmatism. So there are some eco-poems which are apparently anti-ecological, like the following: ‘I don’t see the need for all this fuss, we all know the world is at its end.’ It must be kept in mind that any type of dogmatism, including ecological dogmatism, produces a hardening of the soul. To avoid this hardening, this new dictatorship, this new central committee, one has to denounce even ecological dogmatism. Paradoxically, this is also the soul regulating itself. The man who only affirms runs the risk of freezing up inside. Constant movement, vital motion is crucially important for me.”

So, what is eco literature? Is it the same as cli- fi ?Is it in the genre of speculative fiction or science fiction?