by Fakrul Alam
Tuesday, 10 th October 2006
The R. K. Narayan centenary conference begins fifteen minutes late (subcontinental standard conference opening time!). On stage for the inaugural session in the very impressive auditorium of the Mysore wing of the Central Institute for Indian Languages (CIIL) are representatives of the three organizers of the conference: Mr. S. Jithendra Nath of the Bangalore branch of the Sahitya Akademi, Professor Harish Trivedi, Chairperson of the Indian Association of Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (ACLALS); and Mr. B. Mallikarjun, the Assistant Director of CIIL. Mr. Nath is brief and punctilious in making his points as is Mr. Malliakarajun, both of whom are here by default, standing in for others who could not show up. Also absent is someone we were all looking forward to hearing: Keki N. Daruwalla, member of the Sahitya Akademi, representing no doubt its English language interests, and identified pithily in the conference brochure as “Eminent Poet”. It is left to Harish Trivedi to explain that he has not been well and thus could not be present. But the absentees don’t matter: Harish makes up for their inability to come and the succinctness of the other speakers— not by being long-winded (he is incapable of that!) but by giving us the perspective necessary to begin proceedings: this is R. K. Narayan’s hundredth birthday (he, died, we remember, on 13 May, 2001); Mysore, the place he has immortalized as Malgudi in his fiction is the right setting for the occasion; and his achievement is so great that it was fitting that the Akademi, ACLALS, and CIIL should have got together to organize a conference bringing together a relatively small group of Narayan devotees/scholars from all over the world and across India for a three-day conference. Harish is witty and gracious; in the course of his speech his charm seemed to have wafted to the almost ineffable allure of Narayan’s work to set participants in the right mood for all subsequent sessions.
by Fakrul Alam
SHEIKH MUJIB: TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY
By S. A. Karim. The University Press Limited, 2005. pp. 407, Tk. 500.00 ISBN 984 05 1737 6
This, surprisingly, is the first biography in English of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh, even though more 30 years have passed since he was assassinated in a bloody military coup on August 15, 1975. Known to most Bangladeshis as Bangabandhu, or friend of Bengal, a title bestowed on him by acclamation in a mammoth public meeting in Dhaka on 22 February, 1969, he was truly a man of the people, someone who had made the cause of his countrymen and women his own through endless trials and tribulations. And yet he had been assassinated in the country he had championed ceaselessly soon after it became independent. Also, he had disillusioned quite a few people in record time in governing it. How did he win the hearts of his people as “the father of the nation” and secure a place in their history as Gandhi did in India or Jinnah did in Pakistan? What caused him to slide in their esteem? But also, what was he like as a human being as well as a leader? And now that three decades have passed since his death, is it possible to arrive at a real estimate of the man and his achievements?
by Fakrul Alam
An ordinary person’s guide to empire. Arundhati Roy. New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2005.
It must have been in 1997—around the time when Arundhati Roy was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for her first and only novel The God of Small Things — that I saw her on BBC’s “Hardtalk”. The man who was hosting the show then, he with the walrus smile, beamed a question at Roy that he no doubt felt had to be answered: “And so what is your next novel going to be about?” I remember Roy, at first glance waif-like but really self-assured and full of charm that she exudes without trying, smiling and shooting back his question at him: “But what makes you think I will write another novel? I may never write fiction again. If I write anything, it will be on something that I feel strongly about. And that may be anything other than fiction.”
by Fakrul Alam
My attention was attracted by it almost as soon as I stepped out of Sydney airport and pretty soon I was doing it too—the Australian salute! The gesture consists of the fingers of your hand raised half voluntarily as if to swat away something occupying facial space and upsetting one’s mental equilibrium, but in the end the movement is obviously nothing more threatening than a half-hearted attempt to brush away the pesky, ubiquitous Australian fly. Indeed, I now realize I had seen it often in cricket broadcasts: Big Tony Greig, it is obvious, was doing it in the sidelines, while commentating, as was modestly built Rickie Ponting while taking guard, or brawny Bret Lee when darting in to bowl his lightning-quick balls. And my wife and I were going to do it again and again the three weeks we spent in Down Under Land whether in and around the cities of Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, or Brisbane, where we were to spend 21 pleasure-filled “high” Australian summer (late December to early January ) days!
by Fakrul Alam
India in Mind. Edited by Pankaj Mishra. London: Picador India, 2005
Pankaj Mishra’s anthology, Imagining India offers us twenty-five remarkable ways of looking at India, and, inevitably, imagining it. The viewers, alphabetically arranged in Mishra’s capacious collection, range from the whimsical and endearing Englishman J. R. Ackerley to the equally idiosyncratic and engaging but more famous American Gore Vidal. Chronologically, the entries span over a century; the earliest is Mark Twain’s characteristically sharp account of his visit to Bombay at the end of the 19th century to Pico Iyer’s 2003 elegant fictional ruminations on the much-traveled tourist triangle of Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra (although the extract from Vidal’s novel has him conjuring an encounter with Gautama Buddha in fifth century India). Most entries describe India in the twentieth century, encompassing turn of the century Raj, the waning days of empire, the period of transition when Indians finally took over their country, and the closing years of the last millennium when intermittently “eternal”, occasionally exquisite or esoteric, and often exasperating India still claimed the itinerant, alienated or exilic writer’s attention.
by Fakrul Alam
The Future of Knowledge and Culture: A Dictionary for the 21 st Century. Edited by Vinay Lal and Ashis Nandy. New Delhi. Penguin Viking, 2005.
By the end of the twentieth century, projects of modernity were becoming increasingly discredited in the realm of ideas. Postmodern thinkers had undermined most grand narratives and dismantled quite a few of the structures erected by enlightenment thinkers. Nevertheless, habits of thoughts shaped by well entrenched disciplinary apparatuses, models of development promoted by organizations pushing globalizing schemes and models, media blitzes sponsored by multinational capitalism, and constant ideological interpellation had blunted the sensibilities of most people. Many had started to believe that it was enough to live in a world of conspicuous consumption and have their desires satisfied instantly, endlessly.
by Fakrul Alam
Teaching Literature . Oxford : Blackwell Publishing, 2003. 177 pp.
Nearly thirty years ago, when I first went into a classroom in the University of Dhaka to teach English literature I remember how terrified I was. I had spent a couple of days reading for the class and half of a sleepless night writing out the lecture itself. I think I had written out my lecture in its entirety—twenty pages at least! —and then memorized it. And yet once in the classroom I managed to blurt it out in about forty minutes, leaving me with ten minutes of sheer agony and embarrassment.
by Fakrul Alam
Like the city that it focuses on, Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found ( Delhi:
Viking Penguin, 2004, 584 pages) is a big, sprawling book. The result of a two and a half year stay by someone who had once grown up in the city and who is now a journalist and fiction writer based in New York—an even more gargantuan metropolis—the book is an intense, sustained look at a unique city. Reading it, one becomes aware that the city is humongous and contains multitudes. No two people will see it the same way though any one who has visited the city even once will see it even more vividly how unique it really is through Mehta’s book.
by Krishnan Unni P.
The Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationlism by Nyla Ali Khan, London and New York: Routledge, 2005.
Transnationalism is an idea that encompasses various discursive and cultural formations of nation’s ideologies, culural practices and modes of resistance. Literature, viewed in this context, becomes an accurate tool of expressing the agonies, sentiments and sensitive issues that often lurk within the nations. Writers who have a wide panorama of incorporating into their works issues that cross beyond the borders are global writers despite their merits and demerits. Nation becomes the foremost platform for these writers to expand and shrink, to extend and substitute because it is a different aspect of nationalism that they wish to highlight. Nyla Ali Khan’s The Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism makes an attempt to study the different types of nationalisms and deviant discourses connected to them in the writings of V.S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Amitava Ghosh and Anita Desai.
by Mala Pandurang
Chinnamani’s World, Mukunda Rao. Penguin Books, India, 2003.
Chinnamani is eleven years old and lives in Indira Slum, one of the five hundred slums in the growing cyber-city of Bangalore. A large number of the slum dwellers in Indira Slum are migrant laborers from Tamil Nadu and work as construction laborers at rapidly expanding middle-class-housing layouts. Chinnamani reluctantly attends a nearby corporation school. He is passionate about cricket, and worships the Tamil ‘superstar’ Ranjnikanth. His father (Tharkari Thangamani) is a multi-lingual vegetable vendor filled with remorse at his inability to break his habit of drinking His mother (Parvati) does backbreaking construction work to ensure the family does not go hungry. It is Parvati’s determination to give Chinnamani an ‘English medium’ education that keeps him at a school he detests attending.