By Saurav Ranjan Datta

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The old timepiece struck eight right at the moment when Arpita was about to yank her mouth open for a long-drawn yawn. She started at the sudden commotion caused by the gong while waiting at the Doon Railway Station. On a public holiday, the place was deserted and the long shadows of the dark night created a mystical halo around the suspicious nooks and crannies of the colonial building. She was waiting for the Mussoorie Express that started at 10pm for Delhi. Passing the time was becoming a burden for her. She had got a free ride from her guest house at six in the evening and, hence, arrived at the station much earlier. She had not taken into consideration the long wait. Most of the passengers would probably arrive only around 9.30pm on that chilly December night.

Arpita wrapped her shawl tightly once again but the wind continued shivering through her bones. She was otherwise a strongly built girl, a regular visitor to the gym.  Arpita was wondering if she had securely locked all her belongings back in her room at the guest house. Of late, ever since the arrival of her new roommate, Satarupa, things had suddenly started disappearing. Small things — but even the smallest toiletries are frightfully expensive nowadays. At first, Arpita thought she had lost them at work. Being a media presenter, her life was an endless stream of hustle and bustle from one place to another. But soon, she realised that they went missing at home. However, it would be extremely rude to ask a two-month-old room-mate if she has taken any of her things.

While countrywide protests wrack India over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and writer Shireen Dalvi  and Yakoob Yawar returned their state level Sahitya Akademi awards, a Hong Kong poet empathetic of the student protest caused distress within the family, one of who also happens to be a high profile government official.

IMG_2454.jpgDalvi was given an award in 2011 by the state of Maharashtra. From the media, she tweeted, “I am saddened and shocked by the news that the BJP led government has passed CAB ( Citizen amendment Bill), an attack on our constitution and secularism and in protest against this inhuman law I am announcing that I would return my State Sahitya Akademi Award…”

Yawar, 67, returned the Uttar Pradesh award state for translation saying in a report, “I have been scared watching the parliamentary debate. As an old man what else can I do about this Bill that is creating such unrest? I decided to return this award and do my duty.” 

Book review by Shah Tazrian Ashrafi

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Title: Letters of Blood

Author: Rizia Rahman

Translator: Arunava Sinha

Publisher: Bengal Lights Books (2016)

 

Rizia Rahman was one of the most eminent authors of Bangla Literature. Among others, she received the Bangla Academy Literary Award, Ekushey Padak, and Arannya Literature Award for her outstanding contributions to literature.  An author of more than 50 novels, she passed away on 16 August 2019.

Presented by Library of Bangladesh and translated by Arunava Sinha, Letters of Blood Rokter Okkhor (1978) — is a novel by the late Rizia Rahman that explores the lives of the women who have been (directly and indirectly) forced into prostitution, and examines how the intricacies of their lives hold them captive in a physically and mentally hostile ecosystem. It is a window into a system that lives on the fringes of the society constantly bobbing on fickle grounds.

The novel is populated by characters from as young as twelve to as old as being on the brink of death — a feat that reflects the reality seen in the brothels.

Kusum is a fourteen-year-old, often starving and sick, whose “undernourished body hasn’t amassed enough capital”. Because she hasn’t received any customer for two days, she hasn’t been able to eat. For many women in the brothel, who are still under the control of their pimps, life is like that — the more the customers, the further the shadow of starvation. When she steals a little food, out of desperation, Kalu, her pimp, beats her black and blue as everyone else goes on about their business. No one bats an eye. The pimps are free to kill the women in their clutches  without anyone  sparing a glance.

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

She patted the baby to sleep. The baby was restless and so was she. It was the patter of the incessant rain on the tin roof of their shanty that kept breaking into the little one’s half formed dreams, bringing him wailing back into the discomfort of the world outside the womb. It was almost past midnight now, her husband wasn’t home yet. It worried her, the odd hours he kept. This morning he’d walked off towards the main road where his taxi was parked, saying he’d be back home early. “Make lauki ke koftey,” he’d yelled, without turning his head back. She’d left the baby with a neighbour that morning, and run out to buy the lauki he’d demanded. Dudhi it was called here, in Mumbai. It took some getting used to, the different terms that were used for common vegetables. Alu pyaaz was kaanda batata. She’d begun to make do by pointing out to things with her finger, and then negotiating the rate.

It was a regular day, he would drive to Pune and come back. He was normally back by nine in the night most days, and would want his dinner immediately—piping hot rotis rolled out as he ate, sitting on the squat wooden plank on the floor of the little shanty. He’d finally managed to put together the funds for the rent deposit. This was his castle, she knew, and she was his queen.

It is that time of the year again when the biennial Singapore Literary Prize invites published writers and poets to apply for this grand award of  S$10,000, a plaque and the limelight.

Suchen Christine LimProbably, one of the most prestigious awards in Singapore, this was founded in 1991, one of the first recipients of it being writer Suchen Christine Lim for her vibrant novel inclusive of the disparate cultures housed in this island, Fistful of Colours. The first award was handed out by diplomat Tommy Koh to Lim in 1992.

2018 saw a gala ceremony, where the award for the English novel category went to Jeremy Tiang’s State of Emergency. There were a total of nineteen awards given out in different categories and for the four different national languages: English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. A total of 172 submissions had been made in 2018.

By Gargi Vachaknavi

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In the heydays of ABBA, there was a popular song called ‘Nina Pretty Ballerina’, which spoke of a girl who led an ordinary life but became  the ‘queen of the dancing floor’ when she stepped into the role of a ‘pretty ballerina’. Sarita Jenamani is a bit like that. She works as a marketing manager in Austria but turns into a lyrical whiplash when she picks up her pen to write poetry.

Sarita Jenamani, with a background of  economics and management studies in India and Austria, is a poet, a literary translator, anthologist, editor of a bilingual magazine for migrant literature – Words & Worlds – a human rights activist, a feminist and general secretary of PEN International’s Austrian chapter in the literary world.

Perhaps the most conspicuous aspect of her personality is her poetry that has so far been published in three collections, the latest being Till the Next Wave Comes. English is the chief medium of her creative process. The other two languages she writes in are, Odia, the state language of the place of her origin Odisha (India), and German, the language of her country of residence, Austria. She uses these languages for translation projects that she undertakes from time to time. Sarita translated Rose Ausländer, a leading Austrian poet, and an anthology of contemporary Austrian Poetry from German into Hindi and Odia. She has received many literary fellowships in Germany and in Austria including those of the prestigious organisations of “Heinrich Böll Foundation” and “Künstlerdorf Schöppingen”. In this exclusive, she talks of how poetry empowers her to find her individuality and address social issues, of how being in PEN has taught her that thought stretches beyond all borders and of a past and present that shuttles between varied cultures.

 

What moved your muse? When and how did you start writing?

Actually, I did not want to be a poet rather poetry, as Neruda once said, arrived in search of me. All my joys, sufferings, passions, and memories that significantly leave deep impact on me, turn into ash, sink into my being and again rise like a phoenix in the lines. This provides me the pleasure of seeking an enigmatic truth in some ancient temple. Such feelings compel me to write poetry. Poetry for me is an act of introspection, self-realisation and a sanctuary.

On 16th December, Bangladesh celebrates Victory Day — a day when they gained sovereignty after a battle with Pakistan in 1971, a battle in which India backed Bangladesh. Here is a translation of a story by the acclaimed writer Sarder Jayenuddin set between pre and post-independent Bangladesh… a poignant story of sacrifice and heroism

Translated by Sohana Manzoor

It was the middle of the Bengali month of Ashwin*. The early nights were too warm, but the late nights were cool and sweet. It was difficult to get up from sleep. On such a night, I was in a deep slumber when there were quick and firm knocks on the door. Someone was urging us to open the door.

Even though I had been in deep sleep, I felt restless. It was not just me, but everybody felt uncomfortable during those days. How could we sleep in peace? The country was being plundered by the Pakistani Army shamelessly. They were killing people and burning homes. My situation was even worse as I had been absconding for quite some time. Basically, I had been on the run for four to five days. And then the boat I had taken was attacked by robbers. We had almost died. Even though we survived, we encountered some others who had jumped into the river to save themselves from the robbers. Actually, that was the main reason why the passengers of our boat were able to get away.

Okay, so we survived. But then, even after arriving at this remote village of Pabna, I felt scared stiff. The military could come here too. They might arrive any moment. The only hope was that they would not come at night. They were apparently terrified of the Mukti ( Mukti Bahini, the freedom fighters). So, who was knocking at the door? And it was quite loud by now. I sat upright and was sure that it would be robbers. Just as I had taken courage on the other day in the river, I took a deep breath and asked again, “Who is it? What do you want?”

A steady voice replied from the other side, “Be quiet. Where is the Professor? Call him.”

by Jindagi Kumari

 

Sometimes a phone call may bridge the gap between life and death in a snap. When you announce death you don’t greet. So, my elder sister on that Sunday morning call began with “Had your breakfast?” before telling me that Baba was no more.

Baba, our grandfather, was bedridden for last several weeks. Near 80, he had suffered loss of appetite and weight. Death had chosen not to afflict him with a disease, but as they say, old age itself was an ailment, big time.

When my WhatsApp messenger brought the images of Baba on the pyre, we were at a table in an exquisite eatery — my spouse and kids discussing the buffet menu.

Miles apart, I penciled in my itinerary for attending his last rites. I had concluded death was his bliss; and gone about our sacrosanct Sunday routine — shopping, movie, and eating out — mourning on the go, perhaps.

By Mehreen Ahmed

Blood oranges were endowed with a certain pigmentation. I called it the fruit’s pizzazz, because of its lustre, which defined it and gave it the distinctive characteristics of dark flesh. I wanted it to grow in mother’s orchard. But the gardener said it wouldn’t grow here, because the climate wouldn’t allow it. If the blood orange didn’t flourish in this soil, then neither did many things in this culture. All these nefarious old customs and habits that had become fossilised, resisting change, inhibiting growth.

One afternoon, I sat in the balcony of mother’s house. A brilliant midday sun shone yet another monsoon day. I took a sip of lemonade my mother made with the orchard’s freshly squeezed lemons. Lemons, which grew in our orchard. I was recovering at her place, from an illness. Lemons and limes were not the only citrus that grew in this orchard, oranges too. Except, the blood orange.

The monsoon winds whipped up my spirits. The orchard revitalised as the winds touched it to a new glow. The wet fern unfurled along the mossy edges on the orchard’s brick fence. Nature’s drama ensued. These were months of recapitulations. They always were. Recapping past events that happened not only in my life, but also in the lives of the others. A maid once worked in our house some years now. I don’t know, I found myself thinking about her without a reason. Her loyalty had far surpassed that of any other who worked for us then. Her name was Lily. She was our loving Lily of the Valley. She possessed an exceptional quality of gritty honesty.