By Rajat Chaudhuri

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What did the Celt tell Alexander when Alexander asked him what it was that his people feared the most? The Celt had replied that they feared nothing, so long as the sky did not fall or the sea burst its limits. I remembered this anecdote from a book on druidry while reading The Great Derangement, a path-breaking work on climate change that sweeps across a vast landscape of scholarship, finally reaching out to chart new maps for understanding the greatest crisis that humanity faces today.

But we will return to our druid later. To structure this review, we will attempt to discuss the book in the same way that the author has organised his material in three sections: Stories, History and Politics.

The thrust of the first section is on the interface between culture (with a focus on literature) and climate change and how the former is ill-prepared to imaginatively engage with the improbabilities inherent in the latter. The scaffolding of the section on history is erected around the paradoxical relationship between colonialism and climate. Finally, the section on politics is essentially about presumptions in the philosophical concept of freedom and the rise of the “deep state”, which between them have impoverished the political and imaginative spheres, leading to their failure to grapple with the climate crisis.

Each section surveys existing scholarship and employs material and tools from various disciplines in advancing its theses, sharpening its insights, or lighting up facets of the problem, presenting us with a book which, because of this interdisciplinary approach, the clean, jargon-free language and the unwavering gaze of a master of the art of non-fiction (as much as he is of the novel), stands out in an ever-growing library of works on climate change.

“Stories”, the longest, and arguably the most fecund among the three sections, narrates the author’s experience of being caught in a freak storm in Delhi which sets him thinking about the improbability of the encounter and then about the difficulties that the imagination faces in engaging with unusual weather events and unthinkable occurrences that would become increasingly common with growing carbon emissions, global warming and climate change. From there he directs his attention to this failure of the artistic and literary imagination, this evasion which characterises the Great Derangement that he is talking about throughout this book. In his words:

What is it about climate change that the mention of it should lead to banishment from the preserves of serious fiction? And what does this tell us about culture writ large and its patterns of evasion?

In a substantially altered world, when sea-level rise has swallowed the Sundarbans and made cities such as Kolkata, New York and Bangkok uninhabitable, when readers and museum-goers turn to the art and literature of our time, will they not look, first and most urgently, for traces and portents of the altered world of their inheritance? And when they fail to find them, what can they do other than to conclude that ours was a time when most forms of art and literature were drawn into the modes of concealment that prevented people from recognising the realities of their plight? Quite possibly, then, this era, which so congratulates itself on its self-awareness, will come to be known as the time of the Great Derangement.”

By Aminah Sheikh

jayanthi.jpgLet’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

As is the case with most of us, constant inner exploration with strings and strings of questions ushers me towards the world of fiction, I suppose. And that subsequently widens my imagination more and more.

Fiction always fascinates me, both to read and to write. For me, it is like living one life in reality but tens of thousands in the fictional space.

I write for the creative experience itself more than the politics in, out of and behind the issues although I do appreciate and enjoy them all while reading others’ works. I’ve found myself narrating mostly with an anthropological approach but the characterization and dialogues in my fiction certainly don’t shy away from the political side of the issue. I let them be as political as required. So, naturally I’ve never believed in creating an ideal world through fiction nor have I ever tried to give any solutions to the issue. The characters take my stories forward. This could be one of the reasons for readers and critics’ ‘author is absent in the narration’ experience and comments.

Like I always say it is the creative experience that I always long for that has been helping me evolve spiritually, the person that I am and will be. It’s one of the important byproducts of my reading and writing fiction for twenty two years.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

With only two or three stories left to be written, ‘Dangling Gandhi and other short stories’ in English, is forming decently well. Although few of them talk of the contemporary issues in Singapore, some of the important stories transcend beyond eras and geographies. Thus the weaves, I hope, would subtly raise many intricate questions on several social issues of not just the modern multicultural societies and human migrations in this shrunken world, but also of the colonial India, Malaya and Singapore.

Zafar Anjum, the publisher cum writer with such a beautiful theme of ‘empowering and connecting Asian readers and writers, everywhere’, has been gracious to have launched ‘Horizon Afar and other Tamil short stories’ of mine, the second of its kind, at SILF16 at Kishanganj. How well he knows about the role of translation in filling the gaps and also in cultural sharing. I owe it very much also to the earnest and enthusiastic translator and writer P.Muralidharan of Chennai, and the editor of the book for her help in improving the text.

It may sound too ambitious or a little pre mature to say I wish to write a novel based on my transit experience at Delhi amidst the first week of demonetization woes, the SILF16 (Seemanchal International Literary Festival 2016), the town of Kishanganj, Bagdogra, Darjeeling but I hope some creative magic really happens.

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

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Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

To do otherwise would be to deny an integral part of myself. I write because I must, because of my addiction to the feel of an ink pen between my fingers scribbling word-code onto one blank page after another. To me, writing is an aesthetic pleasure that sets every fibre of my being into vibration, when I’m actually doing it. The other reason I write is to be able to make sense of my own thoughts and feelings, and creatively express them onto the page or screen. Sometimes, just the writing process is a form of catharsis for me, even though my scribbles make no sense.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

My last book, Afterlife: Ghost stories from Goa, published by Rupa (2012) is a novel that follows the lives of X generations within a Goan family. At a get-together to celebrate the patriarch’s 75th birthday, there is a powercut that leads organically to the family swapping ghost-stories. Through the process or sharing oral histories, the family history and some secrets are revealed. The structure became an important part of telling the story of the family; I used a frame narrative device to interlink the individual stories. It’s more of a commentary about the social mores of South Goan society, diasporic culture and religious aspects among other things. My intention was to create a story that wasn’t just about ‘ghosts’ but about the things that haunt us emotionally and psychologically.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

Excavating words to reveal complex layers of emotion. At least, that’s the aspiration!

By Imteyaz Alam

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The Great Derangement: Climate change and the Unthinkable (Penguin Books, India) by Amitav Ghosh encompasses the stories, history and politics of climate change in a single volume. The deftness of storytelling employed by one of the giants of fiction writing of our time is on full display in this remarkable book on the imminent crisis that Planet Earth is facing today. Amitav Ghosh, the celebrated author expiates or in other word introspects on behalf of fellow writers by writing this extraordinary piece of non-fiction. Why does the master storyteller resort to non-fiction? The answer comes from the author himself: “Yet, it is a striking fact that when novelists do chose to write about climate change it is always outside of fiction.”

The author rues elsewhere in the book: “If certain literary forms are unable to negotiate these torrents, then they will have failed—and their failure will have to be counted as an aspect of broader imaginative and cultural failure that lies at the heart of climate crisis.”

This era of collective failure of art and literature in negotiating with this existential threat will then come to be known by the future generation as the time of The Great Derangement, the author imagines. The book highlights the failure of collective imagination and lack of sense of urgency though the impact of climate change impact is visible all around us: “That climate change casts a much smaller shadow within the landscape of literary fiction than it does even in the public arena is not hard to establish.”