A preview of There’s a carnival today originally written by Indra Bahadur Rai in Nepali and translated into English by Manjushree Thapa (Published by Speaking Tiger, 2017)

The old couple could never forget their own wedding. They’d had an arranged marriage on the sixteenth day of the month of Falgun exactly thirty-one years ago today, with a nine-piece musical band in the wedding procession. Kaase Darzis had blown narsingh trumpets from a platform on the roof, sounding out the auspicious news of the wedding. Lamba Lama, Hukumdas Sardar and Doctor Yuddhabir Rai (the poor men had all since passed away) had danced all night to the sweet melody of the shehnai. Kaji Saheb had taken a photograph when Bagam Kanchha, who was home on holiday from the army, had dressed up as a maruni in women’s clothes and danced, spinning a plate in each hand. They’d had to set another pot of rice on the boil after eighty kilograms proved insufficient to feed the wedding procession. Nowhere in today’s Darjeeling would you see members of a wedding procession sitting in rows to eat in the courtyard while being attacked from all sides by chickens, which, when shooed away, raised clouds of dust with their wings.

A preview of Osman Haneef’s debut novel, Blasphemy – The Trial of Danesh Masih, where a Christian boy in Pakistan is accused of blasphemy―a crime punishable by death. (Published by Readomania, April 2020)

The Visitor

‘So, why is Islam the best religion?’ Sir Amjad, the substitute teacher, asked. The seven- and eight-year olds relaxed. They knew the answer because Mrs. Bukhari had taught them the answer. Mureed, a young boy who was keen to impress, raised his hand and was promptly called on.

Mureed stood up and gave the rote-learned answer that had been drilled into each of them. ‘It is because the Prophet was illiterate and uneducated yet the recitations of the Koran are more poetic and more beautiful than even Shakespeare! How could the Prophet, an uneducated man, come up with such beautiful poetry all by himself?’ the eight-year-old asked, clenching his sweaty palms. Once Mureed had finished his explanation, Sir Amjad, with a calm unchanging expression, motioned for the boy to sit down.

An excerpt from ‘Preface to the Special Anniversary Edition’ in Gay Bombay: Globalization, Love and (Be)longing in Contemporary India, Special Anniversary Edition by Parmesh Shahani, published by SAGE Publications India.

PREFACE (pp. xviii-xxi)

Another change personally over the years has been my own persona. From being someone who was rather shy 15 years ago, to being a flamboyant over the top fashionista who is regularly featured in our country’s fashion magazine “best dressed” lists, it’s been quite a ride! In fact, my fashionista journey began in 2008 with one of the first Gay Bombay book release events at the office of the fashion magazine Verve that I had just taken over as Editorial Director of. I wore a rather risqué rani pink silk kurta for that party with most of the top buttons open. I had also painfully waxed my chest – never again. (The risk-reward ratio just isn’t worth it!) From there to being a regular at fashion weeks and parties over the years, even though I’m not directly involved with the glamour business any more – what can I say except that I’m loving every moment of it. Whether in fashion or in business, or as a blue tick holding micro influencer in the digital world, I am in a different place today than I was in 2008, and I consciously use my vantage point to push for queer visibility and inclusion, wherever and whenever I can.

A preview of Long Night of Storm – a collection of stories originally written by Indra Bahadur Rai in Nepali and translated into English by Prawin Adhikari (Published by Speaking Tiger, 2018)

Morning came early in the jungle. Bullocks were put to the yoke again. The departure was full of more bustle than the grim march the day before. Duets were being sung since the morning. Jayamaya had joined that crowd. Wilful young boys wanted to shoot down any bird that settled on the crowns or branches of trees. If they hit a mark, they would stop their carts to go into the jungle to search for it. Nobody had any fear. Everybody was laughing. It seemed the journey of a merry migration—it seemed as if they were travelling from Burma into India for a picnic. ‘Is your name Jayamaya?’ A beautiful, thin boy who had had to abandon his studies to be on the road, and who had been blessed with his mother’s tender face, asked Jayamaya. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘My name is Jaya Bahadur,’ he said.

A glimpse from the ‘slice of life’ stories penned by Manjula Pal from her book Who wants to marry a mamma’s boy and other stories. (Published by Rupa Publications, 2019)

When Krishna Came to My House

Delhi experienced its first monsoon showers. It came as a big relief after days of sweltering heat.

It was evening. Streets that had been deserted were now abuzz with people coming out of their homes, seeking the fresh air, much relieved after their claustrophobic, air-conditioned confinement. The smoky smell of freshly picked soft corns roasting over charcoal and smeared with salt and lime, filled the air. Right from children to the adults, everyone was enjoying the roasted corn pods. The hawkers selling corns on pavements and on pulling carts were doing good business.

Witness the fascinating world of AI, with Toby Walsh, one of the world’s leading researchers in Artificial Intelligence, in his latest book, 2062 – The World that AI made. (Published by Speaking Tiger, 2020)

THE MACHINE ADVANTAGE 

To understand why Homo sapiens is set to be replaced, you need to understand the many advantages computers have over humans and that the digital world has over the analog. Co- learning is one important advantage, but let’s look at some others. 

The first is that computers can have a much more expansive memory capacity than humans. Everything we remember has to be stored in our bony craniums. Indeed, we already pay a significant price for having heads as big as they are. Until recently, childbirth was one of the major causes of death for women. And the size of the birth canal limits us from having bigger heads still. 

Taran N. Khan takes us through the lanes of Kabul, creating an elegant cartography of poets, museums, archaeologists and local book markets.


Written on the City

The road to Kabul is made of stories. A fragment of a memory leads me to the afternoon when I first read about the city, in a book I found on Baba’s shelves. The adults were deep in sleep; the house filled with the kind of stillness in which fables begin. The short story I perused was written by the legendary Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore in 1892.

The other side of the divide cover

Published by Penguin Ebury Press, 2020

Pegged on journalist Sameer Arshad Khatlani‘s visit to Pakistan, The Other Side of the Divide provides insights into the country beyond what we already know about it. These include details on the impact of India’s soft power, thanks to Bollywood, and the remnants of Pakistan’s multireligious past, and how it frittered away advantages of impressive growth in the first three decades of its existence by embracing religious conservatism.

in the time of others

From Chapter 17

The soldiers formed a firing squad on Shaukat’s order, waited for the officer to be clear of the scene as they had been ordered, and emptied their rifles into the prisoners.

 ‘Sir? Wasn’t this night a complete waste?’

 Shahbaz had been watching the soldiers dump the bodies into the river. The ones from inside were brought out and also thrown in.

‘Fifteen Muktis a waste?’ Shahbaz said. ‘Nights like this are what we need.’

‘I understand, sir, but – ’

‘You want to keep telling what’s better and what’s not?’ Shahbaz’s head turned slowly.

‘No sir, of course not.’

‘Did you know that in a nuclear holocaust the only living survivors would be cockroaches?’

‘I didn’t know this, sir.’

‘It’s true. The determined, nasty little bastards will survive it all. That’s what these Muktis are. That’s what their race is. They’re nasty little bastards, meant to be crushed, but you can’t get rid of them if you think they’ll just go away, disappear, die on their own. The only good thing is that these Bengalis are flesh and blood humans, and those we can get rid of.’

Shaukat allowed the convoluted analogy to sink in. Offered a cigarette, he accepted it with a quick glance at Shahbaz. Shahbaz’s attention was still pinned on the soldiers’ activities. Shaukat lit his cigarette and felt the wave of the momentary release wash over him.

Paradise at War

The Siege of Hazratbal

In April 1993, the same month Prime Minister Sharif promised Prime Minister Rao that Yakub Memon would be extradited to India, the valley was rocked by a JKLF occupation of Hazratbal, a delicately beautiful Shia shrine built in white marble, rising from the banks that separate the majestic Dal and dreamy Nigeen Lakes. Hazratbal was the most popular shrine in Kashmir, a place that Sunnis also worshipped at and that Sheikh Abdullah had made a centre of his political mobilization. The JKLF controlled the streets and outlying areas of the Hazratbal area and had gradually moved to occupy the shrine and adjoining buildings in the Hazratbal complex. The Indian Army cordoned off the mosque and, after negotiations led by Rajesh Pilot, then minister of state for Home Affairs, the guerrillas accepted safe passage in return for vacating Hazratbal.

The Indian Army protested the offer of safe passage. A siege of the mosque, they argued, would force the guerrillas to surrender and be arrested. But the Rao administration, through Pilot, was committed to restart backchannel talks with the JKLF that started under Governor Saxena and continued under his successor. Rao had just taken office when the April occupation took place. On the JKLF side, Hamid Sheikh, who was imprisoned with Yasin Malik, was principal messenger in the backchannel. Released in 1992 in the hope that he would persuade the JKLF to enter a peace process, he ended up rejoining one of its militias and was shot by the BSF in November, along with a group of guerrillas who were trying to cross the Jhelum to flee across the Line of Control. The Hizbul Mujahideen, security sources added, set up death squads after Sheikh’s release to ensure peace negotiations would fail. In April 1993, the Hizbul guerrilla Zulqarnain murdered Abdul Ahad Guru, a doctor and JKLF mentor, who negotiated the releases of Congress leader Saifuddin Soz’s daughter, Naheed, and Indian Oil executive director, K. Doraiswamy, in 1991. Though it was a Hizbul guerrilla who killed Guru, the police colluded in his killing, according to Habibullah. Guru presented ‘a reasonable face of separatism’ and was widely respected, so he was a counter-insurgency target. Zulqarnain was killed in a security operation soon after. Frustration in the security forces grew in the months to follow. In Sopore, the aftermath of the market firing saw growing support for insurgency. Reports of guerrillas massing in the town began to flow from May 1993, but the state and union governments did not react. ‘Intelligence and others urged decisive and early action’, wrote Arun Shourie, editor of the Indian Express. ‘Nothing was done. By September, about 600 [of the guerrillas] were reported not only to be there, they were reported to have entrenched themselves in bunkers dug out in some houses at various points in the town. Minimal action in May–June would have seen the end of them. By September, a Blue Star-type operation alone would have sufficed. And intelligence was warning that if that sort of action was not launched immediately, and the snow were allowed to set in, the mercenaries would get another four to five months to fortify their presence. What sort of an operation would be necessary then?’