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.

These excerpts are from Dead Serious (Walang Halong Biro) by Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles. Manila: De La Salle University Publishing House, forthcoming November 2018

Walang Halong Biro copy


Hope in Hopelessness

by Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles
Translated from Filipino by Kristine Ong Muslim

It is a blessing to wait
for one’s death

Surely

it comes without
bearing hope

for the sake of hope even as it reinforces

how I must wait
and stay alive

Pag-asa sa Wala

Biyaya ang maghintay
ng sariling kamatayan

Tiyak na

ito’y darating hindi
nagbibigay ng pag-asa

sa wala gayunman pinananatili

sa akin ang paghihintay
na hindi mamamatay

 

Grave

by Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles
Translated from Filipino by Kristine Ong Muslim

It is a noble grave
my interior

A sprawling view
of doom

One foot
in the grave

 

Reshaping Art

(Pages 4-9)

Art is not an accident; it does not happen by mistake. It is a deliberate, conscious act of creating an art object; it is a willed human endeavour. Art does not depend on a general acceptance of attractiveness. In fact, subjective notions of beauty are entirely secondary to the act of art creation.

Art probably began from humankind’s need to map or record life as a survival strategy. Much like animals, early humans also discovered that they could use their limbs and voices to interact with their surroundings and make markings and sounds. But soon these tools became something more than record books or sonic appeals. Somehow the human mind discovered within itself the capacity to extract essence from life and reimagine, recreate and curate that spirit in the form of shape, sound, colour and space. What was vital was that the nub of life was preserved in art creation. The real world around and the experiences felt within provided the inspiration. From the never-ending flurry of images, sounds and events, some individuals began distilling moments, movements, tonal combinations and shifts in light and space. What were they distilling: literal shapes, colour and sound? They were securing within art the emotionality of nature through the soliloquy of a creative meditation.

These processes, for want of a better word, had a deep impact on the emotional nature of humans. From this arose imagination and, from its overflow, the unbridled desire to create things that allowed us to be in touch with that spirit. Imagining possibilities from all that existed and beyond what they saw, heard and felt, they created objects of art. Playing with colours, space, shape, materials, tones and rhythms, humankind entered an entirely new area of emotional enquiry. Art was mystical, its conjuring evoked an untapped experience, almost a magic trick. I say ‘almost’ because the intention of this magic was not to trick someone into believing but to draw them into experiencing. At times, the impact of such art could become more powerful than the ‘original’ inspiration from the real world. Art does not copy life; it encapsulates the essence of life.

Jaya Jaitly - Life Among the Scorpions

17

GOOD AND BAD MATCH-FIXING

Tehelka Sting I

CONSPIRACIES AGAINST PEOPLE PERCEIVED TO be in ‘power’ are meticulously planned and have a carefully orchestrated process. The perpetrators are efficient, stealthy, networked and rich. It is easy to go after unsuspecting innocents and paint them as criminals. With ample help from a blood-thirsty media, a gullible and inflammable public and the cynical adage that ‘politics is not about fact, it is about perception’, they always have an advantage.

On 22 June 2000, George Fernandes, Digvijay Singh and I were on a morning flight to Rajkot to attend a state Samata Party conference. The Times of India was at hand. On the very front page was a small column headed, ‘Jadeja fixes a good match’. It stated categorically that ‘cricket star Ajay Jadeja has married Aditi Jaitly, the daughter of Samata Party president Jaya Jaitly, in a secret wedding’ (see photo section). A ‘close friend from the ITC golf course’ is quoted as saying, ‘Jadeja confessed that he has married Aditi’ with additional information about him keeping it a secret because he planned to make a film with Sonali Bendre and it would ‘affect his star status’. We were stunned. My daughter was in London for a dance performance. Ajay was there for a match, I think, and of course they had been classmates at Sardar Patel Vidyalaya and good friends since the age of eleven, but they had been extremely careful not to flaunt their friendship in an age where a celebrity’s personal life is front-page material for voyeurs. Family respect and propriety within honest, liberal attitudes were values we brought up our children with. For a very brief second, I was hurt that my daughter would get married behind my back. I was instantly ashamed of losing faith in her openness, but if I had momentarily faltered, why would the media and public not believe it? I called Aditi in London as soon as we landed in Rajkot, where the media obviously made our poor Samata Party conference secondary to this.

Aditi had just woken up when I told her what The Times of India said. She burst out laughing and said, ‘Ma, it’s so ridiculous you should throw the newspaper in the dustbin.’ Ajay and Aditi were both quite used to gossip being written about Ajay and did not give it a second thought.

The Bengalis 2

5

Āmādér Rōbindrōnāth

Tagore plus

The Bengalis are a lot more than Rabindranath Tagore, our most-cited cultural icon, Subhas Chandra Bose, West Bengal’s most-cited political icon, and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh’s most cited national icon. Although we might often seem to be striving, quite correctly, to escape the stereotype of being longhaired poets or rebels with or without a cause, that our three most famous sons—bongōshontān—have bestowed on us, we actually adore these images of us. Culture and cause, even reflected culture and cause, provide for some a core, for others a sheen with which, in our minds and through our days, we keep ordinariness at bay.

These three aside, there are several Bengalis who are known to the world outside Banglasphere. However, many not-Bengalis are unaware that a number of these worthies are Bengalis or have Bengali roots. Some of our greatest are not known outside Banglasphere but that’s fine too. It’s enough if we laud our own, if others do too, that’s a bonus.

Let me name a few here (numerous others appear elsewhere in the book), those whose names and influence have transcended our chauvinistic borders or, even if they haven’t, have enriched or enervated our lives in Banglasphere and outside it, shaped us for better and worse. If these judgement calls invite energetic and emotional debate — so be it.

Let’s begin with Satyajit Ray. In the 1950s, he marked the beginning of a certain global acclaim for Indian cinema and moved generations with a mix of realism and class. My former colleague and Ray aficionado Sumit Mitra recalls that time in Calcutta:

During the release of the Apu trilogy, between 1955 and 1959, his apotheosis was complete. The coffee-house crowds began to referring to him by his pet name, ‘Manik-da’.

Gatecrashing into his home on Lake Temple Road in Ballygunj on flimsy excuses became so common a cultural pastime that Sandip, his schoolgoing son, always full of pranks, posted a notice on the front door demanding an admission fee of eight annas. By the ’60s, he was too famous a figure to visit his favourite haunt, the corner room of the Chowringhee coffee house, which was called—still is—the House of Lords.