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Book Review: Akbar in the Time of Aurangzeb by Shazi Zaman

By Najmul Hoda

akbarAkbar in the Time of Aurangzeb is arguably the most readable and riveting book written on Akbar. History, biography or historical novel — call it what you may, Shazi Zaman has pulled a major tour de force. This is way better than what the Dalrymples and Rutherfords of the Indian historical fiction industry keep churning out. It has little exotica. Not much trivia. Hard historical facts. Culled from the primary sources, and strung together to make a seamless narrative with minimum speculation and intervention from the author. He lets the historical texts speak. And they speak loud and eloquent.
It’s not about empire building, wars, conquests and administration. Not much. Not directly. If anything—and if the word can be retrospectively used—it’s about nation-building.

It’s about Akbar, the thinker. The seeker, not the believer. The restless contemplator yearning for the resolution of myriad contradictions whirling in his mind. The free-thinker whose mind was free from the shackles of inherited wisdom and certitudes. The man who had the audacity, eagerness and enterprise to go beyond the limits set by his time, place, tradition and culture.

He never rejected Islam. He was devout. Deep. Spiritual. Mystical. Sufi. He delved deep into the meanings of both the precepts and the practices. Precepts kept him tethered. Practices made him break loose. Particularly the shenanigans of the religious establishment, most visibly personified in the unscrupulous and overweening arrogance of Shaikh Abdun Nabi who had the temerity to hit the adolescent emperor with a stick for something as innocuous as wearing saffron during the basant festival.

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Book Review: Horizon Afar by Jayanthi Sankar

By Lakshmi Menon


Horizon Afar is a collection of short stories by Jayanthi Sankar, translated from their original Tamil by P Muralidharan and published by Kitaab International. While it falls neatly into the rapidly growing, ever-fertile genre of diasporic literature, this collection is interesting in the myriad glimpses that it accords us of the Tamil diaspora in Singapore.

The experiences of Tamil immigrants in a multicultural country like Singapore are outlined by the author, herself a member of that very community – this is belied by the intimacy with which she writes about them. “Won’t she crawl anymore?” a despairing father asks of his wife, on learning that his child whose early years he has missed on account of working abroad, has now learned to walk on her own. The average reader can easily feel the wistful, quiet sadness in his question, and a reader who is familiar with the immigrant experience knows the truth behind the emotion, of a parent who has missed their child growing up.

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Book Review: Experiences, encounters and flights of memory in this fine book of essays

By Bhumika Popli

flightFlights From My Terrace: The Boy in Yellow Knickers and Other Essays

by Santosh Bakaya

Publisher: Authorspress

Pages: 353

Price: Rs 595

Jaipur-based writer Santosh Bakaya, in her new book Flights From My Terrace: The Boy in Yellow Knickers and Other Essays, has penned down her experiences, encounters and flights of memory. The book is divided into three sections and comprises 58 essays connecting to different facets of her life.

In the “The Canine Sponge”, the author shares a funny memory of her beloved pet dog called Nipper. She writes, “Once at a dead of night, when the entire house was fast asleep, a burglar paid us a visit. A staunch believer in nocturnal hospitality, Nipper gave a hearty welcome, licking and hugging him, following him from room to room while he picked up a wallet here and a watch there. He shouted himself hoarse only when the burglar had made his good escape!”

Bakaya’s writing has the power to engage the reader emotionally, as later in the same chapter she describes Nipper’s death, which had a lasting impact on her. “Many a time I am jerked out of my slumber, even so many years after the horrific incident, as that mute plea of a hapless victim of insensate violence hammers away at my head.” Read more

Source: Sunday Guardian Live

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Book Review: Kanwal Sibal’s Poems are Slices of Creative Genius

By Vani

Two weeks ago when my editor suggested that I review a book of poetry, my answer was a vehement “No”.

“Poetry is not for me,” I told her without mincing words. “But the writer has penned his poems around his experiences and I think you’d enjoy it,” she said.

With much reluctance, I agreed for her to send me the book – and to cut a long story short, from the moment I took it in my hands, I haven’t been able to put it down.

In his first anthology, Snowflakes of Time, Memories and Musings (published by Bloomsbury), Kanwal Sibal, one of India’s best known diplomats, brings together a collection of 100 poems written over a period of 50 years.

A career diplomat with 41 years of experience, Sibal is at his best when he writes about bilateral relationships, foreign policy issues and international politics – all of which he says provides him with “an inspiration to write”. All at once, I am reminded of a quote by the Roman satirist, Horace: “Wisdom is not wisdom when it is derived from books alone.” True that! Read more

Source: The Quint

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‘Fireworks’: Short stories and fables from Angela Carter’s two years in Japan

By J.J.O’Donoghue

“Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces” brings together a beguiling mix of first-person narratives from English novelist Angela Carter’s two-year hiatus in Japan at the tail end of the 1960s, and they are as brilliant as they are bizarre.

It’s a slim volume — the longest story is shy of 30 pages — and taken together the book is a strange mix of reality and magic realism. Carter, who died in 1992, opens with “A Souvenir of Japan,” in which she recounts going to a fireworks festival an hour’s ride from Shinjuku: “Above our heads, the fireworks hung dissolving earrings on the night.” Carter is with her unnamed lover — “a connoisseur of boredom,” whose presence and long absences, playing pachinko and going out on the town, torment her. Read more

Source: The Japan Times

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‘The Book of the Dead’: The first complete translation of Shinobu Orikuchi’s classic

By Damian Flanagan

Both influential and deeply mysterious, “The Book of the Dead” (“Shisha no Sho,” 1943) is the most famous work of fiction by Shinobu Orikuchi (1887-1953), a pioneer of folklore studies in Japan and renowned poet. Orikuchi was fascinated with the origins of Japanese religion and the connections between spirit possession and the role of an emperor as a mediator between the gods and the Japanese people.

Inspired by the Egyptian myths of Osiris and Isis, “The Book of the Dead” is a short but complex web of interconnected narratives set in eighth-century Japan. The literary equivalent of a shining mandala, it transcends modern concepts of the novel and attempts to capture the mood and religious mindsets of the early Japanese nation. Read more

Source: The Japan Times

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Book review: The End of the Asian Century by Michael Auslin

By Kapil Komireddi

asian centuryIn November 2013, as the Chinese Communist Party prepared to release its economic strategy for the next decade, an influential paper written by former United States Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and his Harvard colleague Lant Pritchett questioned the prevalent view that “the global economy will increasingly be shaped and lifted by the trajectory” of India and China.

For more than a decade, the West, starstruck by the economic performance of New Delhi and Beijing, had been telling itself that the 21st century would be Asia’s. Books with titles such as When China Rules the World, The Chinese Century and India Express: The Future of the New Superpower materialised alongside neologisms like “Chindia” and “Chimerica”. Summers and Pritchett dismissed this as “Asiaphoria”, and warned against hitching “the cart of the future global economy to the horse of the Asian giants”.

In The End of the Asian Century: War, Stagnation, and the Risks to the World’s Most Dynamic Region, Michael Auslin updates the unremittingly pessimistic outlook of Summers and Pritchett. Auslin, a former Yale history professor who now serves as a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC, is a distinguished scholar of Japan. His previous book, Negotiating with Imperialism, was a groundbreaking history of Japanese diplomacy in the 19th century. Read more

Source: The National

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Living an unreal dream

By Vani Saraswathi

temporary peopleThe book is a political manifesto cleverly disguised as fiction

Pravasi means you’ll have regrets […] it’s always meant: absence. Those words of an aged mother who yearns for her son sums up the essence of almost all the stories in Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan.

The tempering of English with Malayalam and Arabic, and in the tone and angst of the narrative, the book is first and foremost an ode to the Gulf Malayalee.

Maybe if read by someone with zero Gulf experience the book would have drawn a few loud laughs. For someone who has been a Pravasi, the humour is so dark, you are tempted to throw away this book and reach out for Ulysses for some lighter reading. Only temporarily, just like the people. Read more

Source: The Hindu

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With her spritely, lively prose, Ayisha Malik deserves her ‘Muslim Bridget Jones’ epithet

By James Kidd

ayishThe Other Half of Happiness
by Ayisha Malik

Ayisha Malik’s debut, the nicely titled Sofia Khan is Not Obliged (2015), was described in some quarters as the “Muslim Bridget Jones”. You could see why: Sofia’s adventures in Muslim romance (dating, extended families, feminism, self-determination) was catnip for the publishing house she worked at. Malik knows a thing or two about this: she was a successful publisher herself, and is now a successful ghostwriter as well as novelist. The Other Half of Happiness continues Sofia’s journal, although now she sounds like the “Muslim Jane Eyre”: “Reader, I married him,” Sofia begins quoting Charlotte Brontë. “But there was no band of Punjabis, jacked up on lassi. We had one imam and two witnesses listen to me.” Little else in her married Karachi life is predictable. Sofia’s husband is Conall, an Irish convert to Islam, tattoos and all: “Oh my actual God. There’s a man in my bed. A real-life man.” When Sofia is not texting friends for amorous advice (“Jump him!”), she is launch­ing her literary career in London (as a writer and publisher), navigating an overly concern­ed family and getting married all over again. Malik’s brisk style races between light­ness and gravity, and somehow gives her charac­ters credible depth. Charm in a fake diary.

Source: South China Morning Post

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Return of religion to China since the death of Mao documented in new book The Souls of China

By Allen Lane

souls chinaThe Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao
by Ian Johnson

The 20th century wrought havoc on religious and spiritual life in mainland China, especially during the Cultural Revolution. Temples were torn down, believers persecuted and priests, monks and nuns subjected to violence and forced to renounce their religious ways. It must have seemed as though all traditional religious practices would vanish from the country.

Yet, since the late 1970s, religion has slowly been returning to China, as millions of Chinese search for something other than material wealth. Some have looked to old religions such as Taoism and Buddhism while others have turned to a more modern import, Christianity, for answers.

By 2014, there were half a million Buddhist monks and nuns worshipping in 33,000 temples across the country, along with 48,000 Taoist priests and nuns affiliated with 9,000 temples – twice the number of temples that existed in 1990. The mainland now has roughly 200 million Buddhists and Taoists while the number of Protestants is growing at a rate of 7 per cent a year. Read more

Source: South China Morning Post