By Gargi Vachaknavi

IMG_0689A private viewing of a film?

That sounds exclusive and enticing… made one feel like a star. But it was just a start — a start to showcase what a small group of talented individuals can do.

The idea for the fourteen-and-a-half-minute film brewed over a cup of coffee where writer Tanuj Khosla shared his story with actress Renita Kapoor. Kapoor said she always wanted to play a dark character and the story offered that.

Set in an indeterminate interior, in this case Kapoor’s house in Singapore, the film mapped the life of a stand-up comedian couple in India (and there is no way to figure out where the locale is if it is all within a room). We know the country because the dialogues mention the fact that the husband is a top comedian in India. The movie is mainly conversation between the couple — in a mix of colloquial Hindi with a smattering of English — the way any person would in a well-to do Hindi speaking Indian home.

The story takes a strange twist.

The wife is Kapoor. And the husband? The husband is no less than actor Shishir Sharma, a well-known actor on stage, television and Bollywood in India.

For fifteen minutes, no one spoke. No one moved. And all eyes were glued to the screen that told a gripping tale with a strange twist at the end.

Zafar Anjum, the founder of Kitaab and Filmwallas made his grand debut as a director of this film – The Sacrifice. Why would Zafar Anjum — a writer with a number of books under his belt and some published by Penguin — move to direction and filmmaking?

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Book review by Arnapurna Rath

basanti_my copy

Title: Basanti: Writing the New Woman

Authors: Annada Shankar Ray, Baishnab Charan Das, Harihar Mahapatra, Kalindi Charan Panigrahi, Muralidhar Mahanti, Prativa Devi, Sarala Devi, Sarat Chandra Mukherjee & Suprava Devi : Translated by Himansu S. Mohapatra & Paul St-Pierre

Published by: Oxford University Press, 2019

Basanti: Writing the New Woman is an intense collaborative literary project expressed in the medium of the novel. This almost century old classic has been translated to English this year. The story was originally authored by nine avant-garde members of the Sabuja group: Annada Shankar Ray, Baishnab Charan Das, Harihar Mahapatra, Kalindi Charan Panigrahi, Muralidhar Mahanti, Prativa Devi, Sarala Devi, Sarat Chandra Mukherjee, and Suprava Devi.

The word Sabuja ( green)  is ‘a symbol of youth, novelty freshness and so on’. The group played a metaphorical role in presenting new voices in literature, exploring emerging viewpoints and providing innovativeness in the process of creating a work of fiction.

Basanti has been translated into English (in 2019) by two well-known scholars of literary and translation studies, Himansu S. Mohapatra, Former Professor of English at the Utkal University, India, and Paul St-Pierre, Former Professor at the Department of Linguistics and Translation, Université de Montréal, Canada. The translation carries the original ‘appeal’ made in 1924 for collaborative publication in the landmark journal, Utkala Sahitya. The novel had appeared as serials in Utkala Sahitya between 1924 and 1926. It was first published as a book in 1931.

The translation has succeeded in reinforcing the concept of the ‘new woman’ that was created in the persona of Basanti almost a century ago. Basanti tells the story of a young spirited girl from Cuttack, a bit of a rebel in the conservative social milieu of early twentieth century Odisha. She is accomplished in literature, writes essays for periodicals,

TBASS

 

Mirah—

Here there is so much paranoia. They are angry and afraid that the colonial powers will keep coming and they will never stop. They say that the peninsula is just a puppet nation, run by the British imperialists and greedy conglomerates…In Sumatera, at least, I am far away from Jakarta. There the soldiers and the Islamists and the Communists are going to kill each other one day. But for now I am in Medan, where I can stay with people I trust.

Our ancestors came from here, they say. This is where all our stories began. The name ‘Melayu’ itself: In old dictionaries it meant ‘to flee’. In that sense we’ve always been wanderers, sojourners in the archipelago. But how much of that do we remember today? Does any of it still matter to us, in an age of atomic weapons and satellites?

How much I miss Malaya. I never saw much of it after I was taken to prison. Five years of prison, kept in filthy cells, where they beat us if we tried to talk to each other. Funny how many whispered stories still passed through the walls of Pudu, keeping us angry and alive. And then they told me that I had a choice of more years in prison, or I could go to Indonesia to join the rest of my people. How I laughed when they said that, how they forget that this region is a mixture of faces: There is the Malay, the Bugis, the Javanese, the Sulawesians, even the Chinese. In Medan I am close enough to home that on some days, when I drive to the coast, I imagine I can see the peninsula on the other side of the Strait. But I cannot cross it.

Vancouver’s Barj Dhahan is doing what he can to preserve the Punjabi language, not only in Canada but around the globe.

According to Dhahan, the United Nations has claimed Punjabi language is at risk of extinction within the next 50 years because of the dominance of English, so as co-founder of the Canada-India Education Society (CIES), he launched the annual Dhahan prize for Punjabi literature, which sees $25,000 go to a modern Punjabi writer each year.

SultanSomjeeKenya-born Sultan Somjee is a Canada-based ethnographer and writer. He studied product design but soon his interest shifted from designing products to what stories were told in products – about people’s lives and how they reflected on the individuals, their families, ethnic and faith groups and in general on the human society. He pursued his interests through his MA and PhD,  studying art and material culture.

Bead Bai is his first novel (read excerpts here).  The novel is about Sakina, an embroidery artist growing up in the shanty town of Indian Nairobi, a railroad settlement in British East Africa in the early 1900s. In her tormented married life, while becoming a woman, Sakina finds comfort in the art of the beadwork of the Maasai. Bead Bai is one woman’s story inspired by lives of Asian African women who sorted out, arranged and generally looked after huge quantities of ethnic beads in urban and isolated rural parts of the British East African Empire.

In this interview with Kitaab’s editor Zafar Anjum, Somjee talks about his life as an ethnographer and writer and what led him to write Bead Bai.

You are an ethnographer by training. What set you on the road to being a writer? 

Ethnography is about writing narratives. These narratives come from listening to stories and through observations not only of rituals and daily happenings in a community but also through keeping your senses like of touch and smell, open to what could inform you about the families, events and locations. Human conditions in general.  Listening and observation inform the ethnographer about how people speak and what they see how they see. There is juxtapositioning of facts and perceptions. Myths and realities are the same. What the ethnography subjects say and how they speak is called dialogue in a novel. Then there are observations often in situations where the ethnographer is an active participant. That’s research for the writer and every writer needs that. Observations of let’s say gestures inform the unsaid.

Bangladeshi-Canadian novelist Neamat Imam
Bangladeshi-Canadian novelist Neamat Imam

We are glad to present to you our first Kitaab Author of the Week Interview. The series is being kicked off with this interview of Asian novelist Neamat Imam. –Team Kitaab

“Becoming a writer is becoming someone other than your material self,” says Bangladeshi-Canadian novelist Neamat Imam in this exclusive interview with Kitaab’s editor Zafar Anjum. “It is a new identity added to what you already are. Gradually, you are consumed by it and at one point replaced by it. You cannot go back to what you had been. You can burn all the copies of your books and throw away all your manuscripts into the river; still you will not cease to be a writer. It may sound scary, but it is not. It is the opposite of it, a blessing. It is a blessing because that is exactly what you wanted to happen to yourself; that is why you wanted to be a writer.”

The Black Coat, Neamat’s first novel, was published by the Penguin Group (Penguin Books India, in Hamish Hamilton imprint) in May 2013. Press Trust of India (PTI) has already declared it one of the “must read” books of 2013.

Neamat, born in 1971 in Bangladesh, lives in Edmonton with his wife He Wen Shu. “Bangladesh is probably the worst place for you if you want to be a writer,” he says. “Since the 1980s, we have a culture there according to which a person must publish a huge number of books to be recognised as a writer. I have friends who started writing with me in the 1990s but who have published over 50 books in the last 15 years. I hear that some of them have published even 200 books during the same time! A novelist may have 10 new books coming out in one calendar year and that is not news there. I think I will never be a writer in Bangladesh in the traditional sense.”