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Hong Kong literary giant Liu Yichang passes away at 99

(From radiichina.com)

Born in Shanghai on December 7, 1918, and originally named Liu Tongyi, Liu Yichang first came to Hong Kong in 1948 and settled down in the city with his wife Lo Pai-wun in 1957.

In a writing career spanning more than six decades, Liu published over 30 books including novels, literary reviews, essays, poems and translated works.

He is credited with establishing modern literature in Hong Kong, with many of his works carrying the city’s unique metropolitan flavour. Liu was also known for discovering and nurturing a number of outstanding Hong Kong-based writers, including late poet Leung Ping-kwan, who went by the pen name Yesi, and author Zhang Yan, also known as Xi Xi.

If Liu’s name doesn’t ring a bell for you, the best-known adaptation of his work might: Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai’s 2000 masterpiece, In the Mood For Love. Writer and translator Eileen Chengyin Chow — who’s well worth a follow in general for fans of modern and not-so-modern Chinese literature and poetry — commemorated Liu’s passing yesterday with an instructive thread on the late novelist’s relation with Wong:

Read more at this link

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Short story: Yellow Lightning by Soumi Das

The boy, no more than four, rose when the rooster crowed. If he did not wake up immediately, his younger brother would, and Ma would say, ‘See, Khoka, your younger brother can barely walk, and yet he is so eager to go to school.’ So little Khoka had made it a habit to talk to his pillow the night before, asking it to jerk him awake as soon as he heard the rooster, and there were days when the pillow, quite like Alladin’s genie, did so even earlier.

Ma was already up roasting a fistful of flattened rice on the iron griddle, the half burnt aroma of which filled the thatched house. God knows what time she woke up, or if she got a wink of sleep at all. Khoka had only seen her working, bustling around the house, in the kitchen, in the fields, milking the cows… But mothers are like that, he thought to himself.

He rubbed his eyes and tying his thin gamchha around his waist, went to the well to draw water for his morning bath. A bath was a must, regardless of the hour of the day – no one went to school without a bath. His teeth chattering, he lowered the metal bucket into the water, the loud clang against the wall, the only sound in the silent, cold, dark morning. Hands shaking under the weight, he poured all the water on his head, then darted in, as the sky turned a slow crimson.

As usual, Ma was waiting with his brass bowl of piping hot milk and some flattened rice soaked in it. Quietly, quickly, Khoka slurped it all up, picked up his cloth bag, and started his trek to school – alone.

This was his regular routine – the long march to the government primary school at Kulunga passing through a dense sal forest adjoining his village, Sagjor. He was the only child of his age to go to school; his neighbours – children of peasants, herdsmen – were the lucky ones who got to roam around the village aimlessly the whole day, following their parents, playing, going for a swim when they felt like. If only he had been as fortunate. Somehow he liked his walk, trudging through the jungles at that unearthly hour, the sound of his solitary footsteps on the dry bed of leaves, too early even for the birds to start chirping or crows to start cawing. He walked and walked and walked. It would take him at least two hours to get anywhere close to Kulunga, a good five to six kilometres away from his village.

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The man who saw the future: Yashwant Chittal and his place in modern Indian literature

The city — as a place of immense possibility and wrenching displacement — made only a fleeting appearance in Kannada literature in the decades after Independence. In the 1970s, Bengaluru was more Malgudi than Mumbai, more a sleepy town of towering rain trees and slow living than the city it burst into three decades later. For readers, a foretaste of life in a teeming metropolis came in Shikari, a novel written in 1979 by one of the most important Kannada writers and modernists, Yashwant Chittal. “To read Chittal is to see the whole nightmare and vision of a city,” says Girish Karnad, writer, filmmaker and playwright.

That nightmare is seen through the eyes of Nagappa, the protagonist of Shikari, an engineer at the peak of his career in a chemicals company in Bombay. The novel begins, dramatically, by shoving Nagappa right into a mysterious ordeal: “As the situation he found himself in began to make some sense to Nagappa, he recalled K, the hero of Kafka’s novel The Trial that he had read years ago. Just like it had happened with K, somebody must be spreading false rumours about him.” Those rumours have led him to be suspended from his job on “serious charges” that have not been specified. As the novel proceeds, Nagappa is swept away by a swirl of paranoia and conspiracy in a cut-throat, competitive world in which nothing is as it seems to be. In an essay written for the Outlook magazine in 2012, author Aravind Adiga had described Shikari as a searing Bombay novel, and Chittal as a novelist “who has captured the city as well as Suketu Mehta or Salman Rushdie”. An English translation of the novel, Shikari: The Hunt, published by Penguin Random House, releases this month.

So, who was Chittal? What is his place in modern Indian literature? How does he imagine an urban modernity? Was he the man who saw tomorrow?

Yashwant Chittal was born in Hanehalli village in Uttara Kannada district in August, 1928, in a family of remarkable talent — the eldest of five brothers, Damodar, was a lawyer and politician; Gangadhar, five years older than Yashwant, was one of the finest modern Kannada poets.

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New literature on Indian cities

Nakul Krishna in The Caravan

I bankrupted myself while writing Maximum City: Suketu Mehta Count on Urdu to have a word for it: shahr-i-ashob, lament for a city. Here is Mirza Muhammad Rafi Sauda, a poet from the eighteenth century:

How can I describe the desolation of Delhi? There is no house from which the jackal’s cry cannot be heard. … In the once-beautiful gardens where the nightingale sang his love songs to the rose, the grass grows waist-high around the fallen pillars and ruined arches. … Jahanabad, you never deserved this terrible fate, you who were once vibrant with life and hope, like the heart of a young lover. Continue reading


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A city of books in S. Korea

Paju Book City

Paju Book City

When I first heard of Paju Bookcity, I imagined a wondrous bibliophilic paradise of human-scaled buildings with legible facades nestled side-by-side like volumes on a shelf. I pictured folks strolling down the sidewalk with their faces buried in thick novels, soft sunlight for reading, a light breeze that flutters pages and carries the smell of freshly brewed coffee.

When I traveled to the real Paju Bookcity, I found something else: it’s an industrial estate created for and by companies related to all aspects of book manufacturing — publishers, printers, distributors — sited a half-hour drive north of Seoul, in the marshes next to a highway near the Korean Demilitarized Zone. But if Bookcity is not the fairy tale I envisioned, it is a kind of Cinderella story: this is the industrial park remade. Rejecting the typical planning formula — a generic grid of nondescript buildings — Bookcity follows an “urban wetlands” master plan and features serious architecture by internationally prominent designers. How many industrial parks have served as backdrops for television commercials or fashion shoots, as happened at Paju during my visit this summer? “It is not hyperbole to claim that this is one of the most extraordinary and most unsung cultural and architectural developments in the world,” design critic Edwin Heathcote observed in 2009. [1] “The idea that a city, right now, [could] be dedicated solely to print and that an industrial estate could be a place of architectural pilgrimage could not be more heartening, more encouraging to anyone who delights in those very old information technologies — books and buildings.”

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