By Meenakshi Malhotra

 

430px-Nabaneeta_Dev_Sen'04
Nabaneeta Dev Sen

What do you say when a doyenne in the field of literature dies? That she was a colossus in the field of literary studies? Any summing  up  of the achievements of Nabaneeta Dev Sen would sound and seem like  a comprehensive survey of a substantial chunk , if not the entire field of comparative literature in India.

Nabaneeta Dev Sen was one of the finest minds in the world of literature, in terms of both her creative and critical work. A pioneer in the field of Comparative Literature, she is often perceived  as having played a transformative role in  transforming  Comparative  Literature  as a discipline in India,  from a mechanical reading of texts across languages to a rigorous theoretical discipline. Nabaneeta Dev Sen’s scholarship brought her international fame and acclaim. She was not only a scholar and researcher , but also a popular teacher both in Jadavpur, as well as in the many institutes where she taught ranging from reputed academic institutions in the United States, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Germany, France, Japan and Israel. A graduate of Presidency College, she had  masters’ degrees from Jadavpur and Harvard universities and a PhD from Indiana university.

Uma Trilok in conversation with Mitali Chakravarty

IMG_0620
Dr Uma Trilok

Dr Uma Trilok is a small vivacious woman, well-dressed and polite… almost more like a retired college professor. She could be a heroine of one of the novels she writes. But as one reads her poetry in both Hindi, Hindustani, Punjabi and English, one is left wondering what goes on behind that serene, calm exterior.

With her writing, Uma draws word pictures which vividly converse with herself as well as the world outside. Through them she asks questions which enquire and eventually appear on her canvas as expressions of love, anguish, loss, hope, smiles and unions. Acclaimed and awarded, she has the rare art of  balancing joy with pain which subtly leaves the reader with a profound sense of hope, courage and enterprise. “Her moving and touchy narrative brings out the deeply spiritual aspect of her writing,” writes India Today.

Besides being an acclaimed bilingual poet, her short stories and novels have been staged as plays. “She presents her lines with a  unique facility of phrase and depth of feeling. In the play of her words, myriad moods of anguish and  ecstasy come to the fore vividly,” writes the Journal of Poetry Society of India.

Uma Trilok has written award winning books including her much acclaimed debut novel, Amrita  Imroz: A Love Story. In all, she has penned 16 books. Here, in this exclusive, she talks of how she started writing and what she sees as her future.

 

Mitali: When did you start writing? Can you tell us what put you on the path of writing? What was your inspiration? Do you have any book, music or art that inspires you?

Uma: At the age of 32,  I was the heading a college for women in Mahashri Dayanand University. While sitting in a quiet environment, when students were taking their exams, a poem arrived, and I put it on a paper…That was the beginning.

Prior to that, I taught at Delhi University. Trained in Indian classical Music and Kathak dance, I sang at the All India Radio and gave dance performances at places like Triveni Kala Sangam, New Delhi. I had to conceal this part of myself from the conservative management of the women’s college. My journey as a poet started as a result of this trammel, way back in the 1970s. My creativity needed to flow somehow in some direction. I picked up the pen, a safe medium.

Writing was not a choice, it was a compulsion.

the-burning-forest_300_cmyk

From Mining to Militarism 

Mining and militarism have a deeply intimate history. In 2003, when India liberalized its mining policy, the de facto Maoist control over the region was seen as constituting a major obstacle to rapid industrialization and land acquisition. Industry associations like the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) explicitly supported the government’s offensive against the Maoists and called for the involvement of the private sector in this effort:

The growing Maoist insurgency over large swathes of the mineral rich countryside could soon hurt some industrial investment plans. Just when India needs to ramp up its industrial machine to lock in growth and when foreign companies are joining the party – Naxalites are clashing with mining and steel companies essential to India’s long-term success.

Human rights activists argue that it is not a coincidence that Salwa Judum began just when the state government had signed a memorandum of understanding for a steel plant with the Tatas in June 2005. Around the same time, Essar was acquiring land for another steel plant in Dhurli and Bhansi villages, and both the Tatas and Essar were given captive iron ore mines on the Bailadilla hills. ‘Public hearings’ were held in Lohandiguda, Dhurli and Bhansi, in order to fulfi l the offi cial requirement under PESA of eliciting villagers’ ‘consent’:

The villagers under the leadership of Dantewada Adivasi Mahasabha and Sangharsh Samiti Dhurli, said that on 9th September the police forced them to sign No objection letters. Two constables were posted in each house. No outsider was allowed at the meeting place. People were not allowed to leave their homes or to talk to each other. According to villagers, at 9 a.m. they were forced into vehicles, and taken to the meeting location. Supporters of the opposition leader (Mahendra Karma) also helped the police in this process. The villagers related that they were taken into a room in twos, and pistols were placed at their temples to make them sign where told.

Siddharth Chowdhury’s first published book was a short story collection titled Diksha at St. Martins (Srishti, 2002). Some characters who first appeared in those stories, like Ritwik Ray and Mira Verma, went on to play starring roles in his next book, the brilliantly unpredictable Patna Roughcut (Picador, 2005).

Chowdhury’s next novel Day Scholar (2010) saw a shift of setting from 1980s Patna to 1990s Delhi, with a new narrator called Hriday Thakur opening up a deeply male world of Bihari hostellers who live on the fringes of Delhi University and in the terrifying shadow of Zorawar Singh Shokeen, political broker and property dealer – and their landlord.