A nostalgic journey with writer and Sahitya Akademi Award Winner, Ather Farooqui…

To those who can’t get entry into the regular postgraduate degree courses at JNU, even nondescript courses like the part-time Diploma in Urdu journalism or the full-time course in mass communication run in the JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) campus by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting present a window of opportunity to be a part of this great institute. It is great with regard both to work ethic and ideology. To those who wished to work hard, these courses were/are a boon, as their mere presence in JNU campus would motivate them, irrespective of whether classes were conducted regularly or whether the course had any utility.

…The idealism inculcated in JNU stays with you, it seeps into your every pore and translates into action. This is why, even now, whenever there is public outrage over unjust government policies or an act of violence, JNU students and faculty are often seen leading protests, facing police tear gas and browbeating, and generally expressing their outrage in diverse fora and on social media. However, when they leave the familiar and venture out through JNU’s gates into the wide world outside, they realize that even the train ticket back home comes at the cost of greasing someone’s palms and that corruption is omnipresent, and also that the world doesn’t set much store by JNU idealism. It is this shock that most JNUites experience when they leave their beloved campus and which is why, whenever I meet a non-JNUite, I don’t tell them that they were unfortunate to miss out on the JNU experience, but rather that they are fortunate they didn’t go to JNU—because JNU spoils you for life.

…But life has also taken its toll on JNU. Its pride in its tolerance of diversity of every kind among its faculty, administrative staff or students, whether regional, linguistic, religious or of dress, is dented every time an attempt at uniformity occurs and every time dissent is pitted against one’s loyalty to the nation. The continent in which JNU was an island is catching up with it. Luckily, JNU still has the strength to resist and retain its pride.

I joined JNU in 1986 to pursue a part-time diploma in mass media in Urdu. I hail from the sleepy town of Sikandrabad in district Buland Shahr, located some 60 km from Delhi’s Kashmiri Gate Inter-State Bus Terminus (ISBT). I don’t think that in 1986 my one-horse hometown was any different from what it had been in 1947. The privileged lifestyle now enjoyed by the elite and some sections of the middle class was then the prerogative of just a handful of families. The Delhi of 1986 was not as claustrophobically or catastrophically crowded as it is today; it was quite unorganised and dirty nonetheless, despite the fact that existing roads had been widened and some new ones built, leading up to Asiad 1982.

Book Review by Samarpita Mukherjee Sharma

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Title: You Beneath Your Skin

Author: Damyanti Biswas

Publisher: Simon & Schuster India, Sept 2019

You Beneath Your Skin by Damyanti Biswas came into my radar when I was reading few excellent thrillers by Indian women authors. I had already been won over by the clever skills with which each of those stories had been crafted, so my expectations were on a rise. The blurb of the story says that You Beneath Your Skin is about relationships and crimes set in Delhi. However, what the last sentence might make you believe, the story isn’t your run-of-the-mill kind of crime committed by people in some relationship.

What You Beneath Your Skin  about is a whole lot of different yet related aspects of life. From personal relationships, each different from the other, to professional relationships, the story is mainly about Anjali and Jatin. While it has a lot to do about their relationship, there is a lot else that is quite important to the story that hold ground without taking allegiance from the protagonist couple.

We have Anjali, a single mother of Indo-American descent with an autistic teenage son. Anjali is a psychiatrist and works at a hospital. Her work extends to NGOs and the downtrodden. This takes her to the dark underbelly of the national capital, Delhi. She is shown as an independent woman who has a lot in her plate yet tries her best to add more to it and make everything work. Her son Nikhil is a teenager — a quite problematic age as it is — his autism adding to troubles for the mother-son duo. Nikhil’s condition, Anjali’s treatment of it, and how situations are handled have been described in a very smart and sensitive manner through the eye of someone who has probably worked with similar situations.

by Mitali Chakravarty

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Isa Kamari

His books transport one to a past — a time where under the green creepers on a softly moving river, a boat sails and take one into a unique world of what has been. You discover how much the world has changed and how Singapore has evolved, you meet people who intrigue and bring to the fore the roots that created the little red dot. And yet some of his books look forward to a future – a world of harmony where technology and spiritual peace co-exist… Meet the author, winner of numerous awards and a voice to be reckoned with — Isa Kamari.

Isa Kamari was born in 1960 and lives in Singapore with his wife and two children. He is currently Deputy Director in the Architecture Division with the Land Transport Authority of Singapore, leading a team that manages the design and construction of transport infrastructures. While his profession is an architect, his passion lies in writing, though his architectural background has also found a way into some of his novels.

In all, he has written 9 novels, 3 collections of poetry, a collection of short stories, a book of essays on Singapore Malay poetry, a collection of theatre scripts and lyrics of 2 song albums — all in Malay. His novels have been translated into English, Turkish, Urdu, Hindi, Arabic, Indonesian and Mandarin. His collections of essays and selected poems have been translated into English. His first novel in English, Tweet was published in 2016. Isa was conferred the Southeast Asia Write Award from Thailand in 2006, the Singapore Cultural Medallion in 2007, the Anugerah Tun Seri Lanang from the Singapore Malay Language Council in 2009, and the Mastera Literary Award from Brunei Darussalam in 2018.

In this exclusive, he talks about his book Kiswah, whose translated version is being launched on 8thNovember in the Singapore Writer’s Festival; the  dramatisation of his novel, 1819 and much more…

 

Front coverYou will soon be launching Kiswah. It shuttles between various locales. Can you tell us the intent of this book? What led you to write it?

Isa: In the late 1990s, I was disturbed by the rampant spread of pornographic materials in in Singapore. Vendors openly sold X-rated VCDs near MRT stations, bus interchanges and bazaars illegally. There were also reports in the newspapers about the addiction to pornography amongst professionals and the young. At the same time, I knew from my wife, who was doing voluntary service at a welfare home, that there were many family breakups arising from sexual abuses. All these compelled me to ponder on the topic of manifestation of sexual life in relation to spirituality or the lack of it. The various locales — like Delhi, Agra, Kashmir, Kathmandu and finally Mecca — becomes the background for me to explore, confront, interrogate and somewhat find a resolution on the topic.

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Title: Tales From my Tail End, My Cancer Diary

Author: Anaya Mukherjee

Publisher Speaking Tiger, 2019

Links for purchase: Amazon

 

Husbands and Conversations

Though I would have liked the subject to be Husbands and Conversations, yet it has to be singular for the time being.

With my treatment on in Mumbai and the incumbent’s hometown being in Jaipur, we spend long periods of separation leading to a highly happy relationship. We also spend an inordinate amount of time talking on the phone, on subjects other than—can you press my shirt, find my wallet, give me food, fetch me water, get my phone, switch on the light, switch off the AC, switch on the AC, switch off the light….

Away from the tedium of domesticity, we indulge in refreshed conversations where he drops many pearls of wisdom, while I manage to gather some.

About God: I share how I am inundated with suggestions on rituals to cure me. They range from getting mahamrityun jai jaap done, feeding black dogs on Thursdays, cows (on all days), to not feeding myself on special days reserved for gods. All this ostensibly to appease the Almighty and instill fear in the power of His wrath. The husband says that if He is the creator of the Universe and the Supreme Almighty, He better not look for petty appeasements and indulge in random anger when bhakts end up eating eggs on Tuesday. If God exists, he must be bigger than that. Food for thought.

By Ankita Banerjee

The skyscrapers along the nameless street grew four times bigger that afternoon, like a dozen of Hulks coming to life all at once. I picked up pace, but tripped over something and fell down on the sidewalk.  The result was a palpable twinge on my left arm. There was a clothesline tied across what seemed to my eight-year-old self as two gigantic green  skyscrapers and on it hung my mother’s petticoats and a pair of her old red ribbons. “Slow down, it’s going to pour,” she called out to me from faraway. But I was so close to where I wanted to be; I couldn’t wait.

“Fresh catches for only 50 taka (rupees in Bengali) per kilo!” fishmongers cried from the ferry terminal down the street. I walked down gingerly through its slushy stairs. Across the mighty river, Chandannagar sparkled with lights that brought to life mythological birds and animals and vivid blooming flowers sketched on display boards. And then I saw the silvery hilsa (fish found in the Indian subcontinent) — gleaming with a touch of regal pink, stacked all around.

I was still eight, sitting at the doorstep of my mother’s old kitchen and watched her fry ring-shaped pieces of the hilsa in mustard oil. She put two heaped spoons of steamed rice on my plate and mixed it with the oil of hilsa roe and a pinch of salt with her turmeric stained peaky fingers. “Let me pick out the bones for you,” the warmth in her voice echoed from the other end of time and coiled into a globe of ache in my chest. The pain on my left arm was no longer obscure.

The Assassinations

The evening sky had deadened to the colour of cigarette ash by the time Jaswant left his office. On his way home, he passed cars and buses on fire, burnt shells of shops and houses billowing smoke, dead bodies of Sikhs cremated alive, bands of goondas brandishing machetes and crowbars… It was as if Partition had descended one more time. The stench of fire and smoke, the hapless victims and their remorseless tormentors, even the mob’s war cry of khoon kabadlakhoon. Everything was the same, right down to the dread rising from his soul.

He could feel the goondas’ eyes probing the car as it went past. They were stopping cars at random to check if there were Sikhs inside. Many times they’d tell the driver to open the boot to make sure no Sikhs were being smuggled to safety. But they made no move to impede his progress. That he was in a government car kept them at bay. That and the fact neither he nor his driver appeared to be a Sikh.

No sooner had they entered the posh southern part of Delhi than the goondas melted away. The stench of fire and smoke receded. The burnt bodies and buildings disappeared…instead, there were shuttered shops and deserted streets and empty pavements…. Even the dogs were not barking. It was as if someone had thrown a blanket of silence over the entire place. The silence resounded louder than all the mayhem Jaswant had witnessed. It spoke of fear and apathy.

Even though it was still evening, the first thing he did after reaching home was lock his front gate. Deepa, Savitri and Rakesh were waiting for him in the drawing room. Deepa’s face was wan, her eyes puffy. She had been crying since getting home from Rakesh’s school. Rakesh was hunched in a chair. Normally, it was hard for him to sit still. But that day he looked as if all life had been sucked out of him.

Savitri told him about the attack on the Sikh they witnessed while returning from Rakesh’s school. The sheer brutality of the assault took Jaswant unawares, despite what he had seen on his way home. When Savitri came to the part where the Sikh’s assailant shoved locks of his hair into his mouth, Jaswant recoiled. It was several seconds before he could find his voice.

He told them that he had no news of Prem. He had contacted one of his friends who was a superintendent in the Home Guards and stationed less than ten kilometres from Trilokpuri. His friend had promised to call him with information in the morning.

Deepa, who was dying for news of Prem, erupted. “He said that and you accepted it?” she shouted. “You didn’t tell him to send a man there at once? You didn’t tell him that this is your future son-in-law?”

Her voice collapsed as she finished. She leapt up from the sofa to half-run, half-stumble in the direction of her room. Savitri went after her. Jaswant dropped into the sofa. It pained him to see Deepa so upset. He wished he had better news.

“Will everything be all right, Daddy?” Rakesh asked.

His voice betrayed how much he was struggling to make sense of what was going on. It was as if they had gone back in time and Rakesh was a little boy all over again. A lump grew in Jaswant’s throat. He went over to embrace Rakesh. “Don’t worry, beta, everything will be all right,” he told him. “Now go put your mind elsewhere.”

There was a short pause before Rakesh nodded and left for his room. Jaswant slumped on the sofa, wishing he could feel some of the conviction with which he had assured Rakesh that things would work out.

His friend in the Home Guards had sent a man to Irfan’s flat. That man got nowhere near the flat. Instead, he came back with news of a neighbourhood under siege. An army of goondaswas running wild in Trilokpuri. They had cut all the telephone wires and blocked the way out with a huge concrete pipe. Near the pipe, there was a car all smashed up. From the description, it appeared to be Prem’s. There was no sign of Prem; so there was a chance that he had survived. But it didn’t appear likely, given the evidence on hand.

He hadn’t been able to look into Deepa’s teary eyes and tell her the man she loved was probably dead. On the phone with Amarjeet, he had found himself just as powerless. So he had lied to both of them, saying his friend would call with news in the morning.

What was worse? The hammer blow of tragedy or the torture of not knowing?

As far as he could tell, there wasn’t much to choose.

It was almost morning before Deepa gave in to sleep and Savitri could leave her room. She plodded, heavy-footed, through the house. Although she had been up all night and was aching everywhere, she had no wish to go to bed.

Jaswant was still fast asleep on the drawing room sofa. She had found him sitting there last night when she came out of Deepa’s room to get her a glass of water. He had wanted to come speak to Deepa. She had talked him out of it. It would be hard for him to deal with her, given the mood she was in. Evidently, he had stayed where she left him, until fatigue got the better of him. Because of Deepa, she hadn’t been able to speak to him last night. She wondered whether she should wake him up. She decided against it. Before that she needed a few moments to herself.

About the book:

The Bride’s Mirror (Mirat ul-‘Arus) was the first bestseller in Urdu. First published in 1869, within twenty years it had gone into several editions and sold over 100,000 copies. An English translation was published in England in 1903 by G. E. Ward, and the book has been almost continuously in print ever since. The novel tells the story of two sisters, Asghari and Akbari, who are married to two brothers in Delhi. Akbari, the spoilt, mean-tempered and impetuous sister, fritters away all the advantages she is offered and makes a mess of her life. Asghari, who has to contend with all sorts of disappointments and setbacks, prevails in the end and makes a success of everything she turns her hand to.

All through its existence, The Bride’s Mirror had been hailed as one of the most important works of Urdu literature ever published. The portrait it provides of the lives of those who lived in Delhi over a hundred years ago is an indelible one.

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When the news of Batúl’s death reached him, Dúrandesh Khán sáhib was very greatly distressed, and it was with a troubled heart that he wrote to his daughter the following letter: