With the quarantine in full force, I constantly found myself buzzing with the undercurrent of my anxieties and amped up by this misplaced energy. It’s funny because it’s not like I have much time on my hands. My workload has been more or less the same amid the ongoing pandemic. But there are pockets of break times so, one day, I found myself decluttering my stacks of papers and notebooks from college. 

They were my old essays, reading materials and various notes. Nostalgia overwhelmed me as I read through them, especially considering that I haven’t written anything remotely personal lately. With my work as a writer for someone else, my job is just to be my boss’ foot soldier—to produce content for him, for his business, for his name. 

It was a Wednesday evening. We did not have power since the Amphan, a cyclone of sinister proportions, had made a landfall on Tuesday afternoon lashing Calcutta with ferocious wind and rain in the middle of a lockdown. The part of Calcutta where we live had the look of a cornfield ravaged by a hoard of rogue elephants – thousands of trees uprooted, boundary walls collapsed, and we did not have electricity for the previous 24 hours. It was not at all an appropriate time to upload photos of tea cups on social media and snobbishly announce the elevated status that had been accorded to an old brew on a sleepy mobile phone tangled with a power bank. But I could not resist the temptation to share the breaking news – ‘The United Nations recognizes the importance of one of the oldest brews on earth and declares May 21 as World Tea Day. Cheers!’ It was instinctive. Like itching.

Monisha Raman explores Karukku, a seminal work on Dalit life by Bama, which remains the most important work penned by a Dalit woman about living in a small town in Tamil Nadu as a member of a suppressed group, even after 25 years of publication.

When Karukku was first published in 1992, it came in for much criticism from many Tamil literary stalwarts. At a literary festival, an established writer called it reportage. The colloquial language used in the narration was not welcome by many in the writing community. However, the work established itself as among the most prominent voices in Dalit feminism. The English translation by Lakshmi Holmstrom, published by Oxford India Paperback in 2000, is having a successful run with its second edition.  This work holds the credit of being the first autobiography of a Dalit woman writer from Tamil Nadu.

Why does Hamlet dilly-dally in avenging the murder of his father? His father’s ghost clearly exhorts him to do it. He knows it is his duty and he must do it though he does not like it. 

“… O cursed spite 

That ever I was born to set it right.” 

Taking his cue from these lines, Goethe observes, “A beautiful, pure and most moral nature, without the strength of nerve which makes a hero, sinks beneath a burden which it can neither bear nor throw off; every duty is holy to him- this too hard. The impossible is required of him- not the impossible in itself, but impossible to him.” 

It didn’t sink in until the grocery store, staring down a $9 jar of pickles. And it was only when I got to the candy aisle that I turned around and said, “I graduated!” out loud, defending the non-essential purchase. After that, I said “I graduated” to everything. Organic apple cider from Atkins, an extra bottle of Arizona, recipes from home via BooksActually’s free international delivery for any 3 local titles. 

The family Zoom celebration spiralled into politics: crackling voices fighting for the same cause, but to be louder about it. When the lack of a Premium plan ended the conversation at precisely 40 minutes, nobody was dismayed.

By Ratnottama Sengupta

So much of sci-fi uses science as a starting point and then uses fiction to fill up the gaps in our present knowledge. We use what we know today to imagine a different tomorrow –- a better tomorrow — for the world. Still, sooner rather than later, sci-fi that looks out-dated as science fiction becomes a scientific fact. Don’t we all know that Sage Valmiki wrote in Ramayana of the Pushpak Vimana ( mythical flying chariots in Hindu lore) and the giant bird Jatayu that clashed in mid-space aeons before the Wright Brothers wrote their names into aviation history or before the Central Science Laboratory in UK estimated that worldwide, the cost of bird-strikes to airlines had soared to US$ 1.2 billion annually!

But why does this possibility of fiction becoming a fact excite me? Admittedly because of my association with Me and I, which my father, well-known author and scriptwriter Nabendu Ghosh, had written for his two grandsons, and was translated by my son Devottam Sengupta for his grandpa’s birth centenary. Published by Hachette India, the novel breaks the barriers of space and time. Let me quote from the synopsis to give readers a glimpse of this. “They all had the same question for Mukul: ‘Why didn’t you recognise us? And why did you look so dark?’ Mukul was perplexed. The day had started as any other Sunday morning would, with him going out to meet his aunt, his friends and his mentor Noni Kaku of the Telescope. But when everyone, including his own parents insisted that he was lying about his whereabouts, Mukul had to look around for this imposter. And he found Lukum, who had travelled light years to meet his intergalactic ‘twin.’ Little did Mukul know that he had set out on the longest Sunday of his life…”

By Sushant Dhar

Nikos Kazantzakis
Nikos Kazantzakis in Antibes, 1956 
Photograph by Henri Chaillet

I rose and held out my hand to the rain like a beggar. I suddenly felt like weeping. Some sorrow, not my own but deeper and more obscure, was rising from the damp earth: the panic which a peaceful grazing animal feels when, all at once, without having seen anything, it rears its head and scents in the air about it that it is trapped and cannot escape. I wanted to utter a cry, knowing that it would relieve my feelings, but I was ashamed to. The clouds were coming lower and lower. I looked through the window: my heart was gently palpitating. What a voluptuous enjoyment of sorrow those hours of soft rain can produce in you! All the bitter memories hidden in the depth of your mind come to the surface: separations from friends, women’s smiles which have faded, hopes which have lost their wings like moths and of which only a grub remains – and that grub had crawled on the leaf of my heart and was eating it away. My misery lasted for years, perhaps even to this day. I was born, after all, on Friday the eighteenth of February, the day of souls, a very holy day indeed, and the old midwife clutched me in her hands, brought me close to the light, and looked at me with great care. She seemed to see some kind of mystic signs on me. Lifting me high, she said, “Mark my words, one day this child will become a bishop” (Zorba the Greek).

And came Nikos Kazantzakis, the one who stared back at the abyss with unflinching courage.

It was the seventh day of November, 2016. I was sitting quietly in my room, looking through the window, watching the red dot disappear behind the snow clad mountains. I had finished reading Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Nietzsche’s ‘superman’ had taken hold of my mind. While browsing the web, I came around a breath-choking prologue: ‘I collect my tools: sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing, intellect. Night has fallen; the day’s work is done. I return like a mole to my home, the ground. Not because I am tired and cannot work. I am not tired. But the sun has set.’

These sentences were written at the time when Kazantzakis had a premonition of Charon coming soon to visit him. The words stunned me. I looked for the author and the book. I hadn’t read anything about Nikos Kazantzakis. Reading Report to Greco, Kazantzakis’ autobiographical novel, was akin to being part of the author’s spiritual journey. The moment I started reading Greco, I was transported into a different realm of writing. I hadn’t ever experienced such joy of reading. Pure philosophy. The uphill path. It was like reading something written with blood. The central theme of all his writings is the battle between soul and flesh; the unaccommodating ascent to the summit. All of his works speak of harmonizing the two forces that are fighting within each human being. He writes about real freedom; to hope nothing, to deliver man from man, to deliver god from god, to erect our personal bridges and jump over the abyss.

By Prof Dilip Loundo

100 Great Indian Poems

 

In the journal of her trip to India in 1953, the Brazilian poet Cecília Meireles writes: ‘As paradoxical as it may seem, it is easier to understand the East (India) by knowing Brazil, whose problems are curiously similar (struggle for the affirmation of nationality, urgency to adapt to international circumstances, use of wealth, racial setbacks, economic consolidation, education plans), except for their respective ages and the date of their independence[i]. By exploring the potential territory of dialogue that is represented by the poet’s intuition, we witness a fascinating situation. Brazil and India are complex societies with a large territory and population and these countries are regarded, from the historical point of view, as antipodes in birth: India, one of the oldest civilizations of humanity and Brazil, one of the youngest. At the same time, they present a remarkable common characteristic: a content of unity that articulates, intrinsically and organically, a cultural diversity. In other words, they are societies that have two fundamental implications: (i) a dynamic of inclusiveness, a cultural permeability that is, at the same time, matrix of genetic constitution and matrix of historical interaction with external agents; (ii) a dynamic of the imaginary, as an essential structure of articulation of the cultural diversities that confers plasticity and iconographic profusion. This underlies, on the one hand, a postcolonial environment relatively immune to the Cartesian-Enlightenment rationality and, on the other hand, a natural disposition for intercultural dialogue, which emerges as a spontaneity that reinforces and guarantees the continuity and survival of a civilization.

It is within the scope of literature, a privileged sphere of sense building, that the potential of Brazil-India dialogue reaches its most exuberant expression. Although clearly unsystematic, this dialogue registers significant events, both with regard to the presence of Brazilian literature in India[ii] and, especially, with regard to the presence of written and oral sources of Indian literature in Brazil. With respect to the latter, we can identify, initially, a level of predominantly oral subconscious presence, represented by the incorporation of the Indian narratives of the Pañcatantra in the popular folklore of the Brazilian northeast[iii]. Another level, of a more conscious  and written character, is represented by an extensive group of Brazilian authors who, through the most diverse and distinct regions of Brazil, came into contact with the ancient literature of the Vedas, Upaniṣads, Vedānta, Yoga, and Buddhist sutras, and the contemporary literature of key personalities such as Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore. This is the case of Cruz e Souza, Augusto dos Anjos, Machado de Assis, Guimarães Rosa and the modernist writers associated with the Festa group, in which Cecília Meireles stands out, whose philosophical lyric is fundamentally constructed in the light of a sui generis with Indian spiritual sources[iv].

It is in this context, therefore, of the enrichment of the still incipient dialogue between Brazil and India in the sphere of literature, that the importance of the translation of 100 Great Indian Poems (Bloomsbury India, 2018), edited by Abhay K. into Portuguese titled 100 Grandes Poemas da Índia stands out. Abhay K. is an Indian poet-diplomat currently based in Brasilia who has received SAARC Literary Award 2013 for his contribution to the South Asian poetry. He has also edited CAPITALS, a poetry anthology on the capital cities of the world and has published six collections of poems. 100 Grandes Poemas da Índia, has been published as a special edition of Cadernos de Literatura em Tradução, a reputed journal of literature in translation by the University of São Paulo. This edition is entirely devoted to Indian poetry. It is undoubtedly a very important contribution to the cultural dialogue between Brazil and India and a unique opportunity for a radical encounter with the multiple facets of the civilizing soul of the Indian subcontinent and its cultural, social and religious expressions.