Tag Archives: essays

Bookmarked: The great Indian novel- An epic Blunder By Ramlal Agarwal

In this literary essay, Ramlal Agarwal talks about Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel and how text of the epic is twisted beyond recognition turning it into a disappointing experience for the reader.

Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel has come in for high praise in India and abroad, and is already in its fifth edition. Khushwant Singh called it one of the most significant books in recent times. Washington Port reviewed it on its front page and the Times London, called it a tour de force

Tharoor humbly explains why he calls his novel The Great Indian Novel. He further states, his primary source of inspiration is the Mahabharata. Since Maha means Great, and Bharat means India, he calls this novel The Great Indian Novel

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Ruminations: One Step Further by Priya M

In this personal essay, Priya M transverses through a plethora of human emotions and captures life, in its most fragile form.

The dust had hardly settled on the ground, before another car sped across the road. The siren was now clearly audible. I braced myself for the inevitable wave of nausea. Even with the ambulance so near, the vehicles on the road jostled for space, struggling to get away before it became absolutely necessary to wait for the emergency van to cross. I tightened my grip on the handle of my Scooty and made a sharp swivel to the right side of the road. 

Ignoring the volley of honks and insults, I abandoned my vehicle and crouched next to the footpath. As the ambulance turned the corner onto this road, that telltale flash of red at the corner of my eye was too much for my fluttering heart. I heaved and my guts spilled along the side of the footpath. 

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Translation: The Call of Pous by Buddhadev Bose

[ Pous – The ninth month of the Bengali calendar, from mid December to mid January]

It is three o’clock. Keeping aside the work in hand, I leant back in my chair. My handwritten long row of small words on the white sheet of paper  – just like dead flies on a white wall; each line resembling a slithery black snake. I had finished one page after an hour of hard work. I have transformed an atomic part of the vast and unclear world of the thought processes in my brain, into decipherable human language – watered through eons of years, the developed feelings in symbols, in conversations. The process involves extreme anguish and pain. Despite that being so, I just have to go through it… I have to bear the pain through the whirling days and sleepless nights, through weeks, months, years upon years, until the day death will bring the last and ultimate respite. When I look at the sheets of paper filled with my handwriting, I shudder to the bottom of my soul. Words, words. Endless, unending words. Maybe these words are meaningless to everyone except myself.

Are there six people in this land who’d understand what I wanted to say upon reading my writings? The way I want my works to be read, will there be three men to read them? I know what happens. On a summer afternoon, closing the doors and windows of the room, turning the overhead fan on, the deputy homemaker lies down on the mammoth cot holding my book in her hands, (if she doesn’t have any boy or girl nearing the ‘about to be fallen’ age) then after reading two pages, the printed words become hazy, she turns aside and dozes off to sleep. The weight of her fat hands would squeeze the open pages of the book with three hours’ of sweat. And the guys from the public library vie with each other in order to get hold of my books; only the fortunate returns home clutching his prize within his armpits, jumping with joy, gobbles up the book from the first to the last pages – turning the pages like a madman, to get whatever he wants, whatever he understands, for which he has saved his pennies with extreme diligence. Instead of offering these at the pious feet of the screen’s gods and goddesses, he turns the pages of my books ravenously, in search of the same pleasure. Then after his disillusion, he creates various juicy stories and anecdotes about me and in this way, takes his revenge. I know, I know. 

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Essay: What’s wrong with cultural elitism? – A case against high culture by Jahnabi Mitra

For the longest time I took pride in the fact that I would listen to only Begum Akhtar and the like. I took pride in naming several world movies and having remembered their directors. But what is not on record is that I started reading fairly late into my teenage years and started out with a railway copy of Bhagat’s Two States during my high school years, which I discreetly disposed of on my bookshelf in my later years. 

My journey to develop a ‘refined taste’ was a rather self-imposed one; the one where I decided not to listen to certain genres of music, or avoid watching certain films. This intent to culturally ‘polish myself up’ was my regular homework, which was led by an unconscious need to fit into certain sects of society and a need to appease an imaginary audience. 

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Essay: My Cup of Tea by Sekhar Banerjee

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.

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Essay: Discourse in the time of cholera

Jeetu muses on the power of silences and the magic of words

Photo by Sheep . on Pexels.com

Why is it that something scrawled on paper works? 

Squiggly marks bravely carrying on the weight of meaning in their curlicues and curves, straights and serifs, wondering and pondering in conventional lines. After all, these are just crafted thoughts–skilfully or otherwise. But nothing so grand as to have us drool over them, be adoring slaves and frowning guardians, swatting away those who do not like them–that is, the barbarians.

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Book review: A Feminist Foremother: Critical Essays on Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain; ed. Mohammad A. Quayum and Md. Mahmudul Hasan

Reviewed by Mir Arif

A Feminist Foremother

Title: A Feminist Foremother: Critical Essays on Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain
Edited by: Mohammad A. Quayum and Md. Mahmudul Hasan
Publisher: Orient BlackSwan Pvt Ltd.
Pages: 312 (Hardcover)
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In an essay entitled “Griha” [Home] Rokeya Skhawat Hossain (1880-1932) says that Indian women are treated worse than animals since even animals have homes, but Indian women have none: they must always be dependent on a man for shelter. It was in such an unfavourable time that Rokeya emerged as a crusader for the emancipation of Indian women and dedicated her life to building a gender-just society. A Feminist Foremother: Critical Essays on Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain (Orient Blackswan, 2017), takes a critical look into Rokeya’s struggle and becoming one of India’s most ‘courageous feminists’. Seen within the socio-cultural and historical context of her times, the book also examines her literary works and social reform activities to better appreciate the challenges she faced as a Bengali Muslim woman.

The book contains 13 essays by reputed academics and critics. It is co-edited by Mohammad A. Quayum, Professor of English at the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), and Adjunct Professor of English and Creative Writing at Flinders University, Australia; and Md. Mahmudul Hasan, Associate Professor of English at the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). They both have decades-long research on early feminist movement in the Indian subcontinent, especially in undivided Bengal. Professor Quayum has previously edited and translated The Essential Rokeya: Selected Works of Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain 1880-1932 (Brill, 2013). Dr. Hasan has a Ph.D in comparative study of Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Woolf, Attia Hosain and Monica Ali.

The first essay, “Rokeya Skhawat Hossain: A Biographical Essay,” by Mohammad A. Quayum provides a comprehensive discussion on Rokeya’s life and works. Professor Quayum highlights how Rokeya—overcoming all kinds of hurdles coming both from her family and society—continued to learn Bengali and English from her elder sister Karimunnesa and elder brother Ibrahim Saber, who contributed immensely to her early literary growth. Her father Abu Ali Saber—whose ancestors migrated to India from Tabriz, Iran in the sixteenth century and settled in Pairaband in 1583—did not want her to learn Bengali or English. For one thing, the Ashraf migrant community and its members, such as Rokeya’s father, looked down upon Bengali as it was spoken by ‘low-born Ajlaf Muslims’. It also deemed Arab and Persian traditions to be ‘authentic Islamic culture’ and detested English as it was the language of a new colonial power. The essay critically evaluates Rokeya’s literary endeavour and social reform initiatives and argues that ‘both her school and her literary works have survived the test of time; both serve as enduring testimonies to Rokeya’s genius and vision as a writer, educationist and social activist.’

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Book review: Indian Nationalism – The Essential Writings, ed. S. Irfan Habib

A review essay by Dr Kamalakar Bhat

Indian Nationalism

Title: Indian Nationalism — The Essential Writings
Editor: S. Irfan Habib
Publisher: Aleph Book Company (2017)
Pages: 285
Price: INR 499 (Hardbound)

They used to say when history repeats itself, it becomes a farce. Well, history seems to have a way of throwing irony at us. At least that is what I imagine those commentators would feel who announced the last rites of the concept of nationalism with glee in the last decades of the previous century, amid the oft repeated phrase of globalization. While 20th century saw the rise of nationalism in the first half, it also saw its waning hold towards the turn of the century; many saw globalization as having sent nationalism to the side wings of the world theatre, but come 21st century, and nationalism is back on the centre stage with a vengeance.

The use of the word ‘vengeance’ is perhaps far from being fortuitous at the beginning of a review of a book on Indian nationalism. It is this side of nationalism, the angry, militant, violent side that has been its manifestation in India recently, and as the quotes on the cover page of this book signify, that seems to be the immediate context that has engendered the publication of this book. Readers need only to take a look at its cover page which prominently displays Mahatma Gandhi’s quote, ‘Is hatred essential to Nationalism?’ to understand the raison d’être that has occasioned it. The prefatory note begins by alluding precisely to this context – words that stand out in the first two sentences are: ‘hyper-nationalism’, ‘shrieks’, ‘frenzy’, ‘threatening’, and ‘tear apart’. The contemporary public discourse in India, surfeit with strident, insistent and persistent debates surrounding nationalism are surely the reason this book has been conceived and designed the way it has been. We have today a generation that is ready to go ballistic over nationalism, raise its emotional and nuisance quotient very high in defence of just the word with very little meaning, intent or content attached to the idea behind it. Perhaps it is to remind this generation of ‘nationalists’ that the book provides an account of the history of the idea in India and its various shades as it developed during the era that nation itself was in the making.

It is true that even the earliest theorizations of nationalism refer to the positive and the negative sides of this political concept. And this schismatic view runs through the entire history of scholarly attention to this idea. Every kind of duality may be found attributed to the idea – whether about its nature or meaning. Thus, we have good and bad nationalism, Western and Eastern nationalism, nationalisms of the oppressors and the oppressed, original and pirate, liberal and illiberal, civic and ethnic, etc. The grounds on which these classifications are made are different but in much of the scholarship on nationalism, an urge to employ a schismatic view is common. Such classical experts on nationalism as Hans Kohn, Anthony Smith, Tom Nairn, Ernest Gellner, Horace B. Davis and Eric Hobsbawm have all seen in nationalism some sort of ‘Janus Face’. Philip Spencer and Howard Wollman in their book Nationalism: A Critical Introduction, list thirteen contrasting distinctions to be found in the literature on nationalism. This book too, through its paratext, the essays included and the sections under which these are arranged reminds the readers that one can’t take the idea of nationalism as an unquestionably noble value (as some news anchors are wont to assert), or as a naturally beneficial and benevolent idea. Irfan Habib, noted historian, who has edited this timely collection of essays on “Indian Nationalism”, points out at the outset that nationalism is a double-edged sword which ‘…can be a binding force or a deeply divisive instrument used to cause strife around political, cultural, linguistic or more importantly, religious identities.’ If our polity had better use of its memory then, one doubts whether after the horrors unleashed by parochial nationalism at the dawn of independence, we would have ever allowed it to resurface and resurge.

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