Book Review by Namrata

(Book sourced by Kitaab Bangladesh Editor-at-Large, Farah Ghuznavi)

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Title: In Search of Heer 

Author: Manjul Bajaj

Publisher: Tranquebar Press, 2019

Manjul Bajaj’s In Search of Heer is a retelling of the historical tale of Heer Syal and Deedho Ranjha, the star-crossed lovers from Punjab. In her poignant narration, Bajaj manages to highlight some unknown aspects of the centuries old epic love story and leaves a reader content after reading what is otherwise, a sad story.

Before becoming a writer, Manjul Bajaj worked in the field of environment and rural development. Both her previous works, Come, Before Evening Falls and Another Man’s Wife were shortlisted for Hindu Literary Prize. She has also written two books for children.

We are in the year 2020 and yet the sheer number of cases of honour killing, especially in South Asian countries is horrifying. While the debate of who is to be blamed for this remains, the end result barely has altered since centuries. Taking the case of Heer Syal from the epic love story of Heer-Ranjha — she was supposedly killed by her own brothers for having fallen in love with Ranjha after both of them had decided to elope due to opposition from their families. Unbeknownst to them, death followed them to the end. Eventually they were united in death. Sadly, if you were to look at any of the honour killing cases since time immemorial, the story doesn’t differ at all. The fate of the lovers from different backgrounds remains the same to date. Centuries later today, when we are redefining love in various ways, one wonders how long will it take for such killings to stop.

Reviewed by Rheea Rodrigues Mukherjee

(Sourced by Bangladesh country editor, Farah Ghuznavi)

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Title: Dust Under Her Feet

Author: Sharbari Zohra Ahmed

 Publisher: Tranquebar/ Westland, 2019

 

The particularly enchanting quality about Sharbari Zohra Ahmed is her ability to make under-discussed historical eras come to life while still holding potent resonance in the present era. Dust Under Her Feet, Ahmed’s debut novel, measures how much and how little we’ve changed both in South Asia and on a global scale, by drawing us into a rather cinematic setting.

The novel subverts our collective imagination of the 40s in India, a decade that was largely defined by the lead-up to Independence and the death of the British Raj. Our protagonist, Yasmine Khan, shows us a micro-culture of the second World War from her point of view. She has us compellingly engaged with the U.S army presence in Calcutta. The novel is set against the backdrop of the Chinese-Burman-Indian Theatre that evolved when the United States went in support of the Chinese against Japan.

Calcutta, because of geographical proximity, was critical to facilitate resource trade. The Allied forces built the Ledo Road that connected India to China, to deliver supplies, and a significant portion of the workforce was American. In fact, the road also came to be known as the Man-a-Mile road because of the number of American casualties during its construction. The Ledo road played a large role in facilitating the movement of US troops from India through Burma and into China during the early 40s.

The year 2020 is here and if you are reading this message, we thank you for being with us and wish you a very Happy New Year!

This year has a special significance for Kitaab: we celebrate our 15th anniversary. That’s a relatively long time in the life of a webzine in this day and age of short attention spans, isn’t it?

Well, we are not patting ourselves on the back but please allow us to take us down the memory lane for a while to appreciate why we feel how we feel at this juncture of time.

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  • Reviewed by Eshadi Sharif (sourced by Bangladesh country editor Farah Ghuznavi)

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Title: It’s all Relative

Pages: 192

Publisher: Bengal Publications

( http://www.bengalpublications.com/its-all-relative/)

In an era of shortening attention spans, a new and unique offering of short stories seems to be the ticket to allow us to squeeze in a little more reading into our hectic lives.  It’s All Relative, an anthology from Bengal Publications, fits the bill with its diverse set of stories designed to capture the reader’s imagination.

The editorial reviews state that the book professes to shine the spotlight on the best English-language writers… from our region”. The collection presents us with a range of narratives that represent life in Bangladesh, serving tempting fare from everyday existence. Some of the stories “take their readers into fictional zones, straddling the borderlands of the real and the unreal, making them trespass into surreal realms”

By Farah Ghuznavi

Nausheen Eusuf
Nausheen Eusuf

 

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

I write because I feel compelled to commemorate something that’s important to me, or communicate something that needs to be said, or grapple with some thorny issue that won’t otherwise let me rest. Making art of any kind (whether it’s poetry or paintings) is a way of creating order out of the chaos of human experience. That’s why it’s necessary.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

I just recently published my first full-length collection of poems, titled Not Elegy, But Eros, which appeared simultaneously in the US (from NYQ Books) and in Bangladesh (from Bengal Lights Books). The book is in part about grief and loss, but also about moving beyond that and affirming life. It’s about the making and unmaking of the self, and the role of art and literature in helping us live.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

I would say my writing is ‘traditional’ in T. S. Eliot’s sense — i.e., my aesthetic is informed by the poets of the past. At the same time, what I learn from past masters is, of course, refracted by the prism of my own individual personality and life experience. The work that results is, I hope, something that is both personal and universal at the same time.

Who are your favourite authors?

Well, there are many. In the 20th century: Stevens, Yeats, Eliot, Crane, Moore, Auden, Sylvia Plath, Philip Larkin, Donald Justice. In the 19th century and before: Keats, Tennyson, Hopkins, Whitman, Dickinson, Donne, Milton, Shakespeare. Among living poets: certainly Frank Bidart, who was my first poetry teacher.

By Farah Ghuznavi

Madhulika

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

Because there are all these stories rattling about in my head which don’t let me sleep nights. If I don’t write, I’ll be perpetually sleepless.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

My most recent book is Woman to Woman: Stories. This is a collection of twelve short stories, all of which are women-centric. Probably the most important thing I was trying to say through this was that I do have the sensitivity and intelligence to write something other than genre fiction! (Till now, I’ve mostly been associated with either crime fiction or black humour, so I thought it was high time people realized that I was a little more versatile). On a more serious note, I also wanted to draw attention to various problems that plague women—from the mundane to the horrific.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

I don’t think I have a writing aesthetic as such, but yes, I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my work. I spend ages doing research (and, considering a lot of what I write is historical, that means a lot of research). And, I read and re-read and edit my work over and over until I am certain it’s as good as I can make it. I can’t bear writing that’s ungrammatical or riddled with errors, of whatever sort.

Who are your favourite authors?

I have lots of favourite authors, but among the top ones would be PG Wodehouse, Georgette Heyer, Ruskin Bond, Munshi Premchand, Bill Bryson, Gerald Durrell, and Robert van Gulik.

Farah Ghuznavi

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

I write in order to save my (admittedly fragile) sanity! Otherwise the voices in my head would drive me crazy…

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

My most recent project was a short story written from two points of view — that of a Filipino man and a Sri Lankan woman. I was interested in finding out what it would be like to write a story with characters that I didn’t particularly like, and to use contrasting perspectives on the same set of events to tell a third story — one that was different from both versions offered by the protagonists.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

I’m not sure I have a writing aesthetic as such, because I enjoy good writing in many forms. But I do have a soft spot for humour and wordplay, a clever turn of phrase.

Who are your favourite authors?

I have so many! But my favourites include Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Alan Paton, Elif Shafak and J. K. Rowling.

What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.

The most challenging piece for me so far has been my short story Judgment Day, which was awarded in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition 2010, because it was my first — and so far, only — attempt to write science fiction. The story is told in the voice of a female robotics scientist living in 2250, and examines how human relationships change as a result of technology, and what remains familiar to those of us living in the 21st century. To make matters worse, the story originally had to be written within a word limit of 500 words, and it was one of my earliest experiences with flash fiction!

Fragments of RiversongWhen I read the stories in Fragments of Riversong, a collection of 12 short stories by Bangladeshi author Farah Ghuznavi, I was very happy to see lively descriptions of old properties and sprawling houses. Having grown up in two sprawling bungalows in my hometown, Ghatsila, in the state of Jharkhand in India, a description—or even a mere mention—of old bungalows fills me with a certain thrill. I begin to connect with the setting and I have this feeling that the author is speaking/writing of something that I have known and experienced. Reading Fragments of Riversong was a bonus, for there were not only old properties and sprawling bungalows, but also a lot of village life in its stories. A part of my family still lives in our ancestral village that I visit regularly, and, at present, I am working in a rural setting. The stories in Fragments of Riversong were more familiar than I had expected them to be. Also, another remarkable thing I noticed in these stories were children. There are children—young girls, young boys—in nearly all the stories. Most stories are either about children or have—despite the third person narrative—a child guiding the reader through the narrative.

In “Escaping the Mirror”, her parents’ big house becomes a sort of a jail for seven-year-old Dia as she tries to escape the advances made by their driver, Minhas. The feeling of frustration of the little child upon realising that her parents trust that abusive man more than they trust their own daughter has been brought out in harrowing detail.