by Michelle D’Costa

Wine Glass Breaking

The wine glass shatters. It’s Tuesday. It is the fifth glass shattering this week. After I Whatsapp Mom to clarify if shattering glasses bring good news or the polar opposite, I sweep the shards into the dust pan and wet a duster so that the minute particles that have escaped the broom will be absorbed by the cloth. I do it immediately for if I forget and if Kriti steps on it later, I would never forgive myself.

She is in the fifth grade — she is small. She got her periods last week — not that small.

She has gone to school. I wonder what to do. I check if Mom has replied. Blue ticks. She has seen it. I log into Facebook.

Post: Artist hacked to death over explicit painting

My God!

by R K Biswas

THE ADIVASI WILL NOT DANCE - COVER FOR KITAAB INTERVIEWHansda Sowvendra Sekhar’s debut book, The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baski, had ushered in a new voice into the Indian English literary scene. A voice steeped in the soil of its origin—the land of Santhals—and refreshing in its clear visualisations of his people. His second book, The Adivasi Will Not Dance, published by Speaking Tiger does not disappoint. In fact, being a collection of short stories, this book feels (at first) like a Santhali Thali meal, with an array of ten (Santhali) dishes, each giving off its own aroma, distinct from the rest, strong or mild, sweet or over powering, creating together, a hearty experience. The colours, the sights, sounds and scents, the Santhali spirit—put together, they make up the essence of Hansda’s prose.

In the first story, “They Eat Meat”, the Soren family have to go and live in Vadodara, Gujarat, when Biram Soren, a high ranking officer, is transferred. The Sorens overcome the restrictive food habits of a vegetarian city, and even grow to love the place. But soon they are forced to confront the spectres of religious and caste divides, especially in the aftermath of the Godhra killings. And this is where this heartwarming story charmingly displays the indomitable human spirit of ordinary Indians.

“Sons” is the story of two women whose grandfathers were brothers. Like the two mango trees in the narrator’s house, one nurtured but fruitless, and the other left to grow wild but with the sweetest mangoes in their locality, their sons grow into manhood. Told in a conversational style, as if the narrator is relaying the events unfolding before him, “Sons” takes us straight into the bustle of a middle class Santhal home.

rafia_zakariaThe Upstairs Wife is an important testament to Pakistan’s political and individual family histories, says Mantra Roy in this review.

The Upstairs Wife by Rafia Zakaria. Beacon Press, 2015.

“Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated in Rawalpindi,” whispers the narrator’s father into the phone, while the family is waiting for a relative’s health status at hospital. The Upstairs Wife (Beacon Press, 2015) takes readers on a swift journey through Pakistan’s political and social history via a personal, family history. Rafia Zakaria’s school-going Pakistani girl’s perspective provides a mysterious narrative voice. She observes her aunt’s marriage crumbling because of a Pakistani law that permitted Pakistani men to take legal second wives in the 1980s.

by Zeenat Mahal @zeemahal

SLMHLMN-cover-final (1)Genre writing in English by South Asians is a comparatively new phenomenon. Though there are writers like Shobhaa De who have been writing popular fiction for the last two decades, most writers want to be known as ‘literary’ authors. The common belief in South Asia has been, until now, that in order to have any merit, writing in English has to be ‘literary,’ a term used to signify art. A literary book is supposed to have finer prose, important themes and most of all, it is expected to be a piece of such crafted excellence that it can withstand the test of time. Traditionally, value has been placed with this form of writing, while all other forms of writing are dismissed as worthless. This prejudice is true anywhere in the world, but it has lasted far longer in South Asia. Popular literature by South Asians has only recently found an audience in South Asia.

There are two phenomena at work here. Homi K. Bhabha suggests that the fascination with the written word leads to the ‘book [being regarded] as wonder.’ The other is the fascination with a person who can make a story out of nothing, or worse, ‘put you in a book.’ There might be remnants of post-colonialism working here as well. Writers who can employ the language of power, i.e. English, to write and to capture ‘truths’ and ‘reality’ are celebrated more than those who write in local languages, not counting the great poets and classical writers. The idea that the revered written word may be ‘reduced’ to nothing more than ‘pulp’ appal these gatekeepers of ‘taste’ and ‘merit.’ The written word as entertainment is frowned upon, because reading as a leisurely habit has been associated with rich, well-educated people who want to come across as intellectuals.

What does not sell in India are poetry, translated books and literary non-fiction–in other words, the best-produced books in the business:

Here are ten things you probably didn’t know about the sales of books that you read and buy regularly.

1. The books on the charts stay on their regular trajectory for about 140 successive weeks. Then Chetan Bhagat launches a new novel. In that very first week, Bhagat’s book almost ‒ not quite, but almost ‒ sells as much as the rest of the top 500. Certainly more than the rest of the top 400.

ReducedRubyCoverTHE MORNING INVOCATION from the Shiva temple seeps through the holes in the faulty concrete walls of my bedroom. By the time, they reach my ears, the Sanskrit chants entwine with the pinging of my iPhone, a multi-layered vibration, which blends with the humming of the air conditioner. The resultant noise is a mix of the spiritual and the electronic, tinged with the salty air from the Arabian Sea, then filtered through dusty vents. It’s that special Bombay vibe. Unique to this urban sprawl, the former seven islands of Bom Bahia—the Good Bay, as named by its Portuguese founders.

Reaching out to shut off the phone, my hand slams into the glass of water next to my bed. It promptly falls over, the crash more effective in cutting through my sleep than the iPhone’s wake-up alarm. Opening first one eye then the other, I reluctantly slide out my arms from under the cotton sheet, which has kept my body at just the right temperature through the night.

Meanwhile, the air conditioner—a luxury I can ill afford, now that I am paying my way through life, instead of living under someone else’s roof—continues to work overtime, trying its best to bring down the temperature of the room to less than blistering hot. When the cool draft caresses my skin, the chill slithering along the dusty floor to keep the feverish temperatures of the city at bay, only then can I drift off to sleep.

I stumble out of bed, and into the adjoining kitchen and fire up the stove below the saucepan already half filled with water. Yawning, I stretch my hands above my head to work out the kinks in my back. One by one, the vertebrae along my spine pop, as I straighten.

“Where’s my chai?” Pankaj, my flatmate, props himself against the doorway to his own cubicle-sized room.

“Get it yourself, bitch,” I reply mildly, spooning out tea leaves into a saucepan.

“… Please?” He wheedles, “pretty, please?”

Ha! I’ve trained him well. “But, since you have asked me so politely … I might just make your chai. This time.”

“Haven’t I told you to wait till the water boils before adding the tea leaves?” Pankaj protests. I mentally mouth before adding the tea leaves in sync with his voice. He loves to watch my fumbling efforts in the kitchen, just for the sheer pleasure it gives him to criticise my every move.

“Okay Mum,” I mumble, splashing milk into the now boiling liquid and letting the concoction stew for a few seconds before pouring it into the mismatched cups. Looking around for the sugar, I add the white crystals to Panky’s cup, pausing in the act of adding a spoonful to my own.

“Ah! Time for the sugar dance I see.”

Mockery is Tyrewala’s style. The idea for the title story came to him when he saw hoardings with mangled spellings of hindi television serials: Mint

altafSitting in the seventh-floor canteen of Altaf Tyrewala’s office, situated in a high-rise glass building in Andheri, Mumbai, one mulls over the 37-year-old author’s reluctance to call himself a chronicler of the city of Mumbai. He shrugs. “I’m not a self-conscious city transcriber. I just need geography for my fiction, and this city happens to be it.”

Back in 2005, Tyrewala wore the mantle of chronicler with ease when he broke on to the literary scene with his first book, No God In Sight. The novel, if one may call it that, broke rules of form and content as it mapped several characters of Mumbai whose lives overlap, not always intentionally. Unlike the conventional novel that demands teleology, and greater cohesiveness of narrative through plot and character, Tyrewala’s resembled a collection of modern-day folk stories, where the connection between characters derived less from a moral imperative and more from the gossamer connection forged through crowded, cruel urban living.