Tag Archives: Gargi Vachaknavi

Did Satyajit Ray and Rabindranath Tagore foretell the ‘Present’ in their fiction?

By Gargi Vachaknavi

War is peace.

Freedom is slavery.

Ignorance is strength.

― George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-four

 

Doublespeak in Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty-four (1949), was a way in which an oppressive regime brainwashed its common population. In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), people were fed ‘soma’ and taught rhymes in praise of the intoxicant so that they would live in a state of morbid obedience. In both the books, rebellion or democratic principles were non-existent. The contexts in these novels were based on world orders around the two world wars and while much is being quoted from Hitler’s and Himmler’s regime to create parallels, the fact that we are witnessing the triumph of democracy gets lost in the goriness of the events.

‘Hum Dekhenge’ has been at the fringes of a controversy with a panel condemning the non-Hindu status of the poem. Faiz Ahmed Faiz had written this poem against the Zia regime in 1970s to inspire people to look forward to better days – a secular attempt to energise people weighed down by the burdens of tyranny. Intolerance for another world view seems to stare us in the face and generate endless violence and bloodshed. This situation brings to mind a story written by Satyajit Ray which won him national and international acclaim in 1980 — a dystopic story but with a positive end — a story that earned kudos as a film called Hirak Rajar Deshe (In the Land of the Diamond King). It is a sequel to the 1969 production of Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne — another one of Ray’s highly regarded and awarded masterpieces.

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A DVD cover of Hirak Rajar Deshe

Hirak Rajar Deshe depicts a totalitarian regime by the Hirak Raja or the Diamond King who brainwashes people with the help of a machine called ‘jantarmantar’ and a weird scientist who feeds rhymes into it, rhymes like these, which could be perhaps seen as eternal because they seem to be playing out the current reality with all the attacks on universities and their inmates —

Lekha pora kore jei, onahare more shei

(Those who study, die of starvation)

 

Janaar kono shesh nai, janaar cheshta britha tai

(There’s no end to learning, so to try to learn is pointless) Read more

How PEN Austria General Secretary Sarita Jenamani finds poetry to be “an act of introspection, self-realisation and a sanctuary”

By Gargi Vachaknavi

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In the heydays of ABBA, there was a popular song called ‘Nina Pretty Ballerina’, which spoke of a girl who led an ordinary life but became  the ‘queen of the dancing floor’ when she stepped into the role of a ‘pretty ballerina’. Sarita Jenamani is a bit like that. She works as a marketing manager in Austria but turns into a lyrical whiplash when she picks up her pen to write poetry.

Sarita Jenamani, with a background of  economics and management studies in India and Austria, is a poet, a literary translator, anthologist, editor of a bilingual magazine for migrant literature – Words & Worlds – a human rights activist, a feminist and general secretary of PEN International’s Austrian chapter in the literary world.

Perhaps the most conspicuous aspect of her personality is her poetry that has so far been published in three collections, the latest being Till the Next Wave Comes. English is the chief medium of her creative process. The other two languages she writes in are, Odia, the state language of the place of her origin Odisha (India), and German, the language of her country of residence, Austria. She uses these languages for translation projects that she undertakes from time to time. Sarita translated Rose Ausländer, a leading Austrian poet, and an anthology of contemporary Austrian Poetry from German into Hindi and Odia. She has received many literary fellowships in Germany and in Austria including those of the prestigious organisations of “Heinrich Böll Foundation” and “Künstlerdorf Schöppingen”. In this exclusive, she talks of how poetry empowers her to find her individuality and address social issues, of how being in PEN has taught her that thought stretches beyond all borders and of a past and present that shuttles between varied cultures.

 

What moved your muse? When and how did you start writing?

Actually, I did not want to be a poet rather poetry, as Neruda once said, arrived in search of me. All my joys, sufferings, passions, and memories that significantly leave deep impact on me, turn into ash, sink into my being and again rise like a phoenix in the lines. This provides me the pleasure of seeking an enigmatic truth in some ancient temple. Such feelings compel me to write poetry. Poetry for me is an act of introspection, self-realisation and a sanctuary. Read more

Dara Shukoh: Would he be an Ideal Ruler? 

Book Review by Gargi Vachaknavi

Dara Shukoh

 

Title: Dara Shukoh, The Man Who Would Be King

Author: Avik Chanda

Publisher: Harper Collins, 2019

 Dara Shukoh (1615-1659), the beloved and righteous son of Shah Jahan — is he indeed shown to be what Arun Shourie said of the book: “The Book we need — about the man we need” on the front cover?

Despite wading through more than three hundred pages of the book, Arun Shourie’s statement seemed unfounded! Author Avik Chanda shows otherwise in this historic narrative. And why would he do that? Because, he says he is tired of stereotypes, he has tried to unveil ‘the truth’.

IMG_0805 2.jpgAvik Chanda dons multiple hats. He is a consultant who has two collections of poetry in Bengali, a novel, Anchor (Harper Collins, 2015) and his acclaimed business book, From Command To Empathy: Using EQ in the Age of Disruption (Harper Collins, 2017), co-authored with Suman Ghose and featured in 2018 in Amazon India’s Best Reads, under ‘Business, Strategy and Management’. This year Dara Shukoh, The Man Who would Be King has also made it to second position in the Asian Age’s non-fiction bestseller list.

This book is different. The narrative weaves minutely through history in detail. Except at the end, the sources are not discussed. Though it is evident that a lot of research has gone into the narrative, only the author’s voice is heard. However, Chanda does bring in voices of writers from the Mughal era. For instance, Chanda gives two renditions of Dara Shukoh’s final words. Read more

How Stories connect Readers with Writers in The Best Asian Short Stories launched at the Singapore Writers’ Festival 2019

By Gargi Vachaknavi

The Singapore Writers’ Festival stretched to ten busy days with events glittering on the literature of Asian diaspora. The opening was by a Booker winner from Jamaica,  Marlon JamesPico Iyer was another major highlight as were local Singapore legends like Edwin ThumbooIsa KamariSuchen Christine Lim and Meira Chand .

IMG_0692One of the attendees caught the excitement of the event. Upcoming writer Elaine Chiew, who just released her debut collection of short stories called The Heartsick Diaspora with Penguin, had a lot to say: “I caught Marlon James’ Festival Prologue and Roxanne Gay’s Lecture: ‘Understanding Identity Through Pop Culture’, and lots of programming in between, including catching the exhibition on Eurasian Singaporean writer Rex Shelley (which I loved, especially Brian Gothong Tan’s stunning multi-media display), ‘Literature and Pioneer Women’, ‘First Dates and So Many Feelings’, ‘What Being Brown In The World Means’, ‘Language and the Body’, ‘Writing in Dialect’, and ‘What’s the Most Versatile Singlish Word’.” Elaine Chiew has been attending the festival since 2016. This year she attended as an author and a panelist.

IMG_0480Aysha Baqir, writer and social activists explained: “This is my first time as a featured author in Singapore Writers Festival. My novel, Beyond the Fields, a fiction about a young village girl (in Pakistan) on a quest for justice, was published earlier this year by Marshall Cavendish. I have attended the last two Festivals and like the previous years I am delighted to listen to and meet the wide diversity of authors and panelists.  This year I am particularly enjoying the relevance of the sessions to current life events and issues — migration, special needs, mental health, and diversity.”

Kitaab also launched three books during this festival: a translation of Isa Kamari’s Kiswah, Shilpa Dikshit Thapliyal’s Masala Chai, a collection of poems and the Best Asian Short Stories (2019).

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Isa Kamari and Zafar Anjum launching Kiswah

Kiswah kicked off the start of the Kitaab launches with Isa Kamari explaining how he conceived the novel as a reaction to the needs of the times. Kamari said in answer to moderator Mitali Chakravarty’s query that he was getting the translations done to be read more widely. Earlier he had been translated even to Urdu by Kitaab. Zafar Anjum, the founder of Kitaab, explained: “Isa’s Intercession was translated into Urdu — the first work of Singaporean and Malay fiction to be translated into Urdu. The plan is also to get it translated into Hindi and we are working on it.”

Thapliyal’s Masala Chai came next. Thapliyal was accompanied by Singapore writer Robert Yeo on stage. Yeo had mentored her collection. Moderated by Dr Pallavi Narayan, the poetry launch was vibrant and interesting.

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Singapore writer Robert Yeo, poet Shilpa Dikshit Thapliyal and moderator Dr Pallavi Narayan

Read more

The Sacrifice: The Script takes a dark twist with a hooded, mysterious Shishir Sharma

By Gargi Vachaknavi

IMG_0689A private viewing of a film?

That sounds exclusive and enticing… made one feel like a star. But it was just a start — a start to showcase what a small group of talented individuals can do.

The idea for the fourteen-and-a-half-minute film brewed over a cup of coffee where writer Tanuj Khosla shared his story with actress Renita Kapoor. Kapoor said she always wanted to play a dark character and the story offered that.

Set in an indeterminate interior, in this case Kapoor’s house in Singapore, the film mapped the life of a stand-up comedian couple in India (and there is no way to figure out where the locale is if it is all within a room). We know the country because the dialogues mention the fact that the husband is a top comedian in India. The movie is mainly conversation between the couple — in a mix of colloquial Hindi with a smattering of English — the way any person would in a well-to do Hindi speaking Indian home.

The story takes a strange twist.

The wife is Kapoor. And the husband? The husband is no less than actor Shishir Sharma, a well-known actor on stage, television and Bollywood in India.

For fifteen minutes, no one spoke. No one moved. And all eyes were glued to the screen that told a gripping tale with a strange twist at the end.

Zafar Anjum, the founder of Kitaab and Filmwallas made his grand debut as a director of this film – The Sacrifice. Why would Zafar Anjum — a writer with a number of books under his belt and some published by Penguin — move to direction and filmmaking? Read more

‘Everything in India, including religion, is a story’: Reviving the old tradition of Dastaangoi with Mahmood Farooqui

Mahmood Farooqui in conversation with Gargi Vachaknavi

 Dastangoi is the art of Urdu storytelling that was popular all across India and could regale commoners and elites alike. That was in times of Mughal splendour. The performers were artists and writers rolled into one who left behind over 46,000 pages of published fantasies. The Dastans were the stories told by these storytellers, the gois. Unfortunately this art form completely vanished, leaving behind few memories.

Inspired by the scholarship of one of Urdu’s greatest living writer S. R. Faruqi, Mahmood Farooqui began its revival in 2005 and has since then trained dozens of other storytellers or Dastangos, staged over a thousand shows all around the world and has composed over a dozen modern Dastans for the genre. With all the innovations that he and his team have spearheaded, a virtually new genre of performance and a new kind of writing for the stage has emerged in our times.

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Mahmood Farooqui performing

Farooqui is an award winning writer and performer. He was awarded the Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar by the Sangeet Natak Akademi of the Union Government for his efforts in reviving Dastangoi. His book on the 1857 uprising Besieged: Voices from Delhi, 1857, was awarded the Ram Nath Goenka Award for the best non-fiction book of the year by the Indian Express Group. He has been a visiting fellow at the Universities of Michigan, US and Berkeley, California and was a Rhodes scholar at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. His latest book is A Requiem for Pakistan: The World of Intizar Husain. He has written over 15 modern Dastans for the stage and has trained nearly 50 people besides performing close to 500 shows himself. His wife, film maker Anusha Rizvi, is not only the producer of the Dastangois but also the award winning writer-Director of Peepli Live, a 2010 satirical comedy with the involvement of greats like Aamir Khan and Raghuvir Yadav.

Mahmood Farooqui and his troupe will be performing in Singapore on the 14thof September. In this exclusive, he talks to Gargi Vachaknavi of his work, of how a Dastangoi performance varies from normal theatre and what he is going to perform in Singapore.

 

Gargi: Why did you think of reviving Dastangoi, an art of 13 th century storytelling in Urdu? What is the potential you see that makes you feel it is necessary to contextualise it for the present day?

Farooqui: I was a student of history and had been active in theatre for many years when I came across the great S. R. Faruqi’s study of the world of Dastans. I had been reading Urdu literature all my life but had never really heard of this incredibly enchanting world. When I dug deeper, I was totally bowled over by the genius of the writers and the of the performers. Here was theatre in its purest form, one or two narrators, sitting still and holding an audience captive, just like our ancient rishis (sages) narrated epics and Shastras to rapt listeners. I felt that this was the most essential art form of the Indian subcontinent. From the word go, it was an instant success perhaps because in India everything, including religion is a story.

The innovation I made was to have not one but two narrators and our designer, Anusha Rizvi, kept the basics very simple so we brought it into the ambit of modern theatre by using techniques of lighting, stage decorum and presentation. Read more

Singapore Film Maker Eric Khoo wins Bhupen Hazarika Award for ‘International Solidarity’

By Gargi Vachaknavi

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Eric Khoo at the Bishwaratna Dr Bhupen Hazarika International Solidarity Award ceremony in Singapore

Eric Khoo, the acclaimed filmmaker from Singapore, has another feather in his cap. His films have been acknowledged for contributing to ‘international solidarity’ with the Bishwaratna Dr Bhupen Hazarika award this year.

Said Eric Khoo, the fourth recipient of this biannual award: “I believe that every person has intrinsic value beyond his or her race, religion, nationality or social class.  This belief I understand was also shared by the late Bhupen Hazarika in whose honour the Award for International Solidarity was named. In this spirit, my films seek to bring people together, despite their apparent differences and thus, I am truly privileged to receive this award and to be associated with the late Bhupen Hazarika and his philosophy of International Solidarity.”

The Bhupen Hazarika award  was instituted in 2011 by the Assam Sahitya Sabha ( Assam Literary Society).  Given to artistes who exhibit international solidarity through their works, the awards represent the best in bridging borders drawn by mankind as did the lyrics and writings of artiste after who the award is named. Read more