By Hanish Rahane

Dedicated to the Mission to Seafarers and Seamen’s Club Tilbury

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I

Back in the year 2011, I was 22 years old — a ‘soldier’. It was December when the following events transpired. At the age when boys struggle to find their place in the world, a time when all thoughts and opinions are either black or white, my ‘soldier’ had decided to leave his surroundings and venture out to the sea. I was a panch sahab (5th engineer) on the majestic ship- MV Red Fin.

The crew was of mixed nationality. Our Chief was from Bangladesh. The other engineers from China, the Captain was from Russia, and the crew, from the Philippines. The voyage was from Mumbai to London over the Arabian sea and through the scenic Suez Canal. It was a day in the month of December when we were calling at the port of Tilbury docks near London. It was the last port of our voyage. Tilbury, at the time was a small, shoddy town whose only claim to fame was the newly built port. Also, ours was the very first ship to enter this new port and, as most of it was still under construction, the area around it still seemed like a muddy wasteland.

Now, any young seafarer will tell you that the moment the ship touches the jetty there are certain frequencies of sounds and vibrations that completely disappear on account of being ‘damped’ by the solid bulk of land. There are numerous such unconscious sensory observations that get registered in the seafarers mind continuously — awake or asleep, in dreams or in reality.  I call it the sailor’s sixth sense. The fuel transfer pump stopping to draw suction due to a choked strainer, the auxiliary blowers cutting in as the speed was reduced during manoeuvring, the sound of the telegraph bell ringing or the customary series of a hundred alarms as soon as you turn the engines off — sounds like muffled air horns– these were events that were automatically registered in my mind while I was in a state of deep sleep. And, hence, what happened might seem strange to a normal person. But I woke up knowing that we had berthed, although I had not seen it happen.

An excited panch sahab rushed towards the gangway ladder, scribbled his name on the gangway register, hurriedly snatched the nearest walkie-talkie, informed the Captain of his departure, and was soon out and about, walking along the muddy road, in this strange new land which he had only dreamt of visiting. But the story is neither about me nor the ship nor the landscape. The story is about one person in particular. As I walked into The Seaman’s Club that evening, a small tavern littered with the obscene commentary of crass sailors and drunken blue collared port workers and crane operators, a peculiar looking gentleman caught my eye. It was just a matter of time before he came over and introduced himself as Herman.

II

Herman, the German, was not a very good-looking man. He was short, stalky and spoke with a very strange accent which was neither German nor English. Herman was born in Munich a few years after the war had ended. His mother was Sudanese and his father, a Roman Catholic German. Let’s call him Senior Herman. Not much of Senior Herman was disclosed to me during our interaction but from what I gathered, he worked with the Catholic Church in a big capacity and was sort of a public figure back in his hometown.

 Recently, Sahitya Akademi Award winner for Urdu, Rahman Abbas, journeyed to the Institut National Des Langues et Civilasations Oriesntales (INALCO) in Paris to deliver a lecture. Translated Urdu novels are gaining in popularity and getting translated into multiple European languages, like German and French, he surmised. Novels in Urdu evolved around the 1940s-1950s with writers like Intezar Hussain and  Quartulain Haidar and books like Do gaz Zameen by Abdus Samad and Makaan by Paigam Afaqui. Makaan  is said to have been a major influence even on novelist Vikram Seth. 

Farhan Ahmad, Urdu lecturer, INALCO, Paris tells us about the talk given by Rahman Abbas in France.

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Sahitya Akademi Award winner Rahman Abbas with Academics in France

 

On 5 November 2019, INALCO, invited Sahitya Akademi Awardee, Urdu Novelist Rahman Abbas, to deliver a lecture on the topic “The Contemporary Indian Urdu Novels” in France. 

 The co-director of the department of South Asia and Himalaya studies and research scholar, Shahzaman Haque, introduced Abbas to faculty members and the students and said that Rahman Abbas was one of the major contemporary Urdu novelists of India. He thanked his department and his laboratory PLIDAM (Pluralité des langues et des identités) for financing the travel and accommodation of the Urdu author. 

He said that Rahman Abbas’s novel Rohzin had already been translated into German and would soon be available  in English, French and Hindi too. There is a growing demand for translation of Rohzin and other novels of Rahman Abbas in France. Rahman is known for his unique style of narration and his dealing with human sensibilities.

 

Kamila Shamsie is a British Pakistani writer who was given the German Nelly Sachs Prize.This award, named after the 1966 Nobel laureate, is given to a writer whose work shows “tolerance, respect and reconciliation”.

However, this month the award was withdrawn by the award committee for Kamila Shamsie’s support of BDS ( Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement), which opposes the long- term occupation of Palestinian lands by Israel peacefully. Hundreds of writers have protested this move.

Kamila Shamsie herself expressed regret over the committee’s recent decision:

“In the just-concluded Israeli elections, Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to annex up to one third of the West Bank, in contravention of international law, and his political opponent Benny Gantz’s objection to this was that Netanyahu had stolen his idea; this closely followed the killing of two Palestinian teenagers  by Israeli forces – which was condemned as ‘appalling’ by the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process,” she said.

 

Amba, a novel from Indonesia, written by award winning writer Lakshmi Pamuntjak, was a modern take on the story of Amba and Bhisma from The Mahabharata, set against the backdrop of the violence of 1965 and the Buru penal colony set up during Suharto’s regime. Published in 2012, it became a national bestseller within Indonesia.

It was first translated to German in 2015 and sold 10,000 copies within three months of its launch. Later the English translation renamed it The Question of Red (2016). The novel did win some amount of international acclaim.

By Lwin Mar Htun ( The Irrawady)
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The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, the globally popular romance novel set in Myanmar by German author Jan-Philipp Sendker, is to be made into a movie with shooting scheduled to start next year.

Published in 2002, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats was the first book by the author. It was the beginning of a series, with the second book, Well Tempered Heart, released in 2012.

The novels have proven successful not only in Myanmar but worldwide, being translated into 35 languages including Burmese. They are set in Myanmar’s popular tourist destination, the hill town of Kalaw in Shan State.

The main producer of the film is Danny Krausz of Austria’s DOR Film, with Germany’s Detlev Buck set to direct.

“Currently, they are casting the actors in Thailand, [Myanmar] and other countries. I and other [crew] members went to Kalaw last month for location scouting,” Sendker told The Irrawaddy.

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is a romance mystery novel set in Kalaw featuring Burmese characters. Young lawyer Julia Win seeks to track down her father four years after he disappeared in Myanmar. She meets U Ba, a mysterious man who knows many things about Julia through her father. U Ba tells the story of her father’s first 20 years of life—a mystery love story about which her family knew nothing.

Prior to writing the novel, Sendker traveled to Myanmar many times starting in 1995.

(Continue reading in The Irrawady)

 

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