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.

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Bhupen Hazarika

Bhupen Hazarika was posthumously awarded the highest civilian honour in India this year, the Bharat Ratna. He was a man who dreamt, felt and sang international solidarity. An award for international solidarity was named after him in 2011 and was given out this year to Singapore film-maker, Eric Khoo.

Bhupen Hazarika was born in Assam, India, on 8th September 1926. He has been the recipient of numerous awards and accolades. His lyrics have crossed the borders of time and place and celebrate humanitarian concerns of mankind. Today we commemorate his 93rd birth anniversary with a recording of a Bengali rendition of his song, Aami ek Jajabar (I am a wanderer), by the maestro himself and a translation into English of the lyrics so that it can reach out to everyone with its large-heartedness and compassion…

Bhupen Hazarika’s rendition of Aami ek Jajabar (I am a wanderer)

I am a wanderer

(Translated by Mitali Chakravarty, edited by Nabina Das)

I am a wanderer.

The world has made me its own, 

I’ve forgotten my home.

I’m a wanderer.

I’ve seen the Ganga, the Mississippi

by Zafar Anjum

MarionMarion Molteno’s writing reflects the breadth of her life experience. She grew up in South Africa where she was active in opposition to the apartheid regime. She lived in Zambia at a time of profound social change, has pioneered educational projects in multi-ethnic communities in the UK, and worked for Save the Children in many of the poorest areas of Asia and Africa. Her latest novel, Uncertain Light, is set in the world of international aid workers, much of it in Central Asia in the years following the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union. If you can walk, you can dance, the story of a young woman’s life on the run across frontiers and cultures, was awarded the Commonwealth Writers Prize for the best book in the Africa region, and was selected for the top 20 books in the Women’s Writers Festival in New Zealand. A Shield of Coolest Air, set among Somali asylum seekers, won the David St John Thomas Award for fiction. Somewhere More Simple is set on the Isles of Scilly and explores relationships among outsiders in a small community cut off from the mainland. Her short story collection, A Language in Common, reflects the experiences of South Asian women in Britain in the 1980s, and has been translated into Panjabi, Urdu and Bengali.  She has written and lectured on language, education and development. The books which grew out of her experience with Save the Children have been translated into many languages and used across the world. She studied Urdu with the scholar Ralph Russell, and edits his writing on Urdu literature.

Tell us about Uncertain Light

It starts when an Indian humanitarian worker is taken hostage in Tajikistan during a civil war – and the story follows those closest to him as they try to come to terms with what has happened.

It was inspired by years of working with Save the Children in countries across Asia. But essentially – like many good stories! – it’s about love, and loss, and what it means to be human.

Read the first chapter of the novel Uncertain Light here (pdf):

Uncertain Light

The Indie Book Award – what is it?

It’s an international award for books published by independent publishers. It’s run from the US but gets entries from all over the world. Uncertain Light is a finalist in the general fiction category. They also give awards for specific categories: thrillers, science fiction, children’s fiction, etc.

Publishing these days is dominated by the giant conglomerates, yet there are so many independent publishers producing really good books, so it’s great to have these awards to recognise that. Smaller publishers are often more willing to take risks – give a space to more original writing – and that means they often come up with winners.

Urdu_poetrycoverURDU POETRY: AN INTRODUCTION
By Anees Ayesha
(Translated and Introduced by Zafar Anjum)
Kitaab International Ptv. Ltd., 10 Anson Road # 26-04
International Plaza, Singapore – 079903
Year 2013, 247pp, Singaporean Dollar25
Paperback (ISBN 978-981-07-8055-5)

Review by Asif Anwar Alig

While Urdu became victim of prejudices in its birthplace – India, it brimmed in the far off regions. An original Urdu work of Anees Ayesha, Urdu Poetry: An Introduction is an English translation by Singapore based author Zafar Anjum. Presenting the knowhow of Urdu poetry to Singaporean readers, it is a valuable addition to literature on Urdu poetry for those willing to learn Urdu poetry’s distinct features or stages of development.

Prejudices have relentlessly shrunk Urdu in its country of birth. But it has advanced worldwide in many forms, especially by translations to give strong message. Anjum’s translation is an archetypal effort for English readers to learn the richness of Urdu poetry. This book briefs Urdu’s role from its inception to shaping Indian societies and cultures since the 17th century to the colonial British period and its challenges while encouraging nationalistic revolutions and spreading the message of Islam.

This book introduces multiple forms of Urdu poetry through highlighting its pivotal role to nourish cultures – socio-religious and revolutionary movements to Sufism. Contributions of prominent poets in the subcontinent are credible introductions which turn this book into a summarised encyclopaedia.