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.

by RK Biswas

Photo by Sanjay Kumar Mahato of Sowvendra 1What is your new book about? Tell us about the inspiration/s behind the stories?

My new book, The Adivasi Will Not Dance, is a collection of ten short stories. At least two stories in this collection are a decade old. Eight stories were published at different places at different times. Some have been edited and modified. I have re-written some from scratch. I was just inspired by the things I saw around me.

The title The Adivasi Will Not Dance is not placid. It is thought-provoking and even politically charged. Does it indicate the collective mood of all the stories?

Some stories have politics. Some stories are based on issues. I think that’s all I will say for now.

Regarding your critically acclaimed The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey you had once said that Della is your favourite character. Are you planning on another book with her as the lead?

Yes, Della is my favourite character from The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey. I would like to do a book with Della in the lead. But I do not really know when I am going to do this book. All I can say now is that I am not going to write a book with Della in the lead just because she happens to be my favourite character or just because someone wants to see more of Della, Della in the lead, etc. If I write a book with Della in the lead, that book will have a purpose, Della will have a purpose. It won’t be a book just for the sake of having a book on Della. It will be a well-thought out book, a book I will invest a lot of time in. So, there is still time before I write a book with Della in the lead.

Anu Kumar reviews The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey: A Novel by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar (Aleph Book Company, 2013, India;  pp 210) 

Rupi-BaskeyJharkhand is one of India’s newest states created in 2000 after a long political struggle. It’s formation was in effect a recognition of the need for an adivasi homeland but when  the state of Jharkhand was created, landlocked between five states, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to the north and east, West Bengal to its southeast, Odisha and Chhattisgarh bordering it in the southwest and west, it was immensely smaller than the greater Jharkhand  originally envisaged by adivasi groups. The latter had desired not merely some measure of autonomy but their own control over resources. The region is immensely rich in,  ‘jal, jangal and jam in’, resources which to this day are controlled and even owned by outsiders.

But this is in no way a political novel. Political events when mentioned make a sketchy appearance of sorts, so we know the timeline the novel essentially follows. Sowvendra Shekhar’s novel is  centred mainly around the village called Kadamdihi, located at the southern end of Jharkhand.  There is also the town of Nitra,  reachable from the only railway station from Kadamdihi, Chakuliya. Rupi Baskey’s story is a universal one of a family’s slow descent into decline, but it is also a unique narrative in the way the strange forces of good and evil, development and timelessness play out in the lives of Rupi Baskey and her family.

Monideepa Sahu, fiction editor of Kitaab, interviews Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, the author of The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey (Aleph) 

HansaHansda Sowvendra Shekhar is a medical officer with the government of Jharkhand, India. When he is not busy treating patients, he reads, and writes. His stories and articles have been published in The Statesman, is stories H Indian Literature, The Times of India, The Four Quarters Magazine and elsewhere. His short fiction is included in the anthology, Alchemy: The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories II.

His novel, The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey (Aleph) takes us into the little-known and fascinating world of the Santhal tribals of eastern India. The Santhals live in small villages surrounded by forests, and follow their own lore and rituals. Eating, drinking and merrymaking, rituals and festivities, are an integral part of the social life of these poor, uncomplicated and lively people. The author, who has first-hand knowledge of this culture, brings this world to vivid life.