Front cover

Title: Kiswah

Author: Isa Kamari

Publisher: Kitaab

Year of publication: 2019

Price: S$18

Pages: 201

Links: Singapore Writer’s Festival

About:

It is a story of a honeymooning couple in Delhi, Agra, Kashmir, Kathmandu and finally Mecca. The story unveils the true nature of Ilham, the husband whom Nazreen thought was a pious and morally upright person. As it turned out he was overwhelmed by his sexual desire and abuses her. Nazreen maintained her calm and integrity and tries to seek solace in their final destination, Mecca.

As they were performed the Umrah, Nazreen was kidnapped by a taxi driver. Ilham was shocked and at a loss. Disappointed he left Mecca, blaming God for his misfortune. He vowed not to return to the Holy Land.

In Singapore, Ilham continued with his hedonistic ways and kept a Chinese mistress whom he met at a massage parlour. Susan had an ailing mother who dreamt that her sickness would only be cured if she visited Mecca. Incidentally, Ilham was coaxed by Nazreen’s friend to return to Islam and amend his ways. He decided to marry Susan who presented him with a condition: they must visit Mecca with her mother.

Ilham was in a dilemma. Would he return to Mecca? Finally, he did, but not without deep introspection. A mysterious event ensued. He met his destiny in front of the Kaabah.

Kiswah attempts to probe the relationship between sexuality and spirituality, by letting both confront one another to find peace.

 

Dara Shukoh

Title: Dara Shukoh: The Man Who Would Be King

Author: Avik Chanda

Publisher: Harper Collins India

Publication Date:  2019

Pages: 368

Price: Rs 699 

Links: Amazon

About:

Dara Shukoh – the emperor Shah Jahan’s favourite son, and heir-apparent to the Mughal throne prior to being defeated by Aurangzeb – has sometimes been portrayed as an effete prince, incompetent in military and administrative matters. But his tolerance towards other faiths, and the myths and anecdotes surrounding him, continue to fuel the popular imagination. Even today, over 350 years after his death, the debate rages on: if this ‘good’ Mughal had ascended the throne instead of his pugnacious younger brother, how would that have changed the course of Indian history?

Dara Shukoh: The Man Who Would Be King brings to life the story of this enigmatic Mughal prince. Rich in historical detail and psychological insight, it recreates a bygone age, and presents an empathetic and engaging portrait of the crown prince who was, in many ways, clearly ahead of his times. Eminent journalist Arun Shourie says, “The Book we need — about the man we need.”

 

jakarta

Title: Jakarta Jive Bali Blues

Author: Jeremy Allan

Publisher: Yellow Dot 

Year of publication: 2019

Pages: 350

Price: Rp.192,500

Links: https://afterhoursbooks.myshopify.com/products/jakarta-jive-bali-blues

About:

A true-to-life look by an insightful writer, Jakarta Jive / Bali Blues is a collected edition of two books chronicling a pair of seminal events in modern Indonesian history: the end of the Suharto government in 1998 and the terrorist attack in Bali in 2002, from the point of view of the people most profoundly affected: the Indonesians themselves.

Book Review: Horizon Afar and Other Tamil Stories
by Jayanthi Sankar

Reviewed by Mitali Chakravarty

Horizon Afar

Title: Horizon Afar & other Tamil short stories
Author: Jayanthi Sankar
Translated by P. Muralidharan
Publisher: Kitaab, 2016
Pages: 230

Horizon Afar is a collection of twenty-one translated short stories from the Singapore-based Tamil writer, Jayanthi Sankar. Spanning the last two decades, the stories shuttle between life in Singapore and India, creating links between the two countries and drawing on the writer’s multicultural experiences and interactions in the country where she lives.

Often her stories centre on teenagers and young people. The title story is about a teenager who shuttles through a surrealistic experience to find his footing in junior college (high school in Singapore). The most interesting read was a darker story, Mother’s Words, which deals with a reformed convict who is ostracized by the world yet loved by the mother.

A Few Pages from Yuka Wong’s Diary depicts the changing mindset of a multicultural population and their ability to transcend hatred to discover a fascination for a country that had unscrupulous expansionist ambitions in the 1940’s Japan.  The story is told through the pages of a young girl’s diary and makes an interesting and effective use of the device.

Melissa’s Choices is about a young man’s discovery of the fickleness of a young girl’s choices. School Bag, Revelation and Rehearsal are stories about teenagers’ journeys of discoveries in a multicultural society. Seventy Rupees, set in the midst of an auto-rickshaw strike in India, is a glimpse of the apathy of middle class towards the plight of the poor.

The stories often circle around the tedium of modern day existence and focus on the darker aspects of life. The issues faced by workers ‘imported’ from small villages of Tamil Nadu are dealt with in a couple of stories. While Cycle focuses on a flesh trader located in Singapore preying on an innocent Tamil migrant woman, Migration deals with an Indian domestic helper’s inability to adjust in Singapore. There are stories about unwed mothers, a girl who rebels to adopt a trans-sexual lifestyle, university life, school life and marriages arranged within the Tamil community in Singapore.

By Mitali Chakravarty

Jayanthi Shankar

A small, vibrant woman full of energy comes to my mind when I think of Jayanthi Sankar. Born and brought up in India, she has been writing for the past twenty three years. She has been published in several magazines and ezines including the Indian Ruminations, Museindia, The Wagon and InOpinion. Loss and Laws and Horizon Afar are two collections of her Tamil short stories that have been translated into English. ​Her works of short fiction have been included in various anthologies including The Other. She has been invited to participate in the panels of literary festivals such as Singapore Writers Festival, Seemanchal International Literary festival, Asean-India Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Writers Festival.

Jayanthi was effusive and generous with her responses to the questions we put before her.

 

Mitali: Tell us a little about when, why and how you started to write.

Jayanthi: Looking back, I feel it is all like a dream – nothing was planned. It just happened. I was not a serious reader till my mid-twenties. In the1990s, when we migrated to Singapore, what attracted me the most were the libraries with their generous shelves of books – I’d found my world, and undoubtedly, I owe it to the National Library Board that paved the way for me to evolve as a reader and subsequently a writer.

I read passionately for four to five years, only for the joy of it, both in English and Tamil. A natural critic was born in me. I was not even aware of it for long. At one point of time that voice started getting too fuzzy about style and narration of some of the fiction that I often chose randomly and soon I asked myself, ‘Isn’t it always easier said than done?’

That’s how in 1995 I tried to craft a short story in Tamil – ‘Turning point’ – which I never thought would lead me to discover the creative ability in me. A very simple, amateurish narration based on an early morning dream of an incident that I’d had, ended up being published that weekend in the only local Tamil daily and the editor called to appreciate and encourage me to continue.

I recollect now, I had to try a few more stories in the next several months before I could actually believe that I really could pursue writing. I have always loved fiction, both to read and to write. For the next couple of years I experimented aimlessly in both the languages.

Suddenly, one fine day I thought, should I focus in one language first, English or Tamil?

I had known of a few senior writers like Ashokamitran, Indra Parthasarathy who wrote first in English and took up Tamil soon to last longer. But nonetheless, I decided to focus first on Tamil.

By Lakshmi Menon

horizon-afar-wth-bleed-1

Title: Horizon Afar

Author: Jayanthi Sankar

Trabslated by: P Muralidharan

Publisher: Kitaab International

Pages: 231

Price: Rs 299

To buy

Horizon Afar is a collection of short stories by Jayanthi Sankar, translated from their original Tamil by P Muralidharan and published by Kitaab International. While it falls neatly into the rapidly growing, ever-fertile genre of diasporic literature, this collection is interesting in the myriad glimpses that it accords us of the Tamil diaspora in Singapore.

The experiences of Tamil immigrants in a multicultural country like Singapore are outlined by the author, herself a member of that very community – this is belied by the intimacy with which she writes about them. “Won’t she crawl anymore?” a despairing father asks of his wife, on learning that his child whose early years he has missed on account of working abroad, has now learned to walk on her own. The average reader can easily feel the wistful, quiet sadness in his question, and a reader who is familiar with the immigrant experience knows the truth behind the emotion, of a parent who has missed their child growing up.

By Aminah Sheikh

jayanthi.jpgLet’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

As is the case with most of us, constant inner exploration with strings and strings of questions ushers me towards the world of fiction, I suppose. And that subsequently widens my imagination more and more.

Fiction always fascinates me, both to read and to write. For me, it is like living one life in reality but tens of thousands in the fictional space.

I write for the creative experience itself more than the politics in, out of and behind the issues although I do appreciate and enjoy them all while reading others’ works. I’ve found myself narrating mostly with an anthropological approach but the characterization and dialogues in my fiction certainly don’t shy away from the political side of the issue. I let them be as political as required. So, naturally I’ve never believed in creating an ideal world through fiction nor have I ever tried to give any solutions to the issue. The characters take my stories forward. This could be one of the reasons for readers and critics’ ‘author is absent in the narration’ experience and comments.

Like I always say it is the creative experience that I always long for that has been helping me evolve spiritually, the person that I am and will be. It’s one of the important byproducts of my reading and writing fiction for twenty two years.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

With only two or three stories left to be written, ‘Dangling Gandhi and other short stories’ in English, is forming decently well. Although few of them talk of the contemporary issues in Singapore, some of the important stories transcend beyond eras and geographies. Thus the weaves, I hope, would subtly raise many intricate questions on several social issues of not just the modern multicultural societies and human migrations in this shrunken world, but also of the colonial India, Malaya and Singapore.

Zafar Anjum, the publisher cum writer with such a beautiful theme of ‘empowering and connecting Asian readers and writers, everywhere’, has been gracious to have launched ‘Horizon Afar and other Tamil short stories’ of mine, the second of its kind, at SILF16 at Kishanganj. How well he knows about the role of translation in filling the gaps and also in cultural sharing. I owe it very much also to the earnest and enthusiastic translator and writer P.Muralidharan of Chennai, and the editor of the book for her help in improving the text.

It may sound too ambitious or a little pre mature to say I wish to write a novel based on my transit experience at Delhi amidst the first week of demonetization woes, the SILF16 (Seemanchal International Literary Festival 2016), the town of Kishanganj, Bagdogra, Darjeeling but I hope some creative magic really happens.

by Amaruvi Devanathan

LossandLawsThe 17 stories that the book has demonstrate that Jayanthi Sankar is easily one of the best writers of Singapore.

The book ‘Loss and Laws’ (Kitaab, 2015) is an English translation of bilingual writer Jayanthi Sankar’s Tamil short stories.  I had the opportunity to participate in its launch in Singapore Writer’s Festival this year.

‘Loss and Laws’ – The law, however democratically it would have been framed, if it has lost its human touch and therefore does not value human dignity and has to be imposed just because it is in the statute book, is nothing  short of draconian diktat. The story flows so mellifluously that we get to travel along with the protagonist and begin to feel the pressures of a domestic help’s day. The way the story ends reflects the stark reality and comes as a rude jolt, making you get up from your easy chair and look angrily at the society, truth, laws and the sense of utter helplessness against the three forces.

‘The Smuggler’ is a subtle depiction of human helplessness and the acknowledgement of the same. In a fast paced Singapore when the day ends even before it begins and where people forget to breathe in the rush to carry on with their daily business of life in the MRT, the interaction of a tattered Chinese gentleman with the passengers of the train is not given the seriousness it deserves. When the conversation that the gentlemen has with each passenger is not known to us, there is one soul who understands that. The twist is, the protagonist doesn’t even talk to that one person who finally understands the situation and reacts suitably. The question  ‘what did the Chinese gentlemen speak?’ is left to the reader, in a classic short story style. This story ensures that the reader participates in the evolution of the story and makes the reader an author as well. A story is defined by what is left unsaid. This is one such, a classic, I would say.