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Country of Focus: Singapore

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.

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Writing Matters: In conversation with Jayanthi Sankar

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.

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Book Review: Horizon Afar by Jayanthi Sankar

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.

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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Jayanthi Sankar

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.

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New Release: Horizon Afar by Jayanthi Sankar

horizon-afar-wth-bleed-1

Published by Kitaab International, Horizon Afar is a collection of Tamil short stories written by Jayanthi Sankar and translator into English by P. Muralidharan.

This collection of short stories traverse beyond the contemporary life of Singapore on a quest to answer the eternal question, “What made life on this earth mechanical and devoid of meaning?” Presented here is a peek into the other side of modern life, opening new windows to the life and culture of various ethnicities of South East Asia.

Jayanthi Sankar is popular in the mainland just as amongst the writers of the diaspora. Her presence is totally absent in the stories themselves. The human side of Singapore, its students, the life of migrant workers and their aspirations to acquire resident status, interracial origins, lives of sex workers, cohabiting youth and many more such lucid narrations motivated me to translate them for English readers. The short story, “A Few Pages from Yuka Wong’s Diary”, on century-old cultural and political issues of China and Japan, is a unique work by any author of Indian origin.

About the author:

Jayanthi Sankar has been creatively active for the past twenty-one years in short stories, novels, translation, transcreations and essays. Several of her books have been awarded by renowned organisations. Born and brought up in India, she has lived in Singapore since 1990. After Loss and Laws, Horizon Afar is the second collection of her Tamil short stories that have been translated into English.

Her website at www.jeyanthisankar.com gives a glimpse of her writing journey.

About the translator:

P. Muralidharan writes with the pseudonym Sathyanandhan. He lives in Chennai, India, and continues his creative quest as a poet, a critic and a novelist in the Tamil literary arts. His ability to write creatively in all genres like short story, poems, columns, novel and criticism on a variety of subjects has made him stand out in the Modern Tamil literature for more than a decade. His works have been published in literary magazines like Kanaiyazhi. Thinnai.com has been a consistent platform for his works. Besides a collection of poetry Veliye veedu, his novels Purshartham and Vigraham have been published in print. Two of his novels Bodhi Maram and Mulveli were published as a series during 2012 and 2013 in Thinnai. His works on Ramayana and Zen, published in Thinnai during 2011 have gained him a wider readership recently. He writes weekly columns in pathivukal.com. All of his works are republished in his blog at https://sathyanandhan.com.

To buy: Horizon Afar 


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Seemanchal International Literary Festival- Taking Literature to the Grassroot India

Source: Kractivist.org

By Rahman Abbas

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Zafar Anjum, PN Balji, Jayanthi Sankar, Debanjan Chakraborty and Isa Kamari

I was surprised when Singapore based English author and publisher Zafar Anjum Emailed me and invited to attend Seemanchal International literary festival on 17-19 November in Kishanganj, Bihar. I kept thinking for hours that how this festival would take shape in one of the most backward regions of our country. On the other hand I was happy over the idea that festival of literature was shifting from superficial glare of metros and lights of hotels to rural India and amid people devoid of cultural activities.

On 16th November, I board flight from Mumbai to Delhi. At Delhi airport waiting for next flight for Bagdogra I met well known Urdu critic Shafey Kidwai and literary critic Nazia Anjum who is also English lecturer at AMU. We shared coffee and talked about festival and Kishanganj. Shafey was worried if there would be any audience, especially to attend sessions about gender discriminations and role of literature in contemporary society on which various foreign authors had to speak.  When we reached Bagdogra airport (West Bengal) we met English author and poet Abha Ayengar, senior journalist Ziya-us-Salam (The Hindu). From West Bengal to Kishanganj our journey was of two hours.  During the journey we saw beautiful tea gardens and green pastures. When Bihar approached greenery turned into dust and road into dilapidated state. We were chatting about festival and thinking what was there in store for next morning.

The venue was famous’ Insan school’ ground and stage was set for two days festival. We were around 20 authors mainly of English, Hindi, Urdu and Malay languages from India, Singapore and UK. Read more


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Review: Loss and Laws and Other Short Stories by Jayanthi Sankar

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. Continue reading


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Indian Author Dedicates Book to Intelligentsia Protesting Against Intolerance

KafkaFCA Singapore-based Indian author has launched a short-story book, Kafka in Ayodhya, dedicating it to the writers, filmmakers and intellectuals who are protesting against growing intolerance in India.

“My dedication is in solidarity with the writers, filmmakers and intellectuals who are protesting against the rising tide of intolerance in India,” said Zafar Anjum, who last week launched ‘Kafka in Ayodhya and Other Short Stories’ at the Singapore Writers Festival.

“It is dedicated to the wounded ‘Idea of India’,” said Mr Anjum.

He said that during his recent travel across India, he found “people disturbed over elements that threatened the harmony of the country”.

“But the good news is that people of India are fighting back such elements and they will not allow the secular character of the country to be changed,” said Mr Anjum.

The book, launched by Mr Anjum’s publishing company Kitaab on November 7, has a collection of eight stories, some real and some surreal, set in either India or Singapore.

“It is a surreal story with a comic touch but it has a serious message of peace in it,” added the 41-year-old author.

In the title story, Mr Anjum has an imaginary Prague-born writer, Kafka, who travels to Ayodhya at a time when the country was tense and waited for the Supreme Court judgement on the Babri Masjid-Ramjanambhoomi dispute with bated breath.

Mr Anjum’s other books include ‘The Resurgence of Satyam’, ‘Iqbal: The Life of a Poet, Philosopher and Politician’, and more recently, ‘Startup Capitals: Discovering the Global Hotspots of Innovation’.

LossandLawsAlso launched during the festival was the ‘Loss and Laws and Other Tamil Short Stories’ by Tamil journalist Jayanthi Sankar and translated into English by Usha Nagasamy, a Further Education college lecturer who is a non-Indian resident from London.

Ms Sankar, who is a Singapore citizen and works with the Tamil Murasu newspaper here, said her book is based on the observations and experiences of the author’s 26 years of life spent in fast-changing Singapore.

There are 17 short stories in this collection – all chosen from the 99 short stories written by the author over a period of 17 years.

The title story, Loss and Laws, is based on the experience of a domestic worker from India who unknowingly becomes the victim of the strict laws of Singapore, she said.

Source: PTI


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Kitaab launches ‘Kafka in Ayodhya’ and ‘Loss and Laws’ at Singapore Writers Festival 2015

Book launch

The titles were unveiled by renowned Singaporean writers Suchen Christine Lim and Isa Kamari.

KafkaFC

Singapore-based independent publishing company Kitaab launched two of its latest titles at the Singapore Writers Festival on Saturday, 7 November 2015.

The newly released titles were ‘Loss and Laws and Other Tamil Short Stories’ by Jayanthi Sankar & Usha Nagasamy (translator) and ‘Kafka in Ayodhya and Other Short Stories’ by Zafar Anjum.

The titles were unveiled by renowned Singaporean writers Suchen Christine Lim and Isa Kamari. Appreciating Kitaab’s efforts at translation, Suchen said that Kitaab was doing a great job of connecting Asian writers worldwide. She is on the advisory board of Kitaab.

LossandLaws

Anjum, who is also the publisher and editor-in-chief of Kitaab, has dedicated his book to “the wounded ‘Idea of India’”.

“My dedication is in solidarity with the writers, filmmakers and intellectuals of India who are protesting against the rising tide of intolerance in India,” Anjum said. “I was recently traveling in India, and across cities, I found people disturbed over elements that threatened the harmony of the country. The good news is that people of India are fighting back such elements and they will not allow the secular character of the country to be changed.”

Anjum is the author of many best-sellers such as The Resurgence of Satyam, Iqbal: The Life of a Poet, Philosopher and Politician, and more recently, Startup Capitals: Discovering the Global Hotspots of Innovation. His earlier collection of short stories, The Singapore Decalogue, was supported by the National Arts Council of Singapore with an Arts Creation Fund grant.

‘In the title story, Kafka in Ayodhya, the legendary German language writer who was born in Prague, travels to Ayodhya at a time when the country was tense and waited for the Supreme Court Judgement on the Babri Masjid-Ramjanambhoomi dispute with bated breath,” Anjum said. “It is a surreal story with a comic touch but it has a serious message of peace in it. The collection has eight stories, some real and some surreal, set in either India or Singapore.”

Sankar, who is a journalist on a local Tamil paper in Singapore, said that ‘Loss and Laws and other Tamil Short Stories’ is based on the observations and experiences of the author’s 26 years of life spent in fast-changing Singapore. The author has been writing for 20 years. There are 17 short stories in this collection–all chosen from the 99 short stories written by the author over a period of 17 years. The title story, Loss and Laws, is based on the experience of a domestic worker from India who comes to Singapore, and unknowingly, becomes the victim of the strict laws of Singapore. Sankar also said that one of the stories in collection, titled ‘The Teahouse’, is based on the experiences of a Chinese old man in Yishun who would share tales with the author.

Usha Nagasamy, a Further Education college lecturer who lives in London, could not attend the launch.