Reviewed by Namrata

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Title: Interpreter of Winds 

Author: Fairoz Ahmad

Publisher: Ethos Books ( 2019)

Interpreter of Winds is a collection of four stories which brings together Fairoz Ahmad’s experiences and observations while growing up as a Muslim. In a world where we are (sadly) divided by religion and united by our bitterness towards it all, these stories are an invigorating read. This short collection is a remarkable attempt to interpret faith and capture its challenges.

Ahmad is a young voice who is striving to be the change he wants to see in the world. Having co-founded an award-winning social enterprise Chapter W — which works at the intersection of women, technology and social impact, he has been awarded the Outstanding Young Alumni award by National University of Singapore for his work with the community. He believes that magic, wonder and richness of one’s history and culture, together with their quirks and eccentricities, could help narrow the gap in our understanding. His stories seem to be an amalgam to repair the breaks that whisper incompatibility through the world.

By Tammy Lai-Ming Ho and Jason Eng Hun Lee

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Author of two poetry collections, Kit Fan (范進傑) was born in 1979 in Hong Kong and currently resides in the UK. His first volume Paper Scissors Stone (Hong Kong University Press, 2011) won the inaugural Hong Kong University (HKU) Poetry Prize, and his second collection As Slow As Possible (Arc, 2018) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for Autumn 2018 and listed in The Guardian’s 50 biggest books of Autumn 2018 and in The Irish Times Best Poetry Books of the Year. Other accolades include being shortlisted for the 2017 TLS Mick Imlah Poetry Prize and The Guardian 4th Estate BAME Short Story Prize consecutively in 2017 and 2018. His novel-in-progress Diamond Hill, about the last shanty town in Hong Kong, received a Northern Writers Award 2018. A regular reviewer for the Poetry Review, Kit’s work traverses between Hong Kong and European cultures and histories, as well as between poetry and fiction.

As part of an ongoing collaborative project entitled ‘Anglophone City Poetics and the Asian Experience’, Kit talks to Tammy Lai-Ming Ho and Jason Eng Hun Lee about his first poetic influences, his migration to the UK as a young writer, his musings on Hong Kong from afar, and his perspectives on the evolving Asian cityscape.

Tammy Ho & Jason Lee: How long have you been writing poetry? Can you list some important moments in your early experiences as a poet?

Kit: I’ve been writing for roughly 18 years. One of my first inspirations came from a commission by Hugh Haughton who challenged me to write a poem about me being brought up by and in a library. Other important moments include: reading Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘Crusoe in England’; meeting Christopher Reid who asked me to send my poems out to editors; having my poem ‘Reading Thom Gunn’s Notebooks at Bancroft Library’ published in the Poetry Review (UK).

By Aminah Sheikh

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

My basic instinct is to write. Of course, a cause, money, adulation and fame are what writers write for but they can’t happen without the instinct. The vent that I need to articulate the deepest levels of my consciousness drives me to write. When not writing, I sing; I sing well.

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

My most recent book is Scattered Souls. It is a collection of 13 interlinked stories which makes it a novel as well. The connections between the stories have been determined by the interdependent diversity in suffering that run through disparate, scattered individuals as a thread, enabling each character a full role in relation to the other. But that is not how it was planned. It emerged while writing them.

The conflict situation in Kashmir is extraordinary. The stories try to evince what ordinary means to a people living (read suffering) in an extraordinary situation.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

Primarily, I’m fond of experimenting with diverse formats. I also like to punctuate the narration with real elements like a letter, an ad, a song, a poem, a list, a symbol and so on. I don’t like tight climax-plots but loose-ended plots to my stories with a multi-plot embedded throughout. I like a matter-of-fact, poetic, stream-of-consciousness, compact narration generally and above all. My stories would stand alone as well as converge, with certain elements, into each other. I am fond of nouns and verbs mostly, in verbing of nouns and adjectives as tiny metaphors. I don’t approve of fiction which is written only to explore the possibilities of language not ideas. I don’t like too much of aesthetic that fails to torture the language and holds it back from telling the latent truth.

Review by Usha Bande

KafkaFCHow, if Kafka were to step out of time? And what if he were to land in Ayodhya? He would just shrug his shoulders and laughing heartily say, “A joke, indeed! Of Borgesian proportion, ah!” That is what Kafka does in Zafar Anjum’s charming book Kafka in Ayodhya and Other Short Stories (Kitaab, 2016). In story after story it is either Kafka or his Kafkaesque view of life that gives the stories their twisted appeal. When he (Kafka) encounters the confused media asking him about the structure in Ayodhya, his reply is characteristically evasive, “Leave the structure as it is” he tells them and confounds the media further as he declares, “Incompletion is also a quality, a facet of nobility. At least, that is what I do with my works.” (p.21). Ingenious, indeed! Nothing in the scheme of things reaches finality and that is how tradition and innovation overlap, merge and get reconstituted. Soon one realizes that Zafar Anjum is not interested in any particular place –Ayodhya or Gaza or Singapore; he is directing his shafts at the general condition of existence, the absurdity of it all: the manifold facets of contemporary life, the hilarious, the meaningless, the irritating and yet the plausible and logical.

Kafka in Ayodhya is a tiny book — just 92 pages — containing eight stories that have minute observations on/of life and its vagaries. Every character seems to be wriggling with a sense of being trapped: here is a disgruntled lower middle-class man for whom rats become the prime objects of hunt (‘The Rats’); there, a tear-soaked tale of suffering in war-torn Gaza (‘The Thousand-Yard Stare’); and yet again an author’s enigmatic quest (‘E.D’). All the eight stories, published in various magazines of repute, are different in themes and settings but somewhere underneath each has a cognizable thread running – something intriguing with the curious existential manipulation of fate.