Bol ke lab azaad hai tere” is a famous poem by legendary Urdu poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Eleven artists from Singapore recited this poem to inspire others and pay homage to Faiz and his spirit of speaking up, and speaking truth to power. The artists shot their own clips at their homes using mobile devices, respecting the social distancing regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Critically acclaimed, award winning author Rahman Abbas needs no introduction. A Mumbai based fiction writer whose book Rohzin won the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award in 2018, Abbas is known to captivate the readers with unique storylines and unforgettable characters. Since his debut in 2004 with Nakhalistan ki Talaash ( The Search of an Oasis), he has penned one masterpiece after another. From winning awards to having his books translated into various foreign languages, he has done it all. Rohzin was not only the first Urdu novel to be discussed in Germany, it was also adopted as a part of Urdu curriculum in INALCO. Sometime last year, he won a research grant for his next novel and travelled to Europe. 

Mitali Chakravarty

Kitaab was. Kitaab is and will continue to be.

Meanwhile the corona virus has, perhaps, taught a lesson that mankind all over the world has the same vulnerabilities. Thoughts and ideas need to be nurtured to unite mankind across all borders. Some of us writers have joined together to start a journal which hopes to reach out to mankind across all borders. The journal is in its infancy and needs much nurturing like a baby. It needs all the support possible now.

Kitaab has moved into its mature years. I leave Kitaab in the able hands of a new Editor who will soon be announced by the Founder and Editor- in – Chief, Zafar Anjum.

Before I sign off, I must thank Kitaab for the wonderful new friends it has found me — all the wonderful writers and readers. I must thank Desmond Kon Zhicheng–Mingdé for his unwavering support and friendship. Farah Ghuznavi and Rituparna Mahapatra for guiding me through the rites of passages of Kitaab.org and Zafar Anjum for his trust, continued friendship and the opportunity. Kitaab helped me heal in a lot of ways. I must also thank the editors before me, Sucharita Dutta Asane, Monideepa Sahu and more, who made Kitaab a vibrant platform long before I joined the Kitaab community. Without all these people and each one of you, I could not have led the online journal of Kitaab International for a whole year.

The world of Singlit glowed from March 7th 2020 to March 15 th 2020 with different events to promote Singaporean literature. Adequate precautions were taken to keep the participants and visitors safe. Kitaab participated in the event aswell.

Of the sixty events planned, thirty five had to be cancelled for the COVID-19 situation. They had workshops, and book sales and most interesting of all what Singlit  is famous for — noir fiction. Here is a description of how the spoken word poet Deborah Emmanuel conducted the event.

Book Review by Kajoli Banerjee Krishnan

usha

 

Title: Boys from Good Families

Author: Usha K.R.

Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2019

 

It was twenty-five years ago that Usha K.R. stepped into the literary world with ‘Sepia Tones’ that won the 1995 Katha Short Story Award. Her first novel Sojourn was published in 1998. Her subsequent novels The Chosen (2003), A Girl and a River (2007) and Monkey-man (2010) have been critically acclaimed.  A Girl and a River was awarded the Vodafone Crossword Prize in 2007. Amongst her other short stories are ‘Elixir’, that appeared in Boo, An Anthology of Ghost Stories and ‘The Boy to Chase the Crows Away’ that was shortlisted in the Best Asian Short Stories 2017 by Kitaab.

Usha’s fifth novel Boys from Good Families traces the story of Ashwath. Living with his parents and sister Savitri in ‘Neel Kamal’, their family home, he grows up within a conservative household in the city of Bangalore during the 1970’s and 80’s. Ashwath finds his parents rigid in their beliefs, expectations from them and his extended family dreary and claustrophobic. A romantic at heart and somewhat undecided about his future, he enjoys exploring the city and its surroundings, watching films and starts to fall in love with a remarkably capable and charming Thippy.

This phase abruptly comes to an end when his parents come to know of his affection for Thippy who lives with her family in the outhouse of ‘Neel Kamal’ and is considered a social unequal. They throw out Thippy and family.

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

Maharathi Debdutt saw the hennaed foot, dainty, as the passenger stepped off the palanquin. Then the wheel went over it. His deed was done. He did not hear the shrieks that rent the air. From the beautiful princess who was to be wed, she became the hobbling one, the unwanted one.

Ever since Maharathi Debdutt had set eyes on the little one, Rajkumari Heeramoti, she had fascinated him. Her absolute milk white skin, the fragility of her limbs, her big black eyes and tumbling black curls, were a delight. He would watch her at play from a distance. He was a horse rider and a charioteer, and he was not allowed within the palace.

Translated by Abhisek Sarkar

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

Chhabi has expired.

Chhabila died close to day break. She had been choked to death. Her one year old child Etim, following his usual morning practice, is trying quite hard to suck some milk out of one of her breasts.

Patuki has no inkling about who killed Chhabi. Although it is not unknown to him that this is not a natural death, he is yet to discover that the man he spotted approaching Chhabi’s house early in the morning was the killer. But the very next night Patuki would come to know who killed Chhabila. The one who would be his source of information is the most reliable of all. The rich and the poor, thieves and thugs, the good and the bad, all have respect for him. It is only Patuki who he speaks with. But the day is still young and he has to wait long for nightfall. How long will he have to cope with this hubble-bubble in his stomach, with this uncanny sensation running through his veins?

The man who visited Chhabila at dawn had also been seen coming out of her house late in the night. Patuki spends the whole of the night at the southern bank of the pond behind dense bushes, fishing pole in hand. Long aerial roots of a great banyan tree surround this place. These bushes entice him. The night has its own allure. Only Allah knows why people waste these hours sleeping. Patuki does not sleep; he cannot. The long fishing line of Patuki does not have a hook hence the float also is redundant. He has seen people climbing up his fishing thread from the water— many of them. They climb throughout the night and bless Patuki. Then they climb up those roots of the banyan tree. Now they turn into fireflies and fly around the Banyan pir.

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

The man trudged up the red mud lane carrying a rucksack on his back and a tin trunk in one hand. He mounted the three steps from the lane and stepped over a metal stile flanked by gateposts. An elderly woman sat on the concrete platform in front of the big white house; she seemed to be waiting for him.

“Bayool Maami?” the man asked, joining his palms in formal greeting while introducing himself, “Shyam Kulkarni.”

“I was expecting you two hours ago, Painter Saheb,” Bayool said, rising slowly from the cement platform and hobbling into the sitting room, “Come, come. Sit,” gesturing to the sling back armchair.

Bayool was an elderly woman who wore dentures. Shyam noticed that when she smiled there were gaps in her dentures that made her teeth look natural.

“The bus broke down,” he said simply. “Bayool Maami, please call me Shyam.”

He sat in the armchair and looked around. Through the floor-to-ceiling bars that made up one wall of the sitting room, he observed a cottage nearby.

“You will live there,” Bayool said, pointing to the cottage.

The property adjoining Bayool’s seemed impenetrable with trees, briars and tangled creepers, but Shyam saw outlines of a roof and walls and broken down windows of a house through those trees.

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

Irati had green fingers. A darker green than most gardeners’ fingers. She could twist and fix and grow and stunt. Better than the new sacks of pesticides and fertilisers that flew off the dealership godown in Manjeri. The old ones smelled of sweet distilled poison or dusty, desiccated old warehouses. The new ones burnt your nostril hairs if you got too close and melted stony warts if you didn’t have time to go to the clinic. They also killed all the beetles and the grasshoppers, the aphids and the worms, the moles and the rats and if taken carefully they killed humans. If not taken carefully, they just left the unsuccessful souls at the threshold of death with the world outside pitying them and the family inside cursing them. Irati had no use for fertilisers or poisons. Nothing living dared to crawl, step, slither or fly into her plot unless she wanted them to. On that five cents of strange ground, she grew bananas and nutmeg, coconuts and moringa, areca and cashew. The harvests were always more than she could eat or preserve and nobody in the village bought or borrowed anything from her. So once a month, she took a bus to Kozhikode with sacks full of the sweetest smelling nutmeg, strangely heavy coconuts, banana stalks that had perfectly symmetrical bunches or moringa that curved up to the sky.

It had become a pastime for the neighbours to look carefully at the local reports in the newspapers the week after her market trips. A Yemeni trader had grown a beautiful set of breasts overnight. The priest’s wife burped every time someone told a lie near her. Scores of people who ate the unbelievably sweet banana pradhaman during a baby’s 28’th Day celebration were compelled to buy the child innumerable gifts of gold and silver. The moringa sambar made a shy young wife seduced every man in her old husband’s areca nut factory. Some women tried to bring up the stories at the river bank and Irati, without glancing up from her washing would grunt a reply that she never read newspapers.

Kemban came from Tiruvannamalai to climb coconut trees but ended up climbing into Irati’s bed. A few days after the November thunderstorms ended and the winter mists invaded the mornings, she came to buy broken rice from Meleparambu House with a gold leaf strung on a black thread resting in the hollow of her throat. The women from the river reported an extra mundu and towel that she brought to wash every day. Kemban was now her man. They watched curiously for an entire year but nothing strange happened to him.