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The wife’s letter

This is one of Rabindranath Tagore’s most acclaimed stories in which voices of women are brought to the fore

(Translated by Shawkat Hussain)

Respected Lotus-footed one,

We have been married for years fifteen years but this is my first letter to you. Since we have always been together, there was never any need to write letters.

Today I have come for a pilgrimage to Srikhetra and you are in your office working. Your relationship with Kolkata is like that of a snail with its own shell. Kolkata is a part of your body and soul, and so you did not apply for leave. Perhaps that was what God wanted; but He has granted my application for leave.

I am the second daughter-in-law in your family. Today, standing by the sea-shore, fifteen years after our marriage, I have realized that I have another relationship with the universe and its Creator. This realization is what has given me the courage to write to you today. This is not just a letter from the second daughter-in-law of your family.

In my childhood, when nobody knew about my ill-fated connection with your family except He who willed it to be, my brother and I were once stricken down by typhoid fever. My brother died but I recovered from my illness. All the women in the village said that I survived because I was a girl; there would be no escape from death if I were a boy. The Angel of Death is excellent in the art of theft; it steals things only of value.

I am deathless. It is to explain this more fully that I am writing this letter to you.

When your uncle and your friend Nirode came to see me as a possible bride for you, I was only twelve years old. We used to live in a remote village where jackals howled even during the day. To reach our village you had to travel miles in a bullock-cart from the station and three miles on a palanquin along a dusty road. It was a very difficult journey for both, and then they had to suffer our bangalstyle of cooking. Even to this day your uncle remembers the horrible food that was served to them. Read more

Source: Dhaka Tribune


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New Release: Mrs C Remembers by Himanjali Sankar

mrs cThis June Pan Macmillan India will release Himanjali Sankar’s Mrs C Remembers, a piercing exploration of the limits of submission, of illness and upheaval and the unfathomable powers of the human mind.

Mrs Anita Chatterjee, wife to one of Kolkata’s most successful men, has lived a bustling life managing her husband’s large household and mingling regularly with the rich and powerful. Now, after forty years of a life of unquestioned compliance, the only thing she can do is try to forget.

Her daughter, Sohini, is an artist living in Delhi with an unconventional partner. As Mrs C begins to engage with their ideas, she finds she can no longer ignore the tumultuous world outside. Soon she is diagnosed with a formidable medical condition, one that will allow her to let down her guard and come into her own.

About the Author:

Himanjali Sankar grew up in Kolkata. She studied English Literature at JNU, New Delhi and taught English at the University of Indianapolis in the US. She has worked with various publishing houses and is currently an editor with Bloomsbury India. Two of her books, The Stupendous Time telling Superdog and Talking of Muskaan, were shortlisted for the Crossword Award for Children’s Literature. Mrs C Remembers is her first novel for adults.


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‘Kali’ and ‘Shiva’: Two poems by Prerona Basu

‘Kali’ and ‘Shiva’

author picturePrerona Basu graduated from St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata, with a degree in English Honours and later completed her Masters in English from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She works as a freelance writer who has written for India Perspectives, the flagship magazine of The Ministry of External Affairs India. She enjoys writing all forms of fiction and some of her pieces have been successfully published.

 

 

 

 


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India’s largest library devoid of staff

By Soumya Das

National Library’s foreign language section has been without staff for a decade

The foreign language section of the National Library — responsible for the collection of foreign language books and exchange of the same with libraries of other countries — has been without staff for almost a decade.

Library sources say the “complete absence of staff” has not only hit the collection of foreign publications but has also brought down the number of readers in the foreign language section to almost nil.

Arun Kumar Chakraborty, Director-General in charge of the National Library, skirted the issue. Read more

Source: The Hindu


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Book Review: Three Days of Catharsis by Atrayee Bhattacharya

By Manisha Lakhe

three-days-of-catharsis-front-coverThere is only one thing wrong with the book Three Days of Catharsis by Atrayee Bhattacharya — there is no editing at all. By the author or by the publisher. Everything else collapses around this one fault.

It’s 2017, and there’s no point whining about a life lived between different cities across the world: Singapore, Kolkata and Chennai. The obsession that Indian authors have about balancing culture and upbringing across borders should be celebrated. Instead, this book is a 241-page-long whine about how “no one understands me” and how difficult it is being a TamBong (a Tamilian and a Bengali) who lives abroad. If only the protagonist/author (it is autobiographical) had cared to read multi-cultural authors like Jhumpa Lahiri (one passing mention) and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni instead of Chetan Bhagat (his Two States is mentioned as a mirror to her own life)! Had someone, like a reliable editor, asked the author to put this book away as the first draft of an idea, it would have helped.

Alas, everything that happens in the book is banal. Let’s list the events:

Kutu goes to IIM Kolkata to submit her admission papers. Gets into an argument with the office clerk and the admin officer Gurunathan about what her mother tongue is. If such an innocuous question becomes an existential debate that lasts for 12 pages for the protagonist, then you’d want the argument to have more logic than just froth. How does she expect an office clerk and the admissions officer to know all about every student? Gurunathan explains that it is his job to make students feel at home. He tells her in Tamil, because her name is “Krishnan”, not because he wishes to insult her “Bengali” part.

She then misunderstands her grandmother’s concern about being out and about alone, and asks the grandma if she’s becoming a burden.

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‘Why literature festivals, as a writer, fill me with utmost dread’:Tabish Khair

By Tabish Khair

The fun literary festival season has commenced in India. It will hit its peak in January, when I too am scheduled to appear at the legendary Jaipur Literature Festival, and the upcoming and exciting KALAM in Kolkata. As always, I am honoured to be asked, and totally torn in two by such invitations.

There is no doubt that literary festivals do much good: they bring writers in contact with readers, they enable readers to buy a book or two along with the pau-bhaji or burger that they usually buy during outings, and they focus publicity on some lucky books.

So why is it that I have mixed feelings about doing literary festivals and similar public appearances?

I will try to explain. Being born in middle class circles where one has to earn a salary, I have perforce skirted around full-time writing. Writing is a vocation for me, but in order to write, I have had to hew out careers — first as a journalist in India and then an academic in Denmark.

The vocation of writing demands total commitment — something that my careers do not permit. But they come with their advantages too, apart from the necessary salary. Journalism trained me to write accessibly and keep a deadline. It enabled me to meet the sort of people — criminals, politicians, bigots — who were not part of my circles. Academia allowed me to read widely, and in some depth. Both fed into my vocation as a writer. Read more

Source: DailyO


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Fly and Back: A poem by Varun Rajaram

Fly and Back

varun

Varun Rajaram has been writing poems since the age of 8. His first book of poems Reflections was published for a closed audience. His poems reflect the culture of places he has lived in – Kolkata, Lucknow and Ahmedabad. Currently, Varun lives in Mumbai where he promotes the use of solar power through his business.


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Book Review: Exile: Memoir by Taslima Nasrin

By Piya Srinivasan

exile

One thing we know about Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasrin, whether through her writings or hearsay, is that she doesn’t mince words. Her memoir follows this legacy. Exile is about the fight of a woman against the state, a commentary on India’s struggle to maintain its secular credentials, the rapidly diminishing arena of free expression, and the ugly effect of vote bank politics on her life. Her open attacks on religion, patriarchy and intolerance are distilled into a retelling of her seven-month ordeal in 2007 against the Indian state’s coercive mechanisms.

Nasrin has many epithets: former physician, humanist, human rights activist, proponent of freedom of expression and women’s rights, battler of fatwas. Forced to leave Bangladesh in 1994 after the religious furore caused by her book Lajja, she led a nomadic existence in Europe and America for a decade. Her repeated attempts to return to Bangladesh were rejected by the government. The last of her three-part memoir, Ka, published as Dwikhandito in West Bengal, was banned by the local government in 2003 for hurting Muslim religious sentiments. In 2004, she was granted a residency permit in India and made a home in Kolkata, the place closest to her homeland in language and culture.

Her narrative — through musings, letters, conversations, diary entries and newspaper reports – uncovers the grit and grime of politics. After an attack on her by religious ideologues linked to the political party AIMIM at the launch of her book Shodh in Hyderabad, a violent protest march by rabble rousers demanding her expulsion from Kolkata expedited the state government’s “Exit Taslima” mission.  She was subsequently put under house arrest on her return to Kolkata, for fear of communal disturbances over her presence. When asked to arrest the protesters, the Commissioner of Police refused, saying this was a “minority issue”. She offers this as proof of manufactured dissent by the state government to secure the Muslim vote bank.

She challenges Buddhadeb Bhattacharya who was the chief minister at the time, on his studied silence over the Dwikhandito ban, approved by him after 25 prominent literary figures read the book and condemned it, clearly belying the Left Front’s progressive ideals. She condemns many of the city’s intellectuals and exposes the media-politics alliance through the instance of Anandabazar Patrika editor-in-chief Aveek Sarkar stalling her interview for the newspaper on the then foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee’s behest, allegedly to appease fundamentalist factions in West Bengal.

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“The pen is mightier than the sword. Otherwise people with swords would not be so desperate to snatch my pen.” Taslima Nasrin

By Aminah Sheikh

exile

“Let Another Name for Religion be Humanism.” It was these words that had lured me, a seventeen-year-old Muslim girl, into buying Lajja from an almost non-functional bookstore in my hometown. I’d got my hands on the book five years after it was published. Back then, I didn’t know much about Taslima Nasrin, except that she was a Bangladeshi Muslim writer, penning some not–so-good things about the community, as overheard during conversations between elders. I recall the day I bought the book, and was wondering if I should hide it. I didn’t. In fact, after reading the book in one sitting, I walked up to my mother and asked, “Why was this book banned? Why was a fatwa issued against her? What wrong did she write?”  My mother’s reply was simple but had a deep impact on me then. She said, “Every individual has an opinion and feels differently. We must be tolerant of others’ views. Allah has given us a mind, we should use it. And never cause any human being harm or drive anyone out of their home.”

Taslima Nasrin was driven out of her home in 1994.

“A Free Bird” was her first poem at the age of 13, Taslima’s first writing ever.  “I wanted to be like a free bird, wanted to fly in the open blue sky,” she fondly recalls, in an email interaction with Kitaab. Her poems were published in literary magazines, followed by her opinion pieces on culture in national newspapers. In the years that followed, her views, expressed through her writings, on women’s rights and criticism of religious fundamentalism in a conservative patriarchal society, made many uncomfortable to the extent they grew intolerant of Taslima’s existence itself.

“Before writing Lajja, I wrote several books. One of them was Nirbacita Kolam, and that book was a turning point. The book consists of my feminist writings,” she adds. The undercurrents in the minds of religious extremists against this very bold writer had already begun to gather steam in Bangladesh and perhaps Lajja was the last straw. In September 1993, a fatwa was issued against her and a reward offered for her death. Taslima’s life as a medical officer was also put on hold. “I had to quit my job as a medical officer at the government hospital because the government wanted me to stop writing books. I was obviously punished for no fault of mine. I got busy with my writings. And gave up being sad for their injustices against me,” she recounts. Although Taslima was born in a Muslim family, she was raised in a secular atmosphere. “It (being secular) was not uncommon in 1960s and 70s Bangladesh. Most of my family members were not practicing Muslims. Some of them were atheists. It was not common during my time for young women to wear hijabs or young men to go to mosques. It is a recent phenomenon after massive Islamisation of Bangladesh,” she explains.

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Book Review: Daughters Of Jorasanko by Aruna Chakravarti

daughters

The world may not know of Jorasanko, but to Bengalis it’s the epoch of extraordinary creative output now known in history as the “Bengal renaissance”. For Jorasanko, a neighbourhood in north Kolkata, was the Tagore family seat and home to Asia’s first Nobel laureate.

Rabindranath is the most recognised, but he was merely the brightest spark in a family of remarkably talented members, many of whom were pioneers in their own right. Their contributions no less important, but now only known to specialists. His father, Debendranath, for instance, was the founder of Brahmo Samaj, his sister Swarnakumari was one of Bengal’s first women writers, sister-in-law Jnanadanandini was credited with improvising the modern style of wearing the sari, and many others whose achievements could cover the whole page.

The family was full of creative energy, but the Tagore women had an ambivalent existence—liberated and limited at the same time; speaking English and playing the piano like memsahibs, but having no say in whom they married or if mistreated by their husbands.

This is the world in which Aruna Chakravarti sets Daughters of Jorasanko, a historical novel about life in Jorasanko Thakurbari’s “andar mahal”. Like its bestselling prequel, Jorasanko, published in 2013, this one too has the poet as its protagonist. Read more