By Aminah Sheikh

She read one of her poems with a lot of poise, to an audience sitting in the jungle that played host to the Kumaon Literary Festival, in Uttrakhand. A practising poet, Shelly Bhoil’s first poetry book  An Ember From Her Pyre has recently been published.  But her interest goes beyond poetry. It extends to Tibetan literature, an area in which she is doing meaningful work. Shelly speaks to Kitaab on her role as a growing Tibetologist and poet.

dsc_0370When did you begin writing poetry? 

I remember writing an angry poem on patriarchy when I was in class 8. I dismissed it because it couldn’t be rhymed, which was essential in my then understanding of poetry. It was at St. Bede’s College in Shimla where I studied from 1997-2001 that I began to write poetry vigorously. Back then I mostly wrote in Hindi. My mentor (Sangeeta Saraswat) suggested I drop ‘tukbandi’ (rhyming) and experiment with different styles. Most of my early poems perhaps sound sophomoric or patriotic. By the time I graduated, I was told by my mentor that my verses had reached a certain level of maturity. College was the preparatory ground. A few years ago, I moved to Brazil, I became serious about writing and publishing poetry, this time in English. Poetry has been liberating both during my college life and now in Brazil where sometimes one could feel very isolated!

What led to your interest in Tibetan literature?

This might surprise you, I am a native of Kangra, an exile capital for Tibetans but it was only in 2003 that my interest in Tibet and its issues grew. It was after I attend a talk in Shimla by an exiled Tibetan poet Tenzin Tsundue. Suddenly, McLeodganj transformed from a place of momos and weekend drives to the place of political resistance by the Tibetans. Tsundue’s words still ring in my ears- ‘I belong to a problem called Tibet!’ Having read courses on post-colonialism in Masters, it had immediately occurred to me that our curriculum must concern not just with the post-colonial and but also what is happening to people from the ongoing or living colonies in our apparently ‘postcolonial world’.

Jamyang Norbu’s award-winning novel, The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes, which I had earlier passed on as another detective fiction sequel, now interested me as a political testament. A humble activist-poet that Tsundue is, he sent me a passionate letter, which I still treasure, introducing me to works of other Tibetan writers, after which I began to combine my family visits to Dharamsala with research. When I approached a prominent Tibetologist in Dharamsala for readings, he tested my intention by saying, “aren’t we ‘chinkis’ for you Indians because of our slant eyes and flat noses, and like many western scholars are you too attracted by the romance of our religion!” I think he was satisfied to know that some of the most beautiful and bold faces I know have features like the Tibetans and some of these are in my immediate family, and that there is a surfeit of religion too in my bhajan (devotional songs) and temple loving family. So what I want to point out is that my interest in Tibetan literature is primarily led by the political crisis and nationalism of Tibetans-in-exile.

Crime fiction writer Vish Dhamija speaks to Kitaab on the sidelines of the recently concluded Kumaon Literary Festival, where his latest book Nothing Else Matters was launched.

vishWhat are your early memories of writing, how did your interest grow?

My earliest memories are from school days. I used to pen small articles for the school bulletin, like everyone else. Then I took to blogging for some time, but the interest waned over time since it took a lot of my time. Nevertheless, it taught me how to write once again and rekindled my interest.

How did you narrow down to writing under the crime genre?

It wasn’t something I sat down and contemplated or made a conscious choice. I had never read anything else except crime fiction— so when the first story idea came to my mind, it had an element of crime. To date, I honestly do not plot a story planning which genre it will fall under; I plot a story and often it is cross-genre: Déjà Karma was part legal, part psychological, Bhendi Bazaar was noir, and both Nothing Lasts Forever and Nothing Else Matters have elements of romance in them.

Tell us about how your first book – Nothing Lasts Forever. How did it take shape?

The story idea had been in the back of my mind since the early nineties but the usual grind of life took priority and I eventually wrote the first draft in 2008. I have to admit that while the basic premise of the story remained true to the original idea, the final story didn’t have much resemblance to what I had carried in my mind for decades.

What are the challenges crime novelists face?

The first thing any writer needs to learn is discipline and that’s irrespective of the genre. I’ve come across so many people who say they want to write a book but they never get down to writing the first chapter.

Crime writing needs a tight plot: what is the crime? How is it going to occur? How will the story unfold, and how will the protagonist catch the criminal? Or if the protagonist is the doer how will she/he get away with it? The story should be believable — the author should keep the narrative real but interesting.

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Left to right: Rakhshanda Jalil (writer – Invisible City: The hidden Monuments of India), Urmila Pawar (Marathi writer), Radha Chakravarty (writer & translator), Nirupama Dutt (Journalist, writer & translator), Rashmi Menon (commissioning editor at Amaryllis Books)

By Aminah Sheikh

Translated literature is like perfume in a bottle. One often expects the perfume to retain its fragrance when poured into another bottle, but that isn’t possible given the nuances of the source literature – culture, period, emotions. Some essence is lost, while a new aroma is added.

“The word ‘translation’ comes, etymologically, from the Latin for ‘bearing across’. Having been borne across the world, we are translated men. It is normally supposed that something always gets lost in translation; I cling, obstinately to the notion that something can also be gained,” renowned writer Salman Rushdie describes in his work ‘Imaginary homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991’.

This emotion echoed during a panel discussion ‘The Glory of Translation’ at the Kumaon Literary Festival. The session was moderated by Rashmi Menon, commissioning editor at Amaryllis Books.

The genre of translated books has been under experiments in the last two decades. “However, it is only in recent times that translators have new found confidence as publishers and source (literature) authors are growing to accept translated work that isn’t literal,” said literary historian & writer Rakhshanda Jalil, of Invisible City: The hidden Monuments of India fame.

Increasingly, writers are Indianising their translations which helps retain a certain flavor from the original literature. Radha Chakravarty, writer & translator (of Tagore’s prominent work) is of the view that, translations are where cultures meet, people from different orientations and backgrounds come to understand each other in harmony.

By Aminah Sheikh

Author of the bestselling coffee table book – ‘The Indians’, a lawyer of international repute Sumant Batra’s dream is to mark Dhanachuli (in Uttrakhand) on the culture map. And this he hopes to do through his various literary initiatives, Kumaon Literary Festival (KLF) being one of them. Close on the heels of the second edition of KLF, Sumant gets candid with Kitaab.

Sumant Batra
Sumant Batra, Founder of KLF 

What gave birth to Kumaon Literary festival (KLF) and how do you view it as being different from the other festivals held in India? 

In strive for economic growth, the creative aspirations of the people of India have remained unarticulated. A nation that invests in cultural development as much as it does in economic growth tends to be a happier nation and achieves sustainable development. Creative industry feeds into the country’s soft power. Given the challenging times we live in, there is a need for investment in the creative industry. The idea of KLF stems out of this very belief. There is a whole eco-system comprising of projects and activities that are not limited or confined to the 5-day festival. The institutionalised approach is aimed at maximizing impact, optimize on resources and aim for measurable and tangible outcomes that are in addition to the festival.

KLF has had a successful inaugural last year. How do you see the second edition panning out with the festival being held at two different locations?

It was less than two years ago that I presented the idea of KLF to the world of literature. We could see the green shoots emerging at the end of the first season of the festival last year. The second edition is bigger in design.  Our focus, however, remains on quality than quantity.  This offers challenges of mobilising financial support. We have, however, held our ground, avoided commercial temptations and continue to navigate our way through pitfalls. There are mammoth restrictions and logistical constraints in organising a festival of this scale in a village that is part of an eco-sensitive area.  We have stayed respectful towards the restrictions and observed applicable guidelines.

Which are some of the books slated to be launched at KLF?

Lata- Sur Gatha – the biography of Lata Mangeshkar by Yatindra Mishra, The biography of actress Rekha by Yasser Usman, Shadows of the Northland by 14 year old Vishwesh Desai, and three more.

Akshay Manwani_09

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

To me writing is a medium for telling stories. Even though a lot of my writing is in the non-fiction space, every piece that I write tells my reader something about the subject that I have written about. It’s the subject’s story that I try to bring to life, to notice through my writing.

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

My most recent book or my forthcoming book is about the cinema of yesteryear writer-film-maker, Nasir Husain. Husain is the man behind some of Hindi cinema’s biggest commercial entertainers such as Teesri Manzil (1966), Yaadon Ki Baaraat (1973) and Hum Kisise Kum Nahin (1977). He also launched his nephew Aamir Khan in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988). Despite helming such significant films, Husain has not been given his due. His cinema has often been dismissed as froth. But froth is not facile. His cinema had a very modern aesthetic to it. His dialogue-writing had a distinct contemporary spark and he was among the best in picturizing song sequences. With this book, I am hoping to contextualize the significance of Husain’s work and open a conversation in regard to the seriousness with which his cinema must be examined.