Tag Archives: language

Book review: That’s How Mirai Eats a Pomegranate by Namrata Pathak

Reviewed by Soni Somarajan

That's How Mirai Eats a Pomegranate

 

Title: That’s How Mirai Eats a Pomegranate
Author: Namrata Pathak
Publisher: Red River (2018)
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Mirai is a riddle.

The title of Namrata Pathak’s book of verse ― That’s How Mirai Eats a Pomegranate ― sets you off on a wild-goose chase. The question is, where do you eventually reach?

Along the way, you travel a new world of sweeping sights. Instantly you fall back on experience, your memory, to grasp the world you just found. Restless you are ― to consign what’s new to the realm of understanding, the mind’s habitual neediness to own everything in its path. But that’s not easy here. You are urged to open up to the stranger, and evolve a syntax of understanding beyond what’s known so far.

Pathak’s poetry marks a fresh voice ― mysterious, mystical, sometimes cryptic, inexplicable. It draws you out, with not a polestar in sight to find your bearing, an invite to a terrain not your comfort zone. In a world that hinges on hurry, time slows down in her verse ― you must look around, beyond you, a world lost long ago.

The verse rides on memory as its motor, I wonder if it’s autobiographical, the clue being the vigour, the lustiness in every line, too original to be imaginary. It is a miracle how things of the ordinary, the daily horror of living as well, how all those years of meanderings, the personal journey of coming into one’s own turns into a language at once original, yet unsettling.

Mirai is a trope that’s phantasmic. A likeness of what? It is the poet; no, it’s also the woman. One segues into the other. You know for sure, but you can’t pin it down. But isn’t it the language of all things that matter to this world yet are inexplicable, the things difficult to render in everyday conversation, the imagination of what moves and what doesn’t in a dim, murky wildscape, the eerie domination of the elements, the fear of the unknown.

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Celebrating O.V. Vijayan’s classic, ‘The Legends of Khasak’

(From The Hindu by E.V. Ramakrishnan. Link to the complete article given below)

This year marks the eve of the 50th anniversary of the publication of O.V. Vijayan’s novel Khasakkinte Ithihasam (published as The Legends of Khasak in English in 1994).

First serialised in a literary weekly and subsequently published as a book in 1969, it still marks the highest point scaled by any Malayalam novelist in terms of intensity of vision and inventiveness of language. It narrates how Ravi, who lands in Khasak to set up a government school, is gradually sucked into its archaic charm, its tales and vibrant ways of life.

As Kerala reels from the after-effects of an unprecedented deluge, revisiting an iconic text that questioned our notions of modernity may not be inappropriate. Vijayan’s was a dissenting critical voice that reclaimed the fundamental role of the novel as a counter-narrative. Having suffered a loss of faith, he plumbed the depths of his inner resources by exploring the limits of language. Vijayan reinvented the form of the novel for a new generation, investing it with intractable questions of ethics that exceeded the formalist concerns of aesthetics.

Beyond language

Vijayan had serious misgivings about the way modernity produced and legitimated knowledge that met with uncritical acceptance. What happens to forms of knowledge that lie outside its institutional spaces? Khasak was about the imaginative apprehension of an order of reality that lay beyond language. Eduardo Kohn (author of How Forests Think) has argued that we need to go beyond language to see how the environment thinks through us.

Read more at The Hindu link here

Country in Focus: Korea

Translators uplift Korean literature to global heights

(From The Korea Herald. Link to the complete article given below)

Every time Goksel Turkozu browsed through a bookstore in Turkey, he felt there could be more books of Korean literature in translation in his country where the passion for everything Korean runs high.

A devotee of Korean literature and professor at Erciyes University in the city of Kayseri, Cappadocia, Turkozu has adapted several well-known Korean novels into the Turkish language since he first set foot in Seoul in 1990 as a student.

His decadeslong dedication to spread Korea’s literary imagination to his homeland won him the Korea Translation Award given by the Literature Translation Institute of Korea on Wednesday, alongside other translators. The event was established in 1993 for the purpose of encouraging quality translation of Korean literature and its overseas promotion and publication. Since 2013, the award has been expanded to cover less widely spoken languages around the world.

“The popularity of Korean cultural wave Hallyu is still high in Turkey after more than 10 years,” Turkozu told The Korea Herald on Tuesday at a press conference in Seoul, one day ahead of the award ceremony recognizing the contributions of 150 translators and related professionals.

Read more at The Korea Herald link here

How a Pakistani novelist and translator learned to love dictionaries

(From Zocalo Public Square. Link to the complete article given below)

An image from a winter morning in Hyderabad, Pakistan, when I was four, forms my earliest memory of literacy.

Bundled up in layers of sweaters, I am reciting from an Urdu newspaper as I sit astride my neighbor’s pet goat. I am certain that the sequence of words or their relationships to each other made no sense to me. But my prowess in reading individual words made the exercise as meaningful and empowering as the ability to ride the goat.

That pride, perhaps, explained my ecumenical approach to reading texts in my native language. Possessed by the joy of recognizing words, I did not pass judgment as to the nature of the content, but devoured everything, from my grandfather’s homeopathy manuals to legal documents and exercise guides for warding off old age. A devoted reader does not discriminate between one arrangement of words and another, or between words and numbers. For someone in my situation, Anna Karenina and the railway timetable were one.

As I grew up and moved to Karachi and then Toronto, however, the order and meaning of words took on agonizing importance. I made language my career, becoming a novelist and translator of Urdu classics.

Expanding on the latter role, I eventually developed programs to reintroduce Urdu literature into schools in Pakistan and teach children the vocabulary necessary to understand them. Along the way, I would compile the Urdu language’s first online thesaurus. Oddly enough, it was not the early experience reading astride a goat that shaped my approach in working with children, but a more unfortunate early memory that served as a cautionary tale.

Read more at this Zocalo Public Square link

This language is only used when collecting nuts in New Guinea

(From Atlas Obscura. Link to the complete article given below)

A chain of mountains splits the center of Papua New Guinea, crossing east to west for nearly a thousand miles. These highlands are full of peaks and V-shaped valleys, covered in forest and hard to reach—a terrain that has isolated clans for millennia, leading to the country’s famously diverse languages and cultures.

On these mountains grow the pandanus tree, up to 90 feet tall and bearing clusters of knobbly, pineapple-like fruits; eaten raw or cooked, they taste a little like pecans. This dense, high-fat nut is preserved during famine, smashed into pudding, consumed during ceremonies, and connected to the earliest signs of humanity in Papua New Guinea. As far back as the Ice Age, residents were leaving the coasts to trek into the mountains to harvest them. Over time, the harvesting expeditions took on ritual significance, and spurred the development of a hidden form of language.

On pandanus-gathering expeditions, ordinary words cannot be spoken. Instead, people use pandanus talk. It is not a language of its own like Russian or Mandarin, but a style of language used in a special context, or what linguists call a “register.” Across Papua New Guinea, different clans with different languages all switch up their speech when they gather pandanus, lest they risk harming the harvest.

Back when Karl Franklin lived near Mount Giluwe, the second-highest mountain in Papua New Guinea, the surrounding area was believed to be inhabited by wild dogs. Franklin, a now-retired American linguist, first traveled to Papua New Guinea in 1958 to help catalog the local languages. He and his wife lived in a village with the Kewa people, five hours from the nearest government station. Franklin would spend the next few decades creating an alphabet for Kewa (then solely an oral language) and, eventually, compiling a dictionary.

Read more at this Atlas Obscura link

The problem with literature in new Malaysia

(From ArtsEquator. Link to the complete article given below)

I have to be honest: we have a problem with our literature, and frankly, I do not have the solution. However, before we attempt to address the issue, it is essential that we openly acknowledge what the problem is. The hope is that, by being honest and self-reflective, we can, collectively, fix some of the problems afflicting our literary scene.

There are several issues, but I want to focus on two for the moment. I hope that soon, within the next five or ten years of the monumental change that the people of Malaysia made happen on 9 May 2018, we’ll overcome these problems. Otherwise, we may be forced to wait another 60 years to rectify the situation.

National Literature

The first problem? The dilemma presented by the notion of National Literature. Because Malay is the National Language, literature written in Malay occupies a special position as National Literature in Malaysia, in comparison to literature written in other languages. Yet, in our hearts, we know that good literature is good literature, regardless of the language it is written in. Why should there be a language criteria? Further, we repeatedly affirm that literary works are at their purest when expressed in the writer’s mother tongue.

And it is here that the friction arises, for our National Language is not the mother tongue for many of us. For those born and raised in ethnic Chinese or Indian families, it is possible that their language is Mandarin, or Cantonese, or Tamil, or Urdu; and that does not include our friends born and raised in Iban, Dayak, Melanau or Kadazan families. They each have their own mother tongues. We also have many writers who were born and raised writing in English, the one language that slips most comfortably off their tongues, that flows off their fingers. We should not condemn them.

Yes, Malay is a National Language, we read it in school and use it in our daily lives. However, literature is the sense of touch, thought, knowledge and culture. And if all of that stems from the non-Malay languages, then are the works written in these languages non-national?

Read more at this ArtsEquator link

On falling in love with the language I’ve spoken my entire life

(From Lithub. Link to the complete article given below)

The first fiction I ever read in Chinese was a short story by Eileen Chang, titled simply, “Love.” I was in college at the time, and my Chinese language teacher had handed it to out to the class. After I finished reading it, I quietly began to cry.

I can’t tell this story without telling you what the language meant to me then. My parents are Chinese-American immigrants, and the first language I learned was Chinese. I spoke it almost exclusively until the very first day of pre-school, when I learned the sentence, “Can I have some juice?” From then on, I spoke in full English sentences. Chinese became the language I only spoke when compelled—with my family, who always spoke Chinese in the house, or when I was forced to practice it at Chinese school on the weekends. I struggled against it, partly because I didn’t possess the full range of vocabulary through which to express myself, and partly because it was a language in which I couldn’t address my emotions.

My parents did not like emotional conversations. They did not say I love you. On parents’ visiting day at school, other kids’ parents left them notes that said “We’re proud of you!” My note said, “We hope you will continue to improve this year. Please read books other than the series, The Baby-Sitters Club.” The closest they had come to addressing the issue of emotion were the times they asked me, “Why are you crying?” By which they meant, Stop crying. And so I tried never to cry in front of them. I held my tears through dinner. I cried only alone, in my room, or on the phone with friends. It seemed to me that the heart was a dangerous territory for Chinese and so I kept the two apart. It was in English that said I love you to a boy for the first time, English in which I cursed aloud. In books written in English, the intricacies of feeling and mysteries of human existence were explored. It was in the love of this language that, early on, I found the determination to become a writer.

Read more at this Lithub link

Stockholm librarian Elisabet Risberg on Arabic books in Sweden

Just over six months ago, Publishing Perspectives reported that the United Arab Emirates’ Kalimat Foundation for Children’s Empowerment provided 2,000 Arabic books for presentation during Sweden’s Göteborg Book Fair—a gesture of solidarity with Sweden’s Arab community.

The foundation’s creator, Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, had learned that Arabic is the second or third most-spoken language in Sweden today because of the diaspora of Arabic speakers to the Scandinavian nation.

The Arabic-language books from Sharjah,” she told us at the time, “are to be distributed to 25 libraries in various parts of Sweden.”

With the distribution of that donation now complete, Publishing Perspectives has been in touch with Elisabet Risberg, who leads the Internationella biblioteket, the International Library of Stockholm, to find out how the outreach from Sharjah to Sweden’s Arabic-speaking children has gone.

The International Library in central Stockholm feeds the national network of libraries with multilingual content, and its website can be read in Swedish, in Arabic, in Englishin FrenchChinesePersianRussian and Spanish.

All told, the international library is working in more than 100 languages and it can dispatch content in a requested language to the entire library system in Sweden.

We began by asking Risberg about the concept of the Kalimat provision of Arabic books for children in Sweden.

Elisabet Risberg: When I first heard about the donation, I was confused. Why should we in a rich country accept donations of  Arabic children’s books?

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The four classic novels of Chinese literature

Water Margin, Journey to the West, Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Dream of the Red Chamber; these four novels form the core of Chinese classical literature and still inform modern culture. As with Dante or Shakespeare in Europe, they are touchstones to which Chinese literary culture persistently returns to discover new relevance and fresh insight.

Dating from the Ming and Qing dynasties, these four novels are the bedrock of Chinese literary culture. Their influence has spread across Asia to inform elements of Japanese, Korean and South East Asian mythology. The writing and dissemination of these four works marked the emergence of the novel form in China as a counterpart to more refined philosophical and poetic works. The more expansive form of the novel allowed for a synthesis of the historical and the mythological, whilst also developing along more accessible narrative lines. These works thus marked a limited but notable democratization of literature which is perhaps most evident in their use of vernacular Chinese, rather than the Classical Chinese which had previously dominated. These four works also revealed the novel’s potential to embrace a multitude of perspectives, and to allow for irony; this permitted writers to voice previously suppressed critiques about the ruling order, whilst also expressing the vast multitude of voices which made up the Chinese populace.

Water Margin

Published in the 14th century, Water Margin was the first of the four classical novels to be released, and introduced the vernacular form and style which the others would adhere to. The title has been translated in a number of ways, including as Outlaws of the Marsh, Tale of the Marshes, All Men Are Brothers, Men of the Marshes, or The Marshes of Mount Liang, and whilst doubts persist over the identity of the author, most attribute it to Shi Nai’an, a writer from Suzhou. The novel is set in the Song dynasty and depicts a group of outlaws who eventually go on to serve the Emperor in battling foreign invaders. It was based on the real life story of the outlaw Song Jiang, who was defeated by the Emperor in the 12th century, and whose gang of 36 outlaws came to populate folk tales throughout China…

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Understanding Rekhta

Are Hindi, Hindavi, Rekhta and Urdu different names for the same linguistic, literary and cultural heritage?

The three-day Jashn-e-Rekhta (Rekhta Festival) that concluded on Sunday once again drew our attention to the shared linguistic, literary and cultural traditions that have evolved over the centuries. This was the fourth edition of the annual event and the fact that it was able to attract the youth in great numbers was very significant. Their presence dominated all the sessions irrespective of their nature and young men and women flocked to poetry recitation at mushairas, serious academic discussions and celebrity-driven events.

So, what is Rekhta that was celebrated with such great enthusiasm and passion? It is one of the names by which Hindi / Hindavi / Urdu was known in the 18th and 19th centuries. When Ghalib chose to pay tribute to Mir, he wrote: “Rekhte ke tumheen ustad nahin ho Ghalib, kahte hain agle zamaane mein koi Mir bhi thaa.” (Ghalib, you are not the only master of poetry in Rekhta. It is said that there was Mir too in the past.) Rekhta has at least three meanings – broken, scattered and mixed. In comparison with the sophisticated and well-structured Persian, Rekhta or Urdu sounded broken and mixed as it had the linguistic structure of the khari boli and was colloquial in nature. There is a famous story about Mir, universally described as Khuda-e-Sukhan (God of poetry), who was approached for advice by some members of Delhi’s Muslim aristocratic families who had begun to write poetry in Rekhta / Urdu. After listening to their compositions, he bluntly told them that they were fit for writing in Persian but not in Urdu because the language could be learnt and imbibed only by sitting and spending considerable time everyday on the steps of the Jama Masjid.

Travelling to south

This language had its predecessor in Dakhini that had gone to Deccan from the north. As Amrit Rai has established in his book, A House Divided, the mixed language of the north – Hindi or Hindavi – travelled to the south first with the Nathpanthi Yogis led by Gorakhnath and later with the army of Alauddin Khilji under his famous general Malik Kafur who conquered Gujarat in 1297, Maharashtra in 1304, Andhra in 1307 and Karnataka in 1308. When Muhammad bin-Tughlaq shifted his capital from Delhi to Devagiri or Daulatabad, a large part of Delhi’s population went there and many of them stayed back even after Tughlaq retraced his step. They took there their language Hindi/Hindavi which was a mixture of Punjabi, Haryanavi, Khari Boli, Brajbhasha, Awadhi and Rajasthani.

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