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Kitaab Singapore organizes the first SRMU Kitaab Literary Festival in Lucknow

Lucknow has been the hub of mushaira, Dasstaangoi and kavi sammelan for centuries, but as times change, rituals and traditions also get recreated and rejuvenated according to the prevailing zeitgeist. In a unique collaboration, the first of its kind, writers, poets, translators and scriptwriters from different parts of India and Asia assembled in Lucknow in the first weekend of April to celebrate writing from South Asia and Southeast Asia.

This first edition of the SRMU Kitaab Literary Festival was jointly organized by Kitaab International Pte. Ltd., Singapore and Shri Ramaswaroop Memorial University (SRMU), Lucknow and was held on the 7th and 8th of April, 2018 at the SRMU campus.

Building bridges between Asian writers and readers


Lighting the lamp: Pro Chancellor Pooja Agarwal (second from right)

Festival Director Zafar Anjum, the festival’s patron A K Singh, Vice Chancellor of SRMU, Chancellor Pankaj Agarwal, Pro Chancellor Pooja Agarwal, and the faculty of SRMU led by Dr. B.M. Dixit, inaugurated the festival. ‘The aim of this festival ties up with the aim of Kitaab—to create bridges and dialogue between Asian writers and global readers and to bring literature to the grassroots,’ said Anjum in his welcome address.


Kitaab’s director Zafar Anjum delivering his welcome address

Agarwal applauded SRMU’s collaboration with Kitaab. He said that Kitaab is an esteemed organisation that offers a promising worldwide platform to both budding and established authors, editors and publishers. Extending from the areas of literary fiction and translation to filmmaking (together with Filmwallas, founded by Zafar Anjum), Kitaab caters to all genres in English and other South Asian languages.


The festival featured more than 20 writers in English, Hindi and Urdu from India, Singapore and Malaysia. Well-known and award-winning writers such as Sudeep Sen, Rahman Abbas, Yogesh Praveen, Dr. Surya Prasad Dixit, Isa Kamari, Dr. Rakhshanda Jalil, Dr. Malachi Edwin Vethamani and Novoneel Chakraborty top lined the festival. Theatre and film actor Shishir Sharma, who was present to talk about his journey in the world of acting, presented the film, More Chai Please, Singapore’s first Urdu short film.

The film, shot in Singapore and presented by Filmwallas, tells the story of a couple with the plot spanning Singapore and Lucknow. The film’s writer and producer Sunita Lad Bhamray and its director Zafar Anjum were present during a special screening of the film on the second day of the festival.


Eminent poet Sudeep Sen with veteran actor Shishir Sharma

The other major highlight of the festival was the launch of Tawassul, a Malay novel by Singaporean novelist Isa Kamari, translated into Urdu by Rubina Siddiqui. It is the first work of Singaporean literature to be translated into Urdu. Award-winning Urdu novelist, Rahman Abbas who has also helped oversee the edits, hailed this avant-garde work of fiction and told the audience that the book’s Hindi edition was in the works.


Rahman Abbas (left) with Isa Kamari (right) launching Tawassul in Urdu


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Long and short of writing: Kitaab at the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet

Short fiction writers Suzanne Kamata, Wan Phing and Monideepa Sahu were joined by author-publisher Zafar Anjum as they spoke about their love for writing.

Both authors explained why they write about what they do. “Most of my work is meant to be parts of novels that I was working on but that I abandoned. I tend to put everything that I’m preoccupied with into my fiction. I put my Japanese mother-in-law into my story, as well as my intrigue as to why Marilyn Monroe spent her honeymoon with Joe DiMaggio in Japan,” Kamata told the audience at the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet, co-organised by Victoria Memorial Hall in association with The Telegraph.

Kamata’s approach to her her work is to “write scenes, then go for a walk to put them all together, to come back to them a week or month later”. Wan Phing called her works “pretty organic”, adding: “I’m quite an intuitive writer”.

The panel had some tips to share on becoming published, with Wan Phing admitting that “getting published is the best assurance for sure, but it can be quite hard”.

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Kitaab’s The Best Asian Short Stories

By Mitali Chakravarty


Title: The Best Asian Short Stories
Editor: Monideepa Sahu
Series Editor: Zafar Anjum
Publisher: Kitaab

The Best Asian Short Stories is one of the finest compilations of short stories I have read in a long time. The short stories cover a diaspora of Asian cultures, histories, societies in transit, shifting borders and values. They embrace an array of emotions that are universal and touch the heart of the reader. Established authors (Shashi Deshpande, Poile Sengupta, Farah Ghuznavi, Park Chan Soon, to name a few) and newcomers (N.Thierry, Wah Phing Lim, etc.) rub shoulders with stories that nudge one another, creating a wide range of reading experiences.

In this one book, I have travelled from the backstairs of Singapore’s government subsidized flats to Malaysian ports, to Phillipino slums, to Mao’s China, to Korea’s madly competitive society, to the lonely world of an Old Japanese, to a Syrian refugee’s boat, to the shifting borders of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, to the rebellion against restrictions in the conservative Middle East, to Canada, America and England. These stories have grasped values that leave the reader absolutely spellbound.

Universal truths are stated by the characters that come to life with a few strokes of the creator’s skilled pen. When a dying man discovers, ‘I’m neither Indian nor Bangladeshi. I’m human’, the character reaches out beyond the pages of the book and brings home that politics and nationalism draw borders where none exist for the poor man. In another story, around the eve of Indian independence, a little girl is ‘bewildered’ when she fails to find her homeland, Sindh, on the map of the new country and says, ‘It’s gone’. One is startled by the pathos that these two words can create and compelled to question why Indians mutely accepted the line drawn by Cyril Radcliffe. When in Canada, a middle aged Sindhi befriends a Hindi speaking Chinese, he contends, ‘I knew that we immigrants, Sindhi, Indian or Chinese, needed to look after each other’. This is an eternal truth faced by universal globetrotters traipsing through countries. The whole world becomes their home.

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“For me literary success would be when readers carry me in their memories forever, in the form of my books, characters, stories or messages” Dr. Manjiri Prabhu

By Monideepa Sahu

Manjiri Prabhu014

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

I write because I imagine, dream, feel, love and reciprocate.

And because I have a story to extract from my interactions, from my emotions, whether in imagination or reality and turn it into a fictitious reality.

I want to create a world of my own and enjoy the trials and tribulations of the journey and finally when it is done, sit back and let the world see my creation.

I write because I want to create memories, because I want to learn, explore and live many lives and travel with many characters to lands known and unknown. To feel fulfilled, to remind myself how blessed I am. . . .

I write because that’s what I can do . . . …and love to do!

What advice would you give your younger writing self?

First and foremost, I would tell my younger self that she was right. That feeling that she had all along as a child that she was born to be a writer was completely justified. I would like to congratulate her on her success and persistence. As advice I would tell her to be ready for challenges, be patient and learn to take rejections as opportunities to do better. I would tell her to be more competitive in today’s world and go all out and shout out her achievements. I would tell her to go wild, travel more, love more, absorb more and create more. I would tell her to be more in touch with reality as well as fantasy, experiment more and get out of her comfort zone of writing. I would just want her to live every moment to the fullest so that writing would come inspired, faster and better.

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

As a child I wrote for myself, content in the art of creation and heedless to public consumption.  As I grew older, I realized that it wouldn’t matter if someone read my work. In fact it would be great if others did. That’s when I published my first novel ‘A Symphony of Hearts’ in 1994.

Over the years, I’ve written and published books, and the need to reach out to more and more readers has increased. Mostly because publishing a book takes it out of your inner, controlled circle and exhibits it to a world of readers with varied views, opinions and backgrounds. Great feedback from readers is one of the biggest rewards of writing!

The equation of writing for ‘self’has now changed to writing for ‘us’ – for my readers and I. I still create plots that excite me and characters that speak to me but they carry a vision that I want readers to grasp and understand and emulate.

So publishing my book hasn’t changed so much the process of writing, as the need for visibility and exposure to it. Now marketing and promotion also take a big chunk of my time and attention.

What was your greatest writing challenge?

Actually, each of my books has posed a challenge. The Cosmic Clues and The Astral Alibi or Stellar Signs were about a lady detective who solves cases with the help of Astrology. So a lot of research went into choosing the right plots and solving them using Astrology in a systematic scientific manner, and not as a superstitious, magic wand. Similarly, The Cavansite Conspiracy takes place in 48 hours and the protagonist travels from Pune, to Hamburg, to the Isle of Sylt and to London in a matter of so many hours. Matching the time-differences and flight timings was a huge challenge. Finally, my latest thriller The Trail of Four takes place entirely in Salzburg and is about non-Indian characters, taking Re, the investigative journalist on a trail set 75 years ago. The biggest challenge was writing the novel like an insider, and combining history with a contemporary plotline. Having said that, I have enjoyed writing each of these novels.

What’s your idea of literary success?

I write so that people will read, enjoy the product of my imagination and take away something from it. When books sell, the monetary gain enables you to be at peace to write some more. So it helps. It is practical. But I would like to go beyond this materialistic gain . . . to grasp and capture something that is more ephemeral and transient. Memories. For me literary success would be when readers carry me in their memories forever, in the form of my books, characters, stories or messages. When I freeze into their memories, I would feel that I have touched that peak of success as an author and have attained virtual immortality.

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Book Review: The Trial of Four by Manjiri Prabhu

By Monideepa Sahu

manjiriTitle: The Trial of Four

Author: Manjiri Prabhu

Publisher: Bloomsbury India

Pages: 361

Price: Rs 399

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This intriguing mystery by an Indian author is set entirely in Europe, in the historic city of Salzburg, Austria. The novel brings to life the beauty and rich heritage of an old European city, which serves as a striking backdrop for an exciting intrigue. The three-century-old heart of a princely archbishop is mysteriously stolen from its place of rest. Who would do such a thing, and why? An insane criminal is out to destroy the pillars of the city’s heritage and culture. Re, a photo journalist and psychic, Isabel the beautiful local historian, police chief Stefan and hotelier Dan, who is managing the prestigious high profile Salzburg Global Seminar in the Schloss, are compelled to work together to stop impending disaster. As the threats materialise and mayhem unfolds, they must figure out which of the city’s many historic landmarks will be the next target, and prevent further chaos.

It’s a well-crafted, exciting story that will keep you turning the pages all night long. The mystery and fast-paced action are cleverly plotted. There are deliciously interwoven mysteries within mysteries, leaving readers with never a dull moment. There’s even a mystery from the historic past, coming alive in the present. Renowned theatre director Max Reinhardt once owned the majestic Schloss, a luxurious palace by the lake. Forced to flee the Nazi advance during World War II, he left behind a series of complex clues to an unsolved mystery, a hidden secret. As the hours until the next attacks tick away, our heroes must solve the clues and hand over the hidden treasure to the shadowy perpetrator of the attacks on the city’s landmarks. This is the only hope to halt further destruction.

Isabel’s American husband Justin has vanished, and is suspected to be dead. He has left cryptic messages which connect to the attacks on the city. Is Isabel really an innocent, grieving wife, or does she have a hand in Justin’s murder? Is she truly working to solve the clues and save the city, or is she in league with the enemy?

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I write what I can, when I can: Monideepa Sahu

by R K Biswas

Monideepa Sahu Monideepa Sahu is a former bank manager. She has authored Going Home in the Rain, and Other Stories (Kitaab, Singapore), Riddle of the Seventh Stone (Zubaan) and Rabindranath Tagore: The Renaissance Man (Penguin/Puffin). Her short fiction has been accepted into collections from Central Michigan University, Northeastern Illinois University, Marshall Cavendish (Singapore), Puffin, Scholastic India, and elsewhere. She has been a Views columnist with Bangalore Mirror (Times of India Group), and regularly writes for Deccan Herald and other mainstream publications. She is Fiction Editor with Kitaab.

Spending her growing years in New Delhi and Washington D. C., and a couple of decades in Bangalore, she is now living out of suitcases and packing boxes. During her nomadic phases, she has also called Hyderabad, Mumbai, Bhubaneswar and charming small towns in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh her home. She blogs at: http://monideepa.blogspot.in/.

RKB: There’s a quote in your blog which reads “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. Musings from someone who sees stories everywhere.” Can you share some more musings on this?

MS: I see stories everywhere; in overheard conversations, in the gestures and body language of passing strangers, or a post-it note stuck on someone’s fridge door. I often play with various themes, techniques and styles. Fantasy, ghostly supernatural stories, “literary” stories, magic realism, have all touched my writings at different times. While I have a soft corner for literary fiction, it’s challenging to step out of the comfort zone of a favourite genre. It’s also more fun to come up with the unexpected.

Creative artists need to play freely with ideas and modes of expression, and there will be mistakes and false steps. The end product may be quite different from the original plan. The perceptive artist will realise which of these deviations are not working. The artist will also realise that some tangents from the original plan are leading to interesting, if unexpected paths. Those are the mistakes to keep, and work upon. The short story “Dhatura” is one such “mistake”. I imagined Surpanakha as a wild character with her own code of ethics. When I submitted a draft to an international online workshop, a fellow writer saw a strong combination of horror and erotica, which I hadn’t initially planned. This “mistake” was definitely a keeper. Continue reading

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Review of Going Home in the Rain and other stories by Monideepa Sahu

By RK Biswas

going-home-in-the-rain-and-other-stories-400x400-imaehzgqdbfgsvw7Going Home in the Rain and Other Stories
by Monideepa Sahu
Kitaab International Pte Ltd., Singapore

In a world where writers seem to increasingly expend more energy screaming for attention, Monideepa Sahu comes across as a breath of fresh air. This also means that readers can miss her altogether, and in the process deprive themselves of fiction that is both sensitive and well rounded, satisfying as well as just a bit out of reach, providing more food for thought.

Going Home in the Rain and Other Stories is a book that can easily fit into a ladies bag or the side pocket of a backpack. You could read it on a train, at an airport during that pause between journey and destination, and find yourself carrying the stories along after the book is spent. The thing about this collection is that the stories themselves are about journeys.

Just as a stalk holds together its bunch of grapes, and the stem of a pinnate leaf its double row of leaflets, the idea of journeys runs like a spine through this book of fourteen stories. And the journeys are not necessarily from one physical place to another. They are also from one inner point, a state of mind, into another. Continue reading

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Bhubaneswar book launch report

Author Monideepa Sahu (centre)

Author Monideepa Sahu (centre)

Going Home in the Rain and Other Stories by Monideepa Sahu, the latest title from Kitaab, was launched in the temple city of Bhubaneswar , India on May 22nd.

Cyclone Roanu, which lashed the coasts of India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, gave the city’s book lovers some respite at the appointed hour. The courtyard garden of Walking Book Fairs bookstore filled with an enthusiastic crowd as the evening drew on. A little reading and lively conversations over tea kept everyone engaged.

Stories, and the inspiration behind stories, were shared by the author. And when it was time to leave, signing books kept the author busy. Everyone left with armloads of books, and the anticipation of hours of happy reading to come.

Copies of this book are available on Flipkart.com.

Book launch

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Review: Idris by Anita Nair

In her latest novel ‘Idris’, Anita Nair takes us on an unforgettable journey through 17th century South India, laden with a magical narrative and beautiful descriptions, writes Monideepa Sahu: The Deccan Herald

Idris, a trader of Somali origin, embarks on an epic journey “seeking the measure of earth and man.” His tall, muscular body, dark-as-midnight skin and a jewelled eye of glittering gold set him physically apart from the rest of the world. His powerful personality is equally striking. This “eternal traveller” seems to need nothing, not even sleep.  Continue reading

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Books 2012: What they loved and hated

Manreet Sodhi Someshwar, novelist

Manreet S SomeshawarBooks I loved reading:
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo: Written like a thriller, this is an insightful and empathetic account of a Mumbai slum
Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden–from 9/11 to Abbottabad by Peter Bergen: a crisp recountal of the search for bin Laden by the journalist who shadowed him from the beginning
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin: The book on which Spielberg’s film ‘Lincoln’ is based, in part, takes us into the life and times of the man who is regarded as America’s greatest President. The parallels with current time are surprising and enlightening
Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel: historical fiction at its best
The Dinner by Herman Koch: a whodunnit that unravels over a family dinner that serves up more than just food

Books that disappointed me:
The Village by Nikita Lalwani: an intriguing premise which got lost in disjointed narrative
The New Republic by Lionel Shriver: despite a resonant theme – the issue of immigrants – the books stalls because of an intended ironical treatment that turns out flippant

Books I look forward to reading
Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie
Patriots and Partisans by Ramachandra Guha
The Return of a King by William Dalrymple

Krishna Udayasankar, novelist

Krishna UdayasankarBooks I loved reading:
2012 has been a good reading year for me, which makes it difficult to pick a few books. Its also been a varied reading year – there have been works that inspired, entertained and moved. Its also been a good year for reading in one of my favorite genres – mythohistory. Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles was a book that I enjoyed very much. It also reaffirmed my belief that a well-written, well-constructed book can be wonderfully entertaining without losing out on critical value. 2012 was also the year that I discover (belatedly, I admit) the Percy Jackson series. I am grateful that an anonymous 8-year gentleman for a rather convincing endorsement that was shared between the shelves at a bookstore

Books that disappointed me
Of late I’ve been rather wary about books, so I’ve tended to stay away from works I’m not too sure about. Having said which, 2012 has also been a year of disappointments, particularly with the Indian literary scene. I’ve come across many books which made me wish that I had thought of an idea like that, but then, I find that lack of attention to language and craft tend to take away from what could have been an awesome book. The lack of attention and effort is what disappointments me the most.

Books I look forward to reading
As of now, I’m planning to make 2013 a re-run year: Its been a while since I read some classics , so its time to rediscover these gems (and myself in the process). Top of the list of re-reads are Charles Dickens (Tale of Two Cities), William Golding (Lord of the Flies) and Jack London (White Fang, Call of the Wild). I also hope to continue with the Heroes of Olympus series. Will be getting a copy of Superstar Rajnikanth’s biography, signed by the man himself. That is probably my first read of the new year! Beyond that, I’m looking forward to being surprised by 2013!

Monideepa Sahu, columnist and novelist

Books I loved reading

Monideepa SahuThis is a subjective list drawn up under numerous constraints. There are so many more lovely books which I want to read; some which are on my bookshelf and study table right now, still waiting to be picked up.

  1. The Yellow Emperor’s Robe by Kunal Basu (Picador) – The well-researched and vivid details strike the right balance, without miring the story in verbosity or slowing the pace.
  2. Maharana: The story of the rulers of Udaipur by Brian Masters (Mapin)  – I enjoyed this history of the Maharanas of Udaipur for its old world charm and contemporary relevance. The magnificent heritage of the world’s oldest ruling dynasty is made accessible to lay readers with interesting anecdotes and the author’s interesting personal comments.
  3. Astray by Emma Donoghue (Picador) – A fascinating collection of unusual fact-inspired short stories of people who have gone astray. Inspired writing from the author of Room which I absolutely loved.
  4. No Easy Day by Mark Owen (Penguin) – This much-talked-about first-hand account of the US Navy Seal mission that killed Osama Bin Laden, makes for exciting reading. The fast-paced style makes the story read like an edge-of-the-seat thriller.
  5. The Skinning Tree by Srikumar Sen (Picador) – A different sort of story and thought-provoking without weighing too heavy with verbosity or literary flourishes. Makes us wonder how many more wonderful books are gathering dust in the files of unknown writers.
  6. The Lilliputians by Kirsty Murray (Zubaan) – This historical adventure for children set largely in India is imaginative, exciting, and thought-provoking.
  7. Another Man’s Wife by Manjul Bajaj (Hachette India) – A great collection of intense, emotionally charged and beautifully written short stories. A fitting encore from the author of Come, Before Evening Falls.
  8. Black Ice by Mahmudul Haque, Translated from Bangla by Mahmud Rahman (Harper Collins) – This novel by one of Bangladesh’s leading contemporary writers, exemplifies the little-publicised but striking writing being produced on the other side of our nation’s borders.

Books that disappointed me
Liking a book or not is a very subjective thing. I’m quite likely not to pick up romances or self-help books, not because such books are of poor quality, but simply because the genres don’t excite me so much.
However, I did read The Magic by Rhonda Byrne (Simon & Schuster) and came back feeling it didn’t live up to the hype. There’s nothing original or truly insightful here. Just common-sense, everyday advice spelled out in plain language in a systematic and largely simplistic and repetitive manner.
The Land of Seven Rivers by Sanjeev Sanyal (Penguin-Viking) – This ‘history of the geography of India’ is smoothly written and friendly to lay readers. But, I felt the viewpoint was rather glib at times, and the book would have benefited from deeper research and scholarship.

Books I look forward to reading

  1. Vanity Bagh by Anees Salim,
  2. Vicious Circle by Wilbur Smith,
  3. Singapore Decalogue by Zafar Anjum
  4. Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s novel due in mid-2013 from Aleph Books. The story is set in Jharkhand, among the Santhals. Perhaps, the first time a novel about Santhals has been written in English

Ankur Betageri, poet & short story writer

Ankur BetageriBooks I loved reading

I have been reading books of philosophy this year.. I must have read some fiction and non-fiction as well but I don’t remember them too well. The best thing that I read this year (I am yet to finish it) is definitely Heidegger’s Being and Time. The book I just finished is Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius. Being and Time is the most revelatory book I have ever read… each page opens up new avenues of thought and makes you think about existence the way you have never thought before. From Foucault to Sartre to Baudrillard… every philosopher who has shaped the horizon of 20th century thought has been influenced by the groundbreaking ideas of Heidegger. I picked up Consolation of Philosophy with lots of expectation but it didn’t turn out to be as exciting, or novel, as I expected it to be. It is a medieval metaphysical meditation on the futility of fame, wealth, power and other such ‘things of the world.’ Also, this year I read Foucault’s History of Sexuality (part one and two), and it is a great read, especially part one; it changes the way you look at sex and sexuality, esp. when you realize how sexuality, as we understand it today, is a 19th century concept, and how our idea of sex has changed through different historical periods.

Well.. I don’t think I have read any contemporary literature this year. The closest thing to contemporary lit I read was Hoshang Merchant’s The Man who would be Queen. It is a racy read, Merchant calls it “autobiographical fictions”. So you don’t know how many of his crazy sexual exploits across three countries is true but I felt the narrative was rather incoherent — he jumps from one topic to another, a bit too casually for the reader’s comfort, without satisfactorily completing any thread of thought.

I don’t think I should go on like this but I think it is a good exercise for me, to remember all that I read this year. I am surprised at how little of contemporary literature I read these days!

Another book that I liked a lot is the non-fictional graphic book Bhimayana written by Srividya Natarajan and S Anand, and illustrated by Durgabai and Shubhash Vyam, on the life of Bhimrao Ambedkar. I was particularly impressed by the use of an Indian idiom in the illustrations. Durgabai and Subhash have used “dignas”, the traditional Indian panels, and have completely done away with the comic-strip format of western graphic novels. The different kinds of speech bubbles used in he book (the “scorpion-sting” speech bubble for people whose words have a sting, for example), the novel use of newspaper and magazine reports as part of the narrative, the incident of the artists themselves being treated as invalids by the neighbours of the publisher, when they come to visit him in Delhi — all these make the book a poignant and resonant read. And, the thought of bringing a pop, hep and predominantly urban medium like graphic novel to engage with a taboo topic like untouchability (and its 21st century avtars) was, I think, fantastic in itself.

Books I look forward to reading
I am looking forward to reading The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant in 2013! Ha ha.. Seriously, that is the only book I am looking forward to read. And, maybe, I will also read Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis about which I have heard a lot of good things.