An excerpt from Piece of War: Narratives of Resilience and Hope by Meha Dixit, published by SAGE Publications India. (2020, 292 pages, Paperback: Rs. 450 (ISBN: 978-93-5388-506-9), SAGE Select.)
Chapter 7: Resilience, Coping and Hope
Lebanon-Syria Border: 2019
It was a freezing day in the border town of Lebanon in the Bekka Valley, which was located just a few kilometers from the Syrian border. Imran, the taxi driver stopped the car near a settlement of Syrian refugees. Few men were standing in the dusty field outside the shelters covered with tarpaulin. Little children, mostly girls, possibly in the age group of 5 to 13 years, who were ambling across the ochre field speckled with stones, came running towards the vehicle. While some raised their hands to wave at me, radiating exuberant smiles, others chuckled playfully covering their faces with their palms. Some children began to speak in Arabic and chuckled again. “This is Anjar settlement of the Syrian refugees,” Imran pointed out. While I attempted to interact with the children in broken Arabic, Imran spoke to the men outside the shelters, who then asked me to come in.
In this personal essay, Prerna Kalbag and Nishant Singh muse about the changes in life post the pandemic and how reading and working has changed during isolation.
The world has halted. The clocks have stopped. Perhaps for the first time since the advent of the Enlightenment, humanity is in headlong retreat. Every experience of going outside, even for such mundane things as getting groceries, is tinged with the terror and the superstition that the first Men who sailed the seas must have felt. An invisible Gorgon stalks us everywhere, her evil eye is warded off by a diligent ritual of cleansing and sanitization. This fails many times, as people still succumb to the horrid unknown, un-understood illness. Yes, the promise of Enlightenment, which was deemed to have been a mirage a century ago, has finally, completely disappeared, as humanity has once again embraced the irrationality that had been deemed by smug college professors as “medieval”.
Yet, we live. We must live, and we must work. If only because we have absolutely nothing else to do.
Rakhi Dalal reviews The Flavours of Nationalism,(Speaking Tiger, 2018) analyzing how through this personal memoir, Nandita Haksar hopes for a future where every Indian will have Justice of Eating.
Nandita Haksar is a pioneering human rights lawyer, campaigner, teacher and writer. She is the author of over 15 books including: Framing Geelani, Hanging Afzal: Patriotism in the Time of Terror (2009); The Judgement That Never Came: Army Rule in North East India (with Sebastian Hongray, 2011); ABC of Naga Culture and Civilization (2011); Across the Chicken Neck: Travels in North East India (2013); The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism from the Cold War to the Present Day (2015), Framed as a Terrorist (with Mohammad Aamir Khan) (2016) and the Exodus is Not Over: Migrations from Ruptured Homelands of Northeast India (forthcoming). The Flavours of Nationalism won the Book of the Year award at LF Epicurean Guild Awards 2020.
The introduction to the book is titled “The Justice of Eating”, which takes its name from the poem “The Great Table Cloth” by the Communist Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. Through this poem, Neruda expresses his wish for a world free of hunger. Nandita Haksar quotes the poet to bring forward the still pertinent question of inequality, when it comes to accessibility of food in Indian society. That the farmers continue to commit suicide, that some of those unprivileged go without square meals for days, that the social fabric is still marred by discrimination and oppression practiced towards people with respect to their food choices because of their caste/class/religious/regional identities, are some of the questions that the author grapples with in this book.
In this deeply personal and moving essay, Manish Gaekwad talks about his experiences of growing up in a brothel and being queer
I was five when the boys started petting me and kissing me in places other than my flushed cheeks. Once, when I was at home in Kolkata, a lady peeped through the door and saw that a boy older than me was lying on top of me and rubbing himself vigorously in ways that adults do. He must have seen someone do it to his mother. He was trying to replicate it to see where it goes.
It went sore.
His mother thrashed him. My mother thrashed me. I did not understand why I was being beaten for doing nothing. I was merely lying down and I don’t recollect how I got there. I did not have words then to express what I felt. I sensed that what was giving the boy pleasure was not acceptable to adults.
Soon, I too got a taste of that pleasure.
We were disappearing behind curtains, playing hide and seek in the afternoon when the women were sleeping after lunch. We were kissing and fondling behind those curtains, in plain sight of the very women who had objected to it. A boy once pulled my trousers down and shoved his face in my crotch. Another time he spooned me under a quilt where we were hiding to be startled. My body tingled with the thrill of these secret games. The games children saw adults play through peep holes.
Turmeric Nation: A Passage through India’s Tastes by Shylashri Shankar
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books
Year of publication: 2020 / August
Price: INR 499
What exactly is ‘Indian’ food? Can it be classified by region, or religion, or ritual? What are the culinary commonalities across the Indian subcontinent? Do we Indians have a sense of collective self when it comes to cuisine? Or is the pluralism in our food habits and choices the only identity we have ever needed?
Turmeric Nation is an ambitious and insightful project which answers these questions, and then quite a few more. Through a series of fascinating essays— delving into geography, history, myth, sociology, film, literature and personal experience—Shylashri Shankar traces the myriad patterns that have formed Indian food cultures, taste preferences and cooking traditions. From Dalit ‘haldiya dal’ to the last meal of the Buddha; from aphrodisiacs listed in the Kama Sutra to sacred foods offered to gods and prophets; from the use of food as a means of state control in contemporary India to the role of lemonade in stoking rebellion in 19th-century Bengal; from the connection between death and feasting and between fasting and pleasure, this book offers a layered and revealing portrait of India, as a society and a nation, through its enduring relationship with food.
For the longest time I took pride in the fact that I would listen to only Begum Akhtar and the like. I took pride in naming several world movies and having remembered their directors. But what is not on record is that I started reading fairly late into my teenage years and started out with a railway copy of Bhagat’s Two States during my high school years, which I discreetly disposed of on my bookshelf in my later years.
My journey to develop a ‘refined taste’ was a rather self-imposed one; the one where I decided not to listen to certain genres of music, or avoid watching certain films. This intent to culturally ‘polish myself up’ was my regular homework, which was led by an unconscious need to fit into certain sects of society and a need to appease an imaginary audience.
While I was growing up in Tokyo, there used to be a cherry blossom tree outside my apartment window, a ‘sakura’ tree. It bloomed, but just for one week during spring every year. The branches would fill with riotous pink blossoms, heaving in the breeze like big sticks of cotton candy. They would wave about gaily like they were saying hello to whoever was beneath them.
It was common to see people sitting and making merry under these blossoms. New loves being found, hearts being broken, friendships being forged and life decisions being taken. But within a few days, the gossamer pink petals would curl onto each other and gently fall to the ground. Their lives would be done, the sole purpose of their existence being to lend happiness to people and beauty to nature.
A glimpse into Navid Shahzad’s latest book – Aslan’s Roar, a book that argues for the symbiotic nature of TV and culture while positioning present day media narratives and TV fiction amidst powerful trends influencing modern myth making.
Living with a pandemic can be testing and full of surprises (both pleasant and unpleasant). Verena Tay shows us a glimpse of her journal entries during the pandemic to show us life, as she sees it.
Some say there is value in writing down the minutiae of life, no matter how trivial, as a record of what happened for posterity. In this pandemic period, some say it is even more important to do so because these are unique and historic times that one must remember. Surely future generations will be keen to find out about the experiences of those who lived through Covid-19 so that they can draw some kind of significance for their own lives?
However, why journal about these times when so many of my contemporaries are making their own chronicles, now that literacy and art-making are more widespread? What about the importance of noting down my own perspective? Ah… Not much has really happened during the last few months for me.
With the quarantine in full force, I constantly found myself buzzing with the undercurrent of my anxieties and amped up by this misplaced energy. It’s funny because it’s not like I have much time on my hands. My workload has been more or less the same amid the ongoing pandemic. But there are pockets of break times so, one day, I found myself decluttering my stacks of papers and notebooks from college.
They were my old essays, reading materials and various notes. Nostalgia overwhelmed me as I read through them, especially considering that I haven’t written anything remotely personal lately. With my work as a writer for someone else, my job is just to be my boss’ foot soldier—to produce content for him, for his business, for his name.