Vibrant and Dusty- A Book Review of Bhaunri: A Novel and Daura: Excerpts from the Confidential Report on the Collector of a district in Rajasthan by Pallavi Narayan
The covers of Bhaunri and Daura, with the silhouette of a tribal girl on the former and a tree with roots and flowering branches on the latter, are inviting. The earthy colours of claret and mustard on both bring to mind the rolling deserts of Rajasthan, which is where the narratives are based. Indeed, the descriptions of rural living are minute and bring the reader right into the homes of the characters in Bhaunri, and into the tehsildar’s bungalow in Daura. While the novels are not intertwined, they speak to each other, taking the reader through the timeless vistas of Rajasthan and then plunging into a roiling mass of emotions.
Flashes of iridescent colour, the swish of lehengas, the sweat of day-to-day living, the thirst that the desert induces in the subconscious take due precedence in the rendering of the characters. The portrayal of the landscapes is bound into quiet, controlled prose. Mystical experiences are brought alive by a lone flute amongst the dunes swaying with camels in its sway; a smattering of kohl that transforms beckoning eyes into that of a jadugarni, a female magician. Seemingly everyday occurrences are granted significance in the wee hours between day and night. The fineness of the prose is undercut by the intensity that the female protagonists bring to the novels.
One of the attendees caught the excitement of the event. Upcoming writer Elaine Chiew, who just released her debut collection of short stories called The Heartsick Diaspora with Penguin, had a lot to say: “I caught Marlon James’ Festival Prologue and Roxanne Gay’s Lecture: ‘Understanding Identity Through Pop Culture’, and lots of programming in between, including catching the exhibition on Eurasian Singaporean writer Rex Shelley (which I loved, especially Brian Gothong Tan’s stunning multi-media display), ‘Literature and Pioneer Women’, ‘First Dates and So Many Feelings’, ‘What Being Brown In The World Means’, ‘Language and the Body’, ‘Writing in Dialect’, and ‘What’s the Most Versatile Singlish Word’.” Elaine Chiew has been attending the festival since 2016. This year she attended as an author and a panelist.
Aysha Baqir, writer and social activists explained: “This is my first time as a featured author in Singapore Writers Festival. My novel, Beyond the Fields, a fiction about a young village girl (in Pakistan) on a quest for justice, was published earlier this year by Marshall Cavendish. I have attended the last two Festivals and like the previous years I am delighted to listen to and meet the wide diversity of authors and panelists. This year I am particularly enjoying the relevance of the sessions to current life events and issues — migration, special needs, mental health, and diversity.”
Kitaab also launched three books during this festival: a translation of Isa Kamari’s Kiswah, Shilpa Dikshit Thapliyal’s Masala Chai, a collection of poems and the Best Asian Short Stories (2019).
Kiswah kicked off the start of the Kitaab launches with Isa Kamari explaining how he conceived the novel as a reaction to the needs of the times. Kamari said in answer to moderator Mitali Chakravarty’s query that he was getting the translations done to be read more widely. Earlier he had been translated even to Urdu by Kitaab. Zafar Anjum, the founder of Kitaab, explained: “Isa’s Intercession was translated into Urdu — the first work of Singaporean and Malay fiction to be translated into Urdu. The plan is also to get it translated into Hindi and we are working on it.”
Thapliyal’s Masala Chai came next. Thapliyal was accompanied by Singapore writer Robert Yeo on stage. Yeo had mentored her collection. Moderated by Dr Pallavi Narayan, the poetry launch was vibrant and interesting.
Jonathan Urqueta was born on 18 September 1991 in the Colchagua Valley, Chile. He was raised in Marchigüe, a huaso (country) village in the central region of Chile, where he learned the names of trees, got to know birds by their song, and had a hard and, at the same time fragrant, childhood soaked in criollismo (Creole). From the age of eleven he started travelling in Chile, from the south to the north, and passed through many transversal valleys, resting in some of them for a couple of years. He owes his survival to a couple of occupations that he learnt on his path. Today he works and lives in Vicuña, a town in Elqui Valley, caught in the eternal sun of the Norte Chico (small north). Always captivated by folklore and natural landscapes, regionalism and social questions, he has been writing since the age of fourteen. Urqueta has been working on publishing his poetry for the last couple of years.
As a researcher on contemporary translated texts, I was invited to participate in a prestigious two-week summer school on challenges of translation in July 2019, organised at the Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile. With my prior knowledge of Spanish and interest of many years in South American literature, this workshop gave me the perfect opportunity to delve into the beauty and strife of producing and examining translated poetry and fiction, in the esteemed company of some of the foremost, and emerging, translation studies academics and translators across continents. This is the 40th year of Chile-Singapore relations, making this text a privilege for me to pen. Cultural and literary events to bring together Chileans and Singapore residents, and to discuss pertinent issues, are being organised through the year