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Book Review: Orpheus in Kolkata by Joe Winter

By Lakshmi Menon

kolkataOrpheus in Kolkata opens with its titular poem, and there can be no better introduction to the poetry of Joe Winter, or to this collection.

Kolkata is presented as every note from the seven strings of a divine veena, carried by the musician best known for the tragic beauty of his playing, Orpheus himself. Each string is a section of the city; the para and its nest of roads, the Esplanade and the heart of the city, and the quiet of Jorasanko Thakur-bari, where Tagore the master musician lived and wrote. Orpheus hears the music of the city, plays the music of the city; and in Kolkata, Winter sees the heart of an “India of old”. The myth of Orpheus can be seen as what links this collection of poetry together. Like the myth of the man who could not gaze back on his love to keep her, there is the ceaseless movement of time, the change that time brings, and the constant reminder that one cannot return to the past. As a translator of some of the stalwarts of Bengali poetry, Jibanananda Das and Rabindranath Tagore, Winter is no stranger to the city or its people. In his poetry, Winter takes us on journeys into Kolkata and its psyche, and to the world beyond.

The other poems in the collection flicker from the intimate to the quotidian, all bound by different strings, like Orpheus and his veena. This collection of poetry is more of a collection of remembrances, a constant journey linking past and present. A 125-year-old bookshop in Kolkata bridges that gap, while the death of a dear friend represents the time that has passed. Winter draws his inspiration from art, from literature, from the daily news. His scholarship is clear when he likens the world as it has become today, to Beowulf’s monsters, of a mankind changed from the heroic to the terrible in the space of “World News Headlines”.

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Russian poet laments the lack of awareness about contemporary Indian authors

Eminent Russian poet and essayist Maxim Amelin has lamented lack of awareness about present-day Indian writers among Russian readers, which he blamed on the absence of “direct communication” between the two countries.

Only a handful of contemporary writers, for example Arundhati Roy, enjoys some familiarity back in Russia and for that matter in Europe, but that too because their writings got to be translated in native languages, Amelin observes.

“It’s a far cry from Rabindranath Tagore, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay whose works are hugely popular in Russia and several other European countries,” Amelin told PTI on the fringes of the 41st Kolkata International Book Fair where he was a guest. Read more

Source: DNA India


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Book Review: Daughters Of Jorasanko by Aruna Chakravarti

daughters

The world may not know of Jorasanko, but to Bengalis it’s the epoch of extraordinary creative output now known in history as the “Bengal renaissance”. For Jorasanko, a neighbourhood in north Kolkata, was the Tagore family seat and home to Asia’s first Nobel laureate.

Rabindranath is the most recognised, but he was merely the brightest spark in a family of remarkably talented members, many of whom were pioneers in their own right. Their contributions no less important, but now only known to specialists. His father, Debendranath, for instance, was the founder of Brahmo Samaj, his sister Swarnakumari was one of Bengal’s first women writers, sister-in-law Jnanadanandini was credited with improvising the modern style of wearing the sari, and many others whose achievements could cover the whole page.

The family was full of creative energy, but the Tagore women had an ambivalent existence—liberated and limited at the same time; speaking English and playing the piano like memsahibs, but having no say in whom they married or if mistreated by their husbands.

This is the world in which Aruna Chakravarti sets Daughters of Jorasanko, a historical novel about life in Jorasanko Thakurbari’s “andar mahal”. Like its bestselling prequel, Jorasanko, published in 2013, this one too has the poet as its protagonist. Read more


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Rabindranath Tagore 2nd most popular Literature Laureate after Dylan: Nobel Prize Organisation

tagore

Rabindranath Tagore, the first Indian to win the Nobel Prize in 1913 and the only Indian in the literature category is the “second most popular Literature Laureate right now” going by the number of visits on the website, the Nobel Prize Organisation tweeted late on Wednesday.

Tagore is only second to this year’s winner Bob Dylan. Unlike Dylan, whose popularity was global with fans from all over the world, Tagore was comparatively unknown in Europe or the West in general when he won the prize in 1913, only the 13th to win a Nobel for literature.

In fact, the award ceremony speech in 1913 reads: “…After exhaustive and conscientious deliberation, having concluded that these poems of his most nearly approach the prescribed standard, the Academy thought that there was no reason to hesitate because the poet’s name was still comparatively unknown in Europe, due to the distant location of his home.” Read more


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A new collection of writings from ‘The Modern Review’, and the history of intellectual journalism in India

patriotspoets-and-prisoners

Ramananda Chatterjee was arguably the most influential Indian editor in the last few decades of colonial rule. He began publishing The Modern Review in 1907. In an obituary of the departed editor in 1943, the historian Jadunath Sarkar wrote that the list of contributors in the 37 years that Chatterjee edited the journal was actually a dictionary of the greatest Indian intellectuals of that time, plus several notable foreigners. There is a dash of hyperbole here—no B.R. Ambedkar, for instance—yet the claim is not altogether off the mark. Every issue of the review packed a lot of intellectual punch. Besides the new Indian elite that devotedly followed The Modern Review every month, the British colonial authorities too read it closely to understand Indian nationalist opinion on contemporary issues.

An excellent collection of writings from the The Modern Review has now been published—Patriots, Poets And Prisoners: Selections From Ramananda Chatterjee’s The Modern Review, 1907-1947. The pieces selected for this book give us some idea about the quality of writers who contributed to the journal—Rabindranath Tagore, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, Sister Nivedita, M.K. Gandhi, Verrier Elwin, Premchand, Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay and several others. There is an essay in the book by Tagore in which he criticizes the cult of the charkha propagated by Gandhi. Bose interviews the French writer Romain Rolland at a time when Europe was hurtling mindlessly towards yet another conflagration. And of course there is the famous essay in the November 1937 issue, in which someone hiding his identity behind the pseudonym Chanakya warned readers that Nehru had the makings of a potential dictator. It was only revealed much later that the writer of that playful essay was Nehru himself. Read more


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Throwing out actors, hating an entire people is small and reductionist: Saba Naqvi

saba-naqvi

I was invited in February 2013 to the Karachi literature festival with my book on India’s popular religion and syncretistic practices. I was surprised and touched to see that the opening ceremony of the festival included a dance-drama called “Tagore”. Gurudev’s poem “Where the Mind is Without Fear” was recited to a dance, included in which was a rendition of Gandhiji’s favourite bhajan, Raghupati Raghav Rajaram, patita paavana Sitaram, Ishwar Allah tero naam …

I later overheard some important citizens of Pakistan grumbling about the kind of projection being given to Indian visitors and the theme of the opening. But no matter: what that little event symbolised is people’s search for compassion even as doctrines of hate jolt their worlds. By the time the festival ended there was curfew in Karachi after a massacre in Quetta claiming over 80 lives. Many international visitors had to leave with security escort.

In the worst of times and places people always look for ideas that separate their sanity from their circumstances. Indian political thinkers, writers and poets have been evoked across the world for the sheer breadth and scale of the grand humanitarian visions they posited. Let’s not diminish ourselves because we have a consistent and real problem with our neighbouring country.

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Essay: Tagore’s Love Affairs

by Aju Mukhopadhyay

tagoreExpressions of love are different with different objects. With the divine, it is pure; we call it devotion or worship, but with fellow human beings, especially of the opposite sex, we find it tinged with desires of lust and other emotions. Love is the finest, and at the same time, the crudest emotion in the human heart, though it is sometimes possible to find it in animal hearts also. Man’s love with woman is the most common bond, which has created a sea of literature. With all types of love in him, Tagore was not a stranger to this type of love also. Poems of light and shade, love and remorse, joy and pain, are the results of his experiences at different levels. Such love affairs occupied different parts of his long life. Some of them, which we have come to know of, are the bases of our story.

Love Lyrics

Rabindranath Tagore has written innumerable songs of love; love for the divine and humans. He wrote more than 2500 lyrics; perhaps the most among world poets and song composers. All his love was based on the faith that he explained throughout his life and demonstrated. His immortal songs live vibrantly not only in Bengal but in other Indian provinces and sometimes they travel abroad. Rabindra Sangeet is a popular song-word now, which reminds us of beautiful tunes with befitting words that touch the heart and soul of man. Continue reading


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Wings clipped of Chinese edition of Tagore’s Stray Birds

StaryBirdsThe Chinese version of Rabindranath Tagore’s Stray Birds translated by renowned Chinesewriter Feng Tang was stripped off the shelves today following criticism over its “astrayinterpretations”.

The translated line that received most criticism was when “The world puts off its mask ofvastness to its lover” was translated to “The world unzipped his pants in front of his lover”.

Another criticized part lies in the word “hospitable” in the line “The great earth makes herselfhospitable with the help of the grass”. Feng translates this using the Chinese word “sao”, which is closer to the English word “flirtatious”.

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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Debotri Dhar

by Zafar Anjum

Debotri Dhar (on the left) at the launch of her debut novel in New Delhi

Debotri Dhar (on the left) at the launch of her debut novel in New Delhi

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

I write because I have stories to tell. Stories of love, loss and laughter, of travel, mutating histories and multiple geographies, of emotions and impossible choices. And because I’m in love with language, with the way words can hurt and heal…

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

My novel The Courtesans of Karim Street has recently been released. It’s a story set in India and the United States, and straddles the historical past and contemporary present. I wanted to write about courtesans, situating them in a shifting political, cultural and material landscape. The courtesans tend to be frozen in time and in our cultural imagination; on one level, I was therefore trying to recuperate their voice. At the same time, I also wanted to engage in cross-cultural conversations, and dismantle the hierarchies between the West and the rest through my narrative choices. So rather than a historical romance, I decided to do something more creative, hybrid and contemporary. It’s a fast-paced, entertaining story, with lots of romance and a hint of intrigue. The two key protagonists in the novel are Megan and Naina. Megan Adams is an academic, and some of the university classroom scenes are inspired by my day job as an academic in America. (Writing fiction is the night job, so to speak!) Naina is a music teacher who hails from a family of courtesans. These two women are supported by a rich array of other characters from the past and present. The story, ultimately, is of the future – of hope, friendship, and love. Continue reading


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Book Review: Fall Winter Collections by Koral Dasgupta

by Anurag Batra

CoverFall Winter Collections (Niyogi Books, 2015) by Koral Dasgupta has a style about it that is unique. Dasgupta’s entry into fiction writing is as unique and smooth as the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore. The book is simple, yet poetic; and being set in Shantiniketan, it is very Bengali.

The two protagonists, Sanghamitra Banerjee and Aniruddh Jain Solanki are so real that you almost believe that it is a non-fiction story written as fiction. The protagonists being depicted as real and human is a real win for the writer. The reader wants to meet the protagonists, as both seem talented, unique and flawless in their own ways.

The two protagonists are attracted to each other, as both are lonely and seek fulfillment, and that manifests itself as a relationship. Both have been chasing their dreams, yet running from something. Both have gifts that have blossomed, but need appreciation. In some ways, Fall Winter Collections is a commentary on how contemporary society treats individuals and how everyone needs redemption through love.  Continue reading