By Farah Ahamed

 

“The longer you look at an object, the more of the world you see in it. No matter how particular the scene, if you stare long enough you will see the whole world in it.” These words, from the pen of Flannery O’Connor, refer to that split second when we can “see things for what they really are” and they led me to reflect upon which “objects” could offer an understanding of the “whole world”,

Recently, monuments across the globe have become the subject of controversy. After eighty years at the University of Cape Town, the bronze of white supremacist Cecil Rhodes was removed; at the University of North Carolina, Silent Sam, a Confederate statue, was taken down and, in San Francisco, a 19thCentury monument, Early Days, demeaning to Native Americans, was uninstalled. Where for decades they had previously stood accepted as part of the landscape, now these statues outraged viewers. Altered circumstances meant they represented an uncomfortable “truth”, which some argued should not be commemorated, but also in fact, ought to be erased.

What is certain is that a monument’s power ebbs and flows with the passing of time, resonating or jarring with the past as the present changes.

Each time a viewer stops to look closely at a statue, it reveals a new meaning. Whenever it is revisited, a different significance emerges, because while the statue stays intact in its fixed location the viewer and the world continue to change. Furthermore, as history unfolds, a statue will emphasise, reveal, hide or quash stories. This makes it “a place” rich in possibilities for both metaphorical and literal epiphanies and fertile ground used by artists and writers to offer what Joseph Conrad described as “a glimpse of truth”.

Bani Abdi is an artist who uses a statue to provide a platform for an alternative narrative about the Empire. Her modern art installation Memorial to Lost Words, “a song installation based on letters and songs from the first World War” of Indian soldiers in her own words, focused on the suppressed stories of the Raj which she highlighted by changing the sounds around the imposing monument of Queen Victoria at the Lahore Museum.

By Aminah Sheikh

swatisengupta

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

I write because I have stories to tell. Because I want to tell these stories in a particular way. Some characters, and a vague, blurry indication of their predicament just pop up inside my head and I have no idea how they got there. Together, my characters and I, we embark on this journey to find out. This entire process – unpleasant at times but mostly exciting – provides me with the rush of air that keeps me going.

Sometimes though, I meet my characters in the real world. I may have heard about them from someone, so I go and meet them and find out their stories. I am talking about my non-fiction and reportage work here.

Basically, I am quiet, introverted and a loner. There’s silence all around me. Writing helps me to survive because I can’t talk much. I like to dwell in my own world in the company of my books, very few people I can relate to, and, the only way I am able to give vent to what’s buzzing inside my head is through the written words – whether it is published or what remains in the closet.

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

My recent book, Out of War (non-fiction), published by Speaking Tiger Books, is about the narratives of surrendered CPI (Maoist) cadres. I spent two years travelling through different parts of India – Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. I located them, talked to them for hours, and I’ve remained in touch with many for four years now. I tried to understand their lives and stories. In my book, I look at the Maoist movement, its successes and failures, the passions and sacrifices, through the struggles of individuals – their individual needs, personal longings, sufferings and self-respect.

How do these foot-soldiers themselves view the Maoist movement? Is the movement free from hierarchies and compromise? Are the soldiers free to visit their parents, partners, children? What about those that trust the police with the promise of a safe life and opt out? I visited their homes, heard their stories – stories of abuse, poverty, suffering, hurt, deceit, joy, love…

I worked hard to get these stories. The research was also emotionally taxing for me. It wrung out all my energy. These people and their stories deeply influenced me. Now I know why people turn to the Maoists for support, I know why they become Maoist cadres.

Professionally, I’ve achieved only that much – I’ve written the book, pouring my heart into it.

But personally, I’ve achieved much more. Without expecting to. It was incidental. There was a time when I worked full-time with a reputed newspaper, earned a fairly decent salary and felt happy about certain material comforts. I quit my job to write this book, but the cravings for material things had remained. Bit by bit, in the last four years that I worked on this book, the attachment to material things has gone, and I hope for good.

Although it is mainly diasporic writers who have made Indian English writing global, and have translated works into many other languages, there are many others ignored by the media, the government and other establishments.

by Aju Mukhopadhyay

tagoreWhat is Indian English Literature?

Indian English Literature is the work of Indian-origin poets and writers writing in English, and living anywhere around the globe. They usually have similar mindsets, especially when writing about, or referring to India. Meenakshi Mukherjee has said that it is born out of Indian and English parentage–thus twice- born1. Another writer, Maria Tymoczko, thinks that it is born out of one culture and expressed in another2. Their opinions carry the idea of translation, but it may be said that there is exactly no question of translation as such, because when the creation is one’s own and not an independent version or expression of another’s creative production, albeit in a language not one’s own, the creative product is a trans-lingual/cultural endeavor. When an Indian writes his Indian experience in a foreign language it can be said to be a trans-cultural creative process. The history of this expanding literature has covered more than 200 years.

Setting out to make a film on the great Urdu writer, Nandita Das looks at his irrepressibility and his work: Scroll.in

MantoI first read Manto in English when I was in college, and then a few years later I bought the Urdu collection Dastavez in Devanagari. I was struck by his simple yet profound narratives and his insightful capturing of people, politics and the times he lived in. He wrote as he saw, as he felt, without dilution, and with a rare sensitivity and empathy for his characters.

On a sparring bout with Rajdeep Sardesai, session on Saadat Hasan Manto with Javed Akhtar and more at the Times LitFest: Aakar Patel in Mint

And so off to Mumbai for the Times LitFest, that annual intellectual orgy put up by friends Bachi Karkaria and Namita Devidayal in Bandra and so looked forward to by this layabout. My first scrum was with Rajeev Sethi and Sunil Sethi for a session with the delightfully vague name “The Good, The Mediocre And The Downright Ugly”. I presumed it was about why India is such a shitty place but wasn’t really sure, and had no idea what the other two combatants had made of the thing. No matter, we threw ourselves into it.

Manto
Manto

Saadat Hasan Manto has a good claim to be considered the greatest South Asian writer of the 20th century. In his work, written in Urdu, he incarnated the exuberance, the madness, the alcoholic delirium of his time, when the country he loved cleaved into two and set upon each other, brothers of all religions murdering their infant nephews and raping their sisters-in-law.