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First ever India-ASEAN Writers Festival to be organised in Singapore

The High Commission of India in Singapore is organising the first ever India-ASEAN Writers Festival in Singapore.

2018 is the 25th year of friendship between India and ASEAN and the High Commission is celebrating it with multiple events as the ASEAN India Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (Overseas Indians Day). The festivities will be held on 6-7 January at the Marina Bay Sands.

https://www.pbdsingapore2018.org

One of the marquee events at the festival is the PBD Writers Festival, which has been programmed and organised by Kitaab International Pte Ltd. (Kitaab), a Singapore-Headquartered publishing and events company, on behalf of the High Commission of India in Singapore. 

More than 30 writers from ASEAN are participating in this two-day festival. Professor Edwin Thumboo, the doyen of poetry in Singapore, will be delivering the keynote address. Suchen Christine Lim, Isa Kamari, P N Balji, Chris Mooney-Singh, Marc Nair, Krishna Udayasankar, Clara Chow, Desmond Kon, Jayanthi Sankar and Elavazaghan Murugan are some of the prominent authors who will be participating in the festival.

Centuries-old ties between India and ASEAN nations

India, with 22 officially recognized languages and a history of over 3,000 years in written literature, possesses, ‘the single most complex and continuous multilingual tradition of literature in the world,’ according to Dr Sheldon Pollock, a Sanskrit scholar and editor of the Murty Classical Library of India (MCLI).

Through the millennia, India has been a source of inspiration for culture, art, architecture & literature in countries belonging to the present day ASEAN. Thanks to contact with Indian civilisation, Southeast Asia also created many literary works based on the Ramayana but with something distinctively their own.

Sanskrit scripts are the first form of writing known to have reached Southeast Asia. Similar alphabets were adopted for local languages as well. The alphabets used today for Burmese, Thai, Laos and Cambodia derive originally from Indian prototype. A large number of ancient inscriptions which have been discovered in these regions are in Sanskrit.  It is only culture that can nurture and build a sense of being part of something bigger. Literature and books in general are cultural products that have been known to have a significant influence on people, creating a sense of belonging and an ASEAN identity.

‘The Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Writers Festival 2018 celebrates the literary ties between India and the ASEAN nations. It showcases the literary talent of ASEAN – writers and poets who have contributed to building a common literary heritage across the nations,’ said Zafar Anjum, programme director and founder and CEO of Kitaab, Singapore.

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Asia Reborn: A Continent Rises from the Ravages of Colonialism and War to a New Dynamism by Prasenjit K. Basu

By P.N. Balji

Asia Reborn

 

Title: Asia Reborn
Author: Prasenjit K. Basu
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Pages: 708
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Asia reborn… but what next?

He is a keen watcher of Asia, having spent the last 25 years putting the economies of this wonder continent under his microscope. Economist Prasenjit K Basu is eminently qualified to write this weighty tome, which runs into 680 pages. His research is painstakingly done with the notes and references alone going into 41 pages.

At first flush, Asia Reborn is intimidating. The title doesn’t seem to tell anything new and the voluminous nature of the book might put off many potential readers who want information on the go. Still, those interested in a deeper perspective of Asia and why some countries succeeded and others failed will find it worthwhile to plumb through its pages.

The author’s style is engaging; he makes sure that his research findings don’t interfere with his prose. He adds spice to his narrative with anecdotes that will keep the subject matter alive. For example, he brings to life one about Lee Kuan Yew. The former PM was among other students at Raffles College when they heard an explosion at the Causeway. The Allied forces had blown a hole in the Causeway to stop the Japanese army from moving into Singapore during the Second World War in 1942. The principal asked the students what the explosion was about. LKY’s reply: ‘That is the end of the British Empire.’

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The Ekphrases of Eye/Feel/Write: Writing About Architecture

EFW II NGS Dome Opening Pix

The building is but material structure. Within its architecture is imbued its aesthetic character. What happens when a writer confronts such a created space, and what texts emerge, themselves rendered as works of art?

At the Singapore Writers Festival, Eye/Feel/Write will launch its third instalment, with the publication of a beautiful anthology, titled Eye/Feel/Write: Building Architectonics, as well as curated reading tours at National Gallery Singapore. A special commission by the National Arts Council, Eye/Feel/Write is an ekphrastic project that invites distinguished writers in Singapore to pen texts inspired by art institutions here.

This year, editor Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé extended the invitation to twelve eminent writers — Aaron Lee, Aaron Maniam, Amanda Chong, Clara Chow, Daryl Lim Wei Jie, Heng Siok Tian, Josephine Chia, Kirpal Singh, Nuraliah Norasid, O Thiam Chin, Toh Hsien Min, and Tse Hao Guang — each creating texts inspired by the history and architecture of the Gallery.

In the preface to the anthology, a series of questions are posed: “On its own, architecture already surfaces its own symbols and associations, its own poetry. How then may a writer gaze upon a building and take in its space, then render the experience in language? How is the language of architecture translated into the language of lyric or narrative? Across artifice and edifice. What of proportion, of range? What of scale and shape, body and motion? What is inhabited, what inhabits, through time and space? What is made manifest, what new memories in the poetry of fiction — and how momentous, how memorable?”

Towards understanding any emerging discourse borne of these ekphrastic experiments, Kitaab shares beautiful insights from several of the contributing authors, as they contemplate how they went about their particular creative renderings.

AARON LEE

“The former Supreme Court building holds special memories for me. In 1998 I was admitted to the Singapore bar to practice as a lawyer in a ceremony that took place in the grand hall of the building. As an apprentice litigator I often accompanied senior lawyers to hearings in the chambers of various judges in the same building, and visited the Court library to do research. The National Gallery Singapore that now stands in the place of the former Supreme Court and the former City Hall, is a marvel of architecture and design. Since it opened I have spent many a contemplative hour in its various galleries enjoying the spectacular art and the grandeur of the building’s interior. For this ekphrasis project I thoroughly explored the NGS several times, always taking my time and stopping occasionally to make some notes when inspiration struck me. I paid particular attention to the exhibitions which told stories about the people who inhabited the Supreme Court building as it was then: judges, lawyers, court workers and victims of crime and those affected by conflict. I wanted to challenge myself to write three different poems for this anthology. The poem ‘Lady Justice Contemplates’ expressed the reverie of a person I imagined as a conflation of an actual judge and the figure of Justice in the tympanum pediment of the building. The poem ‘Then & There, Here & Now’ is a response to two books that I read about the NGS building project. I wrote it as a ‘twin cinema’ poem as a tribute to a newly-invented poetic form native to Singapore, and also because the NGS comprises two buildings, each with its unique history and purpose, now put together. ‘Poetic Justice’ is a tongue-in-cheek mash up of common idioms related to the law.”

AARON MANIAM

“Working at the Treasury Building on High Street, I visit the National Gallery often — sometimes for lunch, sometimes during lunchtime in search of silence amidst the whirring routine of a day. I love the art, but I think I love the architecture more; particularly the clean lines and curves, and how light shines into the most unexpected corners. Desmond’s challenge to us — to write about the architecture — was therefore very welcome! Many of my usual poetic concerns play out here — silence, in-between-ness, space and how we find names for them when they defy easy articulation. I also decided to experiment a bit with myth-making; the Gallery has always struck me as a world unto itself, and it seemed like a fun experiment to see what the dwellers in, and travellers into, such a world might be like. I’ve long been fascinated with world creation, where knowledge of ‘True Names’ enables heroes and heroines to claim a special kind of power. Perhaps such Naming is all that poetry really is!”

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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Daren Shiau

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

Kitaab Daren Shiau Pix

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

I liked reading when I was child, and I enjoyed studying literature in secondary school – it opened a door for me. In my teens, my best childhood friend and I both decided to pursue an audacious wish of publishing a novel before we were 21. It seemed impossible at that time, but Johann actually did it with Peculiar Chris which went into print while we were in National Service, and has become somewhat of a cult classic (I am very proud of him). I took much longer, and only managed it by receiving a commendation award of the Singapore Literature Prize, which in the 90s was a competition for unpublished fiction. It’s funny because Cyril Wong says Heartland reads like a Peculiar Chris for straight people. That was 1998. I wasn’t able to write prose following Heartland for a while soon after, for some reason, so I turned to poetry. In 2000, I put out a poetry collection, Peninsular, thanks in large part to Ethos Books, which had faith in someone unschooled in that genre. In 2007, I published a microfiction collection, Velouria, which has a deliberately sparse and minimal style, and was probably a reaction to how much I had become unconsciously associated with the verisimilitude of Heartland.

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

I’ve been working on two books, one short fiction and the other poetry, for the last ten years – I need to do better at writing less slowly <laughs>. The current title of the poetry collection is We Remember Killing Tigers, which is the last line of the poem ‘We Must Be Lions’ in Peninsular.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

Music is a big part of my writing. For Velouria, which has a deliberately pared-down style, Richie Hawtin and Kings of Convenience were often playing in the background while I was writing it. Almost half the story titles in Velouria are names of songs. My earlier work was heavily influenced by the aesthetic of bands such as Cocteau Twins, Joy Division and The Smiths.

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‘The Best Asian Short Stories, 2017’ from Kitaab

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The stories in this anthology by Asia’s best known and well-respected contemporary writers and promising new voices, offer fresh insights into the experience of being Asian. They transcend borders and social and political divisions within which they arise. While drawing us into the lives of people and the places where they come from, they raise uneasy questions and probe ambiguities.

Explore Asia through these tales of the profound, the absurd, the chilling, and of moments of epiphany or catharsis. Women probe their own identities through gaps between social blinkers and shackles. A young Syrian mother flees from war-ravaged Aleppo into a more fearsome hell. The cataclysmic Partition of India and its aftershocks; life and death in a no-man’s land between two countries; ethnic groups forced into exile; are all part of the wider Asian experience.

Life flows on in the pauses between cataclysms, bringing hope. Fragile dreams spread rainbow wings through the struggle to succeed socially, earn a living, produce an heir, and try to grasp at fleeting joys and love. These symphonies of style and emotions sweep across Asia – from Jordan and Syria to Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Japan and Korea. Crafted with love, they continue to resonate after the last page.

As editor Moniddepa Sahu says, these stories come ‘from the heart of Asia, not from the Western perspective trying to make sense of the quaint and the exotic. The home-grown Asian identity runs as a strong undercurrent, with no need to explain and offer apologetic footnotes.’


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Poetry: The Prayer Poem by Drima Chakraborty

The Prayer Poem – by Drima Chakraborty

drima

Drima Chakraborty is a gender fluid Indian living in Singapore. They are currently studying English Literature at the National University of Singapore and think they must be horribly boring if work and play intermingles so frequently in the form of poetry for them. Nevertheless, they also like playing video games and political activism. They can be found under the handle “drimachuck” at most places, from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram to Tumblr.​​


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Media centre: Study in Europe 2017 — EU’s Annual Education Fair in Singapore on September 30

In its 11th edition, Study in Europe (SIE) seeks to connect students in Singapore with universities in Europe and provide them access to information about institutions they might be interested in studying at, the application process together with details of various bond-free scholarships. Nations from across Europe will be represented at the annual Study in Europe education fair that presents the many diverse study programmes on offer throughout Europe and highlights a range of scholarship options that could make studying in Europe easier for students.

Study in Europe 2017 will be held in Suntec Singapore International Convention & Exhibition Centre. Organised by the European Union (EU) Delegation to Singapore, this fair brings together 13 European countries. The countries represented at the fair are Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and United Kingdom.

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Asymptote’s Blockbuster Summer Edition

Asymptote’s Summer issue presents new writing from 27 countries. An exciting journey through stories and poems with master story-tellers and contest winners.

Asymptote’s blockbuster Summer edition features new fiction by master story-teller Finalized_Summer_2017_FB_announcementMercè Rodoreda, interviews with Kafka translator Michael Hofmann and 2017 Prix Net Art winner Bogosi Sekhukhuni, as well as the first love poems by Nobel front-runner Ko Un, who poignantly captures the longing of “the world…in want of the world.”

Asymptote also announces — and showcases — the 2017 Close Approximations contest winners, picked from a total of 343 entries by David Bellos and Sawako Nakayasu.

Find out which six emerging translators walk away with a total of 3,000 USD in prizes by reading the judges’ citations here.

Watch out for the journals’ fabulous content on FacebookTwitter, and Tumblr.

Discover new work from 27 countries + contest winners at http://asymptotejournal.com

 


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My mother ran a brothel in Singapore: Interview with ’17A Keong Saik Road’ author Charmaine Leung

Charmaine Leung, memoir writer

Charmaine Leung, memoir writer

“17A Keong Saik Road is a memoir of my childhood growing up in the red-light district, Keong Saik Road, in Singapore, where my mother ran a brothel. I wrote this as an attempt to come to terms with my ignoble identity of being the daughter of a brothel operator—I wanted to be rid of the shame that I had felt growing up, and embrace the past that made me the person I am today.”

by Aminah Sheikh

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

Writing is first and foremost a form of expression for me. I started journaling when I was a teenager—it was my way of airing the rumbling thoughts in my mind. As I grew up, the daily journals became monthly journals, and they eventually dwindled down to annual entries. Now, I just put down interesting thoughts as and when they come into my mind, it has become a lot easier with technology and easy access to apps for me to store these thoughts quickly. I’ve come to realise the spontaneous thoughts of the moment would become lost if I waited for a dedicated time to put them down, and I don’t want to lose them.

I write also because I have stories to tell. In addition to having an unusual childhood growing up in a red-light district in Chinatown in Singapore, and being surrounded by people who had interesting life experiences, I am a curious observer who enjoys putting down my observations in words. I believe everyone has a unique story.

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

I have just published my first book, a creative non-fiction work titled 17A Keong Saik Road. It is a memoir of my childhood growing up in the red-light district, Keong Saik Road, in Singapore, where my mother ran a brothel. I wrote this as an attempt to come to terms with my ignoble identity of being the daughter of a brothel operator—I wanted to be rid of the shame that I had felt growing up, and embrace the past that made me the person I am today.

I also wanted to share a part of Singapore history that is not commonly known, and give a voice to the things, and the people, who may have long been forgotten, or left unknown in the past. Continue reading


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New Release: 17A Keong Saik Road by Charmaine Leung

image003For the first time, Keong Saik Road’s history goes beyond “notorious red-light district” as Charmaine Leung retells the forgotten stories of the area through the memories of her mother and herself.

By weaving each other’s memories of growing up and living on Keong Saik Road, Charmaine charts the development and life of the area from the 1930s to 1980s. Her mother grew up serving the needs of a Keong Saik business entertainment house in the 1930s, and eventually became the madame of the brothel at 17A Keong Saik Road in the 1970s by circumstance.

“There were a lot more than just brothels: there was a strong community spirit, a variety of businesses from a Chinese calligraphy shop to an Indian provision shop, various festivals celebrated by the different communities who lived there, and also, heart-warming stories of resilience of the women,” says Charmaine.

Charmaine’s relationships and encounters with marginalised women like the Ma Je, Pei Pa Zai, and Dai Gu Liong gave her an insight to their way of life and the hardships that they had endured: a Ma Je who travelled from Guangdong with her toddler to seek a new life when she was accused as a jinx and disowned by her husband’s family after he died in a mine; a Pei Pa Zai who held her head high despite having to make a living entertaining men through singing and conversation; a Dai Gu Liong who escaped the bondage of a triad’s prostitution ring to work in the brothels of Keong Saik where she could at least dictate her services and earn money on her own terms.

“Despite their difficulties, the women of Keong Saik did not lose their ability to believe and hope. They made the best of who they were and what they had to strive for a better future, I truly admire that spirit of theirs,” Charmaine adds.

Not only tracing the transformation of the Keong Saik area from the 1930s to the present, her memoir unveils her mother’s journey as a young girl put up for sale to becoming the madame of the brothel at 17A Keong Saik Road in the 1970s, as well as her personal struggles with shame and identity of growing up in a red-light district.

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