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In ‘Murder in Mahim’, Jerry Pinto Pours out His Anger, Without Being Didactic

By  Shreya Ila Anasuya

murder in mahimYou can read Jerry Pinto’s latest novel as a noir mystery that could only be set in Mumbai, a city upon which darkness sets but cannot completely settle. Or you could read it as a heartbroken, searching political study about the people that are sucked in and spat out by the city’s dark fissures. At its best, the novel can be read and enjoyed as a potent, deft mixture of both, with a tremendous amount of compassion engulfing but never completely overwhelming the voyeuristic, fearful thrill of a murder mystery.

The retired journalist Peter Fernandes and police inspector Shiva Jende, who made their debut in a story by Pinto in Altaf Tyerwala’s anthology Mumbai Noir, reprise their roles as a detective duo as they discover that a young man (called Proxy) has been found murdered in a toilet in Matunga station. This is only the first in a series of deaths, and Fernandes – with the dogged determination of an old-school reporter – uncovers the stories behind each one, uncovering layer upon layer of the city he has presumably called home all his life. Pinto uses his discoveries to give voice to his own anger about the consequences of criminalising queer sexuality in India and about inequalities of class and caste in a metropolis that is opening up to neoliberalism even while clutching on to its parochial obsessions. It is to Pinto’s credit that the curiosity, and the anger, feel genuine, and never preachy. Read more

Source: The Wire

 

 

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New Release: Half-Open Window by Ganesh Matkari

half open‘On one side, the sea. On the other, the city.A city that seemed to believe that the Queen’s Necklace was enough past for it, a city sacrificing its beauty at the dirty altars of money.’

Combining sharp observation with dry humour, Ganesh Matkari provides rich insights into the human psyche. His compelling prose and Jerry Pinto’s pitch-perfect translation make Half-Open Windows published by Speaking Tiger an unputdownable read.

An acclaimed contemporary Marathi novel, Half-Open Windows (Khidkya Ardhya Ughadya) is a striking portrait of India’s urban upper middle class on an obsessive quest for riches and prestige. Set in the enticing yet treacherous city of Mumbai, it closely follows the lives of people connected to SNA Architects, an up-and-coming firm, basking in the glory of their recent success—a high-rise in the premium area of Colaba.

As events unfold, we encounter the corrupt and ruthless Niranjan, founder of SNA, and his associate, Nita, who think bribery is a small price to pay to get to the top; another founder of SNA, the honest but naïve Sanika, and Shushrut, an aspiring writer who is no longer content to play her stay- at-home partner; an NGO worker, Swarupa, torn between her loyalty to an old friend and her duty as a whistle-blower; a lonely widow, Joshi Kaku, who wonders if moving to the US to live with her son and his family—with whom she can forge no connections—is a wise idea; and Ramakant, a young student of architecture, who is contemplating suicide in a desperate bid for attention.

Even as this diverse cast of characters chases happiness and success, Mumbai emerges as the central character—the driving force behind their aspirations and dreams, and their ethical compromises.

About the Author:

Ganesh Matkari is an architect, film critic and film-maker. He is the author of the critically acclaimed novel, Khidkya Ardhya Ughdya (Half-OpenWindows); a short-story collection, Installations; and three books of film criticism, Filmmakers, Cinematic and Choukatibahercha Cinema. He co-directed the national award winning Marathi Film, Investment, and directed a short film, SHOT, which premiered at the Indian Film Festival in Stuttgart, Germany, and has been shown at various film festivals since.

About the Translator: 

Jerry Pinto is the author of, among other books, Murder in Mahim, Em and the Big Hoom (winner of the Hindu Literary Prize and the Crossword Book Award for Fiction) and Helen:The Life and Times of an H-Bomb (winner of the National Award for the Best Book on Cinema). He has also translated into English, from the Marathi, Daya Pawar’s acclaimed autobiography Baluta; the memoirs IWant to Destroy Myself (Mala Udhvasta Vhachay) by Malika Amar Shaikh and I, the Salt Doll (Mee Mithaachi Baahuli) by Vandana Mishra; and Sachin Kundalkar’s novel Cobalt Blue. Jerry Pinto was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award andYale University’s Windham-Campbell Prize in 2016.


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Tale of an epic journey

By Somudra Banerjee

Sand and sky were white. Another dry day. Eyes scoured the bowl above, seeking a wrinkle. July and not a wisp of cloud, nor a drop of rain. The young could not recall a summer so stark, the old spoke of the Bhaiya and Saiya famines of fifty-five years ago. In the evenings, at hushed gatherings on sand dunes under a lonely moon, they told stories. ‘We remember such times in our youth. We have felt the sun singe our cheeks, seen withered stalks of bajra stretch into the distance, picked our way through dunes littered with dead goats and camels, watched the sand shift over the horizon, wept over the deceitful play of light against dust that creates the illusion of an impending rainstorm.’

For author Sujit Saraf, the idea of writing a book is more clinical than the often-romanticised idea of imagining the author as an artist. According to him, there are no fits of artistic passion but only cold calculation. “I write like an engineer,” he says. Despite having a day job as an engineer and a family to look after and writing only in the weekends, Sujit has been successful in pursuing his literary aspirations with aplomb. With Harilal & Sons, his fourth novel, Sujit has turned a keen eye on the history of his own people — Marwaris.

Speaking on the ‘designing’ of his novels, Sujit says, “My novels are fully plotted and laid out before I start. Each chapter is ‘designed’. I know its approximate length, and I know how I shall move the plot forward. The act of typing out a novel is mere manual labour.” Read more

Source: The Asian Age


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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Eka Kurniawan

By Aminah Sheikh

eka

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

First of all, it is because I love reading. When I was still a kid, we had a lack of books, so I thought about writing my own stories. More than this, we as humans tend to record everything because our memories are limited. We write our experiences, our knowledge, our ideas, our stories, etc. I am just part of it.

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

My latest book Beauty Is a Wound (Annie Tucker) was published last year ( and in India by Speaking Tiger). As I’ve already published four novels, I think it’s time for me to take a break for a while. I don’t want my act of writing to be kind of mechanical. I want to recreate my appetite, to be hungry again. So, nowadays I only read books, meet people, travel here and there, and maybe do something that has no relation with literature at all like gardening.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

Since I love a lot of genre novels (horror, martial art, crime fiction, sci-fi), my writings usually are full of these elements. I believe that literature should open as wide as it can be to all possibilities and perspectives.

Who are your favorite authors?

Indonesian writers, I can mention Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Asmaraman S. Kho Ping Hoo and Abdullah Harahap. International writers, some of them are Knut Hamsun, Cervantes, Merman Melville, William Faulkner, Kawabata, Garcia Marquez, Gunter Grass. The list will be longer than this.

What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.

Writing a movie script. The writing itself is just a bridge between our idea (writer’s, director’s) and the movie. I provide raw material to be interpreted by the director, actors, photographers, etc. In the end, we watch the movie, not read the script.

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Excerpts: Beauty Is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan

beauty is a wound[ 6 ]

Shodancho was meditating, buried in the hot sand with only his head poking out, when one of his men approached him. The soldier, Tino Sidiq, didn’t dare disturb him—in fact he wasn’t even sure if he could disturb him. Although Shodancho’s eyes were as wide open as those of a decapitated head, his soul was wander- ing in a realm of light, or at least that was how Shodancho often described his ecstatic experiences. “Meditation saves me from hav- ing to look at this rotten world,” he’d say and then continue, “or at least from having to look at your ugly face.”

After a while his eyes blinked and his body slowly began to move, which Tino Sidiq knew signalled the end of his meditation. Shodancho emerged from the sand in one elegant gesture, scat- tering some grains of sand before coming to sit next to the soldier like a bird alighting. His naked body was skinny due to his strict regimen of alternate-day Daud fasting, even though everyone knew he was not a religious person.

“Here are your clothes,” said Tino Sidiq, giving him his dark green uniform.

“Every outfit gives you a new clown role to play,” said Shodancho, putting on his uniform. “Now I am Shodancho, the pig hunter.”

Tino Sidiq knew that Shodancho didn’t like this role, but at the same time he had agreed to play it. A number of days before they had received a direct order from Major Sadrah, the military com- mander of the City of Halimunda, to emerge from the jungle and help the people exterminate pigs. Shodancho hated getting orders from That Idiot Sadrah, as he always called him. This message was filled with respect and praise: Sadrah said that only Shodancho knew Halimunda like the palm of his own hand, and therefore he was the only one the people trusted to help them hunt pigs.

“This is what happens when the world is without war, soldiers are reduced to hunting pigs,” Shodancho continued. “Sadrah is so stupid, he wouldn’t even recognize his own asshole.”

He was on the same jungle beach where so many years ago the Princess Rengganis had sought refuge after running away, a wide cape that was shaped like an elephant’s ear, surrounded by more shell-strewn beaches and steep ravines, with only a few sandy stretches. The area was almost completely unspoiled by humans, because ever since the colonial era it had been maintained as a for- est preserve, with leopards and ajak. This was where Shodancho had been living for more than ten years, in a small hut just like the one he’d built during his guerrilla years. He had thirty-two soldiers under his command, and civilians sometimes came to help them, and all the men took turns riding into the city on a truck    to take care of their needs, but not Shodancho. His longest jour- ney in those ten years had only been as far as the caves, where he meditated, and he only returned to the hut to go fishing and cook for his soldiers and take care of the ajak he had domesticated. This peaceful life had been disturbed by Sadrah’s message. In the jungle there were no pigs, the animals only lived in the hills to the north of Halimunda, and so he would have to go down to the city. For him, to obey that order was to betray his devotion to solitude.

“This pitiful country,” he said. “Not even its soldiers know how to hunt pigs.”

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Literature that Sparks Hope

By Aminah Sheikh

book of lightIt is early winter, but the October heat in Ambala Cantt is making me visibly drowsy. “Do you mind some Tulsi leaves in the chai?” he asks. I nod in the typical manner in which we Indians do. “Well, go on then, pluck some leaves from the plant. It’s right opposite the gate,” he prompts. Sounds of chirping birds, sunlight that warms the linen clothes drying on a wooden hanger, happy plants and a few flowers break the monotony of green. The garden is perhaps the only ‘lively looking’ corner of this ageing home.

Sitting opposite each other, with a table that holds a bowl with floating roses, we sip chai. “My father loved roses,” he says breaking the silence. And even before I can acknowledge by saying – Yes, that’s what I gathered from the story “Papa, Elsewhere” he has written in A Book Of Light, Sukant Deepak offers to give me a tour of the place that is home to famed playwright and short-story writer Swadesh Deepak, his father.

Within the confined walls of this house are stories, like in any house – some pleasant and some mired with painful memories. Sukant now lives alone in this house that stands witness to almost two decades of suffering that his family went through after Swadesh was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the 1990s. This phase of the Sangeet Natak Akademi award winner’s (2004) life finds its spot in A Book of Light: When a Loved One Has a Different Mind, among twelve other stories edited by Jerry Pinto and published by Speaking Tiger.

Although Swadesh left his home one monsoon morning of 2006 never to return, his house breathes nostalgia. “I love staying in this house, that’s why I stay here,” says Sukant, adding that he’d wanted to tell his father’s story for a long time. “I wrote it because it had to be written. Some things have to be done. It was a ruthless decision.”

Each of the 13 writers have come out of their shell, perhaps, to tell a tale that has affected them deeply. The process of writing, not so easy at times. Yet they did write!

“Many of us have family histories that contain very troubled moments, that have had people whose lives, their joys and struggles, the love we felt for them or the dislike, remain within us long after they are gone,” shares Sharmila Joshi, one of the 13 contributors to the book. Her story “The Man Under the Staircase” speaks of her uncle shunned by his own brother (her late father) then a Judge at Nagpur High Court. “My uncle Vinay was one such person from among various complex characters in my family – some of whom I have for long wanted to write about. His story just came to me first. Telling it is an attempt to record and then purge maybe, an attempt to look back without too much sadness.”

Lalita Iyer, writer of “Roger, Over and Out” shares the story of her former love interest Roger, who she believed was her companion for life but things didn’t quite go the way she had imagined they would. By sharing their story, Lalita wanted Roger to find a voice. She says that for the longest time, her backstory always preceded her. She was that girl who called off her wedding to a ‘psycho’.  She was ‘that poor thing’. She finally reached that place of numbness when she stopped talking about it and pretended it never happened. “But in the last few years, I have had many friends ‘coming out’ and talking about their journeys with loved ones who were mentally ill. Jerry’s book Em and the big Hoom spurred me to unlock the past that I had so carefully guarded,” she says. “I felt that the world (my family and friends) always looked at the story from my point of view, and Roger was always the ‘other’, the ‘outsider’, and I thought that was really unfair. Sometimes I wonder if he had written his story, what would it have been? He never got to share his story and probably never will. I also feel hopeful that with me sharing my story, there might be other people who are willing to share theirs, or at the very least, people will learn to approach mental illness from a place of compassion than a place of anger or wronged-ness. I hope more people are motivated to seek help and be more empathetic to those afflicted by mental illness.” At times when alone, Lalita sees Roger’s face. “It’s often an ethereal image, of a face in the clouds, like an angel. This also makes me feel that perhaps he has left this world.”

Most stories are of dear ones who’ve passed away and maybe it is easier to write when the person isn’t around, but two writers –Madhusudan Srinivas and Nirupama Dutt- have written about their children. Children they live with and face each day, even today. While Madhusudan through ‘Abhimanyu, Our Son’ shares his journey as a parent of an autistic 23-year-old son, Nirupama chose a unique way of telling her daughter’s story. Nirupama’s “Mother and Daughters” has been written from her daughter’s point of view. We share a very intense relationship of co-dependence. Even though it is a troubled one, we know each other’s mind well, so I just narrated what goes on in her and my mind. That was not difficult at all,” says Nirupama. However, writing as a mother was not an easy task, she adds. “I wished to tell the story, more so for it touched on the status of the girl child in India and the damage that is done just because she belongs to the second sex.”

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New Release: Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi

eve of out her ruinsWith brutal honesty and poetic urgency, Ananda Devi relates the tale of four young Mauritians trapped in their country’s endless cycle of fear and violence: Eve, whose body is her only weapon and source of power; Savita, Eve’s best friend, the only one who loves Eve without self-interest, and who has plans to leave but will not go alone; Saadiq, gifted would-be poet, inspired by Rimbaud, in love with Eve; Clélio, belligerent rebel, waiting without hope for his brother to send for him from France.

Eve Out of Her Ruins, published by Speaking Tiger is a heartbreaking look at the dark corners of the island nation of Mauritius that tourists never see, and a poignant exploration of the construction of personhood at the margins of society. Awarded the prestigious Prix des cinq continents upon publication as the best book written in French outside of France, Eve Out of Her Ruins is a harrowing account of the violent reality of life in her native country by the figurehead of Mauritian literature.

About the Author:

Ananda Devi is a Mauritian writer of Telugu and Creole descent. She has published eleven novels as well as short stories and poetry, and was featured at the PEN World Voices Festival in New York in 2015. She has won multiple literary awards, including the Prix du Rayonnement de la langue et de la littérature françaises (2014), the Prix Mokanda (2012), the Prix Louis-Guilloux (2010), and the Prix RFO du livre (2006). Devi was made a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 2010.


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Excerpts: The Devil is a Black Dog by Sándor Jászberényi

 The-Devil-is-a-Black-Dog_WEBSITE-480x748THE FIRST

The soldiers arrived in a pickup. There were five of them; they jumped from the back and entered the grounds of the presidential palace, leaving the driver to wait. The building stood opposite a sickly looking tree, which gave cover to the men who sat on the sidewalk chewing betel and spitting. The men watched what was happening with interest. The smell of burnt garbage and fruit rotting in the sun wafted through the air: it was scorch­ing hot, the start of the dry season.

The presidential palace looked like a Baroque castle, like a Ver­sailles in miniature, with a park and fountains with swans in them. We could see it as we approached, descending from the hill. The machine gun nests and six-foot-high concrete wall were the only reminders that you were in N’Djamena.

The detainees were led into the courtyard. Three men and a woman, all black. Their hands weren’t bound; they obediently fol­lowed one of the soldiers, who wore a red beret. He must have been the unit commander, because he was issuing orders.

The street had been blocked off by a military truck, and we wouldn’t be able go around it without attracting their atten­tion. Mustafa spat on the ground and turned off the engine, then leaned against the handlebars. “We’ll wait,” he said. “The restau­rant isn’t going anywhere.” He was my fixer, a Muslim. He had arranged my stay in the city.

We’d wanted to spend my last day in Chad quietly. He had decided to treat me to some local cuisine. The restaurants were on the city’s main street. We traveled on his motorcycle, as usual. Be­cause of the truck, however, we would have to wait. From where I sat behind Mustafa, I watched the scene as it unfolded.

Without a word the three men stood by the wall; only their skin had become a bit paler and sweat beaded through their shirts. The woman began to shout. The man in the red cap kicked her legs out from under her. As she fell her shirt burst open, her breasts spilling out like two black water pouches. The other soldiers got a kick out of this and let loose with boisterous laughter. A smile broke out on the commander’s lips, flashing snow-white teeth.

“What language are they speaking?” I asked Mustafa.

“Zaghawa, I think.”

The conscripts slapped their knees as they laughed, pointing at the woman lying in the dirt. The woman began kissing the com­mander’s black boots. The man enjoyed this for a bit, but when the woman wouldn’t quit, he bent down and picked her up in his arms. The woman stood without protest. Her face was gleaming with tears. The commander said something to her.

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Conflict is everything, says Jaina Sanga

By Somudra Banerjee

At the age of 18, author Jaina Sanga left her home in Bombay (Mumbai) to study in the US. Although she stays in Dallas, through her books — a novel, a book of short stories and her latest, a collection of two novellas — she is always reflecting on the country that she loves to visit every year. “India is constantly in my imagination. All the fiction that I’ve written thus far is set in India. In as much as I try to dismiss India from my thoughts, the spirit of the place keeps asserting itself onto the page,” Jaina opens up.

Tourist Season, her latest, is a duet of novellas. The first follows the story of Ramchander, a small-time shopkeeper in a Himalayan hill station. While the second The River is set in Benares, where Girnar, a professor of Hindu mythology from Ahmedabad, ends up accompanying his family for a trip to the ancient land. Read more

Source: The Asian Age


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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Laksmi Pamuntjak

By Aminah Sheikh

laksmi

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

I write because it’s the one thing I know how to do. It’s a need and a sickness, a weapon of struggle and an instrument of grace. It’s work and leisure, a way of life. I think it’s been like that since I was six, when I started keeping a journal and writing single page stories that had to end no matter what at the end of a page. Not a single day goes by without the act of writing. Letters, impressions, observations, lines that come to mind.

I write because I read—as Susan Sontag said, the impulse to write is almost always fired by reading. I write because writing allows me to flesh out complex or extended thoughts more readily. It embraces language and ideas, shades and nuances; it is a medium both generous and rigorous. I write because writing always reveals something new about myself and about the world around me. I write because writing gives me my voice and the confidence to use it.

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

I’m hard at work at my third novel, The Fall Baby.  It is a sequel of sorts to my first novel, Amba: The Question of Red. The Fall Baby tells the story of Srikandi, the illegitimate daughter of Amba and Bhisma, the protagonists of the first novel. It is also the story of Dara, an ardent women rights’ activist who comes from a conservative Muslim family, to whom Srikandi becomes close.

Born in 1966, a year after the Indonesian anti-Communist massacres began, Srikandi—who prefers to be called by her nickname, Siri—is a globetrotting conceptual artist. She is smart, free-spirited, self-possessed. She is also worldly, willfully difficult, wildly successful—and the loneliest woman on the planet. Perpetually torn between East and West, between her home country Indonesia and various cities she has called home—Berlin, London, Madrid—her art mirrors her life in its quest for the ‘in-between,’ the ‘middle ground,’ the grey zones of human experience.

Broadly speaking, my aim with this novel is to present the complex, multiple realities of both “East” and “West,” what it means to have to constantly navigate between different cultures; to be both “Indonesian” (Indonesia itself being an artificial construct, a 20th century modern political invention), and to be a global citizen; and to look into the tension between art and activism. In the most intimate terms, it is a novel about mothers and daughters—a leitmotif in my body of work.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

Hard to describe one’s own aesthetic. If pressed, I would say lyrical realism.

I’m a poet and a musician. So, sound, rhythm, and musicality are very important to my writing. I have to hear the music. It has to sound right when it’s read out. This used to be the biggest thing with me.

I’m also an essayist. So ideas are very important to me; historical reflection, cultural theories, political thinking, philosophy. I like to ruminate. I also have many professional interests: as an art observer, food critic, (former) concert pianist. So I often draw on them. Sometimes these musings are good and useful for the novel; they enrich, add depth, color, taste, texture. Sometimes they’re not so good because they’re digressive, irrelevant. They slow down the pace and distract from the story. Nowadays I’m striving for wit, brevity and precision; poetry also teaches you that.

Who are your favorite authors?

Novelists: Henry James, Vladimir Nabokov; Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, Fyodor Dostoevsky; Jim Crace, Richard Yates, Walker Percy; Jorge Luis Borges; Thomas Bernhard, Toni Morrison, Nadine Gordimer, Christa Wolf, Hilary Mantel, Michael Cunningham, Ian McEwan, Stefan Zweig, Colm Toibin, A.M. Homes, Annie Dillard, Djuna Barnes, Elfriede Jelinek, Herta Mueller, Elena Ferrante, Margaret Atwood, Aleksandar Hemon; Helen Garner, Georges Simenon, Clarice Lispector. Evelyn Waugh for his wit and his glorious, rigorous prose.

Short story writers: Kafka, Lorrie Moore, Lydia Davis.

Poets: Paul Celan, Philip Larkin, Ingeborg Bachmann, Wallace Stevens, Tomas Transtromer, Adam Zagajewski, T.S. Eliot, Kay Ryan, Rita Dove, Chairil Anwar, Goenawan Mohamad, Sapardi Djoko Damono, Tomas Salamun, Pablo Neruda, Wislawa Symborzka.

Essayists, philosophers, art/cultural critics: Walter Benjamin, John Berger, E.M. Cioran, Helene Cixous, Hannah Arendt, Susan Sontag and Rachel Bespaloff.

What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.

My first novel, Amba: The Question of Red. It was my first attempt at writing a novel—and a big, ambitious one at that. I was inexperienced and I had no clue how to go about it. The novel’s canvas and expectations always seemed too big, and that was often paralyzing. My DNA as a poet often got in the way. Also, my bilingualism and biculturalism—normally a twin asset—sometimes backfired when I tried to contextualize complex Indonesian history into a different language, mindscape, and culture (English in the case). Lastly, the novel took too long—ten years—and I was working on different projects and published eight books during that time. It’s hard to sustain a novel when so much time has passed. Everything changed: you, your relationship with the world, your relationship with the novel.

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