Lucknow has been the hub of mushaira, Dasstaangoi and kavi sammelan for centuries, but as times change, rituals and traditions also get recreated and rejuvenated according to the prevailing zeitgeist. In a unique collaboration, the first of its kind, writers, poets, translators and scriptwriters from different parts of India and Asia assembled in Lucknow in the first weekend of April to celebrate writing from South Asia and Southeast Asia.

This first edition of the SRMU Kitaab Literary Festival was jointly organized by Kitaab International Pte. Ltd., Singapore and Shri Ramaswaroop Memorial University (SRMU), Lucknow and was held on the 7th and 8th of April, 2018 at the SRMU campus.

Building bridges between Asian writers and readers

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Lighting the lamp: Pro Chancellor Pooja Agarwal (second from right)

Festival Director Zafar Anjum, the festival’s patron A K Singh, Vice Chancellor of SRMU, Chancellor Pankaj Agarwal, Pro Chancellor Pooja Agarwal, and the faculty of SRMU led by Dr. B.M. Dixit, inaugurated the festival. ‘The aim of this festival ties up with the aim of Kitaab—to create bridges and dialogue between Asian writers and global readers and to bring literature to the grassroots,’ said Anjum in his welcome address.

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Kitaab’s director Zafar Anjum delivering his welcome address

Agarwal applauded SRMU’s collaboration with Kitaab. He said that Kitaab is an esteemed organisation that offers a promising worldwide platform to both budding and established authors, editors and publishers. Extending from the areas of literary fiction and translation to filmmaking (together with Filmwallas, founded by Zafar Anjum), Kitaab caters to all genres in English and other South Asian languages.

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The festival featured more than 20 writers in English, Hindi and Urdu from India, Singapore and Malaysia. Well-known and award-winning writers such as Sudeep Sen, Rahman Abbas, Yogesh Praveen, Dr. Surya Prasad Dixit, Isa Kamari, Dr. Rakhshanda Jalil, Dr. Malachi Edwin Vethamani and Novoneel Chakraborty top lined the festival. Theatre and film actor Shishir Sharma, who was present to talk about his journey in the world of acting, presented the film, More Chai Please, Singapore’s first Urdu short film.

The film, shot in Singapore and presented by Filmwallas, tells the story of a couple with the plot spanning Singapore and Lucknow. The film’s writer and producer Sunita Lad Bhamray and its director Zafar Anjum were present during a special screening of the film on the second day of the festival.

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Eminent poet Sudeep Sen with veteran actor Shishir Sharma

The other major highlight of the festival was the launch of Tawassul, a Malay novel by Singaporean novelist Isa Kamari, translated into Urdu by Rubina Siddiqui. It is the first work of Singaporean literature to be translated into Urdu. Award-winning Urdu novelist, Rahman Abbas who has also helped oversee the edits, hailed this avant-garde work of fiction and told the audience that the book’s Hindi edition was in the works.

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Rahman Abbas (left) with Isa Kamari (right) launching Tawassul in Urdu

 

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By Neeti Singh

sudeep sen fractualsFractals by Sudeep Sen, an internationally acclaimed, Delhi-based poet, photographer and documentary film maker, is a comprehensive volume, a bouquet of pure art and poetry, new and old, running into 380 odd pages. About 250 poems are from Sen’s recent poems in English; besides that, there are selections from his earlier published poems, and lastly, a selection of Sudeep Sen’s English translation of poems from Bengali, Urdu, Hindi, Persian, Chinese, Hebrew, Polish and Spanish. Sudeep Sen’s classical orientation to poetic craft, his erudition and expansive engagement with global traditions in languages, visual arts, poetics and translation, is, to say the least, impressive and stunning.

For an essay that aspires to encapsulate in about 1500 words, an eclectic talent and legend such as he, it is a daunting uphill task. An anthology of over 350 poems, Fractals is designed with intelligent and passionate deliberation, and consists of a range of poetic forms from poem songs, cameos, erotica, prose poems, haikus to translations layered with inter/intra-textual signification and discourse across poetry, culture and other art media. With all regard to Sudeep Sen, I must say, very well done! You do us, Mr Sen, much service as world poet and Indian, by writing in English, a culturally cadenced poetic subtext that celebrates at par with other world art/cultures, the Indian – classical and folk traditions. The ethnography of the Hindu/Mughal nation with its indigenous heritage, topography and rasa-pradhaan poetic contexts – all weave their way subtly into the English idiom, as they take position alongside western/global poetics and blend in, refashion and enrich with intelligent skill, their overtly English matrix.

The range of Sen’s poems in Fractals is vast and this brief essay can strive to examine but a few aspects. I shall therefore contain myself to a reading of few poems that engage with Indian themes, lifestyle, cities and contexts. The India that emerges through Sen’s poems is classical, nonchalant, subtly layered and beautifully calibrated. At the same time, the people that occupy these cameos and word-pictures, are competent, unselfconscious and well embedded in the larger global framework. Poems like “Rural Mappings”, and “Four Watercolours” – Bombay, Delhi, Udaipur, London – are examples. His poems on Indian dance forms, “Mohiniyattam”, “Bharatanatyam Dancer”, “Oddisi”, refashion and infuse an experience, an aesthetic, that is quintessentially Indian, into a language/cultural texture that is essentially western and mainstream. In the poem “Odissi”, for instance, the dancing form of the dancer recalls on the one hand, the glory of the Indian goddesses – Kali, Madhavi, Parvati – and on the other hand it melts into figurines of sculpted stone on the ancient temple walls. “And yet she is human.” To quote from the prose poem,

I adore Kali, I adore Parvati, I adore Madhavi, I adore the trance-like temple postures – so pure that stone-art of the ancient Oriya temples melts to human form, exquisitely carved, yet breathing, breathing with the passion only reserved for the Gods. And yet she is human, and touchable. (126) 

“Architectural love and body love are one” for the poet who easily traverses from one medium to another as though the whole world were his subject matter. In a Facebook post I recall him saying once that there is poetry all around us, all we need is the eyes to see and feel it.

Sudeep Sen’s poems are quite Baudelairean in their employment of Synaesthesia and in their engagement with the sensual and erotic. A controlled raw sensuality marks the love poems in the section titled “Erotext: Sixteen movements on Erotica.”

“Clumps of wet-smoke simmer in the pan, and slowly | lift to caress the outline of your breasts” (103) in the poem, “Indian Dessert” is a favourite example that evocatively interlaces the simmering of gajar-ka-halwa in a pan with the beloved’s body, as she cooks to create finally, “a creamed mouthful of untampered delicacy”.

screen-shot-2016-01-02-at-1-14-18-amSudeep Sen on his latest book EroText.

Why is EroText a book of fiction? 

A novel is a meditation on existence . . . The form is unlimited freedom. — Milan Kundera

Kundera’s ‘unlimited freedom’; my own remoulding of the ekphrastic technique; Rodin’s passionate dictum where ‘the artist must be ready to be consumed by the fire of his own creation’ form the essential keystone for the soul and syntactical structure of the experimental fiction in Erotext. So, unsurprisingly, I use a highly wrought stylized mode of micro-fiction that overlaps with aspects of prose-poetry, and poetry that overlaps with aspects of fiction.

In EroText, I have also experimented with language like one would in the rendition of classical Indian raga, where the same piece of song or text can be variously sung or interpreted by different practitioners, albeit in a highly controlled and dextrous manner. So an old poem may have been revived or reincarnated as a prose text to convey a different angle of the same story, a happenstance, or another hidden moment in time.

Changing the form without at all altering the textual content can be very rewarding, albeit risky at the same time. But then, what is cutting-edge avant-garde writing, if there is no risk-taking. What is the point if one is not willing to bend and push the conventional boundaries of genre to come up with an alternate score or a variation, much like the formal play in classical music and jazz improvisation.

EroText is an avant-garde experimental book. It attempts to redefine or extend the standard genre-classifications of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. I can tell you, from what I can see from the early market and critical response, that as a book of micro-fiction it is generating interest from an entirely different set of audiences who see themselves as consumers of general, commercial and literary fiction, and not perhaps of poetry. So that is a very healthy and positive sign.

Tell us about the ‘Disease’ or ‘BodyText’ section of the book.

In the dark times, will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing, about the dark times. — Bertolt Brecht

The ‘Disease’ or ‘BodyText’ section of this book contends with private and uncomfortable areas of pain, illness and disease — an example of how a prolonged anesthetic medical experience can give rise to lyrical writing, inspired by and in spite of its sterile surroundings. Commenting on this, literary critic Pramod Nayar, wrote, ‘While excavating a set of images from physics, chemistry and biology, Sen does an extraordinary job of imbricating the corporeal with the natural elements and processes [in] a brilliant formalizing of these themes . . . the images are startlingly fresh and extremely evocative.’

FractalsFractals brings together over 300 new and select earlier poems from Sudeep Sen’s internationally acclaimed oeuvre spanning thirty-five years, 1978 to 2013, as well as some of his translations.

The title has been chosen with care. Earlier collections built around themes such as Rain, Ladakh, Blue Nude, Geographies, Postmarked India, when combined with his latest work reveal elements which recur. Equally, the term fractals defined variously in science and mathematics and general terms, highlights Sen’s own interest in art, science and patterns scattered through nature.

Nilanjana Roy’s The Wildings is as much a modern fable as it is a floor-level point of view of cosmopolis, largely through the eyes of cats. Roy “spent most of her adult life writing about humans before realising that animals were much more fun”. The writing itself is cleverly feline and engaging. The tales’ strength and narrative drive urges the reader on, compelling one to go on with the shadowy hovering of cats tailing you to move forward, sure-footedly—and this at the arc-looped behest of a skilled writer’s cadenced baton. The dialogues are well handled and convincing, a task many novelists find hard to get pitch-perfect.

Here is an instance of Roy’s finely stylised phrase-making in the chapter, ‘Kirri’s Dance’: “The mongoose woke with the scent of copper in her pointed nose. She sniffed the air, her beautiful eyes wide and entirely awake; Kirri always went from sleep to alertness without stopping at the frontier between the two.” Or take another example from ‘The Summer of the Crows’: “All through that winter, Tigris saw dark visions. She dreamed of black clouds coming down from the sky until they became shrouds for the wildings”. Not only is Roy’s writing fluent and controlled, it is also exact, almost spare in parts, and understatedly beautiful.