Anamika Das reviews Kondapalli Koteswaramma’s memoir, The Sharp Knife ( Published by Zubaan books, 2015) telling us how the author’s tone throughout the book unsettles the readers deeply with its sheer honesty.
(Zubaan Books, 2015)
Originally written and published in 2012 in the Telugu language, Nirjana Vaaradhi, is a memoir by Kondapalli Koteswaramma. Sowmya V.B. translated this book in English, and ‘The Sharp Knife of Memory’ was published and released in 2015 by Zubaan books, to reach a much wider circle of readers, beyond the boundaries of the two Telugu speaking states of India.
Koteswaramma left her school education at a very young age on her own terms, despite her mother’s protests, to work as a nationalist freedom fighter. Over the years, she also became a part of the Telangana movement and the Communist movement, which shaped her life in many ways, all of which has been beautifully laid down in this memoir. Social activist and author, Gita Ramaswamy, in a detailed introduction of the book tells us how the book shook the very foundation of the Telugu literary circles. People ordered for several copies, many wanted to speak to Koteswaramma desperately after reading this book, and many even had episodes of break down while reading it. Gita also gives brief accounts of the challenges faced by political activists, especially women, in various stages of their lives. The introduction promises readers, a journey filled with memories they will cherish in the pages ahead.
Face tense, hands frantic, Mariam tried to cleanse her flesh and her soul by scrubbing at the warm stickiness contaminating her thighs.
As she did, the truth struck her: she was no longer a virgin.
The man she had been forced to recognize as her husband had mounted her for the fourth time that night, before she could recover her breath or dignity. He had ravished her body and spirit in a depraved assault that splintered the remains of her purity.
During the ordeal, she had felt like nothing more than a concubine at the mercy of a lustful man who only cared about exploiting her for his carnal pleasure. It disgusted her to see him behave as if it were his first and last night with a woman; however, this wasn’t Ghalib’s first marriage.
A glimpse from A Plate of White Marble originally written by Bani Basu in Bengali as Swet Patharer Thala and translated by Nandia Guha (Published by Niyogi Books, 2020)
There was no consolation. Yet Bandana repeatedly read the letter from one end to the other. She remembered everything— from holding Kaka’s hand and going to attend Gandhiji’s lectures in Deshbandhu Park to putting coins in the trunks of elephants and looking at giraffes at the zoo. She could easily picture those cold Sunday mornings when they used to reach Esplanade, peeling oranges all the way. Kaka smoked very strong cigarettes. The fingers of his right hand were yellow with nicotine stains. When Bandana was small, she was under the impression that all Kakas would have coppery yellow fingertips.
A Kaka surely meant someone in whom this feature was an integral part, inseparable from his image.
When her mother died young, Kaka immediately decided not to marry and start a family. Baba had tried to persuade him to change his decision. Kaka had the same argument every time, ‘Dada, this child is so naughty, you will never be able to manage her on your own. If this girl is to be brought up well, I will have to join you in taking charge of her.’
A glimpse from Brink originally written by S.L. Bhyrappa in Kannada as Anchu and translated by R. Ranganath Prasad. (Published by Niyogi Books, 2020)
She sought no more details. In a mood to relieve himself by spilling out everything if queried, her stillness cut him off from relating any further. By such time, her hands had retreated away from his. He gathered that she was perturbed by his declarations. Beyond the shade of the mango tree beneath which they were sitting, the static touch of the sun seemed to mutually repel all and sundry. He sat silently. With a facial expression that increased the intensity of the stillness around, she looked up to the skies. After a short while, she was on her feet. ‘I am leaving. If you come along, I will drop you.’ He felt dejected. ‘You may leave yourself.’ She now turned towards him. Her eyes were feral. He chose not to face her sight. Reflecting that she merited neither eyeing nor being eyed, he turned to the ravine that was being ravaged by Helios. After half a minute, she said, ‘And that’s all?’ He turned to her. With both her hands, she removed the royal-jasmine string from her plait and flung it with all her might onto the scorching rock. Then she looked at him. He continued to be mute.
[ Pous – The ninth month of the Bengali calendar, from mid December to mid January]
It is three o’clock. Keeping aside the work in hand, I leant back in my chair. My handwritten long row of small words on the white sheet of paper – just like dead flies on a white wall; each line resembling a slithery black snake. I had finished one page after an hour of hard work. I have transformed an atomic part of the vast and unclear world of the thought processes in my brain, into decipherable human language – watered through eons of years, the developed feelings in symbols, in conversations. The process involves extreme anguish and pain. Despite that being so, I just have to go through it… I have to bear the pain through the whirling days and sleepless nights, through weeks, months, years upon years, until the day death will bring the last and ultimate respite. When I look at the sheets of paper filled with my handwriting, I shudder to the bottom of my soul. Words, words. Endless, unending words. Maybe these words are meaningless to everyone except myself.
Are there six people in this land who’d understand what I wanted to say upon reading my writings? The way I want my works to be read, will there be three men to read them? I know what happens. On a summer afternoon, closing the doors and windows of the room, turning the overhead fan on, the deputy homemaker lies down on the mammoth cot holding my book in her hands, (if she doesn’t have any boy or girl nearing the ‘about to be fallen’ age) then after reading two pages, the printed words become hazy, she turns aside and dozes off to sleep. The weight of her fat hands would squeeze the open pages of the book with three hours’ of sweat. And the guys from the public library vie with each other in order to get hold of my books; only the fortunate returns home clutching his prize within his armpits, jumping with joy, gobbles up the book from the first to the last pages – turning the pages like a madman, to get whatever he wants, whatever he understands, for which he has saved his pennies with extreme diligence. Instead of offering these at the pious feet of the screen’s gods and goddesses, he turns the pages of my books ravenously, in search of the same pleasure. Then after his disillusion, he creates various juicy stories and anecdotes about me and in this way, takes his revenge. I know, I know.
No one can claim the name of Pedro nobody is Rosa or Maria all of us are dust or sand all of us are rain under rain. They have spoken to me of Venezuelas of Chiles and Paraguays I know only the skin of the earth and I know it has no name
I call him Dumri. I tie one end of my worn out gamchha to the iron fence of the Gas Office by the footpath and the other end to a municipality dustbin hook to make a swing cot. I place him there. Dumri loves to be pushed in the swing. He bursts into laughter. The passengers of double-decker buses stuck in the traffic give us a curious look. I feel amused. It makes me feel like a queen. I leave him on the makeshift swing to pick up a cigarette butt left by someone on the footpath for one last puff or to halt a hasty passerby for a dime or two. Dumri turns his head to follow every move of mine. He is still a few months short of becoming one, yet he seems to understand everything. Such a smarty-pant!
A preview of There’s a carnival today originally written by IndraBahadurRai in Nepali and translated into English by ManjushreeThapa (Published by Speaking Tiger, 2017)
The old couple could never forget their own wedding. They’d had an arranged marriage on the sixteenth day of the month of Falgun exactly thirty-one years ago today, with a nine-piece musical band in the wedding procession. Kaase Darzis had blown narsingh trumpets from a platform on the roof, sounding out the auspicious news of the wedding. Lamba Lama, Hukumdas Sardar and Doctor Yuddhabir Rai (the poor men had all since passed away) had danced all night to the sweet melody of the shehnai. Kaji Saheb had taken a photograph when Bagam Kanchha, who was home on holiday from the army, had dressed up as a maruni in women’s clothes and danced, spinning a plate in each hand. They’d had to set another pot of rice on the boil after eighty kilograms proved insufficient to feed the wedding procession. Nowhere in today’s Darjeeling would you see members of a wedding procession sitting in rows to eat in the courtyard while being attacked from all sides by chickens, which, when shooed away, raised clouds of dust with their wings.
A preview of Long Night of Storm – a collection of stories originally written by Indra Bahadur Rai in Nepali and translated into English by Prawin Adhikari (Published by Speaking Tiger, 2018)
Morning came early in the jungle. Bullocks were put to the yoke again. The departure was full of more bustle than the grim march the day before. Duets were being sung since the morning. Jayamaya had joined that crowd. Wilful young boys wanted to shoot down any bird that settled on the crowns or branches of trees. If they hit a mark, they would stop their carts to go into the jungle to search for it. Nobody had any fear. Everybody was laughing. It seemed the journey of a merry migration—it seemed as if they were travelling from Burma into India for a picnic. ‘Is your name Jayamaya?’ A beautiful, thin boy who had had to abandon his studies to be on the road, and who had been blessed with his mother’s tender face, asked Jayamaya. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘My name is Jaya Bahadur,’ he said.
Namrata reviews One Drop of Blood by Ismat Chugtai based on the battle of Karbala.
Published by Women Unlimited (An Associate of Kali for Women), 2020
Featured in Hindustan Times as one of the interesting books early this year, One Drop of Blood by Ismat Chugtai is a unique book in many ways. Firstly, it is the last work of Ismat Chugtai and secondly, it so different from her usual line of work.
One drop of Blood is based on the battle of Karbala fought in 680 A.D. in present-day Iraq between Yazid, the reigning Caliph and his mighty soldiers and Imam Husain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad with his small army. According to the Islamic calendar Muharram is the first month of the year and the second holiest month, after the month of Ramzan. Muharram is also a period of mourning the martyrdom of Imam Husain and his family (including his infant grandchild) in the battle of Karbala.
Today is International Translation Day. Look at any bookshop bestseller shelf in the UK and you’ll see translated names everywhere: Elena Ferrante, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Haruki Murakami, Swedish names all over crime fiction. Recent sales figures seem to suggest that the British public has steadily become more open to European and international authors: according to Nielsen, which undertook research for the International Man Booker prize this year, the number of translated books bought in Britain increased by an astounding 96% between 2001 and 2015. Translated fiction sells better, overall, than English literary fiction and made up 7% of all UK fiction sales in 2015.
But when you examine what is translated into English, only 1.5% of all books published in the UK are translations. Compare that to Germany (a bigger book market than the UK), France or Italy, where translated fiction is 12.28%, 15.9% and 19.7% of the respective markets, according to a 2015 study by Literature Across Frontiers. Read more