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The Lounge Chair Interview: 15 questions with Saikat Majumdar

By Neha Mehrotra

Head of the English department at Ashoka University, Saikat Majumdar is an academic, novelist and critic. He is the author of Silverfish (HarperCollins, 2007), Prose of the World: Modernism and the Banality of Empire (Columbia University Press and Orient Blackswan, 2013 and 2015), The Firebird (Hachette 2015 and 2017). The Scent of God (Simon and Schuster) is forthcoming in 2019.

The Firebird was one of Telegraph’s Best Books of 2015 and a finalist for the Atta-Galatta/Bangalore Literature Festival Fiction Prize in 2015 and the Mumbai Film Festival Word-to-Screen Market in 2016. His 2013 book on global modernisms was a finalist for the Modernist Studies Association Annual Book Prize in 2014.

In addition to being published by major journals such as PMLA, NLH: New Literary History, Cambridge History of the Indian Novel in English, Modern Fiction Studies, and Literary Activism: A Collection of Perspectives, Saikat’s writing also features regularly in mainstream publications such as The Hindu, Outlook, Times Higher Education, Hindustan Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, Times Literary Supplement, Indian Express, Caravan, Scroll, Telegraph, and Times of India.

Saikat Majumdar

Saikat Majumdar

How do you identify as a writer?

Primarily as a novelist. That’s the core to which I keep returning. I do other kinds of writing too, but I realize I do them all on a novelist’s terms. So my literary criticism is criticism by a novelist, and my nonfiction and newspaper essays are often novelistic in spirit and style. Not to say they are ‘fictional’ – hopefully I speak the truth when I mean to – it’s rather about the assumption of a voice of my own and a kind of an eye through which I see the world and think about it. Even when it’s the real world and not a fictionally crafted one. But since I actually do different kinds of writing, I like the term ‘writer’ and the looseness it evokes, and the way it avoids attaching itself to any particular genre or book. I’m not a fan of the word ‘author’ unless it’s used in connection to a particular work – it carries too much authority.

What impels you to write, especially the kind of books you write?

A ghost grabs me and makes me. Seriously, I don’t choose any of the themes or stories of my books – they always choose me and when I realize I have no choice whatsoever but to write, I know I have a real book there. Usually it’s a ghost from my past. A bit different with newspaper articles, or contributions to edited volumes or collections and there is more conscious choice there. But the books, the most important things, especially the novels, I can only write when I feel that absolute compulsion, and at one level I can never make out where they come from.

Tell us about your most recent piece of writing apart from what you have published.

This morning I put the finishing touches to an essay on Calcutta that is part of an anthology of writing by novelists on the cities they’ve written about, Writing in the City, edited by Stuti Khanna, with contributions from Siddharth Chowdhury, Manu Joseph, Amitava Kumar, Indra Sinha, Amit Chaudhuri, Rupa Bajwa, Anjum Hasan, Manju Kapur and several others. Much looking forward to seeing this in print and how everybody has approached the subject.

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‘Why literature festivals, as a writer, fill me with utmost dread’:Tabish Khair

By Tabish Khair

The fun literary festival season has commenced in India. It will hit its peak in January, when I too am scheduled to appear at the legendary Jaipur Literature Festival, and the upcoming and exciting KALAM in Kolkata. As always, I am honoured to be asked, and totally torn in two by such invitations.

There is no doubt that literary festivals do much good: they bring writers in contact with readers, they enable readers to buy a book or two along with the pau-bhaji or burger that they usually buy during outings, and they focus publicity on some lucky books.

So why is it that I have mixed feelings about doing literary festivals and similar public appearances?

I will try to explain. Being born in middle class circles where one has to earn a salary, I have perforce skirted around full-time writing. Writing is a vocation for me, but in order to write, I have had to hew out careers — first as a journalist in India and then an academic in Denmark.

The vocation of writing demands total commitment — something that my careers do not permit. But they come with their advantages too, apart from the necessary salary. Journalism trained me to write accessibly and keep a deadline. It enabled me to meet the sort of people — criminals, politicians, bigots — who were not part of my circles. Academia allowed me to read widely, and in some depth. Both fed into my vocation as a writer. Read more

Source: DailyO


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India: Gulzar to get LitFest Poet Laureate award at Tata Literature Live!

gulzar

Veteran lyricist, writer and filmmaker Gulzar has been chosen for this year’s Tata Literature Live! Poet Laureate award, which will be presented to him on November 17 during the 7th edition of the Mumbai LitFest, organisers said. “For a moment, I felt like there might have been a mistake, akin to walking into a dimly lit room, where it takes a moment for your eyes to adjust.”

“It is a great honour to be receiving this award; it gives you a little more confidence and assurance in your work,” the 82-year-old poet, who will be reading a few of his works at the festival, said. He won his first National Film Award in 1972 for ‘Koshish’ and went on to collect a string of accolades and trophies, including an Academy award for the song ‘Jai Ho!’ from the film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. Read more


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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Barrie Sherwood

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

barrie-sherwood-pix

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

Syntax is an endlessly entertaining, Tetris-like game that I never tire of playing, even when standing on the MRT. I love seeing how sentences come together with just a little nudge.

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

I don’t like superstition when it’s not confined to the quaint past or some jungle in Brazil, but on occasion I allow for its protection in this one instance: never discuss a work in progress.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

Avoid cliché.

Who are your favorite authors?

Flaubert retains the yellow jersey, Patrick White and Nabokov are vying for second, and the rest are in a tightly-packed peloton. I appreciate writers who take risks, and sometimes fail. The same pen was responsible for Madame Bovary and Salammbo; I find that both frightening and confidence-inspiring.

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

I wrote a novel about a North Korean defector. Only in writing it did I realize how much of a swindle the whole idea was. I did endless research, travelling, interviews, but it was no good. No matter what the depth of the writer’s imaginative investment or the extent of his research, the readers – who just purchased the book for $25.99 – have too clear an idea of how much the writer profits from the enterprise. Straight journalism – of which there is plenty if you look for it – is infinitely better than this kind of socially-aware fiction about, let’s say, the Holocaust or the Armenian genocide or 9/11. And you can’t Flaubert your way out of it. The better the writing, the deeper is your moral dilemma – that’s Sebald’s lesson. But of course the whole issue of appropriation of voice is passé, don’t you know. Those who say you can’t write about this or that are closing down the discussion. (Which is, of course, the writer’s own way of closing down the discussion.) I will say that no one else can make the decision for you. You have to trust in your own moral compass.

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No land can aspire to be the land of the free, unless it aspires also to be the home of the brave: Mohsin Hamid

Mohsin hamid

A pair of runaway slaves fleeing the antebellum South, arriving in Boston. A family of Jews fleeing the Third Reich, arriving in New York. A baby boy fleeing the destruction of his home world of Krypton, arriving in Kansas. Most Americans know what must be done with such people. They must be taken in. Given a chance. Allowed to become an equal part of the ­American story.

How many Americans today would think it right to send the slaves back to the plantation, the Jews back to Europe, the infant Superman back into space? The very idea seems abominable, absurd—un-American.

Why, then, is there such an outcry over accepting refugees from places like Syria? From places that have been bombed into rubble or fallen under the control of psychopathic, sadistic, murdering gangs? What distinguishes these refugees from the slaves, from the Jews, from Kal-El? Read more

 


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Remembering Syed Shamsul Haq

syed-shamsul-haq

On the 27th of this month, Bangladesh lost one of her most influential writers- Syed Shamsul Haq. The maestro’s work has been lauded since his first publication. He was a journalist, a writer, a lover of words and sentences, and an overall elegant human being. There isn’t a soul he hasn’t touched on his own land, including many abroad. The Star Weekend pays tribute to this extraordinary soul, who will, much like Socrates, Homer and Shakespeare, forever live on through the work and the legacy he has left behind.

Syed Shamsul Haq

(27 December 1935 – 27 September 2016) 

Syed Shamsul Haq was one of the most prolific poets, lyricists and writers of our country.

Haq was born in Kurigram on 27 December 1935. His father, Syed Siddique Husain, was a homeopathic physician. His mother was Halima Khatun. His father came to Kurigram to pursue the practice of medicine. Read more


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Found In Our Mother Tongue: Thoughts On Mental Health, South Asian Languages and Poetry

Not so long ago I wrote an open letter on mental health in South Asian communities which was rooted in my own experiences with anxiety (“We Need to Talk About How Mental Health Affects South Asian Men”). After some time, spurred by questions and comments from readers and my own research, I began to have doubts about one element, summarized as this argument:

Languages such as Urdu, Punjabi and Gujarati do not have adequate terms to communicate about mental illness. As a result, derogatory terms are used.

This argument was derived from a study of UK South Asian communities which presented findings that some South Asian languages, including Urdu, Punjabi, and Gujarati, do not have adequate terminology when it comes to mental health illnesses, and therefore often times derogatory terms are used such as ‘pagal’ (‘Breaking Silence’: A Consultation on Mental Ill Health in South Asian Communities, 2008). Other writing like this piece called “Finding a word for ‘mental health’ in Urdu and Punjabi” refer to this point too. The author writes:

At that time I didn’t know it was referred to as a ‘mental health’. Why? Because there is no term for what ‘mental health’ is in Urdu or Punjabi.

In its literal translation it means something like ‘problem with the brain’, which implies ‘being mental/crazy’. In my experience there was a lot of stigma, ignorance, discrimination and oppression against those that were identified as ‘mental/crazy’.

Such derogatory terms and attitudes stem partly from a lack of understanding in regards to these South Asian languages and their capabilities to provide terms to discuss mental health illnesses. Read more


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The fate of the Hindi film writer

Forget islands and flats, most Hindi film writers cannot even afford a snug suburban existence, even after years of sweating it out. (Open Magazine)

ZanjeerA clear sunny day. Anjum Rajabali, whose screen credits read such politically-conscious films as Drohkaal, Raajneeti and Satyagrahaamong others, is slouched over the sofa. He shuts his Mac and starts off with the Zanjeer dispute. Calling it a “tricky” case, he says, “Salim-Javed showed tremendous integrity and insisted on a legal route. If they had won, it would have become a landmark case. Unfortunately, it did not quite work out that way.” Continue reading