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Kitaab Singapore organizes the first SRMU Kitaab Literary Festival in Lucknow

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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Long and short of writing: Kitaab at the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet

Short fiction writers Suzanne Kamata, Wan Phing and Monideepa Sahu were joined by author-publisher Zafar Anjum as they spoke about their love for writing.

Both authors explained why they write about what they do. “Most of my work is meant to be parts of novels that I was working on but that I abandoned. I tend to put everything that I’m preoccupied with into my fiction. I put my Japanese mother-in-law into my story, as well as my intrigue as to why Marilyn Monroe spent her honeymoon with Joe DiMaggio in Japan,” Kamata told the audience at the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet, co-organised by Victoria Memorial Hall in association with The Telegraph.

Kamata’s approach to her her work is to “write scenes, then go for a walk to put them all together, to come back to them a week or month later”. Wan Phing called her works “pretty organic”, adding: “I’m quite an intuitive writer”.

The panel had some tips to share on becoming published, with Wan Phing admitting that “getting published is the best assurance for sure, but it can be quite hard”.

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Mapping the literary roots between ASEAN and India

By Mitali Chakravarty

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The first ever ASEAN INDIA Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Writers Festival was held in Singapore with great success.

More than 30 writers from Singapore, Malaysia and India participated in the first ever ASEAN Indian Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) Writer’s Festival on 6-7 January in Singapore.

Many leading literary figures of ASEAN such as Edwin Thumboo, Suchen Christine Lim and Isa Kamari participated in the two-day event held at the posh Marina Bay Sands.

The ASEAN India Writers Festival, an initiative of the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, was organized by Kitaab International, Singapore, on behalf of the High Commission of India in Singapore, with the support of many partner organisations such as The Arts House, and La Salle College of the Arts. De Ideaz, Singapore, were the main event managers for the festival, which had more than 5,000 registered visitors.

Exploring ASEAN and India connections though literary and cultural roots

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Zafar Anjum, the Programme Director and Founder of literary and publishing platform Kitaab, gave the welcome address. He welcomed the participants and reflected on the attempt to bring together writers from diverse cultures and language backgrounds to create an environment of learning and growth.

Edwin Thumboo, a celebrated poet and academic of Singapore, traced how Sanskrit and Indian culture, religion and customs spread through South-east Asia from the start of history. He touched upon Hindu and Buddhist influences in Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia with graphic maps and slides in his talk, ‘A Sense of India in ASEAN’.

The panel discussions were broad-ranging in topic and included all kinds of voices and literary genres – from mythology to novels, and from short stories to children’s literature. There were sessions featuring literary performances too. Four new titles by ASEAN and Indian writers were launched at the festival: The Best Asian Short Stories 2017 edited by Monideepa Sahu and Zafar Anjum; Senserly, Amakoby Anita Thomas; The Sacred Sorrows of Sparrows by Siddharth Dasgupta, and Tawassul by award-winning Singaporean writer Isa Kamari, the first Urdu translation of a work of Singaporean literature.

India in the Imagination of ASEAN

The first panel discussion with prominent award winning ASEAN writers, Suchen Christine Lim and Isa Kamari, focused on “India in the Imagination of ASEAN”.

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The moderator, Nilanjana Sengupta, traced how Nalanda University played a non-confrontational role in spreading the ideas in the region and asked the panelists to talk of Indian influences in their writings. Suchen Christine Lim talked of how her Indian characters grew out of her experience of Indians that she met or read about and how Buddhism, which was born in India, influenced the Chinese and Asian characters she portrays in her books.

Isa Kamari said he realised that both Hinduism and Islam were monotheistic after visiting Bali, where Hinduism had travelled from India around 1st century. He added that Hinduism existed before Islam and spoke of his positive experience of traveling in India. All these experiences are to be found in his novels.

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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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Kitaab’s The Best Asian Short Stories

By Mitali Chakravarty

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Title: The Best Asian Short Stories
Editor: Monideepa Sahu
Series Editor: Zafar Anjum
Publisher: Kitaab

The Best Asian Short Stories is one of the finest compilations of short stories I have read in a long time. The short stories cover a diaspora of Asian cultures, histories, societies in transit, shifting borders and values. They embrace an array of emotions that are universal and touch the heart of the reader. Established authors (Shashi Deshpande, Poile Sengupta, Farah Ghuznavi, Park Chan Soon, to name a few) and newcomers (N.Thierry, Wah Phing Lim, etc.) rub shoulders with stories that nudge one another, creating a wide range of reading experiences.

In this one book, I have travelled from the backstairs of Singapore’s government subsidized flats to Malaysian ports, to Phillipino slums, to Mao’s China, to Korea’s madly competitive society, to the lonely world of an Old Japanese, to a Syrian refugee’s boat, to the shifting borders of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, to the rebellion against restrictions in the conservative Middle East, to Canada, America and England. These stories have grasped values that leave the reader absolutely spellbound.

Universal truths are stated by the characters that come to life with a few strokes of the creator’s skilled pen. When a dying man discovers, ‘I’m neither Indian nor Bangladeshi. I’m human’, the character reaches out beyond the pages of the book and brings home that politics and nationalism draw borders where none exist for the poor man. In another story, around the eve of Indian independence, a little girl is ‘bewildered’ when she fails to find her homeland, Sindh, on the map of the new country and says, ‘It’s gone’. One is startled by the pathos that these two words can create and compelled to question why Indians mutely accepted the line drawn by Cyril Radcliffe. When in Canada, a middle aged Sindhi befriends a Hindi speaking Chinese, he contends, ‘I knew that we immigrants, Sindhi, Indian or Chinese, needed to look after each other’. This is an eternal truth faced by universal globetrotters traipsing through countries. The whole world becomes their home.

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Book Excerpt: Iqbal: The Life of a Poet, Philosopher and Politician by Zafar Anjum

Iqbal

 

I’m of a pure Somnathi extraction

My ancestors were idol worshippers

—Iqbal

In a wide green field, a crowd chases a pretty, white pigeon. The pigeon circles above the heads of the chasing party. The crowd, in a mad dash, tries to capture the bird in flight. Now the bird flies high and now it descends down, teasing those who are sprinting after it. At last the pigeon swoops down into the lap of a tall and handsome 40-year-old man who accepts it as a gift from the heavens.

Shaikh Noor Muhammad, the man dreaming this dream, wakes up with a smile in a house near Do Darwaza Mosque in Kashmiri Mohalla in Sialkot, a border town of the Punjab located by the Chenab river, at the foot of the Kashmir hills.

It is a cold night in early November and he sees his wife Imam Bibi sleeping peacefully next to him under a warm blanket. She is expecting again and he interprets the dream to be a divine indication that he will be blessed with a son whose good fortune it will be to serve mankind.

The tall Kashmiri Noor Muhammad, red of skin and with a penetrating gaze, is known for his simplicity in the community. He has a peaceful and aff ectionate nature. When he was growing up, he could not study at the maktab, the local school; but this did not stop him from teaching himself the alphabets. Because of his own efforts he becomes literate and is able to read books in Urdu and Persian.

He is the eleventh child of his father, Shaikh Muhammad Rafiq, the only child to have survived from his father’s second wife. After him, another son, Ghulam Muhammad, was born. He grew up to be an overseer in the department of canals in the British government.

Noor Muhammad and his family have always lived together with his younger brother Ghulam Muhammad’s family. The house near the Do Darwaza Mosque was bought in 1861 by their father Muhammad Rafiq and they have been living in this house ever since. It has been expanded over time to accommodate new members of the family.

Noor Muhammad loves to spend a good deal of his time among sufis and Islamic scholars. By virtue of keeping such pious company, he has come to have a good grasp of Shariat and Tariqat. His knowledge of tasawwuf (mysticism) is so deep that his friends call him Anpadh Falsafi (Untutored Philosopher). He regularly studies and recites the Quran which he considers to be the ultimate source of all bliss, worldly and for the hereafter.

By profession, he is a tailor and embroiderer. In his early career, he helped his father, Shaikh Muhammad Rafiq, in his dhassa and loi (blankets and shawls) business but when an official rents him a Singer sewing machine, a mechanical marvel of its time, he turns to tailoring. His wife, Imam Bibi, disapproves of the sewing machine when she learns that the machine was bought with illicit money. Noor Muhammad returns the machine to the official and he strikes out on his own as a cap embroiderer, and makes Muslim prayer caps. The enterprise becomes a success and soon he employs other workmen in his workshop. By virtue of his popular merchandise, people start addressing him as Shaikh Natthu Topianwale. In the later stages of his life, he slowly loses interest in his business and takes a deeper interest in mysticism. He ignores his business and, with time, his business suffers decline.

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Seemanchal International Literary Festival- Taking Literature to the Grassroot India

Source: Kractivist.org

By Rahman Abbas

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Zafar Anjum, PN Balji, Jayanthi Sankar, Debanjan Chakraborty and Isa Kamari

I was surprised when Singapore based English author and publisher Zafar Anjum Emailed me and invited to attend Seemanchal International literary festival on 17-19 November in Kishanganj, Bihar. I kept thinking for hours that how this festival would take shape in one of the most backward regions of our country. On the other hand I was happy over the idea that festival of literature was shifting from superficial glare of metros and lights of hotels to rural India and amid people devoid of cultural activities.

On 16th November, I board flight from Mumbai to Delhi. At Delhi airport waiting for next flight for Bagdogra I met well known Urdu critic Shafey Kidwai and literary critic Nazia Anjum who is also English lecturer at AMU. We shared coffee and talked about festival and Kishanganj. Shafey was worried if there would be any audience, especially to attend sessions about gender discriminations and role of literature in contemporary society on which various foreign authors had to speak.  When we reached Bagdogra airport (West Bengal) we met English author and poet Abha Ayengar, senior journalist Ziya-us-Salam (The Hindu). From West Bengal to Kishanganj our journey was of two hours.  During the journey we saw beautiful tea gardens and green pastures. When Bihar approached greenery turned into dust and road into dilapidated state. We were chatting about festival and thinking what was there in store for next morning.

The venue was famous’ Insan school’ ground and stage was set for two days festival. We were around 20 authors mainly of English, Hindi, Urdu and Malay languages from India, Singapore and UK. Read more


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How the Seemanchal Literary Festival drew me out of my happy bubble, a first for a litfest: Rheea Mukherjee

Source: Scroll.in

By Rheea Mukherjee

Before I leave for Kishanganj, Bihar, friends and family have made a hundred comments. “A literary festival in a village in Bihar?” “Is it safe?” “How cool”.

I fly from Bangalore to Kolkata, and then Kolkata to Bagdogra, and arrive at 4 pm on a Wednesday. The sun is hazy-bright and in the middle of the sky. Our host Sarfaraz stands at the arrivals gate. He is here to accompany us from the airport on the two-hour drive to Kishanganj.

The Seemanchal International Literary Festival started as an individual dream, and then, as the founder himself said “was realised because it was a collective dream”. Singapore-based Zafar Anjum might have many accomplishments and books to his name, but Anjum’s roots are in Kishanganj. A boy from a large family who studied at the Urdu-medium Insaan school.

Anjum was acutely aware of two realities: literary fests are held primarily in elite big cities, and almost exclusively engage an elite audience. But literature wasn’t created to stay on the shelves of the bourgeois. The infinite power of writing and its potential to amplify ambition and social equality needed to be celebrated everywhere. The plain truth is this, very few would take up such a quixotic cause. Read more


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Even ‘backward’ regions can host Literature festivals if promoted well: Zafar Anjum

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The first Seemanchal International Literary Festival (SILF) kicks off tomorrow, November 18, at Insan School, Kishanganj. Its main organiser, author Zafar Anjum, spoke with Twocircles.net about how the idea came to him, and what were the challenges that he had to face in organising the first-of-its-kind literature festival in Seemanchal.

When was the idea for the Seemanchal festival conceived in your head?

The idea came to me as early as 2013 in Singapore. Although I had moved thousands of miles away from home, the memories had never left me. I grew up in the region, and in a rich history of literature. This was the place where the iconic Phanishwar Nath ‘Renu’ was born; but off late the area has not produced much literature that has caught attention. I was of the opinion that if we could get a literature festival in this region, it would be a massive boost to the local literature along with bringing in eminent litterateurs from across the country.

Why did you pick the Seemanchal region for the literature festival?

As I said, I belong to this region, so there was the emotional connect. But more importantly, it was an attempt to shed light on areas that have always been considered backward. Initially, when I thought of a literature festival in South Asia, it dawned upon us that almost all the regions had literature festivals anyway. Even in India, these kind of festivals have for long been conducted. But the biggest issue for me was that in India, almost all literature festivals are either held in big cities (Delhi, Bangalore) or tourist-friendly places like Jaipur and Goa. So, I decided to toy with the idea of doing one such festival in Seemanchal, so that it breaks the concept of festivals being associated with only famous places. Of course, it was easier said than done. Read more


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Inside a writer’s mind: Review of ‘Kafka in Ayodhya’

Saima Afreen reviews Zafar Anjum’s collection of short stories, Kafka in Ayodhya (Kitaab), in The New Indian Express (27 Sep, 2016):

KafkaFCIn most of the stories Zafar remains a silent writer. He presents the characters from a distance. They do most of the talking as he presents them as if sitting in the chair of an erudite clerk who documents the coming and going of the characters. The narrative looks distant like starlight filtering through glass windows. You see them walking, you hear their words, but can’t really catch them. In the title story, your mind wanders to the town Ayodhya and the incidents of Babri Masjid attached to it. The story talks about the much-awaited judgment and the author’s rendezvous with the perceptions expressed through journalists. The author himself is Kafka in the story. The story is an attempt to begin the search for belief, its coming apart. It relies on the telescopic vision of the author, when if reached near, gets blurred. He creates the awareness of this paradox by textual construction of the development in the story. That’s how the short crisp sentences make for a speed-read.

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