Introduction to Reading Across India

The best library I have ever been to once stretched across the length and breadth of three rooms. The books in it shivered in huge wobbly heaps on the floor at a house almost next door. And my best friend lived there.

Her father, the late P. Govinda Pillai, was a writer and a voracious reader who filled his life with books, books and more books. It was only natural that the rooms of his house spill over with books of all shapes, sizes and genres. They jostled with the steady stream of visitors in the various rooms, listening with fluttering pages to political and cultural conversations as well as housekeeping woes. Tired of being gently pushed off tables and shelves by newer books, a multitude of weeklies and a dozen dailies, they finally climbed the steps to live upstairs, squeezing into spaces wherever they could. They huddled into corners, held onto ceilings, and at times simply hugged each other on the cold red floor. The wind and the sun peeped into the open balcony, guarded by a three-strip, faded bamboo curtain, yet they almost never hurt the books, except perhaps stroke them in broad yellow marks on their covers.

And it was to this haven that I made a weekly trip, to choose a few pieces of ecstacy in words. My odyssey into reading began here. Continue reading “Introduction to Reading Across India”

Romesh Gunesekera, Writer from Sri Lanka: An Interview

‘We are only what we remember, nothing more… all we have is the memory of what we have done or not done’: Mister Salgado to Triton in Romesh Gunesekera’s The Reef.

Twenty years of the writing life and seven books to show. Add at least a dozen nominations or awards over the globe. This is Romesh Gunesekera, born in Colombo, raised in Manila and resident in London. His writing is often spoken of by critics as reflecting the imaginative vision of a writer who explores ‘home’ through the migrant frame of memory.

Romesh’s first book, ‘Monkfish Moon’ (1992) was an anthology of short stories about ordinary people caught up in the politics and ethnical strife of Sri Lanka, and made him a finalist at the Commonwealth Writers’ Regional Prize 1993. His ‘Reef’ (1994) was a Booker and Guardian Fiction Prize 1994 Finalist, and the winner of the Premio Mondello Five Continents Asia Prize 1997, and Yorkshire Post First Work Prize 1995. His ‘Sandglass’ (1998), was awarded the inaugural BBC Asia Award for Achievement in Writing and Literature.

His latest, ‘Noon Tide Toll’, is an extraordinary portrait of post-war Sri Lanka in a series of connected short stories. The book is currently on the nominations list to The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2015.


Team ELJ (where I am a contributing editor) talked to Gunesekera on his writing, perceptions and his latest book in June 2014.
Continue reading “Romesh Gunesekera, Writer from Sri Lanka: An Interview”

Written with élan

The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee, which was on the Booker short list 2014, is a saga of Bengali upper middle-class life juxtaposed against the Naxal movement of the late 1960s. Sketched on a large tapestry and involving three generations of members of a joint family who live in a sprawling multi-storeyed bungalow in Bhowanipore, this is no diaspora take on life in 1960s-‘Calcutta’. The hard-bound volume of 500 pages revolves around a people who have no sahib -connect or English-proficiency; they think, thankfully, in the vernacular; and effectively so, which is to the author’s credit. Continue reading “Written with élan”

Shammi Kapoor, The Yahoo Man

When the Yahoo man of Indian celluloid, Shammi Kapoor, moved on to dance in the heavens, he left behind an unusual legacy. Shammi’s fascination for the internet was not known widely till the media, frantic for new Shammi snippets, caught on to the late superstar’s intense involvement with the World Wide Web. Shammi helped found the Internet Users Club of India way back in 1995.

In case you missed it all, here is a recap of the ‘Shammi and the Web’ tidbits going round.

Continue reading “Shammi Kapoor, The Yahoo Man”

Fact and Fiction: A Review of Kenizé Mourad’s ‘In the City of Gold and Silver, The Story of Begum Hazrat Mahal’

The ways of history are strange. It gifts some people bouquets, hands others brickbats, and yet others are left out, entirely. When the chronicles of the First Independence War of India were documented for the layman, names like Mangal Pandey, Lakshmi Bai, Tantia Tope, Nana Sahib and Bahadur Shah Zafar, and places like Lucknow, Jhansi, Delhi and Kanpur entered history books. But the brave woman ruler of Awadh, the last free leader of the rebellion who held out for two whole years, does not appear in the compelling narratives of the 1857 rising, except in isolated pictures of a hookah-smoking rebel queen, with less than a line in description. In the records of the British, she is referred to as the ‘soul of the 1857 War of Independence’. Continue reading “Fact and Fiction: A Review of Kenizé Mourad’s ‘In the City of Gold and Silver, The Story of Begum Hazrat Mahal’”

Translation: ‘In Hope They Trust’ by Chandramathi

This is my Translation of the short story ‘Varum Varaathirikkilla’ by my favourite and the very noted Malayalam author Chandramathi. This was published in 1999, in Malayalam, and translated for Papercuts for their Volume 12, for Fall 2013, themed ‘Dog eat Dog’, translated with the author’s permission.

In Hope They Trust’ 

The woman sat on a chair, near her beloved who was stretched out on the cot in eternal sleep. Several inmates shuffled in and out of the room. She saw everyone, yet did not see anyone. Another woman sat on another chair and murmured the lines from the all-religion-prayer that they usually recited at dusk. She was a friend of the first woman. She maintained her distance from the corpse and watched her friend whose eyes were perpetually wet.

 

‘Rachel’, she called out, ‘Don’t cry. The Lord calls everyone to him one day. Avarachan just happened to leave a day ahead. You haven’t even taken a sip of water since yesterday. Gather yourself up. And those who want to come will come in their own time. Shall I tell that girl Mary to get tea for you?’

 

‘No’, mumbled Rachel, ‘Let them come first.’ Continue reading “Translation: ‘In Hope They Trust’ by Chandramathi”

Five Diaries

The Bangalore Review put up this piece of mine on their book recommendations page, on New Year Day 2014, one of my first articles for the year. 

I love yesteryear documentations, as also biographies and memoirs. Here are five of my personal favourites.

1. The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy

Sofia Tolstoy? Tolstoy’s wife? Wasn’t she a nag?  The book, The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy told me otherwise.

These diaries written meticulously for over more than half a century, right from when Sofia Tolstoy was 18, and combined with her late-in-life hobby of photography, documents her life with the great writer. It also shows us the changes in the pre-Czarist Russian country over this period, and Tolstoy’s relationships with the various people around him. This book is different from Sofia’s memoirs, which is titled My Life Continue reading “Five Diaries”

Vanities of a Bagh: Review of Vanity Bagh by Anees Salim

Nominated for the prestigious Hindu Literary Prize 2013, Vanity Bagh is taking Anees Salim up that ladder, which his writing highly deserves. This review of Vanity Bagh was included in the October 2013 issue of the Hindu Literary Review.

 

“Inside every big Indian city, there is a tiny Pakistan”.

‘Vanity Bagh’, is the story of Little Pakistan, a mohalla, that one can place anywhere on the map of India. As also Mehendi, a Hindu majority neighbourhood which offers foil and balance to Vanity Bagh.

The title, Vanity Bagh, has exquisite connotations. It opens the ‘vanity bag’ of such lives that the urban ‘us’ never thinks about; it speaks of the ‘mango’ people we hear about but never know, it explores the vanities of some big, small people in a dimension of literary exploration. Continue reading “Vanities of a Bagh: Review of Vanity Bagh by Anees Salim”

Reading New India : Interview with Emma Dawson Varughese

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Emma Dawson Varughese’s Reading in India is a one-of-its-kind book on Indian English Writing. She is an independent scholar, who works around language, culture and literature, and looks into ‘World Englishes’. Her first project was ‘Beyond the Post-Colonial’, an interdisciplinary study challenging the orthodoxy of post-colonial literary theory. Her interest in Indian writing in English is a long-standing one. In her new book Reading New India (2013) which is a cultural studies enquiry into post-millennial Indian Writing in English, she largely approaches the topic with an emphasis on the sort of writing that’s being sold and read, irrespective of the reputation among the literary elite. This work brings together Indian Englishes, the changing socio-culture dynamics and the role of literature in English post-2000.  Continue reading “Reading New India : Interview with Emma Dawson Varughese”

Interview with Tan Twan Eng, Man Asian Literary Prize 2012 winner.

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To him writing meanscreating something that will hopefully last a few generations.’  And Malaysian writer Tan Twan Eng’s novels, two of them in five years, look well like on the way to be classics. The Gift of Rain takes place in Penang, before and during the Second World War; The Garden of Evening Mists is set in Cameron , Highlands, during the Malayan Emergency, after the Second World War.

His debut novel The Gift of Rain  hoisted its then fledgling publisher the Myrmidon Books on to the Booker wagon  in 2007, and later his second title The Garden of Evening Mists went on to be shortlisted for the Booker in 2012, and won the Man Asian Literary Prize of the same year. 

Here’s the interview he gave me for the second issue of  the Earthen Lamp Journal, which I co-edit. 

SB: The Garden of Evening Mists is only the second book in the Man Asian Literary Prize history to be awarded to a book written in English, the rest have been translations. How much do you think writing and writers in English as a Second Language have come to be accepted in the English speaking countries in the recent times?

TTE: I can’t speak for those writers you’re referring to, as I write and think and dream in English, but there appears to be a growing interest in novels translated from other languages into English. The titles on the shortlists of the Man Asian Literary Prize over the years seem to indicate this.

Whether a translated novel is accepted and embraced by the English-speaking countries would depend on many factors, including the quality of the writing and its translation. It would also depend on how extensively it’s been promoted, and here the media plays a crucial role in giving more column inches to these translated novels, through reviews and interviews with the authors and translators. Continue reading “Interview with Tan Twan Eng, Man Asian Literary Prize 2012 winner.”