Friday, August 16, 2019

For some reason, yesterday, on the occasion of Independence Day, I was thinking about my school — the Barpeta Government Boy’s Higher Secondary School — where I studied from Class VIII to Class X. I never went to the flag hoisting ceremony on I-Day (or R-Day); there were chances of bombs going off (especially on such occasions). But I miss the time in school, despite the mounting chaos outside (the school is next to the district police headquarters, and in my last year in school, I remember Army vehicles crowding the road; the year President’s Rule was declared).

But I miss the time in school. So I Googled and found this photo. I remember this corridor so vividly. On the last period, my teacher and I would sit on the stairs at the end of this corridor for our Sanskrit lesson.

I was the only student who opted for the subject, and my teacher (I’m so sorry to have forgotten his name; I think it was Sheikh, or something), preferred to sit outside as he regaled me with verses from Kalidas and Bhartá¹›hari. It must have been an odd sight indeed — I, a puny, little thing with a Brahmin surname, and he, a tall, hulking figure, with flowing salt-and-pepper beard and a skull cap, sitting in the open, studying Sanskrit.

Sadly, I couldn’t learn as well as my learned teacher tried to teach me (the 32 variations of a single word was too much!), but still remember one Bhartá¹›hari verse my teacher recited to me (I don’t remember the Sanskrit words, but the translation goes thus) — “Be like the swan that swims in water without getting itself wet…”

And I’ve tried my utmost!

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Reading DAYS WILL COME BACK, the powerful poetry of Punjabi poet Kamal Dev Pall, translated by Rajinder Azad, and published by Panther's Paw Publication, an independent publisher of Dalit writing run by Yogesh Maitreya.

Proud to be associated with the book in a small way.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Talking about NRC and the allegations about poetry promoting xenophobia, here is a poem by Assamese poet Sananta Tanty.

Everywhere around my body were garments of the minority
community. In my tongue was the language of the minority. In the
eyes was the withered look of hunger. In the stomach was a terrible,
painful hunger. My dry thinning muscles were exhausted. My dirty
clothes screamed it to everyone how even after independence I was
a landless farmer and beggar-labourer.

I gave them my name. I gave them my post office. I told them the
name of my district. I just could not mention my house number. I did
not have a house. Neither did I have land. I did not have even any
certificates from school. My house went down in the flood. Along with
it, went down my entire world with my wife and children.

They asked my father’s name. They asked my grandfather’s name.
They asked me about my birthplace. I told them everything. I said I
don’t have anything called home. I don’t have a bed to sleep. I don’t
have clothes to cover myself. Except fire to warm myself, I don’t have
any quilt or blanket. Even after the Partition, I don’t have a mother
tongue. I don’t know alphabets. I don’t know words. I don’t know
language. I don’t know anything except hard labour.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

I met Abdullah Khan in Mumbai last December. I had already started reading ‘Patna Blues’ by then and the book was already making wave. I was little apprehensive; you know how an author with fame can be. But Abdullah surprised me with his down-to-earth honestly and his easy charm. There’s nothing artificial about him. He is a real deal.
I promised that I’ll review ‘Patna Blues’, but that did not happen (the book has already been reviewed in all possible places and I had nothing new to say, beside that I really, really enjoyed it.) So, when the opportunity arrived to interview him for ‘The Punch Magazine’, I seized it.

It’s been a privilege to be a part of Abdullah’s incredible journey.


Wednesday, July 03, 2019

The July 2019 issue of Poetry at Sangam unveils the latest of the Poetry from the Northeast, and daresay, the very best, edited by the inimitable Nitoo Das, featuring Desmond Kharmawphlang; Easterine Kire; Guru T Ladakhi; Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih; Lalnunsanga Ralte; Monalisa Changkija; Nabanita Kanungo; Namrata Pathak; Shalim M Hussain; Soibam Haripriya; and Thangjam Ibopishak translated by Robin S Ngangom.


Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Unfortunately, critics are going to compare Nemat Sadat’s novel about a young Afghani man, Kanishka (I am not sure if it’s a common name in Kabul, but the use of this name to invoke the historical Kushana king feel forced), and his love for his classmate and its aftermath set just before and after the Soviet–Afghan War in the late 1970s, with Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner.

But this is an unfair comparison. As a piece of literature, Hosseini’s work is far more accomplished, yet the storytelling in The Kite Runner is consciously manipulative, largely targeted at a western audience. And you know it worked!

Sadat, the first person to come out as gay in Afghanistan, is far more honest and earnest and purposeful in The Carpet Weaver. The novel is a narrative of intentions. Sadat wants you to feel the complexities of same-sex love and its myriad manifestation in a country where the religion forbids it up close.

And the author succeeds, for most part.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Happy to be able to read and then write about this wonderful novel and an important piece of translation — Kannada author Shrinivas Vaidya’s Sahitya Akademi Award (2008) winning novel Halla Bantu Halla, translated into English as A Handful of Sesame by Maithreyi Karnoor.

In the context of the ever-present North-South divide, you can call A Handful of Sesame a beautiful bridge, where two brothers from Kanpur via Kashi land in a small town in the Dharwad district of Karnataka, and become ‘locals’.

This would, however, be selling the novel (which won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2008) short. The beauty of this novel, within the ambitious narrative of a multi-generational saga of survival, is its over-reaching achievement in creating a microcosm of modern Indian history in the marking, where this small village in Dharwad, Navalgund, stands in for India, a country under the British Raj, struggling to find its identity.

In other words, A Handful of Sesame is the story of the coming-of-age of India as a country, from a collection of tiny, self-sustaining provinces with their particular customs and traditions, to a larger landmass with an over-arching political identity. So, naturally, as the novel progresses, we notice how the characters begin to travel outside Navalgund, to Sangli, Dharwad, and ultimately to Bombay.

Read the complete Review in

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Happy to find such a beautiful home for these translations of Hindi poet Kedarnath Singh that my boss and mentor Ramu Ramanathan and I did in a whim, as an experiment, in HAKARA, a bi-lingual journal of creative expression, Edition 07: Boundary.
These are gypsies plucked from
all the cities of the world,
who seek their lost identities
amidst the dust of your city.
In people’s democracy,
there should be a long, unabated debate
on the question of grass.
Until that happens,
as a start, I declare
that in the next election
I shall vote
for grass
whether others do or not.
A banner of a blade of grass shall flutter
in that maidan always.
It’s a determination,
to grow
whenever, wherever.

Read the poems here.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Since I couldn’t wait for my contributor’s copy, got a copy of the book, SIDE-EFFECTS OF LIVING, myself.
And what an assortment of life stories within the covers — at once heartbreaking and life-affirming…
And what an important documentation. Kudos to the editors Jhilmil Breckenridge and Namarita Kathait, and everyone involved.
A must read! Get your copies here.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Reading PATNA BLUES by Abdullah Khan.

There’s something about this book, something soft, something tactile, as if you are listening to a friend telling you a story. And feelings, there are feelings… it makes you feel.