Monday, November 12, 2018

Keki Daruwalla writes on Book of Prayers in his column ‘Poetry Wire’ in The Hindu.

Dibyajyoti Sarma is both poet and small-time publisher of beautiful volumes of poetry. His Book of Prayers could be placed in an art gallery. But nowhere does he say that the illustrations are his. The reader is baffled. His poetry is a mix of myth and history. His grandfather returns as a beggar to Nalabari from East Pakistan, with a few gold coins of Queen Victoria tucked in the knot of his dhoti, and tall stories of the wealthy life he had lived. His poems are well grounded in fact and reveal a culture which he displays lovingly and yet subverts dangerously.

Read the complete piece, ‘With rice stems in her hair’ in The Hindu

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Women writers, debut novelists dominate DSC Prize 2018 entries

As the longlist for the DSC Prize 2018 is scheduled to be announced on 10 October, Dibyajyoti Sarma looks at the trends among the 88 submissions received this year.

Women writers rule the roosts in South Asian Literature. At least, this seems to be the consensus at this year’s USD 25,000 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. The international literary prize received a total of 88 eligible entries, of which 45 are by women.
The other significant aspect of this year’s submissions has been the proliferation of debut novelists, with a significant 30% of the submissions being debut novels. Even among them, 15 are by women writers.

The DSC Prize, now in its eighth year, has always encouraged new and upcoming talent writing about South Asia. Last year, the Prize was given to Anuk Arudpragasam of Sri Lanka for his debut, ‘The Story of a Brief Marriage’. Other authors who took home the Prize for their first novels include HM Naqvi for ‘Home Boy’, Shehan Karunatilaka for ‘Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew’, and Jeet Thayil for ‘Narcopolis’.

The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, which was instituted by Surina Narula and Manhad Narula in 2010 is administered by the South Asian Literature Prize & Events Trust, and is specifically focused on showcasing and rewarding the best talent writing about the region and presenting it to a global audience.

On the submissions received this year, Surina Narula, founder of the DSC Prize, said the entries include a healthy mix of debut novelists along with established writers, women writers, translated novels, stories set in South Asia and beyond. “Close to a quarter of all the entries have come in from publishers outside South Asia, which highlights the growing importance of the region in the global literary landscape,” he said.

She also said 88 eligible entries received this year was the highest ever since the prize’s inception in 2010. These entries have come in from 40 publishers and across 56 imprints from across the globe and represent a healthy diversity in terms of publishers and region.

The prize has been able to attract the interest of not just the large well established publishing conglomerates, but also several smaller publishers with special interest in South Asian writing. The prize has received close to 25% of the submissions from publishers based beyond South Asia, which highlights the growing interest of publishers and authors across the world in South Asian writing.

The novels are at present being read and evaluated by a five-member international jury panel who would first announce a longlist of 12 to 15 books on 10 October. Thereafter, the shortlist of five or six books would be announced at the London School of Economics on 14 November and the eventual winner of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2018 would be announced at a special Award Ceremony to be held in February 2019 in a South Asian country.

In line with its South Asian essence, the award ceremony is held in various South Asian countries by rotation. The winner of the DSC Prize 2015 was announced at the Jaipur Literature Festival, the winner in 2016 was announced at the Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka, and the winner in 2017 was announced at the Dhaka Lit Fest in Bangladesh.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Friend and former colleague Medha Dutta asked me about poetry for a long piece published in The New Indian Express on 7 October 2018.

Here's what I apparently said.

"Poet and publisher, Red River, Dibyajyoti Sarma was invited to this year’s Bengaluru Poetry Festival both as a poet and a publisher. This year, he says, there were more than 50 poets who had been invited—both well-known and emerging—writing not just in English but in all Indian languages. Everyone was given the opportunity to share their works in a hall full of eager listeners. “Usually, poetry readings are fringe events. Bengaluru Poetry Festival has managed to take it to the mainstream,” he adds. According to Dibyajyoti, poetry was always popular, but its readership was always limited. But with Facebook and other social media, Indian poets, especially younger ones, have managed to find a community to share their work, or be a part of it. This visibility has also been helped by experiments like ‘Insta poetry’ or ‘spoken word poetry’, he adds. He published his first book with Writers Workshop, Kolkata, in 2004. “It was a buy-back arrangement. I could recover at least some portion of the investment,” Dibyajyoti explains.

"According to him, poetry has a limited market and for a commercial publisher, it’s a risk. This becomes a roadblock for new poets who are keen to be published by a mainstream publisher. But the landscape is slowly changing. About a decade ago, Poetrywala was established as a dedicated poetry press. Today, there are several such initiatives, such as Hawakal (Kolkata), Copper Coin (Delhi) and Red River (Delhi), among others. Besides, initiatives such as The (Great) India Poetry Collective, and RL Poetry Awards run by Linda Ashok, are a major encouragement."

Read the complete story, InstaRhyme Time by Medha Dutta in The New Indian Express.

I wrote something about DSC PRIZE 2018 in Sakal Times, 7 October 2018. Read the full story at Sakal Times.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Stories to make you care

Cast Out and Other Stories
Sucharita Dutta-Asane
Dhauli Books
Page 158
Rs 395

We can debate whether writings by women writers are by default feminist, but we can agree that women’s writings, by osmosis, concern themselves with the idea of ‘selfhood’. But you would rarely find a writer who makes this selfhood the centre of her narrative, in story after story, with an acute awareness of her intentions, as Sucharita Dutta-Asane does in the 16 stories collected in Cast Out, her first collection. As you read, you can imagine the author furiously making her choices, choosing that perfect word, that perfect sentence.

There’s an element of artifice in Dutta-Asane’s construction of a story, and I think she knows it. She is a gifted storyteller. She knows how to evoke an atmosphere, often dark and foreboding, and she know how to end a story. But, her goal is not to just tell a story; she has hidden agendas behind her narrative choices.

In this collection, Dutta-Asane takes you along into a journey and introduces you to her characters. She wants you to get involved but she refuses to be your guide. She will show you the way; how you reach the destination, it’s up to you.

It all comes together in the title story ‘Cast Out’. On the face of it, it tackles a pertinent issue, the taboo of menstruation. It’s a powerful tale and any lesser author would have taken the easy way out, telling the story in a linear fashion until it finds its explosive end. But, Dutta-Asane uses different narratives devises, from third person omniscient to first person, revealing to us not just the resilience of her heroine, Tara, but also the other characters, her husband, the village head, and the Signalman who blames her for his wife giving birth to a baby girl. And by the time, the story ends, with Tara’s taboo-breaking act of defiance, we are so entranced in the action that we are ready to pick up a fight on her behalf. This is the artifice of her narrative strategy and she succeeds with aplomb.

The story also highlights the major theme of this collection — change. Not sudden, dramatic change, as we often see in fiction, but a slow, sly change in attitude and faith that catches you unawares. So much so that you are forced to relook at Dutta-Asane narratives all over again, like in ‘A Train Story’, where a train journey between a pair of lovers, filled with random storytelling, sudden takes a u-turn into something else altogether. Or, ‘Half a Story’, where a social worker confronts her own hypocrisy, as the truth of the world she is trying to heal hits home.

This relentless pursuit to find the centre of these sly changes invariably takes Dutta-Asane to the territories of horror and macabre, as in ‘Eyes,’ ‘Fireflies,’ ‘Fire’ and ‘Dhaara’. Yet again, this sense of foreboding is an artifice to reveal something more sinister, something more tangible.

Cast Out heralds the arrival of a brave new voice in Indian English Fiction.

[The review was first published in Sakal Times, Pune.]

Friday, September 14, 2018