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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Other Lucknow

This book. The Other Lucknow: An Ethnographic Portrait of a City of Undying Memories and Nostalgia (New Delhi: Vani Prakashan, 2016) by Nadeem Hasnain – I would call it detailed resume of a city that has already carved a permanent position in popular imagination – from Premchand’s Shatranj Ke Khiladi to Guru Dutt’s Chaudhvin Ka Chand, from Lucknowi biryani to the traditions of intricate embroideries. To have a book like this, filled with details after details of the city in the context of today’s time, in this age of Wikipedia and quick fix information, is a blessing. A must have addition to any self-respecting bookshelf, to be savoured over time, and to discover unknown treasures on its pages, like finding the iconoclastic Urdu poet Yaas Yagaana Changezi, who wrote: “Takra ke dekhein tum kya ho hum kya/ Jeete toh jeete, haare toh hare.”

And you remember Mohammad Rafi revel in the Shakeel Badayuni verse: “Yeh rang-roop ka chaman/ Yeh husn-o-ishq ka vatan/ Yahi toh woh muqaam hai/ Jahan avadh ki sham hai/ Javaan-jawaan haseen-haseen/ Yeh laknau ki sar-zameen/ Ye laknau ki sar-zameen.”

Thursday, June 02, 2016

On 31 May 2016, Scroll.in published a story titled ‘Five must-watch films from the North-East (and they are not in Assamese)’. It was a good story but limited in scope. So I wrote this following response and posted in Facebook.

You can read the original story here. http://thereel.scroll.in/809059/five-must-watch-films-from-the-north-east-and-they-are-not-in-assamese

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A good introduction for mainland audiences. But why just five films? There are more, many more. How could you forget Gautam Bora’s 1990 Karbi film ‘Woshobipo’ (Childhood), which started it all? If you want action blockbuster, we have the new Mizo film ‘Khawnglung Run’ (Raid of Khawnglung); the movie took a leaf from the Taiwanese blockbuster ‘Seediq Bale: Warriors of the Rainbow’ for all the good reasons. The film deserves a wider viewership. There are also action in 2014 Khasi film ‘Ri’ (Homeland) as well as 1995 Bodo film ‘Hagramayaojinahari’ (Rape in the Virgin Forest). If you are really curious, you may also want to check out the stellar works Manipuri master Aribam Syam Sharma has been doing since 1972. If you need endorsement, his ‘Ishanau’ (The Chosen One) was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival. PS: You can watch ‘Yarwng’ is youtube available in parts.
How a self-published book is raking controversy and climbing the bestseller list

As the month ends, every Indian publisher out there must be kicking itself for refusing to publish journalist Rana Ayyub’s book, Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up. Or probably not. The book is a goldmine of controversy, and a potential threat to any established publishing house. At a time when Penguin India had to comply with the protestors, despite a strong media support on its behalf, and pulp the copies of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History, it is perhaps not surprising major publishers did not want to take the risk. Launching the book in Delhi recently, the author said she approached at least 12 publishers and all rejected the book. Finally, she published the book herself and made it available via online retail. And, lo and behold, the book sold out in two days time. So much so that the publisher took to Twitter to urge readers to wait for a few days before a reprint is made available.

In 2010, Ayyub, then working for Tehelka magazine, spent eight months undercover in Gujarat. Posing as a filmmaker, she met bureaucrats and senior police officials. The transcripts of the sting operation, unpublished so far, form the core of her book.

Talking about controversy, do have a look at the book’s page in Amazon. The page is filled with equal amount of praise and vitriol, a documentation how the country reacts to the reality.

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Reviews on Amazon.in on 2 June 2016/

Negative Reviews/

Knowing the authors credentials, no sane person wud waste time & money this piece of crap

Trash. Only use is of that you can replace toilet paper with this

A few impressions after reading the book: This is obviously a hit-job by the not-so-closet islamist , Rana aunty .

Di5gusting stuff from paid journalist,, belongs to atankwaadi jamaat,, desh drohi jamaat. Defaming national hero of the nation.

Worst book ever!! DO NOT BUY!!

This is pure junk. Poor writing, poor concepts, poor plot and very poor story telling. The author can't even get basic grammar right.

Pure Fiction Story with Bias and Prejudice !

Got the book from a friend and after reading it I came to know how journalists such as Rana Ayyub have fooled people !

Biased view of author

It is full of lies. Completely biased view of author.

Use it as toilet paper

Cow dung

Total waste of Money & Time

I have read this book, but seems like author has some problem in mindset. She has biased view and fixed mindset. Many others are not covered in this book.

DO NOT BUY THIS CRAP

This piece of utter crap should not even be used by Bhelpuri walas as that may poison the whole snack. Terrible ! Disgusting!

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Positive Reviews

Excellent work which supports democracy and individualism writ large. The author has come out of recluse and displayed her courage. It won't be possible if it weren't she. Thanks Ayyub!

I feel it is extremely important for everyone, who buys this book to leave a review. Whatever, suits them. It's important for people like Ms Ayyub to know that there are still LOADS of people who are interested in reading reality, and hold great regard for people who bring reality to the forefront of our minds while risking their life. Don't mind the fellow Modi bhakts, our friends are a little drunk and stupid. Keep writing.

Very courageous and honest book. Highly recommended to everyone who likes to know the truth.

I purchased this book within one or two hours of its release on Amazon, and I was amazed to see at the time, already 108 people had given it a one star rating! Obviously, none of these had either purchased or read the book, but were working overtime to discredit it. One would think this in itself should constitute evidence of the veracity of its contents.

I finished reading the book in a day. It was unputdownable. Rana Ayyub develops her plot gradually and its credibility grows as one progresses through the book. I like that she does not vociferously express her personal opinion in the pages Also, she allows the readers to join the dots on their own after presenting a sequence of events, instead of thrusting the conclusion on them. I only wish the book had contained some images from the sting videos.

The revelations are gut wrenching and bear frightening ramifications for the country. Now what remains to be outed in the public domain, are the corroborative audio & video recordings. The author's fearlessness and commitment are commendable indeed!

After finishing Tavleen Singh's India's Broken Tryst...I laid my hands on Rana Ayyub's Gujarat Files! Rana Ayyub's is a journalistic tryst whereas Tavleen's book is fully opinionated, still a good read with insight into Gandhi dynasty. Its more like personal grudge against Sonia. The daring investigation Rana did is unparalleled risking her own life. It needs real guts!

Travel through a raw, gut wrenching narrative unraveling step by step truth about people who stay behind the curtains and play their puppets to gain unlimited power.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Two poetry in public after a long time, thanks to Goirick Brahmachari of The Sunflower Collective. I thought will share one of the poems here. The other you can read at The Sunflower Collective blog http://sunflowercollective.blogspot.in/2016/05/poetry-dibyajyoti-sarma.html. You can read the other stuff too. They have plenty of cool stuff.

The poems went through numerous revisions. So it is not the same as it appeared in The Sunflower Collective.

In which we dream of fish

I cannot eat fish anymore. The bones prick my gullet.
I cannot eat much else either, an old man without teeth
imprisoned in his bed smelling of piss and filth
waiting for the boatman to free me of this body.

I close my eyes and my mouth tastes ilish with mustard seeds.
I gulp and I see other fish – a roasted dark goroi for the
breakfast of water-soaked rice, a dancing kawoi in the courtyard
a kingly bhokua caught in the bamboo net in Moranadi
a rough kokila for the uruka feast
and a single scale of a tall rou, wearing which
she pledged her miserable life to mine.

I turn and find myself in a rice merchant’s barge
riding the red torrents of the lunatic river.
Is he Tejimola’s father
in the quest for that lonesome lotus which would be
his daughter destined to be murdered and be born again?
Is he Chando Sadagar
who would share with me the oozing pain of Behula’s floating mausoleum?

The lunatic river takes the rice merchant underwater to keep
company with the childless widows, ugly virgins, paddy
seedlings and mute goslings, and the boatman tells me how
a mermaid stole his heart and how he now fills the emptiness
inside his ribcage with hyacinth roots and dry fish bones. He
opens the cave beneath his withering flesh and I see
the river dolphins in the waves taunting my ambition.

I ride a river dolphin and escape the lunatic god
for the tattered embrace of the wizened Beki, who takes me
to her jubilant granddaughter, the dancing Manas, who
insists I join the feast within the breadth of her betrothed.

I turn and Luit shallows me. He is the creation, the farmer of
the fish, the satiation of man’s hunger, our very breath, rice
fields, thatched huts, betel leaves, fishhooks. I dazzle in the
sheen of the silvery embrace like the fins of a kanduli, amidst
the sandy islands the Old Man River wears like golden
armour to fight the surging blue waves in a faraway country
which is his enemy, his one true love, his everlasting death.

I follow the creator’s son on his endless hunt, lose my way and
find his offspring, each bountiful, who offer me fishes plucked
from their hearts, puthi, darikana, moua, bariala, pithia, pabho, the
restless chegeli, the fulgent chanda, and the reeking gethu, magur and
turi and brown little crabs, tadpoles and violet hyacinth flowers and
yellow bamboo shoots, red tomatoes, and creamy elephant apples and
magenta banana flowers, blue flowering stalks and green leaves.

I jump from one boat to another. I cross one river for another.
In Bhogdoi, I witness Sukaphaa’s royal procession. In Dhansiri, a
Bihu dancer washes her glee. In Dihing, Joymati keeps quiet. In
Barak, the Goddess dances naked. I find grandfather’s bones in
Kolong. In Kopili, rice fields turn golden. In Subansiri, I mourn for
Jhonki and Panoi. In Kushiyara, I meet him again, desperate lover
Luit, the mortal enemy, rushing to his death for a new birth.

The Old Man River, he cannot wait. He is now his lover
Jamuna, fertility spilling out of her uncontainable youth, drowning
villages and cities, until they would come to life again when the
youth was spent and she was an exhausted old crone, Meghna, at
the edge of that inevitable end where memories are mirages and
expectations are prickly thorns in the heels, where you despise
your desired destination and you have no ways to begin again.

I close my eyes and my mouth tastes ilish with mustard seeds.
I cannot sleep, an old man without teeth
imprisoned in his bed smelling of piss and filth
waiting for the boatman. He would not catch me a fish.

[This is for my paternal grandfather: After half of his family, including his parents, succumbs to cholera, Bipin Chandra Bhattacharya travels to Rangpur, now a city in Bangladesh not far from Cooch Behar in West Bengal, to be a priest. He claims he made it there, with a large farmhouse, cattle and servants, in a beautiful village. His young wife, Prabhabati Devi, who is left behind and whom he visits occasionally, dismiss the stories with a smirk, for, in the end, on a hot July morning in 1947, he returns to his ancestral home in Nalbari a beggar, with just a handful of Queen Victoria’s gold coins tucked to the knot of his dhoti. Yet, until the end, he regales us with the stories of the open country blessed with Teesta’s yearly visits.]

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Trends in online journalism

The concept of online journalism is yet to find ground in India, so there is not consolidated trend. There are thousands of portals, trying different things. However, there is no revenue model in place. Compared to print ad spend in online news portals is still miniscule.

So there is a disruption happening, which will be difficult to predict, especially when this disruption is starting from bottom up. Few individuals come together and start an online portal and vie for attention. Examples are Scroll, The Wire, The Citizen, Raiot, India Resists. There are many, many more, all of which have dedicated readers. But the numbers are less. There is no single winner. However, they seem to be doing better than online versions of established media houses.

Two observable trends:

1. Micro-sites. Today, you find very difficult to find readers who would visit your site at random and click on a link at random. Today, a reader knows what he wants. He is looking for special information. He doesn’t want to visit your homepage, or get distracted. That will happen, only when he likes your content. Today, you cannot dazzle a reader with promises. You have to deliver. So, we have lot of site do offer specialised content, from movies, to finances to whatnot. A dedicated site, with specialised content on a particular segment, is a trend which will see a rise.

2. Crowd-sourced content: Another trend is sites with crowd-sourced content. Narcissism is the trend today, and the online news portals give this narcissism intellectual validity. It is also great for traffic, as the author will force his family, friends read it, and also promote it in social media. Sites with crowd-sourced content, like Youth Ki Awaz, are doing rather well.

Friday, April 29, 2016

I have been a fan of Easterine Kire’s When the River Sleeps well before it won the 2015 Hindu Literature Prize. The accomplished storytelling and the minimalist charm really impressed me. For me, this book does for Nagaland what Chinua Achebe did for Nigeria. What’s more, I have a signed copy.

Recently, I did an email interview with Kire for Sakal Times. I had just few short questions. She, however, answered in detail and with such brilliance! I could not fit the word count in the newspaper interview, and I did not want to waste these important observations.

Finally, I approached the web outlet Raiot, and they graciously accepted to run the complete interview.

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Q: With When the River Sleeps receiving mainstream recognition, more readers will try and read your earlier works. What do you think your readers should expect?
A: In the body of my work, new readers will find a chronological presentation of the main aspects of Angami Naga life from the end of the nineteenth century to the present. I have written novels and novellas that cover the major points of oral history in Naga society. My sources were oral narrators, and I have also done library research of the areas that my books deal with. New readers will meet characters that are probably like themselves and in like situations, or like their mothers’ generation, struggling to get educated so they can get a job; they will meet characters that fall in love, (both in and out of wartime) and lose their loved ones and learn to live life after loss. I call these ‘peoplestories’ because they are the stories of real people. New readers will meet these characters in all my works. They will also see glimpses of the spirit world which is so much a part of the life of my community.

Read the complete interview at Raiot: Challenging the Consensus

Thursday, April 14, 2016

লুইতত ভোটোঙাই ওলাল শিহু

After tumultuous elections, and the earthquake yesterday, along with occasional storms, the Bihu really arrives with the Bordoisila this year. Wishing you all a very happy New Year 1423. Stay safe, and please don’t kill each other. 


To go with the mood, here is a Bihu song from Bhupen Hazarika. It’s not a happy one, but a timely warning. 

For my friends who do not understand the language, following is a rather bad translation.
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Like the river seal, the Bihu arrives every year
The river seal appears in Luit again, on this day of Bihu, Rongali Bihu
Like bunches of Burmese grapes, everywhere crowds gather in a rush
Come enjoy the fun, the fun, come and see
In society’s field, which player has made whom the target
All these people from the community, everywhere crowds gather in a rush
Come enjoy the fun, the fun, come and see
On one side, they kick Rongmon-Bhadia, on the other they kick you
Najitora, they kick you; they turn the joyous Bihu joyless
Even hunger refuses to satiate, Najitora, even hunger refuses
Oh, singing Bihu for two days you cry for a year, swallowing spit of sadness
All these people from the community, everywhere crowds gather in a rush
Come enjoy the fun, the fun, come and see
…Searching for Bihu clothes I run everywhere, even the yarns are expensive
Govindai Ram…
Cleaning the courtyards of our great fathers, I broke my back
Govindai Ram…
Even I ended up pawning my pair of bulls during last Bihu
Govindai Ram…
Someone detonates some bomb in some ocean
The ashes fall elsewhere
Some warmonger will now scorch
The Earth with a dozen bombs
Don’t tell me, sister, don’t tell me about the bombs
Say, when there’s a war, what will we eat, what will we sing
Only the people will die; without peace, we are all baits in fishhooks
Even the tune of our dearest Bihu will disappear
All these people from the community, everywhere crowds gather in a rush
Come enjoy the fun, the fun, come and see
You cannot stop the ebbing tide, grandmother, the embankment breaks
Oh, grandmother, who can stop time when people take it forward..


The Legacy of Saadat Hasan Manto in Radio

Toba Tek Singh is a district in the Punjab province of Pakistan. You may not know the geography trivia, but you have heard about a certain Bishan Singh and his obsession with his ancestral village. Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto, who was born in Ludhiana and who migrated to Lahore after the Partition, published the story Toba Tek Singh in 1995, and such is the power of his biting satire that it remains relevant until today.

You may not know your Urdu, but we have read the story, in Hindi, or in English or in other regional writings. Or, you may have seen it in one of the numerous stage productions. Toba Tek Singh was among the plays selected at this year’s Bharat Rang Mahotsav, organised by the National School of Drama, Delhi. Meanwhile, one of the most popular stage adaptations of Manto remains Manto, Ismat Hazir Hain based on five of his stories, put together by actors Naseeruddin Shah, Ratna Pathak Shah and Heeba Shah. His story Kali Salwar became a Hindi film in 2002.

Or, if you are a radio buff, chances are you have heard the story in Radio Mirchi, in a programme called ‘Ek Purani Kahani with RJ Sayema’.

And why not? For most part of his life, the legendary writer worked in All India Radio, Bombay, and wrote five series of radio plays. In the interim period, he also worked in the film industry.

Manto’s Legacy

This is the legacy of Manto. More than 65 years have passed since he wrote his stories. Yet, the truths of his vision of individuals at odds with society still ring true, perhaps more today than ever.

Admirers argue that the great writer remains underappreciated. This is true to a certain extent, yet, compared to other writers of the Partition, say, for example, Quratulain Haider (whose Aag Ka Darya remains a landmark creation), Manto has been successful to remain relevant. The reason is his modernity. Writers like Wilde Chekhov and Gorky may have inspired him, but in his stories, we see the traces of Western modernism, especially in his later works, which came to play as an immediate aftershock of WWII. This resulted in forgoing to grand themes and adopting a critical gaze inside. Thus, Manto’s best stories are those which feature characters from the margins, the denizens of Mumbai chawls, prostitutes, lunatics, daily wageworkers, and other people caught in the crosshairs of the politics of class, caste and religion. He was infamously but unsuccessfully tried for obscenity six times, which only proves the claim to his modernity, and put him in the same league with DH Lawrence.

Here lies the appeal of Manto. As history completes a circle and we find ourselves in a similar position Manto delineates in his stories, we find solace in his voice of reason, his biting satire, and his matter-of-fact directness. He once wrote, “If you find my stories dirty, the society you are living in is dirty. With my stories, I only expose the truth.”

Manto in FM

To carry on this legacy, the Delhi station of Radio Mirchi, a private FM radio station, recently aired a series of Manto’s stories, in a programme titled ‘Ek Purani Kahani with RJ Sayema’. The programme aired such classic stories as Thanda Gosht, Aulaad, Do Quamein, Baarish, Aankhein, and Khol Do, Kali Shalwar, Bu, Tithwal Ka Kutta, among others, where Sayema, the radio jockey, reads out one story during one session. This is not difficult; Manto’s short stories are usually short and the reading time usually does not go beyond half an hour.

The programme is still on air. RJ Sayema reads a new story each week, on Friday at 11 pm. The recording is then repeated on Saturday and on Monday. The recordings are also available on the Radio Mirchi website.

This is not all. To highlight Manto’s relevance, on her official Facebook page, RJ Sayema also urged the listeners/readers to list at least three bitter truths about society which existed then and which continues to exist today.

This comes with a reward too – the Manto Dastavez, a set of five beautiful books by Saadat Hasan Manto, published by Rajkamal Prakashan.

The programme is an initiative by RJ Sayema, and clearly, it is a rare lineup in a FM radio station, which mostly relies on popular music from Bollywood to attract young listeners.

Manto in Hindi

Saadat Hasan Manto wrote in Urdu. Now his works are in public domain, as it has been more than 60 years since he passed on. Thus, any publisher can issue his works. The works published by Rajkamal is a Hindi translation of the original Urdu. The publisher has the translation rights. The Manto Dastavez have been edited by Balraj Menra and Sharad Dutt. Translation here mostly means conversation of the Urdu original into Devanagari script.

While critics agree that a definitive edition of Manto’s work is not available yet, as far as Hindi is concerned, the complete works of Manto published by Rajkamal Prakashan is, by and large, reliable, though not whole accurate. (from Black Margin: Stories, edited by Muhammad Umar Memon, Katha/OUP, 2001.)

Manto’s stories in Hindi are also available from Rajpal & Sons, namely, Toba Tek Singh Aur Anya Kahaniyaan issued in 2014.

There have been numerous translations of Manto in English. By far the most popular one is by Aatish Taseer, Manto: Selected Stories, published by Random House India. Other translations include Bombay Stories, by Maat Reeck and Aftab Ahmed, Random House India; Bitter Fruit, Penguin India; Mottled Dawn: Fifty Sketches and Stories of Partition, Penguin India, among other. The most recent translation is My Name Is Radha: The Essential Manto, by Muhammad Umar Memon, Penguin India.

M is for Manto

Saadat Hasan Manto (11 May 1912-18 January 1955), who migrated from Bombay to Lahore during the Partition, wrote 22 collections of short stories, one novel, five series of radio plays, three collections of essays, and two collections of personal sketches.

At 21, he met the scholar Abdul Bari Alig, who encouraged him to find his true talents and read Russian and French authors. He then translated Victor Hugo’s The Last Day of a Condemned Man to Urdu and soon after joined the editorial staff of Masawat, a daily published from Ludhiana.

He joined Aligarh Muslim University in February 1934. He got in touch with the Indian Progressive Writers’ Association (IPWA), and soon took up writing stories.

In 1941, he started writing for the Urdu Service of All India Radio. In the next eighteen months, he published four collections of radio plays, Aao, Manto Ke Drame, Janaze and Teen Auraten.

He published his short story collection Dhuan, then Manto Ke Afsane and his first collection of topical essays, Manto ke Mazamin, and Afsane aur Dramey.

Like most Urdu writers of his generation, he joined the Bombay film industry 1942 and wrote screenplays of films like Aatth Din, Chal Chal Re Naujawan and Mirza Ghalib.

He stayed in Mumbai until moving to Pakistan in January 1948.

For a detailed look at Manto’s life refer to Manto Nama: The Life of Saadat Hasan Manto by Jagdish Chander Wadhawan, Roli Books, 1998.

(A version of the story first appeared in PrintWeek India.)