Interviews, Reviews and Essays
A selection of book reviews, interviews with authors and literary essays.
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Why Bangladeshi writer Shahidul Zahir's voice is a rare gift
Life And Political Reality, the best-known novella by the Bangladeshi writer Shahidul Zahir (1953-2008), begins with a moment of rupture: “One day in 1985, the sandal on the foot of Abdul Mojid, a young man from Lakshmi Bazar’s Shyama Prosad Chowdhury Lane, lost conformity with circumstances and went phot and snapped.”
On mortality and the art of losing
In Montage On Love, a poem gently undulating with emotions, from her new collection, Run For The Shadows, Sridala Swami chronicles the see-saw of a romantic relationship in which passion and intensity are unequally matched.
Buried secrets, suspense and suffering in KR Meera's novella
K R. Meera’s new novella, Qabar, translated from Malayalam into English by Nisha Susan, packs an arsenal of meanings into the title. The decision to leave the title untranslated is inspired—“grave” barely conveys the aura of doom associated with the original, Qabar. The word is like a bell that tolls the reader into the folds of a sinister tale.
When fiction collides with fake news
Amitava Kumar’s new book, A Time Outside This Time (Aleph Book Company, 699), is a shape-shifting entity. Quick-witted and nimble, this odd literary beast has its ears to the ground. It slips into modes of narration that may appear radically opposed to one another but are, in fact, two sides of the same coin. Interspersed with scraps of news reports, photographs and drawings, it signals its affinity with the uncategorisable genre practised, most notably, by the German writer W.G. Sebald.
'Growing up in Kashmir, we were scared of the light'
A tall and robust woman with strong opinions (especially about giving career advice to her beloved younger granddaughter), Bobeh started to shrivel and become withdrawn, a mere shadow of her former self, as she aged. Forced to stay indoors, with all the windows shut tight (for fear of a stray bullet flying in—it did, in fact, kill a family relation when she left a pane ajar to let in some fresh air), with her asthma aggravated by the noxious fumes of tear gas used by the army to disperse protest.
Glimpses of Satyajit Ray's unique inheritance
In an essay on Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury published in 1963, Satyajit Ray lavished fulsome praise on his grandfather’s unique genius. “The magic of Upendrakishore’s writings is the ease with which it stimulates and rouses the innocence of a child’s mind,” he wrote. “For how many writers of children’s literature can you say the same?”
The many voices of TM Krishna
Another essay that interests me is the one on the figure of Rama in Tyagaraja’s songs. How does your persona of a socially alert musician intersect with the social aspect of the lyrics and the music, especially since you said you are not a religious person? How do you interpret music that is steeped in spirituality and religious fervour?
Those miserable Goan Catholics of Mumbai's Orlem
In the last few years, readers of literary fiction in India have witnessed the flowering of a curious sub-genre in English language publishing—the hyperlocal Mumbai novel. The trend, if it is one, began with Jerry Pinto’s (2013), a harrowing story of mental trauma and healing, set in Mahim. More recently, Amrita Mahale’s accomplished debut, (2018), explored life among the insular Goud Saraswat Brahmins of Matunga.
Photo Essay | The rediscovery of India in 100 objects
British art historian Neil MacGregor’s iconic A History Of The World In 100 Objects set off a flurry of similarly inspired titles but not many have come close to the depth, erudition and amplitude of Vidya Dehejia’s attempt to tell the story of India in 100 objects. This is not to say that the book, gorgeously produced, ticks every box or is going to please everyone.
A ‘Shaheen Bagh’ state of being
Ita Mehrotra was familiar with Delhi’s Jamia Nagar neighbourhood but not much beyond the confines of the Jamia Millia Islamia campus. Then, the Shaheen Bagh protests erupted in 2019 and, like thousands of Delhiites, she became privy to the throbbing pulse of the area. “The movement helped us, especially women, to own public space like never before,” Mehrotra says. “It offered us a new experience of the geography of Delhi.”
Can independent publishing survive the virus?
A little over a year ago, acclaimed author and feminist publisher Ritu Menon started keeping a journal as she retreated into her home in Delhi during the nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of covid-19. Recently published as Address Book: A Publishing Memoir in the time of COVID by Women Unlimited, the imprint Menon founded, the arc of her narrative spans far beyond the pandemic. It opens with a haunting photograph of deserted Park Avenue in New York City on a March morning that Menon sees i
Avasthe by UR Ananthamurthy: a jigsaw puzzle called life
In an astute Afterword to the late U.R. Ananthamurthy’s novel Avasthe, writer Prayaag Akbar sums up the theme of the book in a powerful phrase. First published in Kannada in 1978 and translated into English by Narayan Hegde recently, Avasthe, like its predecessor Samskara (1965), is about “the hypocrisy of great men”, Akbar writes. One is tempted to add that it is also about the impossibility of having a morally upright career in politics.
Your weekend fix: Lounge recommends 'Padmavati the Harlot & Other Stories' by Kamala Das
The name of Kamala Das (1934-2009) usually tends to evoke memories of her unabashed prose and fiery poetry, exploring women’s lives and sexualities in often disturbingly vivid details. Her life was dramatic, even mythical, depicted with great panache by herself in My Story (1976). A difficult marriage that didn’t work out pushed her to confront the truth of her desires through writing. And an array of women in her books shared the burden of her sinewy feelings. These characters rattled fusty old patriarchal mindsets with their bold clarity, they provoked waves of outrage and scandal by their actions, and did not care for society’s scorn or pity.
Sunday Lounge | Indians are inescapably multilingual: Amitav Ghosh
Amitav Ghosh has an amusing anecdote to tell about the power of translations. In 1983, when he was living in Kerala and working on his first novel, The Circle Of Reason, he was pleasantly surprised by the immense popularity enjoyed by the Bengali writer Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay (1876-1938) among Malayali readers. “Some of my friends told me that their grandmothers thought Saratbabu was a Malayali, such was his appeal,” Ghosh says on a Zoom call from his home in Brooklyn, New York. “Saratbabu is hugely popular across India—think of the number of screen adaptations his books have led to—he’s deathless, really, far more widely read, probably, than Rabindranath Tagore, even as we, Bengalis, continue to worship and revere the latter.”
Your weekend fix: Lounge recommends Raagam Taanam Pallavi by Kalpana Swaminathan
Murder and music don’t seem to make for obvious bedfellows. But throw myth and memory—those wily tricksters—into the mix and they may set off an odd alchemy.
A south Indian wildlife safari beyond tigers and leopards
For most people, the word “wildlife” tends to conjure up visions of large mammals—tigers, leopards elephants, maybe a few birds. But beyond these conspicuously visible species of vertebrates, an incredibly diverse ecosystem of smaller creatures lurks around us, unnoticed and unappreciated. They thrive away from our careless human gaze, they hunt and are hunted, manifest their power and glory, and leave their mark during their brief time on the planet. It is to such creatures big and small that seasoned naturalists Surya Ramachandran and David Raju want to draw attention in their visually stunning new book, Photographic Field Guide: Wildlife Of South India (Notion Press, 360 pages, ₹1,500).
Your weekend fix: Lounge recommends Island Dreams by Gavin Francis
"No man is an island," the English poet and cleric John Donne assured us four centuries ago, his words meant to provide solace to the lonely and despairing. But what if some of us like to seek out islands, and are inexorably drawn to the promise of solitude that such places augur, all our lives?
A geeky young-adult decides to teach her peers a lesson
What is a precocious 16-year-old to do when she discovers that her mother is planning to get married for the second time—and that too to the father of her sworn enemy at school? How is she to react to this news, since her own father has already moved to the US after the divorce and is starting a new family, with little regard for her feelings?
Your weekend fix: Lounge recommends ‘The Cock is the Culprit’ by Unni R
Earlier this year when a “spy” pigeon, belonging to a Pakistani national, was “arrested” by India for flying across the line of control, I wasn’t really surprised. It wasn’t the first time an animal had been accused of espionage by either India or Pakistan. And any attentive reader of literature, especially George Orwell’s iconic fable , would agree that animals can have strong political views indeed.
Why a good literary essay never gathers dust
In the 16th century, French philosopher Michel de Montaigne, who is considered to be the progenitor of the modern essay, explained that his “ ” (the French word means “attempt”) were meant to record “some traits of my character and of my humours”. A reclusive and melancholic man, Montaigne retired from worldly affairs at the age of 38 and spent the next decade locked up in his library, reading and writing.
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