May 2013 Posts

“‘Unsafe’ was a feeling he was familiar with.”

“‘Unsafe’ was a feeling he was familiar with.”

Joseph Anton

Salman Rushdie’s memoir Joseph Anton was released in 2012. Well before it was published it was being discussed–what will be said, what will not, will it live up to expectations etc. The title is borrowed from the names of two writers whom Rushdie admires, Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov. The nearly 600 pages are preoccupied with a decade of living under the fatwa, a death threat issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie having written Satanic Verses. From the announcement of the news on 14 February 1989 till the threat perception was reduced to level four by Scotland Yard, Rushdie documents his complete bewilderment, growing frustration, simmering rage and absolutely disgust at the reactions of many who did not support him. He meticulously records his growing isolation from family and friends; the desperation at wanting to socialise but never being able to, at least not without prior planning with the police officers deputed to protect him; and then his growing rage at the hijacking of freedom of expression especially at the altar of religious zealots. He does not mask his distaste for his colleagues in the creative industry who fail to support him, including the “big unfriendly giant Roald Dahl”.

Interestingly he uses the third person technique to write. As if he is a dispassionate observer of what Joseph Anton experiences, though at times “Salman” does intrude and speaks, introspects and reflects. It is curious that many of the reviews ( a few are reproduced below) comment upon the technique recognise it to be a unique way of writing, but do not understand the import of it. Whereas if you read any written account by a woman of a trauma that she has experienced, when the moment comes to describe the actual event, she inevitably switches to the third person narrative. ( It is rare indeed for it to be ever written in the first person. And if it is, then it is usually a draft that has been worked upon extensively till it is worked out of the system of the victim.) In Joseph Anton Rushdie describes a period of his life that must have been fraught with anxiety for every second of the day and night. So it is not surprising that even though he had his diaries to refer to he opts to use a technique that makes the memory of living with terror 24×7 easier to write about. It is fascinating to see him use a writing technique that is normally not associated with men.

Joseph Anton is a detailed account of what happened in that frightful decade of Rushdie’s life, but also consists of references to his family and friends. It is a delightful balance of the personal and professional aspects of a very public figure. Graham Greene was amused that Rushdie had got into more trouble than Greene himself ever had! Whereas Gabriel Garcia Marquez never asked him about the fatwa. They had a straightforward conversation about writing and books, much to the relief of Rushdie. And of course the famous literary spat that John le Carre and Rushdie had in 1997. It was finally called off in November 2012 ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/from-the-archive-blog/2012/nov/12/salman-rushdie-john-le-carre-archive-1997 and http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/nov/12/salman-rushdie-john-le-carre ). The ups and downs with the family, understanding his parents and their marriage and his utter and complete adoration for his two sons born eighteen years apart — Zafar and Milan– comes through very clearly. The passages on publishing, literary agents, sale of rights, publishing schedules makes one wonder whether the digital age revolution has really changed anything at all. The details, the arguments, the negotiations are the same, whether it was in the 1980s or now. There are moments when the editorial inputs should have been stronger since the text tends to get a little clunky and tedious, yet it reads well.

Years ago I recall attending a literary event where Salman Rushdie with Padma Lakshmi were also present. It was at the Oxford Bookstore, Statesman House, New Delhi. They were (I think) guests of William Dalrymple who was at the store to do a reading. For a long time I reflected upon that evening, but after reading Joseph Anton, a lot is explained especially the sheer joy of Rushdie at being able to live a normal life.

Whenever Rushdie writes non-fiction he does it extremely well. Those years of being “invisible” and yet not, being catapulted onto the front pages of the newspapers worldwide gave him the confidence to speak clearly and strongly. He says what he wants to say. One of the most recent examples being the speech he gave at the concluding dinner at the India Today Conclave, New Delhi held on 18 March 2012. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNzGgYvz92s). He insists that everyone should be allowed to speak without fear. He never really did, now he definitely does not, feel the need to mince words. I liked Joseph Anton.
30 May 2013

Salman Rushdie Joseph Anton: A Memoir Jonathan Cape, London, 2012. Hb. pp. 650 Rs 799

    Examples of reviews of the book, dwelling upon the third person technique

http://observer.com/2012/10/gone-underground-in-a-new-memoir-salman-rushdie-looks-bach-at-his-fatwa/ “The first thing readers will notice about this memoir is that the memoirist has written it in the third person. It is not a perspective often associated with self-awareness.”

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/09/18/11-revelations-from-salman-rushdie-s-memoir-joseph-anton.html “…the book is written in the third person, as if a ‘biography’ of Rushdie/Anton…”

Pankaj Mishra in the Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/sep/18/joseph-anton-salman-rushdie-review ) “In his memoir, where Rushdie bizarrely decides to write about himself, or “Joseph Anton”, his Conrad-and-Chekhov-inspired alias, in the third person, … .

Namita Gokhale, Priya: In Incredible Indyaa

Namita Gokhale, Priya: In Incredible Indyaa

Namita Gokhale

Originally published in the BusinessWorld Online. Here is the link: http://www.businessworld.in/en/storypage/-/bw/politics-of-society-life/394770.0/page/0

Priya Kaushal is “just an ordinary housewife. A woman who has climbed up the ladder, step by determined step, with her husband’s unexpected luck helping things along.” She is immersed in the political and social milieu of the capital, where “everybody in Delhi knows everybody-everybody who matters, that is. As a jumped-up, middle-class girl from Mumbai I still cannot figure out these equations. Seek out the current lot of ‘useful’ people, scorn the hangers-on and despise those who might need you. That’s the formula for Delhi social networking.” But she is somebody now. “My husband Suresh Kaushal is the Minister of State for Food Processing, Animal Husbandry, Fisheries and Canneries. Maybe it’s not an ATM ministry, like telecom or power, but agriculture is important to modern India, and Food Processing is crucial to agriculture. That’s what Suresh says.” They have twin sons Luv and Kush, who are diametrically opposite to each other in their personalities. Luv is laid back, who believes he is destined to be an artist and “challenging his creativity”. Kush is an ex-investment banker turned budding politician who “knows how to grovel. It’s an essential skill in party politics.” To complicate matters, Lenin or Avinendra from Chhatisgarh returns to Priya’s life. He is an activist fighting for the release of Binayak Sen from jail, by proceeding on endless fasts, whereas his successful politician-wife, Geeta Devi, is achieving prominence. They become closely intertwined with Priya’s family, when her son Luv falls in love with Lenin’s daughter Paromita.

All through the novel, Priya is confident that she “must act the part, and be supportive” of her husband, irrespective of whether their values meet on the same plane or not. For instance, her husband carries a residual loyalty to the idea of the Indian Woman, the Sacred Sati Savitri, and his advice to their son while looking for prospective brides was that “your mother is a True Indian Woman, the personification of a Bhartiya Nari. If I died, I very much doubt if she would want to continue living! Would you, Priya?” Priya is appalled. “My jaw dropped. What could I possibly say? Tell him it would be like reincarnation without dying? But no, I am an Indian woman. I stared at him speechlessly as he continued, a dreamy look playing upon his plump, superficially distinguished face.” To say this at a time, when honour killings and sati are rampant in “this new India, half dream, half nightmare, from which we might collectively awake”.

But it is also an India where women like Geeta Devi stand “tall in every sense. How times change, how life changes, how people change. I could never have imagined the Geeta of yore, the subjugated small-town bride of my friend and rakhi brother Lenin, would transmute into this power-savvy politico. Of course she had a determined chin even then, but the cast of a jaw is not enough to propel someone into the political stratosphere. Her father had been an ex-chief minister, I recalled.” This is the same country, where mammon is god, borne at any cost, even violence. Priya is out shopping with her social butterfly friend Poonam who “tried on the latest style in outsize diamond danglers, all astronomically priced, completely out of range as far as I am concerned. Her hair got into her eyes, and she had to take off her Bulgari shades to readjust it. There was an ugly swelling in her perfectly made-up face, the blue and black bruises blending in perfectly with her shimmering green shadow. I turned away, pretending not to have noticed.” Maybe as Priya expresses it so neatly, “A lie in the interest of one’s family is not an untruth, but one’s dharma. As an Indian mother, I am aware which side of the truth my duties fall.”

Violence exists at every level of society. The insidiousness of communalism makes its presence felt even in the life of Ghafoor the driver. Yet, Priya feels “safe with Ghafoor Bhai. Maybe it’s the Bombay influence-Bombay, before it was Mumbai. The city used to belong to everyone, and Allah’s chosen were visible everywhere, as the rest of us. In Delhi one tends to see them only in Purani Dilli and Nizammuddin, unless they are one of us, if you know what I mean.”

Priya: In Incredible Indyaa is about the life of Paro, a generation after Priya. It is Namita Gokhale at her best, with her tongue-in-cheek genuflection to all the activisim of the 1980s and early 1990s-feminsim, communism, Maoists, revival of Sati, honour killing etc. Post-liberalisation, it changed, but it did leave its indelible impact on society. The other sad fact that she stresses is that social mobility is still important. This is a novel that cannot be dismissed lightly. Some of the most interesting debates and documentation of capturing a moment in time are being done by women writers, but with confidence about the changing trends. A book like this demands of it a sequel, preferably an annual affair?

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is a publishing consultant and literary consultant

Orijit Sen’s mural on Punjab

Orijit Sen’s mural on Punjab

Orijit Sen's mural

Well known artist Orijit Sen’s mural of life in Punjab is awe-inspiring. The digital mural, arranged almost like a street-view map, spans across two walls. Every inch of it is covered with people, buildings, fields of rice and wheat, roads, shops, houses, trees, water bodies, even temples as he tries to capture the social fabric of the state.

The mural was originally made for the Virasat-e-Khalsa, a multi-media museum and cultural centre in Anandpur Sahib and took a few years to complete.

Through the mural, the artist wishes to capture the indomitable spirit of the Punjabis as they face and live through the changes that their lives have gone through over the years as dams were built over rivers, fields replaced forests and globalisation began to creep in.”

An article in the Hindu about it ( 19 April 2012):

And writer, Amandeep Sandhu’s reply to this post, when I put it up on my facebook page ( 29 May 2013)

“Thanks Jaya. I was at Anandpur Sahib last summer and had the opportunity to see Orijit and team’s work. The mural is excellent, its attention to detail is superb. It is an brilliant socio-anthropological work of art. Respect! My problem with the museum is a) the maintenance of Orijit’s work, b) that the sections of the museum which talk about the Sikh Gurus (after Orijit’s sections) posit that the real history of Punjab starts with the birth of Guru Nanak and pay only a brief lip service to the period of the Harrapan-Mohenjodaro Indus valley civilization, the Vedas, the 5000 year rich cultural history of the land. One can understand that the museum is Virasat-e-Khalsa, the culture of the Khalsa, but given how hundreds of visitors come to the museum each day it is an opportunity missed in providing a composite, holistic view of society.”

Orijit Sen replied to Amandeep Sandhu on 29 May 2013

“Amandeep, your comments are very perceptive. Its true that a splendid opportunity to celebrate the amazingly rich history of the region has been compromised for short sighted political reasons. I wish it could have been done differently.”

Uploaded on 29 May 2013, Orijit Sen’s comments added on 30 May 2013.

Habib Tanvir: Memoir, translated from Urdu by Mahmood Farooqui

Habib Tanvir: Memoir, translated from Urdu by Mahmood Farooqui

Habib Tanvir
He had little time for the polished spic-and-span, design-heavy theatre that was being produced in the capitals of the country. Long before Jerzy Grotowski or Peter Brook came along there was Brecht, emphasizing the primacy of the actor on the stage and Habib Tanvir’s theatre was all about his actors. They were-are, rather- amazing actors. Completely at home at Raipur or Delhi or Edinburgh. They are intensely physical and mobile on stage, athletic, even acrobatic, and tremendous singers withal. Their comic timing is not easily surpassed by any group of actors in India, yet they can transform into great tragedians within minutes. They speak Chhatisgarhi which is not always understood verbatim but they will speak it with elan, regardless of which corner of the world they find themselves in.

(Extract from p. xlvii Habib Tanvir Memoirs )

Habib Tanvir began writing his memoir when he was past eighty in 2006. Despite being fluent in English, he chose to write in Urdu. He had planned a three volume memoir called Matmaili Chadariya (Dusty Sheet), but he was unable to complete it. He died in 2009. The Memoir published dwells upon his childhood in Raipur, then Central Provinces and now Chattisgarh; his trip to England to gain training in theatre (1955) and his discovery of the Brechtian style of theatre. All though prior to his departure he had already written and directed Agra Bazaar ( 1954) where he had used the locals from Okhla in the play. He returned (after having abandoned his training) to India and established Naya Theatre, and continued to be closely linked to it for more than fifty years. Now it is managed by his daughter, Nageena. He won many awards and was even nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1972. His plays were powerful, with a Chattisgarhi folk element, till then unheard of, became his signature. Also an influence of Brecht and his upbringing in Raipur.

The memoirs have now been translated into English by Mahmood Farooqui. He has also written a detailed and a fabulous introduction that details the theatre movement in India, documents the seminal influences on Habib Tanvir and his plays, the politics and of course the Chattisgarhi kind of performance. The essay that Mahmood Farooqui writes is formidable in the amount of knowledge and information it packs in about the different forms of theatre, singing, folk theatre etc. Given how dense the essay is with information, it does not seem so to be so since he wears his knowledge lightly. (Thank heavens for scholars like him!) I suspect that being one of the key performers of Dastangoi has helped polish and refine the skills that he learnt as a historian. There is something that seeps through the text of being a performer and a practitioner at the same time. Love it!

I find reading memoirs a revelatory exercise. Not necessarily about the life being unveiled or the people the author met, but its always an insight into what the person chooses to reveal. Habib Tanvir does not write about theatre / IPTA as much as you would have wanted/expected him to. His freewheeling and surprisingly chronological account of his life is charming. ( A trait not necessarily associated with women memoirists, who tend to meander.) With such ease he pulls you into his life, introduce a multitude of characters without making your head spin. Given that he began writing these memoirs at the age of 81+, it is surprising at the amount of detail he has retained. He is a good storyteller with a phenomenal memory. I have been discussing this book with my friend and noted theatre actor Sudhanva Deshpande. ( He knew Habib Tanvir well and made a short documentary on him too.) Sudhanva prefers to call the memoir a “confession”. Whereas I have been reveling in the marvelous storytelling and evoking a time in Indian history that has disappeared forever. Reading the memoirs also resounded on a personal note for me. Suddenly my mother-in-law’s penchant for breaking into song and dance, singing folk songs and rattling off in Chattisgarhi made so much sense. It was obviously part of the social fabric. She too grew up in Raipur in the 1930s and 40s. A period that is dwelt upon in detail in the book.

This is book that I would heartily recommend. Read it for the period in Indian history that is not always told in history books. Read it for the experience of reading a memoir of a noted performer. Even the act of writing this memoir, is a performance. (He makes the “characters” come alive by recalling tiny details about dress, their deportment, emotions etc.) Read it for the translation. A work of art, this is.
Habib Tanvir, IHC, 28 May 2013
Habib Tanvir – Memoirs will be released in New Delhi on May 28. At the launch (which is by invitation), Tanvir’s daughter is expected to sing some of the songs that lent her father’s theatre – Naya Theatre. It is to be followed the day after by a performance (open for all) at May Day Cafe.

Jan Natya Manch

Some links about Habib Tanvir:

A film on YouTube Gaon Ke Naon Theatre Mor Naon Habib (English) by Sanjay Maharishi / Sudhanva Deshpande. India
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4mmm846o24

Sudhanva Deshpande’s obituary for Habib Tanvir ( 3 July 2009) http://www.hindu.com/fline/fl2613/stories/20090703261310900.htm . I am also looking forward to reading his forthcoming review of the book in Caravan.

Habib Tanvir: Memoirs Translated from the Urdu with an introduction by Mahmood Farooqui. Penguin/ Viking New Delhi, 2013. Hb. pp.348 Rs. 599

“Dhanda” Shobha Bhondre

“Dhanda” Shobha Bhondre

RHI_Logo
Dhanda consists of five profiles of eminent Gujarati businessmen. Jaydev Patel, the New York Life Insurance agent credited with having sold policies worth $2.5 billion so far. Bhimjaibhai Patel, credited with establishing “Diamond Nagar” in Surat. Dalpatbhai Patel, the motelier who became a Mayor in USA. Mohanbhai Patel, a former Sheriff of Mumbai, whose account of becoming the leading manufacturer of aluminium collapsible tubes. And finally, Hersha and Hesu Shah, owners of over a hundred hotels in USA. These are profiles based on extensive interviews . Apparently the interviewer Shobha Bhondre interacts closely with her subjects, “understanding them in their social, familial, emotional, and economic settings.” It shows. When reading the profiles, you are completely immersed in the lives of the men profiled, the choices they made, the decisions they took and how it transformed their lives into successful businesses. Some of common traits they share are of hard work, perseverance, pride and constantly keeping themselves updated with the changes and developments taking place in their sector. They come across as fearless, clever and sharp about tackling competition and yet humble enough to recognise who to adopt as their mentors, even if it means they will ultimately be competitors.

The translation by Shalaka Walimbe is smooth, but is unable to completely shed the Gujarati tenor. There is a characteristic manner in which Gujaratis speak, even if it is Hindi. The sentences are short and lilting, but also rapid. This effect has been carried through in the English translation, not that it really takes away from reading the text.

A couple of proofing glitches that immediately popped up in the text. On p.102, motelier Dalpatbhai Patel refers to his wife as “Neeta”, but on p.103 she is referred to as “Nita” and later on the same page as “Neeta”. Then again on p.129, Maganbhai is referred to as “He” at least twice in a sentence, when it should be as “he”.

Nevertheless it is interesting to read profiles of five men who obviously started businesses that ultimately became synonymous with the Gujarati entrepreneurship. This book will sell steadily irrespective of the endorsements it receives. These stories are inspirational, given that many showed their ability to set up independent businesses before liberalisation of the Indian economy. Today a certain entrepreneurial spirit is taken for granted.

23 May 2013

Shobha Bhondre Dhanda: How Gujaratis do Business Translated by Shalaka Walimbe. Random House India, New Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp. Rs. 292. (Ebook also available)

An update on my column on cellphones and publishing industry, 23 May 2013

An update on my column on cellphones and publishing industry, 23 May 2013

Earlier in month, I had filed my monthly column “PubSpeak” on the rising significance of mobile phones, particularly for the world of publishing. (http://www.jayabhattacharjirose.com/jaya/2013/05/07/on-cellphones-and-publishing-for-the-future-hear-this-story/) Subsequently a few stories emerged that are worth mentioning here:

a) The strong rumour that prevailed a few days ago — Microsoft’s bid to buy Nook for 1b$ to enter the tablet business. It may have been for now squashed as a rumour, but the fact that it even took off in the first place cannot be ignored. It is the new area to contemplate growth for the company. http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeremygreenfield/2013/05/09/commentary-microsoft-to-buy-nook-what-it-could-mean/?et_mid=617062&rid=155561251 and http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2013/report-microsoft-to-make-bid-for-nook/?et_mid=617062&rid=155561251
b) Spreading literature via cellphone in Africa. http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/2013/0509/A-novel-idea-for-spreading-literature-in-Africa-The-cellphone?nav=87-frontpage-entryNineItem&et_mid=617062&rid=155561251
c) Wiley has stopped publishing business books in Canada, according to Ellen Roseman. http://www.thestar.com/business/2013/05/22/wiley_stops_publishing_canadian_business_books_roseman.html Canada’s book publishing market is shrinking. It’s facing competition from online retailers and electronic books that you can read on phones, tablets and dedicated e-readers.

And today, 23 May 2013, the Economic Times has a couple of articles pertinent to India.
a) Tablets will continue to attract higher import duty (12%) while mobiles will have the concessional rate of 6%. ( http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/policy/higher-import-duties-on-tablets-to-continue-finance-ministry/articleshow/20216216.cms )
b) An article that says “3G Widens Footprint”

Half of Indian smartphone users have migrated to 3G and their data uptake is steadily rising, says a Nokia Siemens Networks study. Here’s more on 3G usage:

How mobile 3G data use is rising
Average monthly data consumed by a 3G user is 434 MB ( Dec 2012) and 397 MB (June 2012)
Average monthly data consumed by a 2G user is 115 MB ( Dec 2012) and 95 MB (June 2012)

Rs 10 increase in data Arpu (average revenue per user) in Dec 2012 ( up from Rs 45 in June 2012)
25 Petabytes is India’s total data consumption as of Dec 2012. Of this, one-third is consumed over 3G networks. ( 1petabyte equals 1024 tetrabytes)

142% growth in active 3G connections in 2012 over 2011
42% Of total 3G data traffic is consumed by Category A circle users – higher than 35% in metros
92% rise recorded in total data traffic between Dec 2011 and Dec 2012
196% rise recorded by 3G data traffic between Dec 2011 and Dec 2012, bolstered by tariff cut in mid-2012. 2G data traffic increased by 66%

Of literary prizes – the Hindu Lit Prize, Folio Prize and Women’s Prize for Fiction

Of literary prizes – the Hindu Lit Prize, Folio Prize and Women’s Prize for Fiction

The Hindu Lit Prize 2013 announced its call for submissions a few days ago. Interestingly enough it is very clear in stating that self-published books do not qualify. This, at a time, when the Folio Prize was launched earlier this year, making it clear “The Folio Prize is open to all works of fiction written in English and published in the UK. All genres and all forms of fiction are eligible. The format of first publication may be print or digital.” It does not exclude self-published books. Hmmm. Anyway, these are two literary prizes worth watching. ( http://www.thefolioprize.com/the-prize)

And here is the link to the Women’s Prize for Fiction (earlier known as the Orange Prize) to a Google+ hangout they organised. It was a masterclass on how to get published. https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=CKANmjsX6jU

“How It Happened” Shazaf Fatima Haider

“How It Happened” Shazaf Fatima Haider


Written from the perspective of a fifteen-year-old Saleha Bandian, How It Happened is about the marriages of elder two siblings, Haroon and Zeba. It is not as simple as it sounds. This is about a conservative Shia Bandian family. The matriarch of the family, Dadi ( or paternal grandmother), is a key player in looking for suitable partners for her grandchildren. The novel has all the masala of any traditional matchmaking, the competitiveness within families to net a good match, especially for the “ripe” girls. It has the drama of the matriarch fainting at the slightest hitch, when events are not going according to her plan, she claims to be “mordren” like the younger generation but is intolerant of marriages across sects, or even a love marriage. She cannot stomach the fact that her beloved grandson wants to get married without taking any dowry.

Shazaf Fatima Haider has sharply and wittily etched the life within Pakistani families (holds true for the Indian sub-continent!), obsessed with looking for a suitable match. She has got the tension between the older and younger generation beautifully, she manages to create empathy with the characters, without really intruding into the space. I truly enjoyed the way she had got the women characters representing diverse viewpoints but how they are confidently and surely managing to strike a balance between the stifling conservative traditions that they are expected to conform to with a newer mindset. It has been a long time since I read a book that made me chuckle and giggle, at times even laugh out aloud. I loved it!

( PS A small editorial oversight. While Zeba waits in Karachi to meet prospective suitor, Gullan from Islamabad, at first it is mentioned as three weeks, but later as three months.)

Shazaf Fatima Haider How It Happened Penguin Books India, 2013. Hb. pg. 316. Rs. 399

Review of “Aziz’s Notebook” and “Violent Belongings”, HardNews, May 2013

Review of “Aziz’s Notebook” and “Violent Belongings”, HardNews, May 2013

This is a book review of two Yoda Press titles, published in HardNews magazine. The link is here:
http://www.hardnewsmedia.com/2013/05/5907

‘Write down what you saw, what you heard, what you endured’


Aziz’s Notebook was written immediately after the events described, and is extremely powerful to read. Violent Belongings is an academic attempt to “trace the political economy of memory”

Aziz’s Notebook is about the two daughters of Aziz, Fataneh and Fatameh, who were arrested for being mujahideens in the early days of the Iranian or Islamic revolution. Fataneh was pregnant and Fatameh had a three-year-old son and a six-month-old daughter, Chowra. Later, they were executed by the regime. But not before they, especially Fatameh, had been put through torture, solitary confinement in a tiny cell that was actually an abandoned bathroom, electric shocks, nails being pulled out and spine being broken. (“Her head is still filled with Rajavi’s — the leader of the Mojahedin-e-Khalq organization — ideas and she is not willing to collaborate with us. She will remain in prison until she rots.”) This slim diary-cum-memoir by Aziz, from 1981 to 1988, when his daughters were taken away by the new regime and ultimately put to death, was written for his grandchildren, though they would accompany the elders every week to visit their mother in prison. The immediate reason for their arrests was that Fataneh and Fatameh had stood for election as candidates for the Mojahedin-e-Khalq in the towns of Gachsran and Shiraz. These were the first legislative elections held under the Islamic Republic. In the book, Aziz attempts to record his memories and observations. He is an “old man of seventy, with trembling hands, bloodshot eyes, a broken heart and a life that was swept by the wind, the pernicious effect of this revolution,” but it is his “inner voice” that shouts: “Write down what you saw, what you heard and what you endured.”

Many years later, when the grandchildren had fled to France, to be with their father, a “political refugee”, they would watch and help their father build a “museum” to their mama in their flat. An empty wardrobe — “the same size as a coffin and looked like one too”— with Persian calligraphy engraved in red on its door which meant “Nothing”. Inside, the transparent shelves were slowly stocked with all the possessions of Fatameh that could be retrieved from her Iranian home and prison. But their father found it very difficult to answer his children’s questions about what exactly happened to their mother. Many of the answers lie in their grandfather’s continuous text.
The structure of Aziz’s Notebook is in three sections. The first is a translation of Aziz’s real notebook, the second is Chowra’s account of discovering her grandfather’s diary and the painful journey she embarked upon in trying to access what he had written, and finally, there is a selection of correspondence between the family members (1978-1992). It is interesting to compare the tenor of each section.

Aziz’s writing is focused, taut with details, dates and journeys, trying to recreate the horrific period as correctly as possible for his family. It must have been excruciatingly painful for him to write it but he seems to be determined. Whereas, when Chowra begins to write, she opens her narrative with an account of her brother’s and her flight from Teheran to join their father in France. It is composed and flows chronologically. Then it begins to waver and meander as she recalls incidents that link it to what she is writing. At times, this style becomes confusing to follow but is quite understandable (and not at all unusual), given how, as a woman, she is trying to piece together a part of her history, more importantly, derive an image of a mother whom she never really knew, save for some hazy memories of a woman sitting behind a glass partition in prison trying to hold the telephone with both hands to speak to her visitors. Chowra solicits friend Sarah’s help to translate her grandfather’s Persian manuscript but the project is quickly abandoned: “Sarah discovered the reality of a buried history: her country, her society, her history.” Experiencing extreme violence first-hand and living in a state of constant terror is not an enviable position to be in, as in the case of Aziz, but to write about it requires stupendous perseverance and mental strength. Yet, as Chowra discovers, the memories are permanent for the survivor.

Violent Belongings (first published in 2008) is focused on the relation of violence and culture in the modern world, particularly on how Partition had a resounding effect on history for a long time after 1947. Its most obvious impact seems to be on the way the Indian subcontinental diaspora redefined and realigned its identities in a post-colonial world. Speaking from her experience and engagement with the Indian diaspora, Kavita Dahiya discovers how the events of Partition continue to resonate in contemporary life and communities are “collectively created and contested through various media, in postcolonial India and ethnic America”.

According to her, these discourses continue to reside deeply in the consciousness of these societies, albeit through their existence in literature, films and other modes of cultural expression. Research on international migration reveals that currently 190 million people reside in a country where they were not born, while there are 24.5 million internally displaced people in the world, making one in 35 humans in the world a migrant. Hence, it is not surprising that generations of writers, filmmakers, cinematographers, historians, feminists and academic discourses are preoccupied with how the “scene of violence that becomes ordinary during Partition and refashions everyday life” has left an indelible impact in literature, cinema, memoirs and verbal accounts. Apart from English, much of this material is to be found in accounts recorded in Hindi, Urdu, Bengali and Punjabi.

Reading two books in quick succession dealing with an extremely violent chapter in a nation’s history is a disturbing exercise. But, they are differentiated in treatment. Aziz’s Notebook was written immediately after the events described, and is extremely powerful to read. Violent Belongings is an academic attempt to “trace the political economy of memory” and to understand the senseless losses of those who have endured, inhabited and survived ethnic violence and displacement, both in contemporary South Asia and in the Indian subcontinent of 1947. It goes over much familiar ground covered in many published discourses on Partition. It will remain a useful handbook for its analysis of literature and media linked to Partition.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, Delhi, 13 May 2013

Chowra Makaremi Aziz’s Notebook: At the heart of the Iranian Revolution Translator, Renuka George Yoda Press. Pg 150. pp. Rs. 250. Publ. 2013.

Kavita Dahiya Violent Belongings: Partition, Gender, and National Culture in Postcolonial India Yoda Press, Delhi, 2013. Pp. Pg.250. Rs. 450

Imran Khan: Memoir ( Jan 2012, BusinessWorld online)

Imran Khan: Memoir ( Jan 2012, BusinessWorld online)


This review was published on 20 Jan 2012 in BusinessWorld online. The original link is: http://www.businessworld.in/en/storypage/-/bw/on-a-very-sticky-wicket/379203.0/page/0

As Pakistan is all set to face yet another political tempest, reading the memoirs of one of the key players in the drama — cricketing legend Imran Khan — is worth the effort. In Pakistan: A Personal History, Khan reflects upon the watershed moments in his life. The memoir addresses Pakistani youth — befuddled by existential questions pertaining to their state and their identity — and issues concerning the war on terror — when and how will it end? Are there any solutions? And this memoir is just that. Khan barely dwells upon the magnificent career he had as a sportsman, except to have an account of the memorable and miraculous 1992 World Cup Victory in Australia. He does mention his nine-year-old marriage to Jemima Goldsmith, the birth of his sons and the slander campaign that was instituted against his wife for being a Jew, insinuating that this marriage was the first step in the establishment of a Zionist state in Pakistan. But details of his personal life, except for those relevant to his political career including his growing identity as a Muslim, are relegated to the background. He does not spend too much time discussing Indo-Pak relations either, but he is clear that political dialogue can settle disputes.

For a man who belongs to the elite in Pakistan, with a Western upbringing, educated at Aitchison College, the English-medium public school in Lahore, followed by the Royal Grammar School in Worcester and Keble College, Oxford, and later a successful and legendary cricketer, to enter politics was a major turning point in his life. He established his party, Tehreek-e-Insaaf, nearly fifteen years ago. He decided to set up the Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital and Research Centre, Lahore to provide free care to the very poor. It required seed money of $ 22 million, apart from other funds to sustain it. During the long process of fund raising, the man who was considered powerful and invincible had to face funding fatigue, and learn humility, when the poorest of the poor, came forward and donated small sums of money.

Imran Khan also dwells upon Pakistan’s damaging relationship with US, especially the aid that it is given. “The greatest danger that we face today is if we keep pursuing the current strategy of taking aid from the US and bombing our own people, we could be pushing our army towards rebellion.” He is quite appalled by the impact that this financial lifeline has had on Pakistan. For him, post 9/11, Pakistan is “a country that has fought the US’s war for the last eight years when we had nothing to do with 9/11. Pakistan has over 34,000 people dead (including 6,000 soldiers), has lost over $68 billion (while the total aid coming into the country amounted to $20 billion) and has over half a million people from our tribal areas internally displaced, and with 50 per cent facing unprecedented poverty (while 140,000 Pakistani soldiers were deployed all along our border).” For him a turning point in the political history of Pakistan was 2 May 2011, the killing of Osama bin Laden by the Americans in Abbotabad, a mere 50 kilometres away from Islamabad, and a mile from Pakistan’s Military Academy.

He does not spend too much time discussing Indo-Pak relations, but he is very clear that the Pakistani “foreign policy has to be sovereign and needs to be reviewed with all our neighbours – especially India. All our disputes with India should be settled through political dialogue, and the activities of the intelligence agencies — of both countries — must be curtailed.” In fact, the book was recalled within a week of its release in London as the Partition-time map shows ‘Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir’ shaded in the same colour as that of Pakistan. According to the press release that was issued by the publishers, “the mistake was made by the publishers as the map included in the book was not the one provided to them by Mr Khan”.

Pakistan: A Personal History is a memoir that reads like an election manifesto. It concludes with these lines, where Imran Khan is very sure about his political future. “Fifteen years after forming the party, I feel that my party and I are not only ready, but that mine is the only party that can get Pakistan out of its current desperate crisis. After fourteen years of the most difficult struggle in my life, my party is finally taking off, spreading like wildfire across the country, so that today it is the first choice of 70 per cent of Pakistanis under the age of thirty. … For the first time, I feel Tehree-e-Insaaf is the idea whose time has come.” It is not surprising that this book has been published in 2011, on the eve of elections that are being planned in Pakistan.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 30-01-2012)