Jaya Posts

“Knotted Grief” by Naveen Kishore

unannounced visitor
I dropped by into my dream
careful not to awaken the buried whispers
I lit a candle by their grave
startling the slumbering shadows into a frenzy of activity
bats taking wing flying blindly into one another
this in turn caused the whispers to awaken
look me in the eye
and begin to do what they did best

bear witness

Legendary publisher Naveen Kishore, founder, Seagull Books, has published his debut collection of poetry called Knotted Grief. It has been published by Speaking Tiger Books. He is the recipient of the Goethe Medal, a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and was awarded the 2021 Ottaway Award for the Promotion of International Literature. Those who are fortunate to communicate with him directly and regularly, have been aware of his talents as a poet for a very long time. His emails are interspered with poetry or at times are only written in verse. The manner in which he responds to situations, events, moments, emotions are well described in his poems but also the way in which he arranges the words on the page. The visual element is as important as the content, ideas and emotions. For years, I have asked Naveen Kishore to get his poems published. I have always found the poems fantastic. It is a gift to be able to compose poems easily focussing upon the reader, so it always seem as if the poems are special. So I was delighted when the publication of Knotted Grief was announced by Speaking Tiger Books.

In Knotted Grief, the collection of poems are categorised according to “Coda”, “Kashmiriyat”, “Street Full of Widows”, “Selected Griefs”, “Tilted Sky”, “Under the Skin” and “Birdcall”. The poems are of varying lengths, from a cluster of words to verses scattered on the page. The sparse arrangement on the page ensures that the reader is absorbed by the few words on the page.

Upon reading the volume, I posed a few questions to Naveen Kishore. Here is the slightly edited version of the Q&A.

  1. How did this collection happen?
    The collection happened by accident when my publisher friend Xavier Hennekinne of Gazebo ‘discovered’ that I write poetry by finding some of my poems in online poetry journals. he asked my if I had a book and I said no I have many folders with poems I have been writing for the last ten years! The reason fr not having a manuscript was simple enough. I was so busy writing I couldn’t stop, take stock, and put one together. This was solved by my friend and translator Tess Lewis who offered to select a first draft so that publishers could read it like a book! I went on to share this with Xavier at Gazebo and he in turn shared it with his poetry editor Phil Day, who is himself a poet and a painter. Phil then requested I send hi the four hundred odd poems I had set aside while selecting this collection and immersed himself in these for a few months and came up with Knotted Grief as you read it now!! Gazebo will publish on April 1st. The Speaking Tiger edition happened when I shared the Australian page set version except that Ravi selected more poems because he wanted an additional thirty pages. There is no collaboration between Seagull and Speaking Tiger! I offered my manuscript as any first time author to a publisher I admire. Seagull has nothing to do with it except do what we always do spread the word for friends in publishing!
  2. Did you compose poetry specifically for this volume or did you select from previous compositions?
    No. I have been writing on the human condition for many years. Kashmir is one theme but it could easily be Palestine. There is no recent or previous. You write every day. Like music. It is all a continuous riyaz.
  3. Why did you focus upon grief? Is it one of the offshoots of the pandemic?
    I didnt. Choose grief. It is usually the other way round. Grief does the choosing, if I may put it like that. You are visited upon by loss of friends close ones in an ever widening or lessening circle of affection. People close to you die. Go away. So you embrace their memory. Similarly at a political, national versus personal level their is grief that springs from what we as people do to each other. Again the ‘human condition’, ‘Kashmir’ ,’Palestine’ Interchangeable grieving. The poems and yes grieving is never without hope.
  4. You have always written fabulous poetry. Why did you choose to publish your poetry now and not earlier?
    I cannot as a publisher publish my own books! So one waited for someone to ‘discover’ my poems. Takes time! Besides to me the act of writing is more vital.
  5. How many translations is this poetry being published in? Who are the publishers? Are you supervising the translations or are you letting the poems speak for themselves?
    So far Rajkamal Prakashan Samuh very generously offered to do the Hindi; Ravi Dee Cee of DC books is doing the Malayalam; Papyrus is doing the Marathi; Unistar in the Punjabi; Chintan in Bengali; I am reaching out in Tamil, Kannada and Assamese too. Let see. Not really supervising but making myself available for translators should they wish to talk about things. Complete freedom to take liberties as long as the essence of the ‘target’ language is hospitable to what I may be attempting in English. So yes the poems have to touch the translators.
  6. As far as I know, the arrangement of the words on the page are as critically important as the poem itself. How will you manage this quality control in the translated texts especially if you are unfamiliar with the destination language?
     I am flexible. It will boil down to the combination of the translator and editor in the language edition to do the best they feel they can to convey render share the original thought in their own languages. This means they have the freedom to lay out the poems the way they wish.
  7. You are a publisher known for publishing extensive translations. Are there any guidelines/sensibilities that you have honed as a publisher over the years that you would ensure are followed in translating your poetry as well?
    None. I leave it to the publisher, editor, and translators who become the first sensitive readers in that language. Having said that I may be able to help fine hone the languages I know, Punjabi, Hindi, Bengali.
  8. Would you change the collections ever so slightly in every language or will the same edition be made available in all editions?
    I think mostly the Indian edition is being followed. I would more or less treat that as the one I would want translated. But open to the variant should it happen organically or for reasons that are yet to come up.

I truly liked Knotted Grief. Perhaps you will too. Buy it. Read it.

8 Feb 2022

“The Book: A Cover–to–Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time” by Keith Houston

Books like The Book by Keith Houton will never go out of fashion. It is an informative history about the book. It is very American in its perspective especially when it comes to the history of printing presses and mass prodcution of books/newspapers. The Book needs to be read in conjunction with other histories of the book, printing, publishing and creation of readers/markets especially in the nineteenth century. A fabulous account of mass production of literature and its impact on the reading public during the Victorian Age is by the historian Eric Hobsbawm. Also, William St. Clair on the reading nation during the Romantic Period. To get a lucid account of the book in the sub-continent it is worth reading The Book in India by B S Kesavan ( NBT India) . Similarly, there may be other specific book histories in different nations/regions. It may be worth putting together a list.

Neverthless, The Book by Keith Houston is a fundamental text for the simple, fascinating and information-packed narrative. Excellent stuff!

7 feb 2022

Brian Selznick’s “Kaleidoscope”

Many people didn’t understand what it was, and many thought that you had taken your sadness and loss and made something beautiful out of it. You met artists, scientists, and dreamers, and you engaged in long conevrsations and exchanged fascinating letters with authors and philosophers for years afterward. In a way, I believe it saved your life . . . and if you want to know a secret, that’s why I gave you the dream in the first place.

….

We had only a tiny fraction of everything he wrote in our possession, but the fragments included references to Greek myths, the origins of the universe, children’s fantasy novels, the quests of King Arthur’s knights, the creation of the periodic table, a man who found the entrance to a buried city behind a wall in his house, spaceships, ancient Egypt, mysterious castles, the invention of the kaleidoscope, and the knitted blankets of his childhood bed.

“Didn’t you have something you wanted to tell me?”
“Yes, I’ve been trying all night to tell you,” said the bat. “But you wouldn’t stop fighting me. It was very annoying. And now I have to go.”
A sudden, strange kind of shame came over me. “I;m sorry,” I said. “What were you trying to tell me?”
The little creature stretched his spiky wings. His eyes sparkled. “I’ve been trying to tell you I
love you,” he said, and with a little leap he vanished into the purple Connecticut sky.

In bed as I close my eyes, I wonder if the beginning of time and the end of time are the same thing, and the distance between seconds is really as long as the distance between stars. Maybe this is what it’s like to be inside the mind of God. The past and the future mean nothing, and the time is always now.

Brian Selznick’s latest book, Kaleidoscope, is an extraordinary feat of storytelling (Scholastic). The author calls it a mysteyr that takes place in the space of a day but seems to be spread over two thousand years. It is about two individuals connected to each other across time and space — the narrator and his friend James. Yet, the micro-stories in the volume use a bunch of personal pronouns that can easily replace the characters with the reader/s. The stories shimmer. There are stories about a shipwreck, journeys, libraries, writers, butterflies, artists, magical creatures, angels, guardians, giants, etc. These are magical stories that can possibly be read in any sequence without disrupting the sheer pleasure of the vast imaginative landscape. The New York Times refers to it as a ‘lockdown masterpiece‘ ( 17 Sept 2021). Rightly so. The book provides oodles of hope, joy, and love for the future; it also builds upon a post-Edenic creation of society by its play on the apple — a real fruit and a metaphor. Much like what many are experiencing about a post-pandemic world, life before the covid crisis seemed idyllic, like paradise, and it has been completely disrupted. The collection of stories are a mix of traditions, references, and with it a lot of originality. It is ultimately in the hands of the reader to decide how to approach these stories and tease out the beauty and aestheticism enshrined in them, much like the ordinary pieces of coloured glass in a kaleidoscope become a burst of beautiful, intricate patterns dependant on how the person holding the instrument chooses to move it. As with the stories, life too is about a series of choices and it is upto the individual to make the best of one’s circumstances — to be worried and anxious about the pandemic or live life with joy each day. It is about free will. Accompanying the stories are the gorgeous illustrations in graphite by Brian Selznick. Flipping through the images, they have a parallel story to tell but can also illuminate the text very well too. Every story has a full page illustration but tipped in between the stories are double-page spreads of kaleidoscope patterns.

Kaleidoscope is a stupendous book that is meant not only for teenagers but for everyone. It should be marketed in such a manner. It can easily straddle the genres of fiction, children’s literature, young adult literature and mind, body, spirit books. It is about taking a journey and understanding one’s own free will. It provides hope, succour, companionship and a sense of belonging, especially during the pandemic, when everyone is feeling so adrift and lost.

Kaleidoscope is a masterpiece. Buy it. Treasure it. Gift it.

6 Feb 2022

“Ganga’s Choice and Other Stories” by Vaasanthi

Tamil writer and journalist Vaasanthi’s collection of short stories Ganga’s Choice and Other Stories is mixed bag ( Niyogi Books). While the title indicates that the stories are in all likelihood womencentric, but it is not so. The stories are by a woman writer with a very strong sense of empathy for her characters, human rights and justice. The title story is bold even though it should not be— the protagonist asserts her right to be single, not forced into marriage or hand over the title deed to her one-room tenement to a prospective suitor. In womens movements, this idea of choice is a strong option and depending on how it is exercised, is viewed either favourably or not by feminists. In this story, feminists will approve of Ganga opting to live life on her own terms. If she had made the choice to capitulate to marriage and patriarchal notions of the man usurping her property, then it would not have been viewed kindly. But it is precisely these scenarios that make the concept of choice in the third wave of feminism problematic for many. The free will of the individual/woman is barely taken into consideration unless the woman chooses for the “right” way. Be that as it may, “Ganga’s choice” is predictable but it is necessary for such stories to be repeated over and over again as they are empowering for the readers. It offers a way of existence.

The other stories in the volume are more varied. “The Testimony” is a disturbing short story about a young woman seeking justice from the courts regarding the lynching of fourteen members of her family but having to retract her testimony at the last minute. She does it to save the lives of her mother and younger brother after receiving death threats. Also, after realising that the perpetrators have bought over the entire machinery of law enforcement officers, witnesses and legal entities. A single woman is helpless in such a situation. Two other stories that stand out are “He Came” and “The Line of Control” that have a strong journalistic flavour. In the tradition of best reportage, real events are repeated in the form of a story. “He Came” is most definitely based on a true event that took place at the beginning of the pandemic when two migrant workers, a Muslim and Hindu, best friends from childhood began the trek home. On the way, the Muslim got Covid and was very sick, but his friend looked after him. The patient had to be hospitalised and his friend stayed with him. Unfortunately, he died. Vaasanthi’s moving short story is more or less similar to this real story although she never acknowledges it being based on the incident. I remember the story from the beginning of the pandemic. It stood out. “The Line of Control” is about a young Muslim boy, Akbar, rescued by his Sikh neighbour, Jagat Singh, who had lost his family in cross-border firing, but never nursed anger for the other. Even though his “friends” like Somnath “parroted” what they had been told regarding the “enemy” —

“No matter who the perpetrator of the crime , that fellow is your enemy.”

“He is your enemy; His religion is your enemy.”

Enshrining real incidents such as these in short stories are a fine example of our Indianess, our secular fabric, our gender equality as enshrined in our Constitution by granting universal franchise. If the goal is that narratives will never be forgotten despite external factors trying to create a divisive society, then these stories are effective.

While the stories are a repository of our society in flux and an attempt to capture details, the book itself is a textbook case study of publishing translations. There are three translators involved in this project— Sukanya Venkataraman, Gomathi Narayanan and Vaasanthi. Yet, none of them are mentioned as translators on the book cover or title page. Nor does the copyright page mention Venkataraman or Narayanan. The copyright for text and translation rests with Vaasanthi. The relevant translator is acknowledged at the end of every story and Vaasanthi also graciously mentions them on the last page. But this lack of clarity about the relationship between author and translators is unacceptable. If the translations had been commissioned then it should be clearly mentioned. This is probably the case since the translators seem to have relinquished their rights as evident in the copyright page. Even if the translators did not sign a publishing contract for this book, in the interests of good publishing practice, they should have been mentioned on the book cover. This is one of the fundamental demands of translators worldwide to be given due recognition in the destination language. This is not a difficult request to accede to. Apart from which it accords everyone in the editorial team equal respect. It is worth considering.

Read Ganga’s Choice and Other Stories . It is obvious that many of these stories are going to find their way into supplementary readers for schools and colleges. Decide for yourself.

5 Feb 2022

“The Lost Daughter” by Elena Ferrante

The Lost Daughter by Italian writer Elena Ferrante is about forty-eight-year-old Leda, an English Literature teacher, who is on holiday in southern Italy. ( It has been translated by Ann Goldstein and published by Europa Editions.) While at the beach, she meets a Neopolitan family that eerily reminds her of her own childhood. Large group, multi-generational, raucous, talking nonstop, and unforgettable. They exist. They manage to be noticed. A couple of the women, Nina and Rosaria, befriend Leda. The novella revolves around the disappearance of Nina’s daughter Elena’s doll and the unusually large proportions it assumes in the story — for propelling the plot forward and the significance it assumes for Leda. The doll vanishes at the same time as Elena had also disappeared from the beach and a manhunt had been organised for her. Fortunately, Leda spotted the child crying by herself, in the midst of a crowd where no one seemed to be perturbed by the little girl’s anxiety. She returns the little girl to her relieved mother.

The Lost Daughter as a title is a true reflection of the story’s contents. At the same time, it becomes a metaphor at multiple levels for the daughters that Leda left with their father, her complicated relationship with her own mother, the doll that Elena would look after as if she were her own child, and of course as a figure of speech for the many, many women who are left stranded, lonely, without anyone caring for them and scrubbing the women of all identity — making them just one more nameless person in a crowd, part of one’s background.

What had I done that was so terrible, in the end. Years earlier, I had been a girl who felt lost, this was true. All the hopes of youth seemed to have been destroyed, I seemed to be falling backward towards my mother, my grandmother, the chain of mute or angry women I came from. Missed opportunities….I was frustrated.
….
This is particularly true for many women when they enter motherhood and are expected to be the good, fulfilling mother from the moment the “creature” inside them begins to develop. It is a “shattering” experience that leaves the women in “turmoil”. It is an exhausting process that leaves the mother/individual little time for herself as she has to fend for the babies.

I hadn’t been able to open a book for months; I was exhausted and angry; there was never enough money, I barely slept.

Physical tiredness is a magnifying glass….Love requires energy, I had none left.

The incidents in the story become a trigger for Leda to reflect upon her past, her relationships especially those with her daughters and years later, trying to fathom why she left them at the ages of four and six years old. She abandoned Bianca and Marta and had nothing to do with them for three years. She had been persuaded by her professor to attend an international conference in London on E.M.Forster. There, amongst her peers, she realised she was being recognised as an upcoming young scholar whose works were already being cited by other specialists.

I was overwhelmed by myself. I, I, I: I am this, I can do this, I must do this.
Sometimes you have to escape in order not to die.


Reading, writing have always been my way of soothing myself.

“I loved them too much and it seemed to me that love for them would keep me from becoming myself.”…
“And how did you feel without them?”
“Good. It was as if my whole life had crumbled, and the pieces were falling freely in all directions with a sense of contentment.”
“You didn’t feel sad?”
“No, I was too taken up by own life. But I had a weight right here, as if I had a stomachache. And my heart skipped a beat whenever I heard a child call Mama.”


Then Leda returned to her family for a few years.
..I realized that I wasn’t capable of creating anything of my own that could truly equal them.

“So you returned for love of your daughters.”
“No, I returned for the same reason I left: for love of myself.”


At the moment, this book, has got a new lease of life as it has been adapted to the screen and is available on Netflix. It has Oscar-winner Olivia Coleman playing the lead role. The film is actress Maggie Gyllenhal’s debut as a film director and she has already won awards for it. The film adaptation is true to the book in representing many of the incidents, otherwise it takes many liberties. For instance, the family on the beach in the film are not Neopolitan as is stressed in the book and is the fundamental reason for triggering many memories for Leda. Even Olivia Coleman comes across as a much older woman than the forty-eight-year-old character in the book. The maturity levels of the two women — the character in the book and that played on screen — impact the storytelling. But there is no doubt that the film is a brilliant artistic interpretation by very strong, thinking, women professionals on how these characters need to be played. No more. Reading the book and watching the film are two very independent acts and witnessing of two very distinct creative performances, two works of art.

Many of the reviews of the film are applauding it and very rightly so. But by not including the book in their articles, critics are doing a disservice to the book and to women’s literature. It is stories like The Lost Daughter that make the ideas and principles of various women’s movements accessible to the ordinary reader. Leda is a possible role model by articulating clearly the reasons for her choices. The complexity of these decisions is evident in the last few lines of the story when Leda’s daughters, now based in Toronto with their father, call their mother, shouting gaily into her ear:

“Mama, what are you doing, why haven’t you called? Won’t you at least let us know if you’re alive or dead?”
Deeply moved, I murmured:
“I’m dead, but I’m fine.”

Read The Lost Daughter.

6 Feb 2022

“The Tombstone in my Garden” by Temsula Ao

This is the story of a lily that refused to bloom one season because she was dislodged from her accustomed position in the garden bed and crammed into an ornate pot so that she could be entered in a forthcoming flower show. For this rare beauty, it was an act of violation of her natural rights because she believed that she belonged on the earth, untrammelled by the confines of a pot, not matter how beautiful or ornate it was. She was sad and angry at first because she could not understand why she had been treated so. Every seasons she gave of her best; her blooms were radiant, long-lasting and even mysterious with her unusual colour-combination. She also missed her companions in the garden bed from whom she had been so forcefully separated. She felt she was condemned to a prison, away from the freedom of the open spaces around her. What she did not know at that time was the fact that ever since her mistress realized how rare a beauty this unusual flower was, she became obsesessed with the idea of winning the first prize in the annual flower show organized by the Ladies Flower Club and has thus callously ordered this exquisite beauty’s dislocation from her natural habitat.

inside the dilapidated shed, Snow-Green stood proud and happy in her pot for the first time in years, with her last=breath efflorescence. There were dewey sparkles like tears on the petals in this ultimate show of splendour as though a misty-eyed little girl, holding her breath in protest, had relented and was at least breathing easy and smiling. In paying this final tribute to a friend and mentor, the resurgent beauty was honouring the sacred pledge she had given him. And a benign peace seemed to emanate from her to envelop all around her.

Award-winning writer, Temsula Ao’s The Tombstone in my Garden: Stories from Nagaland is a collection of five stories ( Speaking Tiger Books). Each very different from the other. Unexpectedly so. Many short stories collections tend to blend into one another in terms of authorial style but in this case it is not so. Ranging from the rise in communal violence in the north eastern parts of India to stories that have a very strong folklore element to them, the stories are astonishingly mesmerising. In all the years that I have known Temsula and have been reading her stories, she never ceases to surprise the reader with her vast repertoire of storytelling skills. Her most extraordinary gift is being able to tell the story in the mode that befits it best rather than adhering to a rigid storytelling structure. So if “The Saga of a Cloth” requires a gentle pace intermingled with narrator’s voice or “Snow-Green” has a very distinctive folk lore and modern setting or “The Platform” that is a mix of reportage and journalistic storytelling or the title story being the interior monologue of a woman, Temsula Ao offers it all to the reader. She does not seem to hesitate in mixing forms to suit the content as long as it has the desired effect upon the reader. In this case, the variety of styles work.

The Tombstone in my Garden is a gorgeous read. Buy it.

4 Feb 2022

“The Age of AI and our Human Future” by Henry Kissenger, Eric Schmidt and Daniel Huttenlocher

Anything and everything about AI ( Artificial Intelligence) interests me. I read about it. I watch films about it. I am curious about its applications. So, when Henry Kissinger, the former US Secretary of State and a security specialist, co-authors a book on AI with Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman and technical advisor, Google, and Daniel Huttenlocher, inaugural Dean of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, I expected a cracker of a book. Alas, The Age of AI and our Human Future was not as cutting edge and futuristic as I had expected it to be. It turned out to be a primer on AI, elaborating upon its history and current debates about it. But there was little insight. I wonder why. Or is it that this book is meant to target the lay person who is curious about AI and would like get a snapshot of the terrain. If that is the case, then it works. Otherwise, for readers like me, who are constantly reading about AI, this was a basic read.

Be that as it may, it will be an essential part of institutional libraries, since the three authors are leaders of their fields and collective knowledge shared in this manner may prove to be useful in the future. It is a way of seeing. A direction.

3 Feb 2022

“Sin” by Wajida Tabassum, translated from the Urdu by Reema Abbasi

This is a Muslim Syed girl from a family where liberties for women were thought odious. My father forbade us to attend school and purdah was our bounden duty. My parents passed away when I was three years old and a paternal uncle persuaded our grandmother to educate us. She relented, keeping a lidless eye on each of us.

My third sister was bright and obstinate, with great love for books. She listened intently to every story, which slowly became an obsession. At only three, she forced Nani to enroll her in a school. As time went by, she read, and with her passion came to a gradual swell.

Several magazines — Shamaa, Jamalistaan, Ariyavarat, Kaamyaab and more — could be found in our house. I leafed through them, attentive OR clutching on to every word. The groceries were wrapped in pages torn out of magazines and I read every line on them. They were more exciting than journals. I took them into obscure corners to scan through the incomplete stories. It felt like all the knowledge in the world was mine.

I have a Master of Arts degree and the impulse to know every word ever written soars as despeerately as it did when I was a girl in the fifth standard. However, my passion was tied to our situation. To us, money was a lofty reverie, like a gulp of the sun. The desire to go to markets, exploer bookshops and buy literature caved before our meagre means.

….

I could not buy a book. When I asked for one, she refused and said that such books were unsuitable for girls from aristocratic families. Nani had vowed to keep us away from them … .

Books were my source of light and warmth.

… A book was always with me. My novels snug in school books, I basked in their language and immersive imagery through the exams too. …

books became my refuge and my friends. In school, my performance was seen as exemplary and pleased teached accepted my many requests for books from the library. These became the happiest days of my life. I would go through a book in two hours and would immediately pick up another one.

….In Hyderabad, the rules of our library were rigid and the shrunked stock of books hit me the hardest. Once a week, a girl could get one book at a time. ….
One morning, I was humming in class and a girl at the opposite desk said, “Wajida, please sing a little louder.”
My were were fixed on Munshi Premchand’s Godaan in her hand.
“On one condition,” I replied.
“What?”

“I will sing for you if you lend me your book,” I negotiated.

She agreed. I sang.

The next moment, her book was in my hands. Soon after, books flowed to me. I sang to get them and girls from other classes began making similar deals with me — books for songs. I was relentless. The world spread out in an immense space, crowded with writers and varied themes. The ones I read in my harsh circumstances brought smiles and pride. However, as I write these lines, I am sad to think that this, like a sip of air, was a trivial scale.

Wajida Tabassum’s ( 16 March 1935 – 7 December 2011) was an Urdu writer. She was known for her “audacious and semi-erotic stories and her formidable power of storytelling”. She was born into an aristocratic family but her parents lost their wealth and died very young too. By the time she was three, Wajida Tabassum was an orphan. Her maternal grandmother, Nani, brought up the eight children. These were tough times and they were poor. Wajida Tabassum was a voracious reader with a flair for writing and she put it to good use by contributing short stories to magazines. Soon, she was being spoken of and as she mentions in her autobiographical essay, “Meri Kahaani” ( My Story), that soon the very same relatives who had earlier shunned them, were now readily acknowledging her.

Sin is a collection of nineteen short stories translated by Reema Abbasi ( Hachette India). It also marks the first time that Wajida Tabassum’s stories are being translated into English. According to the translator, the four sections in thevolume deal with “dark, debauched and tragic aspects of life and are structured on the theme of the ‘deadly sins’, namely, lust, pride, greed and envy. The stories are translated competently though at times certain Urdu words could do with a little more explanation through the context. Unfortunately, I did not maintain a list while reading but kept wondering about the meaning of the words. Having said that, the stories are well translated. Structurally to place “My Story” in the middle of the book is a very good idea as it provides a break from the stories. In many ways, the stories seem bold by contemporary standards of writing as well. But clubbing so many together seems to diminish their oomph factor. Perhaps, if they had been arranged chronologically, according to the date of publication, then the growth of the writer would also have been evident. For now, the stories are enjoyable but in small doses.

Once the stories are read, then Wajida Tabassum’s rant about be open to stories rather than being led by the nose becomes obvious in paragraphs such as this about endorsements. She is so clear about her views.

In our literature, forewords have become customary. I feel they lean our readers in a certain direction, which is worrying. Why do we need a renowned name to endorse our work to the extent that critique is printed onthe dust cover? I have many letters from celebrated writers, who applaud my work. Many of them are dear to me. They would compose a preface in an instant. But I disagree with the idea. The foreword to me is a diversion for the reader’s mind and a tool of cheap publicity. When someone wants to move ahead, they should walk without a crutch. Even if they means taking an uneasy road to the last stop.

This kind of sharp clarity is required in more and more writers of today. Perhaps the resurrection of a powerful women writer such as Wajida Tabassum in English will ensure that not only is she read far and wide but she inspires and influences new generations of writers to share their opinions in an equally forthright manner.

Sin is definitely a collection of short stories worth recommending.

2 Feb 2022

Manon Uphoff’s “Falling is like Flying”

Manon Uphoff’s Falling is like Flying is her first book translated from Dutch into English and published by Pushkin Press. The translator is Sam Garrett. This book of hers is autobiographical to the extent that she documents her childhood, the trauma she and her other twelve siblings faced with the Minotaur ( her father), her resilience and the magnificent ending in a gathering of the sisters ( “the witches’ sabbath”) reminiscing before they returned to their respective homes:

“Then it’s home again, home again astride the broom-mobile where we put on our disguises of writer, artist, housewife, single parent, senior citizen of independent means.”

It is a powerful account of a violent and abusive home. Uphoff began recalling details on the day her eldest sister died. It was an upwelling of painful memories that could not be suppressed any more. Her story had to be told.

“Excuse me for going on about myself for so long. I feel as though I need to tell you what I was and what I wanted to be, before descending step by step to the first place I ever lived. Of which I was reminded in those cheerless days when the beat of an old, familiar drum grew louder and louder.

Yes, turmoil, and alarum. . . . and then ignition.”

In the book, the most horrific incidents are never explicitly described but there are references made to them. Also, Uphoff relies extensively on literary references, including in the naming of some of her siblings, almost as if she is distancing herself to a few degrees from her memories. It may be a literary device that she uses to her advantage in telling her story but this act of the narrator distancing themselves at the precise moment of recounting a traumatic incident is a defense mechanism found often in survivor’s testimonies. They usually speak on the third person but Uphoff chooses to speak via a range of literary frameworks. Even so, the power of the storytelling or the incidents she narrates are not diminished. Parts of the book are vile and nauseating to read. At times, I had to put the book down as it was becoming difficult to read and I would discover that I was holding my breath. So much violence perpetrated constantly within the “safe” confines of a family home are despicable. Even offering the rationale at the beginning of the book that Uphoff’s father had been born in 1914 and grew to adulthood during the two world wars, is insufficient reason for the abuse he perpetrated upon his young family. The only time Manon Uphoff confronted her mother about the truth regarding the Minotaur especially since she had been plagued by terrifying nightmares; her mother’s response was to collapse on tears and never again was the topic ever broached.

Uphoff asks the reader helplessly,

“So tell me. What’s a girl got to do?”

In Uphoff’s case, she writes. She wrote this book. There is so much to unpack in “Falling is Like Flying”. A memoir. A devastating story about child abuse. Patriarchy at its worst on display. A dysfunctional family where some of the children went on to replicate some of it in their lives as well. The fact that Uphoff has the insight and literary knowhow to tell an extremely personal and difficult story makes this book an absorbing read. The triumphant ending where she upturns many of the preconceived notions about women using terminology such as witches that are usually hurled as slurs by society ( and was often used to describe her eldest sister), Uphoff reclaims for herself and her sisters a space and identity. The siblings speak frankly about the abuse they faced and agree to gather every year for a meal on their father’s death anniversary. It is a very liberating act to break these shackles. Life will never repair the physical and mental trauma that this family has to live with, but they can certainly begin to heal.

This is an unforgettable book. Slim. Excruciatingly painful to read in parts.

Read it you must.

17 Oct 2022

“The Paris Bookseller” by Kerri Maher

22 Feb 2022 marks the centenary of the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses. The person responsible for publishing it was Sylvia Beach after the manuscript was rejected by umpteen publishers. Later, she relinquished the rights to Random House. But she was the key person who believed in the book.
Read about this extraordinary woman and the first twenty years of her famous bookshop, Shakespeare and Company, in The Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher ( Hachette India). The novel is as interesting as the Afterword.

Here is a piece of history. Sylvia Beach interviewed three days before she passed away. She speaks about meeting James Joyce at a party and offers to publish Ulysses. ( “Publishing James Joyce’s “Ulysses” 1962, RTE Archives)

And here is an image of Sylvia Beach’s gravestone in Princeton. It was tweeted by Irish Times journalist, Fintan O’ Toole on 2 Feb 2022.

22 Feb 2022

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