Partition Posts

Idris Ali: Daftari ( Bookbinder)

Idris Ali: Daftari ( Bookbinder)

Idris Ali, bookbinding

(Guest post by Prof. Aloke Kumar. Reposted with his permission. 10 Aug 2013. )

IDRIS ALI : Daftari

With Id passing away I missed Idris Ali, my father’s Daftari. For a very selfish reason. He used to bring a ‪‎Biryani‬ of Dumba Sheep on the Id day to celebrate the festival. Dumba sheep is a delicacy. This sheep has an extra fat pack on its tail beginning, adding extra oil and lanolin. Idris’s wife would prepare the Biryani but the preparation for the presentation was an elaborate affair. Idris would come in the morning with his son and prepare a ‘rasoi’ in the corridor, far from the kitchen as my grandmother would not allow entry of food cooked by Muslims to enter home.. Bricks were laid in a triangular formation with gaps and clay applied to seal them together. Then preparation would be made for a wood fire, without lighting it, just to throw in an ember. Then in the afternoon he would arrive in a rickshaw with a huge cauldron of Daccai Biryani with Dumba meat. This itself was a meal. What a feast. There would be enough for the neighbours to join in.

Idris came with his family during the ‎partition‬ from East ‪#‎Bengal‬ to settle in Baithakkhana Road. The home of the traditional book binders. My father discovered him in one of his sojourns in the area in search of a Muslim bookbinder. He had these quaint beliefs. Books and Man should be clothed by ‪#‎Muslim‬ ‘‪#‎Karighar‬’. So all his kurtas and books were taken care by them.

Idris Ali was a Daftari by tradition, a book-binder. He was a slim bodied man with a conic beard under his clean shaved upper lip. I always saw him in Pyjama and Kurta with a round Iraqi cap on his head. He reminded me of Tagore’s Abdul Maji who brought in turtle eggs for his brother Jyotirindranath. He wore a watch inside out presented by my father, not because he had no sense of time but on the contrary that he had a sense and continuously asked people the time in order to be punctual. In spite of his simplicity, his overall appearance reflected dignity and self-respect.

He addressed My father as Chachaa ji . My father liked and loved him. He said he was god gifted and could give life to ‘dead’ books. Whenever he came to my place, my father welcomed him warmly. My father was an antiquarian and a great book- lover. He collected rare books, manuscripts on palm leaf or on hand made paper old paper. He took care of these like his own children. Idris Ali helped him in preserving such books with his expertise in binding.

Idris made use of various methods to secure sheets of paper into a secure binding. As part of the process, a bookbinder will also attach front and back covers to the secured pages. With some methods of binding books, the final product includes the creation of a spine for the book. And this is most crucial as it held the book together,just like a human.

Bookbinder may employ several different approaches to creating a finished product. Sewing is the preferred method with hardcover books. With this approach, the bookbinder will sometimes use a process that is known as over sewing. Small holes are punched into the sheets and are then sewn together to create a secure bind. The cover can then be sewn to the pages. While very secure, over sewing does not make it possible to open the book and leave it laying flat on a desktop. It has to be accurate. Bookbinding is an art.

The art and craft of bookbinding originated in India, where religious sutras were copied on to palm leaves ,cut into two, lengthwise, with a metal stylus. The leaf was then dried and rubbed with ink, which would form a stain in the wound. The finished leaves were given numbers, and two long twines were threaded through each end through wooden boards, making a palm-leaf book. When the book was closed, the excess twine would be wrapped around the boards to protect the manuscript leaves. Buddhist monks took the idea through Persia, Afghanistan, and Iran, to China in the first century BC.

Idris developed a relation with our family. He came and collected the old books and wrapped them up in a shawl to carry it to his humble workshop cum home in Baithukhana. Sometimes my father would collect it from him or he would bring it back. He paid him handsomely and became my bone of contention. Why pay more? My father had this philosophy of philanthropy and always took care of the people who touched his life. He would not give alms of small coins to a beggar but parted with fortunes to take care of the education and marriages of many girls, irrespective of their religion. Idris had three daughters and all were married off by my father.

My grandmother was a orthodox Hindu and even did not allow the entry of chicken in our household as she believed they were reared by Muslims. So when her Ramcharitmanas was in tatters nobody could suggest that it be bound . But all the ‪#‎Ganges‬ water did take its toll and it was falling apart. So one day she relented. My father without much ado and wasting time for my grandmother to change her decision called me to take the manuscript to Idris. I went to his shop. It was morning time and he was reading a ‪#‎Urdu‬ newspaper. He looked at me and asked about the work silently by nodding his face upward. I showed him the book. He immediately asked: ‘Ramayan ji?’ Without caring to see the condition of the book or examining it he told me to bring it next week. I did not like, the way he refused to take up the job. I went back home and told my father that he has refused to take up the job. My father could not believe. He asked me to repeat, what exactly happened and I told him that he has asked me to bring it next week, though he was sitting idle, reading a newspaper. My father’s reaction was: ‘Don’t worry, he will do it,’. I could not appreciate his reaction.

After a week’s time Idris came home and took the Ramcharitmanas. After some days my father sent me to collect back the book. When I reached to his shop, he welcomed me smilingly and asked to wait a while. He went inside the attached room and brought the book wrapped in ‘red salu’ cloth. He gave it to me. I opened it and could not believe that it was the same book. It’s all torn and tattered pages were re adjusted with transparent paper, so accurately that they were looking better than the pages that were intact. The beautiful hard-bound coloured cloth cover was not only aesthetically satisfying, but it had whipped new breath of life into the dying book. It was a job well done.

I still had his last reaction in my mind. It was a proper time to ask him the reason for not accepting it the first time. He felt a little shy and told me that his son-in law had come. Variety of food was being prepared for him along with meat of animal, prohibited by Hindus. He also ate along with his family and his conscience did not allow him to touch my grandmother’s sacred book. After his son-in law left, he stopped eating beef and then one day he specially prepared himself by bathing in the morning and came to our house to collect the book. The book was in very bad condition. Generally, when its pages are corrected, it needs to be tightened for good and durable binding. A wooden piece is placed on the book and pressure is applied on it by foot. But, in this case he had to ask his wife to hold on with her hand while he did the work. It was a difficult job. But a job well done.

This was Idris Ali. In his old age Idris handed over the shop to his son and returned to ‪#‎Bangladesh‬ with his only ‘bibi’. My father had dissuaded him from taking many wives and he was faithful to Fatima . His son’s shifted premise to Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road where they took a dwelling attached to the shop. Ram Ray,the advertising genius, wanted a good binder and I had recommended Idris’s son. But I was told that the standard did not meet his expectation.

As for my own self I have hunted out another binder. But to be honest I do my own repairing of books which I learnt from my days in scouting from Errol Colaco which did earn me my merit badge in Bookbinding.

(C) Aloke Kumar, Professor of Communication.Faculty Member at University of Calcutta, Faculty Member at IIM Calcutta and Visiting Lecturer at National University of Singapore.

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

Navtej Sarna on the novel and short story

Navtej Sarna on the novel and short story

Navtej Sarna @ JLF 2013 “Novel is more of a theme, with byways and lanes. Whereas a short story is just that snapshot of life. ” Here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5-RFxx02S4

15 April 2013

Extract from a letter I wrote to a friend about “Market Tales” by Jayant Kriplani

Extract from a letter I wrote to a friend about “Market Tales” by Jayant Kriplani

Feb 2013
Helloji,
I received a copy of Jayant Kriplani’s collection of short stories New Market Tales earlier this evening. I immediately picked it up to read and could not stop myself. ( I have a horrendous deadline looming large. But I kept saying one more story, one more story, till I reached the end!)
The stories are so unexpected. They are so in step with that twinkle in Jayant Kriplani the actor’s eyes. You can just imagine him watching and observing the world go by. I really liked the way he lapses into Bengali (without any apologies for doing so), reproduces the English pronounciations of the Bengalis and laughs at them but not in a cynical or mocking way, but like a happy delighted chuckle–as someone who completely understands where they are coming from, whether it is the bhadralok or the noveau riche trader or even the feisty activist daughter of the lingerie seller. (Gainjeewala sounds way better! ) Some of the stories are indescribably weird, for instance Harish or even Zack’s. I bet they will linger with me for a very long time to come. Even the curious wake that is held in anticipation of Mesho’s death kept me enthralled. These stories may be part truth, part fiction but they are powerful storytelling.
The cover illustration is so very reminiscent of Soviet-era publications. It is a crisp and smart cover, much in keeping with the tenor of the stories, but not really a lead in to the stories persay. The book trailer is lovely too. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6wbYdW3SyQ )
This is a gem of a book. A wonderful recount of Calcutta in the 1960s and 1970s, but also its connection with Partition and the variety of communities, ideologies, people that you encounter in the iconic New Market. What comes through very clearly in the book is the sense of belonging to one family — New Market– irrespective of religion, beliefs, or trade. I really hope that this book travels far, beyond India. It must. It should.
Affly,
JAYA

Publication details: Pan Macmillan India, Picador India, Feb 2013. Pgs. 206 Pb. Rs 299

Tales of Partition, my review of Mahmudul Haque’s “Black Ice”

Tales of Partition, my review of Mahmudul Haque’s “Black Ice”

 

July 19, 2012 By Jaya Bhattacharji Rose

Black Ice
By Mahmudul Haque
Translated by Mahmud Rahman
Harper Perennial
pp.123, Rs 199

Black Ice by Mahmudul Haque is about Abdul Khaleeq, a college lecturer in a village in newly independent Bangladesh. One day, he decides to start writing about his childhood and the memory floodgates open with such a force, leaving him withdrawn, confused and morose. His wife, Rekha, observes that he sleeps curled, with his knees drawn up and his arms folded tightly around him.

Initially, his account is peaceful and placid, with happy memories of childhood, discovering the world, under the protection of his family. As he attempts to recollect incidents from the past, the anecdotes become broken and he begins to find solace in his conversations with the local physician (a Hindu) and a friend, Dr Narbari. At first, it seems that the gentle documentation of daily life in the village is perfect. In the rainy season, “the rough-and-tumble villages take on a look of wild grace and tenderness”. But scratch the surface and there is discontentment and unease everywhere, compounded by the growing communal tension. Dr Narbari mentions casually that while buying fish in the market, he was taunted as a “malaun”, a derogatory term for Hindus.

There is confusion amongst the Muslims as well, what is their homeland — Pakistan or this new country Bangladesh? The veneer of tranquillity that the hustle-bustle of daily life in the village is as treacherous as black ice — “a rapid shift was taking place all around us. We didn’t understand any of it.”

The theme of war, consequently the notion of displacement and questions about national identity dominate Bangladeshi literature. As the translator of Kalo Borof, Mahmud Rahman says in a recent lecture he delivered: “We are migrant people”. So it is not at all surprising to have most forms of literature reflecting upon the journey back to 1971, year of independence/partition from Pakistan.

According to him Mahmudul Haque’s novels are “penned looking at the period from the eyes of the characters but remaining aloof from the story”. A very tough requirement, especially when the author has witnessed the two partitions of the country in 1947 and 1971. In fact, as a 10-year-old boy, who migrated to East Pakistan (Dhaka) from West Bengal (Barasat, Calcutta), he was lost and bewildered and actually tried to reverse the journey — Train to Narayanganj, steamer to Goalondo, train to Barasat.

Finally to settle in Dhaka, where he became a writer and is known primarily for his short fiction. He mastered the art of the local dialects and infused them into his literature (much of which is unfortunately lost in Black Ice), but the powerful story remains, with the trauma of the war upon the people conveyed acutely even when read in English. Mahmudul Haque is a storyteller who is known for his brevity, and his short fiction Black Ice is a good example of it.

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