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The DSC prize for South Asian literature announced

Three Indian, two Pakistani and one Sri Lankan author are on the six-book shortlist for the 2014 DSC Prize which was announced recently at the London School of Economics.  This prize was started in 2010 and is thus only in its fourth year.   However, along with its US $50,000 in prize-money, it has led to its winners being published globally and reaching a very wide audience.  The prize, sponsored by DSC Limited, is open to anyone writing about South Asia.  “Authors could belong to this region through birth or be of any ethnicity but the writing should pertain to the South Asian region in terms of content and theme.”  In this way, it seems a lot like our own journal, Jaggery.

The shortlist for the 2014 prize is:

  1. Anand: Book of Destruction (Translated by Chetana Sachidanandan; Penguin, India)
  2. Benyamin: Goat Days   (Translated by Joseph Koyippalli; Penguin, India)
  3. Cyrus Mistry: Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer (Aleph Book Company, India)
  4. Mohsin Hamid: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, India)
  5. Nadeem Aslam: The Blind Man’s Garden (Random House, India)
  6. Nayomi Munaweera: Island of a Thousand Mirrors (Perera Hussein Publishing, Sri Lanka)

The winner will be announced at the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival on January 18, 2014.

More at the DSC website, here.

 

Imaging the Other

A few years ago a friend of mine handed me a remarkable anthology of translated stories from India called Imaging the Other, edited by Sara Rai and G J V Prasad, filled with stories translated from Kannada, Urdu, Bangla, Oriya, Marathi, Hindi, Konkani, Asomiya, Tamil, as well as a few stories written in English. I find the language and imagery of these stories to be completely transfixing. Take this opening from the story, “The Dear Ones,” by Binapani Mohanty, originally published in Oriya in a journal called Jhankara.

He sat down on the mud-plastered veranda, and yanked his soiled

jeans up to his knees. It was slowly getting dark. Soon the trees would

filter the moonlight and splash it all over. There would be excitement

in the village – he had returned after a very long absence. The mango

trees were in bloom. Along the way he had noticed unripe mangoes,

the size of peanuts, on the branches.

I love these images of the mud-plastered veranda, mangoes the size of peanuts, moonlight splashed by the trees. They are achingly particular, coming from an intimate relationship with one place.

Though this collection is from 1999, Katha has continued its mission to publish translations of contemporary Indian literature. Katha, with their slogan “Translating Stories, Transforming Lives,” has been using story and storytelling for 22 years to link literature to literacy education. They have a catalogue of books for adults and children. Check out their adult catalogue here:

http://www.katha.org/site/what-we-do/translation

Trekking Across the Borderlands

Children in the village of Panitar, near the India/Bangladesh border - photo by Suchitra Vijayan

Children in the village of Panitar, near the India/Bangladesh border – photo by Suchitra Vijayan

Borders are fluid and permeable spaces, something Suchitra Vijayan rediscovers as she treks across the 9,000 mile frontier separating India from its neighboring countries: Pakistan, China, Burma, Bhutan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Inspired by her time spent researching and documenting stories along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where she was embedded with the U.S. Army, Vijayan has embarked upon a much broader, extensive project:

I want to commit to these children of predicament, a new breed of people and the ideas that created them, but also the ideas of belonging and identities they have spawned since. The state abstracted discourses of citizenship, sovereignty, and territoriality versus the reality of living. I have decided to embark on a 9,000 mile journey, an archaelogical pursuit in search of these stories. . .

In many places, borders become irrelevant as inhabitants cross from one country to another to visit a mosque, all the while revealing the sometimes arbitrary nature of nation-states. Vijayan’s multimedia project was recently featured by Public Radio International’s “The World.” Although she’s currently raising money to help fund her project, Vijayan will be returning to India shortly to continue collecting these stories of longing, migration, loss, and regeneration. More photos from her travels can be seen here.

Handmaidens of the Home

Photo of a housewife (right) and her servant (left) by Jannatul Mawa

Photo of a housewife (right) and her servant (left) by Jannatul Mawa

Jannatul Mawa is a photographer currently living and working in Bangladesh. Prior to this, she has spent years as an activist working on behalf of greater gender equity. Her photography focuses upon ordinary lives and interstitial spaces. In Close Distance, she documents the tenuous position of maidservants, women typically employed by the middle-classes and beyond, to help with general household chores on meagre wages. Seated side by side, employer and servant, these images emphasize the awkwardness both parties feel in such close quarters, so very similar and yet so many worlds apart. Mawa writes: “Every day, maidservants take care of the bed and sofa with their hand but they are neither allowed to sit nor to sleep on them once. WIth their domestic role, they are ‘close’ to the middle-class women and ‘distant’ at the same time.” See more here.

Nanowrimo Advice on Failure from Minal Hajratwala

Jaggery’s own Ask the Unicorn columnist, Minal Hajratwala, gives advice on National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo):

 

FAILURE

Dearest lovely writer,

Halfway through, it’s about time we start thinking about failure.

I’ve already written ##,000 words. I’m out of ideas, my fingers hurt, and my dog misses me. Plus it’s the holidays. Maybe I should quit while I’m ahead.

I’ve barely written #00 words. I’m a zero, basically. I’ll never catch up now. Why bother? I’m going to the NaNo FAQs to see if I can take my profile down.

What do we do when faced with the great gaping jaws of failure?

I often wish I could be one of those cool-headed, even-keeled writers who pumps out a steady stream of prose during the 9-to-5 hours and then gets to go out for beer and biryani.

Maybe you’re one of them. If so, congrats to you! I don’t hate you. No, really I don’t. A little envy, maybe. What, I look green? That’s just because one of my characters has been ingesting Paris Green.

The truth is, I’m not that kind of writer. Never have been. I despise the 9-to-5. I sleep through most mornings. My favorite writing time zone is 1am to 3am. I don’t drink beer.

And the more I remember these things about myself, instead of sulking and envying, the more writing I get done.

What about you? What kind of writer are you? As you pump (crawl?ooze?) your way through NaNoWriMo, don’t forget to notice what you’re learning about yourself and your writing.

What are your inner critical voices saying, and how are you getting past them — or not?

What time of day works best for you? What boosts or saps your energy? When do you love writing? When do you resent the heck out of it?

What do you do when you think you “should be” writing? What habits have you developed to avoid your writing? How can you defeat your own self-defeating habits?

These questions, and what you notice about your writing, will serve you long after November 30, whether you meet your goal or not.

By this point in my writing life, I know my habits pretty well. When I’m not writing, I’m often checking my email or Facebook. As a working writer and writing coach who is gearing up for a book tour, I actually have legitimate reasons for being online. (You probably do, too).

The other morning, for example, instead of writing, I replied to an interview request from the BBC, updated my website events page, publicized an upcoming workshop by posting it to some Facebook groups, scheduled a coaching call with a client, and went online to order a new bookshelf for my writing room to take advantage of a 25% discount — all valiant, justifiable uses of my time.

And yet… the whole time, I knew I was avoiding my NaNo novel. I’d write an email and think, “I should do this later and write now.” I’d pen some scintillating marketing prose and think, “I should be writing my novel now, not this.” After all, it wasn’t as though I had no free time at all; I also cuddled the dog, took a long nap, and played a video game.

And then, eventually, after all that, niggled by the nagging feeling (or nagged by the niggling feeling) that I was behind schedule, and haunted by the (again legitimate, justifiable!) lack of writing for the previous two days … I wrote.

I got over the voice saying “failure, failing, fail” by admitting that, yes, it’s true. I might completely, utterly fail.

At my novel. At my life.

I actually only have 19 writing days available in November, so my goal has been to write 2,632 words per day. Whew! So far, I’ve mostly failed. I’ve met that daily target only once.

But I’m writing. I’ve written on days I thought I wouldn’t be able to; I’ve surprised myself with both my devotion as well as my apparently not-yet-tapped capacity for procrastination. My novel is growing, and I’m understanding the characters better. I haven’t lost the plot; hey, look, I even have subplots!

Your mileage and methods may vary. When I met our fantastic India ML for a quick co-writing session in Mumbai, she noticed that I write longhand. Yes, I’m old school. Eventually I move onto the computer, but I write in notebooks.

How do you count? she asked. I use an average words-per-line, roughly approximating each page as I go.

When I’m stuck, I write directly about the process of being stuck. It usually helps me figure something out and get moving. This counts; this is work on my novel.

I’ve also made a four-pages-and-growing list of freewrite topics, so that I can just grab one and go in each writing session — one of the strategies I suggest for my writing students and clients. Don’t have a topic list? Make one (yes, that list of words counts toward your total!), or follow the NaNo sprints on Twitter, or just email me and I’ll send you my 10-Minute Writing For Muscles of Steel exercises. It’s all good. There’s no wrong way to do this.

Write on your own personal timezone. Write blindly, not even looking at what you’re typing. Write long nasty letters to your own inner critics. But write.

And if your inner editor is whispering lots of sweet-nothings about failure, join me in the goal I’ve set for this month: to become the most verbose, wordy, prolific failure in the history of literature.

I’ll race you there.

Love,
Minal

Homosexuality in India Today: What about the books?

In February of this year, Smitha Verma’s article, despite its odd title– Going, Going Gay— raved about how books with gay characters, often written by gay authors, was a rising and vibrant genre in Indian literature. It is no coincidence that this happened in the wake of  India decriminalizing homosexuality in 2009. This month- December 2013– the Indian Supreme Court recriminalized homosexuality.  Where does this leave these books, their authors, these stories, this burgeoning genre, the new LGBT presses? As a new year’s resolution, let’s read one of these stories , let’s give one of these books as a gift. Books mentioned in the article:

Six Metres of Pavement by Farzana Doctor

Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History edited by Saleem Kidwai and Ruth Vanita

My Magical Palace by Kunal Mukherjee

Close, Too Close: The Tranquebar Book of Queer Erotica edited by Meenu and Shruti

The Man Who Would be Queen by Hoshang Merchant

City of Devi by Manil Suri

Out! Stories From The New Queer India by Minal Hajratwala

Pregnant King by Devdutt Pattanaik

Please let us know your suggestions in the comments.

And here is Vikram Seth talking about the Supreme Court ruling on Devil’s Advocate.

vikram-seth

Beyond the Sticks and Into Mofussil

oncoming train

(Photo taken by Mimosa Shah)

Amitava Kumar plays with the many ways in which we anticipate and reminisce about trains in his essay “Mofussil Junction” for Northeast Review:

Trains take me not to the future but to the past. Several years ago, while watching the film Trainspotting in a theater in America, with a scene about strung-out boys horsing around the railway tracks, my mind went back to Patna: my friends in school would get high on heroin and stand beside the tracks to feel the rush of the wind as the train blasted past them.

Northeast Review is a literary journal dedicated to the unique melange of literatures created in the northeastern region of India, an area now affiliated with terms like “backwards,” “agrarian,” and “conservative” (instead of cosmopolitan, urban, and liberal). Kumar’s piece on the mofussil spaces, those hinterlands beyond the county limits, makes me rethink other famous trains: Agatha Christie’s xenophobic carriage moving east to west in Murder on the Orient Express; a nostalgic embrace cut short before a surging train pulses through a tunnel in the final frames of Hitchcock’s North by Northwest; and the commuter rails dotting our landscape today, last vestiges of an intricate network now spurned for the efficiency of aviation.

A Bomb, With Ribbon Around It: SAWCC’s Annual Art Exhibition in New York

A Bomb, With Ribbon Around It—Love this provocative, oxymoron of a title inspired by surrealist André Breton’s famous remark upon encountering Frida Kahlo’s art.  SAWCC‘s  line up of artists sounds wonderful—if you’re in New York, do make time to check it out. Opens December 14th, runs till January 18th. Queens Musuem, New York.

From the press release and website:
The exhibition presents works by South Asian women that metaphorically depict the self in personal, social, or cultural guises that will be as attractive, unassuming, and pristine as a beautiful ribbon; yet untying that ribbon triggers an explosion of diverse themes, such as globalization, immigration, gender equality, identity, politics, and religion. Featuring 18 South Asian women artists, exhibited artworks include painting, work-on-paper, sculpture, installation, photography, video, and performance.

For details, go here.

The Third Space of Mutiny

On November 5th, 2013, the New York Times reported that 152 men – former members of the Bangladeshi Rifles, a paramilitary border force – were sentenced to death following prosecution over a 2009 mutiny in which 74 people were killed. The uprising occurred after disagreements arose between guards and commanders regarding demands for better pay, ability to participate in peacekeeping missions, and more. This news comes close to the publication of Boundaries Undermined: The Ruins of Progress, anthropologist Delwar Hussain’s first full investigation into the trajectories of post-colonial development, industrialization, and a pervasive neo-liberalism that neuters the revolutionary ideals of generations seeking not only prosperity but purpose and clarity amidst the confusing array of allegiances in contemporary Bangladesh.

Artist, writer, and activist Naeem Mohaimen reviews Hussain’s book, which begins near the still under-construction fence that will eventually reinforce the border between India and Bangladesh. Mohaimen writes:

Hussain weaves in the histories of the multiple partitions of Bengal, and this border site is an appropriate space for considering the human separations and structural inconsistencies set in motion by the 1947 partition, as well as the aftermath of two decolonisation/industrialisation periods – East Pakistan from 1947 to 1971, and Bangladesh thereafter…

Of special interest for Hussain is the excavation of a third-space for identity, as women, rejected limestone laborers, hijras, and non-dominant religious communities work in conjunction. Certainly the mass trials of the former Bangladeshi Rifles, who plan to appeal their death sentence, are a testament to the ongoing struggles amidst the lacuna of revolt. Read more here.

Kamila Shamsie Interviews Malala Yousafzai on her memoir I Am Malala

Kamila Shamsie reviews/interviews Malala Yousafzai’s memoir I Am Malala written with Christina Lamb from the Guardian. Malala is not like other sixteen year olds because few other sixteen year olds are shot at by the Taliban for defending education, or end up addressing the U.N., or become the activist that Malala has become so quickly. Shamsie’s interview tries to get at who the real Malala is, though Malala herself contends that she left the real ‘her’ back in Swat a long time ago.

It is a  little heartbreaking though to read about how Malala skypes with her best friend in Swat in order to find out what everyone is doing, and how only when Kamila and Malala talk about cricket does the weight of the world fall off her. Malala comes across as such an empathetic person, and so it has become quite tiring to hear so many accuse her of being  a (U.S.) pawn and a fake instead of showing empathy and solidarity towards her. But then Malala’s points are valid. In a Pakistan given to  conspiracy theories, everything is suspect, even an adolescent being shot.

The Towering Figure of Major Ali

Arif Ayaz Parrey’s short story “The Torture Manual of Major Ali” carries a sinister aspect beneath its bureaucratic tone. Whether he is real or not remains a mystery, but his minions appear to be fully gripped by his methods. Parrey writes with a cinematic crane panning across the many secret and not-so-secret torture sessions that continue beyond the sixty-odd year struggle for Kashmir. Using this wide-angle shot plunges the reader through multiple framings – of the state and military, of the rites of espionage, of the mendacity of political exile, of the purgatory of strife-ridden boundaries – before arriving at a language stripped of passions that nevertheless sound oddly familiar, especially in the wake of remembrances following Nelson Mandela’s death:

The thought of men in uniform working together as a corpus to theorize and institutionalize torture is the classic nightmare of restive populations. It is also a great rallying point for the men in uniform themselves; one around which they can build solidarity and overcome guilt and fear. The deniability factor is necessary so as to maintain the paradigm of organized madness, which is what counter-insurgency efforts must be in places where the guerilla aim is to swim like fish in water.

Ensuing passages extracted from this manual – which also may or may not really exist – serve to further glaze and subjugate the reader’s eyes, a numbing experience that leaves one searching aimlessly for the personal and familiar. Yet in the process of reading and examining the manual lies the uncomfortable truth of our complicity in state-sanctioned terror, redirecting the narrative from the mythical Major Ali to that of our contemporary times. Read more of Parrey’s story in the December 2013 edition of Caravan.

Jaggery Launch

Jaggery will launch on November 8, 2013. If you’re in Chicago, you’re cordially invited to join us a for a rapid-fire desi literary reading and party, with samosas and beer! Hope you can attend and help us celebrate.

Powell’s Books, @ Halsted and Roosevelt
Friday, November 8, 2013, 6 p.m.

RSVP via e-mail to mohanraj [at] mamohanraj [dot] com, or on Facebook.