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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

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

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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

Now For Something Completely Different

Austin, Texas is full of working musicians, people who may not be nationally known but who spend their lives making and performing great music. Seela is one such musician. This past spring she released her first solo record in many years. It is called Valentine.

seela cover

The woman on the

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cover is her mother, who died in 2006. There is a heartbreaking song about the grief of losing her on the record. Altogether there are nine songs that highlight Seela’s range and versatility and showcase her honey rich voice. Some have more of an exuberant pop or R&B feel, and some make you slow down and dwell for a moment in a place — of loneliness, longing, or love. My favorite is a song called, “Sweetly,” with a haunting and romantic narrative arc. These are songs to sing along to, but for me, it’s also a writer’s album. Every song could inspire a short story.

You can check out Seela’s songs and download or buy her album at

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/seela1

Literature that Reflects the Politics of Its Time.

Renuka Rajaratnam argues in The Hindu that the Indian novelists of the 80s and 90s championed Nehruvian ideas, whether intentionally or not, in response to the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi. She discusses, amongst other novels, Rushdie’s Midnight’s

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Children

, Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy and Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel. For me, however, it is Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance which stands out for its powerful depiction of the atrocities forced upon Indians during the Emergency (castrations, anyone?), as well as how people from disparate socio-economic backgrounds come to live together and grow to respect and even love each other (the final scene is a microcosm of individual against authoritarian rule beautifully depicted through one woman and her domestic setting).

“Fiction of the 1980s and the 1990s demonstrated the role of English in embracing secular modernity to move beyond the pigeon-holes of caste and tradition. In Rushdie, we note the use of linguistic excess, particularly in the Midnight’s Children, symbolising the democratic mingling of all linguistic forces and the ‘chutnified’ outcome of English when spoken alongside other bhashas (languages).

Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is a powerful anti-Emergency narrative and can be in many ways — alongside Vikram Seth’s The Suitable Boy — seen as a Nehruvian epic. Where Rushdie dismantles the idea of a single national identity through a minoritarian perspective, Seth’s novel is an explicit endorsement of Nehruvianism and strongly opposes a way of imagining the nation on religious terms. Similarly, Rohinton Mistry in his A Fine Balance engages deeply with the issues of the State and offers a relevant critique that is more reformative rather than revolutionary.” read rest 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.