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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.

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

Before Kali

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New York based artist Jaishri Abichandani is working on a stunningly expressive series of 108 sculptures inspired by figures of goddesses from the Indus Valley. The series, entitled Before Kali, plays with notions of womanhood and depicts goddesses in various roles and gestures – squatting, standing, sitting, birthing, seducing, conversing. The image of the vagina, petal like and slitted, figures prominently in many of the sculptures. 56 of the 108 sculptures have been completed. Three are on display now at the Queens Museum of Art. See more here:

 

http://jaishriabichandani.net/artwork/3271457_Before_Kali_Standing_figurines.html

 

I’m a House

Margaret vs. Pauline  Photo by Mimosa Shah

Strife between India and Pakistan over Kashmir stretches back to the era of Partition, and it’s a history filled with contention and the dissonance of politicians, cultural critics, religious scholars, and Western “experts.” Hence, it’s incredibly pleasing to hear from not only professional analysts but also “common people” on what it’s like to live in a conflict zone. The Kashmir Walla is a monthly digital journal on the arts, politics, and society of Asia and the Middle East, focusing upon expressions of dissent within the broader context of conflict while seeking to bring a more nuanced understanding of ordinary lives amidst these regions. The November 2013 issue contains a haunting photoessay of grand homes abandoned by Kashmiri Pandits during periods of escalating violence. Stark black and white images captured by photographer Muhabit al Haq are accompanied by text from writer Siddhartha Gigoo. Image and text catapult the reader into a milieu of houses still waiting, bereft of loving owners and the sounds of everyday life:

Nothing escaped me. The conversations stuck to my walls like tattoos. Grandmother roasted chestnuts in firepots. The fragrance is still trapped in my bosom. Well, to be honest, some of it has faded away over the years. The long and desolate winters stole it. I saw myself through the eyes of my family. I saw my reflection in their dreams. I was beautiful.

You can view Haq’s gorgeous images and read more of Gigoo’s evocative musings here.

 

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 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.

The Creature Comforts of An Upendranath Ashk Tale

Photo by Mimosa Shah

Photo by Mimosa Shah

There is something about winter on the subcontinent that feels a pittance to those of us living far beyond in the relative “tundra” of North America and Europe come December. In Upendranath Ashk’s Lucknow of the 1960s, it’s an urgent chill, a need evoked by multiple layers, face masks, gloves, and mufflers galore, a cold that could – if provoked – become the death of you. Scholar, artist, and writer Daisy Rockwell conjures all of these feelings in her translation of celebrated Hindi writer Ashk’s short story “Topiyan Aur Doctor” (Hats and Doctors”). Here is Mr. Goyal, a local representative for a newspaper in Lucknow, deep in his sartorial underpinnings and perhaps a middle-aged malaise:

And now that he had passed his fortieth year, he was beginning to wrap a scarf around his neck as well, just below his hat. If he felt a cold breeze on his ears when he was driving his motorcycle, his nose started dripping. He had to stop the motorcycle, wrap the scarf that was around his neck over his head and ears, tie it under his chin, put his hat back on and continue on his way.

Mr. Goyal attempts to lead a hatless life with less-than-satisfactory results, a circumstance that leads him to various homeopaths and their shabby waiting rooms. Using a tone that hovers between sarcastic and bemused, Ashk immerses the reader into a world steeped in hierarchy, customs, and costumes. Hats and Doctors, a translated  collection of Upendranath Ashk short stories, appeared in March 2013. This eponymous story was first published in the January 2013 edition of Caravan, which you can continue reading here.

 

Commonwealth Writers Interviews Nadeem Aslam

Commonwealth Writers sat down with Pakistani novelist Nadeem Aslam and asked him some very interesting questions about politics and ideas and whether there is place for them in fiction, a need for them even, as well as what defines him as a writer.  Watch his interview here.