At the close of River of Smoke, the second novel in Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy, the ex-zamindar Neel Rattan speaks of a painting he acquired on his last visit to Canton. The painting shows Fanqui-town, the site of the Thirteen Hongs or factories set up by foreign traders on the Pearl River in Canton, in flames.
A part from the title and a semblance of the mood, Aamer Hussein’s The Cloud Messenger shares very little else with Kalidasa’s lyric poem of 111 stanzas, Meghadutam. For instance, Hussein’s narrator-hero, Mehran, is no exiled lover. Hussein’s kunstlerroman borrows the lilting romantic tenor of the poetic conceit used by Kalidasa in his sandesa kavya (message/messenger poetry).
A wander through the fiction section of Delhi’s bookstores reveals rows and rows of colourful dust-jackets and attractive offerings by Indian and Pakistani authors. The volume is staggering, but though there is no shortage of choice, not all of it is good. Sadly, Invitation too promises more than it can deliver.
A slim 47-page booklet forms the kernel of this book; the rest is mere padding in the form of introduction, appendices and notes. However, the 47 pages of Iqbal contain much that is illuminating and useful—not merely about one of the greatest poets of the Urdu language but also about his age and many of his peers.
There are documents that survive the strife of history. Who would have known that a missive written by Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru of the Sikhs, to Aurangzeb, the last great Mughal emperor, right after his defeat at the hands of the Mughal army, would survive ironically as Zafarnama, an epistle of victory?
That the US invasion of Iraq informs, indeed haunts, policy-making in the US was illustrated in some speeches and justifications related to the UN-sanctioned but US and NATO-led no-fly-zone over Libya. What seemed to vex policy-makers and military strategists was whether UN Resolution 1973 allowed for ‘regime change’.
To be able to distill your love for words and art into the work that you do for a living, and that work of a nature that fulfills a niche in society, is to be fortunate. Debjani Chatterjee, well known and much awarded poet from Sheffield, England, was once a community relations officer.