Reviewers typically position themselves as being more or less superior to the work under review. Thus, the work being reviewed is discovered to be—discreetly or otherwise—deficient, in the light of the work that the reviewers themselves would write if only they could tear themselves away from important work—like reviewing. (Though it might be more accurate to say that they might have written if they could…) I’m afraid Rita Kothari’s Uneasy Translations: Self, Experience and Indian Literature offers no such comfort.
In 1936, the young and upcoming Hindi writer and poet, Sachidanand Hirananda Vatsyayan, ‘Agyeya’, wrote to Banarasi Das Chaturvedi, his mentor and friend at the time, ‘It is too early yet to tell secrets especially to you’ (p. 130). A few years later, in 1944, to another friend he wrote, ‘a person like me has a very small life outside but a big inner life’ (p. 267). Throughout his lifetime, and even after, those close to Agyeya variously described him as ‘reserved’, ‘quiet’, and ‘restrained’.
This book is part of the series ‘Writers in Context’ edited by Sukrita Paul Kumar and Chandana Dutta. The time for such a series has long come and I am glad that we finally have the first books in the series in our hands. To take up Indian language writers and put together an authoritative volume on their writings in English translation with excerpts from their works and their own essays and letters, interviews with them, biographical sketches and memoirs, bibliographical details, and critical readings of their works over the years answers to the needs of scholars of Indian literature all over the world.
Although Dalit literature has had a long and variegated presence in Bengal, especially through the oral traditions of Bauls, Fakirs, Sufis and other popular sects, it remains a relatively neglected area in Dalit studies and has only recently found greater visibility via translation. Under My Dark Skin Flows a Red River, seeks to fill this gap with an anthology that combines historical and theoretical frameworks with samples of creative writing across diverse genres.
The Mendicant Prince spans multiple genres: historical fiction, real-life mystery and a legal drama that inspired a long-drawn-out pamphlet war in pre-Partition Bengal. Aruna Chakravarti breathes life into the Bhawal Sanyasi case that has fascinated generations in Bengal and Dhaka, in yet another novel that demonstrates her mastery over the genre of fiction about colonial Bengal.
Somdatta Mandal’s The Last Days of Rabindranath Tagore in Memoirs is a uniquely conceived book that provides a comprehensive look into the final months of biswakabi Rabindranath Tagore’s life when the hallowed man was ‘oscillating between fitness and illness’ (p. 164), until he passed away after a fatal surgery performed against his wishes. The book consists of translated selections from several memoirs and biographies originally written in Bengali by the poet’s associates and other well-known writers and researchers.
What Debali Mookerjea-Leonard achieves distinctly in this book is to effectively showcase her own reasoned angst and that of the others, regarding the lesser visibility of diverse aspects of Partition literature on the Bengal side in comparison with the abundant and a rich variety of perspectives on Partition fiction from the western side of the subcontinent. In her detailed analysis of the critical writings of such critics as Srikumar Bandopadhyay, she convincingly draws the attention of the reader to the non-acknowledgement of different Partition themes presented by several Bengali authors.
Although the hyperbolic title of this just minted anthology indicates a performance in the realm of extravaganza, the forty stories included within its covers do offer a dazzling spread of assured and exciting writing. In itself the anthology contains a wealth of riches; the editorial decision to print only the best writing of authors belonging to the millennial generation and Generation Z catapults this book into a budding promise: a dynamic product rather than a finished volume, which functions like a tantalizing anticipation of that which is yet to come.
When one thinks of Deepti Naval, one immediately wants to frame her into a film sequence with Farooq Sheikh, both of whom have been remarkably great actors in Indian cinema. And so, when I eagerly picked up her autobiography, A Country Called Childhood, I was half-expecting at least a chapter or two on her life as a Bollywood actress who was at the fore of ‘parallel cinema’ which has left an indelible mark in the history of Indian films.
Rijula Das’s book A Death in Shonagacchi, despite its title, is less about death and more about life and living. You cannot find a more unlikely hero than Tilu Shau, even if you determinedly looked for one. A man of unassuming looks, which is to say he is nothing to look at, short of stature with a caved-in chest, falls in love with the dark and buxom Lalee of the red-light district of Shonagachhi. To Lalee, love dove mean nothing. Can the client pay is the only pertinent question. She sees Tilu’s infatuation and ruthlessly moves to raise her rates.
Warriors come in many shapes and forms: artists, writers, humourists; a democracy needs them all, and Shovon Chowdhury is each of these. Today when the fourth pillar of democracy has all but crumbled, we need these truth sayers. The journalism fraternity lost a rare human being when he passed away in February 2020.
Suresh Menon’s collection of essays, Why don’t You Write Something I Might Read? is that rare book that leaps up at first glance with multiple hooks. To begin, is the poignant pull of Westland’s Context logo—from what used to be India’s oldest independent book house, felled for closure earlier this year, after its buyout by Amazon.
As the title itself suggests, childhood and memory are the two very important dramatis personae of this book. Deepa Agarwal is an accomplished writer of literature for children and young adults. It is this biozone that her reading and imagination have revealed and animated for her readers. And, when she uses this expertise to cross-pollinate her poetry, the result is as vibrant as a field of wildflowers in the bugyals of the Himalayas.
The Himalaya is an integral part of the natural habitat of India and some other neighbouring countries. It ensures rain in the field areas, and many rivers coming out from the Himalayas, including Ganga, are the basis of life and civilization in north India. The Himalayas have also been a source of cultural identity, not only for people who are living in this region but also for the people of other parts of the country.
Mature is the word that comes to my mind the moment I think of Rajesh Tailang, a sensitive writer and actor with a staggeringly successful career in Bollywood and Digital Media. After earning laurels for his acting in movies like Siddharth, Mukkabaaz, and the web series Delhi Crime and Mirzapur, his passion for writing took him to attempt plays, cinematography, and poems.
The introductory line of the novel sets the tone for what we witness throughout its narrative. Sunma is no ordinary woman. Her tears symbolize a tenacious grip over the capitalist and globalized reality, and how it has caused a systemic destruction of rivers and natural resources.
I put it down to serendipity that I read the short story collection under review shortly after reading Ramachandra Behera’s novel Mukti ra Ruparekha (1990) both in the original and in its just published English translation entitled Contours of Liberation. An amazing novel about the tragic outcome of the conflict between desire for personal pleasure and parental obligation and filial love, the work betokened certain signature qualities of the acclaimed Odia writer, which the short story collection has happily confirmed.
This book is a canvas of emotions that all age groups paint in their minds every day. For children it is like a picture dictionary where they can identify if unable to express in words as to how they are feeling at a given point of time. The pages take the young readers on a roller coaster ride of happiness, to frowns and smiles, fear and dare, triumph and the importance of living each day looking at the brighter side of the world.
What makes a modern woman? To Sangita Jogi, a modern woman pursues her own desires, is fashionable, and won’t get married unless she has a sense of self-fulfillment. In her book, The Women I Could Be, Jogi explores her idea of a modern woman in the art style passed down from her parents.
A few months ago, I watched the film Back to the Future, an American science fiction film made in three parts. There, the protagonist, Marty, and his friend move across time and space, to the future to save lives and to the past for solving scientific experiments that have gone askew. Science fiction has been a part of various art forms in the West for centuries.