Bhubaneswar@75 – Perspectives

Title: Bhubaneswar@75 – Perspectives

Editors: Bhaskar Parichha/Charudutta Panigrahi

Publisher: Pen In Books


As we look forward to the next 25 years … 

April 13, 1948. It was on this day that the first Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru laid the Odisha capital city’s foundation stone. Since then, Bhubaneswar has remained a celebrated model of modern architecture and city planning with its prehistoric past as a temple city. Along with Jamshedpur and Chandigarh, Bhubaneswar is one of modern India’s first planned cities. 

While laying the foundation-stone, Nehru observed: ‘Bhubaneswar would not be a city of high-rise buildings for officers and rich men without relation to the common masses. It would be consistent with the idea of reducing differences between the rich and the poor. The New Capital would embody the beautiful art of Odisha, and it would be a place for beauty…so that life might become an adjunct to beauty.’

Bhubaneswar is a temple town with a series of ancient sandstone temples varying in size from the towering eleventh century Lingaraja Temple. It was a city of temples. Once upon a time, there were more than 7,000 temples in and around Bhubaneswar. Today, there are only a few. 


From a religious standpoint, the Lingaraj temple is the most popular. Other temples include the 7th century Vaital temple, the impressive 10th century Mukteshwar temple, and the 11th century Raja Rani temple with its fine carvings. There are many other temples of exquisite architecture. 

Several Grade-I temples of national importance have been protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in Old Bhubaneswar, such as Ananta Basudeva, Mukteswara, Persurameswara, and Rajarani Temples, which are just a few examples. Bhubaneswar’s modern capital is shaped by Old Bhubaneswar’s ancient temples.

The state capital city planning began near the old temple town. The Master Plan for the upcoming city of Bhubaneswar was prepared by Dr Otto H Koenigsberger on the concept of neighbourhood unit planning. The original plan envisaged horizontal development rather than vertical growth for a population of 40,000 with administration as the primary function. Koenigsberger designed a linear pattern for the city, with administrative units on the main artery, and neighborhood units attached to them. Neighborhood units offer residents the most sophisticated amenities in a city. They were placed at short distances to give people easy access to schools, hospitals and other facilities.  


Six units were developed. Unit-V served as the site for the administrative complex, while other units were planned according to neighborhoods. As part of the town center, there was a market building, a weekly market, a day-to-day market, and a bus station. There was a central vista with views of the Raj Bhawan. There was also a commercial zone along Janpath and Bapuji Nagar up to the railway station. Koenigsberger’s planning zone provided characteristic weather control and a salubrious climate throughout the year. This area — the heart of the city — maintains the lushest green cover in the city with open space and a well-organized transportation system.

A neighborhood unit required that each child live within a quarter of a mile or a third of a mile of their school. Housewives were required to live within a half mile of the civic center to shop there and have access to medical facilities within the town. Distances between a person’s home and place of employment could conveniently be covered by a bicycle or a cycle rickshaw. Koenigsberger suggested 7 different types of roads for 7 different groups of users and 7 different functions. Those are footpaths, parkways, cycle paths, minor housing streets, major housing streets, main roads and main arteries.

Bhubaneswar was planned to be the state capital, but it is primarily a city for government officials. Residential quarters were designed to meet the needs of officials from various income groups. Planning was made to meet the ideal urban family’s requirements. This was done by providing them with single-storey independent houses with a front yard and kitchen and garden space in the back yard. Government bungalows have extensive open spaces around them and abundant space between one house and another. Those with high incomes occupy bungalows near the main employment complex. 

Low income housing consists of mostly one and two bedrooms comprised of more than one unit broken into rows. Early in the planning process, residential quarters in different neighborhoods were mostly standardized. Small scale industries and manufacturing activities were added after 1980. Much of the original plan has changed in twenty years.


Bhubaneswar has been declared a special heritage zone as Ekamra Kshetra, which consists of several significant structures. Various socio-cultural and religious heritages of Odisha are represented in the monuments, which represent different periods in Odisha’s history. In recent years, several of these significant elements have steadily lost their significance due to modern construction activities.

An integrated regional development plan has been prepared to meet the growing demand for services in the region. This plan has been declared as the Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) of the Bhubaneswar Development Plan Area (BDPA). The BDPA comprises Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation, Khurda Municipality, Jatani Municipality and adjoining 122 Mouzas. The Long Term Perspective Plan for Bhubaneswar-Cuttack Urban Complex (BCUC) provides a vision for the development of the whole region by 2030. Bhubaneswar-Cuttack Urban Complex being the hub of commercial, political, administrative and socio-cultural activities in Odisha, it has rich potential for development. 

A lot of resentment was felt — and it still exists — when Bhubaneswar replaced Cuttack as the capital on 19 August 1949, two years after India gained independence from Britain. In recent times, Bhubaneswar and Cuttack have been called the ‘twin cities of Odisha’ – one with a modern look and another with a millennium-old history. Bhubaneswar and Cuttack have become closer since the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Bridge, also known as the Trisulia Bridge, opened on 19 July 2017. 


There are a few Tier-2 cities in the country that host the top five IT companies in the country. Bhubaneswar is one of them. These companies include Infosys, Wipro, Tata Consultancy Services, Tech Mahindra, and Mindtree. It is considered one of the three most attractive places in the world to do business, according to the World Bank. Bhubaneswar has been selected as one of the first twenty cities in India to be developed as a smart city. This is part of his flagship ‘Smart Cities Mission’ which seeks to develop 100 smart cities in India. 

Bhubaneswar was added to the World Heritage List (WHL) as part of the application process. The WHL requires that the site be of outstanding value, as well as having at least one of the ten selection criteria met. This is required for inclusion on this list. Bhubaneswar meets four of them. Over 100 cities have been designated World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

Nations that nominate heritage sites and cities to UNESCO, and submit data, maps, and photographs, are given heritage status by the organization. World Heritage Status is the highest honor and most prestigious title given to heritage monuments, sites, and cities in recognition of their universal value.

Bhubaneswar, one of the two Indian capitals planned after independence, alongside Chandigarh, is today one of the most prominent cities in Odisha. It has a culture as vibrant as the city itself. With a population of one and a half million, Bhubaneswar has become known as one of the most happening cities in Eastern India. India’s evolving urban landscape places the city among its upcoming metropolises.

This book contains twenty-seven essays written by learned scholars on different aspects of Bhubaneswar. From temples to town planning, from becoming India’s sports capital to urban living, from culture to literature, and from business to education, the book says it all. It represents everything that has happened since the foundation stone was laid. It is a throwback to what we have witnessed.

It is hoped that by the time Bhubaneswar celebrates its centennial twenty-five years from now, the city’s signature identity and impeccable heritage will have been preserved and passed on to future generations in a more intact form. 

Bhaskar Parichha

About the Book:

The capital of Odisha and a city that is still in the process of being shaped, Bhubaneswar is many things to many people. The Temple City, as it was once called, was home to thousands of temples at one time.

The foundation stone of ‘modern’ Bhubaneswar was laid in 1948 by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. It became the administrative capital of Odisha in the learly 1950s. Bhubaneswar was declared a ‘smart city’ under the urban initiative by the government of India in 2014.

Bhubaneswar, one of the two capitals planned after independence, is today a vibrant city in Odisha with an equally vibrant culture. With a population of one and a half million, Bhubaneswar has become known as one of the most happening cities in Eastern India. India’s evolving urban landscape places the city among its upcoming metropolises.

The book has 25 essays on different aspects of Bhubaneswar written by scholars of standing. From temples to town planning, from becoming India’s sports capital to urban living, from culture to literature, and from business to education, the book says it all. It is a compilation of all that has happened over the past 75 years.

A ‘portrait’ of the city is presented in the book.

About the Editors

Bhaskar Parichha (1957) is a senior journalist and author of five books Unbiased: Writings on India, No Strings Attached: Writings on Odisha, Madhubabau – The Global Indian, and BijuPatnaik – A Biography. He has edited an anthology of essays entitled Naveen @25 -Perspectives. He is a bilingual writer and lives in Bhubaneswar.

Charudutta Panigrahi (1968) is a social advocate and practicing intellectual. He has set upthink tanks in India and abroad. A TED Speaker and an author, he is a polymath whose work takes him everywhere. This is from the last mile in indigenous communities to the high table of global policy making. He lives between Gurgaon, Bhubaneswar, and Panjim with his family. His recent release, The Scent of Odisha, has been received well by readers all over and is acclaimed as an exceptional Odisha chronicle of current times. He is engaged in climate change work and has set up a global platform called Climatists in Berlin.


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Excerpt Tagore Translations

Tagore’s Last Birthday Celebration

Title: Daughters of Jorasanko

Author: Aruna Chakravarti

Publisher: HarperCollins India

The twenty-fifth day of Baisakh dawned. A hot airless day when not a leaf stirred in the trees and the red earth burned like smouldering coals. Rabindranath was taken to the southern veranda in the morning as usual but he lay in his armchair so listless, so drained of energy, Nandita realized that something was wrong. ‘Let me take you back to bed, Dadamoshai,’ she said. ‘You had better rest the whole day and reserve your strength for the evening. The students have organized a programme for your birthday.’

‘I know.’ Rabindranath nodded. ‘I mustn’t disappoint the children. But I would like to give them something in return. Fetch a pen and paper. Closing his eyes, he sang slowly in an old man’s quavering voice. He nutan/dekha dek aar baar janmer pratham shubhokshan:

Oh ever new! 
Let my eyes behold once more 
the first blessed moment of birth.

Reveal yourself like the sun 
melting the mists that shroud it.

Reveal yourself
tearing in two the arid empty breast. 
Proclaim the victory of life.

Give voice to the voiceless that dwells within you; 
the eternal wonder of the Infinite.

From emerging horizons conches blow; 
resonating in my heart. 
Oh callout to the ever new! 
Twenty-fifth of Baisakh!

Rabindranath lay on his bed all day breathing heavily, the heat sapping his strength. He felt so exhausted that even to lift an arm or keep his eyes open was an effort. He could sense the activity that was going on around him. People were coming from far and near with gifts of flowers and fruit. They begged for a glimpse of him but he, who had never refused to meet anybody in his life, now lacked the energy to do so.

He felt a little better towards the evening when the heat of the day had dissipated and a cool breeze started to blow from the khowai. Then at dusk, Nandita came in. ‘Get up, Dadamoshai,’ she ‘ said brusquely. ‘You’ve rested long enough. Time to get dressed.’

Rabindranath sat up meekly and allowed her to put on him his birthday garments of silk dhuti and chador. He didn’t object even when she adorned his brow with sandal paste and hung a garland of fragrant juin flowers around his neck. But when Protima came in with a bowl of fruit he couldn’t stand the smell. ‘Not now, Bouma.’ He shook his head, ‘I’m not hungry.’

Protima wouldn’t go away. ‘You’ve hardly eaten anything today,’ she said firmly. Have a few pieces of mango. It’s your favourite himsagar. Prashanta brought a basketful.’

Lacking the strength to protest, he put a small piece in his mouth and shuddered with distaste. ‘The good days are gone, Bouma,’ he said sadly. ‘Else why does the king of fruits taste bitter in my mouth?’

‘But even last season you were eating five or six a day!’

‘I know.’ He smiled. ‘That is why I say the good days are gone.’

(Excerpted from Daughters of Jorasanko by Aruna Chakravarti, published by HarperCollins India)

About the Book:

The Tagore household is falling apart. Rabindranath cannot shake off the disquiet in his heart after the death of his wife Mrinalini. Happiness and well-being elude him. His daughters and daughter-in-law struggle hard to cope with incompatible marriages, ill health and the stigma of childlessness. The extended family of Jorasanko is steeped in debt and there is talk of mortgaging one of the houses. Even as Rabindranath deals with his own financial problems and strives hard to keep his dream of Santiniketan alive, news reaches him that he has been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Will this be a turning point for the man, his family and their much-celebrated home?
Daughters of Jorasanko, sequel to the bestselling novel, Jorasanko, explores Rabindranath Tagore’s engagement with the freedom movement and his vision for holistic education, brings alive his latter-day muses Ranu Adhikari and Victoria Ocampo and maps the histories of the Tagore women, even as it describes the twilight years in the life of one of the greatest luminaries of our times and the end of an epoch in the history of Bengal.

About the author:

Aruna Chakravarti  has been Principal of a prestigious Women’s College of Delhi University for ten years. She is also a well-known academic, creative writer and translator with seventeen published books on record. They comprise five novels, two books of short stories, two academic works and eight volumes of translation. Her first novel The Inheritors (published by Penguin Random House) was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and her second, Jorasanko (published by HarperCollins India)received critical acclaim and also became a best seller. Daughters of Jorasanko, a sequel to Jorasanko, (HarperCollins India) has sold widely and received rave reviews.Her novel Suralakshmi Villa, published by Pan Macmillan Ltd under the Picador imprint, has been adjudged “Novel of the year (India 2020)” by Indian Bibliography published in The Journal of Commonwealth Literature U.K. Her latest work, The Mendicant Prince, a semi-fictional account of the Bhawal legal case, was released by Pan Macmillan Ltd, in July this year to widespread media coverage and acclaim. Her second book of short stories Through a Looking Glass: Stories has just been released by Om International Ltd.

Her translated works include an anthology of songs from Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitabitaan, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Srikanta and Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Those Days, First Light and Primal Woman: Stories. Among the various awards she has received are Vaitalik Award, Sahitya Akademi Award and Sarat Puraskar.

She is also a script writer and producer of seven multi- media presentations based on her novels. Comprising dramatised readings interspersed with songs and accompanied by a visual presentation by professional artists and singers, these programmes have been widely acclaimed and performed in many parts of India and abroad.



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What Will People Say?

Title: What Will People Say?

Author: Mitra Phukan

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books



There were many Tinigaons within the city of this name. ‘Three Villages’ was the meaning in the local language. A small city in the folds of a valley in the middle of Assam. There was the Tinigaon that was still a small town, not in terms of size, but in the attitudes of the people. It was not just the middle-aged and older people who clung to tradition. Quite a few younger people did, too. And it was not always bad, this conservatism. Indeed, sometimes this unshakeable belief in the sanctity of the past was beautiful and illuminating. It was this conservatism that preserved the precious heritage of the past and kept it alive, preventing it from passing into oblivion.

But at other times, when conservatism became rigid, and sought to impose its beliefs on those who had a different mindset, dictating how they should behave, dress, what relationships they could or could not have, it could become a prison that prevented any kind of progress from taking place. As with much conservatism, the greatest restrictions were placed on women. There were strict codes of conduct for women and girls, codes that varied from age group to age group, but were authoritarian, nevertheless. Individual freedoms were always secondary to the ‘expected’ modes of conduct. ‘It’s always been like this,’ was a refrain often heard to justify the many rules which had lost all relevance in a swiftly changing world. If, indeed, they had ever been relevant at all.

The rules for girls and young women, though unyielding, at least took into account the rebelliousness of youth. ‘You are young, that’s why you think like this,’ was a sentence that was spoken grudgingly by parents or uncles and aunts, to people who were, in their eyes, guilty of ‘errant’ behaviour. But young people went outside the city, outside the state, to study, to work, and who knew what their lifestyles were there? Preferring to turn a blind eye to many rumoured ‘goings-on’ in the metro cities, goings-on in which their children were willing, even enthusiastic participants, they were for the most part relieved that at least when they came home, they behaved in ways ‘expected’ of them.

And so, even though they spoke viciously of that girl, WhatWasHerName, who was now living in with some boyfriend in Delhi, they preferred to keep silent about their own daughter who was doing the same. Grateful for small mercies, they pretended not to know anything when they visited her in the flat she rented in Gurgaon. They kept a deadpan face when they came across a shirt in size 42 hanging, forgotten in the cupboard in the second bedroom. They tried not to notice the other telltale signs that their daughter had been ‘cohabiting’ with a male, and refrained from asking where he had gone, now that they were here for three weeks. They did not ask about the long phone conversations that stretched to well past midnight and were only grateful that their daughter had been ‘considerate’ enough to spare them the trauma of meeting some unknown boy with whom she had been sleeping for the past so many months. They even pushed into a dark recess that worry of pregnancy, and the even greater worry of ‘WhatWillPeopleSay?’

Yes, in these changing times, people were learning, slowly, to ‘adjust’ to the fact that the younger people now were prone to living their lives in ways that were different from what was deemed to be ‘allowed’. But when it came to older people, things still remained as rigid as they had been for centuries. Especially for women. And especially, very especially, for widows.

True, Hindu widows were no longer expected to live a life that was, virtually, a death sentence. Younger widows, especially, ate non-vegetarian food, though their mothers, after the deaths of their husbands, still did not. They wore coloured clothes, though again, their mothers wore pale, traditional clothes, even though during the lifetimes of their husbands they had worn the most vibrant colours under the sun.

But there were, still, many restrictions on single women, widows, even divorcees or never-marrieds, in Tinigaon. They could go out in mixed groups, but never in a twosome with a man not closely related. They could not ‘date’ a man, and go out with him, even if it was as innocent as an outing to a theatre, or a music concert, or having a meal at a restaurant. There were always prying and peering eyes around who would ‘see’ what was happening, magnify it many times, load it with all kinds of intent, and then broadcast it with relish to salivating friends at the next kitty party that took place.

Mihika remembered the time a recently divorced forty-something mother of two had accepted a lift, two days running, from her superior, a married, fifty-plus man. Without a car at that time just after her divorce, she had been waiting on the pavement, in pouring rain, for a bus or auto or ricksha to take her home. As time passed and no vehicle stopped for her, she was growing increasingly desperate. The nanny who looked after the children would be leaving at six-thirty, and it was almost six already. She was greatly relieved, therefore, when her boss’s boss, whom she knew only slightly, stopped and asked her if he could drop her anywhere. It turned out her apartment was on the way to his house and she had gladly accepted the offer of the lift.

(Extracted from What Will People Say? A Novel by Mitra Phukan. Published by Speaking Tiger Books, 2023)

About the Book

When Mihika, 56 and a widow, gets drawn into a relationship with Zuhayr, a 60-year-old divorcee who was her late husband Aditya’s friend, it doesn’t seem to her like an event that should cause more than a raised eyebrow or two. Not in the twenty-first century, and not when their grown-up children are happy that their parents have found a second chance at happiness. But inTinigaon—a small town in Assam—it is just not done for a woman of Mihika’s age to have a romantic relationship—that, too, with a man from the Other Religion: a Muslim.Tinigaon’s Old Guard is scandalized as Mihika and Zuhayr are seen together in restaurants and cinema halls,‘flaunting’ their affair. And a nosy neighbour, Ranjana, keeps the moral brigade busy with juicy details of Zuhayr’s late-night comings and goings from Mihika’s house. Mihika decides to ignore the gossipmongering and slander and remain true to her relationship with Zuhayr, who has filled a void in her life after Aditya’s death five years ago.As long as her four closest friends,Tara,Triveni, Shagufta and Pallavi, stand by her, she doesn’t care if others turn away. But when the gossip turns into something more sinister that could threaten her daughterVeda’s happiness, Mihika is forced to take a call—should she give up the man she loves for her daughter’s sake, or is there an alternative that could give them both what they want? Writing with great sensitivity and gentle humour, Mitra Phukan proves once again that she is an extraordinary chronicler of the human heart. Rooted, like all her fiction, in the culture and sensibilities of Assam, What Will People Say? speaks to all of us, wherever we are, whoever we are.

About the Author

Mitra Phukan is an Assamese author, translator and columnist who writes in English. Her published works, fourteen so far, include children’s books, biographies, two novels, The Collector’s Wife and A Monsoon of Music, several volumes of translations from Assamese to English and a collection of her columns, Guwahati Gaze. Her most recent works are a volume of her own short stories, A Full Night’s Thievery, and a translation of a volume of short stories, by Sahitya Akademi Award-winning author, Harekrishna Deka, Guilt and Other Stories, both published by SpeakingTiger.


The Wistful Wanderings of Perceval Pitthelm

Title: The Wistful Wanderings of Perceval Pitthelm

Author: Rhys Hughes

Publisher: Telos Publishing

There is a shop somewhere in this town that sells bittersweet longing and I decided to seek it out and buy enough for the afternoon and perhaps the evening too. I wandered the streets of Figueira da Foz and if I happened to meet a stranger I asked them for directions, but no one knew where it was, though most had heard of it.

My yearning to find and enter that shop grew steadily more intense, and it now occurred to me that I already had what I wanted, a bittersweet longing for the building and the product sold by its keeper to his clients. But this simply wasn’t sufficient.

Perceval Pitthelm is my name and I’m sure you already knew this and I am English and a writer of adventure novels. I came to Portugal because I had been told it was a more tranquil land than my own in which to write a new book. This turned out not to be quite true. Nonetheless I was fairly satisfied with my circumstances.

I was a little lonely, indeed, but my health had improved. Originally, I planned to stay three months, but I now felt I would be here until the day of my death. Of course, that day might come with any particular sunrise. It could even be today. Fate likes to take us by surprise and teach us useless lessons. Who can say why this is?

At last, purely by chance, I found the shop at the far end of a dark and narrow alley that went nowhere else. The low doorway was covered by a curtain that I realised was a ragged flag and it tickled the nape of my neck as I stooped to pass under. I emerged in shadows and it required a minute for my eyes to adjust to the gloom.

Then I saw I wasn’t alone and that a man was sitting on a chair behind a long counter on which stood rows of oddly shaped jars and bottles. His teeth shone faintly behind a wide but unjustified smile. Most illumination came from the vessels in front of him, an eerie phosphorescence of many shifting colours. I took a step closer.

‘There is bittersweet longing in the glass containers?’

He nodded slowly. ‘Correct.’

‘I didn’t realise it came in liquid form.’

‘You can freeze it if you wish, then it will turn solid. You may heat it over a flame and inhale the vapour. But at room temperature it is a liquid that emits the glow of its own sad craving.’

‘Shall I drink it neat?’

‘Not if you are unaccustomed to it.’

‘I am English, you see.’

‘Of course you are. Drink it mixed with tea. ‘Saudade’ in its raw form is too potent for you. The effects are dramatic. All day and night you will stand on the shore waiting for something you may not even recognise if it arrives. Your hair will grow long in hours and float in the wind, whipping your face and urging it to gallop off your head, even if there is no wind at the time. So many tears will stream from your eyes that your cheeks must go mad from the excess of salt.’

‘I’ve never had mad cheeks! My features are sane.’

‘Keep it that way, Senhor.’

‘Yet I wish to taste bittersweet longing …’

He sighed deeply and said:

‘I understand and I won’t try to discourage you, but imbibe it slowly, a few drops only. This stuff is lethal. Mad cheeks have been responsible for much mischief in the past.’

I was intrigued and asked him to cite examples.

‘Well,’ he continued, ‘there was once a man named Dom Daniel and he drank against my advice half a bottle of distilled saudade and went off to stand on the beach, to weep, wait and gaze at sea, and his cheeks went mad and began swelling with delusions of grandeur and they became too big for his face and gravity tore them off. The tide dragged them far out and he assumed they were lost forever. Back home he walked, ashamed to own a face without cheeks and dreading the anger of his wife when she found out, but those lost cheeks of his didn’t drown or sink to the bottom. They kept riding the currents.’

‘And were washed up on a remote island?’

‘Indeed, Senhor! How did you guess? On an island off the coast of far distant Brazil they reached a new shore and they took root in the sand and grew into cheek trees, extremely tall and festooned with cheeks for leaves and those cheeks blushed deeply like overripe fruits and they were visible to the crews of passing caravels.’

‘Do they still sail caravels in Brazil?’ I asked.

He shrugged. ‘Why not?’

‘We are living in the modern era, that’s why.’

‘Oh no, Senhor! Oh no!’

‘What did I say wrong? What is my blunder?’

‘Saudade doesn’t permit one to remain in the present. It takes us back, my friend, to a time that perhaps never was real but has been lodged in our hearts since we were children, to a time and to places from that time. The magical lands that filled our daydreams, those visions of wonder and marvels, those gentle golden easy places, when we knew that travel was a miracle that would take us there one day, always one day, one day, yes, but never now, never soon. We just had to wait to grow up and the power would be ours. But we did grow up and nothing was as simple or fine as it should have been. The lands were gone, we couldn’t locate them on any map, for we had forgotten to look into our hearts, where they really were, slumbering and fading all the while.’

‘But what happened to those giant cheek trees?’

‘Nothing at all, Senhor.’

‘Didn’t anyone climb them?’

‘To pluck unripe cheeks, you mean? No! The cheeks blushed and the blushes were visible for many leagues across the ocean. Burning blushes that pulsed in the night like lighthouse beams. How do you think it made sailors feel? Sure, they could navigate using the blushes, but cheeks will respond to other cheeks like brothers.’

‘And also like lovers?’

‘Exactly that way! You are no fool, my friend. I knew it before and I know it again. The cheeks of the cheek trees blushed and the cheeks of the sailors blushed in sympathy. How embarrassing for grown men! How humiliating that must be in front of their comrades, all together with their scarlet cheeks pulsing and burning!’

‘And they began to avoid that island, to sail far around it, to take long detours out on the open ocean?’

‘You are perceptive. And saudade was to blame.’

‘The tale is intriguing.’

‘This really happened,’ he told me, and he sighed again, ‘so take care if you sip saudade, even if you dilute it with tea. This isn’t fake stuff, the bittersweet longing of actors in films.’

‘I listen. I have no desire to lose my cheeks.’

‘Oh Senhor! This stuff is intoxicating and throbs your soul as well as your heart. It must be swallowed only in drops. As for cheeks, they are perilous and weird, but let me tell you something. Knees are worse, much worse. Knees! Bear this in mind.’

I said farewell to Old Rogerio, for I already knew his name and in fact had spoken to him at length before. But saudade cares not for precision. It prefers the vagueness that frames a longing. One must never be quite sure what exactly one is yearning for…

About the Book:

Writer, explorer, inventor, fantastist … join Perceval Pitthelm as he takes you on a journey in the township of Kionga, self-propelled on a pair of massive, mechanical kangaroo legs. His stories may be wild, but his adventures are even wilder. In a riot of imagination and literary sleight of hand, Rhys Hughes presents an old-style adventure set in East Africa, Brazil and the Sahara Desert in this novel. We’re talking Philip José Farmer crossed with H Bedford-Jones meeting James Hilton by way of Karel Čapek (in his War with the Newts phase). And with hefty chunks of Flann O’Brien and Boris Vian thrown in for good measure!

About the Author

Rhys Hughes has been writing fiction from an early age. His first book was published in 1995 and since that time he has published fifty other books, nine hundred short stories and many articles and poems, and his work has been translated into ten languages. He graduated as an engineer but currently works as a tutor of mathematics. Having lived in Britain, Spain and Kenya, he is now planning to move to India. His poetry tends to be humorous light verse and offbeat lyrical fantasy, influenced mainly by Don MarquisOgden NashEdward Lear, Richard Brautigan, Ivor Cutler and Spike Milligan.


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Poetry by Robin S. Ngangom

Title: My Invented Land: New and Selected Poems

Author: Robin S Ngangom

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books

Poem for Joseph

It is never too late to come home.
But I must first find a homeland
where I can find myself,
just a map or even a tree or a stone
to mark a spot I could return to
like an animal lifting his leg
even when there’s nothing to return for.

Although it’s true
that in my native land
children had crawled out of burrows
they had gouged under their hard beds,
long after the grownups had fled
and roofs came apart
like charred heads.

You said you didn’t regret
how ethnic cleansers had palmed
your newly-built home off on a people
well on their trail back to unique blood,
you didn’t mind leaving behind
objects of desire
you had collected over twenty-five years,
or, how you came to live in a rented room
with your wife and children
in dog-eat-dog Imphal,
among the callous tribe
I call my own. 

Only the photographs you mourned,
the beloved sepia of a family tree,
since you’re the reason why your fathers lived;
but who’ll believe now
that you lived at all? 

After ‘Jashn-e-Azadi’
(a film on Kashmir by Sanjay Kak)

The kite transforming into smoke lacing
the chinars is not a symbol.
The rose has migrated from the garden of paradise.
Freedom will never come
poured into goblets waiting to be raised,
Martyrdom is a handout from the hagiographer.
Only poetry of ruins is real.
The incoherent rose still blooms
from some beloved breast torn open.

The First Rain

The first rain like the first letter of May
brings news to the hills.
Perched like the houses on the edge of a cliff
I’ve lived more days in exile
than years of my poor childhood.
As a fumbling fifteen-year-old
I abandoned my forward-looking native people
who entrusted terror, drugs and
a civilized plague to children.

Is it better to rejoice and forget
or to remember and be sad?
Only a foolish boy cannot wait to be a man,
adores winter, and leaves home to write poetry.

After the holocaust became a touchstone
we can indict an erring people
and make culture and carnage co-exist.
If I told you how babies have been shot down
from their mothers’ breasts
you would put it down to a poet’s overworked heart
but we like to believe in leaders who flock to the capital

An animal threatened with extinction
needs a lair for his mate and his young,
I’m not different.
I need the morning for its bright blood
and I need to seize the night.

There was not a day that changed my days.
When I listen to hills
I hear the voices of my faded life.
Whisky and Mehdi Hassan and Billie Holiday
make for strange fruit on nondescript evenings.

They can stop us but not our thoughts
from coming out into the streets,
they can shoot us but cannot kill the air
which carries our voices.

O my love, you are still asleep
when the rain carries the night till dawn.
After lying down with dreams of you
I awake in another day of bread and newspapers.

I’m banished to the last outpost of a dying empire
whose keepsakes have become the artefacts of the natives:
necklaces, pianos, lace and tombstones.
I’ve pursued horoscopes and
only promises and maledictions pursue me.
One day Venus was mine, joy and honey,
another day Saturn would not be propitiated.
I found a moment’s peace
in my little daughter’s face.

Before I met you
my dreams were limited by ignorance.
Sometimes at night
I put two drops of our past in my eyes
but they refused to close.

Can poetry be smuggled like guns or drugs?
We’ve drawn our borders with blood.
Even to write in our mother tongue
we cut open veins and our tongues
lick parchments with blood.

I read my smuggled Neruda
and sometimes listen to the fading fiddles
and the mourning voices of my land.

I’m the anguish of slashed roots,
the fear of the homeless,
and the desperation of former kisses.
How much land does my enemy need?

O my love, why did you fade
into the obscurity of my life
and leave me to look long at the mountain?

I’m the pain of slashed roots
and the last rain is already here.
I’ll leave the cracked fields of my land
and its weeping pastures of daybreak.
Let wolves tear our beloved hills.

I’ll leave the bamboo flowering
in the groves of my childhood.
Let rats gnaw at the supine map
of what was once my native land.

Native Land

First came the scream of the dying
in a bad dream, then the radio report,
and a newspaper: six shot dead, twenty-five
houses razed, sixteen beheaded with hands tied
behind their backs inside a church…
As the days crumbled, and the victors
and their victims grew in number,
I hardened inside my thickening hide,
until I lost my tenuous humanity.

I ceased thinking
of abandoned children inside blazing huts
still waiting for their parents.
If they remembered their grandmother’s tales
of many winter hearths at the hour
of sleeping death, I didn’t want to know,
if they ever learnt the magic of letters.
And the women heavy with seed,
their soft bodies mowed down
like grain stalk during their lyric harvests;
if they wore wildflowers in their hair
while they waited for their men,
I didn’t care anymore.

Extracted from My Invented Land: New and Selected Poems by Robin S. Ngangom. Published by Speaking Tiger Books, 2023.

About the Book

Robin S. Ngangom’s poetry is the poetry of feeling, which draws the reader deep into the poet’s world. The poems in My Invented Land showcase Ngangom’s remarkable range—tracing his poetic arc from the deeply personal to the political, from chronicles of private joys, sorrows and everyday epiphanies to the poetry of witness that gazes unflinchingly at the realities that haunt the Northeast, his native land.

About the Author

Born in 1959 in Imphal, Manipur, Robin S. Ngangom is a bilingual poet and translator who writes in English and Manipuri. After completing his high school in Imphal he studied English literature at Shillong’s St Edmund’s College and the North-Eastern Hill University where he currently teaches. His first collection, Words and the Silence, was published in 1988 and since then, he has published two more volumes of poetry and a book of translations.  He was invited to the UK Year of Literature and Writing in 1995, has read his poems at literary events in India and abroad, and his poems have appeared in several prestigious anthologies and magazines. He has also co-edited two significant anthologies of poetry from Northeast India.

Click here to read the review



My Name is Cinnamon

Title: My Name is Cinnamon

Author: Vikas Prakash Joshi 

Publisher: Hay House

Krishna and Karna

It is Newton’s Fifth Law that when a teacher steps out of a primary school class for more than a decent period of time, somebody starts singing.

The 5th standard class at Diamond International School, Koregaon Park, was no exception to this eternal rule.

Cinnamon clutched the long stainless steel ruler like a mike in front of the class. The other twenty students noisily and tunelessly joined in as he belted out Lakdi ki kathi [1]at the top of his voice. It was a welcome break from the Environmental Science Class. Pallavi joined him as the female lead.

Just as the horse was bolting, EVS Ma’am, Mrs. Arora, came back into the classroom.

“Settle down, horses! Roshan and Palli, take your seats,” she said. The class went back to the lesson.

When the class ended, students started filing out noisily.


“Yes Ma’am?”

“Where do you stay?”

“Koregaon Park, Ma’am.”

“Wah. You like singing?”

“Ummm…love singing.”

“I am sure even Gulzar in Mumbai would have heard you singing his lyrics.”

“Really, Ma’am?”


He blushed and looked down at the ground. It was the first time someone had paid him such a big compliment. He didn’t quite know how to react.

“Thank you, Ma’am.”

“How did you get the nickname, Cinnamon? Everyone calls you that.”

“My parents love to add cinnamon to everything. In tea, cakes, pastries and rolls…in everything. I couldn’t pronounce the word Cinnamon… so I called it Cimmanum or Cinnamum or even Cimmamom. So, they dubbed me ‘Cinnamon’.” He frowned. “I don’t like my nickname anymore. I want to change it.”

“Do they like music?”

“No ma’am. They don’t like music…uh…I mean they do like it. But not…er…this kind.” He tried to show with hand gestures what kind he meant.

She gave a knowing smile.  

 “It’s only me. I don’t know, Ma’am. Maybe my tummy-mummy liked this kind of music.”

“Your tummy mummy?”

“Yes. I am adopted.”

Mrs. Arora fiddled with her dangling silver earrings. After smiling a little too long, she said,

“Ok, wonderful, Roshan. Keep it up. You can go now.”

Baba and Maa had never hid from Cinnamon, or anyone else, that he was adopted. It was as much an accepted part of his life as his alert brown eyes and long, muscular legs.

When he was about two years old, Maa sat him down and told him a beautiful story. She read to him from a slim Bengali book. Cinnamon sat in front of her, curled up on the bed. Baba sat next to her. She told him about the ancient city of Mathura, near Delhi, where Vasudev and Devaki had eight children. 

Reading out the story with dramatic voice variations and hand movements, Maa said, “The eighth child was Krishna. When Krishna was born, there was heavy rain. Vasudev took the baby in a wicker basket to the house of Nanda. He placed him with Nanda, a cowherd, for his protection. Lord Krishna grew up with his adoptive parents.”

Baba then told a story in Marathi, in a silky smooth voice. In the story, a charioteer finds a baby in a basket floating in a river. The charioteer and his wife, Adirath and Radha, do not have children of their own. “Little did they know that the boy was the son of princess Kunti and Surya Dev. They named him Karna. He grew up to be a brave and fearless warrior.”

“So, you see, Cinnamon, some children come home in some ways and others in other ways, but every one of them is equally special,” Maa concluded.

Baba said, “When we went to the adoption agency, they said that the boy looks different from you. But that didn’t matter to us.”

When he was four, Baba and Maa took him to the hospital he was born in, in the congested and heaving Kusalkar Road area of Pune. They also took him to the adoption centre, near one of Pune’s biggest hospitals, when he was five, and again when he was six.

Baba told him the story of the day they adopted him. “Cinnamon, the day we went to bring you home, was the most memorable day of my life. It was not only your Maa and me who went to the adoption centre. Ajji, Ajoba, Dada Moshay and Didi Maa also came along. I finally understood what it was like to be the captain of the Indian cricket team. We had only the Maruti Zen at that time, so we arranged two auto rickshaws additionally to take everyone.”

He continued, eyes twinkling. “It rained the previous night and early that morning as well and we felt it to be a good omen. Later, we organised a get-together at a small mangal karyalaya[3] for all the people, on your homecoming day. So many people came home, that we had to finally shift it to a much bigger hall nearby.”

 Cinnamon asked to hear this several times, and each time Baba added extra details. It was like one of those stories that you never got tired of hearing.

As he grew older, he sometimes stared into the mirror in the bathroom, trying to imagine what his father and mother must have looked like. Did his swarthy skin, impressive height and sharp nose and cheekbones come from his father? Did he get his loud laughter and voice from his mother? Where did they live and what did they do?  When he travelled anywhere, he looked around at people, wondering whether any one of them was his father or mother.

Baba and Maa always supported him and let everyone know that he was adopted, so he had no sense of shame or embarrassment. He saw it as a very natural part of his identity.

On one occasion, when he was about six years old, he asked Baba, “Baba, if my birth mother were to come and ask to take me back, what would you do?”

“We don’t know where she is and she doesn’t know where we are either. So that can’t happen. Moreover, we love you and we won’t let you go ever.”

Later, when he was around seven, he had more questions.

He asked his parents, “What did my birth father and mother look like? Are they tall like me?”

“We don’t know, Cinnamon,” they said patiently.

 “How come?”

“We have never met them.”

“Why did they leave me? How could they do that?” He cried out.

Baba and Maa hugged him tightly and kissed him. “Was there something wrong with me?” he persisted.

“They didn’t give you up. There was, and is, nothing wrong with you. Your birth parents must have had some very good reasons, that is why they had to take the decision they did.”

But somewhere it remained in his mind. “Why did they let him go…,” Cinnamon wondered?

On the first floor of their building lived Nivedita Tai and Yatin Dada. They were regulars at the jogging track with Baba. They often came back home together, drenched in sweat, with Yatin and Nivedita always laughing, and Baba recounting some story or the other.

One day, at the breakfast table, Maa told Baba with a smile, “You know, Nivedita is expecting.”

Baba chuckled. “Well, that was quick,” he said.

Cinnamon didn’t know what Nivedita was expecting but he did see Nivedita Tai’s otherwise flat stomach grow and grow with no end in sight. It troubled him but nobody was bothered about it. On the contrary, they all seemed very happy. They even patted her on the stomach. 

He asked Maa, “Maa, what’s happening to Nivedita Tai? Why doesn’t she do something? She will burst open!”

“Khoka, she will do something soon.”

Then, one day, Nivedita Tai suddenly disappeared and so did Yatin Dada. Their flat was locked.

After a week, the doorbell rang. It was Yatin with a box of golden kesari pedhas[4] in his hands. He was beaming as if he had won on Kaun Banega Crorepati[5]or become the Prime Minister of India.

Maa came up to the door. “Oho! Congratulations!” exclaimed Maa, and hugged him. Baba reached out and hugged him too.

“What is her name?”


“Beautiful name. Welcome to the club, sir. Congratulations,” Baba said in Marathi.

Cinnamon didn’t completely understand why Baba was congratulating Yatinif Anvee had come out of Nivedita Tai’s tummy. “What did he have to do with it?” Cinnamon wondered.

On many Sunday evenings, his mother invariably gave a head massage to Cinnamon, with mustard oil. Baba had tried to get her to switch to coconut oil, but to no avail. Though Cinnamon hated the smell, he always loved the warm and fuzzy sensation it left when she finished her massage.  

He sat on a newspaper on the floor, while she vigorously pummelled and pounded his head.

“Head massage is good for blood flow and intelligence, you know,” she declared. “Your Dadu and Didima gave us regular head massages and castor oil, when we were growing up. That’s why we turned out so well, I say. It’s a must actually, for all children.”

Cinnamon knew where this conversation was going, so he decided to divert it.

“Maa, I have a question,” he asked.


“Anvee came out of Nivedita Tai’s tummy?”

“Of course, baby.”

“So you and Baba also came out of Didima and Ajji’s tummies? And others too?”

“Yes, even we did,” she reassured.  

“But I didn’t come out of here?” He turned to touch Maa’s tummy. “I wasn’t in here?”

 “Not from my tummy. You were in my mind,” she said in Bengali, quoting Tagore.

“Whose stomach did I come from?”                   

“Your birth mother’s.”

He looked at his own tummy and imagined a baby inside. He imagined himself inside a tummy, arms and legs and all. What an ugly sight it must have been.

“Maa, it must be so painful,” Cinnamon cried out.

“Yes, it is painful at that time but then once the baby is born, the pain goes.”

“Don’t you think that shows how nice I am? I came without causing you any trouble.”  Maa cupped his chin and laughed.

Then she carried on with the head massage, humming to herself.

[1] A popular hindi film song

[2] Yes.

[3] Wedding

[4] Sweets

[5] A game show that translates to ‘Who will be a Millionaire’

About the book:

Both a captivating chronicle and an endeavour of remarkable depth and ambition, My Name Is Cinnamon provides a richly textured narrative of a boy trying to find his roots and place in the world. On each part of his journey, he encounters new people, new cuisines, and new adventures as he learns a lot about himself and the world around him.

While being a light-hearted and heart-warming read, the book also covers some difficult themes that are rarely explored in ­children’s and young adult literature. It is a deeply moving testament to the unceasing desire to know oneself, the unrelenting pull of familial bonds, and the power of hope, sacrifice, and love.

With his perceptive observations, vivid descriptions, and an authentic voice, the author, Vikas Prakash Joshi, weaves an immersive plot with fully realised environments and characters that are sure to stay with you for a long time. Above all, My Name Is Cinnamon is about finding your own people and accepting who you are.

About the Author:

Vikas Prakash Joshi is a writer by nature and nurture and not by compulsion, ambition, or conscious choice. His writing career started at the early age of eleven and since then, he has won numerous awards and achieved notable distinctions. He has written for leading Indian publications like The Caravan, Hindustan Times, The Wire, The Hindu, DNA, Sakal Times. His essays, articles, and short stories have been translated and published in 31 languages, both Indian and foreign, and in publications in 25 countries. His first book My Name is Cinnamon,was recently awarded the A3 Foundation literary prize 2023 by India-based A3 Foundation.


Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles


August in Kabul

Title: August in Kabul: America’s Last Days in Afghanistan and the Return of the Taliban

Author: Andrew Quilty

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books

I had been thinking about a book set in Afghanistan since late 2020. The Doha Agreement, signed that February, was already working to the Taliban’s advantage. Thousands of their prisoners had been released, and battlefield commanders were capitalising on the ‘active defence’ posture the Americans had pushed Kabul into adopting while being careful not to overextend and cause the Americans to stall their withdrawal. I saw the Doha Agreement as a death knell for the Afghan Government, but I never anticipated it would come so quickly.

The book I wanted to write would follow the theme I’d been following for several years. I would chart how the United States’ refusal to reconcile with the ousted Taliban regime, and the ensuing occupation, ignited the insurgency, just as it had in Iraq.

I would follow the lives of rural Afghans whose experience of the war, unlike those in Kabul who, while also encountering horrific violence, were given an array of new opportunities, was one of deprivation and disaffection—a story less often told.

Admittedly, the fascination with those living behind Taliban lines was amplified because their lives were virtually off-limits to journalists.

An unspoken race for access among writers, photographers and filmmakers began, intensifying in recent years as the prospect of a Taliban return to power became increasingly likely.

After the signing of the Doha Agreement, with US air support curtailed and the Taliban enjoying a wave of international recognition, some commanders began to open the doors to their districts. I had already been reporting on the ruthless exploits of the CIA’s Afghan proxies from the 01 National Strike Unit in Maidan Wardak—albeit from the relative safety of Kabul and the provincial capital, Maidan Shahr—when opportunities to visit the villages where they occurred began to arise from the middle of that year.

Those trips, which, for security reasons, lasted one night at most, were indeed as fascinating as I had expected. They also vindicated the hypothesis that the punitive neglect of the rural class— particularly those in predominantly Pashtun districts—and the violent ordeals they’d endured living among—and, often in cahoots with—the Taliban, were creating an increasingly unbridgeable gap between rural Afghanistan and the central government. The lack of accountability for their suffering was self-defeating for the aggressors, and, for journalists, I believed, the war’s essential theme.

It must be said that the Taliban’s military victory would never have come without the ineptitude and malfeasance of successive administrations in Kabul and their armed forces, and the hubris of the American-led international military coalition. The Taliban’s readiness to seize the advantage after the signing of the Doha Agreement did, however, expedite the eventual collapse that the agreement ensured. The realisation that the Americans were leaving, along with the military support and air power that had given Kabul a lifeline since 2015, was the final straw.

Aside from the almost daily guerrilla-style attacks by the Taliban and other anti-government groups in Kabul—‘The years long fears of the vehicle in front of you blowing up or the guy on the motorbike opening fire,’ as a friend who read an early version of this book reminded me—the war in Afghanistan had been fought largely in remote districts since the early 2000s. As I wrote in the prologue to this book, once the momentum swung decisively in the Taliban’s favour in the spring of 2020, and areas under government control started shrinking to virtual islands accessible only by air, many rural battlegrounds fell silent. The lives of those who had gained the most since the Taliban’s fall in 2001—lives that had overcome hardship and flourished, which I’d rarely been compelled to write about—were all of a sudden under threat. While their physical safety may not necessarily have been at risk, their personal liberty, the simple freedom to choose the trajectory of one’s own life, certainly was. For them, life without choice was no life at all.

If the threat of such loss had instigated a change in what I felt was pertinent to write about, 15 August completed the about-face.

With the Taliban’s victory came a level of scrutiny and critique that no insurgency warrants, no matter the wrongs of the government it was trying to overthrow nor the infringements on human rights it would institute once in power.

Amid the chaos of that day, I hugged farewell a tearful Aziz Tassal, a journalist with whom I’d worked for years and grown to love for his gentle company and care for his wife, three cheeky young daughters and everyone with whom he’d worked. I’d spent a week sharing a room with him in Uruzgan earlier in the year, reporting for an article published by The Monthly where we traded stories about our mutual friend Aliyas Dayee, a journalist from Helmand who had been assassinated three months earlier (the article won the 2021 Walkley Award for long-form feature writing). He’d calmly taken control when the car he was travelling in with Nanna Muus Steffensen, a journalist and my housemate, came under fire during a Taliban ambush in Maidan Wardak some months before. But on 15 August, he was inconsolable. ‘They betrayed us,’ he sobbed, before undertaking his own harrowing journey to the United States with his family.

The next day I photographed Noorullah Shirzada, a photographer with Agence France-Presse, carrying his baby into the French Embassy. The photo was published the day after by the French newspaper Le monde. Farshad Usyan, a friend who I also consider Afghanistan’s best photojournalist, was also there. His passport was inside the embassy awaiting a visa, but the Taliban weren’t allowing him in. Phone calls were made and eventually someone called his name. He disappeared behind the gate before we got a chance to say goodbye.

That day, 16 August, was also when BBC correspondent Kate Clark was flown out of Kabul.

Extracted from August in Kabul: America’s Last Days in Afghanistan and the Return of the Taliban by Andrew Quilty. Published by Speaking Tiger Books, 2022.

About the Book

As night fell on 15 August 2021, the Taliban swept into Kabul, capital of Afghanistan. After a twenty-year conflict with the United States, its Western allies and a proxy Afghan government, the Islamic militant group once aligned with al Qaeda was about to bury yet another foreign foe in the graveyard of empires. And for the US, the superpower, this was yet another foreign disaster. As cities and towns fell to the Taliban in rapid succession, Western troops and embassy staff scrambled to flee a country of which its government had lost control. To the world, Kabul in 2021 looked like Saigon in 1975.

August in Kabul is the story of how America’s longest mission came to an abrupt and chaotic end, told through the eyes of Afghans whose lives were turned upside down: a young woman who dreams of a university education but whose family now want to give her up to the Taliban in exchange for security; a presidential staffer who works desperately to hold things together as the government collapses around him; a prisoner in the notorious Bagram Prison who suddenly finds himself free when prison guards abandon their post. Andrew Quilty was one of a handful of foreign journalists who stayed in Kabul as the city fell. This remarkable book is his first-hand account of those dramatic final days.

About the Author

Andrew Quilty is the recipient of nine Walkley Awards, including the Gold Walkley, for his work on Afghanistan, where he has been based since 2013. He has also received the George Polk Award, the World Press Photo Award and the Overseas Press Club of America award for his investigation into massacres committed by a CIA-backed Afghan militia. August in Kabul is his first book.

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Padmini of Malwa: The Autobiography of a Medieval Princess

Book Review by Meenakshi Malhotra

Title: Padmini of Malwa: The Autobiography of Rani Ruupmati

 Author: Priyadarshini Thakur ‘Khayal

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books

Padmini of Malwa :The Autobiography of Rani Ruupmati is a delightful piece of historical fiction cast in the form of autofiction or autobiographical fiction. It narrates, in the first person, the tale of Rani Ruupmati, who is kidnapped and brought up by Rao, tutored by Panditji or Pandijju, Ketki and Tara. Claiming to cover everything that history books leave out, this story employs a clever narrative ploy which is introduced in the ‘Scribe’s Note’. The scribe is Priyadarshini Thakur ‘Khayal’, author of eight volumes of poetry in Hindi and Urdu and ghazals sung by Jagjit Singh, the Hussain brothers and others. His poetic imagination seeps into the retelling of the story as he brings the medieval princess to life. ‘Khayal’ tells us in the note: “Believe it or not, this is truly Rani Ruupmati’s autobiography. I merely put on paper what she told me.” The royal subject  appears to him in all her resplendent beauty, the legendary queen over whom battles were fought, ready to tell her own story. In wresting this initiative, the story acquires a unique colour and assumes a life of its own, even as it compellingly propels the reader to dive into this narrative.

The narrative employs a dream vision to communicate events and episodes which are hardly remembered by the lost little girl, referred to as kunwarini, and various terms in the narrative. Emphatic in her desire to set the record straight about Baz Bahadur and his bravery and courage, she represents a voice which might have fallen through the cracks of historical narratives. The novel, retrieving fragments from shards of memory, is given to the reader in the form of visions.

The first vision is based in the mansion by the  maulshri tree, the second in a “seedy little fortress” by Garh Dharmpuri. Barely remembering the details of her natal home, she is told by her companions that she is the daughter of Reva Maiya. Thus she narrates to the scribe: “At times life seems like an elaborate play; a play full of heroes, villains and countless other characters of various shades—my life in Garh Dharmapuri, located on a river-isle of the Reva was the very opposite of what it had been in the deserted mansion…the kidnapping and the fall into the Reva that turned my life upside down, left me stunned and I remained mute for a long time.” In this fortress Ruup, as she is called, blossoms into womanhood in relative oblivion. And it is only through the eyes of others that she becomes aware of her burgeoning beauty. Steeped in her music and music lessons, she remains somewhat insulated from the ways of the world or her position in it. Hints are there a-plenty, but the text maintains its rhythm and builds up its momentum in this coming-of-age story.

A special annual occasion for Ruup is the festival of Navaraatra when she is the recipient of the ceremonial offering made to young pre-pubertal Hindu girls. On reaching puberty, Ruup is able to trace the shift or change since male guardian figures like Rao who Ruup calls ‘Baba’ start maintaining a distance. “My childhood seemed to be slipping away farther and my previous life in the maulshri mansion turned hazier by the day.” Tremulously poised on the brink of womanhood, she is hardly aware that her life is to be transformed.

Emboldened by a couple of forays into the forest by the magical lake “Ardhapadma” or half-moon lake, Ruup decides to venture out on her own. It is here that she meets Baz Bahadur, who eventually becomes the Sultan of Malwa. Their legendary meeting has been the source of many narratives, the theme of many ballads  and songs. Meanwhile Ruup comes to know about her and her family’s past and its chequered histories. She learns of her antecedents, but also comes to know that her guardian at the ‘garh’(fortress) is actually her father and the story unfolds in all its splendour and romance tinged in darker tones.

The novel weaves a fascinating tale as it narrates the dramatic rescue of Ruupmati by Baz Bahadur and his forces. The love story of the two is in a sense, doomed. Located in the rocky terrain of 16th century Malwa (Madhya Pradesh), the story captures the violence and deceit of internecine warfare, where danger lurks everywhere. Set   in a world of treachery, violence and intrigue, the novel does not romanticise the medieval world or sugar-coat it, instead it shows a world where every step is fraught with danger and threatened by violence. Even though the outcome of this tragic love story is foretold, the writer  in giving a voice to a historical– or herstorical subject, recuperates  that subject to give voice and agency to the beautiful queen of Malwa.

It is a beautifully retold narrative to be read and mulled in its poignant grandeur.


Dr Meenakshi Malhotra is Associate Professor of English Literature at Hansraj College, University of Delhi, and has been involved in teaching and curriculum development in several universities. She has edited two books on Women and Lifewriting, Representing the Self and Claiming the I, in addition  to numerous published articles on gender, literature and feminist theory.       



Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles


Anthill by Vinoy Thomas 

Title: Anthill

Author: Vinoy Thomas

Translator: Nandakumar K

Publisher: Penguin India

Diverse Marriages

The sight of his brother-in-law and his own son toiling in the teashop warmed the cockles of Prasannan’s heart. Whenever Ranjit handed over a cup of tea to anyone, they would say, ‘Oh, Prasannan’s tea was far better.’

He was gladdened not because his son caused people to compare him favourably but because the level of tea and sugar in the containers remained undiminished and one bottle of milk delivered over forty to forty-five cups of tea. Since Perumpadi was devoid of other shops at that time, the public decided to accept— with the same stoicism they accepted fate—the son’s atrocities as he followed in his father’s footsteps.

Suni excelled in tossing parottas and thinning them like cloth; wet grinding the batter to such a fine froth that dosas became gossamers; slicing the bananas paper-thin to make fritters; pouring wheat flour, baking soda and sugar mixtures from such heights that undakkaya made out of it had more air bubbles than substance. His only fault was that he had to watch at least two movies a week. That was taken care of by the complimentary pass he received for pasting the movie poster on the shop wall.

The day after the vehicle of black magic was delivered, work was started on a kuzhikalari* in a plot that belonged to Chandrappura Mani to the west of Prasannan’s land. Whirlwind Manoharan was the kalari gurukkal. There were two versions on the provenance of this nickname—some said that it was because from the time he was a child, at the least provocation he would swirl like a typhoon and hit people; others said it was because he was epileptic. Epilepsy and whirlwind share the same homonym in the vernacular.

Whirlwind Manoharan had a trait of becoming an instant admirer of practitioners of traditional skills and arts—especially the ones he could not master—and then trailing those practitioners to learn from them. Although an ardent admirer, when he started to learn the skill or art, he would pick fights with his gurus. He, therefore, ended up not mastering any of the skills.

Although he tried to learn many such skills, he gave literacy a wide berth. In his view, this world needed nothing that required one to be literate. Before he started the kuzhikalari, he was attached as a helper to a stonemason.

At the house at Koothuparamba where he was working, a kalari asan had come to do therapeutic massage for the karanavar of the house. The way he carried himself and his physique turned Manoharan into a devotee. He started to believe that whatever the asan did was superhuman. One day, after the massage, when the asan was leaving, it started to rain heavily.

‘Asan, how can you leave without an umbrella?’

‘Why do I need an umbrella? I will twirl this stick and walk,’ asan bragged for a lark.

After he said that, when he stepped into the rain, asan did open the umbrella in his hand. However, Manoharan’s mind was not willing to process that sight. All he saw was asan walking under a stick spinning overhead, without a single droplet hitting his body. The apprenticeship with the stonemason ended on the same day.

Manoharan was unable to follow the vocal syllables used by the guru for guiding his disciples’ steps and movements. Though Manoharan had suggested that he slow down the recitation, asans have their own pace of doing such things. Even the small children were stepping up to that tempo. Eventually, asan separated Manoharan from other disciples and let him set his own pace. After about six months, Manoharan made an announcement that shocked asan—he was going to start his own kalari in Perumpadi. Asan asked him, ‘Eda, do you know all the movements?’

‘Oh yeah, I learnt before joining here.’

‘Let’s hear a couple of vocal syllables of the move sequences.’ ‘Eyy, gurukkal, what do you need all these vocal syllables for?

Feet forward, feet back, bend, twist, turn   isn’t it enough to say

these? I know enough.’

‘You little prick, upon all the gods of kalari, I shall not allow you to start the kalari.’ The gurukkal was adamant.

‘Gurukkal, for Perumpadi even I am too good. Shouldn’t they all learn kalari? Shouldn’t I earn my livelihood?’

Considering that any further conversation would be possible only if he lowered his own station as a gurukkal, he said nothing further.

Since Whirlwind was the owner, there was no cutting corners. The ground was excavated and sunk by four feet; the kalari training arena was laid out as per the traditional dimensions of forty-two feet by twenty-one feet; one-and-a-half-feet high mud walls bordering the kalari were built and on that, using bamboos and coconut thatches, the superstructure six-feet high; and in the south-west corner, a seven-level poothara, a platform for the kalari deities.

A few knives, swords, ottas,* and canes were procured and placed on the poothara. These arrangements left Whirlwind’s detractors in awe, and in spite of themselves they started to call him gurukkal. The kalari normally starts during the monsoon season. However, the location being Perumpadi and the gurukkal being Manoharan, it started in April. He managed to enrol about fifteen children as disciples.

With the opening of the kalari, Prasannan started to stock gingelly oil—until then it had no demand—in large quantities. He started to offer ready credit to Manoharan gurukkal. Receiving unwonted respect, gurukkal became a regular at Prasannan’s shop.

Two months after the inauguration of the kalari, a man came to Prasannan’s shop claiming he could stick together anything that was splintered. He was carrying a glue in a spiral, wound up like aluminium wire.

When Prasannan dismissed him with ‘Sticking, my ass, as if there is nothing else to do, scram,’ Manoharan, seated on the plank drinking tea, was immediately interested in the new gimmick and said, ‘Don’t go without showing how you stick things together,’ and made the glue-man sit beside him.

That made Prasannan recall the broken cooking pot lying behind the shop. Happy that at least one loss could be redeemed, he offered, ‘I’ll give a pot to be glued.’ He went to the rear of the shop and lifted the pot. The sight of something wrapped in the torn pall shocked him. Without showing any alarm, he took the bundle, shoved it between the banana plant stem and leaf stalk, and handed over the pot to the glue-man. By that time, using charcoal, the glue man had started an ersatz furnace in a small biscuit tin.

He ground the broken edges and made them smooth and even. Using the rod heated in the ersatz furnace, he applied the aluminium coloured glue on the broken edges and stuck them together. After that, he poured water into the pot; there were no leaks, not even seepage. The man instructed them that the pot should be used on the stove only after three hours. Prasannan paid Rs 25 for a sliver of the glue—the size of a matchstick—planning to use it in future.

After five hours, Radhamani boiled water in that pot to make fish curry. As she added Malabar tamarind and stirred the pot, it started to leak like an incontinent elder onto the stove.

When the fire in the stove was extinguished, Prasannan suddenly recalled the bundle he had found under the pot. He felt no animus towards the glue-man; nor did he believe he had been duped. All he could think was that the black magic was so malevolent that not even a breach in his pot could be repaired.

The next day, Radhamani got a low-grade fever. Before taking Radhamani to the doctor, Prasannan chose to go to a karmi* in Manathana. As he struggled to undo the knots, the karmi said, ‘This is no tyro, it’s done by an expert.’

When he opened and read the palmyra leaves, he understood it was a horoscope. However, the text added by Pittankanishan foxed him. Nevertheless, in order to vindicate his previous opinion, he said, ‘It’s a malefic thing done by including a rakshass’s† horoscope in it. Remedying it will not be easy. But we are lucky that it is not impossible.’

‘Are you able to divine who did it?’

‘They don’t belong to your place. Your enemies are from outside.’

‘Could be true. I don’t have many enemies in our place.

Whatever it maybe, please get rid of the jinx.’

On the prescribed date, for hours after midnight, all the rituals and poojas were conducted. Gritting his teeth, Prasannan had loosened his purse strings.

‘You have nothing to fear any more. Not only have I nullified it, I have built a fence of protection that none can breach,’ the karmi said with overweening self-confidence.

The next day, Prasannan observed all his customers closely; apparently, the tale of the midnight exorcism rituals had not reached them. If it had, there would have been searching questions. However, after he had swept the teashop, he was stunned by a question asked and statement made by Whirlwind, who had come in for a morning tea, ‘Prasanetta, has Radhamani chechi’s fever subsided? Be careful, she could have AIDS. We don’t know what diseases people bring into the shop. She interacts with them closely, doesn’t she?’

Whirlwind had no idea what AIDS was. He thought that it spread like common cold. However, since everyone else present there knew what it was and how it was transmitted, they laughed.

‘Your mother has AIDS.’

Prasannan had regained his confidence from the knowledge that the jinx had been neutralized. That courage made him unleash a roundhouse slap on Manoharan’s face, forgetting for the nonce that he was a kalari gurukkal. Mortified, Manoharan turned and ran into the kalari.

Getting into the lotus position with much difficulty, he sat in front of the poothura for a while, pondering which weapon to use on Prasannan. Finally, he decided that it had to be the otta—not because he was an expert user, but because none of the Perumpadi residents had seen it used before. In order to give them a taste of this weapon shaped like an elephant tusk, he took it up in his hand.

As Prasannan watched Whirlwind run towards him twirling the otta overhead furiously, he felt scared. To temper his fear, he stepped out of the shop and took up a large stone. That sight scared Manoharan too.

Manoharan thought it prudent to remind him the rules of engagement, ‘Prasannetta, you should not fling stones at someone wielding the otta. You may take up an otta yourself.’ However, since Prasannan had not been trained in kalari, he was not bound by such rules.

‘Run, …, I will break your single tusk with this stone,’ said Prasannan, and aimed the stone at Manoharan’s knees. Although Manoharan tried to stop it with the otta, it did hit his leg. Manoharan did not pause for further reflection; he flung the otta towards Prasannan’s head. It hit his right leg, instead.

With the words ‘Prasannetta, didn’t I warn you not to fling stones at an otta-expert?’ Manoharan walked back to the kalari.

Prasannan, whose femur had a complete, transverse fracture, was taken to the hospital by the people who had gathered there by then. After putting the leg in the cast, the doctor informed him that he would not be able to walk for three months.

‘President, he slapped me and also flung a stone at me. Yet I did nothing. However, as a weapon with integrity, the otta did find its target. Hadn’t I warned him enough not to tangle with the otta?’ At Reformation House, standing in front of Jeremias, Manoharan mounted a spirited defence.

Nevertheless, Jeremias decreed that since Manoharan had ignited the fight by slandering Prasannan’s wife and Prasannan’s hospital expenses had stacked up to a princely sum, he should pay Prasannan some compensation. Prasannan not only rejected Manoharan’s appeal for a remission in the compensation—in consideration of his readiness to massage Prasannan’s leg, after the cast was removed, with the kalari’s traditional liniment for such injuries—but also demanded that the outstanding dues, towards teas consumed by him, be settled forthwith.

Normally, when he saw that both parties were digging in their heels or that circumstances could not be ameliorated through dialogues, Jeremias quickly wound up the mediation talks.

The Manoharan-Prasannan dispute was one such. When he was trying to think of a way to end it, Puliyelil Clara reached Reformation House. Jeremias named a figure as compensation that was mutually acceptable to the parties, asked Prasannan to give Manoharan sufficient time to pay him, and brought down the curtain on the issue.

After drinking the tea and eating the jackfruit fries that Kathrina had served, Clara presented her problem.

‘You are aware, President, that my son Robin was working in a gold jewellery shop in Kannur.’

‘Oh yeah, you said that he was paid well and all that.’

‘True, he was paid well. They cared for him too; he was well regarded. He was managing everything in the shop. They are some kind of brahmins, yet, he was invited to every function at their home. I too have been to their house a couple of times. His boss has two daughters. He has fallen in love with the older one, a college student. I swear upon the Holy Mother, I had no inkling of this. I wouldn’t allow him to marry from another religion. What to say, president, last Saturday night he turned up with that girl in tow. I asked him what kind of idiotic act he had done and scolded him harshly.

‘The girl then started to cry saying she can’t live without him. To be honest, when I saw her cry like that, I too felt bad. So, I decided to let them stay with me that night. Robin said they would sleep together. I put my foot down. After she had been baptised and they were married they could sleep together or wake up together or whatever. President, shouldn’t we abide by the Church’s dictates? The same night, I went up the valley and made the girl stay in my sister’s home there.

‘The next morning, I found her father and relatives standing in my front yard. I started to tremble with fear. My son was also nervous. However, her father only asked him where his daughter was, and nothing else. I went and fetched the girl. The moment she saw her father, she started to weep. After asking her not to cry, her father spoke to us. Everyone already knew she had eloped. She was not going to find another alliance. They were agreeable to them getting married. I said, it’s true that we are surviving because of his salary. However, that doesn’t mean I am going to let him marry out of religion. She has to accept all our sacraments and get married in the church. He said all conditions were acceptable. It’s the first wedding in the family, he said, and that they wanted it conducted with pomp in a wedding hall. And the mangalasutra ceremony could be in some nearby church. I agreed to all that.

‘Then they said, there should be some assurance from our side. At least rings should be exchanged, then and there. We had no stock of rings at home, I said. They said that was of no matter, they’d brought the rings, and that could be deducted from the dowry. A solid ring, at least one-and-a-half sovereigns, she slipped onto Robin’s finger. He slipped another one on to her finger too. After fixing a tentative date for the wedding, they went away, taking her with them. Yesterday, Monday, when Robin went for work, the manager said he should meet the owner first. He says when he met the owner, he was not the same person he was on Sunday. The man abused him roundly and threatened that if showed up again, he would file a complaint that he had stolen the ring. He’s back home and in tears. What should I do, president?’

Jeremias kept looking at Clara as he turned things over in his mind. He then spoke, while pondering over the loss Robin had suffered.

‘Clara, every man is fated to get a particular woman. That’s whom he’ll get. Now you think about it. If this marriage had happened, what would have been your state? Would she have been a help to you? Do you think she would have stayed in this place, especially in your home? Whatever you might say, whether you consider our faith, economic status, domestic circumstances, place, or culture, only alliances that are suitable for us will sustain. If you can get Robin to meet me, I shall try to talk to him. Money, prestige, nothing matters; compatibility is the foundation of family life. We shall find such a girl for him.’

As he was ending his words, Jeremias’s mind was filled with another thought. Robin and his son Arun were of the same age. Now he too was of marriageable age; Jeremias had not been thinking of it only because Arun was away. Kathrina was concerned; she used to voice it occasionally.

‘Son, you should take care. You care for the people here; but no one will be there for you. Ours is a truncated family. A cursed family, as your father used to say. It’s been said that it will affect seven generations. We can only pray that nothing of that sort happens. However, you need to take care of Arun. He is living alone, far away from all of us, in an alien land. He has not seen a settled, happy family life. All my prayers to God are for him to have a happy family life.’

Only when his mother used to say such things would Jeremias think of his son. Was there really the curse that his father used to talk about? If indeed it were there, would prayers alone nullify it? Living as a family unit has to be learnt from doing so. Arun never had the opportunity. He should not have been sent away for his studies. Nevertheless, Jeremias could not have insisted that Arun should spend his life in this accursed Perumpadi like his previous generations. Jeremias was aware that he himself did not have an ideal family life to exemplify for Arun’s benefit. There was no point in agonizing over it. If it was in his fate to be married, he would find a bride too, as any other young man.

While returning after discussing the case of Charapadam Monichan’s daughter, Jeremias told Velu what had occurred to him, ‘Velu, kalyanam, that is wedding, means good or happy times. But, is it really that way? What have we seen in the majority of the houses in Perumpadi—complaints, disunity, tears, laments and suffering, right? If we search for the root cause, in most cases, we end up at incompatible marriages. Did Monichanchettan really have to get his mentally disturbed daughter married?’

Mental illness ran in the Charapadam family. It made finding her a suitable alliance difficult. Monichan tried his best to get her into a convent. However, the nuns in charge rejected her candidacy when they came to know of her mental illness. At that time, a proposal came from a family in Edathotty who had recently migrated to Malabar. No one knew of their provenance. Not that the Charapadam family were keen to find out about their roots.

The wedding did go through. On the first night, the girl bit off the groom’s ear. The issue eventually reached Jeremias. During the compromise talks, Jeremias said, ‘Return the gold and the almirah that you had received as dowry and drop her back home. And file a divorce petition.’

This statement put the boy’s parish priest’s back up. ‘How can that be? Whom God has joined, let no man put asunder. You should let the girl live with you. We can send her for some divine retreat. We have now retreat centres that cure things worse than this.’

After she returned from the retreat, the next organ that she chose to chew up was dearer and more useful to the husband than his ear. When the boy’s party reached Monichan’s house, Monichan told Jeremias, ‘I shall handle this now, president. You had given him a way out, hadn’t you?’

Jeremias remained silent. Taking his silence for acquiescence, Monichan filed a case against the boy, his sister and his father, alleging sexual assault. The complaint stated that the boy had affairs with other women and had attempted to murder Monichan’s daughter so that he could marry another woman. The police arrested the whole family and bundled them into the lock-up.

On that occasion, the vicar said, ‘That is not God’s law; it’s the land’s law. Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’

As soon as the boy’s family was released from the jail, at the first opportunity, they sold their property in Edathotty and left for some unknown destination.

‘We call that most disastrous event of that boy’s life also kalyanam. God’s laws and man’s laws are together screwing our lives.’ Jeremias concluded the topic he had opened with Velu.

Months later, an example substantiating Jeremias’s view that marriages happen unplanned did show up in Perumpadi. Following Prasannan’s leg fracture, Suni had assumed part control of the teashop. That pleased Ranjit too. Prasannan had said he would maintain the cashbox. However, insisting that his brother-in-law should take complete rest, Suni arranged all amenities for him in the bedroom behind the teashop. Every evening he showed him the account books too.

‘He’s smart. He’ll manage everything well.’ Radhamani gave her testimonial on behalf of her brother. Suni started the practice of closing the shop on Sunday afternoons. Every Sunday, as soon as they closed the shop, Ranjit and Suni headed for the movie theatre. They would return late in the night. One Sunday, they left for the movies and were not back even the next morning. Radhamani had to open the shop and serve tea. Prasannan let out a string of invectives and, aided by a stick, limped his way to the table that served as the cash counter. In the afternoon, Suni and Ranjit arrived in a taxi. A girl was with them.

‘Aiyyo, isn’t this Appam Mary’s daughter?’ The words of a customer seated inside the shop could be heard outside.

‘Yes, it is, sonny, do you have any doubts?’ the girl turned on him.

‘A slight one. That’s now removed.’ He retreated.

‘What’s all this shouting in front of the shop?’ Leaning on the stick, as soon as Prasannan stood up with these words, the girl bowed down towards his broken leg saying, ‘Acha, bless me.’

‘You misbegotten…, what is all this?’ Prasannan directed his query at his son.

‘Father, I was suckered.’

Those few words from an overwrought Ranjit were the précis of the story that spread through Perumpadi thereafter. After the advent of Suni at the shop, uncle and son used to sleep on the same mat, and uncle used to narrate titillating stories to his nephew to put him to sleep.

Stories such as squeezing lemon juice over a woman’s private parts to check if she had sexually transmitted disease when she was his and his friends’ co-passenger on a truck on their hitchhiking trip to Bangalore; gifting a piece of jaggery to suck on and a children’s magazine to read to seduce young girls in the slums; during visits to a relative’s house in the Wayanad hills, since the neighbourhood’s only wet-grinding stone was in that home, how he took the friendly neighbourhood women who were using the grinding stone from behind, and with his rhythmic thrusts helped them grind everything to a fine paste. Inspired by those stories, Ranjit requested for an opportunity to be the character in such a story so that he could gloat among his friends. Suni said that if there was money such stories wrote themselves.

All Ranjit had to do was dip his sticky fingers in the shop’s cash-box. The rest—finding the girl, vehicle, place, everything— fell on Suni. Every Sunday their purported visits to the cinema were to create stories for Ranjit to narrate in his old age.

Suni was late in realizing that Appam Mary’s daughter, Preetha, had started earning independently. In Suni’s opinion, it was all for the good, for in the initial days her rates would be sky-high. That Sunday with her in the car, they had used the Periya Pass to enter Wayanad. At the twenty-eighth milestone, they were stopped for a police check.

‘They’re my nephew and niece. We are going to Thirunelli temple to worship.’

Preetha, seated in the rear of the car with Ranjit, did some quick thinking. She had started to hate her present life. She thought of her mother, who with no one to help her, was forced to push her too into the profession. Why should she not have a family life? To have that one needs to marry a loaded guy. In her present circumstances, that was a distant dream. This was a do-or- die situation, where the right decision could make her life.

‘Sir, that’s not true. Ranjitettan took me from my home promising to marry me. I came because he assured me this uncle seated in front too was aware of it. We are Christians, sir. I won’t be allowed into my home now.’

‘Aiyyo, I never promised to marry her, sir,’ Ranjit blurted out. ‘Then what did you promise to do, man?’ the policeman pulled open the door and demanded.

The police accompanied them to Thirunelli. The brilliant idea that there was no need to inform his folks and that later they could get rid of her by offering her some money was that of Suni. With his uncle as witness, Ranjit signed an undertaking in the police station that he would marry Preetha and take care of her. The police, on their part, gave their word to Preetha that if it did not happen, they would file charges against Ranjit for sexual harassment.

After mouthing a volley of the choicest abuses at his daughter- in-law prostrated now at his feet, Prasannan hobbled into his house. When he pondered over it at leisure, he realized no one among them was to be blamed for all that had happened. It was the black magic at its malevolent best. Who is a more powerful shaman than the one in Manathana? Or perhaps, what was happening in his family was beyond the powers of any shaman.

The next morning, Prasannan woke up at 3 a.m., as was his wont. Everyone else was asleep. Leaning on the stick, he walked around the shop that his father had started and he himself had nurtured without rest for four decades.

From an open sack, rice grains were on the verge of falling down. He rolled up the hem of the sack and turned it into a ridge to hedge in the grains. He picked up a potato that had rolled off another sack and put it back. He selected chillies that had started to rot and threw them into the bin meant for cattle feed. He closed firmly the sliding door of the almirah in which savouries were kept. He looked towards the room in which his son and his bride were sleeping. He then went out and started to walk as fast as his broken leg could carry him to a destination he himself did not know.

About the Book

Anthill centres around the people of Perumpadi, a remote village that has hidden itself from the world. Bounded by dense Kodagu forests on the south and west, and rivers on the north and east, and situated at the border between Kerala and Karnataka, Perumpadi’s very isolation attracted varied settlers from south Kerala over the years. The first settler on this land, Kunjuvarkey, was fleeing the opprobrium of getting his own daughter pregnant. Those who followed had similar shameful secrets. In a land of sinners, where no one pried into the other’s past, they were able to live and build a community without being tied down by society’s interdictions. Anthill, the exquisite translation of the Kerala Sahitya Akademi-winning novel Puttu, tells the story of a people who have tried to shed the shackles of family, religion and other restraining institutions, but eventually also struggle to conform to the needs of a cultured society. .

About the Author and Translator

Vinoy Thomas hails from Nellikkampoyil, Iritty, in north Kerala. A school teacher by profession, he is one of the most promising young writers in Malayalam. His short story collections include Ramachi, Mullaranjanam and Adiyormisiha Enna Novel. His maiden novel, Karikkottakkary (English translation soon to be published by Penguin Random House), was selected as one of the best five novels in the DC Books competition. His second novel, Puttu (Anthill), won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi award for the Best Malayalam Novel of 2021. In 2019, Ramachi had won the same award for short stories. Vinoy has also authored a children’s book, Anatham Piriyatham. His short stories have been made into movies. He is also a gifted scriptwriter and has to his credit a few acclaimed movies.

Nandakumar K is a Dubai based translator.His co-translation of M. Mukundan’s  Delhi Ghadaka(Delhi: A Soliloquy) won the 2021 JCB Prize for literature. His other translations include A Thousand Cuts, the autobiography of T.J. Joseph, which won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award; The Lesbian Cow and other Stories by Indu Menon; and In the Name of the Lord, the autobiography of  Sr Lucy Kalapura. Nandakumar is the grandson of Mahakavi Vallathol Narayana Menon.

* Where kalaripayattu, Kerala’s martial arts, is taught in the traditional manner.

* A thick, curved truncheon made of wood used in kalaripayattu.

* Shaman.

† A rakshass (short for Brahmarakshass) is an evil spirit that is born when a brahmin is murdered.


Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles


Poetry of Love & Longing by Abhay K

Title: Monsoon: A Poem of Love and Longing

Author: Abhay K

Publisher: Sahitya Akademi


I wake up with your thoughts

your fragrance reaching me                           1

all the way from the Himalayas

to the island of Madagascar


brought by monsoon

from the blessed Himalayan valley                 2

to the hills of Antananarivo[1]

on its return journey


I dream of you every night, the shimmering dawn

snatches my dreams but the morning breeze comes  3

whispering your name, permeating my being

with your thoughts, only your thoughts, my love


I’m far away in this Indian Ocean island

yearning for your touch, gazing at the Moon,         4

Venus and myriad star constellations,

hoping you’re gazing at them too


I wait for the monsoon to be born[2]

to send you sights, sounds and aroma                   5

of this island, redolent of vanilla, cloves,     

Ylang-ylang[3] and herbs of various kinds


O’ Monsoon, wave-like mass of air,

the primeval traveller from the sea                    6

to the land in summer, go to my love

in the paradisiacal Himalayan valley


for eons you’ve ferried traders across the Indian Ocean,

guided the legendary Sinbad and Vasco da Gama    7

and brought wealth and joy to millions,

your absence, alas, brings famine and death


the bounty of Indra[4] offered through rains

at times just a spell of scattered showers,       8

at times unceasing torrents for days at a stretch

whetting passion of lovers with your thunder-drums


lovesick and far away from my beloved,

I beseech you to take my message to her                9

along with amorous squeals of Vasa parrots[5],

reverberating songs of Indri Indri[6]


the sound of sea waves crashing on coral beaches

mating calls of the Golden Mantellas[7]              10

mellifluous chirps of the Red fody

sonorous songs of the Malagasy Coucal


the sight of ayes-ayes[8] conjoined blissfully

at midnight in Masoala rainforests             11

fierce fossas[9] mating boisterously at Kirindy

colourful turtles frolicking in the Emerald Sea


yellow comet moths swarming Ranomafana[10]

Radiated tortoises carrying galactic maps        12

Soumanga sunbirds sipping nectar

white Sifakas[11] dancing in herd


ring-tailed lemurs feasting on Baobab[12] flowers

Vasa parrots courting their mates                  13

painted butterflies fluttering over fresh blossoms

blooming jacarandas painting the sky purple


Traveller’s palms[13] stretching their arms in prayer

Baobabs meditating like ascetics turned upside down  14

Giraffe-necked red weevils[14]  necking their mates

fragrant Champa flowers—galaxies on the earth


colourful Mahafaly tombs[15] dotting the countryside

erotic Sakalava sculptures[16] arousing longings in mind,   15

innumerable sculpted rock-temples at Isalo[17]

each one a homage to Lord Pashupatinath[18]


the rich dialect of the old Gujarati

still spoken here with great zeal,             16

O’ Monsoon, I urge you to carry these

to my love in the pristine Himalayan valley


as you glide over the Indian Ocean gently

caressing her curvaceous body,              17

the humpback whales will amuse you

with their mating songs

About the Book

Monsoon is a poem of love and longing that follows the path of monsoon which originates near Madagascar and traverses the Indian Ocean to reach the Himalavas and back to Madagascar. As monsoon travels, the rich sights and sounds, languages and traditions, costumes and cuisine, flora and fauna, festivals and monuments, and the beauty and splendour of the Indian Ocean islands and the Western Ghats, East and North India, Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet are invoked. The poem weaves the Indian Ocean Islands and the Indian Subcontinent into one poetic thread connected by monsoon, offering an umparalleled sensuous experience through strikingly fresh verses which have the immense power to transport the readers to a magical world.

About the Author

Abhay K is the author of nine postry colfections including The Magic of Madagascar (1’Harmattan Paris, 202 I), The Alphabets of Latin America (Bloomsbury India, 2020), and the editor of The Book of Bihari Literature (Harper Collins, 2022), The Bloomsbury Anthology of Great Indian Poems, CAPITALS, New Brazilian Rems and The Bloomsbury Book of Great Indian Love Poems. His poems have appeared in over 100 literary journals. His “Earth Anthem” has been translated into over 150 languages. He received SAARC Literary Award 2013 and was invited to record his poems at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. in 2018. His translations of Kalidasa’s Meghaduta (Bloomsbury India, 2021) and Ritusamhara (Bloomsbury India, 2021) from Sanskrit have won KLF Poetry Book of the Year Award 2020-21.

[1] Antananarivo is the capital of Madagascar

[2] Monsoon is born in the Mascarene High near Madagascar.

[3] Ylang-ylang is a tropical tree valued for perfume extracted from its


[4] Indra is the rain god in Hindu mythology.

[5] Vasa parrots are grey-black parrots endemic to Madagascar notable for

their peculiar appearance and highly evolved mating life.

[6] Indri Indri is the largest species of surviving lemur. It is critically


[7] Mantellas are Madagascar’s golden or multi-coloured poison frogs.

[8] Aye-aye is a long-fingered species of lemur active at night.

[9] Fossas are the largest predators endemic to Madagascar.

[10] Ranomafana is a rainforest located to the southeast of Antananarivo in


[11] Sifaka is a critically endangered species of lemurs also known as the

dancing lemurs.

[12] Baobab is a deciduous tree that grows in the arid regions of Madagascar.

Out of eight species of Baobab, six are endemic to Madagascar. They live

for thousands of years and are also known as the tree of life.

[13] Native to Madagascar, the Traveller’s Palm has enormous leaves which are

fan shaped.

[14] Giraffe-necked red weevil is a bright-red-winged, long-necked rainforest

beetle that uses its extended neck to battle for a mate.

[15] The Mahafaly people of Madagascar honour their dead by creating

imposing tombs.

[16] Sakalava sculptures, usually wooden nude female and male figures, adorn

the tombs of Sakalava Chiefs.

[17] Isalo is a national park in south Madagascar known for its natural rock


[18] Pashupatinath is another name of Lord Shiva.

Click here to read Abhay K’s interview


Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles