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Tagore’s Gleanings of the Road

Author: Rabindranath Tagore 

Translator: Somdatta Mandal 

Publisher: Niyogi Books

Chapter 1 – Prelude to the Journey

Our ashrama school is situated in the midst of a meadow, a place where both the old and the young, students and teachers all reside in the same room. We also have other playmates; we do not have a concealed relationship with the blue sky, the light and the breeze. Here the early morning rays of the sun fall directly upon our eyelids, the evening stars in the sky directly stare at our faces. When the storm comes, its dusty stole warns us from a very long distance. The arrival of a new season is first heralded through the new leaves on our trees. It is as if Nature does not have to wait for a moment outside our doors. Our desire is to share this kind of a relationship with the people of the world as well. The desire of our heart is to see clearly all the seasons that come and go in the history of mankind, the rising and setting of the sun or the tumult that storm and rain create. This is possible for us because we stay far away from human habitation. Here all the information of the world is not received in a particular cookie-cutter mould; if we want we can receive them in an unadulterated form.

In order to make the relationship of our institution to the rest of the human world an open one, I feel it necessary to explore the world. We have received the invitation of that larger world. As it is not possible for all the 200 students of this school to accompany me in this grand tour, so I have decided that I shall alone attend the invitation on your behalf. Through me I shall complete all of yours travel. When I will again return to your ashrama I will be able to capture a lot of the external world in my life and bring it for you. Once I come back I will share my experiences at leisure, but now, before departing, I want to clearly explain some of my thoughts to you. Many people ask me why are you going for an Europe travel? I cannot find an answer to this question. If I give a simple answer that I am going because I simply want to travel, then people will think that I am dismissing the fact lightheartedly. Man is not at peace until a result is declared and an assessment made of the profit and loss involved. Why should man venture out of home without any need is a question that can be raised in our country only. We are oblivious of the fact that the wish to venture outside is a natural instinct in man. Home has bound us up in such a manner that we are tied by many superstitions and tears once we decide to set our feet across the threshold. Thus the outside is totally beyond us while its connection with home has been completely severed. Our friends and relatives enmesh us so closely that outsiders are outsiders in the true sense of the word.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Travels formed an integral part of the personae and creative artist that was Rabindranath Tagore. During his travels to England and the USA (1912-13 and 1920) Tagore wrote essays for publication in various Bengali journals. In 1939, Tagore selected fourteen of these essays and an appendix containing seven letters he had written to some of the teachers in the Shantiniketan ashram while he was on these trips, for publication as a volume. Tagore rewrote the original essays then using the colloquial instead of the formal language; he also revised the texts substantially. Later editions altered the number of essays, sometimes digressing from Tagore’s own selection, sometimes going back to Tagore’s original formal language. The travelogue provides an insight into Tagore’s perception of the different facets of western life and the diverse philosophical issues that cross his mind as he journeys from one continent to another. Translated from Bengali for the first time, Pather Sanchoy would be of interest to all those who enjoy exploring unknown territories geographically and psychologically.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rabindranath Tagore, sobriquet Gurudev, was a Bengali polymath who reshaped Bengali literature and music, as well as Indian art with Contextual Modernism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Author of Gitanjali and its “profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse”, he became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.He is sometimes referred to as “The Bard of Bengal”.

ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR

Somdatta Mandal is a former Professor of English and ex-Chairperson, Department of English, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan, India. A recipient of several prestigious fellowships like the Fulbright Research and Teaching Fellowships, British Council Charles Wallace Trust Fellowship, Rockefeller Residency at Bellagio, Italy, Salzburg Seminar and Shastri Indo-Canadian Faculty Enrichment Fellowship, she has been published widely both nationally and internationally. She has also an award from Sahitya Akademi for the All India Indian Literature Golden Jubilee (1957-2007) Literary Translation Competition in the Fiction category for translating short stories series ‘Lalu’ by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya.

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Waiting

Title: Waiting

Author: Suzanne Kamata

Publisher: Kelsay Books, 2022

Waiting
 
My brother Benjamin waits
for Gent
our lost cocker spaniel
to come home.
 
Dad waits 
for his boss
to give him a promotion.
 
Mom waits
for portents
and signs.
 
My boyfriend waits
for me to say 
“yes.”
 
I wait 
for the future
far away from
here.
 
The town waits
for a missing girl
to turn up and tell us
it was all just a joke. 


Vigil
 
My little brother Benjamin 
fills the plastic dish
only to later dump

the untouched nuggets
and fill the dish
again, a ritual
a sacrificial offering
to our lost cocker spaniel.
 
He’s gone door to door
promising mown lawns
washed windows
shined cars
in exchange for information.
No one helps.
Everyone is more concerned about
the disappearance of a young woman.
 
Young women disappear
with alarming regularity.
Two dead, in the woods
naked.
A third 
still missing.
Shira Bates.


Shira
 
I was invited to her birthday party
in kindergarten.
I tried to wrap up
my mother’s engagement ring
after snatching it from a crystal saucer
while she washed dishes
a suitable gift for such a princess of a girl
I thought.
 
Mom caught me
spanked my behind
made me give Shira a Barbie
with silky blonde hair
smooth skin

wearing the latest fashions
like the birthday girl herself.
 
I was more Raggedy Ann.
 
Later, Shira and I drifted apart.
She fell in with the cheerleaders
became star of the chorus
girlfriend to Number One Hottie
Greg Shealy
found God.
 
While I faded into
gawkiness
good grades
and hid behind glasses 
and my long stringy hair.
 
Invisible me.


Her Voice
 
On the last day of school
a week before she went missing
Shira Bates sang with the chorus in
the school cafeteria
while I ate my blueberry yogurt.
 
Her voice blended then
soared above, the others went
silent, listening to her solo before
jumping back in again.
 
That girl could sing angels out of
the sky, could get larks to land on
her outstretched hands, I thought with
a kind of wonder instead of the usual
jealousy that I felt around Shira Bates.
  

ABOUT THE BOOK

American Suzanne Kamata attended Lexington High School in South Carolina with Sharon Faye “Shari” Smith, who was kidnapped and murdered by Larry Gene Bell in 1985. This crime compelled the writing of Waiting.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Suzanne Kamata was born and raised in Grand Haven, Michigan. She now lives in Japan with her husband and two children. Her short stories, essays, articles and book reviews have appeared in over 100 publications. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize five times, and received a Special Mention in 2006. She is also a two-time winner of the All Nippon Airways/Wingspan Fiction Contest, winner of the Paris Book Festival, and winner of a SCBWI Magazine Merit Award.

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Villainy by Upamanyu Chatterjee

Title: Villainy

Author: Upamanyu Chatterjee

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books

Death of late having been much on her mind, it did not seem surprising to Dr Mujumdar that she should, at seven-forty of a December morning, during her constitutional in the neighbourhood park, be the first to come upon the corpse or rather, to recognise it to be a dead body. Of course, they were all concentrating on striding along on the jogging track – rolling their hips, pausing discreetly on occasion, only for a micro-second, to break wind – and all moving clockwise as per the rules set down and put up by the Residents’ Welfare Association on the signboard at the entrance, and if they had eyes for anything, it was for the odd, protruding pebble in their paths and every now and then, a Johnny-come-lately in his new car outside the gates, prowling in search of a parking slot. But beneath the hibiscus bushes just before the Children’s Corner, they so stared her in the face, leapt out at her to shout out their presence that she marvelled that no one else appeared to have noticed them – a pair of off-white Bata tennis sneakers, stark against the dark, damp loam, blue socks in a heap at the ankles, khaki trousers that had ridden up to reveal scrawny calves, with the rest of the travesty mercifully hidden by the foliage and a mound of compost awaiting distribution. For travesty she knew it would be and she did not want to see it; for since when has death not been a travesty of all that holds meaning?

       ‘Something tells me that that is not a drunk Colony guard or municipal gardener sleeping it off,’ said she, aloud, to herself, glanced at her watch even though she knew what time it was, and continued silently, But could I still do my half-a-dozen rounds as though nothing has happened, or at least as many as I can before someone else notices something amiss? Or would that be callous and unfeeling of me? She lengthened her stride and began doggedly to pump her elbows in an effort to get away quickly. Her heart though was really not in it that morning. ‘It does seem shameful for someone who’s almost a medical doctor,’ she carried on her conversation with herself, ‘to run away from a corpse. Waddle away, more accurately. But people must never know. And all this – ’ She looked up and about her for a moment, blinked ‘ – is going to have to stop pretty soon, isn’t it?’ She exchanged a ‘Morning’ for a ‘Hello, dear’ as she overtook portly Mrs Gulati. ‘I mean, no one can possibly jog or skip rope or stretch or do his yoga and breathe through his anus or laugh his therapeutic Santa Claus belly laugh in the presence of a dead body, can he?’ And then, aloud, ‘Morning, Sanjeev-ji. You are early today?!’

      Dr Mujumdar took more than her usual eleven minutes to cross the Children’s Corner, pass the Water-Harvesting Area and loop around the Nano Golf Course. By the time she turned into the straight stretch along the C-Block side of the park, a knot of the regulars, forced to abandon their burpees and their Hanuman pushups, had formed around the hibiscus bushes. Automatically, Dr Mujumdar slowed down, even wondered for a second whether she could about-turn and, disobeying the commandment of the RWA, clump away anti-clockwise.

       ‘Don’t touch anything! Just call the police.’

      ‘Could it be someone we know? Even a member of the Health Club?’

      ‘Doesn’t look as though his membership did him any good. Somebody had better telephone the police, I say.’

      ‘I can’t. My phone needs to be charged.’

      ‘I can’t either, unfortunately. I always leave my phone behind at home when I step out for my exercise.’

      ‘Why don’t you call them? They will respond immediately to your commanding personality.’

      ‘It is the RWA that should phone the police. After all, the dead body has been found in a public place. Just call Tutreja at the Association.’

      ‘I can’t, I just told you. My phone needs to be charged.’

      ‘Why are you carrying around a phone that doesn’t work?’

      ‘To time my rounds, if you must know. The clock works. And how damn nosey you are, if I might add.’

      ‘Is something the matter? I’m a doctor. A pharmacist, more accurately. Perhaps I might be of help.’

      The knot of exercisers, three-deep by then, stirred and parted like porridge to make way for Dr Mujumdar and then congealed around her even before she could look down once more upon the Bata shoes and the scrawny calves, the khaki trousers. The press of bodies made concentration all the more difficult.

      ‘We’ll have to pull him out and turn him over. Any volunteers?’ The doctor looked about her at the knot, watched it stir and thin. ‘Backache,’ murmured a man with a white moustache, his hand ready to clutch his hip.

      With a grunt of annoyance, portly Mrs Gulati planted herself in the hibiscus bed, pushed aside the vegetation and bent to grab an ankle. The shadow of a momentary queasiness crossed her features at the touch of that cold, alien flesh. She was suddenly surrounded by several fellow-residents whom she had abashed. Freely directing and admonishing one another, they lifted the body up and sideways and laid it down, face up, on the jogging track. The group emitted a sort of collective moan, part sigh, part gasp, on first seeing the face. With difficulty, Dr Mujumdar got down on her knees beside the body. The onlookers, four deep now, gathered about them as though caught in an eddy.

      He was dead, there was no doubt about that. The dead do not look like the living. She felt for his pulse. The wrist was cold and stiff. She extracted a large handkerchief from the pocket of her tracksuit and gently dusted the loam and grit off the face. A murmur, a commentary on the vanity of all that is not death, rustled through the group like the hint of a breeze.

Excerpted from Villainy by Upamanyu Chatterjee. Published by Speaking Tiger Books, 2022.

ABOUT THE BOOK

 Walkers in a Delhi neighbourhood park come upon a body on a mid-winter morning—an unidentified body, unremarkable but for an extraordinary scar right between the eyes.

A delinquent teenager—who prefers, to the rest of living, an Ecstasy pill with a beer, and the interior of an expensive car with a gun in his pocket—leaves home one evening for a joyride in his father’s Mercedes.

In the nineteen years separating these episodes, five killings take place—and one near-fatal battery—none of which would have happened if a school bus hadn’t been in the wrong lane. Deals are struck between masters and servants, money changes hands, assurances are given and broken. The wheels of justice turn, forward, backwards and sideways, pause and turn again. Old alliances are tested and new ones are formed in prison cells, mortuaries and court rooms. And every life is a gamble, for no one is entirely innocent.

A meticulously crafted literary thriller, Upamanyu Chatterjee’s seventh novel is a riveting story of crime and retribution, and a meditation on the randomness of evil, death and redemption. It will keep you spellbound till the end.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 Upamanyu Chatterjee is the celebrated author of English, August: An Indian Story (1988), The Last Burden (1993), The Mammaries of the Welfare State (2000), Weight Loss (2006), Way to Go (2011), and Fairy Tales at Fifty (2014)—all novels; The Revenge of the Non-vegetarian (2018), a novella; and The Assassination of Indira Gandhi (2019), a collection of long stories. He won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2000, and in 2008, he was awarded the Order of Officier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government for his contribution to literature.

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The Refugee and the Other

Title: Ever Since I Did Not Die

Author: Ramy Al-Asheq

Translator: Isis Nusair Editor: Levi Thompson

Publisher: Seagull Books

The Refugee and the Other,

the Other Refugee

War is vast. It reaches across the horizon, loftier and older than peace. Killing came before war, but it might also be that refuge preceded war. It got attached to war like a child holding on to its mother’s dress with one hand, the other waving to those it does not know. The refugee: a flute weeping over its original image before there was a camp. The camp: ginger on the back of humanity’s infected throat. The camp is necessary, sometimes, for remembering that the lands across the river dropped off the face of the map when we weren’t looking. The map: geography on paper, its borders drawn by the tank and the mortar shell for eternity. The mortar: a tiny cosmic explosion that re-arranges habitats by the whims of whoever launches it. One night, the mortar launcher awakened superstition from its sleep and dragged it away with an F-16 saying, ‘I cannot exist . . . unless there is a refugee.’

Is it our instinct to always blame the victim? Is it customary for the victim to keep playing this role even after the decided time has passed? The victim might even like it and consider it a privilege. That way the Other—but not every Other—will have reason to regard the victim as a scapegoat. The victim sees the Other as a potential enemy, a current friend who is ready to attack at any moment. This has become an essential existential component of the dualities of the universe that are always, as they say, subject to unilateral rule. Good is sometimes evil, and wrong is right. A supporter could be an opponent on another side, and night might be day. The Other is not an Other elsewhere. ‘There’ is only ‘there’ here. Likewise, the refugee could become the Other someday, and responds to another who has become a refugee just like them. Dualities are suspended in conflict and change. Absolute unilateralism lies at the root of this conflict as creator and caretaker and is one of the main reasons for its persistence.

The Other asks the long-time refugee, ‘Do the people in the camp really live in tents?’ The refugee doesn’t respond. Instead, the refugee camp responds, ‘Nothing has anything to do with its name!’

How?

The tents tricked time and stretched their necks until they blocked out the sun. People came to me for pilgrimage from every corner of the earth. They were crowded, since the ‘earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.’

So, why are you still called a ‘camp’?

How would the Other recognize me if I were to change my name?

The Other branded them and marked their pictures in red: ‘You have no place here in the long run.’ Others contributed by adding features in bright oil on their foreheads, so the Other named them. They liked the new name—at least, they liked it until it didn’t please them any longer. It became as ordinary as death in this vast war. The Other did not tell them anything. They did not know the place or the time when yet another Other would rename them. They made a point of not asking. Perhaps fewer questions mean less pain.

One of them says, ‘I’m a refugee who was born here, the son of a refugee who was born here. We know nothing but “here”. Fifty years of my dad living “here” were not enough to change what he was called. My mother’s nationality wasn’t enough for me to change what I’m called! That’s why I hate children—my children, not those of others—because I do not want them to be refugees.’ He does not want them to be like him: different! Even in revolution, the Other wins when he turns those who are alike into Others from themselves.

The refugee opens the door of his tent (his palace) to the Other (the non-refugee). The Other becomes part of this camp that was destroyed except for its name. The Other grows up saying, ‘I am from there,’ and the refugee says, ‘I am from “here” and from another “there”. I am from my temporary “here”, and my original “there” until the day I return!’ Should things get hard one day, the Other will scream in the face of the refugee, ‘You are not from “here”. You are from “there”. You and your camp are in the “here” that belongs to me, so leave!’

So, he leaves, and not much leaves with him. When he remains, nothing will be left of him. The fiasco does not stop here. Indeed, the Other, who used to be a brother, becomes an informant, an enemy. The refugee goes back to repeating the story and playing the role of the victim. The victim is another victim, and the criminal is, of course, an Other!

Everything changes. Nothing remains fixed except for the refugee. Even a temporary homeland becomes a prison, borders surrounded with barbed wire tightly connected to the sea on one side, and to stolen electrical lines on the other. This homeland-prison becomes more merciful than the neighbour-prison. The next camp becomes a real, not metaphorical, prison. The escapee becomes a wanted man, accused of infiltrating paradise. They are tossed into the hell of war seventy times. He ages like fruit. The newspapers sleep on his story through day and night. The people of the land, the sky, and those in-between ignore him because of a royal decree.

Several long-time refugees were rescued along with some Others. They sang the anthem of death to sea and land. The weather picked up, and only those who were already buried could be saved without the camp. The partners of refugee and tent were separated, but they were allowed to return if the Other approved. The Others were called refugees. The long-time refugees are now called ‘without’. This is not about nothingness or nihilism but about a death verdict. He carried many names, as many as his migrations. They put them all to death with another Universal Declaration. The ‘without’ remained nameless, just like they will always be!

With this separation and change in the structure of dualities, some refugees received a nationality and became citizens. They might not want to admit that they are half-citizens or second-class citizens. The original defence mechanism of denial always wins out over confirmation. Having gained their nationality, they were considered to be part of the Other, and they practiced their Otherness on Others. Whenever war smiled, they screamed at them. As they were transformed, they forgot their past: ‘O Refugees!’

This is how one refugee killed another when the first became an Other. The second had to hold onto the title to avoid turning into nothing.

About Ever Since I Did Not Die:

“I gathered these texts like someone collecting body parts. Here are the pieces of my body, haphazardly brought together in a paper bag. It looks like me with all my madness and sickness—how the revolution made me grow up, what the war broke inside me, and what exile chipped away.”

The texts gathered in Ever Since I Did Not Die by Syrian-Palestinian poet Ramy Al-Asheq are a poignant record of a fateful journey. Having grown up in a refugee camp in Damascus, Al-Asheq was imprisoned and persecuted by the regime in 2011 during the Syrian Revolution. He was released from jail, only to be recaptured and imprisoned in Jordan. After escaping from prison, he spent two years in Jordan under a fake name and passport, during which he won a literary fellowship that allowed him to travel to Germany in 2014, where he now lives and writes in exile.

Through seventeen powerful testimonies, Ever Since I Did Not Die vividly depicts what it means to live through war. Exquisitely weaving the past with the present and fond memories with brutal realities, this volume celebrates resistance through words that refuse to surrender and continue to create beauty amidst destruction—one of the most potent ways to survive in the darkest of hours.

About Ramy Al-Asheq (Author):

Ramy Al-Asheq is a Berlin-based Syrian-Palestinian poet, journalist and curator. He has published five poetry collections in Arabic, and many of his texts have been translated into Bosnian, Czech, English, French, German, Kurdish, Polish and Spanish. He launched the German-Arabic magazine FANN in 2017, and was recently selected as a fellow at the Academy of Arts in Berlin and Academy Schloss Solitude.

About Isis Nusair (Translator):

Isis Nusair is associate professor of women’s and gender studies and international studies at Denison University, Ohio.

About Levi Thompson (Editor)

Levi Thompson is assistant professor of Persian and Arabic literature at the University of Texas at Austin.

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Tagore’s Four Chapters in Translation by Radha Chakravarty

Title: Rabindranath Tagore Four Chapters

Translator: Radha Chakravarty

Publisher: Penguin, May 2022

‘It’s time to utter some harsh truths,’ he declared. ‘Who are you to surrender me, to the nation or to anyone else, I ask you? You had it in your power to surrender the gift of tenderness—a possession that truly belongs to you. Whether you call it service or a boon, it doesn’t matter. If you permit arrogance, I shall be arrogant. If you demand that I come to your door in humility, I can do that too. But today you belittle your own right to offer a gift. You set aside the inner wealth you could have donated from the storehouse of a woman’s glory and say instead that you are handing over the nation to me. It is not yours to give! Not yours, not anyone else’s. The nation can’t be passed around from hand to hand.’

The colour drained from Ela’s face.

‘What do you mean? I can’t quite understand,’ she said. ‘I say that the ambit of women’s glory, even if it seems to be circumscribed, has inner depths that are limitless. It is not a cage. But the space that you had designated as my nest, by giving it the name of the nation—that nation constructed by your party, whatever it may mean to others—that space itself is a cage, at least for me. My own power, because it can’t find full expression within that space, falls sick, grows distorted, commits acts of insanity in its attempt to articulate that which is not truly its own. I feel ashamed, yet the door to escape is closed. Don’t you know my wings are tattered? My legs are tightly shackled. One had the responsibility to find one’s own place in one’s own nation on one’s own strength. I possessed that strength. Why did you make me forget that?’

‘Why did you forget it, Antu?’ asked Ela, her voice full of anguish.

‘You women have an unfailing ability to make one forget—all of you. Else, I would have been ashamed of having forgotten. I insist a thousand times over that you have the capacity to make me forget myself. If I hadn’t forgotten, I would have doubted my own manhood.’

‘If that is so, then why are you rebuking me?’

‘Why? That’s what I am trying to explain. By deluding me, you carry me to your own universe where your own rights prevail. Echoing the words of your own party, you said that you and your small group have determined the only path of duty in the world. Caught in that stone-paved, official path of duty, my life-stream spins in a whirlpool and its waters grow muddy.’

‘Official duty?’

‘Yes, that Jagannath Ratha—that grand, sacred chariot of your swadeshi duty. The one who initiated you into the sacred mantra decreed that your only duty is to hoist a heavy rope onto your shoulders and keep on tugging at it—all of you together—with your eyes closed. Thousands of young men tightened their waistbands, braced themselves and grasped the rope. So many of them fell beneath the chariot wheels; so many were crippled for life. At this juncture, the moment came for the Ratha Yatra—the ceremonial chariot procession—in reverse. The chariot turned around. Broken bones can’t be mended. The masses of crippled workers were swept aside, flung down upon the dust-heaps by the roadside. Their confidence in their own power had been so utterly demolished at the very outset that all of them agreed, with great daring, to let themselves be cast in the mould of puppets of the government. When at the pull of the puppeteer’s strings everyone began to perform the same dance moves, they thought in amazement, “This is what the dance of power is all about!” When the puppeteer loosens the strings ever so slightly, thousands and thousands of human puppets get eliminated.’

‘But Antu, that only happened because many of them began to dance wildly without keeping to the rhythm.’

‘They should have known from the start that humans can’t dance like puppets for long. You may try to reform human nature, though it takes time. But it’s a mistake to imagine that destroying human nature and turning men into puppets will make things easier. Only when one thinks of human beings in terms of their diverse forms of inner power can one understand the truth about them. Had you respected me as such a being, you would have drawn me close, not to your party, but to your heart.’

‘Antu, why didn’t you humiliate and spurn me right at the beginning? Why did you make me a culprit?’

‘That’s something I have told you time and again. Very simply, I longed to be one with you. That hunger was impossible to overcome. But the usual route was closed. In desperation, I pledged my life to a crooked path. You were captivated by it. Now I have realized that I must die on the path I have taken. Once that death happens, you will call me back with open arms—call me to your empty heart, day after day, night after night.’

About Rabindranath Tagore Four Chapters

This is a brilliant new translation of Tagore’s controversial novel. Passion and politics intertwine in Char Adhyay (1934), Rabindranath Tagore’s last and perhaps most controversial novel, set in the context of the freedom struggle in pre-Independent India. Ela, a young working woman, comes under the spell of Indranath, a charismatic political activist who advocates the path of terror. She joins his band of underground rebels, vowing never to marry, and to devote her life to the nation’s cause. But through her relationship with Atindra, a poet and romantic who grows disenchanted after joining the group, Ela realizes the hollowness of Indranath’s machinations. The lovers now face a terrible choice …

This new translation brings Tagore’s text to life in a contemporary idiom, while evoking the charged atmosphere of the story’s historical setting.

About the Author

Rabindranath Tagore, Renaissance man, reshaped Bengal’s literature and music, and became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. He introduced new prose and verse forms and the use of colloquial language into Bengali literature, thereby freeing it from traditional models based on classical Sanskrit. He was highly influential in introducing the best of Indian culture to the West and vice versa, and was a living institution for India, especially for Bengal.

About the Translator

Radha Chakravarty is a writer, critic, and translator. In 2004, she was nominated for the Crossword Translation Award for In the Name of the Mother by Mahasweta Devi.

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Half-Blood

Title: Half-Blood

Author: Pronoti Datta

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books

And so, I entered a household trembling with various emotional currents. Shivaji, incredulous that acquiescent Mini had actually contravened his order and brought a stranger’s child home, infuriated that there was nothing he could do about it short of leaving Mini or depositing me back from where I’d come (but where had this kid really come from?). Ratna, ecstatic over the drama, dancing on her toes in anticipation of phoning her masters in Calcutta to report that the child was indeed here and that they could hop into the Howrah Mail for Bombay as they had been waiting to do ever since the news of my adoption was broken to them. But also in Ratna, an incipient feeling of something when she saw my swaddled frame. Was it maternal instinct radiating from her dormant womb? Mini, awash with love for the child of a man she had been passionate about, thrilled at her own audacity and at finally having something in this relationship that she could control.

“You had two things in your favour,” Mini said. “As the offspring of a Parsi couple, there was no question of caste. Secondly, you’re fair. If you were dark-skinned, your dadu-thamma would’ve had an issue.”

In the two days it took the senior Debs to arrive from Calcutta, I had won Ratna over fully. She was prepared to mutiny against her masters if they tried to banish me, aligning with Mini for the first and only time. At last, Ratna could practice her vast knowledge of natal care lying untapped, and Mini let her, out of (a brief period of) gratitude. When I was constipated, which was often as an infant, Ratna would oil a betel leaf and lightly brush my disobedient sphincter with the suppository. When I had the runs, she would feed me a buttery mash of boiled potato and rice, the most effective jammer for a mischievous colon, rolled into spheres with fingers and palm and lined up like soldiers on my plate. She massaged my little body with mustard oil to get my circulation going and for a couple of years every day planted a black dot of kohl on my temple to ward off lurking evil eyes.

The Debs tried to persuade Mini to return me. How could she thrust a stranger’s child on their son, especially since she was the one with a bad uterus? At this point, Ratna, who had overheard the fights between Mini and Shivaji, privately told Shivaji’s mother that the problem was not with Mini but with Shivaji’s plumbing. The doctor had suggested the issue could have something to do with his weight. But Shivaji had accepted defeat immediately, refusing to exercise or diet. Her tactic had the desired effect. The Debs, feeling responsible for their son’s deleterious eating habits, backed off, going as far as to gently suggest to Shivaji that the child might repair his strained marriage. Back in Calcutta, when they told the rest of the family and friends about their adopted grandchild, they made themselves out to be progressive folk.

“Everyone there thinks you were their idea,” Mini said.

They stayed for three months. Initially, they viewed me with suspicion, the way you look at a bag that has been abandoned in the train, worried it might detonate. This was partly because I was obviously not a Deb. I was too good looking, with the milky skin, fleshy features and golden-brown ringlets of a cherub gambolling in the skies of an Italian fresco. But it didn’t take very long for them to warm to me and pitch in with their own ideas of child-rearing. They insisted my head be shaved at the age of two months as was customary. Mini was opposed but gave in since the Debs had accepted me. In place of my Botticellian curls, there grew limp, black hair.

“I cried when your head was shaved,” Mini said. “But those two were relieved to see your new hair because it made you look less foreign.”

What Mini hid from everyone, even prying Ratna, was a box of objects that came along with me. Burjor had wanted Mini to pass it on to me at an appropriate age. She gave it to me when I was eighteen, the day after my naïve confession about Danish Khan. Mini insisted I open the carton in her presence.

“I’d like some privacy,” I said.

“You’re such a coward you’ll put it away at the back

of your cupboard without looking if I leave you alone,”

she said.

“I might not be ready.”

“You’re eighteen, you’re ready.”

Excerpted from Half-Blood by Pronoti Datta. Published by Speaking Tiger Books, 2022.

ABOUT THE BOOK

 ‘You see, Moonie, I did a terrible thing for which I had to leave Bombay. I don’t want to burden you, in this letter, with the details of my deed—or my life. It’s a long story and I’m not a man of words.’

It is 2009, more than a decade after Maya read this intriguing letter addressed to her. The awkward, adopted child of an odd Bengali couple, she’s now a 34-year-old journalist in an existential mess that she alleviates by smoking pot and going on long walks with her latest boyfriend. But in order to find the meaning she craves, Maya must confront her past, and open a box of objects she inherited. When she finally does, she’s led on a startling, sparkling journey of discovery.

At the centre of this journey is Burjor Elavia, a ‘fifty-fifty’, an ‘Adhkachru’— the illegitimate child of a Parsi man and a tribal woman—born in a nondescript village in Gujarat. In 1952, not yet eighteen, he made his way to Bombay, where he lived a colourful life—promiscuous, reckless, involved in a string of shady businesses, but also compassionate and a charmer. His greatest achievement was an audacious venture for fifty-fifty Parsis like himself, many of them strugglers, some of them on the make and all of them eccentric. In their tangled, mixed-up, funny life stories, Maya tries to find her beginnings—and maybe her future.

Set in the teeming, varied universe that is Bombay, Half-Blood is an entertaining, full-blooded novel about dysfunctional families, plucky survivors, chancers, mavericks and good-hearted rogues. A celebration of vitality, impurity and other true virtues of life, it is a marvellous debut.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 Pronoti Datta was a journalist for over thirteen years, covering culture and society in Bombay. This is her first novel and she draws much inspiration from the city. She lives in Bombay (minus cats or children) and works as an editor of digital content.

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The Year of the Rat & Other Poems

Title: The Year of the Rat and Other Poems

Editor: Malachi Edwin Vethamani

Publisher: Maya Press, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia

Year of the Rat
Lim Jack Kin

A cell-phone camera on the overpass watched
the fleet of black cars devour the highway below;
Roads were closed today for the minister's entourage.
The city smiled, red cheeks bulging with police sirens.

That night, a shoebox sailed along a storm drain.
Inside it was a shopping receipt with “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,”
scrawled on the blank side, and something that mewled
while scratching at the cardboard.

By morning, it was hot again.
A grey committee gathered at the palace,
and a burst rat saw them walk inside
as it blistered in the parking lot.

Don’t ask me what they talked about.
I’ve never been invited to these things.


A UI/UX Review of You
Allison Jong Chia Ning

If you are a product designed for me 
I wish to highlight the touchpoints of our interaction
As this extraction of data is key to conclude
This user’s interface & experience. 

I now land on the homepage of your lap 
Hold you in my hands and 
Scroll through your eyes 
As I load the imprint of your lips 
On mine

Then I click on the bridge of your nose 
Stream the sound of your laughter
And pause at the scent of your skin 
Wondering where in the world I’ve been

Your search bar eases me to explore
And before I could finish what I was here for 
You took the words right out of my _______
Autofill my thoughts as if they are yours 
Never knew I could be known like this
Never like ever before

Now in discovery mode 
Leaving a cache worth of me 
All over the landing page of your spine 
Bet the codes are running through your mind
You got me hooked
Now I be spending more time 

I’m not sure how many A/B tests you’ve gone through 
But I think I’ve got the best version of you 
I would click to visit again and you would know
For the data don’t lie, even if I try. 

About the Book: Year of the Rat and Other Poems presents the winning poems from the Malaysian Poetry Writing Competition 2021. This collection of poems is made possible by the many submissions that were received; a total of 1,904 poems from 860 poets. From this pool of poems, Year of the Rat and Other Poems contains a total of thirty-one winning poems from twenty-six poets. The majority of the writers in the volume are young and emerging writers. The poems in the anthology touch on various concerns in contemporary Malaysia like identity, home, belonging and political issues. A fine example of Malaysian English is reflected in this collection of poems.

About the Editor: Malachi Edwin Vethamani  is a poet, writer, editor, critic, bibliographer and Emeritus Professor.  His publications include: Coitus Interruptus and Other Stories (2018) and two collections of poems, Life Happens (2017) and Complicated Lives (2016).  His stories and poems have been published in many literary journals. The Year of the Rat and Other Poems is his latest publication. He has previously edited four volumes of Malaysian writings in English. The first volume, In-Sights: Malaysian Poems in 2004, the second and third anthologiescover a period of over 60 years of Malaysian writings in English, Malchin Testament: Malaysian Poems (2018) and Ronggeng-Ronggeng: Malaysian Short Stories (Maya Press, 2020). The Malaysian Publishers Association awarded Malchin Testament: Malaysian Poems the Anugerah Buku Malaysia 2020, best book award for the English Language category. In 2021, he published Malaysian Millennial Voices (2021), a collection of poems from Malaysian poets under 35 years of age.

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Ruskin Bond’s Friends in Wild Places

Title: Friends in Wild Places: Birds, Beasts and Other Companions

Author: Ruskin Bond

Illustrator: Shubhadarshini Singh

Publisher: Talking Cub, the children’s imprint of Speaking Tiger.

Timothy

TIMOTHY, THE TIGER cub, was discovered by Grandfather on a hunting expedition in the Terai jungle near Dehra.

Grandfather was no shikari, but as he knew the forests of the Siwalik hills better than most people, he was persuaded to accompany the party—it consisted of several Very Important Persons from Delhi—to advise on the terrain and the direction the beaters should take once a tiger had been spotted.

The camp itself was sumptuous—seven large tents (one for each shikari), a dining-tent, and a number of servants’ tents. The dinner was very good, as Grandfather admitted afterwards; it was not often that one saw hot-water plates, finger-glasses, and seven or eight courses, in a tent in the jungle! But that was how things were done in the days of the Viceroys… There were also some fifteen elephants, four of them with howdahs for the shikaris, and the others specially trained for taking part in the beat.

The sportsmen never saw a tiger, nor did they shoot anything else, though they saw a number of deer, peacocks, and wild boars. They were giving up all hope of finding a tiger, and were beginning to shoot at jackals, when Grandfather, strolling down the forest path at some distance from the rest of the party, discovered a little tiger about 18 inches long, hiding among the intricate roots of a banyan tree. Grandfather picked him up, and brought him home after the camp had broken up. He had the distinction of being the only member of the party to have bagged any game, dead or alive.

At first the tiger cub, who was named Timothy by Grandmother, was brought up entirely on milk given to him in a feeding bottle by our cook, Mahmoud. But the milk proved too rich for him, and he was put on a diet of raw mutton and cod liver oil, to be followed later by a more tempting diet of pigeons and rabbits.

Timothy was provided with two companions—Toto the monkey, who was bold enough to pull the young tiger by the tail, and then climb up the curtains if Timothy lost his temper; and a small mongrel puppy, found on the road by Grandfather.

At first Timothy appeared to be quite afraid of the puppy, and darted back with a spring if it came too near. He would make absurd dashes at it with his large forepaws, and then retreat to a ridiculously safe distance. Finally, he allowed the puppy to crawl on his back and rest there!

One of Timothy’s favourite amusements was to stalk anyone who would play with him, and so, when I came to live with Grandfather, I became one of the favourites of the tiger. With a crafty look in his glittering eyes, and his body crouching, he would creep closer and closer to me, suddenly making a dash for my feet, rolling over on his back and kicking me in delight, and pretending to bite my ankles.

He was by this time the size of a full-grown retriever, and when I took him out for walks, people on the road would give us a wide berth. When he pulled hard on his chain, I had difficulty in keeping up with him. His favourite place in the house was the drawing room, and he would make himself comfortable on the long sofa, reclining there with great dignity, and snarling at anybody who tried to get him off.

Timothy had clean habits, and would scrub his face with his paws exactly like a cat. He slept at night in the cook’s quarters, and was always delighted at being let out by him in the morning.

‘One of these days,’ declared Grandmother in her prophetic manner, ‘we are going to find Timothy sitting on Mahmoud’s bed, and no sign of the cook except his clothes and shoes!’

Of course, it never came to that, but when Timothy was about six months old a change came over him; he grew steadily less friendly. When out for a walk with me, he would try to steal away to stalk a cat or someone’s pet Pekinese. Sometimes at night we would hear frenzied cackling from the poultry house, and in the morning there would be feathers lying all over the veranda. Timothy had to be chained up more often. And finally, when he began to stalk Mahmoud about the house with what looked like villainous intent, Grandfather decided it was time to transfer him to a zoo.

The nearest zoo was at Lucknow, 200 miles away. Reserving a first-class compartment for himself and Timothy—no one would share a compartment with them— Grandfather took him to Lucknow where the zoo authorities were only too glad to receive as a gift a well-fed and fairly civilized tiger.

About six months later, when my grandparents were visiting their relatives in Lucknow, Grandfather took the opportunity of calling at the zoo to see how Timothy was getting on. I was not there to accompany him, but I heard all about it when he returned to Dehra.

Arriving at the zoo, Grandfather made straight for the particular cage in which Timothy had been interned. The tiger was there, crouched in a corner, full-grown and with a magnificent striped coat.

‘Hello Timothy!’ said Grandfather, and, climbing the railing with ease, he put his arm through the bars of the cage.

The tiger approached the bars, and allowed Grandfather to put both hands around his head. Grandfather stroked the tiger’s forehead and tickled his ear, and whenever he growled, smacked him across the mouth, which was his old way of keeping him quiet.

He licked Grandfather’s hands and only sprang away when a leopard in the next cage snarled at him. Grandfather ‘shooed’ the leopard away, and the tiger returned to lick his hands; but every now and then the leopard would rush at the bars, and the tiger would slink back to his corner.

Excerpted from Friends in Wild Places: Birds, Beasts and Other Companions by Ruskin Bond; illustrated by Shubhadarshini Singh. Published by Talking Cub, the children’s imprint of Speaking Tiger.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Since he was a young boy, Ruskin Bond has made friends easily. And some of the most rewarding and lasting friendships he has known have been with animals, birds and plants—big and small; outgoing and shy. This collection focuses on these companions and brings together his finest essays and stories, both classic and new. There are leopards and tigers, wise old forest oaks and geraniums on sunny balconies, a talking parrot and a tomcat called Suzie, bears in the mountains and kingfishers in Delhi, a family of langurs and a lonely bat—and many more ‘wild’ friends, some of an instant, others of several years.

Beautifully illustrated by Shubhadarshini Singh, this is a gift for nature- and book-lovers of all ages.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 Ruskin Bond is the author of numerous novellas, short-story collections and non-fiction books, many of them classics. Among them are The Room on the Roof, The Night Train at Deoli, Time Stops at Shamli, Rain in the Mountains, The Blue Umbrella, When I Was a Boy, Lone Fox Dancing (his autobiography) and A Book of Simple Living. He received the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1993, the Padma Shri in 1999 and the Padma Bhushan in 2014.

Ruskin lives in Landour, Mussoorie, with his extended family.

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR

 Shubhadarshini Singh was brought up in Kolkata and studied in Visva-Bharati, Shantiniketan. She has been an ad woman, a journalist and a film-maker. She shares Ruskin Bond’s deep love for animals and wildlife and has made his best stories into a series for television: Ek Tha Rusty. Shubhadarshini runs an art gallery for Outsider Arts, and has had shows of her paintings in Delhi and Bhopal. She lives in Delhi with her husband, son and dogs.

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Asian Anthology

Title: Asian Anthology, New Writing Vol. 1

Editor: Ivy Ngeow

Publisher: Leopard Print London

Spring Onions by Yang Ming

Like most devotees, Ning’s mother, Suyin, spent her Saturday afternoons visiting Singapore’s Chinese temples. For the past year, she had meticulously listed them on a piece of neatly folded foolscap paper and visited one each weekend after closing her steamed bun shop for the day. She arrived at the temple each week with two red plastic bags containing fruit. Ning stood next to her mother, hands clasped, observing her overturn the bags: apples and oranges tumbled out onto the table. Suyin assembled them on two paper plates in groups of five and placed them at the altar. It was done so mechanically that Ning swore her mother could have done it with her eyes closed.  

* * *

That Saturday, Ning had accompanied her mother to Thian Hock Keng for prayers. Ning was a month away from an examination that had the potential to define her future. After learning about her daughter’s dismal mid-year test results, Ning’s mother had found it hard to sleep. Ning’s older brother, Ren, on the other hand, had fared much better in his academic studies. A student highly regarded by his peers, Ning’s mother did not need to worry about her son. Ning had never wanted to be part of this prayer nonsense but, at her mother’s insistence, she dragged her feet to the temple. She considered it a waste of her time; she would rather film a series of life hack videos for TikTok than standing idly at the temple.  

“Ma, why do you offer spring onions to Confucius?” Ning asked. Instead of fruit, Ning’s mother had prepared a plate of spring onions and steamed buns as offerings to the Confucius statue. Outside, heavy rain fell on the ground like water gushing through a drain. Ning cast a glance at the temple’s rooftop, its curved ridges and elongated eaves with upturned swallow-tail decoration blocking the grey skies. Fat raindrops began to whip Ning’s legs, causing her to retreat further into the temple’s statue shelter. Ning’s mother had followed her usual practice of waiting for fifteen minutes for the gods to ‘eat’ the offerings before clearing them away. Ning wondered if they liked spring onions; she certainly did not. 

“Spring onion is 聪 in Mandarin. Cong. It means intelligence. You will need it for your exams,” Ning’s mother replied, folding her arms across her chest. 

The smell of the incense coil burning in the main hall spread through the air. Ning was surprised to find the smell soothing and she likened it to sandalwood incense sticks from her favourite aromatherapy shop. 

“My friends say praying to Confucius will help you in your exams,” Ning’s mother said as she rummaged in her bag for her phone. She fished it out and began to tap away. 

Ning wanted very much to tell her mother that she was going to fail her upcoming examinations, and no amount of prayers or offerings to any deities would work but she couldn’t summon the courage. 

“Time to clear the table,” her mother said, walking towards the altar. Putting her hands together, her mother uttered a few inaudible sentences and bowed to the statue three times before shoving the offerings into the plastic bags. Ning followed suit, bowing grudgingly. 

Under the minimal lighting, her mother had a pallid face; her yellow-stained nails and dark circles sagged under her eyes. She wondered why she hadn’t noticed those hands and face marked with endless strife and pain. 

On a one-way street, a solitary car lumbered past them. Ning sidestepped puddles of water scattered along the pavement while swinging the bag of spring onions recklessly. 

“Stop that,” her mother said, her voice echoing through the empty street. 

“It’s just spring onions!” Ning exclaimed in defiance. 

Her mother slapped her daughter’s head lightly. “I need to cook these tonight. You think what, I’m going to throw it away, is it?” her mother said, gripping a half-smoked cigarette between her forefinger and third finger. Ning heard her mother mumbling some words in Hokkien as she turned away. She rolled her eyes at the thought of eating a plate of stir-fry spring onions or any dish with spring onions in it. 

If Ning could harness any power from a higher being, she would remove every stalk of spring onion from existence. Her mother’s phone rang as they turned at the corner shophouse. Ning stepped back to give her some privacy. A group of young, giggling girls traipsed past them, enthusiastically discussing a hip coffee joint. Ning surreptitiously crept closer towards her mother, trying to listen in on the conversation. But she could only hear laconic replies that consisted of, “yes”, “no” and “I understand”. Her voice seemed restrained.  

“Who was that?” Ning asked. 

“Just somebody. Why so kaypoh?” Ning’s mother asked, clicking her tongue. 

Ning knew her mother deployed this snappy attitude to fob her off whenever Ning became too much of a busybody for her own good. The skies had finally cleared, releasing an earthy petrichor — a scent Ning secretly adored. The afternoon sun peeked out of the grey clouds, creating a golden halo with glorious rays of light around them.  

Ning watched snippets of TikTok videos on the train home. Images of a mother and daughter duo swaying and jumping in one frame and morphing into each other in the next frame. A muscular man struggling to tear into an apple with his bare hands while a young man used a knife to cut an apple. A middle-aged woman synchronising her dance moves with a little girl. These entertaining yet addictive videos usually amused her, but Ning couldn’t seem to shake that mysterious phone call off her mind. Why did her mother lower her voice? Or why did she sound so serious? The ‘whys’ inundated her mind throughout the entire journey, until her mother nudged her elbow to motion her to get off the train. 

“Make sure you finish up all the spring onions later,” Ning’s mother remarked as they ambled through the housing blocks. 

“I’m not going to eat any spring onions,” said Ning. Those words had rolled out of her mouth faster than her mind could stop them. 

Ning’s mother glared at her with an expression as stiff as a starched uniform and Ning knew what came after this was going to be torture. 

“Ma, I’m going to fail my exams next month. There’s no point for me to eat those awful vegetables,” Ning said, pursing her lips. She cast her eyes on the ground as though something incredible had just skipped across her feet. A group of boys ran past them, yelling, Eh, where are we going ah? Let’s go to the playground. Their voices echoed through the communal void deck. 

“And what are you going to do if you fail your exams?”

“Ma, I want to make buns, just like you.” 

Ning’s mother closed her eyes and clenched her hands into fists. The last time Ning had witnessed this inscrutable face was three years ago when she returned home from grandma’s place, and had seen her mother sitting on the kitchen stool, staring into nothingness. Ning had pushed open the door to her parents’ room, only to find it in a chaotic mess — a smashed family photo frame was on the floor. 

Before Ning could say anything else, her mother walked towards the lift lobby. She was surprised her mother hadn’t rebuked her for speaking out. 

* * *

In the kitchen, Ning quickly tore the omelette apart, only to discover an absence of spring onions. She grinned quietly to herself, thinking she had convinced her mother to exclude that awful vegetable.  

Later that week, Ning parked herself at the side table in the bun shop, working on her Maths assignment. The afternoon news on the radio blared loudly in the background. She stared at the Pythagoras Theorem question and doodled aimlessly on the foolscap paper until her mind was drawn to her mobile phone. She tapped her TikTok app when, out of the corner of her eye, she saw Mrs Lim peering into the shop. 

“Eh, ah girl, so hardworking! Where’s your mummy?” Mrs Lim asked, raising her voice above the static crackling noises. 

“Hi, Mrs Lim! She’s in the kitchen making baos with Chen,” Ning replied, pointing towards the back of their tiny shop, where their cramped kitchen was located. “Do you want your usual Char Siew Bao or Big Chicken Bao?”  

Mrs Lim, a regular customer of Tan’s Bun Shop for years, beamed upon hearing those words. Ning gave her a wide smile. Mrs Lim rarely hesitated to buy more steamed buns whenever she patronised the shop. 

“Just give me five Char Siew Baos and five Big Chicken Baos,” Mrs Lim said. 

Ning pulled out the second tier of the bun steamer display cabinet and used a pair of silver tongs to pick those flavours. She enjoyed giving those soft and fluffy buns a little squeeze on the side as she placed them into the polystyrene boxes. She felt that was the least she could do as a daughter – assisting her mother and, at the same time, learning the trade. Halfway through, she heard a series of quick footsteps from behind her and before Ning could turn around, her mother was already standing next to her. 

“Go and do your homework. I will help Mrs Lim with her order,” Ning’s mum said as she smoothed away a few strands of hair from her eyes. Ning gently placed the tongs on the table and nodded silently at Mrs Lim, whose face had already become annoyed. Ning grabbed her phone from the table and slunk away.

Inside the kitchen, a stack of large bamboo steamers formed a tower on an industrial stove. They were probably the last batch of assorted steamed buns that would be sold for the day, Ning thought. White steam swirled up in the clammy air. 

On the other side, Chen, the ever-loyal shop assistant, was cleaning a dough mixer as he whistled and swayed to a catchy Chinese tune. Originally from Johor, Chen had been crossing the Causeway to work at the shop since Ning was born. Two small portions of leftover dough and a small bowl of barbecue pork were left on the table. Usually, these remnants would be thrown away at the end of the day, as Ning’s mother believed in the freshness of ingredients. 

Ning whipped out her phone and filmed the first part of a video, cut out a tiny piece of the dough, flattened it with a wooden rolling pin and filled it with a spoonful of barbecue pork. For the second part, she slowly gathered the pleat of the dough to seal up the filling, but the pleat looked odd. Chen glided towards Ning and commented, “Not bad. But still need a lot more practice.”

Ning hushed him as the video was still recording. 

“But you are getting better now. In the past, your baos looked so funny. If I have more time, I can teach you more things,” Chen said, dousing the floor with warm water. 

“I’m free on weekends or when Ma goes out to buy Toto,” Ning said enthusiastically. 

“No point. I’m going to look for a new job.” 

“Why? Has Ma found someone to replace you?” Ning asked, giving a quizzical look. 

“She didn’t tell you anything?” Chen asked. Ning shook her head. “Your ma is going to sell this shop.”

Words became trapped in Ning’s throat. The air grew cold. Sell the shop? Why would her mother even consider selling it? Those questions whirled in her mind like a gale barrelling through an open field. Ning’s mother had barely scraped through her secondary school education. In her teens, she had repeatedly failed her exams and, like any hot-headed teenage girl with raging hormones, she got involved with boys and bad company. She eventually left school at the age of 15, much to her mother’s chagrin. No amount of words could persuade her to return to school, until her grandma received a call from the police late one afternoon, informing her that her granddaughter had been involved in a gang fight which had led to the accidental death of an elderly passer-by. 

Ning’s mother was sent to a probation home for girls for two years. It was at that place where she had encountered a God-loving youth worker who persuaded her to think about her future and about the people who loved her. Upon her release from the girls’ home, Ning’s mother trudged home, only to discover her family wanted nothing to do with her. Out of kindness, they provided her a bed in which to sleep. Due to her bad record and a lack of qualifications, she worked several odd jobs to get by, until a kind elderly man who owned a steamed bun shop had taken her in and imparted his bun-making skills to her. 

Those thoughts were interrupted when she heard a loud shriek floating from the shop front. Ning stepped out of the kitchen and caught Mrs Lim flinging her arms at her mother, remarking, “Crazy woman! You think your bao shop is the best in Singapore, is it?’ If not for your daughter, I wouldn’t even step into your shop.” Mrs Lim spat on the ground before stomping off. 

“She thinks she is a big shot! Everyone must kowtow to her,” Ning’s mother fumed, slapping the thick receipt book on the counter. It didn’t come as a surprise to Ning, as Mrs Lim was probably one of those disgruntled customers her mother had offended on a regular basis. Ever since Ning’s father had abandoned the family on the day her mother stared into nothingness, business had gone downhill. Multicoloured graffiti had repeatedly been sprayed across their shop’s rolling shutter with words like, O$P$ and Go to hell! Ning’s mother had surmised the vandalism was the loan sharks’ doing. 

Already bestowed with the moribund steamed bun shop and heavily burdened with two young children, Ning’s mother balanced her life between reviving the shop and paying off her good-for-nothing ex-husband’s mounting debts. Ning witnessed the relentless spirit of those loan sharks sauntering into their shop on random sultry afternoons. The men, no younger than twenty-five years old, had blond hair and a uniformed phoenix tattoo on their forearms. They appeared harmless at first but what came out of their mouths was nothing but coarse language. This had led Ning’s mother to a nervous breakdown, and she eventually became short-tempered. 

As years went by, customers dwindled. Ning found herself greeted by bags of cold steamed buns at home every day. Ning’s mother always shrugged it off with, “We made so many baos today. These were the leftovers.”

* * *

“But Ma, Mrs Lim was just…”Ning protested, still holding on to her phone. Her mother quickly interjected. 

“Stop playing with your phone. What’s the point of doing all those videos? Can earn money or not? Ning, my friend just recommended me a tutor for you. She said he’s a very good tutor. Can teach you Maths. I know it’s too late but at least he can teach you what he can.” 

Ning gasped. Tutor? But how could her mother afford it? 

* * *

Ning’s head weighed a ton when her best friend, Farah, rambled on about her latest TikTok and Instagram videos during recess. She raved about the number of views she had garnered in a day. Farah’s monologue suddenly changed subject, and she asked Ning if she’d like to study for their upcoming exams with her after school. Ning knew Farah was the more hardworking person of the two of them. Even her social media videos yielded more views and likes than hers. She forced a lop-sided smile. She wanted to tell her about the shop and the sudden change in her mother’s behaviour, but she couldn’t form the words in her mind. Before Ning could say anything, she saw their form teacher, Madam Nadia, walking towards them. Farah greeted her like any obedient child before slinking away. 

Madam Nadia pulled Ning aside to a quiet section of the corridor. She interrogated Ning about the Maths assignment — Ning had completely forgotten about it. She sheepishly replied and said she left it in the shop but it was a lie. Madam Nadia raised her eyebrows sceptically, and with a straight face, she broke the news to Ning that, if she failed her upcoming exams, she would have to repeat another year. Ning acknowledged it with a nod and disappeared, but not before Madam Nadia requested to see Ning’s mother, to which Ning lied that her mother was too busy. 

At 8 that evening, Ning’s mother returned to their modest three-room flat with a bag of assorted steamed buns. She was on the phone, speaking in a low voice. She didn’t notice Ning sitting on the sofa watching a variety game show where contestants had to guess the price of household items. Ning quickly lowered the volume of the television, when she distinctively heard her mother saying, “The price is too low. I will consider selling it if the price is higher.”

Ning was about to confront her mother when her brother, Ren, shouted at her for stealing his favourite blue gel pen. Ning glared at him, grabbed his pen from the coffee table and tossed it to him. Ning’s mother untied the bag of buns and passed her improved steamed Pork bun to them to try. But Ren scrutinised the bag before settling on the lotus flavour bun instead and disappeared into his room. Ning obediently picked the lukewarm bun off her mother’s hands. 

She sank her teeth into the bun. The more she chewed, the more she felt a strange and bitter taste on her tongue. She spat out a morsel of the filling and discovered a slimy green vegetable — spring onions! Ning’s mother scolded her for wasting the filling as she and Chen had spent the whole afternoon improving the flavours. A strange feeling inexplicably invaded Ning, and in one swift movement, she ripped the bun apart and threw it on the floor. 

About the Book: Crocodiles in the city, street food fandom, a psychic club meeting in a Penang beach resort. Asian Anthology: New Writing Vol. 1 is a showcase of short stories and place writing by both new and more established prize-winning writers. Some unexpected, a few surreal and others traditional, these are 23 compelling stories of irony, humanity and satire, exploring a range of subject matter to reveal a glimpse of modern Asian society and culture: a funeral in India, a hotel encounter in Japan, a sleepless night in Hong Kong. Modern themes such as the chilling consequences of the environmental impact of logging, deforestation and the barbarism of the shark’s fin soup delicacy press on our collective conscience. In the pieces on place writing, the outsider’s view gives insight into the white-guy-in-Asia trope: backpacker, courier and expat company manager. But no Asian fiction is complete without stories of food, family conflict, redemption and reconciliation. Surprising and entertaining, this anthology captures the paradox of richness, diversity and humour that is Asian culture.

Contributors: Rumaizah Abu Bakar, Patrick Burns, Cheung Louie, E.P. Chiew, Mason Croft, MK Eidson, Marc de Faoite, Jenny Hor, Nenad Jovancic, Lynett Khoh, Doc Krinberg, V.S. Lai, Ewan Lawrie, Winston Lim, Y.K. Lim, Yvonne Lyon, Sandeep Kumar Mishra, Ivy Ngeow, Krishnaveni Panikker, Sylvia Petter, Shafiqah Alliah Razman, San Lin Tun and Yang Ming.

Editor/Author’s Bio: Ivy Ngeow was born and raised in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. She holds an MA in Writing from Middlesex University, where she won the 2005 Middlesex University Literary Press Prize out of almost 1500 entrants worldwide. Her debut, Cry of the Flying Rhino (2017), was awarded the International Proverse Prize in Hong Kong. Her novels include Overboard (2020) and Heart of Glass (2018). She lives in London.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

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Excerpt

Mahasweta Devi, Our Santiniketan

Title: Mahasweta Devi, Our Santiniketan.

Translator: Radha Chakravarty (From Bengali)

Publisher: Seagull Books, January 2022.

I first visited Santiniketan at the age of four, I’m told.

If we calculate the date, that would be 1930, or December 1929. Whether it was that December, or the January of 1929, I don’t know. Ma said it was an awfully cold winter. Shivering all the way on our journey there, shivering all the way back.

How amazing! I used to remember my very, very young days very, very well.

Yet now I can no longer recall that first visit.

I can’t be expected to remember, either. For now, I’m in my seventy-fifth year.

For a long, long time, I lived with Ma, Baba, my mamas, mashis, kakas, pishis, Dadu, Didima, Thakurda (only I called him ‘Dada’), Thakuma— all of them.

Not just them. Also Ma’s kaka, jyatha, mama, mashi, and their children and grandchildren. In other words, I lived with relatives of a hundred kinds, our lives closely entangled. For as long as they were with us, there was constant talk. In that buzz of conversation, one heard people say things like:

‘You were four years old then!’

‘When you fell off the tree . . . ’

‘The time you boarded an aeroplane . . . ’

That was how one got to know about one’s own childhood. So many years since Ma left us—to whom can I narrate my tales of childhood now! What I want to say here is that, although my first visit to Santiniketan was something that really happened, it’s an event I know of only by hearsay.

What we learn of by hearsay can also be true, after all. Way back in 1936, I went to Jhargram. Those days, Jhargram was a sea of sal forests.

Like an island within that sea was a house where we stayed. When Baba was transferred to Medinipur, I got to see a great deal of the Gopa, Jhargram, Salbani, Belpahari of those times.

‘Khuku! In Medinipur we spent our happiest days,’ Ma used to say.

I say the same.

Look, I’ll tell you about my childhood. But there’s no one alive now who can understand what I’m talking about.

Never mind. I must talk about the first time I saw Santiniketan.

Baba had probably joined Visva-Bharati as a member. What was his reason?

Visva-Bharati was Rabindranath’s creation, after all!

Well, Baba had seen Rabindranath several times, gone to meet him as well. This time, he had decided to take Ma with him, and us two sisters too.

If I was four at the time, my sister Mitul would have been no more than six months old!

Trains those days had First Class, Second Class, Inter Class and Third Class compartments. We boarded a Second Class compartment. A pair of wide, leather-upholstered berths below, another pair above.

In addition, the First Class compartment had a wall-mounted mirror, and hooks to hang clothes, raincoats and umbrellas. Fixed to the wall between the two bathrooms was a table with no legs. As far as I can remember, these items were absent from the Second Class compartment. The cushioning of the First Class berths was heavier, and the other fittings much superior. White sahebs and brown sahebs, did they all travel First Class? I don’t know.

That they didn’t travel in the same compartment, was something I heard of all the time. The British were in power then. They were the ruling class.

Gandhiji always travelled Third Class, in compartments meant for common people. Incredible, as it seems today, once I saw Gandhiji too; but let that be.

Anyway, it was high winter then. On the train, Ma and I took the lower berth. A gentleman on the berth above us, another on the lower berth opposite. Baba on the upper berth, with Mitul. Ma and Baba had a massive war of words, I’m told.

‘You take the upper berth with Khuku. Mitul is so tiny, let her remain with me.’

‘Aha! You can recline comfortably.’

‘Mitul is so small, she’ll fall off!’

‘How can she, when I’m with her?’

And so, the verbal battle went on and on. The gentleman on the lower berth interrupted from time to time, saying things like:

‘Aha! Please stop this! The children are asleep after all, so why must you . . . ?’ and so on.

Ultimately, at some point, everyone fell asleep. Look, among all the trains of those days—BNR, INR, this Mail, that Mail, some other Mail—which one we were travelling in, I can’t say. I’m told that the moment we arrived at Bhedia station, it was either our co-passengers who declared: ‘This is Bolpur’, or my Baba who decided, ‘This is Bolpur’. How exactly it happened, there’s no way of figuring out now, after a gap of seventy years. From what I knew of my Baba, I suspect he tumbled out of the train, announcing:

‘This is Bolpur!’

Ma recounted how, as soon as he alighted at the station, Baba cried, ‘We’ve got off at Bolpur, so why is this station named Bhedia?’

‘Bhedia’ was the name displayed at the station, on a square glass chimney atop a heavy wooden stand.

Anyway. The station master emerged. He understood the situation and organized a bullock cart for us. It was lined with  a thick layer of straw, covered by a shataranchi. You wouldn’t know this, but if you sleep on a thick layer of straw with that chequered rug spread over it, it really keeps the cold at bay. Dumka in 1944, Ghatsila in 1945, I remember them very well. In December, we had travelled to those places from Santiniketan.

In that bitter cold, my parents had climbed on to the bullock cart and eventually arrived at Santiniketan. The house behind the Mandir, which I thought of as the Guest House since 1936, is where I think they had stayed.

In the morning, they set out for an audience with the poet. Seated beside Rabindranath was Ramananda Chattopadhyay. I was terribly precocious, and even more artless. Apparently, I asked Ramananda Chattopadhyay:

‘Are you Robi Thakur?’

Tell me, how was I to blame! Dadu-Didima, my grandparents back home, used the name ‘Robi Thakur’. Thakurda, my paternal grandfather, would say ‘Robi-babu’. I mean, he referred to the Poet as ‘Robi-babu’. Baba, Boromama, Ma, my mashis and pishis — they used the name ‘Rabindranath’. No wonder I had blurted out such a foolish question.

Even that anecdote is a matter of hearsay, after all.

What happened after this episode, I can’t recall.

So those were my first glimpses of Rabindranath, and of Santiniketan.

The Santiniketan I saw six years later, when I went there at the age of ten — that is what remains etched in my memory as ‘our Santiniketan’. Like a dazzling feather that has fluttered down from some unknown place. In my mind it remains, enclosed within a box made of glass. I can turn it this way and that, look at it from any angle, whenever I desire.

I can. It’s something I can do, even now. Still, I have travelled a long distance away from my childhood, so the glass box now seems far, far away. I gaze at it and realize that the colours are fading. I realize that, one day, all the colours will vanish.

Of course, they will vanish. Someday, someone will ask me to write about it, and with my dimming vision I will sit down to write. Sixty-four years now. How long will the feather keep its colours, waiting?

The ‘feather’ stands for memories of childhood.

Memories don’t wait either. Memories grow tired. They want to go to sleep.

About the Book: In Our Santinikentan, the late Mahasweta Devi, one of India’s most celebrated writers, vividly narrates her days as a schoolgirl in the 1930s. As the aging author struggles to recapture vignettes of her childhood, these reminiscences bring to the written page not only her individual sensibility but an entire ethos.

Santiniketan is home to the school and university founded by the foremost literary and cultural icon of India, Rabindranath Tagore. In these pages, a forgotten Santiniketan, seen through the innocent eyes of a young girl, comes to life — the place, its people, flora and fauna, along with its educational environment, culture of free creative expression, vision of harmonious coexistence between natural and human worlds, and the towering presence of Tagore himself. Alongside, we get a glimpse of the private Mahasweta — her inner life, family and associates, and the early experiences that shaped her personality.

A nostalgic journey to a bygone era, harking back to its simple yet profound values — so distant today and so urgent yet again — Our Santiniketan is an invaluable addition to Devi’s rich oeuvre available in English translation.


Mahasweta Devi (1926–2016) was one of India’s foremost literary figures from the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries—a writer and social activist in equal right. Author of numerous novels, plays, essays and short stories, she received the Jnanpith Award, India’s highest literary honour, in 1996. She was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1997 for her ‘compassionate crusade through art and activism to claim for tribal peoples a just and honourable place in India’s national life’.

Radha Chakravarty is a writer, critic, and translator. In 2004, she was nominated for the Crossword Translation Award for In the Name of the Mother by Mahasweta Devi.

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