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Review

How Non-nonsensical is Sukumar Ray’s Nonsense Verse?

Book review by Nivedita Sen

Title: Habber-Jabber Law:  Nonsense Adventure.

Author: Sukumar Ray; translated from Bengali to English by Arunava Sinha  

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books, 2020

It is believed by and large that Ha Ja Ba Ra La (1921) by Sukumar Ray, the father of Satyajit Ray, was attempted as an adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Both start with the child protagonist going off to sleep out of doors on a hot summer’s day, under the shade of a tree, and entering a dreamscape in which creatures that are a mix of the real and the fantastic live out their lives. These characters are caught in situations where they constantly argue with one another and the protagonist about the strangest of words, events and ideas. Yet the very normalcy, credibility and sanity offered through the voice of the first person protagonist, juxtaposed and tested against the curious and the implausible in their formulations, is portrayed satirically, critical of some of the assumptions and values we take for granted, and interrogated for their logical fallacies.

Although Alice travels down a rabbit hole that leads her to Wonderland, Sukumar Ray changed everything from this point onward to match the ambience of an Indian, more specifically Bengali, way of life. And in the process, he not only crafted an original which is a milestone in the genre of nonsense writing in Bengali for children but offered food for adult thought to anyone who could read between the lines.

The book has an attractive cover and design and includes all the delightful original illustrations by the author. But it is a colossal task to actually translate line by line, if not word by word, this early twentieth century Bengali classic into English. Over the last forty years, language based translations have moved to culture based translations. This initial spadework was taken care of by Sukumar Ray in his adaptation of Alice.

When Arunava Sinha translates this text into English, we can assume that it is meant for an Indian readership. A crow (read human being) that traces its upper caste pedigree to the pure-blooded Rex Ravenus, a man who coyly appeals to people not to ask him to sing only because he wants his singing to be heard, and a court case for defamation in which the number of witnesses goes up because they get paid (bribed) for the ‘work’ are not unfamiliar across a pan-Indian spectrum. But the facetiousness and irony also extends to a universal human predicament in which the child encounters the worldly wisdom of ‘money is time’ that has to be factored in every calculation (reminiscent of a railway journey scene in Caroll’s Through the Looking Glass), when he iterates a multiplication table correctly but naively. Or in the utopian make-believe of making the world a happier place, when he learns, to his bewilderment, of an odd reversal in which the ages of people turn backward after they are forty, so that nobody dies old age.

Sukumar Ray’s Ha Ja Ba Ra La provides undiluted amusement to child readers but communicates more seriously to adult readers. Ashish Lahiri, an academic and writer, in an essay in 1982 in a magazine called Prabashi, had underlined the significant dichotomy between the first and second parts of the story. In the first, the current ‘scientific culture’ with its discourses of temporal and spatial relativity is tried to absurd extremes by the nonsensical utterances of the cat, the crow and the two dwarfish brothers. To start with, the handkerchief-turned-cat deconstructs our accepted structures of logic and common sense by arguing that he can be called cat chief, kerchief or capital zed, and extending its reasoning to spell out the ridiculous combination of alphabets that can identify it. Exact nomenclatures and absolute definitions are challenged in this episode.

Similarly, in keeping with findings in astrophysics and geography about the rotation of the earth, the cat says that we will never find anyone where we expect to find them, because no creature remains rooted in the anticipated spot, even if they are stationary. This hilarious observation while looking for someone called Big Tree Brother dwells on the relativity of time. It is corroborated by the logic of the crow who says that seven times two is not always fourteen because time is forever on the move and the arithmetical calculation changes by the time one works it out. Yet, all the bodily measurements of the first-person protagonist are fixed at twenty-six inches by the very creatures who make a case for the idea and practice of relativity, perhaps because he carries a baggage of absolute and rigid assumptions imposed on him by the adult world of common sense.

Hzzbuzzbuzz (whose original Bengali name Hijibijbij suggests hijibiji, a scribble that is garbled and meaningless) connects the two parts of the story with his compulsive need to laugh at the most hypothetical and incredible of situations. The second part, set in the open air courtroom of fantastic creatures, is resonant of human society at large for its dishonesty and deceit. It keeps the reader’s focus on the incongruity, dissonance and comicality of everything we ever learned or cultivated, from science and philosophy to the legal arbitration of civilised, educated, middle class life.

The court scene includes the moss-ridden coat or camouflage of the fraudulent lawyer, the book of law that epitomises a theoretical and meaningless justice and the owl-judge who cannot see things that are obvious by the clear light of day but only when they are under cover of nocturnal darkness. The crocodile’s convoluted questions for the sake of questions and his own weird interpretations suggest the ambivalences and distortions involved in the legal process. That the entire organisation of law and other human institutions and systems is based on big, unintelligible and fancy words that are absurd lies is critiqued in Hzzbuzzbuzz’s incoherent, unrelated but irreverent ramblings that tickle his funny bone. These anomalies, it suggests, are extant not only in law but every template of our civic rights and duties.

The transference of culture, except for very Bengali-specific ways of talking, social and professional behaviour, is not required in an Indian context. The simplicity and transparency of the situations would also not be difficult to translate verbatim if they were not based on tongue in cheek utterances that are apparently nonsensical. The translator’s credit lies in his translating each and every one of the nonsense rhymes, and much of the word play, including alliteration, assonance, puns, internal rhymes and onomatopaea. Evaluating what is technically termed as the aesthetic equivalence of the source text against the target text, these word and sound-related fragments are commendably done.

Sinha has, at times, morphed the nonsense expressions to equally incredible but compatibly bizarre sounding words and phrases that maintain an altered meter and matter in an attempt to integrate the English language within the coordinates of an indigenous linguistic culture. In a rhyme, for instance, that uses three different words for female ghosts – petni pishi, shankchuni and ultaburi, for example, the translator uses banshee aunty, ghouless and crone to cover all of them. Rhythms and cadences can hardly be the same in both languages, but Sinha struggles with and juggles the nonsense vocabulary by muting certain words, mutating others but also ends up mutilating a few. That, of course, is unavoidable in the linguistic upheaval of such a landmark of nonsense prose.

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Nivedita Sen is Associate Professor in English at Hansraj College, University of Delhi. She works on Bangla children’s literature, and has translated authors like Tagore, Sukumar Ray, Asha Purna Devi, Leela Majumdar and others for Harvard University Press, Vishwabharati Press, Sahitya Akademi, Katha, Tulika and more. Some of her works on children’s literature are Family, School and Nation: The Child and Literary Constructions in Twentieth Century Bengal. (Routledge, 2015), The Gopal-Rakhal Dialectic: Colonialism and Children’s Literature in Bengal (Tulika, 2015), translated from Sibaji Bandyopadhyay’s book, and articles on Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass in Alice in a World of Wonderlands (New Castle: Oak Knoll Press, 2015) and Libri et Liberi: Journal of Research on Children’s Literature and Culture (2016).

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

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Review

The Dissent of Man –Asserting Humanity by Raising Voices

Book review by Debraj Mookerjee

Title: India Dissents — 3,000 Years of Difference, Doubt and Argument

Editor: Ashok Vajpeyi

Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2020

Every man loves liberty and freedom.
Do not interfere with another’s freedom.

– Gautam Buddha

They say inside the heart of a black hole there is a point of singularity. A point of singularity is where no laws of nature exist, like in the instant before the big bang. That point is so powerful that it obliterates all the rules of the universe. It is a place where the laws of nature collapse. We cannot know what happens inside a black hole, because we do not have the tools with which to predict what might be happening inside. There is no physics. Essentially there are no bearings. There is a lesson in the analogy presented here. When power becomes absolute, it freezes everything within its domain. The only way to prevent power from becoming absolute is to check it. Edited, and with an introduction, by poet Ashok Vajpeyi, India Dissents (Revised and updated edition: 2017, 2020) is a critically important book at a time when many believe India might be hurtling towards its own tryst with ‘singularity’. This timely tome is an attempt to articulate the contrarian views inherent in the Indian tradition, spanning from times of yore, to the present. It is an attempt to chart the organic link between freedom and the courage to check power and its manifestations, whether spiritual, social or political.

The most effective way to check power, as demonstrated by this compendium of ‘3,000 years of difference, doubt and argument’, is to call it out. Dissent is at the heart of the human desire for freedom. And without freedom, we are not human. Lord Acton (who’s by and large more quoted than understood) defines liberty thus: “the assurance that every man shall be protected in doing what he believes his duty against the influence of authority and majorities, custom and opinion” (The History of Freedom in Antiquity).

Critical moments in history have seen the suppression of freedoms. The progress of the human race has not been linear. Ancient India experienced great enlightenment in thought and philosophy. Those who have had to endure the attempt – by contemporary media platforms and concomitant experts – at manufacturing consent vis-à-vis a  narrow world with narrow identities, via appeals to visceral emotions and spurious theories of hurt and cultural assault,  might be surprised to read from the Brihaspati Sutra (foundational text of the Charavak school of Indian philosophy, composed in 600 BCE):

“There is no heaven, no final liberation, not any soul in another world,
Nor do the actions of the four castes, orders or priesthoods produce any real effect.
The Agnihotra, the three Vedas, the ascetic’s three staves, and smearing one’s self with ashes,
Were made by Nature as the livelihood of those destitute of knowledge and manliness …”

The Classical Age saw the birth of Democracy in ancient Greece. Absolute power was kept in check by the voice of the people within the Senate. In India, the counsel of wise voices ensured virtuous actions by Kings. When power heeded the voice of the people or the counsel of the wise, society remained enlightened. But there were intermittent periods of darkness, such as the 1,000 year long dark ages in Europe. The modern world had apparently understood this, which is why modern societies were founded on the principles of liberty, fraternity and equality, the call of the French Revolution against the singularity of power enjoyed under feudalism. But that world is at risk, not only in India but in so many other nations that are otherwise functioning democracies.

Vajpeyi’s book does weigh heavily on recent dissenters whose works are widely in circulation. There is no new ground broken here. And yet it is important for those who have not transcended the plethora of voices that are constantly articulating views smoke-screened by the cacophony of mainstream opinions, championed uncritically by the media, that has long forgotten its mandated role as the Fourth Estate. Some attention is also paid to the freedom struggle, and the thinkers and freedom fighters who left with us a rich legacy of dissent. Amartya Sen traces India’s argumentative nature to our ancient text. He observes how the national penchant for dharnas (strikes) and protests are seared into souls by the struggle against colonial oppression. These voices feature in the book. But the real meat of the book is in the voices of minor poets and dissenting voices (little voices if you like) from our past, unknown perhaps to most.

Here are some voices from the book for you to gauge the diversity of dissent articulated in it. Ghalib in his plaint against God, “Whenever I open my mouth you snap: And who are you? / Is it your culture that I must not speak, only listen to you?” Raja Rammohun Roy against social customs: “Men are in general able to read and write and manage public affairs by which means they easily promulgate such faults women occasionally commit but never consider as criminal the misconduct of men towards women.” And then there is Kazi Nazrul, who along with Tagore, is revered as Bengal’s poetic voice:

“Blow your horn of universal cataclysm!
Let the flag of destruction
Rise amidst the rubbles of prison walls
Of the East!
Who’s the master? Who’s the king?
Who is it that gives punishment
Having snatched away the truth of freedom?”

These words of Nazrul would speak to power, were they to be voiced today. Whether it is Gandhi’s articulation of dissent against colonial rule, or Tagore’s denunciation of the idolisation (literally the worship of the nation as Mother, venerated via the slogan: ‘Vande Mataram’) of the nation over humanity, or even Periyar’s cry against superstition and caste oppression, and of course Bhagat Singh’s sharp critique of the world of oppression around him, India Dissents reminds us of what lies at the core of who we are: a plural society shaped by myriad traditions and cultures bearing the influence of peoples from faraway places. No one ruler, no one rule, no one singular identity, can ever define ‘the wonder that is India’ (to misquote A L Basham slightly).

Particularly amusing is the inclusion of the ‘obscenity’ trial against Chugatai and Manto (who was a born dissenter), presented in Chugtai’s voice. The presiding judge being perceptive decided he needed to talk to the contestants in his chambers and had drawn them therein. Chugtai: “The judge called me into the anteroom attached to the court and said quite informally, ‘I’ve read most of your stories. They aren’t obscene. Neither is ‘Lihaf’. But Manto’s writings are littered with filth.’ ‘The world is also littered with filth,’ I said in a feeble voice. ‘Is it necessary to rake it up then?’ ‘If it is raked up it becomes visible and people feel the need to clean it up.’” The judge laughed. Today, no anchor on prime news TV would laugh if told someone needs to rake up what’s wrong with our system so that we could work together to fix it.  Such a person would be labelled ‘anti-national’. 

India is at the crossroads. Not because its politics is troubled. Politics is all about rotation, and every moment in history is contested by that which is to follow. The world so far has witnessed many ups and downs and so shall India. What is troubling is the anger throbbing inside the people who are ready to rake offense, at almost anything. This is particularly true of the entitled, the middle classes — those with a modicum of education and material wealth. The facile credulity of the great mass of people who can be led by fake news, ‘What’s App University’, misogyny and the willing suspension of disbelief is what is truly threatening I contemporary India. To dissent is to grow. To accent without questioning is to shrink. To read India Dissents is in a way therefore an attempt to try and rediscover India’s soul.

India’s strength lies in its diversity, best explained in the words of Maheswata Devi’s words, reproduced from the book: “Indian culture is a tapestry of many weaves, many threads. The weaving is endless as are the shades of the pattern. Somewhere dark, somewhere light, somewhere saffron, somewhere as green as the fields of new paddy, somewhere flecked with blood, somewhere washed cool by the waters of a Himalayan spring. Somewhere the red of a watermelon slice. Somewhere the blue of an autumn sky in Bengal. Somewhere the purple of a musk deer’s eye. Somewhere the red of a new bride’s sindoor. Somewhere the threads from words in Urdu, somewhere in Bengali, somewhere in Kannada, somewhere in Assamese, yet elsewhere in Marathi. Somewhere the clothes frays. Somewhere the threads tear. But still it holds. Still. It holds.”

Diversity and dissent go hand in hand. To be able to dissent is also to be able to accept the dissent of others. Dissent is not always angry. It is questioning and it is curious. It is at the heart of what it means to be human. It is what makes us modern and free of the prejudices that have often laid civilization low. It is Des Cartes’ great call ‘Cogito Ergo Sum’ (I think therefore I am). The method of doubt foregrounded by the advent of reason, as it were, led not just to political emancipation, but also to the great scientific discoveries that define modern existence. Dissent is the source of discovery and research. Dissent is our door to adulthood, our way of finding ourselves. Any society that demonises dissent shuts the door to what it can become; it shuts the door to as yet unmapped possibilities. By crushing dissent, a society seals its tryst with negativity and slides into the prison-house of its worst fears and anxieties.

But then who is the most distinguished dissenter among them all? My choice is clear: It is none other than Mahatma Gandhi himself. To understand the nature of Gandhi’s dissent, one must first recognise the fact that perhaps along with Emperor Ashoka and the Prophet Muhammad, he was among those who believed in the imperitive of morality in politics, and in the politics of morality. Said he: “In my opinion, non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good.” By imbuing a moral quality to political action, Gandhi brought to bear exacting standards to politics, unheard of in the modern era. His very politics dissents against the existing dictum of political action: That politics is the art of the possible.

But Gandhi’s is not merely a great dissenter in politics. He is, in the words of the author of the internationally recognised novel Samskara (1965), and litterateur, UR Ananthamurthy, a ‘critical insider’. Gandhi, avers Ananthamurthy, allowed himself to be absorbed by the traditions of India, and from within that position, articulated his critique of what he saw as wrong with that tradition. He was a devout Hindu who was secular to a fault, and against the evils inherent in Hindu society. It is precisely because of this that Gandhi was so successful in mobilising India both politically and socially.

Alas today, those who are critical are seen as outsiders: westernised, liberal, socialists, and so on. And those who are insiders are not critical: they are viewed as provincial, obsequious, bigoted and belligerent. India will have to find the will to shake itself free of the straight jacket it finds itself in at the moment. That can happen with only more, and not less, dissent.

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Debraj Mookerjee has taught literature at the University of Delhi for close to thirty years. He claims he never gets bored. Ever. And that is his highest skill in life. No moment for him is not worth the while. He embraces life and allows life to embrace him.

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

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author.

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Review

The Myriad Hues of Love

Book Review by Meenakshi Malhotra

Title: Love is not a word: The Culture and Politics of Desire

Editor:  Debotri Dhar

Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2020

Love is not a word: The Culture and Politics of Desire edited by Debotri Dhar is a timely and illuminating book. It asks the right questions, sets up the debate on issues which need to be debated in order to bring the many hues of love and desire out of stranglehood of monolithic constructions. Dhar has brought together some interesting essays  by noted academics, art historians and curators, cultural and literary  historians  and writers  musing on the theme of love, its histories and its manifestations in religious mythography.

In the first essay in the anthology, ‘Swayamvara, Arranged Marriage, Desi Romance’, Professor Malashri Lal brings her considerable acumen and expertise to offer “some fascinating perspectives on Indian love, mapping both continuity and change, possibility and paradox.” She draws upon a spectrum of sources to unsettle some of the binaries and clichés about love and marriage in India. She points out the very heterogeneous nature of Indian realities and the simultaneous existence of designer weddings along with the prevalence of child marriage, the latter motivated by  stark poverty and custom. In this heterogeneous context, where contradictions exist and jostle with one another, it is difficult to formulate one overarching reality which collapses every aspect of Indian reality into one single, overwhelming truth.  Drawing upon a diverse set of sources from the Indian epics like Ramayan and Mahabharata to the writings of diasporic women writers in the US, to Bollywood films, Lal problematises the question of women’s choice in love and marriage, even when it is arranged. In her essay, she highlights the exercise of agency enabled by the ancient practice of  swayamvara, where the  bride reviews a number of suitors and selects one as her husband to the popular Hindi film, Queen (2014), where the ‘bride’, jilted by her suitor at the eleventh hour when practically at the altar, sets off alone on a ‘honeymoon’ to Paris and Amsterdam. All these vignettes, according to Lal, point to a long history of critiques of compelled marriages for women. Decoding the history of marriage and the space both accorded to and  negotiated by women within it, the author traces both continuities as well as complicating questions of love versus arranged marriage, choice, desire and agency.

Some of the themes and issues initiated by the first essay are questions that come up elsewhere, albeit in varying registers. Professor Makarand Paranjape’s essay focuses on immortal love and on the lover-God Krishna and his consort Radha, who is “a milkmaid elevated to the status of the erotic and holy beloved of the Supreme Godhead”. Paranjape reads the figure of Radha in the context of Indian history, art, culture and metaphysics, traces the genealogy and argues that the increasing importance of Radha acted as a corrective to the male-dominated theology which lacked a strong Goddess prior to the emergence of Radha. According to the author, she is largely absent in the classical sources and in the scriptures, her origins shrouded in obscurity, but assumes importance later as Krishna’s chosen paramour in Jayadev’s Gitagovinda, which is how medieval poets like Chandidas, Vidyapati and Surdas write of her.

A common theme which is indicated in the previous essay is developed by Paranjape and then later, by Alka Pande in the subsequent essay on ‘Love, Longing and Desire: A Nayika’s tale’. The flattening out of desire in keeping with the imperial puritanical norms of social control dwell on how desirous voices create discomfort. The messiness of love and desire is sought to be controlled and circumscribed into the heteronormative frame of marriage. Both imperial control and nationalistic schemes of reform collude to silence and erase traces of lascivious female desire and the erotic is therefore subdued and subsumed into the discourse of female purity, with which it sits uncomfortably. Thus, Prof Paranjape discusses how, “with the beginnings  of colonial modernity in India, Radha the Goddess underwent another drastic modification, now coming to often represent illegitimate sexual desire. In the new Puritanism fostered during the so-called Indian renaissance(18th to 19th century), Radha and her dalliance with Krishna proved an embarrassment to the agenda of social reform that the proponents of Hindu respectability espoused.”

By the 20th century, Radha was represented as “a victim of patriarchy” — as a symbol of the degraded and exploited woman, a fallen or abandoned woman. This is a far cry from the tantric version of Radha , which exalts her, sometimes over Krishna. In other traditions, she is often domesticated and shown to be a “chaste and jealous wife”, very possessive of Krishna, given to fits of rage. The theme of romantic love  is played out in varying registers and the sacred and profane so intermingled and intertwined that it is difficult to separate the two.

Alka  Pande’s essay on ‘Love, Longing and Desire: A Nayika’s Tale’ is deliciously erotic in its texture as it  narrates the tale of Amrapali, the “nagarvadhu”(bride of the city) of Patliputra, who lives life and fulfils her desire on her own terms. It shows the courtesan as an empowered figure, who exercises considerable agency in her choice of partner after the demise of her royal consort. As a reader and an editor of Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra, she claims to have transformed the book “from a compendium of living a deeply enriched and sexually fulfilled life to much more: strategies of romance, love, longing, desire, seduction and an unabashed valorization of carnal love.” (Pande,44) The essay also sets the record straight about the popular reception in the public imagination which sees the book as a manual of sex; rather it conforms to the Indian philosophy of “Purusharthas” which includes the goals of “dharma”, “artha”, “kama” and “moksha”, roughly translatable as virtuous living, material prosperity, aesthetics and pleasure and salvation, respectively. Kamasutra, in this narrative, emerges  as  a document which explores the art of living life to the fullest. Love and its many facets are explored along a spectrum of aestheticism, in a way that elevates it to a level beyond hedonism.

Christina Dhanaraj’s essay on ‘Swipe me Left, I’m Dalit’ explores the world of possibilities of romantic love for Dalit women, and finds the odds heavily weighted against them on account of caste prejudice. She therefore finds the optimistic and celebratory accounts on social media and /or dating apps like tinder which declare ‘caste’ as a thing of the past to be false and facile. Dalit women, according to the author, “carry the double burden of gender and caste, and are one of the most socially undervalued in India, are therefore under constant pressure to project an acceptable version that mimics the ‘savarna’ (upper caste) ideal.”

From the problems besetting inter-faith Hindu-Muslims relationships because of a persistent polarisation intensified by right-wing ideologies to the variegated spectrum of love’s vows and woes in Urdu poetry, are some of the themes explored in some of the subsequent essays.

 Rakhshanda Jalil, the eminent literary historian , points out interesting aspects of the “Barahmasa”( Twelve Months)which are songs of love, separation and yearning, both mystic and secular, in a woman’s voice. However, while the form concerned itself with the “women’s world, adopted a woman’s voice and spoke of a woman’s needs , none were actually written by women poets.’’(Jalil,125)Further, a study of the “barahmasas show how the word was lost to text, and orality to textuality, but also how pluralism was replaced by Unitarianism, multi-culturalism by puritanism, the feminine-gendered narration by the masculine, and inclusion by exclusion.”(Jalil,112)

Debotri Dhar’s thought-provoking musings on the profoundly gendered nature of love and waiting is a delightful read, punctuated with valuable insights into women’s writing and experiences. So are the other essays by Sumana Roy, Parvati Sharma and Didier Coste.

In its exploration of the variegated hues and discourses of love and its analysis of its many histories, the essays in the book demonstrate that love — as text, as play, pain and pleasure, in somewhat unequal measure —  is truly a many-splendoured thing and makes the world go around. These essays also illustrate the peculiarly gendered nature of love, where we are tempted to echo Byron’s  lines from Don Juan

Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart,

‘Tis woman’s whole existence

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Dr Meenakshi Malhotra is Associate Professor in English at Hansraj College, University of Delhi. She  has edited two books on Women and Lifewriting, Representing the Self and Claiming the I, in addition  to numerous published articles on gender and/in literature and feminist theory. Some of her recent publications include articles on lifewriting as an archive for GWSS, Women and Gender Studies in  India: Crossings (Routledge,2019),on ‘’The Engendering of Hurt’’  in The State of Hurt, (Sage,2016) ,on Kali in Unveiling Desire,(Rutgers University Press,2018) and ‘Ecofeminism and its Discontents’ (Primus,2018). She has been a part of the curriculum framing team for masters programme in Women and gender Studies at Indira Gandhi National Open University(IGNOU) and in Ambedkar University, Delhi and has also been an editorial consultant for ICSE textbooks (Grades1-8) with Pearson publishers. She has recently taught a course as a visiting fellow in Grinnell College, Iowa. She has bylines in Kitaab and Book review.

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

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How old is the Kashmir Dispute?

Book review by Bhaskar Parichha

Title: Understanding Kashmir and Kashmiris

Author: Christopher Snedden

Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2020

There can be, and have been, countless books on Kashmir and Kashmiris. Given its geopolitical importance in the Indian subcontinent and the constant needling by Pakistan, Kashmir has been a boiling point in the relationship between the two disagreeing neighbors. It has now been a year since the Indian government changed the status of Kashmir by making amendments to Articles 370 and 35A. Since then, Pakistan’s efforts to highlight this unilateral change and the human rights violations within it have been under the spotlight.

The challenge in writing a book on undivided Jammu & Kashmir — the only Muslim majority state in India — in the backdrop of four wars with Pakistan in 1948, 1965, 1971, and 1999 and also in the context of Chinese conflict in 1962 is enormous. Fortuitously, Christopher Snedden has come out with a book that is unprejudiced and at the same time comprehensive. Understanding Kashmir and Kashmiris is just the book you want to read on Kashmir.

Australian politico-strategic analyst, author and academic specializing in South Asia, Snedden has worked with governments, businesses, and universities. Currently, a professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Honolulu, Hawaii, he  visited J&K frequently to undertake research for this and has interviewed many elder statesmen involved in the Kashmir dispute. This authoritative book is the result of that endeavor.

Reads the blurb: “In 1846, the British created the state of Jammu and Kashmir and then quickly sold this prized region to the wily and powerful Raja Gulab Singh. Intriguingly, had they retained it, the India-Pakistan dispute over possession of the state may never have arisen, but Britain’s concerns lay elsewhere — expansionist Russia, beguiling Tibet and unstable China — and their agents played the ‘Great Game’ in Afghanistan and what was then known as ‘Turkistan’.”

Snedden contextualizes the geo-strategic and historical circumstances surrounding the British decision to relinquish Kashmir and explains how they and four Dogra maharajas consolidated and controlled J&K subsequently. He details the distant borders and disintegrated peoples that comprised the diverse princely state. It explains the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir’s controversial accession to India in 1947 — and its unpremeditated consequences.

Writes Snedden in the introduction, “The Kashmir dispute is now seventy years old. This makes it older more than ninety percent of Indians and Pakistanis. Its longevity surpasses the average life expectancy of a Pakistani male (65.16 years) and an Indian male (66.68 years)…Wistfully, some of my friends in J&K, India, and Pakistan tell me that the Kashmir dispute would continue for another two-thirds of a century…This book provides sufficient background information for a reader to understand why such a woeful scenario is possible.

Surely, the ground situation in J&K has changed since the book was written and, particularly, after 5th August 2019. But the dispute is far from over because  Pakistan constantly harks back that Kashmir cannot be removed from the agenda of the United Nation Security Council, which was committed to resolving the issue according to the wishes of the Kashmiri people.

Coming back to the politico-historical analysis of Kashmir, Snedden weaves a compelling narrative that frames the ‘K’ dispute, explains why it continues, and assesses what it means politically and administratively for the divided peoples of the state and their undecided futures.

Divided into five parts and punctiliously done chapters, Snedden begins with the Sikhs:  “We now come to an intriguing matter concerning the Sikh Empire: the significant role played by two powerful and influential brothers from Jammu, Gulab, and Dhyan (Dhian) Singh. In particular, as we shall see, the British took Raja Gulab Singh very seriously. The Sikh Empire had many non-Sikhs serving as soldiers and administrators. These included Gulab and Dhyan Singh, plus their other brother, Suchet, from the Jammu area that was located immediately to the south of Kashmir and north of the Sikh Empire’s Punjab heartland. Jammu had some strategic importance as its hilly uplands were relatively remote from traditional invasion routes into India that crossed Punjab. People had sought refuge from invaders in such areas, including most recently from marauding Afghans. Nevertheless, there was no distinct geographic division between Jammu and Punjab. Essentially, Jammu was an undulating-to-hilly extension of the Punjab plains that rose northwards to the Pir Panjal range located at the southern edge of the Kashmir Valley, with this range providing a natural boundary between Kashmir and Jammu.

Because Gulab Singh was a brave and capable soldier, in the 1810s, he caught the eye of the Sikh Maharaja. This was significant as both men thereafter engaged in a mutually beneficial partnership that brought them extensive benefits. For the effective but vigilant Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Gulab provided a non-Sikh ally whom the ruler could trust, an important factor in a fractious empire in which Ranjit was the senior Sikh. The ambitious Gulab Singh used Ranjit as a vehicle for Gulab to advance himself and his interests. Gulab Singh apparently first came to Ranjit Singh’s notice in the Kashmir campaign of 1813, after which Gulab was given control of the Reasi area, north of Jammu, in 1815. Later, because of his actions suppressing the uprising in Jammu in 1819, Ranjit Singh recognized the Jammuite as ruler of Jammu in 1822.”

What enhances the beauty of this 360- page is the in-depth analysis is the lucid explanation. Written in a language that is most nourishing and generous, this book is by far the best chronicle on Kashmir. Snedden has adroitly handled the dispute along with its intricate political and geo-strategic dimensions. He goes that extra mile to probe at length the history of the oft-neglected Kashmiris too.

An excellent account of Kashmiri identity and the conflict between India and Pakistan, the book is peerless on one of the world’s most ‘intractable disputes.’

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Review

“I am waiting to be at home; where, I don’t know yet”– Dom Moraes

Book Review by Rakhi Dalal

Title: Never at Home

Author: Dom Moraes

Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2020

Never at Home is the third memoir in the trilogy of memoirs written by Dom Moraes. The others being Gone Away (1960) and My Son’s Father (1968). This volume was first published by Penguin India in 1992. Here the author writes about his life from 1960 onwards.

The first chapter is a brief account of the phase of his life after winning the prestigious Hawthornden prize at the age of twenty. By the time he turned twenty two, Moraes already had two poetry collections and a memoir to his name. In order to earn a livelihood, he then started writing features and reviews for newspapers. In 1965, he brought out his third poetry collection John Nobody. After James Cameron impelled him to take up journalism, Moraes started travelling and for the next seventeen years he couldn’t write poetry. For someone, who from his childhood knew that he wanted to be a poet and to live in England, he spent a considerable period of his life in transit without writing any substantial poetry. Never at Home chronicles those years he was engaged in navigating the world to collect stories and interviews.

This volume is the third and final in his collective memoirs – A Variety of Absences, which take its name from the poem Absences written by him after a long hiatus from poetic fervour. The book focuses more on Moraes’ professional life as compared to his personal life taken up in his second memoir so that its prose is not as poetic or intense as in My Son’s Father but nevertheless, it is a notable piece of literary writing. It may also be deemed as a historical archive because it records some very important and interesting snippets and observations from the political world he traversed and eminent leaders he met.

The critical success of Gone Away, his first memoir, brought him writing assignments which included scriptwriting for a documentary on India. As a journalist, he covered Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem and wars in Algeria and Israel. In his mind he had always been an English poet in England and had no idea of the tribulations other immigrants faced. A BBC documentary commissioned to him made him look at the living conditions of Asian immigrants, specifically from India and Pakistan. This documentary brought him closer to the reality of being an outsider in a foreign country.

While writing articles for The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Daily Telegraph, Nova and many others magazines, he met and interviewed many distinguished personalities and important world leaders but perhaps none left as deep an impression upon him as Indira Gandhi, whose biography he was later to write. The liberation of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, had made her a star in the eyes of its natives who were till then hostile to Indians. Moraes writes at length about his meetings with her, about her charismatic personality, political astuteness and her almost invincible demeanor.

His descriptions of the journalistic assignments, which took him across many countries and gave him the opportunity to bring out stories to the world, are finely detailed. His keen eye presents a balanced perspective on the stories he covered, never going too far and never delivering too less. His most important works included a story on political prisoners in Buru and on the tribal people in Dani in Indonesia, the titles of the articles being ‘The Prisoners of Buru,’ and ‘The People Time Forgot’. His Buru piece evoked a violent response in Indonesia. Moraes was banned from entering the country again. But this piece was the first one to come out from the place and the issue was picked up by some human rights organisations leading to a release of seven thousand from the imprisoned ten thousand people. This, if anything, is a proof of the important voice he had become in journalism.

Although, Moraes’ work kept him busy in the world but he could somehow never get rid of the images of his traumatised childhood. As in the case of his second memoir,here also he writes considerably about his fear of confronting his mother. The accounts of his meetings with her are laced with the anguish and anxiety he had experienced in her presence always. Except his mother, all the other women in his life are only addressed in passing. He never dwells much upon his relationship with either his second wife, Judith, mother of their son Francis, or with his third wife, Leela Naidu. In comparison, his association with his friends and work colleagues occupy more space in this memoir. His regret for not becoming the father he thought he was when he wrote My Son’s Father comes perhaps due to his inability to express what he felt before others, including his family.  

Moraes picked up journalism as a vocation to earn a living but it brought him closer to real life. His punctuated visits to India, whether to write on Naxalbari movement, to meet Indira Gandhi, King of Sikkim or to explore Rajasthan, led to an increased understanding of the country of his birth. Nonetheless, he was never at home in India or in the country he had adopted as a youngster.

The disquiet that marked his life is perhaps most poignantly conveyed in this line towards the end:

“I am waiting to be at home; where, I don’t know yet.”

As he settled in the country of his birth, after all the travelling, his muse did eventually return to him. The various absences – of a mother, a father, his friends from the youth or his son — at different times in his life and their memories, continued to haunt him. Yet this memoir ends with a hopeful note. In author’s words, “the best thing to do is to preserve some form of balance on the constantly moving ground tectonic plates of this planet.”

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Rakhi Dalal is an educator by profession. When not working, she can usually be found reading books or writing about reading them. She writes at https://rakhidalal.blogspot.com/ . She lives with her husband and a teenage son, who being sports lovers themselves are yet, after all these years, left surprised each time a book finds its way to their home.

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

Categories
Review

Dom Moraes: ‘A piece of childhood thrown away’

Book review by Rakhi Dalal

Title: My Son’s Father

Author: Dom Moraes

Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2020

Dom Moraes (1938–2004), poet, novelist, and columnist, is seen as a foundational figure in Indian English Literature. In 1958, at the age of twenty, he won the prestigious Hawthornden Prize for his first volume of verse, A Beginning, going on to publish more than thirty books of prose and poetry. He was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award for English in 1994. He has won awards for journalism and poetry in England, America, and India. He also wrote a large number of film scripts for BBC and ITV, covering various countries such as India, Israel, Cuba, and Africa.

“Between his Englishness and Indianness, the scales tipped to English.”

Wrote Stephen Spender in the Sunday issue of The New York Times on August 10, 1969 while reviewing My Son’s Father by Dominic Frances Moraes, an autobiography which was first published in 1968 when the author was only thirty years old. Spender’s observation came in view of the situation faced by writers of Indian origin writing in English in those times. He considered it fortunate that Moraes was brought up speaking English and not Hindi.

It is true that being born in an English-speaking Roman Catholic family of Goan extraction, the language came naturally to him and his affinity for literature sprung from his spending much time on reading books borrowed from his father’s library. Once he knew that he would be a poet, the decision to make England his home came logically to him. At one place in the book he writes:

“England, for me, was where the poets were. The poets were my people. I had no real consciousness of a nationality, for I did not speak the languages of my countrymen, and therefore, had no soil for roots. Such Indian society as I had seen seemed to me narrow and provincial, and I wanted to escape it.”

In this autobiographical account, a prominent role is given to the tussle in his mind, that kept him connected to his roots. This struggle, emanating from the memories of his early childhood years spent with his family and his relationship with his parents, is also the subject of this book. Interestingly, after this book was published in 1968, Moraes returned to India after spending nearly fourteen years of his life in England.

The book covers the period from his early childhood to when he became a father himself. The autobiography is divided into two parts with six chapters each. The first part titled ‘A Piece of Childhood’ covers the first sixteen years of his life with his parents. The second titled ‘After So Many Deaths’, deals with his own life, from leaving the house for London for further studies until he finds his place in the World. The thirteenth chapter is the Epilogue.

The name for first part is taken from these lines by David Gray, quoted on the title page:

Poor meagre life is mine, meagre and poor:

Only a piece of childhood thrown away.

In the first part, the choice of title reflects the content. For, it essentially deals with his troubled childhood years with a mother suffering from mental illness. He writes about witnessing the first signs of illness in his mother, about how his love for her first turned into indifference, then into anger and then cruelty with the passing years which were marked with increased incidents because of her illness which sometimes also posed danger to him and everybody around. Later when his mother was institutionalized, he blamed himself for it. However, it was the time spent with his father, reading, travelling and journaling, that made him turn to writing verses and to opt for living in London.

The narrative is enlivened by the keen and observant eye of a poet which missed nothing, whether it was the unsettling feeling of missing his father when he was a war correspondent in Burma or the joy of witnessing the beauty of nature. At such places, his poetic sensibility charms the reader and turns the reading experience into a joyful ride. His prose is lucid, interspersed with vivid imagery but with such a restrain that not a single word ever seems out of place.

Behind our flat was the Arabian Sea, an ache and blur of blue at noon, purpling to shadow towards nightfall: then the sun spun down through a clash of colours like a thrown orange, and was sucked into it: sank, and the sea was black shot silk, stippled and lisping, and it was time for bed.

The second part deals with his life at Oxford. His associations with poets like Stephen Spender, W.H. Auden and Allen Tate. He vividly portrays the English Literary scene of 50s London, bohemian life at Soho, his meetings with the likes of David Gascoyne, T.S.Eliot, Beat poets and Francis Bacon. He writes about his love affairs, about the kindness of Dean Nevill Coghill who always saved him from troubles at Oxford and about David Archer of the Parton Press who published his first poetry collection, A Beginning, which won him the prestigious Hawthornden Prize at the age of nineteen. But despite all this, he felt divided in his mind. Once while visiting parents of his friend Julian, he felt nostalgic.

It was a long while since I had been in contact with family life: it seemed familiar but distant, but snuffing at it as warily as the dachshunds sniffed at me, I felt a deep nostalgia for it. I thought for the first time in weeks of my mother and father and remembered the exact smell and texture of an Indian day. Driving back with my friend through the green and familiar landscape of my adopted country, I felt suddenly, and to my own surprise, a stranger.

Though he had put down his roots of work and friendship in London, where he knew he wanted to stay but there were moments, according to him, when some invisible roots pulled him to country of his birth. It was only around his twenty first birthday, while visiting his parents, he realised what it was. In a conversation with his mother, both of them wept in close embrace and suddenly he felt his troubles vanishing away.

I left India at peace with myself. Something very important to me had happened: I had explained myself to my mother, there was love between us, the closed window that had darkened my mind for years had been opened, and I was free in a way I had never been before.

The last chapter, ‘The Epilogue’, shows a thirty years old Moraes, a father to a newborn, finalising the manuscript of this book. For some reasons it doesn’t include his life events from the age of twenty one to thirty. As the ‘Epilogue’ closes, we see a father, pleased with his life, binding together the pages so that if his son reads them one day, he understands his father as the person he was.

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Rakhi Dalal is an educator by profession. When not working, she can usually be found reading books or writing about reading them. She writes at https://rakhidalal.blogspot.com/ . She lives with her husband and a teenage son, who being sports lovers themselves are yet, after all these years, left surprised each time a book finds its way to their home.

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

Categories
Review

A History of Desire in India

Book Review by Bhaskar Parichha

Title: Infinite Variety – A History of Desire in India

Author: Madhavi Menon

Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2018

Taṇhā in Pali or trishna in Sanskrit roughly means desire, thirst, longing, and greed. Whether physical or mental, taṇhā is an important Buddhist concept found in early texts. Out of the four ‘Noble Truths’, the Buddha identified taṇhā as a principal cause in the arising of dukkha (suffering, pain, dissatisfaction).

Take no notice of what ancient Indian texts said about desire; look at this stupendous book that portrays the notion of desire whilst bringing out its myriad colors. Part of queer theory, it travels across the subcontinent in the hunt for diverse manifestations of desire.

Madhavi Menon’s Infinite Variety – A History of Desire in India is a rebellious account of desire and is full of astonishing analyses and insights. Menon – professor of English at Ashoka University – writes on desire and queer theory with panache. She has authored a number of books resembling the subject: Wanton Words: Rhetoric and Sexuality in English Renaissance Drama; Unhistorical Shakespeare: Queer Theory in Shakespearean Literature and Film; and Indifference to Difference: On Queer Universalism.

Pleasant and edifying, the book, as the blurb says, “reveals not purity but impurity as a way of life. Not one answer, but many. Not a single history, but multiple tales cutting across laws and boundaries.”

In Bhakti poetry, Radha and Krishna disregard marital fidelity, age, time, and gender for erotic love. In Sufi dargahs, pirs (spiritual guides) who were married to women are buried alongside their male disciples, as lovers are. Vatsyayana, the author of the world’s most famous manual of sex, insists that he did not compose it for the sake of passion, and remained celibate through the writing of it. Long hair is widely seen as a symbol of sexuality; and yet, shaved off in a temple, it is a sacred offering. Even as the country has a draconian law to punish homosexuality, heterosexual men share the same bed without comment. Hijras are increasingly marginalized; yet gender has historically been understood as fluid rather than fixed” – the book says it all in splendid details.

Written in an impeccable style, the approach is spanking new and commonsensical. What enhances the beauty of the book is that the author plots a route through centuries, geographies, personal and public histories, schools of philosophy, literary and cinematic works. It meanders through contemporary studies on sexology, dissects Bollywood films based on the subject, depicts symbols, and even juxtaposes the object of desire with yoga, philosophy, and commonplace events.

While Menon examines the numerous faces of desire in the Indian subcontinent, for the most part, we are exposed to amazing tales and factoids dug out from enormous archival material and public spheres. The study ranges from the erotic sculptures of the Khajuraho temple to the shrine of the celibate god Ayyappan; from army barracks to public parks; from Empress Nur Jahan’s paan to home-made kohl; from cross-dressing mystics to asexual gods. It shows us the connections between syntax and sexual characteristics, between mane and warfare, between self-restraint and gratification, between love and death.

Loaded with factoids and figures and with a spiky introduction, the book is neatly divided into twenty long chapters –- desire in education, desire in suicide; law and psychoanalysis, desires among bhabhis (sisters-in laws) to grandparents, desire in celibacy, desire while dating and make-up et al.

The work is phenomenal –- both because of the subject and the approach. That an entire book could be written on ‘desire’ is inspiring. But more important is the way it has been conceived. There is an element of gracefulness, lucidity, and enchantment as one flips through the pages. No one who has a desire can afford to fail to notice this meticulously-researched book.

Together with germane photos to buttress her argument, Menon’s book pivots around   texts, oral traditions, schools of philosophy to exhibit   the sub-continent’s nebulous, many-sided, and rich tradition of desire. Her deft handling of the theme and narrowing it down into a single book is truly commendable.

Infinite Variety: A History of Desire in India is deeply insightful, across-the-board, and stimulating.

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Bhaskar Parichha is a Bhubaneswar-based  journalist and author. He writes on a broad spectrum of  subjects , but more focused on art ,culture and biographies. His recent book ‘No Strings Attached’ has been published by Dhauli Books. 

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

 

Categories
Review

‘The Cultural Ambassdor of India’

Book review by Bhaskar Parichha

Title: Critical Lives: Rabindranath Tagore

Author: Bashabi Fraser

Publisher: Reaktion Books Ltd- /Speaking Tiger, 2020

Almost even eighty years after his death, Rabindranath Tagore continues to be written about. Any biographical account of Tagore’s life and works — whether it is in Bengali, English or any other language — is attention-grabbing and is received with awe and admiration. Indeed, for the bard whose immortal lines echo even today – Jodi tor daak shune keyo na ashe, tobe aakla cholo re (If no one answers to your call, walk alone) — no number of books is enough to have another look at his great mind, make another study of his brilliance.

Emeritus Professor, co-founder, and Director of the Scottish Centre of Tagore Studies (ScoTs) at Edinburgh- Napier University, Bashabi Fraser’s newest book on Tagore ( Reaktion Books, London/Speaking Tiger Publishing, New Delhi) is a brilliant account of the Kobiguru simply for the reason that it is both enlightening and at the same time perceptive. This discerning and sophisticatedly brought out a book of 250 pages gives a unique insight to Tagore’s life, his experiences in India, Europe, China, and Japan and cites numerous incidents from his life that directly influenced some of his great works.

Says Fraser in the introduction of her book: “this biographical study reassesses the Renaissance man, a polymath, who embodies the modern consciousness of India, engaged as he was in nation-building and contributing to the narrative of a nation.”

Part of the series ‘Critical Lives’ of leading cultural figures of the world in the the modern period, this biography explores the life of the great artist, writer philosopher in relation to his creations.

As the blurb says, “polymath Rabindranath Tagore was the first non-European to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1913. But Tagore was much more than a writer. Through his poems, novels, short stories, poetic songs, dance-dramas, and paintings, he transformed Bengali literature and Indian art. He was instrumental in bringing Indian culture to the West and vice versa, and strove to create a less divided society through mutual respect and understanding, like his great contemporary and close friend, Mahatma Gandhi.”

Even though Annie Besant was the first to call Gandhi a ‘Mahatma’, Tagore made the name popular. In the author’s view, “both Tagore and Gandhi, who were and still remain India’s greatest intellectual and political minds, respectively, continued to depend on each other for mutual support until Tagore’s death in 1941. Both believed that man needed to rely on his inner resources, on truth, love, and compassion to find full freedom to realize himself and fellow human beings as brethren.”

But, then, she sees a difference between the two great men: “While Gandhi was against technological advancement and science, Tagore, as a modernist believed that science and humanities were needed for holistic education and social advancement.”

Divided into a dozen chapters (‘The Tagores of Jorasonko’, ‘Growing up in the Tagore Household’, ‘English Interlude’, ‘Journey to the Banks of Padma’, ‘The Abode of Peace’, ‘From Shantiniketan to the world Stage’, ‘The renouncement of Knighthood’, ‘Where the World Meets in a Nest’, ‘The call of truth’, ‘Waves of Nationalism’, ‘Tagores’ Modernity and The legacy: At Home and the World’) the book has more than thirty illustrations — culled out from various albums.


Besides making a timely re-evaluation of the poet’s life and work, Fraser weighs up Tagore’s “many activities and shows how he embodies the modern the consciousness of India”. She examines in great detail Tagore’s ties with his childhood in Bengal, his role in Indian politics and his interests in international relationships, as well as addressing some of the misreading of his life and work through a holistic standpoint.

Fraser says, “India’s debt to Tagore is immense, and together with Mahatma Gandhi, he remains one of the architects of modern India and India’s primary soft power. Tagore’s liberal humanism and modernity make him relevant today and his place in world literature can be endorsed by a close study of his life, times, and work.”

This intuitive and charmingly written biography of a man who transcended all sorts of borders is a must-read. For someone who is interested in knowing the events which shaped Tagore’s literary career, this concise and yet critical book will be of immense help. More than anything else, the present volume is an indispensable and resourceful guide to know all that Viswakobi Rabindranath Tagore stood for. 

Bhaskar Parichha is a Bhubaneswar-based  journalist and author. He writes on a broad spectrum of  subjects , but more focused on art ,culture and biographies.His recent book ‘No Strings Attached’ has been published by Dhauli Books. 

Categories
Poetry

Still Breathing

Barnali Ray Shukla 
Still breathing

Her home wears nothing but a silence 
that waits--where noir feels warm like
a quilt of breaths, as it begins to reel in 

a tequila sunset, unsure of the strange 
fingerprints in her voice, ‘admit two’
she hears, last breaths of life, air or lyrics.  

The newborn gurgles in the next room, and 
her mother in another, they are there for her,
a little distant, and she… grateful for a death 

so beautiful that comes on time, as promised.
Untouched by loved ones behind masks, not 
the one they were born with, the one they need 

                                             to keep her  

                                                                         away.

By Barnali Ray Shukla

Still Breathing

Her home wears nothing but a silence 
that waits--where noir feels warm like
a quilt of breaths, as it begins to reel in 

a tequila sunset, unsure of the strange 
fingerprints in her voice, ‘admit two’
she hears, last breaths of life, air or lyrics.  

The newborn gurgles in the next room, and 
her mother in another, they are there for her,
a little distant, and she… grateful for a death 

so beautiful that comes on time, as promised.
Untouched by loved ones behind masks, not 
the one they were born with, the one they need 

                                             to keep her  

                                                                         away.

Barnali Ray Shukla is a writer, filmmaker & poet. Her writing has featured in Sunflower Collective, OutOfPrint, Kitaab.org, OUTCAST, Indian Ruminations, Vayavya, Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poetry II, indianculturalforum.in, Madras Courier, Bengaluru Review, Voice& Verse (HK) UCityReview (USA) and A Portrait in Blues (UK). She has a feature film to her credit as writer director, 2 documentaries, 2 short films & a book of poems, Apostrophe. Her short fiction & non fiction feature in print anthologies by Amaryllis, Speaking Tiger Books. She is shooting her third documentary & scripting a movie.She lives in Mumbai with her plants, books & a husband.