Are you going to Jaipur? Well, we are, and we hope you’re coming along too. And if you do find yourself there, don’t forget to look out for our Zubaan authors. They won’t always be by the bar or schmoozing with fellow literati, but they’ll be around, in conversation with other authors and in panel discussions. How do you recognise them? Well, here’s our little guide to Zubaan @ the Jaipur Literature Festival.
January 20, 2012
Anjum Zamarud Habib will be in conversation with Iftikhar Gilani, Sahil Maqbool on a panel moderated by Siddharth Vardarajan.
January 22, 2012
Zubaan author Anita Agnihotri will be in conversation with Malashri Lal along with Radha Chakravarthy and Fakrul Alam.
Supported by Ministry of External Affairs (SAARC Division)
January 24, 2012
‘Women Writing Conflict’
Zubaan authors Anita Agnihotri and Mitra Phukan will be on a panel along with Devi Rajab, moderated by Urvashi Butalia.
‘The Good Girls Come to Jaipur: Last Words from Lovely Ladies’
Annie Zaidi, author of Zubaan’s The Bad Boy’s Guide to the Good Indian Girl will be in conversation with Qaisra Shahraz, Manisha Kulshreshta and Samit Basu on a panel moderated by Nisha Susan.
A little bit about our authors:
Anita Agnihotri is a bureaucrat and administrator. She has worked extensively with tribal communities who provide the content for her moving and poetic writing. She has authored over 30 books that include novels, collections, and short stories, and it is this last genre that is the closest to her heart. Her collections of stories include Forest Interludes, which has been translated into Swedish, and Seventeen, published by Zubaan.
Anjum Zamarud Habib
Anjum Zamarud Habib is the founder of Muslim Khawateen Markaz which was established in 1990 to work for the welfare of women. A year after her release from prison, she founded the Association for the Families of Kashmiri Prisoners and is currently conducting a survey on Kashmiri prisoners in jails in India and their families.
Annie Zaidi is the author of Known Turf: Bantering with Bandits and Other True Tales, and the co-author of The Bad Boy’s Guide to the Good Indian Girl, Or The Good Indian to Living, Loving, and Having Fun.
Mitra Phukan is a writer, translator, columnist, ethnomusicologist and classical vocalist. Her published literary works include four children’s books, a biography, and a novel,The Collector’s Wife. Her most recent work is another novel, A Monsoon of Music. Her short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies. Her works have been translated into several languages.
For more details, check out the Jaipur Literature Festival Website
We’re extremely delighted to find three of our titles featured in Namita Gokhale’s list of Best titles of 2011. For Zubaan, this comes close on the heels of Venus Flytrap, Zubaan’s anthology of women’s erotica, being listed in at least five publications as one of the significant books to look forward to in 2012. Clearly we’re doing something right. However, it isn’t complete until you read the precious titles that we put out on the shelves. These are the three books in Namita Gokhale’s list.
A Terrible Matriarchy By Easterine Iralu
It’s the coming of age story of a Naga childhood, situated in both internal and social strife. Documenting a society in transition, it evokes the spirits of time and place, of births and deaths and passings. Iralu’s writing has the quality of pared down simplicity, with an aftertaste of hurt and irony. “For some days after Vimenuo’s father’s death, people could speak of nothing else. There were stories of people who saw him on their way back from the fields in the late evening. They said he appeared to them near the stream on the way home, his face turned away from them. But of course they knew it was him immediately; he wore the checked flannel shirt that was his favourite when he was alive.”
Buy your copy on Flipkart by clicking here
The Bad Boys Guide to the Good Indian GirlBy Annie Zaidi and Smriti Ravindra
Aka the Good Indian Girl’s Guide to Living, Loving and Having Fun, this delightful book actually covers much more serious territory than the unsuspecting reader might first deduce. The “Good Indian Girl” is the subject of much Bharatiya and diasporic angst. Dedicated to “All Indian Girls: Good, bad, ugly, little, perfect, plump, married, dead”, this tour de force goes through the complex territory of sex, virginity and sacrifices in the name of family, culture and nation. As the authors elucidate, “You can access a kind of default nationalism through the simple process of not having any fun…”
Buy your copy on Flipkart by clicking here
A Street in Srinagar By Chandrakanta
The book has been effectively translated by Manisha Chaudhury from the original Hindi. The shadows of violence loom over Ailan Gali, a street in Kashmir where the houses are stacked against each other in shoulder rubbing intimacy. These multiple tales of memory and transition, of migration, modernity and exile hold together a novel which invokes the sounds and smells of a place the Pandit community once called home.
A Street in Srinagar has also been shortlisted for the DSC Prize to be announced at the Jaipur Literature Festival!
Buy your copy on Flipkart by clicking here
How did you start writing?
I’m a reader. I started as a bookworm. I loved books. It came naturally to me to write at some stage. At university, i was reading African writers. Those were encouraging…African literature resonated in me. It made me feel it was possible to write my own novel. When i was 22, i did my first volume of poetry, the first such collection published by a Naga in English…I did short stories, then A Naga Village Remembered, the first novel by a Naga in English. I kept writing because i felt we needed to create written Naga literature. We have so much oral narratives but with the oral dying out, it’s all going to be lost.
Speaking of writing narratives, please tell us about your folk tale project.
I’m a partner with two others in a publishing house, Barkwea-ver. For us, it’s important to have folk tales written down…we’re encouraging youngsters to bring them to us…I tell my young friends – if you’re interested, sit with older people and get their stories…as they listen to these, youngsters learn their culture.
Do you think young people aren’t learning their culture?
Yes – because of the lifestyle they have. Kohima is too urbanised. You no longer have the village setting where in the evenings, you sat with the elders and they told you stories. Youngsters don’t do fieldwork which isn’t just labour – you learn so much about nature, seasons, birds, native names, etc. Hopefully, they’ll learn these things when they write down the stories. It’s a lifelong project.
Why is rich Naga literature so under-represented in wider Indian writing?
Because of the politics of publishing – for many years, the media presented us as the region of conflict. The culture was underplayed. Ordinary life was not valued. We became defined by the conflict. It’s so irritating – infuriating actually!
This is one way of showing there’s more behind the conflict. The people and their lives are interesting…there are people whose stories need to be heard but the big Indian publishing houses don’t think the northeast will sell. For many years, they didn’t want to publish books from the northeast. It’s not just Indian publishing but publishing over the world – but i’ve proved them wrong with a wonderful market in Nagaland and others outside. There is definitely a market.
You mentioned the Indo-Naga conflict – are Nagas getting over this and integrating today?
I don’t believe people from my generation or my children’s generation will ever feel that they’re Indian. We will always feel we’re Nagas. There’s a huge cultural difference. But we are able to embrace India, understand Indian culture…only if you’re a Naga, you will understand. You have a sense of belonging to a smaller degree to India. Your identity is always as a Naga…you can have a sense of belonging to India. But you know that because of the history and culture, you’ll never really be Indian. You’ll always be fully Naga in your mentality…we should actually build up on that – the levels of belonging, the levels of Indian-ness.
At one point in Tilottoma Misra’s Swarnalata, the parents of the eponymous heroine attempt to make a match for her with Rabindranath Tagore. The youthful poet, who has seen the attractive young girl from Assam—now in Calcutta to study—after a performance of his musical Balmiki Protibha, seems willing. But his father, the formidable Maharshi Devendranath Tagore, nixes the alliance.
Of course, history would have changed had Tagore Senior not taken this step. But Misra cleverly weaves the central skein of her novel into this one attention-grabbing incident. Swarnalata’s Brahmo parents, Gunabhiram and Bishnupriya Barua, are almost heartbroken at the rejection, which is explained to them in the novel by another real-life Brahmo elder, Sivanath Sastri, with these words:
Wonder years: Misra examines childhood and youth in 19th century Assam. Subhamoy Bhattacharjee
“There could be only one reason for this. Devendranath Tagore has never been able to fully accept the idea of widow re-marriage. You must be aware that though he appears to be a liberal in his outlook, his attachment to some of the rites and beliefs of Hindu society seems to be growing with every passing day. It is quite possible, however, that the younger generation of Tagores may not be with him in this. But no one at Jorasanko would really dare to go against Devendranath’s wishes.”
The rejection, surmise the Baruas of Nagaon, a small town in Assam, stems from Gunabhiram’s decision to flout the conventions of Hindu Assamese society and marry Bishnupriya, a widow with two children. Gunabhiram’s act is congruent with the values of the Brahmo Samaj, which broke away from Hinduism to speak up and act for liberal thinking, for equality between the genders, and for Western-style education. But it still does not earn him the right to metaphorically sup at the table of the orthodoxy. In this contradiction are sublimated all the other conflicts that Misra depicts in her unhurried, sprawling and socially realistic novel named after the young woman whose life it traces from childhood to motherhood and beyond against the backdrop of change in late 19th century Assam.
Change is indeed palpable in the placid, hill-encircled land of Assam as nationalist sentiments emerge among a handful of revolutionary young men willing to defy the deep-rooted Brahmin servility to authority in general and to the British in particular. Meanwhile, Christian missionaries spread the gospel and offer the opportunity of education to people systematically deprived of it, in the process gaining converts. Then there are the Brahmos like Barua, intent on asserting equal rights for women and widows.
Misra brings each of these narratives of tension to a boil on a slow fire, charting the stories of representative characters. Here’s Swarnalata—daughter of privileged, enlightened parents, but still subject to the same biases as other women, which she must overcome in her own way. And here are her friends—Lakhi, a child-widow and daughter of a conflicted father caught between tradition and progress, and Tora, converted to Christianity and with a mind of her own.
Of these, Lakhi’s journey is the hardest. She gets a taste of new ideas from her childhood friendship with Swarna, but is soon wedged into the marriage-at-nine ritual. Her husband dies before she can join him after puberty, and she faces the prospect of several decades of widowhood and all its attendant shackles. Her defiant progress in the face of these obstacles makes for the most absorbing of the three women’s stories.
Circling these women—each pushed by personal circumstances that are symbols of the larger societal truth—are a handful of enlightened men who are eager to break laws that they identify as stultifying and demeaning. Chief among them is Dharmakanta, fiery of mind and spirit and contemptuous of convention. His determination to change the status quo is both inspiring and heartbreaking in its intensity.
Misra does not peer deeply within the minds of her characters. Instead, her concerns are with the battles waged between the individual spirit and societal suppression, where every person is powered by dreams and desires that constitute a reaction to the world they inhabit. Like the Brahmaputra flooding its banks, curving around obstacles and pushing on slowly but relentlessly, this novel too meanders, but always with the intent of reaching its end.
Although old-fashioned in its technique and lacking dramatic highs and punctuated cadences, the story shines out through a translation ranging between the competent and the ill-at-ease. In capturing the collective aspiration of a people from a part of India whose literature is unjustly under-circulated, Swarnalata becomes a rich panel in the patchwork quilt that is contemporary Indian fiction.
IN SIX WORDS
Three women in search of freedom
Arunava Sinha is the translator of Rabindranath Tagore’s Three Women andBankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s The Chieftain’s Daughter.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Swarnalata: Zubaan, 293 pages, Rs. 295.
The Story of Felanee is based on real life events. It is a story of courage, of survival, of ethnic conflict and violence that tears people and communities apart in the most brutal, savage way.
Set in Assam, which has seen two major agitations that have crippled the economy, this is a story that will shock the reader by its sheer passion, and its brutal honesty. The callousness and utter disregard for human life, the ugly play for power, for electoral gain, the sham and petty hypocrisies, the bloody horror of ethnic violence all lie exposed in this powerful novel written by one of Assam’s leading fiction writers.
The story revolves around the experiences of one woman: Felanee. Her name means ‘thrown away’—so called because as her mother lay dying in the burning riot-torn village, Felanee was thrown into a swamp and left to die. But against all odds, Felanee—and thousands like her—survived.
Like the reeds that grow in such profusion along the bank of Assam’s rivers, the rootless inhabitants of the refugee camps and makeshift shanties, whose stories form the core of Felanee, are swept along by the wind and thrown onto new hostile terrain but they cling on with tenacity to take root again and again.
Buy Felanee at http://www.zubaanbooks.com/shopping_cart.asp
Sharing – awfully late, but better than never! – write up (by Pushpa Achanta – thanks Pushpa!)
of the event we held in Bangalore back in September as part of our ‘Cultures of Peace’ series.
We’ll be blogging up some of the forthcoming events over the next month or two… Pune… Ahmedabad… here we come!