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All Mrinalini Singh wants, she has. A loving husband, a competent cook, the vague hope of a book deal one day. But when her old roommate Jahanara accuses her of being selfish, Mrinalini is forced to practise altruism on the nearest available target: her maid’s toddler. All this caring doesn’t come easy, though; and it hardly helps that her husband Siddhartha has quit his lucrative job and acquired parental ambitions. Or that Brajeshwar Jha, her upstairs tenant and literary rival, has not only published his book before Mrinalini, but also lampooned her and Siddhartha in it. Close to Home is a wry look at the small compromises, manipulations and sustained self-delusion of young men and women possessed of good fortune... and only looking for good lives.
Susan Visvanathan's new work, Phosphorus and Stone is composed in the lucid but subversive style that characterises her feminist writings. In this novella she examines a fishing hamlet from the startling perspectives of the bourgeois enclaves set both in a village called Valli, Kerala, and in the suburbs of Chennai and Bangalore.
This is the story of a young woman and her refusal to be betrayed by death, obsession or love. It engages with the activist concern for the fisherpeople as well as the problematic of middle-class loyalties and the antagonisms of sect and gender. The most complex narrative, in this slim volume, is the apocryphal reading, from a feminist perspective, of Jesus's resurrection.
The Dungri Garasiya, an indigenous group in north Gujarat, believed that the first being to be created was woman and so in their society women were as respected as men and property passed down from mother to daughter.
At the dawn of creation, girls were as desired as sons. It was a time when girls beat boys in games and races: a time when there was no gender divide. And so also in these stories it is the women who are stronger, wiser, faster, sharper, and certainly far more beautiful than their men. It is they who think out of the box, who are imaginative and creative and full of wise ideas.
From tales of ghostly possession to magic mantras, from kings and queens full of passion to village youth bursting with sexual ardour, these timeless folktales are full of the joy of being alive, of sensual enjoyment and pleasure. While Kudrat (God is imagined as being feminine) and Deva conspire and wreak havoc on their people, the dance of life continues with naked young maidens swimming in the streams or being courted by dark handsome youths amidst much laughter and teasing. The forests are full of birds and beasts and fish and life for the tribals is for the most part simple and innocent, truth and right always prevail and defeat the forces of darkness — be it a scheming stepmother, a murderous wife or lover, or a cruel and lustful king.
In which an uncast ballot precipitates social embarrassment and recalls a past love, a young housewife finds her kitchen plagued by unabashed canoodling in the flat next door, an aspiring novelist tries to forget near-manslaughter, a schoolgirl discovers the travails of depilation, and, in a locked room, two medieval noblewomen recount the amorous avowals of a young soldier.
There’s also the small matter of a dead camel lying unattended on the streets of Delhi.
These twelve stories explore the unsaid, the unfinished and the misunderstood, the shocks and nuances of love and sexuality, responsibility and ambition, and our tentative attempts to peel away the layers of stories that make up our lives.
“Beautifully precise writing. These stories capture people with such exactitude that you know they must come from a serious student of life. But this is one of those serious books at which you never stop laughing, for Parvati Sharma’s sense of the world is lively, generous and wickedly original.”
— Rana Dasgupta, author of Solo
Rukmini is married to the District Collector of a small town in Assam, and teaches in the local college. On the surface her life is settled and safe, living in the big beautiful bungalow on the hill above the cremation ground, seemingly untouched by the toil and sufferings of the common folk living 'below’. And yet there is an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty that grips the town each time there is an 'incident’ and this has its repercussions on her life too—for Assam is in the grip of insurgency and it is this thread that runs like a dark river through the novel and forms its plot.
The Assam students’ agitation of the 1970s and 1980s has grown into a full-blown agitation today with kidnappings, extortions, and political instability being the order of the day. The meaninglessness of the violence, the complexities that divide 'them’ and 'us’ and the point at which the two merge are all explored here and the final dénouement is horrifying and yet true–for there can be no other 'end’ to such a tale both in personal and political terms.
Mitra Phukan is a well-known Assamese writer and contributes regularly to prominent English dailies in the North East. She has recently edited a collection of Assamese short stories and published a number of books for children.
Count Jorge was a fabulously wealthy, devastatingly good-looking socialite, a leading figure in the South American city of San Felice. When he is found brutally stabbed to death, it soon becomes clear that ‘polite’ society in San Felice is anything but.
Is the murder linked to the Indian Ambassador, himself a victim of blackmail? Why is his wife, whom he suspects of having an affair with the Count, so apparently unaffected by his death? Who is the young man with the honey-coloured hair who takes the news, by contrast, so terribly badly? As for the Commissioner of Police, he is trying to decide which discovery is the more problematic: the corpse lying on the bed, or the Ambassador’s daughter’s riding boots lying underneath it.
There’s plenty of intrigue, backstabbing (literal as well as metaphorical), gossip and drama to enjoy in Chandralekha Mehta’s sparkling debut novel.
This anthology is not only about what Gujarati women speak, but also what they don’t. In a state that registers increasing cases of violence against women, what kind of truths does its literature embody?
If malestream writing in Gujarat seldom mirrors its everyday truths, do the women risk unpleasantness? Kothari’s introduction builds upon such premises and leads the reader to a trajectory of women writers from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day, starting with the journal entries of a dancer at the end of the nineteenth century, to the journal entries of an academic woman at the end of the twentieth century. The wide range of stories and fictional excerpts show how Gujarati women inhabit their fictional worlds. The trajectory hints at an imperceptible shift from muffled voices to more candid ways of being, and yet it never loses completely the middle-class genteelness that characterizes literary discourses in Gujarat.
Rita Kothari teaches at St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad. Her publications on literary sociology of Gujarat and translation include Translating India, Modern Gujarati Poetry: A Selection, Coral Island: Poems by Niranjan Bhagat, Angaliyat (a Gujarati Dalit novel). Her forthcoming book is Stigmatised Identities: The Sindhis of Gujarat.
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.
Twelve short stories about everyday life and the political realities of Assam.
“My stories,” says the author, “are a lot about darkness but they are also about the small sparks of light that occasionally dispel the demons in our souls.”
In this collection, a doctor’s comfortable existence in a tea estate is rudely shattered by violent conflict, a daughter reflects on the failure of her parents’ inter-religious marriage, and children discover how shockingly little time it takes to go from joking to being thrown headlong into bloody carnage.
Sharp and eloquent, Uddipana Goswami’s stories bring into harsh focus how interwoven political violence is with everyday life.
A postman turns up with an unexpected letter one rainy afternoon in Cherrapunji, a letter that will turn fourteen-year-old Saphira’s world upside down.
Dalinia’s life seems perfect, with a successful husband, beautiful children and a well-appointed home. But the arrival of a handsome competitor on the manicured greens of the Shillong golf course brings back a flood of unwanted memories of her troubled past.
Told in a simple, lyrical style, Bijoya Sawian’s collection of ten short stories is not only an enthralling read but, like her debut novel Shadow Men, transports the reader to a place little known to outsiders: Meghalaya.
Strains of love, loss and longing run through all these stories, whose endings are not mere shocks, but revelations. Both her books should be read for a better understanding of India’s Northeast – its communities, its landscape, and in particular, the lives of the women who live there.
“Love, loss and longing are the predominant emotions in these tales. With a touch of Blakesian magic, Sawian’s songs of innocence and experience are lyrical and pantheistic. [The] stories, like vintage wine, have a mature blend of wit and irony, sense and sensibility and the ability to stay with the reader long after the covers are closed.”—Sudipta Bhattacharjee, Telegraph
In Suki, fabulist Suniti Namjoshi weaves a delightful tapestry from threads of longing, loss, memory, metaphor, and contemplation. The whole picture is a stunning evocation of the love and friendship shared between S and her Super Cat, Suki, a lilac Burmese. Suki suggests that she could be a goddess, and S her high priestess. S declines, but as they discuss the merits of vegetarianism, or the meaning of happiness, or morality, or just daily life, it soon becomes clear that the bond between them is a deep and complex one. The days of Suki's life are figured as leaves, which fall vividly but irrevocably into time's stream and are recollected with a wild tenderness by the grieving S, who learns through the disciplines of meditation how to lose what is most loved.
This beautiful narrative, both memoir and elegy, offers solace and celebration to everyone who has felt the trust that passes between a person and a beloved creature.
This touching and at times harrowing glimpse into the conflict-ridden Nagaland is now available in a brand new paperback edition as part of the Zubaan Classics series to celebrate Zubaan's 10th anniversary. More than half a century of bloodshed has marked the history of the Naga people who live in the troubled northeastern region of India. Their struggle for an independent Nagaland and their continuing search for identity provides the backdrop for the stories that make up this unusual collection. Describing how ordinary people cope with violence, how they negotiate power, and force, how they seek and find safe spaces and enjoyment in the midst of terror, the author details a way of life under threat from the forces of modernization and war.
No one -- the young, the old, the ordinary housewife, the willing partner, the militant who takes to the gun, and the young woman who sings even as she is being raped -- is untouched by the violence. Theirs are the stories that form the subtext of the struggles that lie at the internal fault lines of the Indian nation-state. These are stories that speak movingly of home, country, nation, nationality, identity, and direct the reader to the urgency of the issues that lie at their heart.
Temsula Ao is the Dean, School of Humanities and Education, North Eastern Hill University, Shillong.
"Temsula Ao, like many of her predecessors has successfully described the experiences of her people. The struggle for freedom and the search for identity have been discussed by many writers and these are pivotal themes of those who had to pay a heavy price for freedom. To this end Temsula Ao must be praised for her successful attempt." -- Shagufta Yasmeen, Dawn
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