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Published in March of 1899, Muhammad Hadi Ruswa's famous novel Umrao Jaan Ada created a sensation when it came out, with its candid account of the life of Umrao Jaan, a semi-fictional, possibly real, Lucknow courtesan. Subsequent translations and films based on the book have further extended the fame of both the book and Umrao, the character.
What is less known, however, is that a month after he wrote Umrao Jaan Ada, Ruswa penned a short text, a novella entitled Junun-e-Intezar (The Madness of Waiting, April 1899) in which Umrao avenges herself on her creator, Ruswa, by narrating the story of his life.
Blurring the lines between truth and fiction, narrator and character, this clever narrative strategy gives the courtesan a speaking voice. While Umrao Jaan Ada, continues to evoke interest, this paratext has been completely forgotten. Here, translators and editors Krupa Shandilya and Taimoor Shahid, one a scholar from India and the other from Pakistan, attempt to redress this with their translation of Ruswa's novella and their critical introduction which rethinks Umrao Jaan Ada and the Urdu literary milieu of late nineteenth-century Lucknow.
This book contains both the Urdu text (in facsimile) and its translation for the bilingual reader.
Amolik Dey is Everyman. A teacher with a young wife and son, he is dedicated to taking care of his family yet cannot turn a blind eye to the inequalities he sees around him. Torn between his wife's desire for a 'normal' life and his own passion for fighting injustice, he endangers both himself and his family with his increasing militancy. rnrnSet in a small town in the Bengal of the 1960s and 70s, this is a story of unrest and rebellion. It is a time of great upheaval, of violence and agitations, and the author subtly weaves in how the political tensions that threaten to overwhelm the state also impact the ordinary lives of this one family, destroying their world. From Naxalite uprisings which bring brutal conflict to those places that have been ignored by the political mainstream, to the complexities of class and gender, and the post-colonial hangover of a newly independent people, this gritty novel sensitively portrays a town and a people who have one foot in the past and one foot tentatively in the present.
Talaash is the second novel of the Bangladeshi writer Shaheen Akhtar. It captures the brutalities of the 1971 war of liberation and its contingent afterlife -- more specifically, the scars it has left on women. For thirty long years, Mariam, the protagonist of the novel, lives with memories of a war that refuses to end for her. The analeptic and proleptic shapings of Shaheen's prose travel in and through those shattered memories (and their public use) to construct a devastating archive of pain and anguish, far beyond the pale of cause and effect. Shaheen Akhtar's mesmerizing and moving novel, set against the background of the Bangladesh war of independence, explores the violence done to women, their courage and heartbreak, their search for love and their betrayal. Taalash (The Search) was awarded the Prothom Alo Literary Prize in 2004.
As the monsoon rains wash over the city of Kolkata, four women sit and read and talk in the kitchen of Kailash-- the old mansion of the Chattopadhyays where Uma comes to live after her marriage in the summer of 1962. Her husband's silence about his mother and the childhood tragedy that beckons him from the shadowy landing of Kailash, the embroidered handkerchiefs in an old soap box in her father-in-law's room and the presence of the old, green-eyed Pishi intrigue Uma. But it is only as she begins to read aloud the traditional Chandimangal composed by her husband's grandfather to celebrate the goddess that the smothered stories begin to emerge... The novel weaves in the history of the militant goddess recast as wife, the Portuguese in Bengal, the rise of print and the making of memories from the Swadeshi movement to the turbulent sixties in Bengal as Uma discovers that the foundation of Kailash is not only very deep but also camouflages the stench of death.
Early twentieth century Madras. In a dark room in the corner of a house, Goutami's mother dies in childbirth. Barely a year old, Goutami, or Goutu as everyone calls her, crawls into the birth-death room, seeing and smelling death, loss, fear -- things she does not then understand but which will mark her for life. A motherless child, a rebellious girl, a headstrong woman who will not deny her sexuality, a fighter for whom lying becomes a strategy for survival: Goutami's search for love leads her to Krishnanand, cousin and ladies' man, suave and practiced, who beds all young cousins before they marry. But life intervenes and Goutami marries Seshadri. Solid, steady, ambitious, a good husband and an adequate father, Seshadri is nonetheless unable to give her one thing she craves: love. The ins and outs of family's relationships. The search for love and a sense of belonging, form the subtext of this beautifully crafted novel by first time novelist Prema Raghunath. In the end for Goutu, as for her lovers, siblings and children, salvation comes from the very stuff of life itself.
The Blue-necked God (Nilakantha Braja), published in 1976, is one of Indira Goswami's early novels and the first time that a writer highlighted the exploitation and poverty of widows, dumped in a 'sacred' city to eke out their days in prayer by uncaring, callous families under the guise of religious sanction and tradition. It was a book that raised many eyebrows when it was first published for this amazing narrative combined fact and fiction, autobiography and reflection in a fascinating mix as she tried to depict the confusion and the mental agony she herself experienced after the death of her husband through her character Saudamini. The physical, emotional, financial deprivation faced by the young widow has been woven into a perceptive text that drew on the author's own research and experiences as she roamed the streets of Vrindavan and exposed, for the first time, the uglier side of the city and its traditions.
"Indira Goswami is one of the pre-eminent literary figures in India and a woman of remarkable courage and conviction... She has also been an important voice in championing women's causes, and has done much to highlight the plight of widows. [She] is one of those rare figures whose achievements as a writer are closely paralleled by their accomplishments as a social and political activist." -- Amitav Ghosh
Set in late 19th century Assam, The Bronze Sword of Tengphakhri Tehsildar is the heroic tale of a Bodo freedom fighter who was, arguably, the first woman revenue collector in British India. It was Indira Goswami's last work of fiction and this is the first-ever English edition, powerfully and sensitively translated from the Assamese by Aruni Kashyap.
"Indira Goswami is one of the pre-eminent literary figures in India and a woman of remarkable courage and conviction... She has also been an important voice in championing women's causes, and has done much to highlight the plight of widows. [She] is one of those rare figures whose achievements as a writer are closely paralleled by their accomplishments as a social and political activist." - Amitav Ghosh
This richly descriptive and deeply philosophical novel from Bhutan is now available in a brand new paperback edition as part of the Zubaan Classics series to celebrate Zubaan's 10th anniversary.
As a young girl, Tsomo asks her mother, "Where is the furthest I can travel?"
"Where," her mother responds, "I don't know. Where can a girl travel to?"
Caught in the everyday reality of household life, fifteen-year-old Tsomo is suddenly called upon to travel when her mother dies. She makes her first journey to a faraway village to light the ritual butter lamps in her mother?s memory. Beginning here, her travels take her to distant places, across Bhutan and into India. As she faces the world, a woman alone, Tsomo embarks on what becomes a life journey, in which she begins to find herself, and to grow as a person and a woman.
The first novel by a woman to come out of the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, The Circle of Karma, written in English, is rich in detailed descriptions of ritual life. The measured pace of its prose, the many nuances of the story, the different levels at which the narrative works, weave a complex tapestry of life in which the style and content are closely interwoven, each informing and enriching the other.
Kunzang Choden is one of Bhutan's foremost writers. In her early fifties, she has written a number of short stories and has also published collections of folk tales from Bhutan. This is her first novel.
"Kunzang Choden has given us an unforgettable tale of a simple woman's pilgrimage and journey to self-realisation." -- Anna Sujata Mathai, The Hindu
Set in mid-nineteenth century Assam when the forces of tradition were being challenged by new concepts of modernity, Swarnalata is the story of three women from very different social backgrounds, each caught in the whirlpool of change, each trying to chart her own course in life, heroically, silently. As the intertwined lives of Swarnalata, Tora and Lakhi unfold, the reader is taken on a fascinating journey into the social milieu of the times where issues like women's education and widow remarriage held centre stage. The plight of indentured labour, peasant resistance against colonial exploitation, the reformist initiatives of the Brahmo Samaj and the proselytizing efforts of the Christian missionaries are themes that run through the narrative. Considered one of the finest historical novels in Assamese, where real historical personages - such as Rabindranath Tagore - are presented side by side with fictional characters, Swarnalata provides a wonderful blend of history and fiction. Swarnalata was first published in Asomiya in 1991. It was awarded the Ishan Puraskar by the Bhartiya Bhasha Parishad in 1995 and translated into Bangla and Hindi under the 'Adaan-Pradaan' programme of the National Book Trust. The Asomiya original is now in its fouth edition and has received wide critical acclaim in the last 15 years.
These deceptively simple stories uncover both the complexity and irony of women's lives in Bhutan today. They show how ordinary lives, choices and experiences are both remarkable and poignant. In I am a Small Person, a despised woman uses her femininity as a means to control a man, the young girl in I Won't ask Mother suddenly feels empowered and confident when she makes a decision without consulting her mother.
All the stories take place in rural settings, to which creeping urbanisation brings gradual change, and tensions surface between the new and the old, or the traditional and the modern. For many rural women, being able to connect to the city and all its perceived power and glamour is a very real aspiration. This yearning is exemplified in Look at her Belly Button, where a young woman effortlessly slips out of the role of a farmer to become a 'real Bhutanese' urbanite.
A thick mist envelopes an isolated house and a cottage atop a hill. Raseel, looking out from the verandah of the house, watches the mist as it covers first the plants, then the trees and finally the house. Suddenly it parts, and three men come into view, furtive, quick. Then they're gone. Minutes later, Raseel hears the sound of shots. Then there is silence.
The reader is pulled into Bijoya Sawian's tense and dramatic story of the strange death of a dkhar, an outsider, in the beautiful hill town of Shillong in northeastern India. Why was he killed? Who are the killers? Are they known to the housekeeper and driver? As she begins to unravel this mystery, Raseel finds herself caught in a tale of intrigue and violence that mirrors the world of insurgency around her. In lyrical, haunting prose, Bijoya Sawian paints a dark, threatening picture and shows how violence has tainted the very fabric of everyday life in a place that was once peaceful, untroubled and calm.
East is East and West is West, but the twain meet with a crash in Gurgaon - the epicentre of the outsourcing revolution in India, where thousands of the country's youth live with their bodyclocks set to US time zones and their cultural antennae pointing west. Into this maelstrom walk three very different young women:
Ayra, the golden girl: with a high profile job and a fancy title, everything seems to be going her way, until she finds herself at the helm of what could be the worst disaster of her career,
Shivaa, the perfect housewife turned desperate career woman who has to fight life, marriage and her irrational new boss to make sense of her existence, and
Sara, the shy college graduate turned spunky office-goer, who is willing to risk it all rather than be pushed into an early marriage by her anxious parents.
Debut author, Shruti Saxena weaves a very modern fairytale of professional jealousy and ruthless manipulation, heroic victories and egoistic cowardice, unfulfilled dreams and desires and raw, unadulterated ambition as seen though the eyes of these three extraordinary woman and the men who love them.
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