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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.
A woman haunted by the wind. A land where ghosts speak for the voiceless. A washer of the dead who begins to hear them speak...These are the stories of the unquiet. Women whisper through this collection. They voice their loves, lives, fears and yearnings. To label this collection as 'ghost stories' or 'feminist stories' is to miss the nuances and range of female experience. As ghost stories they make you look uneasily over your shoulder, as female narrative they stun you with the power of their keen insight. Whimsical, terrifying and compelling, these powerful and haunting tales about our commonplace fears and tragedies provide a scathing commentary on the lives of women in India and are universal in their appeal.
Set in the heady years preceding independence, this is the story of young Binapani growing up in a small Assamese town. Headstrong, stubborn and high-spirited, Binapani is confronted with a world full of confusing questions: why are girls not allowed to study? Why is the nationalist hero, Bullet Kaka hidden away in her grandmother’s shed? Why does Mahendra Barua’s family suffer such humiliation and indignity? Why is the rich Haitha Sarai feted and fawned upon? Why is his daughter tied up and starved in a dark room? Why is the Christian boy, Ratan, an outcaste? Her young mind grapples with countless questions and through it all is the abiding relationship she shares with her old grandmother, Jashodha. Married off to the rich Chaliha whom she has always hated, the ebullient young Bina turns inwards, seeking an inner strength and calm and makes her home ‘an abode of peace’.
Arupa Kalita Patangia is one of Assam’s leading, award winning novelists. She has more than ten novels and short story collections to her credit including Mriganabhi (1987) and Millenniumar Sapon (2002). She teaches English at Tangla College, Assam.
Ranjita Biswas has translated a number of well-known Bengali and Assamese novels into English.
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.
Fateema opened her diary and began writing: “Jihad as mentioned by the Prophet is a war against injustice and oppression. Islam means peace and surrender. Islam does not recommend killing innocent people. The Prophet released hundreds of slaves from bondage and sent themback to their native land.”
There was a lot more she could write. She would one day. Not for others, but to her own people she would explain the meaning of the word ‘Islam’.
For a bright young woman like Fateema Lokhandwala, the idea that one day she might own her own house is a daring dream. Her father has spent his life, slaving away selling scrap metal so that his children might ‘jump the fence of poverty and illiteracy’. Fateema dreams not only of owning her own house, but of higher education, a better job, a wider world. Her brother, Kareem, is persuaded down a very different path – to join the jihad, to become a holy warrior.
Ila Arab Mehta’s moving and sharply observed novel follows one woman’s struggle to find her way in a world torn by communal violence, to reconcile her conflicting loyalties to her family and friends, to find a place that she can ultimately call ‘home’, a place where fences –between communities, between people – are no longer necessary.
A moving memoir by one of the most highly respected and important authors from India’s Northeast.
Temsula Ao was born in 1945 in the Assamese town of Jorhat. Her happy childhood with her five siblings was cut tragically short with the deaths of both their parents. Desperately poor, emotionally scarred, lonely and often hungry, the young Temsula made up for her lack of resources with courage and determination.
From these unpromising beginnings, Ao went on to build a distinguished teaching career, serving as Director of the Northeast Zone Cultural Centre, and finally Dean of the School of Humanities and Education, North- Eastern Hill University, Shillong.
Temsula Ao describes the book as “an attempt to exorcise my own personal ghosts from a fractured childhood that was ripped apart by a series of tragedies... [it] is about love and what it is like to be deprived of it.”
For her readers, Ao’s memoir gives not only an insight into her role as a leading figure in the Northeast, but is also a moving account of a writerly life.
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.
When nine-year-old Ayman arrives in Hyderabad in the early 1950s to come and live at the Hussaini Alam House, she little realizes that the house, and its many inmates, will come to haunt her life and shape her destiny as she grows to become a woman. The house is ruled over by her grandfather, a dignified despot, whom everyone but Ayman, her mother and sister, call 'Sarkar' (master). Her mother, 'the eternal rebel,' is irreverent, progressive and a communist: a bomb waiting to explode. Ayman herself alternates between being the 'ugly duckling' of the house and its little princess. Huma Kidwai's sensitive and vivid portraits of the characters who teem around the House, offer a window into the customs and mores of a traditional Hyderabadi Muslim family. Narrated by the 40-year-old Ayman as she recalls the events of her past, The Hussaini Alam House is an elegy to a vanished way of life, a lovesong to the people she has loved and lost, and a psychologically nuanced portrait of the women of the household as they tread a fine line between society's expectations and their own yearning for freedom.
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.
Each story in this anthology testifies to women's many concerns, whether with a way of life, or with being caught inside the four walls of the home, or in a relationship with someone other than the husband, or being caught at the intersection of many forces within a situation of political violence and armed conflict. In one way or another the woman's body becomes a site upon which many battles take place: for control, for power, for progeny, but there is seldom a resolution in which the women remain a mere victim, or more acted upon the acting. Whether she is in the palaces of the gods, or caught in the body of snake, or speaking through the spirit of the countryside which witnessed her rape, the woman's voice is unique, singular and in each story, different. While this gives substance to the cliche that India is a country where many and varied realities exist simultaneously, it gives the lie to the cliche that all women speak with a sameness and a commonality of experience.
Contributors: Vandana Singh, Indira Goswami, Temsula Ao, Mridula Garg, Shama Futehally, Shashi Deshpande, Nayantara Sehgal, Mahasweta Devi, Anjana Appachana, Manjula Padmanabhan, C.S. Lakshmi (Ambai), Bulbul Sharma, Anita Agnihotri, Priya Sarukkai Chabria, Githa Hariharan, Chandrika B.
Urvashi Butalia is a publisher and writer. Co-founder of Kali for Women, India's best-known feminist publisher, and now Director of Zubaan, she is also author of the award winning oral history of Partition, The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India. Her other publications include Women and the Hindu Right (co-edited with Tanika Sarkar) and Speaking Peace: Women's Voices from Kashmir (edited).
First published in Marathi in 1966, this unique novella in free verse tells an age-old story: that of a woman’s deep desire to be a mother
Setting out life as a game in which the moves are predetermined, and yet where rules exist only to be twisted, perhaps negotiated, sometimes even changed, Anuradha Vaidya deftly engages the reader in a sort of play, suggesting a joining of the dots, a connecting of line endings that lead the reader deeper into the story.
As the story traces a relationship that begins with unquestioning love that, over time, transforms into tension and distance, the reader is encouraged to linger, or jump back and forth across stanzas and lines, to navigate, interpret, and savour the beauty of the expression, both in the turn of phrase and the coinage of new words.
The sheer beauty of the almost allegorical imagery of life as a game played on the worldly board by people who are actually pawns, marks every page of this poetic narrative.
In the 1950s, ten-year-old Dayamoyee watches with bewilderment and curiosity as her village, Dighpait, begins to change and people she knows and loves start to pack their belongings and move away. India has been partitioned, and Dighpait has now become part of a new country, (East) Pakistan. Soon, Dayamoyee's aunt, with whom she lives, also begins to prepare to travel across the border, to Hindustan where Dayamoyee's parents, both teachers, have made their home. Forced to leave her beloved home, her friends, and especially their family retainer, Majam, whom she calls Dada, Dayamoyee resolves, on her journey from Pakistan to Hindustan, never to mention the home they have left behind. And so, from childhood to adulthood, from adulthood to middle age, Dayamoyee never speaks of Dighpait. And then, in the early 1990s, she hears of Majam's death and the floodgates of memory open. Sunanda Sikdar's beautiful and moving memoir A Life Long Ago (Dayamoyeer Katha in Bengali) was awarded the Lila Puraskar by Calcutta University in 2008, and the Ananda Puraskar in 2010.
* WINNER OF THE 2011 ECONOMIST-CROSSWORD BOOK AWARD FOR TRANSLATION *
A brother and sister visit the unique crater-lake that their dead, estranged mother had written to them about in her letters. A middle-class employee's orderly life turns upside down when his employer holds back his cheque without an explanation. The employees of a forgotten outpost in a sun-baked town threaten mass suicide because they have no hope of survival.
Seventeen is a collection of short stories from among more than 100 of Anita Agnihotri's published short fiction. By turn intense, brittle, angry sad and torn apart in conflict, the stories bring out the different faces of human hardship and explore the India that is still largely unknown. Set in metros and villages, in small-town India and in international suburbia, the stories run the gamut of experiences both everyday and extraordinary. From deeply personal relationships against the backremove of turmoil to intensely social truths told through the unique life of individuals, each of these stories is a picture of human fragility. This is literary craftsmanship at its best.
Avinuo Kire is a fresh, young voice from Nagaland, in India's northeast.
In "The Power to forgive", the title story of this strong collection. Avinuo Kire tells the moving story of a rape survivor who, at the threshold of a new life, looks back on the incident that has shaped nearly two decades of her life and wonders if she made the right choice.
Called from folk and tribal traditions of Naga life, Kire's stories take us into a world where spirits converse with humans, unsuspecting people are drawn into the movement for Naga independence, a man dies quietly of cancer, a mother wonders if she did the right thing in giving her child a name different from the one she intended...
With insight and compassion, Avinuo Kire draws fine portraits of ordinary people in Naga society.
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.
Rabia is growing up in a conservative community in southern India. One day, she
and her friends sneak off to the pictures. Caught on her return home, Rabia gets a beating from her mother, Zohra, who cries as she beats her daughter into submission. Firdaus is beautiful and of marriageable age. A groom is found for her, a wealthy man who lives abroad. On her wedding night, she takes one look at him and says, 'I’m not going to live with you, don’t touch me!’ Inside their male dominated world, Rabia,
Zohra, Firdaus, and many others make their small rebellions and compromises, friendships are made and broken, families come together and fall apart, and almost imperceptibly change creeps in. Salma’s beautiful, evocative, poetic novel recreates the sometimes suffocating, and sometimes heartbreaking world of Muslim women in southern India. The Hour Past Midnight is translated into English by Lakshmi Holmstrom.
A Dalit, a Buddhist and a feminist: Urmila Pawar's self-definition as all three identities informs her stories about women who are brave in the face of caste oppression, strong in the face of family pressures, defiant when at the receiving end of insult, and determined when guarding their interests and those of their sisters. Using the classic short story form with its surprise endings to great effect, Pawar brings to life strong and clever women who drive the reader to laughter, anger, tears or despair. Her harsh, sometimes vulgar and hard- hitting language subverts another stereotype - that of the soft-spoken woman writer. Pawar's protagonists may not always be Dalit, and the mood not always one of anger, but caste is never far from the context and informs the subtext of each story. As critic Eleanor Zelliot notes, there is 'tucked in every story, a note about a Buddhist vihara or Dr Ambedkar.... All her stories come from the Dalit world, revealing the great variety of Dalit life now.'
"The book gives a wide range of material on one of the important struggles of feminism in India." -- Gail Omvedt, The Hindu
"I was the youngest in a family of five children. I sometimes felt I was an afterthought, and maybe Father and Mother didn't quite know what to do with me. Also, because I was a girl after four boys they never seemed to be sure whether to buy me girls' clothing or let me wear leftover boys' clothing."
Young Dielieno is five years old when she is sent off to live with her disciplinarian grandmother who wants her to grow up to be a good Naga wife and mother. According to Grandmother, girls didn't need an education, they didn't need love and affection or time to play or even a good piece of meat with their gravy! Naturally Dielieno hates her with a vengeance.
This is the evocative tale of a young girl growing up in a traditional society in India's Northeast, which is in the midst of tremendous change.
Easterine Iralu writes about a place and a people that she knows well and is a part of and brings to the storytelling a lyrical beauty which can on occasion chill the reader with its realistic portrayals of the spirits of the dead that inhabit the quiet hills and valleys of Nagaland.
Srinagar, capital city of the famed 'paradise on earth,' Kashmir. Ailan Gali, a deep, dark narrow lane that lies at its heart, where houses stand on a finger's width of space and lean crookedly against each other, so deep, so narrow, so closely connected that even thieves do not dare enter.
Yet people live and love here, they cling on to their old ways, they share stories and food, joys and sorrows, sufficient unto themselves. But the outside world beckons, youngsters begin to leave, and slowly change makes its way into Ailan Gali only to find its hitherto hidden mirror-image -- the change that has insidiously been working its way into the lives of those who are the gali's permanent residents.
This funny, poignant, evocative story of a Kashmir as yet untouched by violence, but with its shadows looming at the edges, is a classic of Hindi literature, available in English translation for the first time.
A lone hunter, Vilie, sets out to find the river of his dreams: to wrest from its sleeping waters a stone that will give him untold power. It is a dangerous quest, for not only must he overcome unquiet spirits, vengeful sorceresses and daemons of the forest, there are men – armed with guns – on his trail.
Easterine Kire’s novel transports the reader to the remote mountains of Nagaland, a place alive with natural wonder and supernatural enchantment. As Vilie treks through the forest on the trail of his dream, we are also swept along in this powerful narrative and walk alongside him in a world where the spirits are every bit as real as men and women, and where danger – or salvation – lies at every turn.
Kire’s powerful narrative invites us into the lives and hearts of the people of Nagaland: the rituals and beliefs, their reverence for the land, their close-knit communities – the rhythms of a life lived in harmony with their natural surroundings. It is against this spellbinding backdrop that Kire tells the story of a solitary man driven by the mysterious pull of a dream, who must overcome weretigers and malignant widow-spirits in the search for his heart’s desire.
“...reminiscent of Marquez’s magic realism and Leslie Silko’s Native-American story-telling. At the end, though, this is a Naga story, unmistakably so, in its sense of place,
time, and oral traditions.”
Paulus Pimomo, Central Washington University, USA
Lifelines is an enthralling collection of short stories that will take you on some unforgettable journeys - journeys that span continents and decades, transgressing social boundaries and raising ethical dilemmas along the way.
The protagonists of these tales find themselves re-drawing their own destinies as they map their lifelines in unique, often unanticipated ways. The rapidly changing realities of the 21st-century require these individuals to navigate through uncharted waters, in a world increasingly shaped by the forces of globalisation, development and migration. One where the old ways are being challenged as never before, even in the traditionalist heartlands of South Asia.
Lifelines portrays the trials and triumphs of men, women and children who find themselves facing unexpected challenges - and discover that the decisions that they take, for better or worse, have consequences they never envisaged.
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