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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.
Set 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.
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.
This delicious spread of short stories is now available in a brand new paperback edition as part of Zubaan Classics series to celebrate Zubaan's 10th anniversary.
A young woman, neglected by her rakish husband, decides to 'kill him with kindness' and stuff him with food, another cooks manically, a third helps herself to money and small knick-knacks from her husband's pockets where she finds the different scents of each of the women he has been with... Along with the husband is the ubiquitous mother-in-law who moves into the newly-married couple's bedroom barely a month after they have set up home. Each vignette is, by turns, funny, poignant, macabre - a delicious spread, showcasing Bulbul Sharma's mastery of the stories small actors and the drama of daily life.
"This slim collection of stories is quite like a methodical cook's masala tray, each ingredient and spice in its proper slot - each story retains its unique flavour while contributing to the main dish and the main dish, need we say, is a veritable feast for the senses" -- Kankana Basu, The Hindu
'Call Me Confused, Please' requests one of the stories in this insightful and engaging collection from women of South Asian origin living in North America. 'Made in the USA?' wonders another.
Through poems, short stories and scholarly pieces, writers who are in their twenties, thirties and forties share what it is to live and grow up in a country that is your home and yet alien to you. They touch upon issues of culture, belonging, romance, body, race, ethnicity and the notion of 'home'. Moving beyond the idea of ABCDs (America-Born Confused Desi) and the 'identity crisis', the writers grapple with the richness of their diverse inheritances to produce a more nuanced understanding of self.
"Diverse voices challenge social binaries - of race, sexuality, nationality - to showcase the many facets of brown-ness." - Bandana Purkayastha, University of Connecticut
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.
Winner of the Hindu Prize for Fiction, 2015.
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
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
A man lies dying tended by his two daughters. A strangely absent presence, their father has dictated the shape of their lives -- sometimes distorting and at others shaping their hopes, ambitions and desires. To these two narrative strands, Belinder Dhanoa adds a third, that of the girls' mother - a strong and single-minded woman, who defies society's expectations of how a woman should behave.
Set partly in Shillong and partly in the Punjab, Belinder Dhanoa's novel is not only an insightful study of the pressures of living in a patriarchal society, but also a moving account of the complexities of family loyalties, betrayals and love.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Kohima, 2007. A young man has been gunned down in cold blood - the latest casualty in the conflict that has scarred the landscape and brutalised the people of Nagaland. Easterine Kire's new novel traces the story of one man's life, from 1937 to the present day. The small incidents of Mose's childhood, his family, the routines and rituals of traditional village life paint an evocative picture of a peaceful way of life, now long-vanished. The coming of a radio into Mose's family?s house marks the beginning of the changes that would connect them to the wider world. They learn of partition, independence, a land called America. Growing up, Mose and his friends become involved in the Naga struggle for Independence, and they are caught in a maelstrom of violence - protest and repression, attacks and reprisals- that ends up ripping communities apart. The herb, bitter wormwood, was traditionally believed to keep bad spirits away. For the Nagas, facing violent struggle all around, it becomes a powerful talisman: "We sure could do with some of that old magic now." Bitter Wormwood gives a poignant insight into the human cost behind the political headlines from one of India's most beautiful and misunderstood regions.
"Easterine Kire is the keeper of her people's memory, their griot. She is a master of the unadorned language that moves because of the power of its evocative simplicity." -- Paul Pimomo
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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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