Venkat Raman Singh Shyam, artist and author of the autobiographical Finding My Way (2016), found himself at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London speaking on 21 June at a seminar on “Indigenous Media, Self-Determination and Cultural Activism”. This poem came to him then as he first typed out Hindi in Roman script on his phone and sent it to his friend and accomplice S. Anand, publisher at large at the small Navayana. Anand felt impelled to find the words in English just like he did when working with Venkat on his autobiography. Venkat’s work has been exhibited worldwide, including at Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art, at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, in 2013.
At a book reading in Kolkata, about a week after my first novel, The God of Small Things, was published, a member of the audience stood up and asked, in a tone that was distinctly hostile: “Has any writer ever written a masterpiece in an alien language? In a language other than his mother tongue?” I hadn’t claimed to have written a masterpiece (nor to be a “he”), but nevertheless I understood his anger toward a me, a writer who lived in India, wrote in English, and who had attracted an absurd amount of attention. My answer to his question made him even angrier.
“Nabokov,” I said. And he stormed out of the hall.
“Brothers and sisters
this day is dying
a two-minute silence
for this dying day
It was the fifth day of the new year. In the afternoon, Yakku looked out of the window of his taxi and shouted, “Mr Writer, happy new year has happened in Dhankheti!” A little joy was also mixed in his voice.
Laugh – you are being watched,
Laugh, but not at yourself because its bitterness
Would be noticed and you would not survive it
Laugh in a way that your happiness does not show
As it would be suspected that you do not participate in the remorse
And you would not survive it
Was it a murder or an accident
Nobody will investigate
Asad Zaidi on the dark prophetic voice of Muktibodh, one of the key modern poets of India
Even after hearing news of thirty or sixty or three hundred children dying
I don’t do much of anything at all, just close my eyes for a little while
I am a Hindu and in these murderous Hindu times
I think they won’t kill me
But what would I do if spared
Today I write songs in Haflong Hindi. Haflong Hindi I would like to define is a mixture of Hindi, English, Urdu, Sufi, Bengali, Assamese, Nepali, Manipuri, Punjabi, Bihari, and with few words from different tribes like Zeme, Dimasa, Hmar, Kuki, Biate, Hrangkol, Jaintia and maybe even more which I am not aware of.
Yesterday was the birth anniversary and the beginning of the centenary year of Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh (1917-1964), beloved Hindi poet, fiction writer and critic, who should count among the greatest of thinkers and culture personalities of modern India. His impact on Hindi literature was as transformational as that of Ghalib in Urdu or Pushkin in Russian literature. One can only remember him with great sadness and wonder what he would have thought of the situation we are in today.
I am in Calcutta. At least I think this is Calcutta. I was told that I would be journeying into the heartland of the bhodrolok and the East Bengalis of Shillong coloured my expectations and bias. Upon arrival though I feel as though somethings have been missed. Like the city, the information hardly seems fresh. It is not current.
For a significant period of my youth, I used to live in the United States of America. While I was there, I, a Bengali from West Bengal, was exposed for the first time to real people from East Bengal, as opposed to their caricature that I was exposed to when I was growing up. The eastern part of Bengal, whose political form is the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, is where a greater proportion of my people live. A significant minority lives in West Bengal. While I interacted with “them”, I became close very fast, for, to be accepted and welcomed, I did not have to participate in Diwali (quite an alien thing to Bengalis in West Bengal), Holi (another such alien thing), Hindi antaksharis or be conversant with the latest Bollywood films in a distant language, their heroes-heroines or contort myself in other ways into something I was not. I felt strangely liberated.
The mosque stands demolished
Judgements have been passed on genocides
Why then is Mr Justice asking for more judges
“If my mother tongue is shaking the foundations of your state, it probably means that you built your state on my land.”
We, the citizens of the Indian Union, cannot afford to forget the year 1965. The world we live in was shaped in no small way…
Translation of a poem by Manglesh Dabral, one of the most important contemporary poets writing in Hindi. Manglesh recently returned his Sahitya Akademi award in protest at the silence of the Akademi at murders of writers and state’s complicity in rising intolerance in India.