Category Archives: Seagull Books

Read 34 of 2022. Our Santiniketan by Mahasweta Devi. Translated from the Bengali by Radha Chakravarty

Our Santiniketan by Mahasweta Devi

Title: Our Santiniketan
Author: Mahasweta Devi
Translated from the Bengali by Radha Chakravarty
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 978-0857429018
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Pages: 124
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I think Bedanabala was my introduction to Mahasweta Devi’s works. That was way back in 2006, and since then I haven’t stopped reading whatever she had to offer. I think my extreme fan boy moment happened when I got to meet her briefly at Jaipur Literature Festival in 2013. As a writer, if there’s anyone that has made an impact on me, it would be her.

Our Santiniketan is a short memoir of her days spent at Santiniketan of course and how what she learned there and unlearned shaped her entire life – her thoughts, ideologies, and even her writing to a large extent.

This book is also about ageing and what you choose to remember in the form of a memoir. Mahasweta Devi brings that up in so many places in the book – subtly, and sometimes not so. It hovers throughout. But as a reader you believe it all, because that’s her writing and conviction of what she recalls.

You know as a reader that your childhood was not like the one Mahasweta Devi spent at Santiniketan and will never be. Yet, you relate when she speaks of nature and trees, the food eaten there, the friendships forged, the lessons taught, and idyllic evenings which one wouldn’t think of as the case, given the place.

Mahasweta Devi’s writing goes back and forth in time – there is the past and the present, in which she speaks to the reader as well about time being what it is and doing what it does to the nature of memory. Radha Chakravarty’s translation serves the original the way it is (you can tell a little by the tone adopted), but also adds her own element to it – I think when it comes to dialogue and some descriptions to make it easier for the reader.

Our Santiniketan is a book that must be read slowly, to be savoured really, to know more about Mahasweta Devi, her writing that came later, more importantly her family and her relationship with them, and the place that came to be second-home to her.

Read 21 of 2022. Love and Reparation: A Theatrical Response to the Section 377 Litigation in India by Danish Sheikh

Love and Reparation by Danish Sheikh

Title: Love and Reparation: A Theatrical Response to the Section 377 Litigation in India
Author: Danish Sheikh
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 978-0857427502
Genre: Plays, LGBTQIA
Pages: 164
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

You don’t see a lot of LGBTQIA literature coming out of the sub-continent, even though section 377 has been read down. You just do not. I am not surprised though. But what I was pleasantly surprised by was this text, aptly titled, “Love and Reparation” – a collection of two plays about the decriminalization of queer intimacy that took place on the 6th of September of 2018.

One decision that changed so many lives across the spectrum. From being “criminals” to not being criminals overnight, and to have full sexual agency meant something for most, and yet there was doubt about the future, given how we lived in the past. The future is as uncertain even today, almost four years into the judgement.

Danish Sheikh’s two plays bring out the true nature of how we feel. It is a representation I am glad exists. Both the plays bring forth the intermingling of the personal and the political, with the legal aspects playing a major role. Sheikh writes with so much empathy, yet never straying away from facts. Being a queer person, Danish speaks through these plays – everything that is so personal is out there.

“Contempt” and “Pride” are the two sides of the same coin and it couldn’t be truer. One play examines the before and one the after. Both speak about living with the law and what are the repercussions. I learnt the language of longing and desire pretty late though I knew somehow what it was a lot earlier. I have lived through a time when Section 377 was used by my family to put me in place and I have thankfully (perhaps) also lived to see the day when this section was read down.

Contempt was written as a response to the Suresh Kumar Koushal vs. Naz Foundation judgement in the year 2013, when the Supreme High Court reinstated section 377, overturning the Delhi High Court judgement. Pride was written as a response to the decriminalization of 377 in the year 2018.

I felt deep sense of satisfaction after reading these two plays and yet I also felt this deep sense of loss, of something that is still not complete and needs to be looked at, with one eye on the future. And yet, these plays have provided so much hope and love inside of me for what’s to come. A love that can finally speak out loud.

Read 4 of 2022. A History of Clouds: 99 Meditations by Hans Magnus Enzensberger. Translated from the German by Martin Chalmers and Esther Kinsky.

A History of Clouds - 99 Meditations by Hans Magnus Enzensberger

Title: A History of Clouds: 99 Meditations
Author: Hans Magnus Enzensberger Translated from the German by Martin Chalmers and Esther Kinsky
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 978-0857425799
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 137
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

I do not read much poetry, but this title caught my fancy and I had to read it. Well, I also believe that it is impossible to understand the essence of a poem in one reading. You have to read each poem perhaps multiple times before you get to the its bare-bone understanding. This becomes perhaps an even more difficult task when the form is in translation as this collection is.

Enzensberger’s poetry covers a vast range of subjects – private moments, long-term relationships and their trajectories, portraits of historical and literary personalities thrown in for good measure (an elegy to W.G. Sebald that is most moving: “Who touched us, / who seemed to have come from afar / to the sinister, unhomely homeland. / Little kept him here. / Nothing but the search for traces / with a divining rod of words / which twitched in his hand.” Translated by Martin Chalmers), cosmology, and even philosophy.

And in all of this, there are clouds. In various forms and ways – they exist in these poems – more so in the twelve-part title piece that ends the collection. The poems are transparent, sometimes very difficult to comprehend as well, but very empathetic at most, and there were times I also felt that I was left without any thing to hold on to.

The translations by Martin Chalmers and Esther Kinsky are spot-on. The emotions don’t hold back, though there were times I felt I wanted more as a result of the translation. Having said this, A History of Clouds is a great start for anyone who wants to understand poetry and start somewhere.

Is It The Same For You? by Priya Sebastian and Neha Singh

Is It The Same For You? by Priya Sebastian and Neha Singh

Title: Is It The Same for You?
Authors: Priya Sebastian and Neha Singh
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 978-0857426963
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 24 
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5 stars 

Young girls in conflict zones perhaps face so much more than we know of or will ever know. What do they think? What do they feel? When does childhood end and the reality of being where you are hits you hard? What do governments have to account for then, when innocence is lost way before time? Is it the Same for You in its most raw form asks all these questions, making the reader constantly reflect with every turn of the page.
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Priya Sebastian and Neha Singh take different moments of a young girl’s life in Kashmir and bring them to fore. Amidst all the conflict (political and religious) and terror, the question remains that is it the same for all young girls out there? How is it when their bodies change? The book looks at shards of life – the ones that are rarely come about – when the not so normal becomes normal, when you get used to what you aren’t supposed to get used to, and life is lived just on the sidelines.
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Neha Singh’s text coupled with Priya Sebastian’s most stunning illustrations will constantly haunt you. Each page of sparse text is a story with so many layers and so much to see. The girl who takes comfort in the assumption that maybe this is what it is for all girls over the world and who is to say it isn’t? In one form or the other that is. From one conflict zone to the other. From one state of normalcy to the next. Is it the same for you?

Infinity Diary by Cyril Wong

Infinity Diary by Cyril Wong

Title: Infinity Diary
Author: Cyril Wong
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 9780857427427
Genre: Poetry, LGBTQIA Literature
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5 

If love is love, then why is it that gay love doesn’t feel like love sometimes? Why does it feel that it will leave? Is it because of my insecurity? Why do I feel that a man’s love will not be enough? When it will be. When it will stay. It will, won’t it?

Love between two men and all the dance that goes around it. The rulebook that isn’t there and is yet followed. There are no rules sometimes and everything is permissible. We are who we are. Cyril Wong shows us the mirror through his book of prose poems “Infinity Diary”. It is written for every gay man out there, for every man who loves another man and doesn’t want to express it, for every man who loves and is unabashed about it, and for every man who also maybe doesn’t want to love.

Cyril Wong’s poetry made me introspect about my relationships with men – the ones that were platonic, the ones not-so-platonic, the ones unrequited, and the ones requited but oh so toxic. His poems don’t just reflect Singapore as a city, and what goes on there behind closed doors between men – the reality of oppression, but makes you realize that it could play out in any city of the world. Even where same-sex love is legal. Even where there is supposed to be no discrimination, and we know there is. “Infinity Diary” is about all of us.

When Wong speaks of glances passed across the room, of desire, of madness in love, of those stolen kisses, of kinks we do not speak of in public, of sadness and heartbreak that never goes away – he speaks of all of this and more and beauty in the chaotic structure of emotions that does find its place, even the ones that aren’t beautiful. The ones that belong, nonetheless.

My favourite piece in this book is “Dear Stupid Straight People” – a poem, a list of instructions for the straight people on how to treat the ones who aren’t like them. It is brutal and perhaps most needed.

Wong’s poetry comes from so many places, and so many emotions. They take up so much room (as they should), and they merge with your emotions as well, and that’s difficult to contain. You see yourself in them, poem after poem. You get restless. You sigh. You get twitchy and fidgety. You sigh some more. You turn the page.