Tag Archives: partition

The Unsafe Asylum: Stories of Partition and Madness by Anirudh Kala

The Unsafe AsylumTitle: The Unsafe Asylum: Stories of Partition and Madness
Author: Anirudh Kala
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing Private Ltd.
ISBN: 978-9387693258
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Stories of the Partition of India always leave you heavy. There is a knot in the chest that refuses to leave. Even though you haven’t witnessed any of it, yet the stories have passed from one generation to another. The generation that witnessed and the generations that had to keep the memory alive, even though these memories are perhaps worth not bringing to the fore.And yet there is the question of never forgetting – memory that should remain rock solid when it comes to tragedy and pain and displacement. Homes were lost. Relationships broken. I cannot imagine what it must be like to witness what our ancestors did during that time and yet they did – they survived broken, fractured and somehow still hopeful.

“The Unsafe Asylum” is a collection of stories (interlinked) of partition and literally the madness surrounding it. Yes, you will be reminded of Manto but Anirudh Kala has a distinct voice that will make you think and leave you with a lot of emotion. I think this collection also adds a lot of weight only because Anirudh is a psychiatrist and has been studying the long-lasting effects of Partition in both India and Pakistan. This collection starts when the Partition is over, blood has been spilled and people displaced. Even the patients in Mental Hospitals. India got its share of Hindu and Sikh patients and Pakistan, the Muslim ones. This book is about the stories of these patients, their lives before and after the Partition and the long-lasting impact of the catastrophe.

At the core of these interconnected stories is Prakash, an Indian psychiatry student who learns of the stories of these patients through one of them, Rulda who was discharged from Lahore’s Mental Hospital. At the same time, Prakash also learns of how he came to be born in 1947, when he visits Lahore. From there, starts another story of the lives of the patients, their stories and how Partition still lingers on, not only in their memory but in everything they do, the way they think and the way they feel.

Kala builds characters that stay. Whether it is a young man who believes that Benazir Bhutto loves him to a woman who passes on her delusions of being chased by a mob to her children, or even if it is a doomed love story – all of these are fixed in your head long after you are done with the book. If anything, also beware that the book will play with your head to a large extent. And yet, the experience of reading this book is excellent. Yes, the topic is not palatable. Yes, it will not be easy. But I strongly believe that literature only builds empathy in people. And for that read it all. Read books that make you laugh. The ones that make you cry. The ones that make you smile. The ones that make you uncomfortable and think of what is going on in the world – past, present and what may come in the future.

In the Company of a Poet: Gulzar in Conversation with Nasreen Munni Kabir

In the Company of a Poet - Gulzar in Conversation with Nasreen Munni Kabir Title: In the Company of a Poet – Gulzar in Conversation with Nasreen Munni Kabir
Author: Nasreen Munni Kabir
Publisher: Rainlight Rupa
ISBN: 9788129120830
Genre: Non-Fiction, Bollywood, Poetry
Pages: 208
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

There is perhaps only one Bollywood lyricist I adore and that has to be Gulzar. Not only as a lyricist but also as a poet, a director, a writer and everything rolled into one. There is something about what Gulzar Sahib does, that makes it all alright. Everything is relatable to life and what it has to give or take. Just about everything. So when there is nothing that he writes or anything that is written on him or with him, one just cannot resist but read it. Nasreen Munni Kabir has done Gulzar fans a huge favour by collaborating with him and producing a book of her conversations with him.

“In the Company of a Poet” is all about Gulzar – the man, the child of his parents, the brother, the father, the grandfather and the poet. It is everything that you wanted to know about the genius (I am taking the liberty to call him that, because to me he is exactly that), and nothing better than intimate conversations, through Skype and through meetings. Nasreen Munni Kabir has given us a treat in the form of these conversations.

I started reading the book on a rainy day and it was perhaps the only time for it. It took me a long time to finish it because I was in-between reads, however when I went back to it, I could not stop reading it. “In the Company of a Poet” is enthralling in the sense that it gives perspective after perspective and one doesn’t tire of them as a reader – Gulzar Saab’s view of things, people, the film industry, poetry and the world is just superlative. There is a sense of humour in what he says. There is nostalgia (even on this aspect, he has a wonderful way of looking at it). There is a sense of how things were and how they are. At the same time, he also is of the belief that one must learn the new and embrace it – as in his case, he learnt how to use Skype.

Gulzar Saab’s love for poetry is so evident, that one just wants to read more of it – his and other poets’ works as well. He speaks of how he got into movies, his experiences with Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Bimal Roy and R.D. Burman and many more legends. He talks of how he has to play tennis every morning without fail and about his relationship with his daughter and grandson. For me reading this book, was not just knowing about Gulzarji but also about the people connected to him and that felt just too good. He speaks of partition and his nightmares and that brought tears to my eyes. There are a lot of poems as well in the book, which only lend another voice.

“In the Company of a Poet” is an insightful read. Nasreen Munni Kabir’s questions and observations are well-thought of and planned. Her research is meticulous and she gives more than enough room to the poet and writer to speak and talk about his experiences. She is intuitive and has chalked down every bit of the conversation to detail. For every lover of Gulzar and his works, this is a must read.

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Book Review : Ismat : Her Life, Her Times : Edited by Sukrita Paul Kumar & Sadique

Ismat - Her Life Her Times Title: Ismat : Her Life, Her Times
Author: Sukrita Paul Kumar & Sadique
Publisher: Katha Books
ISBN: 9788185586977
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Biography
Pages: 300
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

When an author has had a kind of life which no one can match up to, that is when books such as these are needed. I think to a very large extent, only a few authors can rise to this rank from the plentiful in the literary sea, existing as of now. I have always felt this rare closeness to Ismat Aapa and I do not know why. I think to a very large extent (and I am only guessing here) is the marginalized context – of both of us that I am able to relate to her, the way I do. The bold texture of her life, the choices made against the grain of the norm and more than anything else, to fight for the cause of her work, is something worth admiring, perhaps a hundred thousand times over. Where else can one see this passion today? I may be getting ahead of myself here, but that is only because I love her so.

“Ismat: Her Life, Her Times” is a wonderfully constructed book. There is a lot in this book and I can recommend it to any Chughtai lover. Both, Sukrita and Sadique have managed to almost write a canvas of her work and the woman that she was. She is one woman who had so much to say and she always said it with a bite, with humour and emphasizing on the fact of breaking all barriers and boundaries. This book encapsulates her life the way she lived it – from a writer to her advent in the Indian Film Industry to her lens and the way she viewed everything with it.

What is even more enchanting is the range of contributors – who have written about her and are collated in this book – from Faiz Ahmad Faiz to Manto to Krishan Chander and Qurratulain Hyder, commenting on Ismat – the person and the writer.

“Ismat: Her Life Her Times” is a dedication to a writer beyond words. It is her life, through pictures, through letters, through her work and the personality she was. The book could be seen as a starter, as a guide to all her works (her vast body of work that is), and to encourage readers to go and read more of her books, her stories and if possible watch the movies she wrote for and acted in.

To me this book embodies the woman beautifully. Of course not as beautifully as Kaghazeen Hain Pairan, but it does bring to fore mostly everything about her. A book not to be missed out on. A book which takes the writer beyond everything else and gives her the due and credit she has always deserved.

Here is a forty seven long interview of hers, if you are interested and by the way you should be:

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Book Review: This Side, That Side: Restorying Partition. Curated by Vishwajyoti Ghosh

This Side That Side Title: This Side, That Side: Restorying Partition: Graphic Narratives from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh
Curated by: Vishwajyoti Ghosh
Publisher: Yoda Press with Goethe Institut
ISBN: 9789382579014
Genre: Graphic Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

What is home? What is its meaning? Does it lose its value when disassociated from it? When torn away and not being able to look at it and then made to rely only on memory to experience what it feels like to be home. What is home then? What was home during the Partition of India? Two countries were formed no doubt. The herald of a new beginning some would say and yet it was disastrous for so many. Perhaps, it has reached a stage that while it exists in our subconscious, we yet are afraid to acknowledge its horrors. The fact that it happened – it took place and claimed lives is something too strong for us to give it its due and then when we fail to do that, we have art to remind us. All the time.

Art makes us see what we do not want to. It makes us hear what we choose to become deaf to. It compels us to not turn our face to the other side. With this in mind and maybe more, Yoda Press in conjunction with Goethe Institut has published a brilliant graphic anthology on the partition of India and Pakistan, and also the creation of Bangladesh, called, “This Side, That Side: Restorying Partition”, which is curated by Vishwajyoti Ghosh.

The collection is unique not in the sense that it is in the graphic format, but perhaps because it aims to store memories in the form of lines and drawings and black and white. The shades of grey have no need to be documented. They are there – all-pervasive and daunting. There are twenty eight pieces in this collection – written and illustrated by over forty people. A work of greatness, in the sense of the contribution and most empathic – sometimes bordering sentimental, however don’t those times deserve that? Memory doesn’t let go.

I remember my grandmother telling me tales about partition, when she and her husband came to India. They had no choice, she would tell me and I didn’t understand then. I was but a child and now while reading this book, all I could think of was her. Displacement. It almost seems but a word till you face it. The stories in this collection look at every facet of Partition – whether it is in the most Bollywood of manner as portrayed in “An Afterlife” between two lovers who must part or in the way of the survivor as documented in “Know Directions Home?” depicting how a tribe moved from Pakistan to India and made a home for itself.

It isn’t that because of the form of expression being different (graphic + words in this case), the impact is any lesser. You end up feeling the same. At some level, only a South Asian can understand this book and at another level it speaks universally to all those people who have left home or searching for home. Vishwajyoti Ghosh has done a commendable job of getting these people together and somehow while reading this book, you know that they share a common emotion – yearning and longing. It just doesn’t let go of you as a reader. “This Side, That Side” is not just another graphic novel. It has the effect of pulling you right in and making connections that you never otherwise would have. A read to be savoured. Page by page. Illustration by Illustration. Word by Word.

Book Review: A Life in Words: Memoirs by Ismat Chughtai

Title: A Life in Words: Memoirs
Author: Ismat Chughtai
Translator: M. Asaduddin
Publisher: Penguin India, Penguin Classics India
ISBN: 978-0-670-08618-4
Genre: Memoirs, Autobiography, Non-Fiction
Pages: 282
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

It is sometimes sad to know that readers (most of them) only remember Ismat Chughtai for “Lihaaf” or “The Quilt”. She has written a lot more and the “more” is even more interesting than “Lihaaf”. I remember the first time I was introduced to her works. I had turned twenty-three and my friend had taken me to watch a play, “Manto Ismat Hazir Hain” produced by Motley, – which featured two short stories by Manto, a story by Chughtai and an essay by her as well with reference to the court trial that almost got both the writers imprisoned in the 1940s for so-called “obscenity” in their writing.

I was mesmerized after watching the play. The urge to know more of her and read more works by her was immense. I had read a bit of Manto earlier, however Chughtai took my attention and held it there. Prithvi theatre bookshop was the ideal place to find her books, though translated in Hindi (now I cannot read Urdu. I only wish I can someday). I remember reading almost all of her books, except her memoirs, “Kaghazi hai Pairahan” which I ultimately did. I did struggle a bit as I do not read so many books in Hindi (and am not proud of the fact). The beauty of the language was brilliant. The words used to describe her life from early childhood to being a mother and a wife and a famous writer before all of that resonated way after finishing the book.

I received the much-awaited English translation of “Kaghazi hai Pairahan” from Penguin Books India, aptly titled, “A Life in Words: Memoirs” and delightfully translated by M. Asaduddin. The minute I started reading this edition, memories of the Hindi edition came sweeping by. The same intensity with which Ismat Aapa (I cannot think of anything better to call her) wrote in the original (I am assuming) is captured vividly and precisely in this translation.

One cannot define Ismat Chughtai’s character as anything but colourful and introspective. May be to a large extent that passed down to her by her large and varied family. When you read the memoirs, it almost feels like you are reading a story. One gets the necessary information about her works as well – from short stories to novels to essays (as footnotes) which is needed while reading about a writer. What I loved the most about this book was Chughtai’s family and their antics. Ismat Aapa was born into a large family – she had nine siblings – so one can only imagine the life lead during the Indian Independence and seeing times through Partition, her schooling, her youth, her stubborn nature, her want to get educated and then subsequently the need to write and tell tales.

Chughtai’s tone is fictional and caustic throughout the book. There are a lot of diversions which are fun, despite the danger of losing track of semi-plots and characters, but I guess that can be overlooked when reading memoirs. It is quite natural that the tone will shift, which works well to hang on to the reader’s attention. There are pieces which I loved – for instance, “Aligarh” – which depicts the writer’s hostel life, “In the Name of Those Married Women” – the piece on the much talked about courtroom trial of Manto and Ismat, “Sujat” – revolving around politics and “Chewing on Iron” – depicting class differences.

For me, reading this in English was a treat, thanks to the wonderful translation by M. Asaduddin, who has translated Chughtai’s other works. The translation is subtle and he doesn’t shy from using the words as used in Urdu by the writer sometimes, owing to the fact that there is a glossary as well, which serves the purpose well.

“A Life in Words: Memoirs” by Ismat Chughtai is an honest and stark account of a writer’s life – from childhood to youth to old-age. The ideas in the book are numerous – from women’s liberation to class differences to the inner-life of a Muslim girl. Here is a book that is integral to its ideas, structure and words. I cannot recommend this one enough and while you are at it, please read more of Chughtai’s works. You will not be disappointed at all.

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