Tag Archives: Zubaan

Centrepiece: New Writing and Art from Northeast India. Edited by Parismita Singh.

CentrepieceTitle: Centrepiece: New Writing and Art from Northeast India
Edited by Parismita Singh
Publisher: Zubaan Books
ISBN: 978-9385932410
Genre: Anthologies, Essays
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

It is always a fantastic idea to be acquainted with a place or places you know nothing about and what better way to get familiar with it or them than books. And what better place to start than home? We do not know Northeast India (as it is known) at all. I know for a fact that I did not know the “seven sisters” till I got to know them but knowing their names and capitals isn’t enough. There is so much more that we do not know. So much that we generalize as we go along and not think twice about it.

“Centrepiece” is an attempt to change that. To make readers in different parts of the country aware of what the Northeast is really. What I loved about this book is that there are 21 women writers and artists who are telling stories, speaking of facts and weaving dreams. This is done in various forms in the book – through prose, poetry, short stories, or even pictures for that matter. In these pieces, the range is so vast and varied that it will sure take your breath away.

What I loved though was the right balance of fiction and non-fiction. An anthology needs to have it all and yet somehow not go overboard with its own content. Parismita Singh has carefully curated this book. The blend of these landscapes with stories told by the 21 women is effortless and sucks you in every narrative. I saw Northeast with its own pair of eyes and honestly it was surprising, shocking and full of emotion at the same time.

Whether there is brewing of rice beer told beautifully through words and pictures (Rini Barman) or carrying of cow dung or just selling everyday products (Gertrude Lamare), or even the feelings when it comes to mothering a child, these women have made it so personal and intricate, that these pieces will just not leave your mind.

My favourite ones were those of weaving fabrics (Shreya Debi and Bilseng R Marak) and the one that spoke of fairy tales. I loved them all and kind of difficult to pick favourites really, but these stood out for me. At the heart of all of this is the fact that gender plays a strong role in this anthology and I loved and appreciated that aspect more so, because I like no one can tell their stories better than women (it is just my opinion).

“Centrepiece” delves into the heart of what it is like to be forgotten and to not let that happen. Stories from each Northeast state, their diversity, their culture and the fact that they aren’t similar at all is portrayed beautifully through great prose and stunning pictures. Every piece in this anthology is making its point with great enthusiasm, sometimes wit and most of all with a lot of assertion as it should be.

 

Foxy Aesop: On the Edge by Suniti Namjoshi

Foxy Aesop Title: Foxy Aesop: On the Edge
Author: Suniti Namjoshi
Publisher: Zubaan
ISBN: 978-9385932427
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I love Suniti Namjoshi’s books. They are not what you expect or have been conditioned to expect and that’s the primary reason I love what she writes. Her works are heady, over the top, campy even, but above all honest and feminist to the core. She doesn’t mince her words and that’s the only way to write in my opinion. “Foxy Aesop” reminded me of her Fabulist Feminist tales, but more than anything I was drawn into her world so strong that I just didn’t want it to end. Her world is weird (and all weird works for me in more than one way), intriguing and mind you she is one writer who will not let you have it easy. Her prose evokes thoughts but naturally and that’s that.

“Foxy Aesop” to me was everything rolled into one – a fantastical story, a story so quirky that I laughed straight out loud in so many places, a satire as well – something that crescendos into something unusual, only leaving the reader with the hope that she will write something similar. “Foxy Aesop” may suggest that the book is about Aesop, but it is actually about Sprite, a fabulist from the future who transports herself to the century of Aesop and that’s where the book begins. Aesop, on the other hand is busy writing his fables and trying to make ends meet. The book is about fables at the core – what they do to the moral fabric of our society and do they play any role in it at all or not. Sprite and Aesop make for delightful characters in this fantastical piece by Namjoshi.

Namjoshi’s writing is irreverent and that is another quality I love about her prose. She has literally taken the concept of fables and turned it on its head. She makes you rethink and evaluate those morals all over again in light of our world and what we think of them at all – if we do that is.

“Foxy Aesop” is a book that is witty, unusual, full of quirk and life. Suniti Namjoshi has done it again, as always, and not just in storytelling but creating it in a dimension probably unheard of to many. Read it for its fabulousness. Just go read it.

Shikhandi and Other Tales they Don’t Tell You by Devdutt Pattanaik

Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don't Tell You by Devdutt Pattanaik Title: Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You
Author: Devdutt Pattanaik
Publisher: Zubaan and Penguin Books
ISBN: 9789383074846
Genre: Mythology
Pages: 176
Source: Pubisher
Rating: 5/5

There is so much to Indian Mythology that remains hidden. There is so much which no one speaks of. Of hidden desires (maybe), of stories that somehow do not surface, because we are too civilized for our own good. We are full of shackles and intimidation and fear and to top it all ego, which do not let us realize our true selves. Somewhere down the line, perhaps, we have also been too apologetic of our traditions and culture – first to the British and Europeans and then to ourselves. The stories need to be told to change perspectives. The answers need to be out there with the questions, so people can decide for themselves without being brainwashed. “Shikhandi and Other Tales they don’t Tell you” by Devdutt Pattanaik is one such attempt.

“Shikhandi” is a book of stories. Stories that have been forgotten – mostly intentionally I would think. Stories that celebrate the queer, the ones that do not differentiate between the masculine and the feminine, where form does not matter as much, where it is about fluidity and not rigidity of gender and where clearly it is about celebrating life. Devdutt tries to uncover stories in mythology about men and women, about gender bender, about situations where roles were reversed for good reason and sometimes for no reason at all.

To me, “Shikhandi and Other Tales they don’t tell you” is all about liberation. While reading it, I felt liberated and maybe that is the purpose of this book. From Narada who forgot that he was a man, to Indra who took the form of a Brahmin to make love to his wife when he was away, to Krishna who cross-dresses in time of war and peace for various reasons to more Gods and Demons and Kings and Queens who are not rigid about sexuality and gender, “Shikhandi” is a work that transcends orientation and gender.

The writing is precise and concise. The stories can be read in a day and yet how can one understand Queerness for all that it is, in a day or a week or even a fortnight? To then connect it to mythology is another matter altogether. To then not be judgmental about it is far beyond another issue. Devdutt’s stories are not about intrigue. They are not about provoking for the sake of it. They are provocative because it is time we drop the blinders and look at the world different, away from our myopic vision and conditioning of what is wrong and what is right. The illustrations and foot-notes are trademark Pattanaik and work wonderfully in this book.

“Shikhandi” is a paean to the marginalized, to the differences (seemingly so), to the unseen and the not spoken about tales. After interviewing him for Jaya and after reading Jaya, I thought there was nothing like that book. I was wrong. In my opinion, it is “Shikhandi and Other Tales they don’t tell you” which is his best work. Go broaden your thinking. Read this book for sure.

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Book Review: The Missing Queen by Samitha Arni

The Missing Queen by Samitha Arni Title: The Missing Queen
Author: Samitha Arni
Publisher: Penguin Viking/Zubaan Books
ISBN: 9789381017647
Genre: Mythology, Fiction
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have always wondered and thought that the Ramayana has nothing to offer in terms of shades of grey. I thought that it was a plain vanilla story, with nothing of value, though at the back of mind I was aware of Sita and her predicaments, I somehow did not give it too much thought. I was more focused on reading more of the Mahabharata, with its vast number of characters and intricate plot, there was no way any other mythological text could hold a candle to it. This was my opinion till I started reading, “The Missing Queen” by Samhita Arni.

I had read Samhita’s graphic novel, “Sita’s Ramayana” sometime ago, however that did not impact me much as this one has. Once in a while, I read a mythological piece of work that compels me to recommend it to whosoever I meet, and this time it is “The Missing Queen”. I cannot stop raving about. Most of it has got to do with the writing; however most of it has also got to with the plot and the new angle or twist so to say to the epic.

“The Missing Queen” is set in modern-day Ayodhya, ten years after Ram won the war and Sita disappeared basis the hearsay from the Washerman and other speculation by Ayodhya’s citizens on her chastity. Things have changed a lot since then. Ayodhya is indirectly a totalitarian state kept under strict vigilance by the Washerman and his people. Ram, but of course is the shining hero and king who looms large and makes decisions, however not without consulting some people. This Ayodhya is of television and media, of Cadillacs and malls, of consumerism and a complete dry state with bootleggers reining at night-time in shoddy basements. It is also on its way of becoming a democracy, which in a way is scary and at the same time liberating for some. Amidst all of this, a young journalist begins asking questions about Sita: What happened to her? Why did she disappear? She wants answers and does not even stop at asking Ram during an interview about Sita and her whereabouts.

She must not be asking such questions. The Washerman and his fleet chase her out of the city and she goes to Lanka in search of answers, which further takes her to Mithila. For me this was the best part in the book. Samhita has brought out different perspectives through this short book – of Surpanakha, of Vibhishana and his daughter, of Urmila and others who have been a part of the epic. While reading this book one also gets the feeling of the “other” part of the story. The question posed by the journalist seep into the readers’ head and that to me is great writing as demonstrated by Arni. There were so many places in the book where my heart just went out to Sita and also to the Lankans. That is primarily because of the writing and the world that Samhita conjures given her imagination and what happened after the war. There are so many questions in the book and also so many issues. For instance, the one line that struck me the most in the book was the one said by Surpanakha: “Do women need circles drawn in sand to protect them?” I think this is so relevant even today. Some men take it upon themselves to protect women, without wondering what they want. There are parts like these in the book that shake you up and make you question everything around you.

At times while reading the book, I felt that Sita and Ram and the Washerman were merely metaphors for who we are and our beliefs (if any) and that made me think a lot more of the plot of the book. I will of course not give away the ending. However at the end of it all, what I can say is that you have to read “The Missing Queen” to experience a different kind of tale and storytelling when it comes to mythology and more so to the Ramayana. A must read for February.

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