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D H A K A T R I B U N E S U N DAY, J U N E 2 , 2 0 1 3

Poetry This Hour

Asad Chowdhury

(Translated by Khademul Islam)


Acting Editor Zafar Sobhan Editor Arts & Letters Khademul Islam Assistant Editor Tamoha Siddiqui Artist Shazzad H Khan

Asad Chowdhury is one of Bangladesh’s most well-known poets.

’m in no hurry to go anywhere Nobody’s waiting for me — A scolding sunlight on the bed Silent the window curtains. Blurred the big black-and-white photograph — Dark hair. Against the startled sky Fly the chaste locks of hair. No work, no leisure-time either I rummage through books Sweep away Time’s decorative Dust. Time never does return. The mind desires to join an adda But, alas, the body’s not willing! I startle getting up on the rickshaw Who did I tell to come? Why did I tell him to come? He surely will rage at me. What do I do? I can’t remember a thing. Time goes by as do clouds I see the sun-soaked sparrows The girls hanging the wash on rooftops — Spice-smell pungent on their bodies. This time is theirs alone, Leisure-time blooms into flower. I sit and watch the flowers bloom Watch the bees buzzing to and fro — Touch a few blurred memories, songs, And broken dreams a-plenty. n


Fred Mattorn


keep hearing The shuffle, the rustle Of sandals Mostly plastic Like the water bottles Discarded Roadside, with foreign Names, mainly Fred Mattorn is an occasional visitor to Bangladesh.

A footloose city, nobody Seems to stay at home, sitting Outside dingy Mattress shops, yellowed cotton Flying through the Air To land on feet In dusty open-toed sandals. n


i want darkness

zarina m


don’t want to wake up i want the night to go on i want no lights i look at the moon and want to turn it off i don’t want to see anybody in dhaka i don’t want them to see me mouths open flames in daylight stomping knife thrusts eye gouging screaming tire burning faces looming out of the sun i want to live where there is no light reverse things i want to breathe like a fish in the deep sleep with eyes open float past weeds reeds coral flick my tail away from voices hammering in the steel air corpses in drains a trembling child sweaty beards flick flick flick away from the light. n

zarina m has recently started writing poetry.



Non fiction

1867: Pig-Sticking in Tongi, Dhaka The Brits of the Raj wrote many a book about hunts, but it is rare to find one centred in East Bengal (or ‘Lower Bengal’ as they called it, that part that drained the Ganges basin). Much rarer is any such account taking place around Dhaka, or Dacca. This extract is from Arthur Lloyd Clay’s Leaves from a Diary in Lower Bengal (London: Macmillan; 1896). In 1867, Clay was Joint Magistrate and Deputy Collector in Dacca, after postings in “Moonsheegunge” near “Naraingunge,” Brahmanbaria and Comilla. He was a Cambridge man, a high-spirited soul, and his account is remarkable for its acute depictions of life in colonial ‘Lower Bengal.’


n Saturday the 8th June (1867) a course of the Oriental Sporting Magazine brought on a bad attack of jungle-fever, which being communicated to Lyon, induced a desire to go pig-sticking ... Toonghee (on the River Toorag, a place on the Mymensingh Road some fourteen miles north of Dacca) was chosen as the hunting ground, the country thereabouts being high and more rideable than the low-lying tracts further south by the big rivers, already getting spongy from heavy showers. The morning of June 10 was bright and fine … Beating commenced in the patch of jungle from which on the last occasion two pigs and a leopard had been turned out … From the commotion among the beating elephants, and excited gestures of those in the howdahs, it soon appeared that some animal had been roused. Presently we were granted a sight of his proportions—a fine boar came leisurely to the edge of the cover, but not liking the look of things in the open, again retired. The elephants were now urged forward, and made to close up as they approached the end of the jungle, while several shots were fired into the thicket. For some time the hog obstinately refused to break, till at last, when nearly under the elephants’ feet, he came out with a rush. Simson and Lyon were at him first; but he dodged them and made at me, perhaps as a less formidable antagonist. As he shot past, I managed to give him a prod in the back: the bamboo being weak, the spear-head broke off and stuck, but he afterwards shook it out and the head was lost. I went back for a fresh spear, while Simson and Lyon pursued the monster. The latter gave him a good spear, and was obliged to leave it in him. Returning, I saw the boar in this condition, whirling round and round on the high bank of a tank, and could not think what he was doing till I saw him shake the spear out, when he resumed the defensive. The offensive would be almost more correct, for there was very little running away in his tactics. Having clearly elected to fight it out, the boar stood resolutely at bay, and charged anyone who came near enough. Twice he went at Lyon so straight, that it seemed as if the horse’s legs must be knocked from under him. In one of his charges he got home and gave Lyon’s horse a terrible gash in the stifle, but the plucky animal never flinched, and no one knew he was wounded till Place drew attention to it from his howdah. The pig was now in an awkward corner where it was difficult to get at him, so the elephants were brought up to drive him into more practicable ground. This however was not easy. With a good eye for position, the boar stood, his rear protected by a little tank and patch of jungle, champing his tusks, his eyes gleaming wickedly, but making no other sign till one of the elephants (most unwillingly) came close, when with



a sudden spring and twist of his head he cut her across the trunk with a savage “Whoof!” sending her back double-quick. Presently another elephant was made to step over the pig, now rather weak from loss of blood, but just as she was lifting her hind-leg over him he again half sprang up and gave her a cut in the foot that made the blood flow at once. The hog had now got to the other side of the bank, and though still in a corner was so placed that we could manage, by riding past with a sweep, to get at him as he lay. “Dick” (my horse) went up very well, but in course of time I broke my second spear also. At last Lyon became impatient and got off to finish him on foot, a risky thing to do. Our pig however was very nearly done for, and finally fell over, and with a last kick and one squeak (the first he had deigned to utter) his unconquered spirit took flight. He was a gallant brute and died game, his back to the jungle and his face to the foe: from first to last he cannot have run more than a few hundred yards. The assailants’ casualties were two elephants cut, one horse badly hurt, and many spears broken. The hog was mine, by the most tremendous piece of luck, and his tushes (tusks) were lovely. They were sent home… and mounted for wine-labels. In the scrimmage “Dick” had got an unlucky prick in the heel from my spear, probably in twisting and turning about as we rode at the pig in succession, and was laid up for some days.

Next day (June 11th) we beat a heavy piece of jungle on a nullah, known by the name of “Jan,” but got nothing; and in the afternoon returned to Dacca. n

Pig-sticking was hunting wild boars on horseback, with a spear. They were plentiful in West Bengal – the nawabs of Murshidabad had a high time of it! – and the British found it a suitably rugged and shorttempered quarry on the field. In Clay’s account one notes that the boar of East Bengal was no less a distinguished and courageous adversary. The pig was usually flushed, or “reared” out of its favourite cover of “jhow” (tamarisk) groves by beaters, who sometimes were on elephants. The lance used was the “Bengal spear.” It was adapted from the short, heavy, broad-bladed javelin with which the locals used to hunt bears before the advent of the British.



MacK the Knife Reverend Mothers I am a working stiff. Lumber to saw and sand and nail down. Reports to write. A hangover. So before getting down to it needed a cuppa. But the maid was off-duty. No can do, she had informed me yesterday in a go-to-hell tone. W-h-y-y-y-y? Parent-teacher meeting at her kids’ school. Now I am all for fucking progress and all that crap – why should slum kids be deprived of the joys of bunking school, why shouldn’t maids have the right to rage and spit at the parent-teacher interface? – but Mother of Vishnu, not getting proper tea in the morning with a shitstorm raging in your head is an accursedly heavy price to pay! Breakfast, just non-Twitter FYI, the morning afters if household help decamps is a Rana plaza meltdown … So I make my cuppa and go slacker gen for a minute in front of the telly. CNN. Obama. Drones. Well-meaning, well-educated American blacks are now death on Muslims: Powell, Condoleeza, and now Obama. Obama, though, I guess has reasons. It’s gotta be twice as lonely at the top for a black president, surrounded by all these white guys. And around the American president, they tend to be uber white. Everywhere Big O looks, around the table, in the Rose Garden, white! Even the brothers from the old ‘hood look mocha in this light. They’ve even got him sitting in a color-coded house, can you believe it, the White House. So whenever he feels the gears slipping in his head, Obama goes, okay, time to jack up the underwear, grab a sandwich and go drone-ing … Hello Chuck, get me Nevada, where’s the camera … Kabul … Panjshir, what’s that? Oh, shit, nearly diced a Nato convoy! Helmand, yeah, hold it tight there, no, pan it back … looks like some very dangerous-looking women children goats.


Lifelines: New writing from Bangladesh (ed: Farah Ghuznavi; New Delhi: Zubaan; 2012)

Qader Imam is currently working on a play.


Lifelines is a book of promise. This collection of fifteen stories by Bangladeshi women display variety and flair. Three writers here stand out: Sabrina Fatima Ahmad, Srabonti Narmeen Ali and Iffat Nawaz. Sabrina’s story is complex, delicately revealing a strange weave. Srabonti’s effort, (about an ex-Lalmatia, Dhaka boy occasionally “allowed to dream without reality fucking me from behind” who is now a cabbie in New York), is liberated, but never loses control. Iffat Nawaz’s story, about growing up in an old house in old Dhaka, beautifully plays on a decayed air suffused with sexual secrets, the plot advancing only to retreat, and retreating only to advance again. ‘Lifelines’ in the title means, according to the editor, the ‘life line’ of palmistry, which is actually two words. It might be confusing to readers accustomed to the more common meaning of a life-saving line, whether literally to a drowning person or to metaphorically rescue someone. There can be questions, too, whether ‘new writing’ in English

KAPOW! Ah, feel much better. Sorry about the goats, but did you see the humongous suicide vests on them? And the Bong channels? What’s going on there? The last two months, it’s just the same dingleberry drama, over and over again - ‘shonglap’. The two netris won’t sit, won’t talk. Shit’s hitting the fan, everybody’s unbuckled their pants in order to breathe, and yet the two ladies won’t make nice. Reminded me of something. Who? Where? Salman Rushdie aka J Anton, that’s who! His archetypal, grizzled, battling matriarchs rending things apart. As a light rain dropped Dhaka’s ambient noise to a mere 200 decibels, I opened his glorious dastan-e-hindustan Midnight’s Children. Yep, there she was, Saleem Sinai’s grandmother, the once-delectable Naseem, who over time, “unified and transmuted into the formidable figure she would always remain, and who was always known by the curious title of Reverend Mother … a prematurely old, wide woman, with two enormous moles like witch’s nipples on her face, living within an invisible fortress of her own making …” And her power? “The twin hearts of her kingdom were her kitchen and her pantry.” The kitchen and the pantry, state power and the public treasury! All the goodies are there. And the keys – to power, to the humming machinery, the rules, the structure, the key to making fortunes, to live the good life, eat well and be merry, or its stark opposite, on the outside looking in, tongues lolling, no access, clawing at the door, out of favour, granted no audience at the court – the keys are with whichever Reverend Mother sits at the top. Our very own Reverend Mothers, they can feast you, or they can starve you. And in the book, only her child could make her bend. I stepped out on to the verandah. Rain was pelting down. Knots of people sheltering under various rags, tarps, ledges, edges, overhangs, shades, wood and tin. Getting hosed. Among them the street people. The invisible dark matter of our nation, its microwave background radiation. The dribblers, the emaciated, the broken-limbed, the hysterical the chanters the ghouls the dickers the wet dirty homeless, all wandering sleeping walking babbling in the streets through the blast furnace of their lives … Right! Screw it! Time to step back inside. Saw the lumber, write the reports. I am a working stiff. n

from Bangladesh is confined to women, but that is a specious and fruitless argument. This is new writing. Here it happens to be all women authors; somewhere else it can be all men. Sometimes it can be both. The larger point is for Bangladeshis to write, and publish, in English, and this is one of the points this book implicitly makes. Ms Ghuznavi has done an admirable job of compilation and Zubaan’s production is top-notch, but putting her own padded bio over two pages while the other fourteen contributors share five pages is immodest. n

Kali O Kolom Boishakh 1420 Kali O Kolom has proved to be durable. By now it is a fixture on the literary scene in both the Bengals. But it sometimes seems to be falling between the two stools of academic writing and literary works. The latest issue illustrates this problem, in that its two lead writings, one on Kamalkumar Majumdar the myriad-minded man, and the other on Rabindranath, are dense and indeed at times bordering on the turgid. The continuing source of such articles seems to be the groves of academia, where the endlessly qualified declamation is the sure path to excellence. These works stand in stark contrast to the magazine’s other offerings, of short stories, poems, travel accounts and reviews. It can make for difficult reading sessions. But however uneasy lies the mix, Kali O Kolom always provides food for thought, and fare for pleasure. In that sense this issue is no exception. Abul Mansur’s ‘Zerobhai’ and Kazi Rafi’s ‘Password’ – both short stories – are worthy reads on rainy days, while Debesh Rai’s review of Shaheen Akhtar’s Shakhi Rangamala is in a class by itself. n



DHAKA ART DIARY Commodification?


n Dhaka we all now madly celebrate art. This is a comparatively recent change in our social attitude towards art, one that has been shaped by an expanding middle class, by the emergence of an artconsuming class, by frantic urbanization which is displacing ageold notions about what it means to be human and Bengali, exposure to the outside world and by its pressures on ideas about the artist in relation to society. Over the last decade galleries have mushroomed in the city. At any given moment there seem to be tens of exhibitions taking place. Glossy art books which used to be too expensive to produce are now available. Art magazines have become formidable marketing tools. The marketing machine of this ‘Art’ is relentless, in all forms of media, from slick brochures to the colorful coverage on the ‘entertainment’ pages of daily newspapers – the stock questions to the usual suspects, the familiar arrangement of photos – to the repetitive formula in the mandatory fifteen minutes on the overbred ‘culture roundup’ shows on television channels. SMSes and emails arrive like the plague in one’s Inbox, tooting yet another invitation to yet another art exhibition. The Rath of Art is unstoppable. But what is the art that is being so expertly marketed and massaged? It is, with a few exceptions, increasingly a commodity. The rules of the marketplace now dictate Art and direct art production. Money and exhibitions are now the real artistic currency. The market is a ruthless master, and it does not take kindly to errant children, deviants, nonconformists, rebels and artists. It does not take kindly to Art that functions as real art, which is the profound ability to upset the established order of things. At least not until the day the market can co-opt it. So it is not surprising that more and more artists are congregating in the central marketplace of Dhaka, the nation’s supreme art bazaar, the center of commerce and business, standing in lines with their brushes and paints as artistic equivalents of spades and shovels the day laborers carry on their shoulders as they wait for the construction middleman to pick them up. A recognizable ‘Art Style’ is now the Top Brand. Styles are exhibition markers. This development can plainly be seen in the exhibitions and works of especially the senior artists, who have become prisoners of their own easily recognizable styles: the overbright green banana frond, the burnished cityscape, the swirling fish, the overly peaceful pahari. All of these have become Brands. Brands are anti-art. Brands and advertising rely on clichés of feeling. Brands fear adventure and experiment. Brands are close-minded, frozen styles, and behind the frozen style is the closed mind. A Brand is a formula, and if a formula sells well, and if the success of an art exhibition or a painter is measured purely on how many she or he can sell, no one in the marketplace will dare tamper with a successful formula because the iron law of the market is that it takes a long time to build a Brand.

Bhadralok timepass Sandip Roy

“I came to that book event you once did at Oxford Bookstore because I thought you were Satyajit Ray’s son,” a man told me forlornly once. “I am interested in film.” I could only look vaguely sympathetic. This is not entirely new to me. Years ago as a rookie journalist in America I was sent to cover an Indian community event honouring Sandip Ray himself. A man walked up to me and said without preamble “I knew your father.” I nodded. The man grew animated. “I met him on a bridge,” he said. My father, a civil engineer, did build bridges. But then the man said “I was watching him standing on the bridge framing the shot.” At that point I had to gently tell him that he was wasting his precious Ray story on me. Now living in Kolkata, I have to break the bad news to perfect strangers, sometimes over the phone. The irony, of course, is every one, and that



One has to pity the junior artists, whose basic problem with the marketplace is not that it sets rules, but that the rules do not favor them. They lack a Brand name. This non-recognition by the art-consuming class, which in Dhaka means largely the moneyed class, whose artistic tastes are set by standards extrinsic to art, arrivistes who are genetically supremely Brand friendly – the matched luggage, the Rolex watch, the latest SUV, the ‘right’ school for its children – is fatal to the junior artists. They buy art as a class marker, as a baby pacifier for troubled nerves, for imagined harmonies of time and space in an environment that has none. Art as class arbiter is art that has lost its way. So the unmarketable junior artists grouse, and plot and scheme over endless cups of tea in their dark hideouts, and elbow each other and jostle mightily in the art marketplace, wanting to hit the magic formula, watching enviously as

the seniors pick up the money with ease, with their brands. What does the artist do in such a situation? It’s a trap. Dhaka art marketplace is a trap. Even if one wants to rebel against the marketplace, how to get one’s message out if one cannot, or will not, exhibit, if the art doesn’t sell? One can’t sell if one doesn’t obey the rules of the Marketplace, and if one does, what is the message of one’s Art: Paint to a formula, stick to the Party line and run with the money to the bank? Or should one (even as one screams to be exhibited, and for the work to sell, sell, sell), once in a while, ask oneself: what is the true function of Art? What am I doing? n

surely includes Sandip Ray himself, knows Sandip Ray is no Satyajit Ray. But in bhadralok Kolkata, pedigree usually counts for more than achievement. Sandip’s latest film Jekhaney Bhooter Bhoy was fairly ho-hum. His Feluda films are serviceable but not that inspired. But like dutiful family members Bengalis go to see them – a middle-class ritual of timepass. They complain it’s not like the old Feluda but even that complaint has a pleasantly familiar nagging twang to it. Sandip Ray allows the city to pay tribute to the master through him. That’s terribly reassuring for everyone. That’s why the disappointment is so acute all around when I am mistaken for him. In a city still searching for Satyajit Ray, Sandip Ray is anyway the placeholder. I am the typo with no connection to the master. But perhaps connections, at least the way we think of them, are overrated. The new film Bombay Talkies has an adaptation of a Ray short story – ‘Patolbabu Film Star’. It is set in Mumbai, made in Hindi and Marathi, by Dibakar Banerjee, a filmmaker born in Delhi. But it works magically. “Really, it was based on a Ray story?” said a friend. “It felt so contemporary.” Ray needs more of that kind of tribute than those carefully treasured once-upon-a-bridge anecdotes. n

Sandip Roy is Culture Editor for Firstpost. He is a Kolkatan turned San Franciscan turned Kolkatan.



Literary awards


Daya Dissanayake is a poet and novelist based in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

here is always the good and the bad and sometimes an ugly side to all literary awards around the world. But they are an essential part of the literary scene today and we have to accept it as it is. The Gratiaen Prize is one such award, given away every April to a Sri Lankan writer in English for his or her work as a poet, novelist or playwright. The 2012 Gratiaen Prize was awarded on May 5th 2013, to Lal Medawattegedera, for his unpublished novel, Playing Pillow Politics at MGK. It was in 1992 that Michael Ondaatje instigated the Gratiaen Prize with the money he received from the Booker Award for his novel The English Patient. The film based on the novel won the Academy Award for best picture in 1996. The award was named after his mother, Doris Gratiean and was meant to “encourage English writings by Sri Lankans.” Ondaatje, born in 1943 in Colombo, moved to England in 1954, and then to Canada, where he is now a member of the Department of English at Glendon College, York University in Toronto. Even though some of his novels are based in Sri Lanka, as a diasporic writer, probably he too is writing about an ‘Imaginary Homeland’. However the Gratiaen shows his love and his gratitude to his homeland.

The first ever Gratiaen Prize was shared between Carl Muller (The Jam Fruit Tree) and Lalitha Witanachchi (Wind Blows Over the Hills). Carl Muller, like Ondaatje, belongs to the Burgher (Eurasian) community of Sri Lanka, and he has made this country his home, and is one of the most outstanding English writers in Sri Lanka today. Since then the Gratiaen Prize has been awarded every year, and some of the prize winners have gone on to make a name for themselves, like Punyakante Wijenaike, Sybil Wettasinghe (her children’s stories have been translated to Japanese and several other languages), Tissa Abeysekara (who went on to win the SAARC Award for Literature), Vijita Fernando and Lakshmi de Silva (both won the highest literary award in the country, the Sahitya Rathana), and Shehan Karunatilleke who won the Commonwealth and the DSC prize 2012 for the novel Chinaman. Over the past 20 years the Gratiaen had made a contribution to encourage Sri Lankan writing in English, but whether Ondaatje could be happy with the outcome has been questioned by critics. Other than the few writers mentioned above, none of the other winners have made much of a contribution. The trend in giving the award for unpublished manuscripts, ignoring the published books, had also been questioned. However some of the English newspapers in Sri Lanka attach a great importance to this award, carrying news of the short list, interviews of the short-listed writers and then much publicity to the winner. These same newspapers totally ignore the State Literary Awards for the best English novel, short story and poetry. All other literary awards for Sinhala, English and Tamil writings, are made in September, which is the Literary Month in Sri Lanka. The Colombo International Book Fair will also be held from September 14-26, 2013. n

Anti-travel “Boy, those French…” Aqeel Haider There’s No Toilet Paper…On the Road Less Traveled (ed: Doug Lansky; 2005; Palo Alto: Traveler’s Tales)


Aqeel Haider was born in Pakistan and is a programmer in Palo Alto, California.


hen I first read this book it made me to want to hitch a backpack and hit the trail. Get the hell outta here. To there. Sadly, though, I never did really make it out of Palo Alto, unless a drunken mini-Spring Break roustabout in Tijuana with some mustachioed Meski Mamas counts … Come to think of it, the way we found ourselves doing the jailhouse rock in another border town forty-eight hours later might merit consideration for a ‘Rite of Passage’ sequel to this one. Published eight years back, this collection of stories about getting generally fucked-up in alien lands and cultures is today a classic. The travel industry is a plus-$3 trillion enchilada, part of the global culture. Moonwalks the next thing, pal. Cash only. Here’s your zoot suit. Our globe is now tramped, spat on, peed on, walked over and over like never before, by hordes and hordes of people, the vast majority of them white westerners – though now the elites of the ‘developing world’ are getting into the act. A clash of civilizations where the comic was bound to happen. This book is a record of that clash. If it seems one-sided, it is only our – ‘our’ meaning non-whites – fault for not writing about tramping through the western world. What’s stopping us from recording the smelly asses that result from only using paper to clean up? Not to digress, but many

whites begin to really smell like roses only when they come to the mysterious, secret Orient, with its not-so-secret water sources placed by the toilet bowl! It’s an A-list of writers. Aside from well-known names such as Dave Barry, Bill Bryson, Rory Nugent and P.J. O’Rourke, there’s also David Foster Wallace – a big name in modern American fiction. Wallace’s account is a scathing putdown of Middle America’s travel wet dream: the megaship Caribbean cruise – “It turns out that a seasick person really does look green, though it’s an odd and ghostly green, pasty and toadish, and more than a little corpselike when the seasick person is dressed in formal dinner wear.” The other yarns are more straightforward and uproarious: funny toilets, weird accents, and nudist camps, all are guaranteed to hit your laugh-o-meter. As Steve Martin points out: “Boy, those French, they have a different word for everything.” n

Excerpt from Nigel Barley’s ‘A Simian in the Cinema’: As I sat (in Ngaoundere, Cameroon) and contemplated the beauties of nature, I was approached by a baboon. It sat and regarded me with obvious interest from the river bank, exploring its body for fleas in a most immodest fashion. Soon a certain sympathy had developed between us and it daintily picked its way on all fours to where I sat and stared fixedly into my face as if hoping to find I was a long-lost relative. Suddenly it yawned and apparently pointed to something over my head. So great was the sympathy between us that it never occurred to me that this was not a gesture intended for me and I turned round to see what was being pointed at. The baboon, profiting from my distraction, seized my left nipple through the open shirt and began sucking on it vigorously. It did not take this sagacious beast long to realize that this was a fruitless endeavour and we withdrew in mutual embarrassment, the baboon going so far as to spit most offensively. n Send us your worst travel/tour experiences. Mail it to editor.lit@




Never a ligger be!


am at Cannes film festival on two pieces of business, the second of which is discussing the production of a film from my novel The Bikini Murders with the company that’s announced their intention to make it. Strictly speaking, this could have been done anywhere in the world but since the company has films actually competing in Cannes it seemed a good place for a rendezvous. My personal rule is never go to Cannes as a spare part, a hanger-on or a ligger begging for party invitations. Cannes is a cruel and competitive world. The best way is for one’s film to be invited in one of the competitions. One is in those circumstances a guest of the festival and all doors open. The next best is to be a buyer, a person who can genuinely view films and make deals either to distribute or produce current and future projects. Very many frauds and fakes turn up pretending to be buyers with manufactured credentials and connections. They look busy on phones and computers, play Movie Moghul for a week and disappear till the next year. Thirdly, you can be a seller, meaning you seek the appointments and buy the drinks, unless you happen to have the hottest property in town – in which case you needn’t have come to Cannes. I must confess that I have been in all three categories. In one particular year there were two sets of producers attempting to get international distributors for five films I’d written in the previous year, one of which was Mangal Pande - The Rising and one of the others an international film called Red Mercury. On the occasion I speak of an Indian TV reporter stopped me in a Cannes street with “Mr. Dhondy, it’s sensational you have five films at Cannes!” I said “That’s good to know but news to me!” “But that’s what the Indian papers have reported.” “Have they? Then they don’t know the difference between having films at Cannes and bringing coals to Newcastle hoping to sell them. ‘Having’ a film at Cannes means the film has been selected by the festival in one of the competitive categories. None of the films I’ve written have been

Writers as pole-dancers Indrajit Hazra

Performance anxiety is not something you’d reckon writers having to deal with. Actors, public speakers, hired assassins, yes. But not writers shaking the ends of their pens or hovering their fingers above keyboards in rooms smelling of whatever smells make them finish their work. The writer, like the chef, isn’t supposed to appear on the plate of your table. But somewhere down the line, there was a change in plan. A happy one, I must admit considering that travelling on book tours or attending literature festivals is one way I get out of the house, never mind the city. The trouble with this stepping out of pages, however, is that this kind of exposure can be, for many writers including myself, like a vampire keen on sunshine setting out for a walk in the summer. Last month, I was at two sessions at the Shillong CALM (Creative Arts, Literature and Music) Festival. I was trotted out to air my thoughts on two seemingly disparate subjects: ‘Old age homes’ and ‘The serious in comic writing’. Being a practitioner of novel-writing under the category of black comedy, I was perhaps better equipped to hold forth on the second subject. But I had said yes to the ‘Should there be old age homes?’ debate (of course, you moderately young person!) because while writing my latest novel, I have been doing a lot of thinking about growing old. (My story has a man who thinks he can see half an hour into the future grappling with the loss of that power.) I had also agreed to participate in



submitted to the competitions and they probably wouldn’t have been selected for exhibition anyway.” “Oh, but the newspapers said they had been.” “And that’s probably ruined my life,” I said. She was puzzled. “Why?” “I’ll never be able to go back to India now,” I said. “All my creditors will gather at the airports thinking I’ve come into hefty money.” This year Cannes has been designated the festive spot for a hundred years of Indian cinema. There are posters all over the festival to advertise this anniversary. I tell everyone I meet that it’s a fraud. Indian cinema is at least 116 years old. The first Indian films were shot in 1899 and 1901 by Harish Bhatvadekar in Bombay. In the first years of the twentieth century Hiralal Sen of Calcutta, a pioneer of then united Bengal, shot a feature called Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Several documentaries featuring Lord Curzon’s Delhi Durbar, the inauguration of railways, the return to India from Cambridge of the Indian mathematician ‘wrangler’ Paranjpye were made and exhibited before 1913. OK, so we South Asians famously fiddle birth dates and I suppose 2013 is as good a year for a centenary as any. It should have been a bean-fest which included Pakistan and Bangladesh, but perhaps the double-divorce has erased the memory of such an anniversary. I do my business, talking to the company which has bought the film rights to my novel. The Indian newspapers have announced this cinematic intention and they all say that my novel is based on the life and serial murders of Charles Sobhraj. My character in the novel is called Johnson Thaat. Nevertheless my phone rings in Cannes. It’s my Indian literary agent. “Charles rang me from jail in Kathmandu. He says he’ll sue you if you make this film.”(Sobhraj, with whom I am well acquainted, is serving a life sentence for murder there). “If he identifies with Johnson Thaat he’ll have to say he is guilty of the serial murders I describe. So, as the Australians say – ‘No worries, mate’”. I tell the producer about the call. “Good publicity,” he says. And now I’m invited to ten parties, two or three a day. Maybe there’ll be one with at least two feet of red carpet on the stairs or somewhere. I’ll step on it and then tell the Indian newspapers that I have “walked the red carpet in Cannes”. n

the topic because if you’re asked months before the actual event, you are duty-bound to say ‘yes’ even to things like ‘Would you like to sleep with a sheep?’. In any case, Shillong in mid-May had the added attraction of temperatures less than half of what it is at home in Delhi. The writer, out of his cave and put on display, is the antithesis of Andy Warhol’s ‘fifteen minutes of fame’. It turned out to be some 160 minutes of fidgeting under a full public gaze. Some writers are good at performing – which is what these things are. But writing and speaking/performing are two separate activities and the latter isn’t just about being articulate. It’s about being entertaining. Anyone who has seen Bob Dylan in interviews will get what I’m saying. Thrown unceremoniously into the deep end of the pool, I, a land animal, found myself far removed from my ‘Let me line these sentences up and send them across’ zone. So in the back-to-back sessions at wonderful Shillong I ended up speaking of the need to send comic writers to old age homes and about the ravages of old jokes. As long as I wasn’t boring, I figured I would survive despite the gibberish seeping out of my mouth. Which is where the whole performance anxiety bit kicks in. The person who cannot afford to write anything boring has to avoid being boring himself in these public outings. But then, some writers can be great poledancers – Vikram Seth, to continue that metaphor, comes to mind. For most of us, such performances have little to do with staring down at our readers. So till the next time I put my costume on, it’s back to the freezer. I have a book to finish. n Indrajit Hazra is a novelist and journalist based in New Delhi. His last book, The Bioscope Man (Penguin India), was published in 2008.

Farrukh Dhondy’s acclaimed first novel was Bombay Duck. He lives in London.

The second instalment of the annual Shillong Creative Arts, Literature and Music Festival – a platform for the creative arts of India’s Northeast – took place from 9 to 11 May, 2013. Indrajit Hazra, who was there along with the likes of Jerry Pinto, David Davidar, Jug Suraiya and Victor Banerjee, tells us what it was like to be another monkey up the greasy pole.


Serialized Story The second installment of our serialized story. We hope to bring in other writers soon for future segments. – Editor.

Samira - Part 2 Waking Up To Reality Awrup Sanyal


he storm had ratcheted up a few levels, doors and windows were rattling in syncopated rhythm. A gust had entered the room and was circling her in a rage. The human head of the gust flew round and knocked down paintings from the wall, overturned the bed and scattered around the furniture. Now, something or someone was banging at the bedroom door, which somehow still held on; it grew louder and louder. The door started bending and bulging inwards, and before she could throw herself on it, it splattered out in splinters…


Awrup Sanyal is an ex-advertising professional and a fiction writer.


Samira woke up with a start and was relieved to find everything intact in the room. Someone was indeed banging at the door. She heard her mother’s voice, “Samira! Wake up! It’s your interview today! Wake up!” Reluctantly she made it to the door. She unbolted it, then stumbled back to bed, got in and pulled the covers over her head. He mother walked in with the morning tea, her special organic green tea, without which her day would refuse to start. This was a ritual that Brian and she had gotten used to. They had practically been living together all through her Master’s, and usually, it would be Brian who would plod down the steps and get her the tea. Brian, what was he doing now? At the library, she knew. “How many times have I told you not to bolt the door from inside?” Her mother grumbled as she put down the tray on the bed, next to her. “Utho, ma, your father will be upset if you miss the interview!” “Uff, Maa! Pl-e-e-a-a-a-se!” Samira’s muffled voice came through from under the sheet. “Breakfast is ready. Come on now.” Samira’s hand snaked out and reached for the cup. As the earthy notes of the green tea hit her tongue, the last wisps of the nightmare disappeared. Fuck, she thought, these things are exhausting. And if I have to do the GulshanDhanmandi thing every day… Oh God! Dhaka in 2009 was unrecognizable from the town where she had spent her childhood and teenage years in the ‘80s and ‘90s – that seemed a walk down the primrose path by comparison. It was not even a week that she was back and she was already being hustled into a job. What was going on? Were the parental units up to something, up to that arranged marriage shit? That’s all they could think of sometimes, even in this day and age: marriage and kids. Family, respectability and tradition. But Dhaka had changed, Samira thought sourly. Nowadays you probably had to get an American education to marry well, and a job would be another huge plus on the marriage resume. She had intended to chill out for at least six months, sort stuff out. But the first item on the agenda had been sleep, delicious sleep. These past six years had been all about hustling out of bed early and going full speed. So, since she had been back, Samira had been sleeping, or lying in bed listening to the sounds of the vegetable sellers, and once or twice, a cuckoo’s call as the neighborhood woke up. Looking out of the window early in the morning as she got up to pee, she had looked curiously at the crowd walking by the lake, some even jogging. Burqa-clad women too, in what seemed to be Nike knock-offs. Burqas and Nike: Just do it! she had

thought, smiling slightly. She hadn’t even met her old friends or relatives or even her cousins. She hadn’t even had a proper conversation with her parents, especially Baba, not while she was still somewhat in shock over being uprooted from her American life. Her real life. She still couldn’t believe that she was back in Dhaka. Had it been the right thing to do, to bow down to the wishes of Mum-Dad? Had it been right on their part to insist? Morning rituals done she went to the dining table. Her father was reading the morning newspaper, ‘The Daily Trash’, she called it. Her mother came in with a plate of piping hot porota and bhaji, her favourite, with that smashing home-made achar on the side, achar that Samira never tired of, not in Greensboro, not in Brooklyn, not anywhere. Her mother noticed Samira still had on her bedtime clothes. “Samira! Why are you still in your nightie?” Her mother’s voice was sharp. Her father looked up. “Hello, bideshini!” he said, smiling at her. Then to his wife, “What’s the matter with you, Dolon? Let her be. She has come back after so many years…” “Hmmm… I see you are going to play the bhalo manush here. Maybe I should remind you of the pains you took to get her the interview.” “Maa, I won’t go for the interview. I need some time to figure out my life. You took a decision about my life but I have to live it now!” “Samira, it’s all for your own good!” “It’s all right!” her father said as he put down the paper and began to eat. “I can push the interview back. Now let’s just have our breakfast together in peace.” “Well, that may be okay with you. But she should know that it was hard

to request… that rascal... to consider your daughter for a job!” And turning to Samira she said, “Requesting somebody who was an employee of your father’s and now owns the company.” “Dolon! Enough! I will deal with this!” He smiled at his daughter. Samira smiled back at him. And with that all three stopped talking and began to eat. Outside, Dhaka had woken up and its countless children were being delivered to school by worried parents in the funk of the city’s noise and grime. Will I need a car, Samira thought, or is it going to be ricki ricks for me too as with most of those schoolchildren? n




Arts & Letters Vol 1 Issue 2