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Nonfiction/Reviews/Articles

Reviews by me — Sudeep Sen and Abha Iyengar’s books


Two poetry collection reviews of mine are up on Mascara Literary Review and Pirene’s Fountain, both very sophisticated literary journals.

Sudeep Sen’s collection of translation poetry “Aria” is an astute piece of work. The range covers from Hindi, Bengali and Urdu poetry to Hebrew, Greek and Persian. It’s been a long time that I enjoyed poetry in translation, delicate work that made me want to read the original and marvel at the music of the created work. Read the review HERE.
Also, I reviewed Abha Iyengar’s first poetry collection “Yearnings”. Abha writes with the ease of a shaman or a clever lover, adept at splitting open emotions of her subjects and planting her own desires within the lines. Read this review HERE.

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Non-fiction Piece published in BAP Quarterly


When I wrote it down recently, I thought this non-fiction piece of mine read more like a story. It is one no doubt, considering how dramatic real life could get for some people. And I find myself going back to such themes again and again, whether in essay or poetry — the quest for defining borders, the urge to un-map oneself and the discovery that confines are within our own minds.

THE WATER GIVER is published in the current issue of Bosphorus Art Project Quarterly. The theme for this edition is “New York City”. Exciting, innit!
Here’s an excerpt:
“He had seen us through the crowd. Lunch time. A 15-course buffet and the smell of mustard oil I cannot miss. Jackson Heights is an ant hill of colors – white, brown, black. White faces, black arms, brown legs. The United Colors of Humanity flag flapping in the glee of an autumn New York breeze of 2007.
He has worked under the roof of this un-glitzy Bangladeshi restaurant for decades now. He has hummed Amar Shonar Bangla in the beginning over cauldrons of boiling oil or milk, dreamed of dazzling green paddy, and then slowly forgotten everything. His education was meager, not enough to earn him a stable job back home in a newborn nation. But the money to the middleman “bhai” was just what he could pay for a better life as a New Yorkistani. After all, there was no family, no ties. Why even stick around to be prodded by the police and hear comments from the neighborhoodmaulavi for not having grown his beard long enough?“
Hope you have fun reading it. For the direct link, go here.
Image: BAP Q cover “Worship Me” by Farras Abdelnour

***“Disgrace” & “The Kite Runner”: What the Body Brokers” href=”http://nabinadas13.wordpress.com/2010/03/15/disgrace-the-kite-runner-what-the-body-brokers/” rel=”bookmark”>

“Disgrace” & “The Kite Runner”: What the Body Brokers

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Quite a few movies this last week and the weekend. Not a binge, but it is something that happens once a while. You need the wide screen of human happenings to take over your senses. There was a time when I used to sit down and write about each and movie I’d watch, whether at the cinema theater or on the TV screen. That urge has become selective. And after this recent movie-melange, the two that stuck to my mind are THE KITE RUNNER and DISGRACE.

Not apparently similar, the two movies slammed me with their overtones of violence, a proximity of ideas. Violence on the human body. As a means of change, as a means of indicating change or forcing change.
The little Hazara boy being raped/sodomized by the teenaged Pashtun Afghans is a motif carefully nurtured in The Kite Runner. Identity and nation is the subject of “change” here. Ironically, it is the Hazara — perceived as ethnically the “other” — who stays back in a Kabul ravaged by first the Soviet-Afghan war and then by the excesses of Taliban, and struggles to bring up a family until he is killed. Most other Afghan characters, the ‘accepted and identified’ ones, reside either in Pakistan or the US, having run away from the nation’s all-pervasive infamy. The protagonist’s reclaiming of the offspring of the Hazara character (the protagonist’s half-brother — see how the kinship links gray the ‘identity’ canvas?) through his father’s illicit affair with the servant’s wife, completes the circle of acceptance and closure.
Disgrace is more complex I think. The arrogant and suave (definitely elderly) professor’s seduction of his young student, the resulting suspension from his university, and the generational disconnection to his surrounding (other than his own passion in Romantic Poetry) in a post-apartheid South Africa followed by his country-settled, lesbian daughter’s rape by three young Black boys, again point to the ideation of the still-troubled nation. Its supposedly recognizable signs, its noncommittal position of identity formation (the daughter gets pregnant from the rape), and the relative notion of shame or disgrace.
The professor finally seeks a closure with his surrounding, that too by euthanizing stray dogs, dogs that he is so used to set upon the “other”, the Blacks who have become the ‘new’ owner of their own nation. Before that he has been on his knees asking for the forgiveness of his aggrieved student’s family. All this while, having no qualms about prostitutes of color on their knees imparting him the sexual favors.
South Africa, Afghanistan, post-Apartheid, post-colonial, post-war, mixed-race, multi-ethnic. The stage evolves.
Pretty much like the peace brokered between the violated-daughter (which one, you ask, the White or the “cappuccino”) with either a marital contract with her Black neighbor or with the race-symbolism of a college play. It could even be the freedom to fly and run kites, with roles reversed.
**
In other thoughts, there’s this joke about “paternity accidents” I heard the other day. Americans have great interest in tracing back their ancestry (probably common elsewhere too). And that mostly by paternity. One could be a descendant of the King of England or the Arch Duke of Prussia, but no one exactly knows what might have happened on the Mayflower to momma dear. The topic came up during a dinner and movie (it happened to be my birthday, March 13). I was mentioning a “family tree” scroll that my father has in his possession. More about that later!
Image from the Internet: from The Kite Runner
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“The Limbo” — Essay Published in Troubadour 21″

Most recently, the essay “The Limbo” is published on TROUBADOUR 21

Under the series titled DILLIGAF (I know, I know!), it is set in Delhi — the city of djinns and jagged edges …!

Here’s a teaser:

“The Ferris wheel sways up and down in a maverick fashion. Faces bob and bait me. Men in kurtas, humid tees and even unwashed shirt collars. Women a multitude of colourful heads – pink, red, ochre – covered with sari pallavs or transparent salwar-kameez veils. Kids walk between adult knees. Flower petals fall down crushed in fervent hands and the invisible vermillion powder in the hot air suffocates me. The auto sputters, barely moves.

“I need a smoke,” says my driver. “But someone might be offended.”

I contemplate walking down but remember what happened once. Devotees pushing; someone’s hand in my pocket quickly scrounging for material items; another hand even on my butt, pressing and persuasive. But all this should be Maya. Or magic. You can’t see who does it and how.“
Read it in full HERE.

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Review published in THE CARTIER STREET REVIEW

Check out my review of a poetry collection by Basanta Kumar Kar, who works in the nonprofit sector in India and writes about marginalized women, belonging to discriminated social groups like the Dalit, the Tribal or theAdivasi, and the Other Backward Class. Joy Leftow, principal editor of The Cartier Street Review, had this wonderful assignment for me. And although, most of the earlier reviews I’ve written for newspapers or journals were art or film reviews, I thoroughly enjoyed this. Reason number one was my own work experience in the Indian nonprofit sector. Basanta has an extended association with the Chhattisgarh-Orissa-Andhra Pradesh region where he has witnessed the life of the aforementioned women, especially the Dalit and the Adivasi women, from very close angles. And the most striking aspect of his writing is how easily he assumes the voice of his subjects, all women, and weaves it into poetic expressions.
Here’s an excerpt from the review:
Marginalized Women’s Voices from India:THE UNFOLD PINNACLE by Basanta Kumar Kar – A review by Nabina DasBasanta Kumar Kar’s involvement in the Indian nonprofit sector for years has afforded him a close-up of the tribal societies, the backward classes and marginalized sections of that developing and diverse country. He practices with flourish the first-person voice of personas as varied as an under-aged girl with a history of abuse to a Gond or Maria tribal woman struggling against the onslaught of modern civilization to a mother-cum-sex worker reflecting on her fate in the ruthless city. As a professional in his poetic role, Kar brings alive the disillusionment and haplessness of India’s marginalized women, especially those from Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST). He is involved in his subject’s plight and at the same time lets his subjectiveness to position himself as the keen observer. Kar shares the wealth of his experiences with his readers in the rather long 73-page collection.The Wikipedia defines the SC/ST as ‘Indian population groupings that are explicitly recognized by the Constitution of India, previously called the “depressed classes” by the British, and otherwise known as untouchables. SCs/STs together comprise over 24% of India’s population, with SC at over 16% and ST over 8% as per the 2001 census… Some Scheduled Castes in India are also known as Dalits. Some Scheduled Tribe people are also referred to as Adivasis.’ Commenting on the crisis of faith of these underprivileged communities, in the aptly titled “Faith First”, Kar writes:

Smoke and cloud work in tandem
swings of snow peep
hills draw lines, mesmerise
they butcher;
The actions embodied by the elements smoke, cloud, snow, hills etc. are swift and brutal, akin to the experience of his subject. Nature provides no succor. It is a constant reminder of bad fortune. In “…mesmerize/they butcher” this is particularly amplified. The short staccato sentences metaphorically and literally “work in tandem”. The cosmogony of the women Kar writes about, socially denied and deprived, and often under a double yoke of social stigma within their own communities, comprises of humanistic elements that surprise us with their animateness, the only source of comfort for the subjugated lot:I understand my neighbours
tamarind tree, dates and nuts
pigs and chicken, ghosts and spirits
traditional healers.
The weltanschauung of the women is stark yet conveys the environment they thrive in:

We are together

no one more equal than others.
Do go to The Cartier Street Review – Home and click on the little RED linkCSR July 2009 Edition to see the full issue and the read the review. Also, clicking on the title above will take you there. In the spotlight is poet AnnMarie Eldon, featured poet is Michael Annis and there is the regular editorial column by Joy Leftow — “Leftow’s desk”. Bernard Alain, founding editor of the CSR, has again turned out a superb issue with Joy and staff Thomas Hubbard.
Image from The CSR cover by L. Bellini: “Fragmented Man”

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