Category Archives: Prose Fiction (mainstream)

Lekhana: Day One

(This should actually be titled “Lekhana: A Literary Weekend – bits of Day One”, but that looks weird.)

The events started at 5 pm, but I walked in at 6 (or so), thus missing the inauguration and the recitations. I did catch most of the panel discussion:

“The City in Literature”

with MK Raghavendra moderating for KR Usha, Anjum Hasan, Saniya and Zac O’Yeah.

I must admit that I’m a little biased against the panel subject – I feel like there’s a lot that’s been said about cities that we’ve heard or read already. Somehow, undirected discussions about the city seem to miss the actual people in the city, treating the city like they are self-embodied things of concrete, dust and ethereal culture.

(Also, everytime I see KR Usha [whom I do love, in a wholesome sort of way] in a group discussion, she is talking about the city. Author typecasting!)

To sum up:

KR Usha talked about how fast Bangalore is changing, and how one evokes a city not through its buildings but through the quality of life and experiences of its people.

Zac O’Yeah finds Bangalore constant change disconcerting, but does find that the action sequences in a Kannada movie seem like they can only happen in Bangalore.

Anjum Hasan enquired whether it really is necessary to write about a place, whether the characters of that place are aware of themselves in connection with their location or not.  She reminded us (via Flaubert) of the displacement that is sometimes necessary to write about a place authentically, and asked, Why should we write about Bangalore? Sometimes we don’t have to!

KR Usha said that the panel topic limited the discussion a bit  and talked about Nabokov, who felt that an over-adherence to realism in placement is fruitless, and can lead away from the central objective of a novel, which is to describe the human condition. “But the modern novel needs context!” Conundrum.

Zac O’Yeah said that all this aside, one must still try to grapple with the city, as a way to show one’s love for the place, to create, to evoke an image of the place that you love.

MK Raghavendra said that “evoke” was the crucial term here – one must evoke a place, not necessarily describe it, in order to bring it to life.

Anjum Hasan admitted that she – after all – prefers the highly descriptive novel, but still loves, for instance, Jane Austen, who never really spent much time physically describing a place, but rather the mindset of her characters, evoking the culture of their times.

I didn’t take detailed notes for the Q&A session, partially because I was sitting next to a guy (a reporter?) who took notes and grunted/exclaimed his agreement and disagreement with everything that was said. It was distracting, and extremely annoying. But in all, the audience – the part that talked – seemed in agreement that Bangalore rarely leaps alive off the pages, that Bangalore is in transition, that Bangalore is not in frictionless coexistence with Bengaluru, tat maybe Bangalore/Bengaluru need not be enshrined in a single moment after all, despite how well people like Dickens managed to enshrine the dirtier bits of London, that Bangalore was once a series of villages with a strong located culture, that we have a unique weather.

Then there was a play.

Five Grains of Sugar

By Manav Kaul

(translated by Arshia Sattar)

Munish (I’ve forgotten his last name!!) plays Rajkumar, the “ordinary fellow” who talks to the audience for an hour about his life in order to explain his one, single problem. Ranjkumar’s simplicity and self-aware ordinariness and self-declared happy life contrasts with his rather lonely existence, dictated as it is by his small circle of family and friends.

Rajkumar is exaggeratedly simple, exaggeratedly ordinary. I’m not an avid theatre-goer (is that the term)? I suspect I’d’ve preferred to read Rajkumar’s heavy-handed monologue. Some of Munish’s actions on the stage seemed a bit heavily scripted, and one knew before hand when certain reveals were going to take place (penultimately). But Munish played this rather one-note character with surprising charm, keeping the audience engaged and interested for most of his hour.

I suppose the play is about the invisible possibilities for art in the seeming banalities of life. Rajkumar’s headaches concerning poetry, how to understand it, how to create it and how to manifest it weave together – for his audience but not for him – his life amongst the people he loved and who may or may not have loved him back. Art remains the (unappreciated) reward for Rajkumar’s average life, and he seems rather overly cheered to be done with it for good.

The play ends beautifully – one feels a bit as if the entire hour has been crafted for that last minute – and I don’t think any of us regretted the hour.

(I think I knew Munish when we were in school together. That part was strange. Irrelevant to this post, but strange.)

I’m hoping I’m in time for tomorrow – I intend to be there the entire day, though I might not attend everything. Here’s the schedule – maybe you’ll find something you’d like to see?

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Lekhana – The Bangalore Lit Fest 2012!

So the Bangalore Lit Fest has been in the works for a while now, and finally the schedules are out, the logo is done, there are handy links I can handily link you to the website, which among other things, says:

Dear friends in the Bangalore literary community

We are delighted to announce that Toto Funds the Arts, Sangam House, Deshakaala and Reading Hour along with the National Gallery of Modern Art, have come together to organise Bangalore’s first literary weekend, Lekhana.

The dates are February 10, 11 and 12, 2012 and the venue is the NGMA on Palace Road.

The theme for the weekend is “The City.” There will be panel discussions, readings by local writers and by those from more distant lands, performances and a dedicated Lekhana bookstore at Smriti Nandan. And there are contests in writing and photography for young people as well…

Do join us as we bring together the many writers and the many literary cultures and languages that inhabit the city.

Admission is free and open to all.

… and also to the schedule, which is chock-full of city-style things you might want to be a part of!

Launch of Show Me A Hero

I was a bit leery of today’s event – for one thing, the book in question has a giant cricket ball on the cover, with a batsman silhouetted against it mid-stroke. I am one of those unfortunate bigots who not only does not like cricket but switches off intellectually every time it is mentioned in conversation. (It also doesn’t help that the author looks like a wee fresher in college and I wanted to pinch his cheeks, but I contained myself and didn’t mention it. At all. Ever.) But I feel a sort of TFA solidarity nowadays, and I do feel a little, well, like I should go and read and buy newer authors even if they’re crap or talk about cricket.

Cover design by "omendu"

Show Me a Hero is Aditya Sudarshan‘s second novel. It’s described as a murder mystery and a coming-of-age novel (my personal favourite sort), and follows two young men, just out of college, as they attempt to document the life of an excellent but unloved batsman. (Sudarshan likened him to Sachin Tendulkar in terms of skill, but his complete opposite in terms of respectability.)

There was some awkwardness with the “launching” – how does one launch a book, anyway? Arul Mani recollected someone who literally threw the book at the audience, which seems the closest to appropriate to me, but apparently will not actually do. Mani waved the book embarrassedly in the air, and that did for us.

Based on the two extracts Sudarshan read out, and the ten pages I have just read myself, I wouldn’t say that Sudarshan has fabulous prose – but he is functional, accessible, and peppers his otherwise slightly flat narrative with little gems of insight (someone help me un-cliché that!) that make the reading surprisingly enjoyable.

Arul Mani chaired the discussion, and we had some interesting back and forth. Mani points out that Show Me a Hero makes for a very good coming-of-age novel because its aging, its arrival, is based not on plotted epiphanies but on a more “normal, every day sort of reaching”.

There was some talk about dualities, both in the narrator and in The Writer – something about the common sensical balancing out the naïve, the unadulterated, and open-eyed, the searching for magic. Sudarshan made a Terry Pratchett reference: +5 points.

I’m skipping over a lot of cricket wittering. It was cricket, it was deep and shit, but made little to no sense to me, except for the bit where Sudarshan declared that people worship, romanticise cricket because they make of it a practically metaphysical conceit for their hopes and dreams for the nation as a whole. (I’m paraphrasing. It was cricket!)

Then there were audience questions, when I didn’t take notes – I did pay attention enough to note that Sudarshan has had two books published by two different houses, and has some but not much control over editing and packaging. Which is only to be expected.

Sudarshan gives me the feeling of someone who has read and absorbed a great deal of mature thought, and while intelligent, charming, witty and evocative, is not yet, well, old enough to be the best sort of him he could be. (With apologies to Sudarshan, I am probably the same age as he is.) I’m not sure how Show Me a Hero will appeal to me, but I’ll probably read him for the next few years. I certainly liked short stories of his [that I read just now].)

Anyway. C. K. Meena, ebullient as ever, wrapped things up, and I went home.

Writers from Slovenia! :O In Bangalore!

Before I begin, here:

Free PDF: Anthologies of Slovenian literature in translation

I wouldn’t have known about this if I hadn’t gone to yesterday’s Good As You meeting, where we met Suzana Tratnik and Brane Mozetič. We gathered that Tratnik and Mozetič were in the country to meet Mamta Sagar, who translates their work into Kannada (via the English translation, which must be amusing to all of them, and such hard work!). They came armed with nicely-packaged anthologies of contemporary Slovenian poetry and short stories, both published by the Center For Slovenian Literature. I had time for a read through the short stories, and immediately marked down Tratnik, Andrej Blatnik and Maja Novak for further stalking.

It was a great meeting, but Tratnik and Mozetič did not read out from their work, and so it was really good to hear that they, and two other Slovenian writers, would be doing a reading at 1.Shanthiroad on Friday (yesterday) at 6:30.

When I got there, we beelined (well, circled determinedly) until I found Suzana Tratnik and talked with her for a while. She introduced me to Veronika Dintinjana (poet) and pointed out Andrej Blatnik in another corner. I did some mental hoorays that Blatnik was there and wandered around some more. I did the “I am a writer” thing, which is a very heady thing to do, and we discussed writing across forms: Tratnik apparently wrote poetry a long time ago but says she can’t do it now. Dintinjana writes only poetry, very empathically. 🙂

Andrej Blatnik read first, five short shorts from a slim anthology of his stories in English translation. “Separation” was, at first hearing, about demarcations, tidiness, all leading to loneliness. “Sunday Dinners” was a powerful piece about family, about routines, and the disruptions caused by war. (Apparently it was begun before the Slovenian Short War, and finished much after.) “The Power of Words” is either about vegetarianism or about the power of human reasoning and rhetoric, I was a bit iffy about that. It had a very nice tiger. “Old Stories” was nostalgic, and optimistic. Something whose title I do not remember was an unhappy story, and it made me think of caring and uncaring as twin burdens we juggle all the time.

Veronika Dintinjana read some poems, which she told me later she translated in collaboration. She read them in the original Slovenian from a slim volume of her own, and then the translations from printed sheets. Her voice was even, with that faint fuzziness I gather from many European accents. Across “The Orange Tree”, “Cathedral Lines”, “St. Francis”, “A Visit to the Crematorium”, “Exercising Automatic Breathing”, I got a sense of an extended, pre-emptive farewell, quietly and matter-of-factly bowing to the demands and ravages of time, of inevitable absence.

Brane Mozetič read his poems in the original, while Josha translated. Joshua has a robust reading style, while Mozetič has an extraordinarily soft voice. I was as interested in the poetic content as in the reading contrast. Mozetič’s poems are untitled, and I think sometimes Joshua read poems out without Mozetič reading the originals, so it is hard to tell: I think we heard around 5 poems in all. With wry and understated humour Mozetič seemed to be speaking of fear, of isolation, of a wariness of being alert to a harsh world; the barrenness of urbanity and the yearning and denial of intimacy.

Suzana Tratnik at last, with Mamta Sagar and Suresh Jayaram (who runs Suzana Tratnik1.Shanthiroad) alternately translating. (I like SJ, but I am sorry to say he is a terrible reader. Next time, please, no matter how much we’d like to honour him, give the task to someone who does it right!) We got three shorts, “Kind of Rat”, which is about faith as opposed to denomination, funny and sad all at once; “Key to the Restroom”, which is about boundaries (spatial, social, personal, intimate. I found it simultaneously strong and bittersweet – surprisingly hopeful); “A Letter to a Vietnamese Friend” which was difficult for me to get a handle on, set as it is in a classroom where activities are dictated by a larger Communist, international, and perhaps humane agenda – I’d need to read it again to know what I felt.

The Center for Slovenian Literature aims to create quality translations of Slovenian works, to showcase Slovenian literature to an international audience, and I think the translations here were very good.  Assuming their adherence to the originals, of course. They read well, and I for one want to read more.

Afterwards there was punch. I busied myself saying hi to all of them – Andrej Blatnik got pinned by another audience member who did not leave him alone for the rest of the evening, or so it seemed to me. I did tell him I’d read his “Electric Guitar” (not that I remembered the title) and loved it. I mentioned Maja Novak, and he told me she is now busy with translation rather than new writings of her own, which is very sad news for me. I spent a lot of time talking with Dintinjana, who is a surgeon, a poet, and organises an annual poetry festival for young writers. In some ways, it seems like no matter how different our nations are, no matter how differently the norms play out, they are at th core very similar. Half the time when she was speaking something Slovenian, something that hasn’t changed yet, I was thinking/saying, Yes! that happens here too! Shouldn’t this be a thing of the past by now? (Feminists REPRESENT!)

Joshua and a few other, Mozetič included, were discussing queer literature in India – the publication markets in India are exploding, and publishers are scrambling to offer target demographics whatever they’ll pay for. For Joshua this means that a great deal of UTTER RUBBISH is published, just because the authors can wave around their queer ticket. Mozetič reminded us that a lot of what is published/written will of necessity be crap, and I was cynical and suspicious, but Joshua is a more idealistic soul, and this was not a line of argument he could accept.

Mamta Sagar! It behoves me to speak of her too. Mamta Sagar writes in Kannada, and is a poet and possibly a dramatist. She’s the one who translated Mozetič and Tratnik into Kannada, and possibly she will do more in time. I find her interesting, though I have not read anything by her. I shall lead my dad to her poetry and browse through her translated works myself. She teaches at Bangalore University, and therefore has some academic articles lying around somewhere – I shall find them!

At this point, I must admit I walked out now because I was hungry, and I shall end this post just as abruptly.