Thursday, May 22, 2014

Book Review: Angarey- 9 Stories And A Play

Title:            Angarey: 9 Stories and a Play
                       (Translated Anthology)
Year:            2014
Publisher:    Rupa
ISBN:           978-81-291-3108-9
MRP:            Rs 195/-

My latest read is a bit special! It is an English incarnation of a collection that in 1930’s became the harbinger of a new era in Indian literature. You guessed it right! I am talking about the “Progressive Writers’ Movement”. This book, originally authored in Urdu, laid the foundation of a liberal and progressive stance in Indian Urdu and Hindi writing that heavily influenced the literatures in other Indian languages as well. The Urdu word Angarey literally means ‘embers’ and so was the book that generated a lot of heat and arguments due to its out-of-the-box style and ideas.

(Mr. Ahmed Ali)
Angarey’, an anthology of Urdu short stories, was published in December 1932 in Lucknow and was banned in March 1933 for its ‘ultra-progressive’ and ‘blasphemous’ ideas by the government of ‘United Provinces’. Amazingly, the four contributors- Sajjad Zahir, Mahamuduzzafar, Ahmed Ali and the only woman in this brigade, Dr. Rahid Jahan were publicly excoriated but they did not apologize and stayed firm on their stance. The entire stock of this title was burnt and only five copies could be saved. There is much more about it but I would not disclose anymore here, for it will be a spoiler for readers.

Coming to the contents, there are nine stories and one play. The stories give a good peek into the veiled life of Muslim women of that era. The one-act play by Dr. Jahan ‘Behind the Veil’ is set as a dialogue between two upper class Muslim women that reveals a lot about their lives and issues in those times. Another story, ‘Dulari’ By Sajjad Zahir shows how a rich brat spoils the life of his young maid. ‘Heaven Assured’, one of my favorite stories, is a comic take on obsessively religious people. Another favorite of mine is ‘Masculinity’ where a man loses his wife only because he is too touchy and insecure of his reputation in the society. Other stories too, are worth reading. 

(Dr. Rashid Jahan and Mr.Sajjad Zahir)

Through techniques like ‘stream-of-consciousness, ‘interior monologue’ etc. the four authors have vented out their disgust towards the clogged and putrid society that had reduced women into mere objects fit only for recreation and procreation. Overall, ‘Angarey’ shows disdain for puritanical and rotten religious dogmas and ideas and was truly, quite ahead of its times. The translation is good and the foreword has been written by the actress Nadira Zahir Babbar, daughter of Mr. Sajjad Zahir, one of the contributors and major personalities associated with the Progressive Movement.  

 Images from:

Friday, May 16, 2014

On Her Own Way

Silent stream gently braced the cold ashes
As dull moonlight spread on a sooty passage
Zephyr too seemed to hum a poignant note
And dull horizon warned of a tempest above

She walked quietly carrying her infant son
Still in past, somewhat numb to reason
A swarm of people awaited her there
Relatives, elders and many a neighbor

Their eyes, piercing and arrow like
As if mocking the tragedy of her life
“With him gone, you hapless woman!
Mould your life as per the canon
Implore God to wash your sins
Hide from men and lusty urchins
Cut those dark curls & drape white
Avoid rich cuisines, even their sight”

Compelled an old sunken lady
Having passed the diktat already
A frame so frail but voice so rife
As if an authority on banal life
She too saw all this early in age
A fox she was but dressed a sage

Peering eyes and rapacious looks, she saw it all
And then stood up, with spine so erect and tall
Staring back to each nasty eye, started off-
“I lost my beloved but that’s ‘his’ end
He did his own part and went away
Now, I will walk my own way
I too have a life; rather a long one
A son to raise and duties to dispense
Joys shall fill my voids with smile
Brick by brick will intact what’s left behind
I will pick pieces and wear his shoes
Tackle the unkind world, as it goes
Colors will smile again and so will Thee
Those are my plans and rest to destiny”
Calmly she said , clutching her son
Assuring that she expects from none

“You shameless nymph!” cried an old man
“Cover your head and think of God
Respect tradition and now be sad
At least for the sake, shed a tear
But stay away, do not come near
If all the widows will think like her
Society will surely go to the gutter
Dare not have the traditions shatter
Don’t be a blot on our rich culture”

His blood red eyes each like flaming ember
Others joined too-“yes! She must surrender”
“Of course!” shirked an old lady
“Unchaste”, one had certified already

“I will decide which path to follow
For I am neither a wimp, nor hollow
My son will admire a strong mother
Not a loser running from bad weather”

She took up her child and walked on
Towards a new future and a new dawn
The Gods saw this and clapped in bliss
A girl’s aura can a million suns eclipse

Look! There she goes, in search of a new day!
But when every girl would say-
“I respect my esteem, dignity and honor”
“I won’t let myself be pushed to a corner”
“I have a spine and I refuse to be sorry”
Gods will show that lady, her very way to glory!

Being forced to wear white all life, a mourning that never ends, being ostracized from all the family functions and a hundred other mindless restrictions –that’s what any woman’s nightmares are made of. Unfortunately, this is the very life many women lead in some parts of India. Widowhood not only unleashes cruelty and ruthlessness of the society on an already distressed being but our malicious traditions too, suck all her dignity and push her to oblivion.

Sadly, it is not easy to change die-hard perceptions, rotten preconceived notions and redundant customs. In metros and cities where many women are educated, working and self dependent, severity may be less but presence still haunts though in minor shades.

So, kicking hard that putrid double faced society that knows only to force traditions and enjoy cruelty, women should come out of their pigeon-holes and face the world with confidence expecting nothing from this hypocrite world. 

Images from: 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Priest King!

Now this is something awesome! This Harappan artifact that dates to 2200-1900 BC bears an uncanny resemblance to BJP’s Narendra Modi! Interestingly this artifact is called 'The Priest King’ that denotes an important figure or a political icon just like Mr. Modi! 

Seems like a classic case of reincarnation! 

· http://www.punjabkesari.in/news/article-239226

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Book Review- The Little Monk and Other Stories

Title:          The Little Monk and Other Stories
Author:      Gaurahari Das
Publisher:  Rupa & Co.
ISBN:        978-81-291-1699-4
MRP:         Rs 95/-

Reading this book was akin to a pleasant journey to Odisha and a very fulfilling experience in exploring the state’s culture and traditions. The stories throw a lot of light on the life and customs of the state, the rural one in particular. Gaurahari Das is a well known name in Oriya literature. This prolific writer and a recipient of ‘Odisha Sahitya Akademi Award’, has till date authored over 40 titles!

Coming to this book, it is an anthology of 14 stories that were originally written in author’s mother tongue and have been translated beautifully in English. The translation is simple and easy on mind and is free of clichés, grammatical mistakes and irritatingly long sentences. Characters are portrayed well and one can relate to them effortlessly.

Five stories revolve around the elderly and their feelings. The title story, ‘The Little Monk’ is a heart touching account of a child forced to become a monk, his miserable conditions and sordid feelings towards the suffocating sanctuary. ‘Father’, which describes the mixed feelings of an educated but jobless man praying for the early death of his father, shows the deplorable effects of unemployment and poverty. ‘Settling Scores’ is yet another sixer from the author! A high rank government official is given a befitting reply by his ex girlfriend and is shown his real place. While ‘The Glass Puppet’ can literally move one to tears, ‘The illusive Tree’ is easy and comic. Apart from being powerful in concept and narrative, stories like ‘Ahalya’s Wedding’ and Urmila’ reveal a lot and can swirl your emotions.

To state that I loved every bit of this title would not be an exaggeration!