Sabarna Roy is a much awarded, critically acclaimed bestselling author of 6 literary books: Pentacles; Frosted Glass; Abyss; Winter Poems; Random Subterranean Mosaic: 2012 – 2018, and Etchings of the First Quarter of 2020. He is the lead author of a technical book, which has been published from the European Union and has been translated into 8 major European languages.
He has been awarded the Literoma Laureate Award in 2019, Literoma Star Achiever Award 2020, Random Subterranean Mosaic: 2012 – 2018 won the best book of the year 2019, the A List Award for excellence in fiction by the NewsX Media House, Certificate for The Real Super Heroes for spreading a spirit of positivity and hope during the COVID-19 Pandemic from Forever Star India Award 2020, and the Certificate for Participation in the Indo Russian Friendship Celebration 2020.
1. Intuition is the key to understanding and unlocking of any kind of mystery. Whatever enables the power of intuition is good for the human race. And, this power is also genetic but requires intense nurturing. Educational institutions especially would have to pitch in in this effort. Munich University where Albert Einstein had studied and many other great intellectuals did, was/is a place, which is famous for nurturing intuitive geniuses. What makes an institution so special? I wonder but get no specific answer. There are many things operating at the same time: autonomy and non-interference of the political establishment, the liberal atmosphere, the quality of the faculty and infrastructure, the faculty-student ratio, the faculty-student relationship, the way classes are delivered, the syllabi, stress on creative and thinking capabilities rather than on the mugging and examination mode, permissibility of various opinions to co-exist, and, possibly many other things. In India the reverse is happening now; well, it has happened earlier as well but now things are taking a very worse shape. Take the examples of: Trinamool’s interference in every administrative step in the cases of Jadavpur University and Presidency University in Kolkata (earlier the Left Front had literally killed all the educational institutions worth its repute in Kolkata barring JU and Presidency College, which are now being gobbled up by the present dispensation) and the primeval comments of Dr. Subramaniam Swamy when he was mooted to become the VC of JNU.
2. In my late youth I saw her for the first time on a train. Immediately thereafter I started conjuring an indescribable companionship with her. I chased her for years. Later I came to know she is a happy mother of two bonny sons. She would not give me any attention for she had a secret lover too.
3. In Fallen Man, I made Rahul – my protagonist – to retreat into the mountains with his old mother, having been defeated in life in a growing metropolis.
It was a childhood dream I nurtured in my soul that when I would grow old enough I would live with my mother alone in a high mountain.
But then life has very different things in store for you!
You become a different man as you grow up and confuse yourself with the choices that life offers you.
4. During my University days in the dry summer months (March 15 to May 15) I had a strange obsession of roaming around the labyrinthine deserted alleys of North Calcutta in the afternoons when the scorching sunshine would cause havoc on my shoulders and back, and middlemen, traders and housewives and children would be enjoying a desperate siesta in their cool and shaded bedrooms. Occasionally, to rejuvenate myself, I would smoke a cigarette and drink a cup of syrupy milk tea at a forlorn street-corner. Where did this passion stem from? When I look back now it seems it was an effort to transpose my loneliness onto the parched, dilapidated and crumbling ambience of Calcutta that was gradually withering. During these walks I have come across strange faces looking at me from the shadowy iron-grilled openings of the tall windows of old mansions (probably tenants forcibly occupying spaces of decaying rich families because of the laxity the Rent Control Act provides to tenants – coming to think of it a pretty smart colonial way of redistribution of wealth). Some of the grotesque faces are etched on the walls of my consciousness till now. Mementos of memory in a loner’s studio. This was also the time when I was introduced to Bismillah Khan’s shehnai and D V Paluskar’s bhajans. Rendition of shehnai recital is a tradition at Indian weddings – presumably a happy occasion. But Bismillah saab’s rendition had an underlying melancholic glory, which attracted me early on. In the bhajans of Paluskar (although I was a non-believer at that time and remain so till date) I could recognize the echoes and angst of the lonely faithful devotee, which left me in awe. My afternoon walks would be accompanied by Bismillah saab’s wind instrument and Paluskar ji’s voice playing in the dark recesses of my mind. Background score!
5. You demystify one cloud. Another appears. You demystify this cloud, that cloud appears. Between this cloud and that cloud there are other clouds. And, then there are many other clouds. The series is relentless and unending.
Human beings are secret islands. Their actions are not completely comprehensible. Why they act in a specific way, is a secret that lies deeply embedded in their own souls! Yet we trust human beings – islands of secrets – in due course of time. Specifically and generally. The science of trust is by and large a very mysterious science.
6. Some erotic stories do not kick-start in our lifetime although they have the potential spark to generate enormous electricity. On the other hand there are many erotic stories that wither away in the long run with time like leaves die. We all go through a mixture of such stories in our lives. The stories that did not start linger in our mind like dolorous reminders – what if! Mind you, the potential of those uninitiated stories to change the course of our lives, including how we evolve as persons, is very high compared to the initiated stories of erotic love.
7. Reverse jump cut – in the past – 25 years – almost – approximately – a full-moon night – after midnight – on the terrace of a G+3 newly built apartment block – on the fringes of the city violently pushing against the margins of a crumbling suburban landscape – full of dreams – a series of conquests – a bright disc of silver hanging in the sky – an elderly friend of mine and I – a telescope in between us – a gazer of stars and galaxies – well, planning to show me what is a sky and infinite continents of space – a wise man – hating my absolute love for rock music – dismissing it as ‘boyish elitism’.
A night redefined!
We smoked hard. We smoked hard – only nicotine fellas! We discussed Dakghar. We recited Wasteland. Death was looming large on our sub-conscious.
Then he asked me to take a drooling walk to the phallic instrument chilling in the night – his love and work of love.
“Boy you could look at the moon both ends from! This end from it looks like a shining piece of nut. And this end from it blazes on you like a scorching sun … So you see; there is nothing right or wrong!”
I asked parched in smoke, “Is there no perfect way of life on earth? Ideals to follow? Creating and adding on to the civilization of men? No right and wrong! Live like dogs, do we?”
He whispered in my ears, “You hate dogs, don’t you? There are ways. There are no ways still. A creative man must learn to suffer multiple takes on life. A creative man must strive for his absolute solitude to unburden his load on us. He walks through the world but returns to his cave. Your cave is this universe of galaxies, constellations and pacing heavenly bodies. You are a banished soul attempting to be a part of this colossal space. Don’t you feel like that? How tiny you are, my boy!”
We fell silent for a long time – looking at the sky – and then we fell asleep! Dreaming: this sleep will take us away …
8. Sanchita Guha aka Mimi, my very talented saali, wanted me to write my own obit page in her friend’s blog. I thought about it and concluded that I would never remember a wasted monkey (and, fat) like me. So why would anybody else remember me! Secondly, I would neither like to be remembered because I just do not qualify the minimum credentials. I have been cruel, selfish (now that my children are grown-up I have also started hating children: angels of light and hope), self-centered and vulgar all my life. I have never stood up for anybody or even myself (that is the biggest crime I have done). I have never been overwhelmed by the sufferings of fellow human beings. I have always looked the other way. Contrarily I have put on the mask of a concerned gentleman looking for an eager audience. I am not gentle in any case; I am arrogant. I have not enjoyed my life for I was never passionate enough. My comparison of myself to a monkey is misplaced, I am factually worse than a monkey. And monkeys are not bad by any stretch of imagination, Mimi would agree with me. Am I a godzila then? Animal lovers like Mimi would protest my comparison of wretched me to the varied heavenly animals on this planet. I have no consistent body of work. I cannot sing. Nor can I play any musical instrument. I cannot even dance. In the name of love, I have done duties by actually organizing them through others. Secretly, I have always wished to own a company of slaves who would be at my beck and call. I am a good womaniser (although I am fat) and I have neglected even this talent of mine. What a perverse waste of your only life?
9. If we would make museums out of our memories they would serve as very good benchmarks to understand our own lives. And some of them would be works of art, which could be appreciated by one and all. What stops us from making personal and private museums? Effort, of course, because you would require tons of it and patience in doing so. This idea struck me when I was reading Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence a few years back. We as a nation and also as a continent are not much inclined towards museum construction, refurbishment and maintenance and also paying a visit to a museum. Our major museums are poorly maintained and attended. Museum is a habit of the West – mainly, Europe. Our own museums unlike the public museums should be reconstruction of our own lives, revolving around all kinds of incidents and anecdotes: happy, pensive, important, unimportant, passionate, compassionate, all. This will have substantial anthropological value and would require training, which should be inculcated at the school and high-school levels. Museum construction requires a meeting of various kinds of skills. This will throw up a serious branch of training not to be trapped in the mugging-and-examination mode and would seriously become a fountainhead for many hidden talents to flower. At the end of the day, we take resort to serious art because we want to comprehend our own incomprehensible lives. What better way could there be if we could recreate it with our own hands and brain?
10. Nowadays I cannot argue beyond a point of making my case, that is all; I have just lost the steam. Another proof that I have become an old man. I love listening to various points of view instead. I will make my opening move and then withdraw. There was a time when I was a reasonably good debater. Well, long time back … maybe. I also do not feel the emotion of anger nowadays. There is more or less a feeling of resignation. In general, I am always searching for words while talking in a group. But I am very comfortable while writing. One thing that I love is silence: locked inside a chilly, deathly-silent room with random thoughts passing through my mind like a north-westerly wind. Silence excites thoughts.
Fiction flourishes in contradiction: Pak author Mira Sethi
In a country where assertive self-expression can be frowned upon, how to be yourself? Maybe through sneaky networks of solidarity, by improvising identities as one navigates life…
While many of the characters in author Mira Sethi’s debut story collection ‘Are you Enjoying?’ (Bloomsbury India) are professional performers, even those who are not, can be skilled chameleons.
“To live in a society with strong views about what constitutes ‘virtue’ and ‘vice’, means, as a citizen, having to alter and contort one’s authentic self in order to survive. Roshan, the queer chai-boy on the set of ‘Breezy Blessings’ says to Mehak, the actress: ‘About drama, you know nothing.’ She may be the actress, but as a queer person navigating middle-class Pakistani society, he understands everything about drama, and how to communicate effectively via code, innuendo, signal,” Mira Sethi tells IANS.
As the characters in the stories strive for personal freedom, the author asserts that they are in fact trying to throw off the straitjacket imposed by society — how does one negotiate personal freedom in a traditional society?
“I wanted to show both the resilience of my characters, but also the vulnerability of people caught between the pull of the past, and the lure of modernity. Family – the imperatives of fathers and mothers – is a major theme in the book; there was a desire to portray how the burdensome pressures of family (the past) interact with (modern) aspirations of young, urban people,” she says.
Taking around six years to write the book, ‘Breezy Blessings’ was the first story she wrote.
“I would email myself snippets, thoughts and observations. It was only after I wrote the first draft of ‘Breezy Blessings’ (in my gmail inbox!) that I opened a Word document, and began taking myself seriously as a writer,” the writer-actor says with a smile.
Stressing that she draws from the sights and sounds encountered in life – the power dynamics on the set of a show, the ways in which Urdu and English are mixed and her lived experience as an observer and participant in Pakistani life, Sethi works best in the mornings, before she has interacted with anyone, the space when her mind is blank slate.
“I sometimes won’t shower until 5 or 6 pm until I’ve had four good hours of writing. Flow-state writing is hard to achieve, but I find I’m able to do it if I start first thing in the morning. Of course, then getting up to make breakfast is an interruption.”
Talk to her about the brilliant fiction in English from Pakistani origin writers in the past two decades, and she feels that fiction flourishes in contradiction.
Adding that Pakistan is a society in transition, and there is a lot of tension to be harnessed in the space between the laws of the state, not to mention the ways in which they interact with individual desire and autonomy, the author adds, “Young people get their news – and their aspirations – from social media and television. Their desires are secular, but the frameworks into which these people are born are traditionalist.”
Ask her about the experience of growing up in a progressive family in a religious country, and Sethi, daughter of well-known journalists Najam Sethi and Jugnu Mohsin, who has also been seen in Pakistani serials including ‘Silvatein’ and ‘Mohabat Subh Ka Sitara Hai’, says, “Identity politics play out in unusual ways in a country like Pakistan, where labels like ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ can mean different things depending on their context. I’m happy my book has been able to navigate the dignity of people who often don’t fit in.”
But has she felt the ‘burden’ of being born to famous parents? “Not when it comes to writing fiction,” she smiles.
For someone who feels that she would be a poorer writer if it weren’t for acting, there is another book brewing, “I believe so, but I’ll find out when there are words, stumbles and fumbles on the page.”
source: The Statesman
‘Eid in the Days of Plague’: This short story is born of the imagination in a time of grim reality
It was an old settlement, yet darkness enveloped it. There were buildings spreading from the railway station to the hills as far as the eye could see, but essentially it seemed like a cobbled-up slum. There was a temple on the hilltop opposite the station. If one viewed the settlement from the courtyard of the temple, a minaret was visible.
This was the minaret of the local Jama Masjid, and it was shaped like a rocket. It felt as if this rocket would take off on its own towards space, never to return. There were two small bulbs at the mouth of the rocket. One red, one green. These would be used till some years ago to declare the timings for sehri and iftar.
A mosque had now been constructed in every alley of the settlement, and each mosque had four to five loudspeakers. So now the blessed sound of the azaan would reach every home. In fact, so many sounds would reach each home that sometimes the pious would fight with others in their family at the time for sahri or iftar about whether that sound of the azaan was from their mosque or not.
On the other hand, the electric supply would play hide and seek with the settlement. This can also be explained thus that the administration played hide and seek with the enclave. This is why the bulbs on top of the minaret continued to be of use. The bulbs were connected to a generator that a welfare organisation had donated to the Jama Masjid.
Twenty or twenty-five years ago, the population of the settlement was still quite low. In those years, an epidemic of hate broke out in the city next to the settlement.
During this time, the rakshasas that had run away from Lanka at the time of Lord Ram’s attack also descended as the wrath of the city. It is said that the rakshasas have been wandering around the subcontinent for years and whenever they descend on a city, it comes under the sway of blood and fire. Nobody knows who is behind this veil of blood and fire.
Under the attack of the rakshasas and the outbreak of hatred the city had turned into Lanka. Arson was all around, corpses were everywhere. Thousands of people succumbed to this epidemic of hate. The foreign journalists analysing this pandemic of hate were of the opinion that those people succumbed more to this outbreak whose honourable names included Arabic sounds.
Thus, once the epidemic of hate came to an end and the rakshasas headed towards a different city, those with Arabic names migrated away from the town, leaving their hearts behind. Most people from the city came and settled in this enclave. These people founded the Jama Masjid. Although this is also a fact that this settlement is only an hour’s commute away from the city, but the distance between the lives of those who live here and the city is that of a century.
Pardon me, I was saying that the enclave was old and the darkness was deep. There were buildings spreading from the railway station to the hills as far as the eye could see, but essentially it seemed like a cobbled-up slum. On the third story of a building in this slum was the home of Begum Sughra, the mother of Musarrat Jehan.
Musarrat Jehan had once gone to the temple on the hilltop opposite the railway station and stared at the settlement for long. She had felt as if the enclave was a refugee camp. Looking at the rocket-shaped minaret she had remembered that its shadow fell on her home every evening. Looking at the mammoth shadow she would often feel that the minaret was really a war missile under whose presence the whole settlement was safe.
Two expert linguists lived in the enclave. Their opinion differed from everyone else. They would say that if most people in a settlement had names constituted of Arabic sounds then it is safe from the epidemic of hate, but the chances for plague increase.
The majority of the people in the enclave were not familiar with these linguists and those who were did not take them seriously. The truth of the matter is that even both the linguists did not take each other’s linguistic opinions seriously, but, coincidentally, both agreed on the linguistic theory about the plague.
Pardon me, I was saying that the settlement was old and the darkness was deep. There were buildings spreading from the railway station to the hills as far as the eye could see, but essentially it seemed like a cobbled-up slum. On the third story of a building in this slum was the home of Begum Sughra, the mother of Musarrat Jehan.
Musarrat Jehan used to love someone and would meet him on the sly. Twice the boy had taken her to the famous beach of the city, where he had treated her to paani-puri.
There were many turns yet to come in this tale of love, but one day Musarrat, her lover, and her lover’s friend – all disappeared. After three days, under mysterious circumstances, their bodies were found covered in blood, miles away from the enclave. In fact, they were not found, but reported on TV. The mediawallahs were saying that these people had joined the enemies of the country.
Some people were saying that government officials had gauged that these people had caught the plague. It was therefore dangerous for them to have remained alive. There were as many accounts and interpretations as there were newspapers and channels.
Begum Sughra was incapacitated with grief. After a few days when the shock lessened, a few old men and members of political parties of the settlement began to visit her. They would ask Begum Sughra and her relatives many questions in confidence: Did Musarrat refer to the days of the epidemic of hate? Did she give the message of the dissolution of borders? Did she read those books that have the false stories of rise and fall inscribed in them?
With every envoy there would be one or two government officials or spies of the state machinery about whom no one was aware. In fact, one spy did not know about the other. Their faces would be lined with such deep lines of grief that the residents of the building would feel that they must be some relatives of Begum Sughra. Not only would these despondent-faced spies memorise Begum Sughra’s statements word by word, they would also draw a sketch of the expressions of everyone present in their minds.
Following Musarrat’s demise, the theory of the linguists gradually became common knowledge in the settlement. At the corners of the enclave, at tea stalls, colleges, mosques, shrines, and squares, people would include each other in this secret with whispered tones that if most people in a settlement have names constituted of Arabic sounds, then it is safe from the epidemic of hate, but the chances for plague increase.
After a year, Sughra Begum heard that among the people of the settlement and those who knew the settlement this story was commonly accepted that Musarrat had caught the plague and the cause of her mysterious death was also the plague.
Sughra Begum had accepted Musarrat’s mysterious death as Allah’s will, but this she could not accept at any cost that, post-mortem, Musarrat should be connected to such a disease that can be the cause of the destruction of the whole enclave.
She decided that she would go to court to discover the cause of Musarrat’s mysterious death. When she made an announcement about this, some people came forward to help. Most of them were from other places. The officials of the place where Musarrat’s corpse was discovered far away from the enclave tried their best to prevent these busybodies and Begum Sughra’s lawyer from the going to court or to entrap them in its intricacies.
Consequently, the case got stuck in the judicial morass.
Despite this, every now and then, Sughra Begum’s hopes would be raised that the judgment would come in her favour and that Musarrat’s soul would find some peace. But then this hope would turn into a desert of hopelessness, over which she would spread a mat and offer namaz night and day and pray to Allah for his help from the void to prove that Musarrat had not caught the plague. The desert was soulless. Begum Sughra’s prayers became ever longer. Her knees would cramp, and her toes would go numb. The prayer mat was now starting to smell of her tears.
I digressed again –
I was telling that the settlement was old and the darkness was deep. There were buildings spreading from the railway station to the hills as far as the eye could see, but essentially it seemed like a cobbled-up slum. On the third story of a building in this slum was the home of Begum Sughra, the mother of Musarrat Jehan. It was the last night of the Ramzan. Begum Sughra had spent the whole month reciting the Qur’an and in worship. Seeing the waxing crescent of the Eid moon, she turned towards her bed, and her eyes suddenly teared. A flood of Musarrat’s memories rose in her heart.
Every year after the sighting of the Eid moon, most girls from the building would gather on this very bed to get mehndi made on their hands from Musarrat. Musarrat would sit at the edge of the bed and by turn draw flowers and paisleys on each of their hands. The girls would secretly request Musarrat to inscribe an English letter amongst the flowers and paisleys.
Musarrat would demand to know details about their secret love in exchange for inscribing that letter, and the girls would coyly tell many details about their lovers.
Rounds of tea would begin and sweets would appear from the neighbours’ homes. It would be one merry gathering.
But since Musarrat’s mysterious death, once this news spread that she had died of plague, the building’s girls gradually stopped coming to their home. Silence reigned here now. As if everything had died with Musarrat’s mysterious death. Even the flowers on the curtains on the windows had wilted. The colour of the ceiling had faded. Plaster was peeling off the walls in many places. A hinge on a door had come loose. The house had become a grave in which Sughra Begum had been interred alive.
Sughra Begum sat next to the bed and sobbed copiously for long. She did not even remember that she had not turned on the tube light. Darkness had deepened inside the house. Despite the night of the first moon, every corner of the house was shrouded in a speechless calamity and a feeling of deprivation deepening the gaping dark.
If one looked from the courtyard of the temple on the hilltop opposite the railway station, then a strange halo of darkness appeared atop Begum Sughra’s building. It felt as if there was a black hole there, where all light was getting buried. Above the sharp rays of twilight in the sky, the crescent of the new moon was swimming in grief. People had not even gazed upon it to their heart’s content when it sank.
The crescent moon had not only seen the misfortune, despair, and deprivation spreading over Begum Sughra’s home. It had also seen such hellish darkness over many homes in many enclaves across the country, where the residents of these houses all carried this grief and clamour that why was this being said about their family members – who had disappeared or whose mangled corpses had turned up many miles away from their homes or those who were in the state’s custody – that they were affected by the plague?
Translated from “Taauun Ke Dixon Mein Eid”, published in 2014.
HR-turned-Author, Jyoti Jha Releases Cover of her Upcoming Masterpiece!
Books are not only a source of inspiration but also an act of escapism into a parallel world. However, there are certain books, that speak to their readers through the realities of life. ‘The Realms of Human Emotions’ by Jyoti Jha is one such book that provides an immersive experience to the readers impactfully drawn from the spheres of human emotions from regular living.
Emotions define us as human beings and influence our existence around the relationships we dwell with. One that can be dealt with various aspects of feelings, perceptions, attitudes, and intentions, and intricate relationships entangled around those. Through this book and the compelling and captivating stories, the author is all set to entrance the readers exploring those emotions.
An HR-turned-Author, Jyoti Jha who has recently signed a deal with Literia Insight is delighted to release the cover of her upcoming masterpiece ‘The Realms of Human Emotions’. The artistic portrayal of colours and the succinct title are prepared to intrigue the readers to delve into the layers of human sentiments through various stories, setups, characters, and incidents.
Talking at the eve of the release of the book cover, Jyoti Jha shared her insights on the central theme around which the stories in the book revolve. In the words of the author Jyoti Jha-
“Emotions that compel our actions and influence our decisions, and yet we often have uncertainty around expressing our emotions and acknowledging our feelings.
With this book, I attempt to explore the layers of human emotions and communicate to the readers through different characters drawn from some factual accounts and diverse figments of imagination sketched across the stratum of the human psychosomatic canvas.
The stories in the book intend to portray human experiences that continually strive to find a balance between the outer hurricane of sentiments and an inner vortex of fervours. At the same time endeavouring to align individual emotions that delicately blend with the relationships around them.”
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