About FOOTPRINTS IN THE BAJRA (Cedar Books, New Delhi); By Nabina Das

"Fittingly for a poet, Nabina’s novel also has a strong lyrical core. 'Footprints in the Bajra' takes the homely image of the millet field as its central metaphor. ... But the novel is less a thriller about guerrilla action than a subtly colored character study of a fascinating group of individuals who intersect at various points in their lives ..." -- DEBRA CASTILLO, author, editor and distinguished professor (Cornell University, April 17, 2010).

Footprints in the Bajra is a serious book that moves at a smart uncontrived pace. It voices deep concerns about how and why the deprived and the marginalized in certain parts of our country join the Maoist ranks; how they adopt desperate and often terrible measures to wrench justice and to make their voices heard... a confident debut novel, a good read, which will leave you with plenty to mull over. -- PRITI AISOLA, author (See Paris for Me, Penguin-India, 2009) in DANSE MACABRE XXXIV.

In her debut novel, Nabina Das writes about an India where social divides stand taller than multistoried shopping malls. Footprints in the Bajra, inspired by what she saw while touring the interiors of Bihar as part of a travelling theatre group, inquires into why the Maoists have an influence over a large section of Indian society. Das talked to Uttara Choudhury in New York about her book, and its protagonist Muskaan -- DAILY NEWS AND ANALYSIS, Mumbai, March 28, 2010.


"The interspersion of references from both the West and India do not clash. Shakespeare and Lazarus as reference points are brought in with ease, as also Valmiki and Goddess Chhinnamasta, and nothing jars ... The language is poetic and creates visual images of beauty and ugliness side by side." -- ABHA IYENGAR, poet (Yearnings: Serene Woods, 2010) and fiction writer in MUSE INDIA, May-Jun 2010

Shwetank Dubey says Nabina Das ably recreates the milieu of Maoist-infested regions of India -- Nabina Das has chosen the first person account of narrating a story from the main characters of the novel, Nora the sheherwali (urban dweller), Muskaan the rebel, Suryakant Sahay the crafty clandestine planner and Avadhut the frontrunner of all the operations... the book deals with something that no urban resident is bound to know on his own — the life and times of people living in Maoist infested areas and why do they give in to the temptation provided by the Red Brigade. -- PIONEER newspaper, April 25, 2010.
'"If you misrepresent them, they'll abduct and kill you," says Muskaan, our hostess'... goes the first line with which Nabina Das settles everything about her novel -- style, subject and pace... Excellent plotline. Wonderful detail. A beautifully crafted book. -- Karunamay Sinha; THE STATESMAN, Sunday supplement "8th Day", May 16, 2010.

"This is bitter-sweet, if a rather longish tale of a modern-day Maoist revolution and the seeds of destruction and betrayal that lie embedded in it." -- Business World, May 17, 2010

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Joy&DubbleX Fan Club

For anyone who likes the poetry, music & arts produced by Joy&DubbleX.Joy has been on the NYC poetry scene since the early 90's. Back then she hosted an entertainment show for Cable Access called "Inner Joy" & also was an editor for the New Press Literary Quarterly in addition to hosting a reading for them. Her book, A Spot of Bleach & Other Poems and Prose was published by Big Foot Press in 2006. Joy runs a yearly poetry music event for the Wahi (Washington heights & Inwood) Art Stroll. Her other publication credits are too numerous to list here. She currently does editing & writing for Augustus Publishing.DubbleX has been writing his entire life and playing music. His artistry helps keep him sane. DubbleX teaches in public schools.

Check out (clicking on the post title will also take you there): http://violetwrites.googlepages.com/dubblex&joyleftow

After I befriended Joy on Facebook, oh yes, that much talked about (no skepticism now!!) networking site, my poetry got referred to several good places and was even picked up for publication in quite a few journals and zines. Also, Joy is a fantastic person for feedback and advice, a kind heart who reaches out to help even if you never ask her. Dx's poetry rocks with a natural rhythm and is a constant source of inspiration.

I do have one poem of Joy Leftow posted on my site: TUPELO HONEY. Do check that out too! New Year cheers to all!

Monday, December 29, 2008

My dad's latest blogpost: IN THE SHADOW OF FAMINE

It holds a special meaning for me to read my father's blogposts, however infrequent these may be. Not because he has been a column writer and commentator in local newspapers and other publications from a long time. Mainly because, for a person aged 70-odd, using the Internet happens to be a completely new and unrelatable skill for all his years of job, writing, activism and knowledge gathering. Now he uses the e-mail, speaks to us across seas using Skype and blogs now and then.

This account below is not just deeply touching but it also happens to be a slice of history. His repository of commentaries is an oral history that I have always found to be of utmost relevance -- something that should be recorded in some manner.

Go to his blog Old Man River or the specific link to read: http://pbdasmailing.blogspot.com/2008/12/in-shadow-of-famine.html

Friday, December 26, 2008

Serendipity, Allow Me a Dream

Wrote this poem at some one's request on the theme of "weaving dreams"... As the year closes on, probably dream weaving is something I will indeed try do in earnest! This one is a rather melancholy poem although the given topic is supposed to generate hope, also a little lost and deeply coiled within, like a lot of my obscure thoughts. Nevertheless, for my friends:

I do this often, immerse my face in
The drifting melody of speed,
Throbbing, expecting
Pushing towards a pool of unknownness that sails slowly
Like a lost boat come home after tidal winds are dead.

Leaf falls and yesteryears do
Make up some of its urgency,
Nagging, irritating fly
That snaps its sticky wings and revisits doorsteps of a house
Called memory, its driveway almost always messy.

My dream hovers above meandering
Pessimism, a mountain,
Like an elephant gone to die
In peace and relative grandeur where motions kneel down
Aware that the wind takes scraps away to its bare-wall den

I wonder if then you hear songs
With birds sitting on thorns,
Bloodied to their core,
And while caravans lose paths in the swirling sea-sands
Nights pass taking stones with names inscribed and hewn

Tell me then why we need to belt
And buckle to our seats
For a fur-flung destiny
And hold our hands when verses wither off like ink or seeds
No raccoon would eat, only this planet would dream in bits

I sieve those dreams when everything’s
Gone to a dusk of rest
Beyond a highway run
Where your guns and sheep come bleating for a final kill.
I’m someone with a question still slung on her breast

Perhaps there’s a new sea rising
Over your brazen hand
I see its dazzle at night
Serendipity, let me weave a dream that creates boats and homes –
A web of hopefulness we wake up to in blossom-smelling lands.
Photo from Internet

Friday, December 19, 2008

One Place To Go

There was no place to go
When winter dimmed
There was this all that came to light
When sacred fires skimmed our faces over fences of memory
I waited for the unfed Santa-man on my school's sidewalk
He didn't give, but begged for coins
For him there was no sweet crumbs baking
Warm dishes squealing in the little arc of holiday lights
Also there was this fat nun-teacher in our section who did a jig for us
She tall and big, sang throaty carols in the name of deserts, donkey and a child
We saw that kid everyday near the pale woman by the shops
She wore rags like royal attire and a smile to light the brightest
Candles lit by my Catholic neighbor that competed
With my grandma's heathen oil lamp flames chasing the Sun-god
Running askew at solstice behind the sky
To flicker till the rays fell straighter on her dew-soaked Tulsi
Grandma would scatter puja grains and chant her Uttarayana mantras
And tell me about a path that leads to a garden
Of ceremonies where we apparently could share
Sugardrop laughs with my classmate Maria Joseph -- also Humeira and Maya
There, where incense sticks burned around ravishing firepits,
There was no place for lines or walls
There was no place to go other than
Longings for prim days that opened their doors wearing festive shades.
Picture from Internet: Surya, the sun-god
(This poem has been written for this holiday season on a special prompt by the very helpful blogspot poetswhoblog's "Twelve Days of Poetry")

Monday, December 8, 2008

Pop Goes Delhi!

South Asia Curator of Cornell University, Bronwen Bledsoe, a very funky and friendly personality, is coming to town. That is Delhi. Where I am these days. She I came to know recently through Prof. Debra Castillo of Cornell in Ithaca. Debbie, the lovely angelic soul that she is, had very kindly suggested my name to Bronwen as one of the people to meet up, for planning a Bollywood series in collaboration with Cornell Cinema. Later about that.

Now Bronwen is touring South Asia and China regarding her own work and researching on Subcontinental pop culture (she is a historian, and in her words, everything is "pop to a medievalist" like her!!). I'm damn glad I have a chance to meet her again. Hopefully at least a couple of times we will have delightful discussions on Bollywood, food and neo-urban customs.

That brings me to think: what is pop culture in Delhi without a Big Fat Punjabi wedding anyway? Something in the style of "Monsoon Wedding"! In fact, I just came through one in the family, my sister-in-law's wedding, held pretty true to medium-budget (ha!) Bollywood flicks. Every ritual seemed important as well as mindless at times and yet we enjoyed so much! Now IF I can take Bronwen to a loud, pompous, alcohol-infused, raucous DJ-music-ridden, obscenely intricate crystal-and-gold lehenga-carpet-curtain-cover-draped farmhouse or clubhouse wedding, I'd say both of us will instantly know more about pop culture than any astute researcher poring over books or a computer screen.

Or, we can take it easy and just eat and drink and laze about in Dilli Haat or Crafts Bazaar in Pragati Maidan or scrounge around in Janpath. Also visit my alma mater JNU.

If my readers have any suggestions, kindly write in about what to do in the name of pop culture in Delhi.
Photo (from Internet): Diwali decorations on sale

Monday, December 1, 2008

Usha Akella's editorial in the forthcoming issue of Muse India

I shall be posting the 2009 January Muse India link when it goes live. In the meanwhile, here is an e-mail and a sneak peek of the editorial by this Diaspora issue's guest editor Usha Akella. I'm pretty excited that my poem appears with hers in the urban poetry anthology SHEHER (Frog Books). Parts of the editorial that I have vested interest in, have been boldfaced...

"Dear Friends:

While sharing with you, the contributors, the editorial to the January 2009 http://www.museindia.com/ that includes your work, I'd like to say a heartfelt thank you for submitting in time and being part of this exciting project. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to connect and savor your work. Please do not forget to check out the website in January.

The submission period and editing is closed as of today and henceforth direct any queries/needs/requirements you might have to GSP Surya Rao, the manager of museindia.com at gsprao2003@yahoo.co.in. My participation in the project ends today but I hope that this is the beginning of new friendships, projects and shared kinship between us. For me, poetry has always been about the connections and friends it brings.

I'd love your feedback to the editorial. I sincerely intended to pay tribute to all of you and to the poetry we write so I hope it does you justice.


Usha Akella"

Dense with words, a homecoming
Diaspora poets, USA
By Usha Akella

When G.S.P. Surya Rao invited me to edit this issue, I had an opportunity to connect with the unseen community I belong to- the US Diasporic poets. On reading the poems sent to me there was an instant familiarity- the gnawing, simultaneous claiming and disclaiming within our sensibilities, and the passionate ownership of words to heal/acknowledge/define/transcend that fluidity. I felt I had just entered the country I truly belonged to- a country with many post offices. To quote Rajarshi Singh, 'For it is not simply a tale of one promised land.'

I am hugely delighted to share with you the poems of Ravi Shankar, Reetika Vazirani, Ralph Nazareth, Pramila Venkateswaran, Soham Patel, Saleem Peeradina, Pireeni Sundaralingam, Meena Alexander, Goutam Datta, Kazim Ali, Ro Gunetilleke , Nabina Das and Rajarshi Singh. (For various reasons, I was unable to include the work of Vijay Seshadri, Prageeta Sharma, Sana Mulji Dutt, Amitava Kumar and Agha Shahid Ali which to me would have rendered this issue 'complete.')

I delivered an impromptu speech at the Calicut International Book Fair, Kerala, October 2007 somewhat bewildered by the decades old, and to me, passé debate if Indian poets writing in English are authentic enough:

I am glad for this opportunity to finally confront my own personal history. I write in English. I dream in English. I blunder in English. I know no other way. This was circumstantial, and we must not be guilty of our circumstances or our personal and national histories. I accessed my Indian culture in English as a child. And my culture accesses me via my English poetry today… When English is unceasingly and scathingly targeted as foreign, I wonder why do we not ask the same question of Urdu? After all this language too is the language that emerged as a result of invasion and occupation. We have allowed time for a process of assimilation for this language and accept it as intrinsic to the land. Where is the spirit of generosity, absorption and inclusiveness that to me is the quintessence of India. Do we ask the question, are Punjabis Indian? Are Tamils Indian? Are Muslims. Indian? Are Christians Indian? What is pure Indian? Is this an answerable question?

English is here to stay because English more than any other Indian language has evidenced the spirit of adaptability and absorption. How many kinds of English exist within India alone! Like a river taking on the characteristic of the land it flows through, English has the incredible flexibility to morph according to the mother language of the speaker. English is the only language that is able to access an Indian sensibility not just a regional sensibility- and thankfully! In some sense, this issue being debated in English is like a brain observing itself.

I now have a golden chance to tear down a few walls. Pireeni Sundaralingam enquired if she was eligible for the issue, given that she is not Indian. "I was born in Sri Lanka and lived in both Europe and the US but, sadly, not India." She was welcomed with Ro Gunetilleke, and on reading their work we will be glad of the hospitality extended. I'd like to think India softened its borders in this issue.

I am glad to honor the poetry of late Reetika Vazirani who seemed slated for a great poetic career Her exquisite poetry evokes jazz, chant, lamentation and celebration. I thought it appropriate to include two prose pieces in this issue- an interview with Ram Devineni, the founder of Rattapallax and a staunch promoter of poetry; and poet Goutam Datta's foreword to the anthology A mingling of waters. Goutam and Ram collaborate to bring American poets to Kolkata. (Check out Goutam's new online Literary journal, http://www.urhalpool.com/, a contemporary Bengali-English bilingual webzine. The next issue of Rattapallax is devoted to Bengali poetry)

I felt that this is an editorial that should be heard from the poet's mouth- what it is to be bracketed by twin realities. I asked the poets to provide an artist statement and the fascinating array evidenced an acute awareness of identity, poetics and displacement. Poets by definition are natural immigrants 'comfortable' in exile- both inner and outer.

Saleem Peeradina states this suspension with a lucid image in 'Song of the Makeover':

Where travelers reaching their destination
Discover they are lost. An error of navigation,

A trick of perception, crunches two realities
Into a single space

Ironically, the parenthesis itself becomes the figure for Diaspora - the release from India and an unceasing unfoldment from her. A poetry, this complex, can never be wholly contained by geographical extremities or even psychological ones, and is constantly re-imaging and imagining itself beyond its own scope.

Perhaps, in the land of language, India is Kazim Ali's vowel and America his consonant. Both are needed to speak, and to contain, to find the silence from which words must come.

Ralph Nazareth's poems froth in a furious awareness of fragmentation. 'Try to take India away from me, and I'm like my dog, fierce in defense of his bone.' This could be called a poetry from a borderland fully lucid of its sleep walking. Perhaps, there is no better way to portray it than Pramila Venkateswaran. She writes poems 'Early in the morning in the silent hour between sleep and waking.' In contrast, for Soham Patel, India is the noise and music, the magic that keeps her rhythm. Ravi Shankar poems whirl delighted in the substance of words, spiraling within the contours of language to find their center. Like Nabina Das, if only we could perceive our world as an amble in two gardens savoring two different bouquets. For Meena Alexander poetry is an expanse in which Meera meets Ginsberg. Poetry can ask for no more!

In conclusion, I say to Pireeni and the company I am in, let's "find each other in foreign lands."

Usha Akella