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, May 27, 2009

In The Eye Of The Storm-Kolkata post

Here I am in Kolkata. In the month of May. Sizzling heat, 90-100F, wrapping me up in its belly. The beast is merciless in its radiating 'hotness' but kind in its lack of discrimination. The sky is clear after a massive cyclone that hit the state of West Bengal a couple of days ago, one of its kind to occur in the last 3o years apparently. The aftermath is soothing in terms of life resuming in all spheres -- vendors, officegoers, students, daily workers, businesspeople back out in their bikes, rickshaws, cars, buses, et al -- but very unnerving when I look around to see there are swathes of neighborhoods without electricity, water and other essential services.

Last night as we came down by the efficient Kolkata Metro from Park Street to Tollygunge, the air seemed rife with discontent on the road outside . Taxis, autorickshaws and cycle rickshaws were disgruntled about the fact that roads ahead were jammed by angry residents, shopkeepers and random well wishers. How long could one live without essential services? And why won't then different modes of public transport charge triple the amount from route passengers? In this melee, the buses looked like ripped open sardine cans, human hands, legs and heads hanging rather graphically from the bare wooden windows and footboards. But the faces were alive.

I was not witnessing any uprising of any kind. No revolution or battle rally. A simple flare-up based around inconveniences that occur on and off around public life here. Some times it is the unique cyclone. At other times it is real political barricades, power line tripping, summer blind rage, monsoon's expected torrents or rare miscreants upsetting the public system. But no one raised their voices beyond a tolerable decibel. No one touched anyone around the collar or pushed and jostled. The aggrieved addressed the perceived privileged as sirs and madams. Only eye brows twitched and lips got pursed. Sweat streamed under shirts and saris but no one uttered one foul word. Women and kids were quickly allowed to cross all protest protocol and moved to calmer zones.

My ties with Kolkata are old, very old. Right from the days of my families' ancestors. Some of them studied here, practised as lawyers, did politics, were even born here, etc. I am not too fond of the title City of Joy for Kolkata. There is too much pain, sweat and daily struggle here that I don't want to eulogize and much less endure myself if I have to live here. In the word of poet Nirendranath Chakravarti (b. 1924, http://india.poetryinternationalweb.org/piw_cms/cms/cms_module/index.php?obj_id=11156)
however, Kolkata has evoked rhythms in my heart every time I visited it, some times jarring and cacophonous and quite often, a raga melody hankering after the sweet sadness of losing something:

Estrangement, and

[1]There’s moss a little below
the surface of the water,
you can see it if you lean just a
but she doesn’t care to, she’s sent
her gaze off
in search of the red rose.
I watch, from dawn to dusk I watch
how like estranged love and
longing it keeps moving endlessly,
the water moss. (read the rest from the link above...)

Having lived in the US for seven years now, was I surprised at the above incidents? Why do I then blog about this? No answer really, but something compelled me to record this. Red Communist flags of the ruling state administration and tricolor grass motifs of the recently victorious Trinamool (grassroots) Congress fluttered around shop tops made of sooty tarp or tin. But no one seemed interested in a party-based blame game really. All that was registered was protest. Peaceful and persuasive. Despite the summer heat and remnants of the furious cyclone strewn about.

What we, those alien to the system or a visitor after a long time, would categorize as madness had a method of human quotient that I would probably not witness in ordinary circumstances gone awry even in most countries I have visited in Europe or America.


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