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

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

5 Poems in OMEGA 7--Assam-Bengal Legacies as I see Them

OMEGA 7 journal (Howling Dog Press) has been released (November, 2009). Five new poems of mine are featured among the many wonderful ones from an array of writers. The magazine, completely edited and designed by Michael Annis who selected the accompanying artwork by Henry Avignon, in one word, is stunning! Read my poems from Pg 190-193 here.

The five titles are:

  • Dead River Longings

  • For Sukanta

  • Questionnaire

  • History Lessons: 1950

  • The Korobi Song

No. 1 and 4 are Assam-themed. Insurgency and civil unrest cannot escape any writer who has grown up in Assam in the 1980s and 90s. "Dead River..." and "Korobi" are testimonies to that fact. Terrorism, secret killings, abduction, muffling free voices -- much before the global media started hyping up their own stories, Assam has been experiencing all of that. And even today, Assam, and most of northeastern India, remain scarred. Born and brought up in Guwahati, Assam, to me these moments in history never leave my consciousness.

"Sukanta" harks to the poet from Bengal I devoured as a teenager. For a hugely talented writer who passed away at 21, just a few months before India gained Independence in 1947, Sukanta Bhattacharya's voice was a clarion call to arrest imperialism, capitalism and warmongering (I use this word in my poem to a slight objection from poet and friend Nikesh Murali, but he said the poem was otherwise fantastic!).

Last but not the least, "History Lessons..." is almost personal history. My father was a young 'political prisoner' in Rajshahi Central Jail (in the erstwhile East Pakistan) for Leftwing activities. A firing was ordered on April 24, 1950, to quell unrest among the inmates. Seven died and several were injured in that tragedy, among them my father. Read the account in his post "Twentyfourth April". He blogs at Old Man River.

In a salute to my twin legacies I'm posting these two poems out of the five here:

History Lessons: 1950

From rag-wearing villages

of Bengal, they crossed mustard fields, dark

swamps, small rivers in crowded

ferries with a bit of Mars attached

to bodies, a crater from that 1950’s day

of becoming history books

when they rattled

metal bowls & glasses

told the masters there won’t

be any compromise.

Won’t listen

Won’t eat

Will want

all rights to be restored

to dialogue, to be heard

they spoke & they smirked

handholding their tiny fates.

They stood behind iron bars

with backs to a faded

wall uninvaded. Stood in a

Eight by eight

Feet cell, angry

Tired as hell

That was when, his cheeks

smelled of fresh lime leaves

the beard on his chin grew hard

like lotus stalk the soldiers knew

from childhood (they swam with

them in lotus ponds), yet

they fired. Left uprooted trees,

piles of jellyfish drying on a deserted

seashore. The molten moon falling in

a swift swipe, between porous

pebble & muck, he saw

the inside of his thigh a Martian

blotch. A bullet. A red-hot cave of

history lessons the land still hides.

(From my father’s recounting of the 1950 Rajshahi Jail Uprising in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, where he was one of the participants)

Dead River Longings

That was a poet who pined for a sickle-curved river

Golden perhaps or emitting a glitter through its ripples

The river name evoked glinted crop crowns; he wrote about

Jade paddy fields sliced by crow yells and bloodied streams.

That was a poet who walked the morose city streets alone

Uttering words usually unspeaking, like flow and tide;

In stumps of concrete habitats he did graffiti of a rising sea.

In such forgetfulness, some say drunken stupor, he died

Cut by a car when street cleaners came dusting the morning.

Or was he beaten unconscious and thrown by the police?

Out on the dirt, because the bugger wouldn’t stop chanting

About his mist-shadowed river of dying ivory dolphins

That buried incoherent songs in soft mud made softer by

Human waste. What haste hides is that he came back after

Moon’s wane, on his lips: that river, ujani, is still my bride.

NOTE: The poem "Questionnaire" is a legacy of my own global mishmash!

Image from the Internet: Sukanta Bhattacharya; Korobi or yellow oleander.


Rhett said...

That's way too much water, or blood shall we say, under the bridge. Can't readily identify with the intense passion - the poem kind of goes insane with passion and seems to howl - like that poet.

fleuve-souterrain said...

Kush, this edition of Omega journal is a thematic one... read all the others there, you'll see a theme.

If one contributes to let's say, a war anthology, one can't cringe to read about about battle and destruction!
... besides I don;t expect everyone to understand the Assam and Bengal partition legacies. But your last line "the poem kind of goes insane with passion and seems to howl" kind of tell me you got the hang of it! thanks for reading.

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fleuve-souterrain said...

How about I send a basket of yellow oleanders! The Korobi-gift!

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