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, March 31, 2009

Tea With Reza--Poem in Mad Swirl

Little glasses warmed by steam
Posing ballerinas pirouetting in silver holders
Glassy eyes too from steaming tears in
Tea-colored eyes
The kettle whistled Reza said, like
The train whizzing past his little
Iranian township that sang
Khoshbakhtam, khoshbakhtam!
Where poplars grew tall, very tall
Reza’s arms ceramic and
Bent bow-like from his time in jail
In a dark cell where he wasn’t given
Books to read or
Newspapers but just lashes and blows
Now and then for reading Marx
At the university
His tealeaf eyelids brimming up
With that memory …
He handed us glasses on silver holders
Held them tender, candles during prayer
The Revolution was not for my
Heart and soul, Reza cried
O my dear comrades, O my friends…
I came to be with you for freedom
And manifestos and democracy
Talks showering morning’s calm
On poplars I loved, my friends loved
Friends who were lost and gone
For singing The Internationale
Their arms bent too, cracked ceramic
Backs scarred, resting in unknown graves
Sometimes letters from prison came
Once a year, till they stopped, mentioning
The smell of tea freshly brewed
Just like this, verses of aroma
Coiling over us during our tea
With Reza one nineties evening…
He still waits in exile.

Read two more poems -- "Ideals of A Fiery Past" and "When Kali Speaks for Us" on Mad Swirl http://www.madswirl.com/content/poetry/Nabina_Das.html. Image from the Internet, dallasnews.com)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Newsroom Novena -- Dada Poem in Maintenant 3

Furry friends, a flamingo forest and a frosty treat
Begging for dough, zapping depression and musical condoms
Chained to the radiator? For our own good, dear reader!
Coveted, French and now in the super malls in your town
Find a life filled to the brim with still more to add
Dice-K on the gyroball, Dow averaged and more and more…
Goofball ‘Office’ salesman living a city dream, not me!
But a date with destiny on the 7th of July (oh, it’s just a date)
Hitting the road for some hot-man-on-bike action, you bet.
Meanwhile, Wallace and Gromit spearhead citizens’ project
And felons are allowed to work at school for the deaf and blind.

The setting is a gay bathhouse in the mid-1970s, you knew.
Is that an actress wearing her uterus on the sleeve? Is that you?
It’s a novena spending time with sound bytes inside heads.

(Originally published in Maintenant 3 Dada poetry journal from Three Rooms Press. Image from the Internet)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

TARA GOES HOME-excerpt from my short story published in INNER VOICES (Mirage Books, India)

(This is an excerpt from my story, a rather large one! I am hoping reader friends would buy a copy of Mirage Books' new contest-winning fiction writers' collection titled INNER VOICES from amazon.com or rediff.com and read several other fantastic writers, among them Sophia Carmalin and Farahdeen Khan, friends of mine...)

As Tara floats in and out of consciousness, strange sounds keep streaming out as if from a different world. Their reverberations keep pouring over her inert body. It all rings in her head, then forces her to wake up. Why is she lying down? She tries remembering. What had happened?

Rumbling raucously the bus she was travelling in had suddenly come to a yelping halt. She faintly recalled her teeth almost got shattered on the seat ahead. Yes, her mouth ached like hell now. The woman behind, the one with the kid, had tumbled off and hit a metal post next to where Tara fell. Incoherent screams rose around her. Seemed the bus had hit something and tilted to one side. Tara even tugged at the fallen woman’s feet trying to help but the boy lurched on to her lap, crying. Then a tumbling human pile further flattened her. Oh God!

Tara finally comes around, a bored female voice invading her consciousness: “Madam, you’re at the government hospital. There are people inquiring after one Tara from Shahdara. Are you Tara Chibber?”

Yes, she is.

Dizzy images of faces contorted in muffled cries and machines humming ominously in the room crowd her tired eyes.
This evening had discovered a new resolute Tara. She finally chose this date on the dog-eared calendar and hopped out with it. A gamble. Surprised at her own ability to wriggle out from her joint family cocoon to reach out to something or someone. Still a little shell-shocked by her own audacity, Tara realised that she’d have to pick a destination or else the bus driver would think Tara’s crazy, sitting on this loop-route like someone’s forgotten piece of belonging. The driver wouldn’t know why she was here or what happened to her when things happened.

There was nothing new in Tara’s routine. No one noticed her anymore in the house. Only a clock on the shelf top nodded in a familiar tick-tock to her. The tacky old Delhi neighbourhood never seemed to get a makeover. Same lifeless saris drying from paint-chipped balconies, same suffocating incense wafting off, and same footsteps on broken stairs while she wandered indoors. Curtains hanging from window brackets danced absentmindedly while she warmed her dinner plate alone. Sat before the television watching news. The room freshener, rose or jasmine, didn’t change either. Not surprising. She’d been living with these sorts of details for unnumbered days.
Tara looked around inside the bus. Office folks were gone. Others were likely out to shop or pay visits. She too could go meet an old friend, call on a relative or shop somewhere. Only, it wasn’t as easy. She rarely went out on her own.
Meanwhile, darkness was descending upon the city like a mushroom, spongy and patchy with fog. Twinkling city lights began appearing, deepening the falling evening. First a hush, then a gurgling glimmer of lights, and then a broad inaudible swish – sweeping billboards started getting illuminated over the grey skyline. Streaks of cars flashed by and each light post stood guard, staring mutely down at the circle of its own shimmer. The mushroom fell like a cosmic parachute. Midway, it floated upside down, perhaps due to the changing twilight breeze. The earth below palpitated, probably from the fear of bearing the dominating weight of the dusk covering its belly in a rapturous embrace, thought Tara. Staring into the night she flipped through the pages of her life.

Twenty-two: She’s married. Laughter, music and merrymaking.

Twenty-three: She’s as fresh as the chrysanthemum in the living room vase, bursting with secret pride, fed and indulged. Tara, watch your step. Don’t lift heavy things. At the threshold of motherhood.

Twenty-four: A secret test confirms a baby girl. She’s forced to get rid of it. This family wants a male heir.

Tara shut the book. It’s too painful.

The wintry evening whirred like a panicky bug, wings stuck on the frosty glass pane of the bus. Tara clutched a little purse, a testament to her barren fortune. A cheap lipstick for lips that had lucked out of its admirer, a compulsive gambler father’s gift of a lottery ticket, a voter ID card, and a few dry petals from a stale-smelling temple where she had grudgingly prayed for a change in her fate.

Aware of the driver’s stare through the mirror, Tara fidgeted. “Madam, do you have a destination? Where are you from and where do you want me to halt,” he must be thinking. A group of teenagers giggled in a huddle. An old man with a crutch waited to get down. As the bus wobbled to a stop, loud middle-aged men with beer breath boarded the bus almost pushing the old man aside. They kept cracking bawdy jokes that tumbled down their silly paunches, unshaven cheeks, crumpled shirts and sloth manners. Tara avoided looking at them. She is not supposed to be seen alone by strangers in an unknown part of the city. Delhi is bad, often bizarre. Someone might recognise her. At the next stop, a woman climbed up with a little boy of about two years. The child, sitting right behind, kept crying. “Shut up Aman,” the mother admonished repeatedly, breaking Tara’s train of thought:

Twenty-six: She has prayed to all those gods and goddesses nestling in golden domes and heavenly canopies. But she fails again. Tara, not a daughter, no.

Twenty-seven: She’s an apparition of herself. She walks about the house in stranger’s footprints. She wants to be lucky. Tara, it’s for family honour that you must find out who inhabits your womb – a son for our only son, not a daughter.

These days her husband was away to London on a business venture. It could take a few months before he was back.

By that time, regain your health, Tara. The family chants like a pack of crazy priests. Offer food in temples, seek blessings, and eat, drink and inhale the pollen that’ll embed the male fruit in your womb.

Outside, Tara saw the mushroom had long fallen on the belly of the earth and split and morphed into a mass of dark shadows, creating fearful inky whirlpools that kept pulling Tara unto them. She felt like howling. She wished to be free and uninvaded. From those that owned her, from the bus driver’s stares in the mirror, from the drunken laughter around, and the harsh “Don’t cry Aman” of the woman behind her. To go home.


Monday, March 23, 2009

INNER VOICES: A Collection of Short Stories By Indian & Foreign Writers

Finally, INNER VOICES is out in print. Hurrah! It is a collection of short stories that came into being after Mirage Books, India, held a worldwide fiction contest in 2008. My short story "Tara Goes Home" was one of the winning entries and it is featured with 49 other writers from India and other countries, among them, my writer/poet friends Farahdeen Khan and Sophia Carmalin. You can order the book on amazon.com or rediff.com or from the publishers directly.

Here's the e-mail from Nikhil Khanna, one of the publishers:

Dear Contestant:
Congratulations! Your short story submitted in response to a contest announced by Mirage Books in 2008 has been published in the book titled ‘Inner Voices’.

Released this week, the book can be ordered online through
www.amazon.com or www.rediff.com. Alternatively, you can place an order for the book directly with us and get a discount of 40% on the listed price (our bulk order price). This offer is for a minimum quantity of10 books, email your address and requirements and we will let you know the shipping charges.

The book is also available at the following stores in Pune:
a) Manneys, Camp
b) The Word, Boottee Street
c) International Book Service, Deccan Gymkhana.

It will also be available at bookshops in major cities of India, along with our other titles, in the next couple of months.

We hope that you enjoy reading the book and, if possible, do get it reviewed ( blogs, magazines, newspapers etc)
Nikhil Khanna
Mirage Books,
Shop 4A, Mayfair Eleganza,
Phase 1, NIBM Road,
Pune – 411 048.
Phone: 020-40052498

Well, more on my work later. Meanwhile, you can order the book for yourself, libraries, book clubs etc. I'll post some excerpts from my story in a few days.

Friday, March 20, 2009

"Love Story Between Composing" on SMOKE Site

You reached
out for the days
of waiting, still-live
cigarette butt-ends
on the expectant
ashtray (the smitten
one) that the Urdu
poet of lilting
lines and starry
fantasies puffed
calling at you
with coiling capers:

Love Story Between Composing

I celebrate this first day of Spring by posting (also my 100th post!) my poem selected for "The Smoking Book". The poem has appeared on this blog as a draft and I am hoping this will be the final version for inclusion in the SMOKE anthology from the small press, POETS WEAR PRADA, specializing in limited edition poetry chapbooks. Also, check out poems by Roxanne Hoffman, Joy Leftow, DubbleX, and Bernard Alain among others on the SMOKE website. Happy Spring!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Conversation With a Woodchuck

he was this goo-green or perhaps it was my imagination because I saw him glide over a gherkin-green lawn with that uncanny shadow cast overhead from an eager cloud not so eager to participate in our conversation
I said hello to my furry friend who was not in a hurry and closed in while he examined my not so woodchuck-like face, which was neither-bird-nor-ant – not ants that crawled very close on the belly of the earth, close enough for him to sniff them whenever there was a shifting sunlight that took all of us from place to place in search of food fuel shelter or things like warm hands or soothing sights – my face
not bird-like because I had stopped shaping my mouth into a beak since long and cooed lesser than usual for I was distraught that winter could still creep in soon like army ants on their strong bellies and shove me indoors
only, I’d stay inside my hay-baled walls, he residing beneath the floorboards of my snap-together pre-fabricated housing unit. Truthfully enough, we had already spent some winters together, I baking my potatoes in a smelly electric oven cautiously dripping drops of olive oil on their curled up skins while he (possibly) enjoying the aroma and munching on seeds he stole the previous spring from my fancy plastic lantern porch bird feeder
no, that’s fine, I tell him I’m not upset because the seeds are taken by you dear woodchuck and are not in the bellies of fickle-minded birds who might have considered hunting grasshoppers by the creek. Of course, the grasshoppers were all extinct because some grass got pulled out by mistake with the predator weed this last summer when school kids invaded the creek
the woodchuck smooths his coat counts his furs while listening to me, nodding and smiling like an otter that eyes flighty fish in front of him, sleepy sunlight shining like rare fish in this hemisphere where we were still allowed to run about for it really was spring
if you wish, do come and sun your back on my porch I tell him because I too am interested in counting his pollen-like furs or the number of times his tail flaps. No I’m fine he says, living beneath your wooden floor during my off hours, he assures me, although your invitation is tempting… he thinks, then
see, right now I’m coiling inside your half-open and unused cauldron of a barbecue grill, rubbing my back on charcoal remnants and eyeing an interfering chickadee that got off the group in order to put a tab on me. I’m showing her my gooey back – oh now you may think it is goo-like with all that charcoal soot – and waiting for her to know I prefer my own company
well, I am so happy, I say. You and I to that effect can now roll on the ground and sniff the grass and tell the world we’re talking, talking, in between I’m throwing sunflower seeds in my mouth as well as towards you. We are talking woodchuck, although I don’t speak in bird trill or have antennas like communicative restless ants. I do understand though that all we love is a pizza-hot sun and blowing away of the dandelion flakes that get inside our nostrils making us both sneezy, and now we’re talking … Yes, we are talking, we are, says the woodchuck, turns his snoozy belly up to the warmth dripping like syrup from the afternoon sky, waiting for me to throw him the sunflowers seeds and roll over to sleep with the words while I keep throwing words towards him on the lawn … one two three.

(poem in progress... Visual from the Internet, LT Cartoons)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Moonlore From the East

What if the man's face in the moon wasn't a man
At all but a woman? A friend asked me.

I said it was always a woman to me, the moon
For she charted our lives from inside and outside
In cycles
That’s how we looked at the moon from towns
By swollen rivers
And eastern monsoon winds.

My first pets were rabbits etched on the moon
Seen from my bedroom window
When storytelling was a rite and people sifted truth from lies.
I wasn’t yet called a moon-faced siren then
Until it became a new moon.

If you’re a hunter, fisherman,
Farmer, gardener,
You know what the moon does to you, your
Forests, noisy crickets and dreamy skies
She’s a jealous rival or a benevolent ladylove.

Earlier the fishermen of my coasts cast lines
Measuring phases of the moon;

If they found her moody and sad
Like their wives or doting like a mother

They stopped wars in honor of the woman-moon
Even when she marched on through her waning
Left-handed gibbous.

They’ve forgotten that pride.

(First published in The Toronto Quarterly, Jan 09. Order copies on lulu.com. Photograph from my porch -- 2008 full lunar eclipse in progress.)
NOTES: The Moon, as is the Sun, often in Indian lore, is male. "Chandamama" is literally "moon uncle", whereas in some other parts of the subcontinent, the moon is a woman, elderly and loving. A female's progression from girlhood to womanhood is quite commonly compared to the moon's growing phases. As in other parts of the world, the moon in this region is also a source of myth for emotions, upheavals, changes.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Post by Gulnaz Sheikh-"also of moon beams and lizards"

Read my blogger friend Gulnaz Sheikh's mesmerizing reflections in "also of moon beams and lizards". About herself, she says: "saint or a sinner, depending on the provocation or the mood. Most times, just an ordinary woman enjoying the sweet and the sour of life." And from knowing her and her blog ~Apple Pathways~, I can assure, she is one fantastic person who embraces the sweet and the sour of life, adding her own unique flavor to them...

A peek into this piece:

i want to write about something light and frothy today, let me write about you. oh there i go again! the night air is sweet, the moonbeams are dancing in the courtyard, solitary dancers. why is my mouth bitter.

Read more at http://the-apple-pathways.blogspot.com/2005_10_01_archive.html.

Photograph provided by Gulnaz, taken by her father one evening in Bombay.

Friday, March 6, 2009

IN PERSPECTIVE -- poem re-print in Shalla Magazine

Shalla Magazine has re-printed my poem "In Perspective" in their Spring 2009 issue (http://www.shallamagazine.com/issues/winter_blooms_issue/Spring_Issue_poetry.php#inPerspective). The poem was first published in The Cartier Street Review. I am pasting the poem below again for all to read.

in Perspective

by Nabina Das

Earlier it was mile-long street-corner speeches

Popcorn peppered with stinging remarks

Holding hands standing close behind the bustle

Listening to arguments acrid as boiling oil

Partying after elders went home to sleep

Smoking, rehearsing lines for street plays

Riding a rickety bike through the outskirts of

Towns seen on TV - now cindered, broken

Lovemaking endlessly, sleeping in, sharing

News and rumors about paramilitary in town

How they called after lonely girls, after school

Clicked their guns, exhibited silly manliness

Before the cameras and boom mikes it was nice

Every one called every one a friend, at least once

Nagaon, Baramullah, Imphal had weekend markets

Veggies, flowers, knick-knacks people loved

Before insurgency, every one got happy and drunk

Now they have closed tea-shops fearing bombs

Clothes dried in the sun before threats were heard,

No one walks or plays in those courtyards now

Newspapers quote: ‘Things seemed calmer before’

And we wonder if they’re still stunned like the dead.

This was a bit of nice surprise. I heard about Shalla from poet Nikesh Murali whose poem was nominated for the Pushcart prize a couple of years ago. Although I submitted this poem -- Shalla publishes only previously published work -- to them, I wasn't sure what was going to happen to it.

Shalla Magazine's e-mail read thus (you don't really have to read this):

"Congratulations, your submission is now featured on SHALLA Magazine!
See it at SHALLA Magazine: http://www.shallamagazine.com/
Congratulations again—oh, and did I tell you? You are in now in the running for being nominated for the prestigious Pushcart Prize. There will be 6 winning writers chosen in 2009—please check SHALLA Magazine sometime in December when we start posting those results.
Will you be nominated for the Pushcart Prize? Good luck!
Shalla DeGuzman
Editor & Publisher"

Apparently, work submitted to Shalla Magazine is first scanned by an acquiring editors, if it passes that phase, it goes to the guest assistant editors, if it passes that phase, it goes to one of the guest editors, if it passes that it goes to one of the editors, then to Shalla DeGuzman. Whew! Reason to feel good I guess!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Two Dada poems in Maintenant 3 (Three Rooms Press)

Got final word today from Kathi Georges of Three Rooms Press (http://www.threeroomspress.blogspot.com/), NY. I had submitted three poems for their new edition of Dada poetry magazine called "Maintenant 3". Out of those, "Newsroom Novena" and "When Kali Speaks for Us" have been taken for publication. Maintenant 3 will be released on March 20 in NYC at Cornelia Cafe. Friend and poet Joy Leftow will be reading/performing her work there. Don't miss it if you are there!
Kathi is one energetic poet, performer and organizer and Three Rooms Press is well known as a "publisher of poetry and plays. Producer of unique happenings in New York, L.A., S.F., Las Vegas, Paris, Lublin, Kythera, Marseille, and Cape May."

What made me write poetry that's categorized as "Dada"? Or are my poems really Dada? I've been reading about Dada movement ever since my school days (and that's a long time ago, believe me). Whether the term caters to abstractism or antiart, Dadaism has a wide scope. It lives on in its overtures to a postmodernist trend in art and writing. What I've been writing can be called Dada for a large part, in its approach to our postmodern world and in its critique aimed at art that is ordered, structured and is a subversion. Didn't well known Dadaist Hugo Ball say: "For us, art is not an end in itself ... but it is an opportunity for the true perception and criticism of the times we live in"?

And in this time of worldwide economic distress, ever widening inequality, specter of wars (unbelievable!), Dadaism can be heard loud and clear.

Oh, one little anecdote. How did that word "Dada" come about, I've heard being asked. I'd urge you to see Wikipedia (2.1 Origin of the word Dada).

Meanwhile, I must say I love Tristan Tzara, the very name that embodies Dada today.

And, thanks a ton to Kathi for bringing out this journal and keeping the Dada tradition alive. Check out her site for happenings in March.