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

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sarai-CSDS Associate Fellowship 2010: What I Propose to Do

My associate fellowship with Sarai-CSDS's "City as Studio" has started. It's an exciting, artistic endeavor, to continue till July-August 2010 when all the fellows meet and share their work in a workshop in Delhi. I'd be happy to share part of what I wrote in my proposal, essentially my thought process that is evolving as I write and create. A few things will therefore change down the line. In all, it's a highly integrative work that accords plenty of creative space to us participants. Being the only writer in the team I look forward to learning from the other fellows who are performance, digital and media artists, each with interesting projects.

Jajabor: The Migrant City

Someone once said: writers have a soul that cannot even stay in heaven; it will journey on. As a writer, I see my nomad self traverse myths and histories, and idioms and images from the cities of my origin to the cities of my dreams. What I encounter in the process is, “Jajabor – The Migrant City”, my proposed project.

The Migrant City walks with millions. It is my studio, my study.

Dr. Bhupen Hazarika’s Assamese song “Moi eti jajabor” (I am a nomad) is perhaps known to a significant number of people at least from its lilting tune. The universal appeal of this melodious song lies in the fact that it exhorts the urge in every human to undertake journeys through difficult climes and terrains. From the banks of known rivers to unknown city streets, we trek with the song until the beauty of the world unravels itself for the seeking soul, tired by her sojourns.

However, putting aside the romance of the nomad’s journey if we look at timeless works such as Pather Panchali, another aspect of the universal truth emerges. Poverty and suffering has constituted the age-old paradigm of migration, forcing populations to leave their ancestral homes. What befell Harihar-Sarbajoya-Apu-Durga in Satyajit Ray’s classic movie is a fate many carry even today, in conditions worse than ever, given India's monumental caste-class problems. While the city waits to receive them, it turns into a migrant itself. With the migrant feet that have journeyed from village to town to city, and in turn from city to city in their endless quest for life and love, the city too has followed the migrant souls, temporally and spatially. Decade by decade and block by block.

My work speaks about waves of population coming and receding from the city, while the city itself changes its landscape, its borders and barriers, and its topography of urban dwellings. High-rise blocks dot housing areas that earlier flaunted old-world asbestos-roofed homes; pavements appear or disappear; mushrooming shopping malls come to exist with the crowd milling around in flea markets where migrants bring in their fare of beads, crafts and colours. A view from below best illustrates this. It indeed shows us how the marginalized and her search for a life of respect in the urban jungle affects the entity of city itself. Shops, bazaars, slums, construction sites etc. come up and continue with the migrant’s evolution or doom. A fascinating journey indeed, the Migrant City walks from a temple town to a city newsroom to a First World seminar room and even back.

A bilingual born and brought up in Guwahati, Assam, my city for me was a conduit for my double-edged heritage. The born-into heritage of Assam and the cultural-political influences of Guwahati from the ‘70s to the late ’80s prepared me for a longer haul ahead. Also, the inherited legacy of an undivided pre-Partition Bengal-Assam whose part my parents were, made me look back every now and then in search of idioms I want to re-create for myself. Sylhet, Sunamganj, Dhaka, Guwahati, Tezpur, Kolkata, Delhi – the train of cities in my experience does not obliterate one another, but supports the link each provides to the other. Often I felt that I have watched these cities, including even my birthplace, from the archway. The centre never held on.

Later when I moved to Delhi, standing at the threshold of the city and not truly belonging to any ONE place enhanced my “city” perception in a particular way. There I saw the imaginary city juxtaposed with the so-called real one with its spaces of "to-do’s and not-to-do’s", it signage of "the allowed and the disallowed", and its collective of "the walled and the un-walled". A Migrant City!

The migrant city in fact, walked and ran with me and even flew across the Atlantic to North America where I witnessed the City and the Inhabitant interact in very special ways – ties of work, specialized training, globalised trade, new culture orientation, economic and knowledge aspirations, etc. bind the Migrant City to its population – whether it is a university town in rural America or the coasts or the Big Apple itself.

Through my poems Dialogues with Delhi (published in Kritya, India), Questionnaire (published in Omega journal, Howling Dog Press, USA), Narrative Limits (2nd Prize winner in 2008 all-India poetry contest under HarperCollins-India and Open Space, published in the collection 'Borders' from Talking Poetry), Her Gardens in Two Hemispheres (published in Muse India), Battery Park City, Sem(an)tics and City Siblings; and the essays Pariscope (published in Troubadour 21, USA) of the ongoing “Euro-series”, and the work-in-progress Felinity of the “Assam-Delhi- series”, I want to bring alive the Migrant City in its different aspects.

Three tentative segments seem viable under the main project “Jajabor: The Migrant City”:

  1. Text and the City: my poems that dialogue with the City and the Inhabitant – this will result in a workshop with other artists/participants
  2. Hands and Hemispheres: my essays that follow the life of the City and the Inhabitant in their reality and fictionality across continents, as I see these elements from the periphery of cities – this will result in another interactive workshop possibly with oral stories of migrant experiences
  3. Within-Without: poems, essays, haiku on “City Memorabilia” – songs, videos, advertisements, monuments, street signs, restaurants, slums, bazaars, skylines… – this could team up with a partner artist’s presentation, one who has highlighted similar “city memorabilia”.

I'd love to hear my readers' suggestions. The creative effort is an interactive process, so come on, give me your ideas!

Image from Internet: Elephant on Delhi road; REUTERS


Tim Buck said...

Reminds me a little of Calvino's INVISIBLE CITIES. And makes me think of other forlorn people on the move, like those in Sebald's THE EMIGRANTS. And even a Serbian theatre group, who not knowing the language, persevered in setting up a dramatic workshop in Canada (stage themes addressed bridging the language barriers).

I love this project you are engaged with. So much space for your imagination to roam and create. So much of your experience to leaven the work, make it rise toward universal themes. A fine place for already written poems to find communion with other dedicated souls.

After a couple paragraphs, I was wondering if this would be strictly about India. And then *pow* -- there it was: crossing continents to discern layered congruences. Kudos, my cosmopolitan friend! :)

Maybe I'll have something more particular or substantial to say later. For now, I'm simply excited for you and for this venture!

fleuve-souterrain said...

It's a train of terrific thoughts that you have unleashed here Tim! Calvino is a favorite... his "Invisible Cities" resound not only in the descriptions of Kubla Khan's empire but baits us to imagine even Superman's metropolis! well, such is the work of a creative writer. Thanks for supporting it in such a creative way :)... Will read Sebald. I know of that text a little... Talking to you on this was a pleasure.

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