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, March 31, 2010

Snoetry Video on Crisis Chronicles Online Library

My Snoetry Video is up on Crisis Chronicles Online Library curated by poet and spoken-word artist John Burroughs.

We went up to Erie, PA, on Jan 16, for the Snoetry: A Winter Wordfest (see entry and photos here) where more than 40 poets had gathered from many US states. I was one of the featured poets.

You can also see the video here on You Tube.

The poetry, music and bonhomie took place in Last Wordsmith Book Shoppe, formerly owned by Megan Collins, another friend. John made all the videos on behalf of Lix and Kix Productions.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Luit On Our Tongues -- One River-Story Poem in Print

Four poems are out in the latest issue of INDIAN LITERATURE, the flagship journal of Sahitya Akademi (the national academy of letters in India). You have seen some of these poems workshopped here and there...

My river-stories are not always pastoral. Having grown up in an Assam that has seen much strife and struggle, the Luit (Brahmaputra) is my man-river in different roles -- a friend, a cradling solace, or an injured mad god (how could a god be injured you may ask, but I bring my poetic entities to live my life, ergo, a human life...).

Read this river-story:

Luit On Our Tongues

We were five or six, men and children

in a tempo, that rackety raucous vehicle

With three capricious wheels heading

towards Sonitpur, our vacation, where

Mangoes had ripened summer’s belly with

the monsoon’s heavy showering grace

The usual route was flooded, abandoned

Luit had licked it wet, fungal, even after

The water receded; this was our Old Luit

father kept telling me how the Red River

Has its liquid name from the colour red

after a battleaxe washed itself, lots of blood

Now there are bridges that drown currents

hurrying us in buses and cars in a riverine flow

The Bodo teacher sitting just next to us said

the river does actually speak the curious hue

In gurgles by his village sweeping in a chant:

Bhullum-buthur. He smiled. Bhullum-buthur

Bubbles in the head, the mad water’s dance

the Brahmaputra in news and TV he knew

It still gurgles day and night, another man said

like human voices when slashed, when spent

Gasps bhullum-buthur in river tongue, the dead

so did our Luit, took stories along and lives

Between conversations from the diverted route

we saw the faraway river gone red-eyed with mud

The blood all faded, perhaps the colour of the red-

ness entrenched like the leftover evening sun.

The other titles published in IL are: "No Country, No Names"; "Gandhari's Eyes", and "A She-Ghost can only call Names".

Image from my computer: Setting sun on the Luit (Brahmaputra), Assam.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sketch-poem in Graffiti Kolkata Broadside, March 2010

My sketch-poem is in GRAFFITI KOLKATA BROADSIDE (March 2010) published by poet-artist-bookstore owner friend Subhankar Das.

Subh believes in poetry as a movement and makes all effort to take it to every nook and corner of the city of Kolkata where he resides. To every sidewalk, to all alleyways, to each market place. Personally I find the broadside to be an innovative venture. It embodies art, songs, protest, music and that wonderful uniqueness of being that comes from understanding that poetry is voice.

You can see my poem DOORS VS. DARKNESS and the accompanying sketch in the top right corner. Also read it in its original form among the other sketch-poems I wrote here.

The one published above is slightly altered:


Silent waters upon door frames of words:
the choice is the clarity of shards that
My face splatters like meters: a welcome
chant in verse

Sunday, March 14, 2010

"Disgrace" & "The Kite Runner": What the Body Brokers

Quite a few movies this last week and the weekend. Not a binge, but it is something that happens once a while. You need the wide screen of human happenings to take over your senses. There was a time when I used to sit down and write about each and movie I'd watch, whether at the cinema theater or on the TV screen. That urge has become selective. And after this recent movie-melange, the two that stuck to my mind are THE KITE RUNNER and DISGRACE.

Not apparently similar, the two movies slammed me with their overtones of violence, a proximity of ideas. Violence on the human body. As a means of change, as a means of indicating change or forcing change.

The little Hazara boy being raped/sodomized by the teenaged Pashtun Afghans is a motif carefully nurtured in The Kite Runner. Identity and nation is the subject of "change" here. Ironically, it is the Hazara -- perceived as ethnically the "other" -- who stays back in a Kabul ravaged by first the Soviet-Afghan war and then by the excesses of Taliban, and struggles to bring up a family until he is killed. Most other Afghan characters, the 'accepted and identified' ones, reside either in Pakistan or the US, having run away from the nation's all-pervasive infamy. The protagonist's reclaiming of the offspring of the Hazara character (the protagonist's half-brother -- see how the kinship links gray the 'identity' canvas?) through his father's illicit affair with the servant's wife, completes the circle of acceptance and closure.

Disgrace is more complex I think. The arrogant and suave (definitely elderly) professor's seduction of his young student, the resulting suspension from his university, and the generational disconnection to his surrounding (other than his own passion in Romantic Poetry) in a post-apartheid South Africa followed by his country-settled, lesbian daughter's rape by three young Black boys, again point to the ideation of the still-troubled nation. Its supposedly recognizable signs, its noncommittal position of identity formation (the daughter gets pregnant from the rape), and the relative notion of shame or disgrace.

The professor finally seeks a closure with his surrounding, that too by euthanizing stray dogs, dogs that he is so used to set upon the "other", the Blacks who have become the 'new' owner of their own nation. Before that he has been on his knees asking for the forgiveness of his aggrieved student's family. All this while, having no qualms about prostitutes of color on their knees imparting him the sexual favors.

South Africa, Afghanistan, post-Apartheid, post-colonial, post-war, mixed-race, multi-ethnic. The stage evolves.

Pretty much like the peace brokered between the violated-daughter (which one, you ask, the White or the "cappuccino") with either a marital contract with her Black neighbor or with the race-symbolism of a college play. It could even be the freedom to fly and run kites, with roles reversed.


In other thoughts, there's this joke about "paternity accidents" I heard the other day. Americans have great interest in tracing back their ancestry (probably common elsewhere too). And that mostly by paternity. One could be a descendant of the King of England or the Arch Duke of Prussia, but no one exactly knows what might have happened on the Mayflower to momma dear. The topic came up during a dinner and movie (it happened to be my birthday, March 13). I was mentioning a "family tree" scroll that my father has in his possession. More about that later!

Image from the Internet: from The Kite Runner

Monday, March 8, 2010

"The Limbo" -- Essay Published in Troubadour 21

The Migrant City, my writing project supported by an Associate Fellowship from Sarai-CSDS (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies) is a collection of essays and poetry.

Most recently, the essay "The Limbo" is published on TROUBADOUR 21...

Under the series titled DILLIGAF (I know, I know!), it is set in Delhi -- the city of djinns and jagged edges ...!

Here's a teaser:

"The Ferris wheel sways up and down in a maverick fashion. Faces bob and bait me. Men in kurtas, humid tees and even unwashed shirt collars. Women a multitude of colourful heads – pink, red, ochre – covered with sari pallavs or transparent salwar-kameez veils. Kids walk between adult knees. Flower petals fall down crushed in fervent hands and the invisible vermillion powder in the hot air suffocates me. The auto sputters, barely moves.

“I need a smoke,” says my driver. “But someone might be offended.”

I contemplate walking down but remember what happened once. Devotees pushing; someone’s hand in my pocket quickly scrounging for material items; another hand even on my butt, pressing and persuasive. But all this should be Maya. Or magic. You can’t see who does it and how."
Read it in full HERE.

Image from the Internet: Vehicles on Delhi road.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

First "Footprints" Review Published

A review of my novel "Footprints in the Bajra" has been published in DANSE MACABRE XXXIII by Priti Aisola, author of "See Paris for Me" (Penguin India 2009).

Also, excerpts are up on that literary journal for you to sample.

Here's a portion from what Priti writes:

"The book has a very assured beginning that draws you into it rapidly. The very first image where Muskaan ‘swats my (Nora’s) attention as though it were a distracted fly bumbling over a new odour’, gives ample evidence of the writer’s confident craft as she adeptly thrusts you forward through the sharp turns in her story. Set against the backdrop of the bajra fields for a large part, these fields become a major multi-faceted character in the story – with a singular voice, mood and an eventful terrible history. While the bajra provides nourriture, it also hides death. It is life-sustaining; it is treacherous. It harbours miscreants and also gives refuge to the wounded. It is green; it is blood-stained. It is ‘verdant’; it is ‘murky’. It is ‘a sea of murmur’, ‘a dark green flood.’ It is alive – it breathes ominously; it murmurs, whispers, rustles, speaks of bloody insurgents, their unrelenting armed struggle, killings, and equally heinous reprisals by the landowners. Yes, it is ‘the bloody bajra fields where life and death overlap each other’, collide with each other.

The bajra field is a ghastly ‘womb’ which brings forth only noxious fruit. Yet, it will change. It has footprints of those who chase, hunt out and those who fall prey. Yet, it will change by and by. It will bear other footprints (not traitorous ones) and yield a more wholesome harvest, we hope. Nabina Das delineates all this beautifully in the complex symbolism of the bajra fields. There are other fields of action too – New York, Delhi, Patna, and two or three villages – and in each of these the characters leave their footprints. Hopefully the ugly ones will be effaced. The Delhi chapter is called ‘Footprints in the Sun’ – a fresh, evocative image.

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. And this sets in motion other reactions, often violent and punitive. Personally, I liked the first half of the book better because it is more imbued with atmosphere. The second half is more theatrically eventful. Dialogue is Nabina’s forte. Written with relaxed ease, it is true to life and character. This novel will lend itself wonderfully, readily, to a script for a movie, serious and engrossing at the same time, with the right mix of ideology, romance, friendship, murder, retribution, artful scheming and social welfare, to make it a good watch."
Hope you can get a copy of FOOTPRINTS IN THE BAJRA for yourself. Right now available on Rediff for ordering in India and on Cedar Books' parent company website for international purchase.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Holi Hullabaloo!

March, one morning. Spring festival on my university campus. Holi. Colors -- powder, water balloons, water guns, even buckets of colored water...! Friends finish a quick breakfast and rush out to meet on the Jhelum Lawns. On the open stage teams are assembling to sing and parody -- it's the "Chaat Sammelan" (sorry, no translation!). We've already had the traditional bhaang drink from the kitchen staff who'd soon take the day off, and we're getting high with the riding sun forcing open flower buds. Someone's got sweets from home. We eat. We throw colors on friends and even a few strangers. We sing. Loud, boisterous. Clap and dance too. The lawn becomes a pink-red-yellow-green cloud. We float on it. It's spring, so some loves are sworn. Some are spurned too. Later, our group flocks to professors' quarters to wish them. We get more colors and some more snack to nibble on! By late afternoon, we want to shower and sleep. One lone guy, still high on the cannabis, sits under a tree and beats a drum.

Even I can't stop humming : Chalat musafir moh liyo re // pinjrewali muniyaa // udd udd baithi panwadiya dukaniyaa // beedey ka sara ras le liyo re pinjrewali muniyaa //...!!

A song about the 'muniya' bird enticing travelers, pecking off on sweets and coloring its beak with the taint of 'paan' -- double entendre all the way!

Image from the Internet: Brent Lewin