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, 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

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