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, January 31, 2010

Bajra (PEAR MILLET) in my book FOOTPRINTS...


"ಸಜ್ಜೆ (Sajje in Kannada); கம்பு (Kambu in Tamil); बाजरा (Bajra in Urdu,Punjabi and Hindi), बाजरी (Bajri in Marathi), సజ్జలు (Sajjalu in Telugu)

Pearl millet is well adapted to production systems characterized by drought, low soil fertility, and high temperature. It performs well in soils with high salinity or low pH. Because of its tolerance to difficult growing conditions, it can be grown in areas where other cereal crops, such as maize or wheat, would not survive.
In its traditional growing areas in India and many African countries, pearl millet is consumed in the form of leavened or unleavened breads, porridges, boiled or steamed foods, and (alcoholic) beverages. In the Sahel and elsewhere in West Africa, pearl millet is an important ingredient of couscous. The stalks are a valued building material, fuel and livestock feed.

India is the largest producer of pearl millet. It is primarily consumed in the states of Gujarat and Rajasthan"

My book describes a little bit about Bajra swathes in Bihar, in the fictional north Bihar village of Durjanpur. For fact, Bihar has only some areas under millet cultivation, where erratic irrigation programs and vagaries of weather largely impact the output.

Info from Wikipedia; Image from Wikipedia.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Selected as an Associate Fellow, SARAI-CSDS project, City as Studio

I am selected as an Associate Fellow by Sarai-CSDS (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies) for their exciting project "City as Studio". Here is the list of all the selected Associate Fellows, an interesting mix of artists from various media.

The blurb about me appears like this:

"1. Nabina Das, Delhi
nabinamail at yahoo.com

Nabina Das is a poet, writer, editor based in New Delhi.
Her novel, 'Footprints in the Bajra' is forthcoming from Cedar Books (Pustak Mahal), India.

Nabina's explorations for the Studio entail working on a series of poems that dialogue with the City and its Inhabitants, resulting in a workshop with other artists/participants. Her project is tentatively titled, 'Jajabor: The Migrant City'. She will work with other artists, writers, studio participants on creating poems, essays, haikus on “City Memorabilia” – songs, videos, advertisements, monuments, street signs, restaurants, slums, bazaars, skylines…"
The project runs from February to August 2010. A workshop in July-August will require me to be present in New Delhi. A final report will be submitted to Sarai-CSDS by November.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

FOOTPRINTS IN THE BAJRA: My Novel is Published

Good news! My novel FOOTPRINTS IN THE BAJRA is out!

Published by Cedar Books, India, Footprints is about an India that is too strange to believe, yet is a reality for thousands of its citizens crouching at the margins.

A story about a slice of rural India, it is written from an urban perspective, mainly from the point of view the two main protagonists, while each chapter is a first-person narrative voice from the chief characters.

Footprints looks into the life of a young Maoist recruit -- a teenaged girl named Muskaan -- the way it spirals through bloodshed, retaliation, deception and yet, brings out her elemental dreams of life and love.

Maoism has been repeatedly touted by many in India as a greater "threat" than even the global (read, Al Qaeda) or cross-border (Indo-Pakistan) terrorism, with the government not quite able to get its head around the phenomenon. Maoism, the allegedly romantic refuge of the country's rural denizens, is not exactly a path strewn with roses for the socially deprived and the segregated. Centuries-old injustice, flawed government policies, flagrant violations of the basic human rights and deep-seated official apathy even in a "modern" India, have driven the poor and the marginalized to turn to Maoism, only adding to the statistics of death and destabilization.

Call it a scourge, malaise or wrong judgment, it is also a terrible reality that Maoism in India has sheltered swathes of disgruntled populations that have perhaps little or no idea about Mao or Revolution. All they look out for is social justice in their own terms. The civil society is perhaps divided on if this is right or wrong, but there is no denying that lives have been torn up on all sides.

Below is the cover of my book. I am happy to say that the cover art is also by me, adapted from my favorite Madhubani painting style of Bihar!

The idea was to present a so-called rough and rustic appeal, in the way Madhubani derives its colors from vegetable and rock dyes, and in the way the symbolism of a tree, the sun and the thick outlines form a cohesive whole with burnt red, ochre and deep green tones. It is a world of idioms, myths and moving accounts that my art tries to capture.

This is the standalone front cover:

I sketched the motif on paper with pencil and ink and later went on to color it with ordinary marker pen! Following the scan, Cedar's design team helped improve the resolution.

The sun in the underbelly of a human-like form (a twisted imitation of "the tree of life") with a bloodied root-sprung head was my idea of the unstable "system". The green pearl millet or the bajra is present in a "semi-circle of life" as opposed to the "circle of life" concept popular in Madhubani art.

This is the back cover:

The book will be on Amazon (worldwide) and Rediff (India) for purchase later on. Right now, it goes to the 19th New Delhi World Book Fair 2010, Jan 30-Feb 7. Updates to follow!

Reading at SNOETRY: A Winter Wordfest 2010

SNOETRY: A Winter Wordfest took place in the historic town of North East (Erie), PA, on January 16, 2010. What a bash, what an energetic gathering and what poetic lineup! I was a featured poet among the 40 or so (we had brilliant open mic-ers too) poets from diverse states (see the fabulous poets' list here). And oh, music too, with two bands adding to the soaring spirit!

Poets Dianne Borsenik and John Burroughs of "Lix and Kix" poetry event from Cleveland stormed the show with their lively emceeing and reading. Snoetry took off in the dazzling and artistic bookshop "The Last Wordsmith" run by friend Megan Collins, of North East, PA.

Among the poems I read were Finding Foremothers; The First Apple Sings a Ruba'i; Tea with Reza; Conversation, etc.

Here are some pics of me with John, Dianne and Megan, and myself in the exalted reading pose (see more pics here)!

Friday, January 8, 2010

"Footprints in the Bajra" Goes to Press

January 8, 2010. It is an important date for me. My first novel "Footprints in the Bajra" went to press today from Cedar Books, India. Updates to follow.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Innuendo in the Cinema Theatre - Prakriti Foundation poetry win

This is like flashback. Going back to recount something from 2009. And a good thing that brought my 2009 to a enthusiastic close. My poem "Innuendo in the Cinema Theatre" won the 2nd prize for the 2009 Prakriti Foundation open contest. Prakriti Foundation, Chennai, is
"interested in hearing the many voices of interest that make up the diverse culture of India. The foundation wishes to share information and wisdom that many of the giant scholars of India and abroad have to give us"...

The contest was part of its Poetry with Prakriti program. You can read all the three winners here.

My poem is pasted below:

"Innuendo in the Cinema Theatre"

For Robert Hass

This a story of two opponents

who face each other, count

silence with just an ‘ahem’.

One guesses very well

something hanky panky

went on indoors, curtained;

while the sheepish other

is embarrassed but sure that

his mate of henna beard

has cheated behind his back.

They believe, she can see,

love and kingdom is a game.

The trot of the horses and

the thundering canons are

only a few of the things

that make her chest rise

higher than the hillside on

the tremulous silver screen.

With this scene where

Satyajit Ray’s chess player

is caught unbuttoned

after returning back to

the game from a quick

love tiff with his silly wife,

the girl knows there will

never be such parables

for her even in the twilight.

In the story, trumpets play

in technicolour hands

hundred horns hoot away.

The magnificent blare

ascertains someone has

cheated and yet, has won.

Men and parodied mules,

women fleeing with babies,

roll like a carriage song.

It remains unclear who

will blink first to disentangle

overtures with their hands.

The script is in a language

she speaks but is remote

for an innuendo in her heart.

Elephants in gold brocades,

climactic chatter, tingly rosewater,

turn her lips butterfly wings

because she will see them

again and again on a screen

of her unbridled dreams.

Lastly, the soldiers march

in and the players stare:

two split fish stranded

unable to remember any

moments of lovemaking

or cheating on a pawn.

They half-rise, she waits.

Her lover leaves through

a door he takes with him:

like shadows mingling dark,

countries drawn in lines,

the two separate.

I wrote to Robert Hass in utmost excitement through his poet wife Brenda Hillman and this is what he wrote back after seeing my poem (my dedication refers to Hass' poem "Heroic Simile"):

"Thanks for your dedication and congratulations on your prize. Your
poem is very poignant to me. It gets at something about the way movies
place the world before (us) as a source of meditation, at the same time that
we are helpless before the way its images enter us. Good luck with
your future work.

Robert Hass"

That's a good opening to 2010 I guess, since his reply came on Jan 4. And know what, Trillium Magazine, where I had submitted nearly a year ago, suddenly sent me a mail saying they'd accept all the poems I had submitted. Now more on that later.

Image from the Internet: film poster of Shatranj ke Khiladi (The Chess Players) by Satyajit Ray

Monday, January 4, 2010

Editorial in Danse Macabre "Internationale" Issue


The first Internationale Danse Macabre has been released. I have the honor of opening this issue with an editorial followed by contributions from all over the world.

Here's the text of the editorial but I encourage you to read our international writers by clicking on:
Internationale Poetry
The Road
Internationale Erzählungen

... and more!

It is the end of the year, a classic snowy afternoon in Upstate New York, and I am tapping away at the keyboard, a little nostalgic. Among many things, I am reminded of a 10-year-old girl clutching her copy of a novel, a story collection and an abridged version of Oliver Twist while traveling with her family. Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road) in Bengali was a neat volume I had just started reading after my favorite Burhi Ai-ir Xadhu, an Assamese collection of folktales and fables, and Oliver Twist. In fact, reading Pather Panchali was deemed absolutely appropriate for a girl who was young enough for fairytales and fables, yet old enough to understand how reality traversed universal boundaries, whether it was an orphan boy in 19th century London or a poor Brahmin priest migrating from his 1920s Bengal village in search of a better life. This has been etched in my head forever as an opening moment of my diverse literary engagements. Three languages, perhaps three countries (depending on how one treats the partition of Bengal), but one epic outlook.

As I have the honor to open Danse Macabre's (first) Internationale issue, I can only rejoice at connecting this memory to the bevy of writers from countries like France, Vietnam, Ireland, Canada, Italy, Bangladesh, Britain, Iran, Russia, India, and Germany among several others that our readers would savor in the New Year. It is a delight to come across so many new and established names jostling for attention in one single literary journal. To extend Mohamed Nasheed’s quote above, all these writers bring their poetry, fiction and essays from varied perspectives of their own cultures and countries, each of their words carrying a whiff of their diverse histories and memories.

And if Benedict Anderson convinces us that nation-states are often ‘imagined communities’, I then find solace in the ‘imaginary congregations’ defined by our own literary times with the tag “international”, where nations and countries mingle in one single train that is truly inter-national. If physical boundaries are indeed frozen in time, all that we are able to view as ‘imaginary’ could only offer possibilities and changes that writers and artists hold so dear to their hearts. Whether it is the subtropical winter sun of the South Asian Subcontinent, the festive liveliness of Quebec, the serene rivers of Vietnam, or the Northern Lights of Russia, what we offer for our readers in our Internationale carries the watermark of a high order of imagination and creativity that surpasses the fixity of geographical borders.

I just watched Atonement and I feel how spiraling it is in its haunting-ness, like a poem. What is it that made sense to me in that assemblage of film footage about a story that wracked lives and flamed imaginations? A story that traversed the boundaries of a nation called England and a continent called Europe and finally spilled out like the Dunkirk scenes, agonizing in its quotient of human misery as well as intellectually frightening. Watched in any corner of the world, it is bound to evoke a Dostoevskyan anxiety and questions of culpability and justification, Tagore’s vision of the need for a serene one world of many nations, and resonate with the poems of Dennis Brutus (1924-2009), a glorious voice against the South African apartheid regime. This universal tone can be found in literatures in all corners of the world if we are ready to explore them. Much of it also comes from oppressed confines of the world that often have a blurred boundary of ready identification, given that secret torture camps and war zones abound even today.

Danse Macabre Internationale brings you a slice of this ‘epic outlook’ of restlessness, love, floundering and hope – the words rally out in search of readers, to twist the well known Pirandello title – in the earnest wish that our words can inherit for us a world of joy and honor and also show us how the “world wags” for all times to come. Happy 2010 dear readers!

Image from Danse Macabre: Artist -- Mahdi Travajohi