In the past couple of weeks, two Indian writers have been in the limelight for their recent works: Amitav Ghosh for his Flood Of Fire, the third and last instalment of his Ibis trilogy, and Hanif Kureishi for his collection, Love+Hate: Stories And Essays.
Ghosh, 58, who is one of India's most distinguished writers, divides his time between Brooklyn and Goa. Recently, he was in Kolkata for the Calcutta Literary Festival where he spoke about his new novel, Flood Of Fire.
The book is the culmination of a 10-year monumental project comprising three volumes, known as the Ibis trilogy. The name Ibis comes from the ship which sets sail from Kolkata with a deck full of characters. The saga starts with the first volume published in 2008, Sea Of Poppies.
The basic story covered in the trilogy is about the opium trade between British India and China, led by the British East India Company. "It is strange that they (the Opium Wars) are so neglected because they really laid the foundations of the modern world, you know," Ghosh said in an interview. "The Opium Wars really created some of the most important cities of the modern world - Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore."
Love+Hate: Stories And Essays
If Ghosh is known for his erudite historical fiction and anthropological essays, London-based novelist, playwright and screenplay writer Hanif Kurieshi is an altogether different kettle of fish. He shot to fame with novels like The Buddha of Suburbia and The Black Album, and his screenplay for the film, My Beautiful Launderette.
Three years ago, he was robbed of his life savings (£120,000) - his nest egg meant to finance his children's university education - by his accountant Adam Woricker. That nasty experience traumatised him. "It's as if you're walking down the street and someone decides to hit you over the head with a hammer," Kureishi told an interviewer. "There's nothing you can do."
It is not that Kureishi could not do anything about the episode. He did what writers usually do - turning real-life experience into literary gold.
The result is Love+Hate: Stories And Essays.
In an interview, Kureishi said he had to write about the theft, "because if you're a writer and going through something like that, which is traumatic and horrific, that was all that was left to me". You can read about that theft episode in A Theft: My Con Man, which is one of several short essays in his new volume.
Two new non-fiction titles on Partition and Emergency
The 1947 Partition of India and the Emergency imposed on India by Indira Gandhi in 1975 are two of the most prominent scars on the modern Indian psyche. Two new books by prominent journalists explore these two tragic episodes in Indian history with fresh eyes.
Midnight's Furies: The Deadly Legacy Of India's Partition (left) by Nisid Hajari (published by Penguin Books India; Rs599 hardback) is a meticulously researched and eminently readable book. In this book, Nisid Hajari, Bloomberg View's Asia editor, vividly recreates that tragic period through personal stories and eyewitness accounts, and recounts the complex relationships between Nehru, Patel, Jinnah and Mountbatten.
It shows how Partition, which has created such a wide gulf between two countries whose people have so much in common, has given birth to global terrorism and dangerous nuclear proliferation today.
Marking the 40th anniversary of the Emergency is journalist Coomi Kapoor's The Emergency: A Personal History (left, published by Penguin Books India; Rs599 hardback). India's current finance minister Arun Jaitley has written the foreword to the book.
In June 1975, Coomi Kapoor was a young reporter at the Indian Express in Delhi when Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency, suspending civil liberties and sending opposition leaders to prison.
In the dark days that followed, she personally experienced the full fury of the Emergency - her journalist husband was imprisoned on flimsy charges under the draconian MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act) and her brother-in-law, then Jana Sangh M.P. Subramanian Swamy was on the run to evade arrest, while her family faced constant threats and harassment from the security forces.
This period also saw forced sterilisations, brutal "beautification" drives that left thousands of people homeless overnight, and students and other innocent people jailed without cause or trial, while the press was firmly muzzled under strict censorship rules.
In this eyewitness account, Kapoor vividly recreates the drama, the horror, as well as the heroism of a few, during those 19 months, 40 years ago, when democracy was derailed in India.
Awards: Fukuoka Prize announced for Indian historian
Indian historian and author Ramachandra Guha, famous for his works such as India After Gandhi, and Gandhi Before India, will be honoured with Japan's prestigious Fukuoka Prize in the Academic category.
His fellow winners this year are Thant Myint-U (Grand Prize) and Minh Hanh (Arts and Culture). The Fukuoka Prize honours writers and scholars for making outstanding contributions to academia, arts and culture across Asia.
The awards will be presented on September 17. Previous winners of the Fukuoka Awards include Mohammad Yunus, Romila Thapar, Ashis Nandy and Mo Yan.
Book release in Singapore
Closer to home, Singapore-based Shilpa Dikshit Thapliyal, a former IT professional and now a proud homemaker, has self-published her debut collection of poetry, Chimes Of The Soul: Verses from Deep Within. A slim volume with 65 pages, it contains 24 poems, each one adorned with an illustration.
Shilpa has been living in Singapore for the past 14 years and is a yoga and zumba enthusiast. "I live for the love of writing, and the peace and happiness it gives me," she says in the book's blurb. "The poems are easy to read and are mainly reflective in nature." True enough! Sample these:
"View the world as a friend my friend… and love shall come your way but view life as strife and struggle shall come your way."
Seemingly simple and plain lines but they are full of wisdom.
Shilpa recently released the book in Singapore.
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