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Dante-esque times indeed

Five ways in which And We Came Outside and Saw the Stars Again takes inspiration from Dante’s Divine Comedy

In this rich, eye-opening anthology, And We Came Outside and Saw the Stars Again , dozens of esteemed writers, poets, artists and translators from more than thirty countries offer a profound, kaleidoscopic portrait of lives transformed by the coronavirus pandemic.

As COVID-19 has become the defining global experience of our time, writers transcend borders and genres to offer a powerful antidote to the fearful confines of isolation: a window onto corners of the world beyond our own.

The anthology harks back to one of the most famous works of ‘pandemic literature’ Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, especially the first part, the Inferno.  Read on to learn more about the fascinating intertextuality of And We Came Outside and Saw the Stars Again

 

  1. Just as Virgil in the Divine Comedy is the voice of both compassion, empathy and reason, thinkers, artists and authors are the ones we turn to for guidance and answers in difficult times.

The perspectives of scientists are indispensable, but we must also listen to philosophers, anthropologists, intellectuals, artists, and creators. . . Literature also experiences an inevitable renaissance in these times of collective fear: when we cannot understand what is happening around us, as a society we turn to books to see if they offer any answers.

 

 

  1. Pandemics seem to not only inspire creativity, but also a need within readers to seek meaningful insights into the more metaphysical aspects of illness, of death and the afterlife. Just as the first part of the Divine Comedy was written during the Black Death-the bubonic plague that ravaged Europe in the 14th century, it’s the Covid 19 pandemic that serves as the unlikely muse for this anthology.

Or, like religion tells us, is there a mythical divide between heaven for the good and hell for the bad, with our final destination decided by a whimsical god? Perhaps there is a different kind of afterlife altogether, one that remains undiscovered by philosophers, theologists, and scientists? The plague brings these questions to the fore, which in normal times are confined to the depths

of the human psyche, making them essential to the present moment.

 

 

  1. Some of the most iconic lines from the Divine Comedy serve to structure the anthology, as the titles of the five parts into which the fifty-two contributions are divided.

 Part I, “A Mighty Flame Follows a Tiny Spark,” focuses on the eruption of the plague; Part II, “The Path to Paradise Begins in Hell,” on the need for a road map; Part III, “I’m Not Alone in Misery,” on empathy; Part IV, “Faith Is the Substance of Things Hoped for,” on hope; and Part V, “Love Insists the Loved Loves Back,” is the door through which we might come outside again and see the stars.

 

  1. The pandemic itself seems to be an evocation of the seven circles of hell described in the Inferno, growing increasingly more frightening with progression

I’m afraid for myself and my family. I see lines in stores and people quarreling over basic goods at the cash registers. I see an administration that’s taking advantage of the opportunity and dismantling democracy even further. And big companies, untouchable in all this, who will soon be able to make all of us even more dependent on them. I see borders closing, the police using excessive force, and cruel looks from people on the streets.

 

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  1. With its notes of positivity amidst the turmoil, the title of the anthology is inspired by the last line of Dante’s Inferno, in which the poet and Virgil emerge from their journey through hell to once again view the beauty of the heavens—‘Thence we came forth to rebehold the stars.’

The day after the plague it will be summer, and finally we’ll be able to have a coffee at the corner cafe, go to the beach, and for a brief moment we’ll value our restored liberty.

 

And We Came Outside and Saw the Stars Again: a powerful antidote

A  rich, eye-opening  anthology, And We Came Outside and Saw the Stars Again , dozens of esteemed writers, poets, artists and translators from more than thirty countries offer a profound, kaleidoscopic portrait of lives transformed by the coronavirus pandemic.

As COVID-19 has become the defining global experience of our time, writers transcend borders and genres to offer a powerful antidote to the fearful confines of isolation: a window onto corners of the world beyond our own.

 

UNPRECEDENTED was the ubiquitous term first used to describe the COVID-19 pandemic that swept the world in 2020, as if the event were unlike any other. The truth is that it has been rather routine in its procedure, part of the eternal cycles of nature. Even in the Bible, similar disasters—earthquakes, deluges, famines, plagues of insects, pestilence of livestock, boils, thunderstorms of hail and fire—are recurrent visitors in the theater of human affairs. Which doesn’t mean, of course, that newcalamities such as this one aren’t extraordinary.

It isn’t surprising that the official approach to the pandemic was initially forensic, with an insistence on numbers: how many deaths and infections per day in a given hospital of a given city in a given country, how long a possible vaccine could take to bring us all out of purgatory, and so on, as if suffering could be quantified, ignoring that each and every person lost was unique and irreplaceable. The Talmud says that death is a kind of sleep and that one person’s sleep is unknowable to others. Although the misfortune arrived at a time when the essential tenets of globalism were being questioned—tariffs imposed, borders closed,immigrants seen with suspicion—the pandemic was planetary, hitting wherever people did what people do. It preyed with distinct fury on the poor and vulnerable, as natural catastrophes always do, especially in countries ruled by tyrants responding with disdain and hubris. Inevitably, the lockdown also forced a new method to everything everywhere. The sound of the kitchen clock suddenly felt new, the warmth of a handshake, the taste of fresh soup. As an antidote to numbers, it was once again left to writers to notice those changes, to chronicle them by interweaving words. That’s what literature does well: it champions nuance while resisting the easy tricks of generalization. This international anthology includes over fifty of those writers representing thirty-five countries and arriving in about a dozen languages. Cumulatively, their accounts are proof of the degree to which COVID-19 brought about the collapse of a hierarchy of principles we had all embraced until then. Call it the end of an era Shenaz Patel, from Mauritius, for instance, realizes that “suddenly, like an octopus disturbed in its sleep, everything kept hidden under the placid surface latched onto us with its many arms and spit its ink into our faces.” She adds: “We are faced with a true ‘civil war’ of speech, echoing through radios and social media, between those who respect the lockdown and those who don’t; those who understand and the ‘cocovids,’ the empty heads who go out anyway; between the ‘true patriots’ and the selfish few who knowingly put others in danger.”

Three Exhausting Weeks, An Excerpt from ‘Uncommon Type’

‘Uncommon Type’ marks the debut as a writer of the award-winning actor Tom Hanks. This delightful collection of seventeen short stories dissects with great affection, humour and insight, the human condition and all its foibles
Here’s an excerpt from the book.
Anna said there was only one place to find a meaningful gift for MDash— the Antique Warehouse, not so much a place for old treasures as a permanent swap meet in what used to be the Lux Theater. Before HBO, Netflix, and the 107 other entertainment outlets bankrupted the Lux, I sat for many hours in that once- splendid cinema palace and watched movies. Now it’s stall after stall of what passes for antiques. Anna and I looked into every one of them.
MDash was about to become a naturalized U.S. citizen, which was as big a deal for us as it was for him. Steve Wong’s grandparents were naturalized in the forties. My dad had escaped the low- grade thugs that were East European Communists in the 1970s, and, way back when, Anna’s ancestors rowed boats across the North Atlantic, seeking to pillage whatever was pillage-able in the New World. The Anna family legend is that they found Martha’s Vineyard.
Mohammed Dayax- Abdo was soon to be as American as Abdo Pie, so we wanted to get him something vintage, an objet d’patriotic that would carry the heritage and humor of his new country. I thought the old Radio Flyer wagon in the second warehouse stall was perfect. “When he has American kids, he’ll pass that wagon on to them,” I said.
But Anna was not about to purchase the first antique we came across. So we kept on hunting. I bought a forty- eight-star American flag, from the 1940s. The flag would remind MDash that his adoptive nation is never finished building itself— that good citizens have a place somewhere in her fruited plain just as more stars can fi t in the blue field above those red and white stripes. Anna approved, but kept searching, seeking a present that would be far more special. She wanted unique, nothing less than one of a kind. After three hours, she decided the Radio Flyer was a good idea after all.
Rain started falling just as we were pulling out of the parking lot in my VW Bus. We had to drive slowly back to my house because my wiper blades are so old they left streaks on the windshield. The storm went on well into the evening, so rather than drive home, Anna hung around, played my mother’s old mixtapes (which I’d converted to CDs), cracking up over Mom’s eclectic taste, in the segues from the Pretenders to the O’Jays to Taj Mahal.
When Iggy Pop’s “Real Wild Child” came on, she asked, “Do you have any music from the last twenty years?”
I made pulled- pork burritos. She drank wine. I drank beer. She started a fire in my Franklin stove, saying she felt like a pioneer woman on the prairie. We sat on my couch as night fell, the only lights being the fire and the audio levels on my sound system bounding from green to orange and, occasionally, red. Distant sheet lightning fl ashed in the storm miles and miles away.
“You know what?” she said to me. “It’s Sunday.”
“I do know that,” I told her. “I live in the moment.”
“I admire that about you. Smart. Caring. Easygoing to the point of sloth.”
“You’ve gone from compliments to insults.”
“Change sloth to languorousness,” she said, sipping wine.
“Point is I like you.”
“I like you, too.” I wondered if this conversation was going someplace. “Are you flirting with me?”
“No,” Anna said. “I’m propositioning you. Totally different thing. Flirting is fishing. Maybe you hook up, maybe you don’t. Propositioning is the first step in closing a deal.”
Understand that Anna and I have known each other since high school (St. Anthony Country Day! Go, Crusaders!). We didn’t date, but hung out in the same crowd, and liked each other. After a few years of college, and a few more of taking care of my mom, I got my license and pretended to make a living in real estate for a while. One day she walked into my office because she needed to rent a space for her graphics business and I was the only agent she could trust because I once dated a friend of hers and was not a jerk when we broke up.
Anna was still very pretty. She never lost her lean, rope-taut body of a triathlete, which, in fact, she had been. For a day, I showed her some available spaces, none of which she wanted for reasons that made little sense to me.

“We are never alone, are we?” An Excerpt from Shinie Antony’s ‘Boo’

Have you ever felt someone was watching you, even though you are all alone? Shinie Antony’s ‘Boo’ is a collection of thirteen well-crafted paranormal tales, each uniquely haunting in its own way. The stories penned by Shashi Deshpande, K.R. Meera, Jerry Pinto, Durjoy Datta, and many other illustrious names are sure to send a chill down your spine.
Here’s an excerpt of the introduction of the book.
The unknown has always beckoned. Infinite, cobwebby, black as the night, silent as the grave, what we cannot see hear touch. What, furthermore, is perhaps not alive.
My own experiences of the uncanny stay mine; fear takes me where it will. There were whispers without words and things I almost saw. And unlike what I always thought, squeamish as I am and lily-livered, these semi-happenings did not creep me out. Sometimes I saw them as other-worldly warnings, sometimes they were not meant to be seen and my eye had somehow breached a divide, sometimes my mouth formed words I did not mean to say . . .
The paranormal has many subgenres, but of these it was not the occult, poltergeists or screams of the possessed that brought me to these stories, but the psychological thrill. The mind is where it all begins. The mind is where it lives. This feeling that there’s something out there—and it is on to us. It knows that we know. And we must forever pretend we don’t know, not catch its eye—even when it is looking straight at us.
The gothic charm of K.R. Meera’s story, the sweet smell of onions in Kanishk Tharoor’s tale, the burden of hindsight in Shashi Deshpande’s mythofiction, the menacing narrator in Jerry Pinto’s story—they all bring in the supernatural slyly, stylishly. Durjoy Datta, Jahnavi Barua, Manabendra Bandyopadhyay, Kiran Manral and Jaishree Misra give us the old-fashioned traditional ghost story, the one where the banshee sighs or screams. While Ipsita Roy Chakraverti decodes a message from the beyond, Madhavi S. Mahadevan and Usha K.R. take us to places where the backstory is everything.
We wouldn’t be here—you reading this, me writing this—if we didn’t know. Despite science, reason and a raised eyebrow. Deep in our bones, when all falls silent, there is a knowing that precedes births and lingers after deaths. It lifts the hair at the nape of our neck; it stares at us, infatuated, from behind stairs; prescient, it invades our very rocking chair, replacing peace and calm with a restless zigzag; it rotates its head 360 degrees when we aren’t looking.
It doesn’t dispel though we move on, go our ways, live lives, love and let go. What is it that shifts just beyond our vision? Who listens when we talk in our heads? When does dark get just that little bit darker? Why that word on the billboard—the same word we just finished thinking about? And then bumping into the very person we thought of after a hundred years only that morning . . .
What do we know about ourselves besides incidents and milestones and birthdays and heartbreaks, what do we know of that which cannot be known? It is there in a photograph or painting you see—the feeling that you’ve been there before, seen that face somewhere. We are here but we are elsewhere too.
A haunting. Begins as a catch in the side, a stiff neck, a hunch, a bad feeling, pins and needles, an eye twitch, sleep talk, a leg gone numb, vertigo, spasms, heart that trebles its beat, a smell, a chill, a spell, a tingle, dreaming the same dream, a sudden vision of what’s to come, waking at 3.33 a.m., a song no one else can hear, the sound of breathing when we hold our breath . . .
We are never alone, are we?

6 U.P. Kahawats To Enrich Your Hindi

Uttar Pradesh or U.P. has some really colourful vibe to it. Not only is this vibrant state famous for its amazing food and culture, the Hindi spoken in the state is also rife with some amazing kahawats. These kahawats not only add spice to the Hindi people speak in the state, but also pass on some precious wisdom in the wittiest way.
Here are some kahawats to enrich your life:
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Know some more of such amazing kahawats? Tell us in the comments.
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