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5 out of 6 books from Penguin are in the run for The Booker Prize 2022!

We have just been updated that we have 5 out of 6 books from Penguin have been shortlisted for The Booker Prize 2022! The winner will be announced at the Roundhouse in London on October 17, 2022. Stay tuned! 

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka

Booker Prize 2022!
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Booker Prize 2022 shortlist

Colombo, 1990. Maali Almeida, war photographer, gambler and closet gay, has woken up dead in what seems like a celestial visa office. His dismembered body is sinking in the Beira Lake and he has no idea who killed him. At a time when scores are settled by death squads, suicide bombers and hired goons, the list of suspects is depressingly long, as the ghouls and ghosts who cluster around him can attest. But even in the afterlife, time is running out for Maali. He has seven moons to try and contact the man and woman he loves most and lead them to a hidden cache of photos that will rock Sri Lanka. Ten years after his prizewinning novel Chinaman established him as one of Sri Lanka’s foremost authors, Karunatilaka is back with a rip-roaring epic, full of mordant wit and disturbing truths.

 

 

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Booker Prize 2022 shortlist
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Booker Prize 2022 shortlist

It is 1985, in an Irish town. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Bill Furlong, a coal and timber merchant, faces into his busiest season. As he does the rounds, he feels the past rising up to meet him – and encounters the complicit silences of a people controlled by the Church.

The long-awaited new work from the author of FosterSmall Things Like These is an unforgettable story of hope, quiet heroism and tenderness.

 

 

 

Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo

Booker Prize 2022 shortlist
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Booker Prize 2022 shortlist

Glory is an energy burst, an exhilarating joyride. It is the story of an uprising, told by a bold, vivid chorus of animal voices that helps us see our human world more clearly. It tells the story of a country seemingly trapped in a cycle as old as time. And yet, as it unveils the myriad tricks required to uphold the illusion of absolute power, it reminds us that the glory of tyranny only lasts as long as its victims are willing to let it. History can be stopped in a moment. With the return of a long-lost daughter, a #freefairncredibleelection, a turning tide — even a single bullet.

 

 

 

 

 

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

Booker Prize 2022 shortlist
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Booker Prize 2022 shortlist

Oh William! captures the joy and sorrow of watching children grow up and start families of their own; of discovering family secrets, late in life, that alter everything we think we know about those closest to us; and the way people live and love, against all odds. At the heart of this story is the unforgettable, indomitable voice of Lucy Barton, who once again offers a profound, lasting reflection on the mystery of existence. ‘This is the way of life,’ Lucy says. ‘The many things we do not know until it is too late.’

 

 

 

The Trees by Percival Everett 

Booker Prize 2022 shortlist
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Booker Prize 2022 shortlist

An uncanny literary thriller addressing the painful legacy of lynching in the US, by the author of TelephonePercival Everett’s The Trees is a page-turner that opens with a series of brutal murders in the rural town of Money, Mississippi. The murders present a puzzle, for at each crime scene there is a second dead body: that of a man who resembles Emmett Till. As the bodies pile up, the MBI detectives seek answers from a local root doctor who has been documenting every lynching in the country for years, uncovering a history that refuses to be buried. In this bold, provocative book, Everett takes direct aim at racism and police violence, and does so in a fast-paced style that ensures the reader can’t look away. The Trees is an enormously powerful novel of lasting importance from an author with his finger on America’s pulse.

Must read JCB Prize for Literature Longlist 

The JCB Prize for Literature has just unveiled its 2022 Longlist and we have three books in the run. Shortlist to be announced on 7th October 2022. Stay Tuned! 

 

 

Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree, Daisy Rockwell

Tomb of sand JCB Prize for Literature Longlist 
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JCB Prize for Literature Longlist 

In northern India, an eighty-year-old woman slips into a deep depression after the death of her husband, and then resurfaces to gain a new lease on life. Her determination to fly in the face of convention – including striking up a friendship with a transgender person – confuses her bohemian daughter, who is used to thinking of herself as the more ‘modern’ of the two.

To her family’s consternation, Ma insists on travelling to Pakistan, simultaneously confronting the unresolved trauma of her teenage experiences of Partition, and re-evaluating what it means to be a mother, a daughter, a woman, a feminist.

Rather than respond to tragedy with seriousness, Geetanjali Shree’s playful tone and exuberant wordplay results in a book that is engaging, funny, and utterly original, at the same time as being an urgent and timely protest against the destructive impact of borders and boundaries, whether between religions, countries, or genders.

 

 

 

The Odd Book of Baby Names by Anees Salim

The odd book of baby names JCB Prize for Literature Longlist 
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JCB Prize for Literature Longlist 

Can a life be like a jigsaw puzzle, pieces waiting to be conjoined? Like a game of hide-and-seek? Like playing statues? Can memories have colour? Can the sins of the father survive his descendants?
In a family – is it a family if they don’t know it? – that does not rely on the weakness of memory runs a strange register of names. The odd book of baby names has been custom-made on palace stationery for the patriarch, an eccentric king, one of the last kings of India, who dutifully records in it the name of his every offspring. As he bitterly draws his final breaths, eight of his one hundred rumoured children trace the savage lies of their father and reckon with the burdens of their lineage.
Layered with multiple perspectives and cadences, each tale recounted in sharp, tantalizing vignettes, this is a rich tapestry of narratives and a kaleidoscopic journey into the dysfunctional heart of the Indian family. Written with the lightness of comedy and the seriousness of tragedy, the playfulness of an inventive riddle and the intellectual heft of a philosophical undertaking, The Odd Book of Baby Names is Salim’s most ambitious novel yet.

 

Rohzin by Rahman Abbas

Rohzin
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JCB Prize for Literature Longlist 

Mumbai was almost submerged on the fatal noon of 26 July 2005, when the merciless downpour and cloudburst had spread utter darkness and horror in the heart of the city. River Mithi was inundated, and the sea was furious. At this hour of torturous gloom, Rohzin begins declaring in the first line that it was the last day in the life of two lovers, Asrar and Hina.

The arc of the novel studies various aspects of human emotions, especially love, longing and sexuality as sublime expressions. The emotions are examined, so is love as well as the absence of it, through a gamut of characters and their interrelated lives: Asrar’s relationship with his teacher, Ms Jamila, a prostitute named Shanti and, later, with Hina; Hina’s classmate Vidhi’s relations with her lover and others; Hina’s father Yusuf’s love for Aymal; Vanu’s indulgence in prostitutes.

Rohzin dwells on the plane of an imagination that takes readers on a unique journey across the city of Mumbai, a highly intriguing character in its own right.

Leaders and Legacies: Understanding the connect with Leadership To Last

Have you ever wondered what inspires the most iconic leaders you know today to build empires and legacies that last for decades?

Leadership To Last
Leadership To Last||Geoffrey Jones, Tarun Khanna

Leadership is multifaceted and multi-dimensional. It is not a linear function: it exists and thrives in every aspect of a leaders’ life, be it personal or professional. In Leadership to Last by Tarun Khanna and Geoffrey Jones, the lasting aspect of wonderful leaderships that ultimately turn into legacies is highlighted. Through several interviews with leaders, entrepreneurs, and successful visionaries which include the likes of Ratan Tata, Adi Godrej, Shabana Azmi, Ela Bhatt, Seema Aziz, Narayana Murthy, and many more!

What sets Leadership To Last apart from other books that talk about leadership is its diversity in setting and a unique interview-like approach. Through these interviews, you are transported to a completely different world, and it’s almost as if you’re in the same room as the leader you’re reading about!

Emphasizing what makes this a riveting read for people from all walks of life, the co-authors also highlight how the focus of the book is on the long durée. By selecting cases that have led to lasting institutional changes, triggered by individuals over multiple decades, the book brings out what truly helps successful leaderships become long-lasting legacies!

Divided into 7 sections that talk about different factors that help create iconic legacies, Leadership to Last also helps you understand the importance of aspects such as managing families, committing to values, innovating for impact, contesting corruption, challenging gender stereotypes, promoting inclusion, and creating value responsibly.

Finally, the learnings from comprehensive interviews of different leaders are summarized to help you understand their experiences better, while also creating a lasting impact through a skillful writing style.

Learn how great leaders leave legacies behind, and everything in between with Leadership to Last!

Savarkar’s scepticism about Nehru’s China policy

After the success of the first part, Vikram Sampath now unveils the concluding volume of the Savarkar series, the exploration of the life and works of one of the most contentious political thinkers and leaders of the twentieth century, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.

Here is an exclusive and intriguing excerpt from the book where the author talks about Savarkar’s scepticism towards Nehru’s policy towards China and other matters of international relations:

 

Savarkar (Part 2) A Contested Legacy, 1924-1966 || Vikram Sampath

With the restrictions on his political activities ceasing, Savarkar began to be more vocal on various aspects of national and foreign policy and governance. He was particularly sceptical and critical of Nehru’s policy towards China. On 29 April 1954, India signed the Panchsheel or the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence with China. Four years earlier, China had invaded and occupied Tibet and India had remained silent. Writing about these in the Kesari on 26 January 1954, Savarkar said:

When China, without even consulting India, invaded the buffer state of Tibet, India should at once have protested and demanded the fulfilment of rights and privileges as per her agreements and pacts entered into with Tibet. But our Indian Government was not able to do any such thing. We closed our eyes in the name of world peace and co-existence and did not even raise a finger against this invasion of Tibet. Neither did we help this buffer state of Tibet when her very existence was at stake. Why? The only reason that I visualize is our unpreparedness for such an eventuality and/or war . . . That is the reason why after swallowing the whole of Tibet the strong armies of China and Russia are now standing right on our borders in a state of complete preparedness and on the strength of the above, China is today openly playing the game of liquidating the remaining buffer states of Nepal and Bhutan . . . We have not been able to put before her an army which can match the strength of her armies on these borders of ours even today. This is precisely the reason why China dares come forward with such an unabashed claim on our territories . . . China completely overran Tibet and destroyed the only buffer state so as to strengthen her vast borders. By this act of hers, China had with one stroke come right on our borders by force and prepared the way for an open aggression against India whenever she felt like it. Britain, when she was ruling over India, had by careful planning, pacts, treaties and agreements created a chain of buffer states like Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan in order to strengthen the borders of India and to safeguard it from China and Russia. Afghanistan also acted like a buffer state on the other side. Britain had on behalf of the Government of India, directly or indirectly taken upon herself by various pacts, charters and agreements even the guarantee of continued existence of these buffer states. Immediately on attainment of independence all these rights were transferred to the independent sovereign Republic of India. But in the very six years that we criminally wasted, China has equipped her whole nation with most modern and up-to-date arms, and without in the least caring for the feelings and sentiments of India had completely overrun Tibet and destroyed the only buffer state so as to strengthen her vast borders. 15

 

Savarkar asked India to emulate the example of Israel that came into existence in May 1948 after almost a two-thousand-year struggle by the Jews for a homeland of their own. Israel, he said, ‘is besieged by their staunch enemies Arab nations. But this tiny nation has given military education to its men and women, procured weapons from Britain and U.S.A., established arm [sic] factories in their own nation, intelligently signed treaties and with foreign nations and raised its own strategic power to that extent that their enemy Arab nations would never dare to invade them.’ 16

He claimed that it was still not too late for India to wake up from its slumber and similarly increase her military and strategic strength as the world recognizes only that. The Chinese prime minister Zhou Enlai was accorded a warm welcome in New Delhi on 26 June 1954 and Nehru coined his favourite phrase ‘Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai’. In an interview on this India–China diplomacy in the Kesari on 4 July 1954, Savarkar welcomed this bonhomie with a sense of cautious optimism. He said:

‘In politics the enemy of our enemy is our best friend. Enlightened self-interest is the only touchstone on which friendship in political dealings could be tested, since there is no such thing as real and selfless friendship in the political arena. If the meeting between Chou En-Lai and Nehru angered the U.S.A., Indians should not pay attention to it because the U.S.A. too did not care to pause and think about India’s sensitivities if America entered into a military pact with Pakistan. All the policies of

India must be dependent on what was good or bad for India herself. If it was advantageous to India she should not in the least worry or care whether anyone felt enraged, insulted or irritated . . . The general principles that are being propagated as fundamental in this visit are very good and sound, so far as their language is concerned. Nothing is lost in proclaiming wishes for world peace, prosperity and brotherhood. But so long as India does not have any effective practical remedy or measures to check the transgressions, such visits have no more than a formal status. While crying from the roof tops about these principles it was worth noting that China, by swallowing Tibet, had ruthlessly trampled those very principles of world peace, brotherhood and peaceful co-existence. That was the funniest part of the whole deal, and it at once raised doubts in Indian minds about the bona fides of China and Chou En-Lai. There was at that time a political party in Tibet aiming at independence.

 

It was curious and in a way most astonishing that after preying on and swallowing the mouse of Tibet the Chinese cat was talking of going on a pilgrimage. That was exactly the role that the Chinese Premier Chou En-Lai and President Mao Tse-tung were playing. 17

In the same piece Savarkar also emphasized on the fundamental theory of foreign policy, which was permanent national interests and not merely high-sounding, one-sided moral principles. He hoped that the Panchsheel did not run this risk.

 

He said:

China, Russia, Britain and even the recently established Pakistan all are talking of high-sounding principles, but they do so as a step towards diplomatic measures to achieve their own ends, and for the success of their own political objectives. In the present state of human relationship it should be just so; but of all the countries India alone has for long been in the habit of preaching sermons of high principles to others and unilaterally bringing them into practice, which ultimately proves disastrous to the interests of India. I only hope that this does not happen in this case of the Panchsheel. What I feel is that if at all China uses India as a springboard to push forward her own territorial aims and interests, India should also primarily safeguard her own interests and if these moves do not go against her interests then alone take part in it. So long as China is looking to further her interests alone, India should also follow the same and use the good wishes of China only in so far as they help to push the interests of India forward. We should believe in their good faith and good intentions as much as and as long as they believe in ours. One fact must be made clear here and it is that [the] U.K., U.S.A., U.S.S.R. and China can force India to bring into practice all these principles because they hold the upper hand, being in possession of atomic and nuclear weapons of warfare. But can India do the same? Can India force these nations to see that they follow the principles that they profess to preach? This is the most important question. It is no use having political or diplomatic friendship alone with either China or Russia. We must immediately undertake to see that military potential and preparedness of the Indian armed forces with modern and most upto-date weapons of warfare is not being neglected and that we too can produce atomic and nuclear weapons just as these nations can. If China can erect plants and factories for the manufacture of atomic weapons of warfare in Sinkiang and other places we should also be able to do so. There is nothing difficult in it. Our scientists and laboratories might be able to invent and manufacture such weapons in a year or two or they might invent even more destructive ones . . . But so long a weak and impotent Government at the Centre does not take even one step to achieve these objectives it is no use talking of high principles and running after the mirage of world peace, peaceful co-existence, world brotherhood and prosperity, and nothing good can come out of such so-called good-will visits. High principles must have a robust armed strength behind them to see that they are brought into practice by those who wax eloquent about it. Taking all these things into consideration I feel that the time has come now when the Central Government must immediately take steps to increase the armed might and the military potential of India. 18

A lot of what Savarkar wrote about and cautioned was to turn prophetically true in the decades to come as far as India’s strategic, military and foreign relations were concerned.

*

Read Vikram Sampath’s Savarkar (Part 2) A Contested Legacy, 1924-1966 to know more about the opinions and works of Savarkar.

Budhini Mejhan – ‘The woman who persevered’

The story of  Budhini Mejhan is a nexus of several socio-political strcutures. She was ostrasized by her village and lost her job for an innocent gesture, which was seen as a violation of Santhal traditions. Through Sangeetha Srinivasan’s beautiful translation, Sarah Joseph’s literary sketch of Budhini Mejhan is vivacious, hopeful and endearing. Here is an excerpt:

~

Let us begin with the woman who persevered. Not how she recaptured the dancing ground, but how she ran incessantly without knowing whose land to set foot in. Waking up in the fourth phase of the night, she lit her stove and boiled some water. If she had a pinch of tea leaves or rice, she would have made some tea or gruel.

Front Cover of Budhini
Budhini || Sarah Joseph, Sangeetha Sreenivasan (Translator)

‘Oye, Ratni, wake up! We have to be there straight away. Please don’t wake your baba. The moment he’s up he will start whining, “Why toil over something in vain, Ratni’s ma? You have been running for a long time now, haven’t you? Will your complaints reach their ears? Better get back to sleep than wear off the soles of your feet.” But, Ratni, it doesn’t work like that; we should barge in and vex them as often as not. In the end, they will be forced to make a decision. Your baba is depressed, but could we endure more than this! Put your blankets over those boys, Ratni. Poor kids, they have been cold all night. Here, take this hot water. It’s not likely that Jauna Marandi will wait for us. His tongue has no bones. And if we don’t make it on time, he will go on grumbling about it till we get there.’

Languorous but still on her feet, Ratni staggered out of the house. Could this shack covered with asbestos sheets, tattered burlaps and rags, sandwiched between the walls of two multi-storeyed buildings, be called a home? Shoving the ragged fabric covering the back of the house aside, the child squatted on the ground and peed. From the mud kanda on the ground, she diligently filled water in a coconut shell and rinsed her mouth and face. She shuddered because of the cold.

‘Ratni Mei!’ Hearing her mother call out in a hushed voice, she went inside without delay. A little black dog followed her into the room, squeezed itself to make space between the sleeping boys and then curled up on the floor. Looking into her eyes, it wagged its tail in concern.

…‘We are very late, Ratni Mei. It seems Jauna Marandi has already left.’ Ratni’s mother was dejected. Loosening the knot at the end of her pallu, she took out some coins and counted. ‘Jauna had promised to take us for free. What should we do now! I saved these coins to buy medicine for your baba, but now we will have to spend them on bus tickets. But if you can walk, Ratni, there is a shorter route through the forest.’

Ratni didn’t say whether she could walk or not. Her teeth chattered, thanks to the cold.

While life saunters, the sun might as well rise in the west one day, marking the end of order. Then daybreak will turn into the hour of darkness. Like time suspended, nothing will be understood. Not everyone will overcome the bewilderment that is yet to come.

As Jauna’s jeep climbed up the road from Asansol to Dhanbad, an arm adorned with thick silver bangles suddenly appeared right in front of his vehicle. A strong arm! Nothing else was visible in the fog. Jauna forced his weight down on the brake pedal.

‘Get in,’ he bawled.

The DVC workers noticed the woman and child get into the jeep through the impenetrable fog. The woman wore a mud- coloured sari with a green border and the girl a crimson sweater. The child carried a bundle of clothes which she hugged close in a bid to protect herself from the insufferable cold. She looked not more than seven or eight. The woman had a grey shaded shawl wrapped around her and a lengthy red fabric bag on her shoulder. There was no seat. They hunkered down on the floor.

It was only the next day that Jauna Marandi realized, much to his shock, that the woman and child had boarded his jeep and alighted at the gates of the DVC to commit suicide.

~

Budhini is an exploration not only of the social laws of identity through the story of Budhini Mejhan but also the imbalanced burden that modernization and urbanization places on communities reliant on ecological methods of sustenance.

 

 

The story of a tea-laborer and his path-breaking journey

If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.- Dr Martin Luther King, Jr

Bike Ambulance Dada, the authorised biography of Padma Shri awardee Karimul Hak, is the most inspiring and heart-warming biography you will read this year. It documents the extraordinary journey of a tea-garden worker who saved thousands of lives by starting a free bike-ambulance service from his village to the nearest hospital.

Here is an excerpt from Bike Ambulance Dada by Biswajit Jha titled A Bike Ambulance Takes Shape.

Front Cover Bike Ambulance Dada
Bike Ambulance Dada || Biswajit Jha

Now that Karimul had a bike, he was no longer dependent on his cycle to ferry a patient. The bike gave the patients a greater chance of survival by ensuring they got to the hospital quickly. Karimul, too, was under less pressure, physically and mentally; he could be more certain of patients getting timely medical attention, be they sick or injured, and riding a motorbike was far less physically taxing than cycling all the way with a passenger.

One day, in 2008, when Karimul was enjoying a cup of tea with some acquaintances at a tea shop in Kranti Bazaar, one of them, Babu Mohanta, suddenly cried out. The engrossing discussion on political affairs was halted abruptly. The small group sprang into action to find out the reason behind Mohanta’s shriek. Investigations revealed that a snake had bitten him just above the ankle. Karimul immediately made up his mind to identify the snake, as this would help the doctor decide on the course of treatment; it was imperative in such cases. He saw the snake but could not identify it. Thinking fast, he somehow caught the snake and put it in a small box so that he could carry it to the hospital. He applied a pressure bandage on the wound as well. With the help of those around them, Karimul got Mohanta tied to his back and asked a villager to ride pillion with him. Before starting out for Jalpaiguri Sadar Hospital, Karimul instructed the man to make sure that Mohanta did not fall sleep. The snake, carefully locked in the box, accompanied them to the hospital.

On the way, they met with a huge traffic jam on the bridge over the Teesta, just 5 kilometres from the hospital. The road was chock-a-block with vehicles stranded on the bridge, all trying to find a way out and, in the process, aggravating the situation. As Karimul zipped past the four- wheeled vehicles, he saw an ambulance stuck in the traffic. When he asked the ambulance driver for the patient’s details, he was told that the man had also been bitten by a snake, and they were heading for the same hospital as Karimul. Manoeuvring his much-smaller vehicle between the cars and moving towards the hospital with Mohanta, the soft-hearted Karimul felt sorry for the patient in the ‘proper’ ambulance, unable to get out.

Karimul soon reached the hospital. Once there, he showed the snake to the doctor, who was at first startled but then observed it intently for a few seconds before springing into action with the treatment.

After getting Mohanta admitted, Karimul went back to the bridge where they had seen the ambulance. He saw that the ambulance, along with other vehicles, was still there; the patient had, unfortunately, passed away.

After a couple of days, Babu Mohanta was released from the hospital. He was the first person bitten by a poisonous snake in the village to be saved—all because of Karimul’s timely intervention and bike ambulance service.

Before this incident, though Karimul had ignored the taunts of some of the villagers and had gone about ferrying patients to hospital, he had sometimes harboured misgivings that his bike ambulance was a poor substitute for the conventional ambulance. But that day, he realized that his bike ambulance was sometimes far more convenient than a standard ambulance. From then on, there was no looking back for him. His new-found confidence enthused him to serve people with increased passion.

After he was awarded the Padma Shri, the Navayuvak Brindal Club, Siliguri, donated to him an ambulance that he used for some months. But the traditional ambulance not only consumed more fuel, it was also rather difficult to drive it to remote and far-flung areas. After some weeks, he stopped using that ambulance; though it is still with him, he doesn’t use it. Instead, he now has three bike ambulances at home; one is used by his elder son, Raju, another by his younger son, Rajesh, while Karimul himself mostly uses the bike ambulance donated by Bajaj Auto, which has an attached carrier for patients.

Thanks to Karimul Hak’s unique initiative, the bike ambulance has become popular in rural areas of India. Inspired by him, some social workers, as well as some NGOs, have started this service too, thereby saving thousands of lives in far-off areas of the country.

While Karimul has saved many lives, he deeply regrets not being able to save some. Still, he derives immense satisfaction from the fact that a person like him, with a paltry income and limited capacity, has made a difference in the lives of so many people. Relatives and family members of those who died en route to the hospital, or even after reaching the hospital, at least know that they, through Karimul, tried their best to save their loved one. This is a noteworthy achievement for Karimul, who dreams of a day when lack of medical treatment will not be the reason for someone’s death.

Bike Ambulance Dada is a must-read today as it will inspire us to do and be better in our lives.

The trappings of an unconventional life

Saeeda Bano was the first woman in India to work as a radio newsreader, known then and still as the doyenne of Urdu broadcasting. Over her unconventional and courageous life, she walked out of a suffocating marriage, witnessed the violence of Partition, lost her son for a night in a refugee camp, ate toast with Nehru and fell in love with a married man who would, in the course of their twenty-five-year relationship, become the Mayor of Delhi. Though she was born into privilege in Bhopal-the only Indian state to be ruled by women for four successive generations-her determination, independence and frankness make this a remarkable memoir and a crucial disruption in India’s understanding of her own past.

 

 

**

 

front cover of Off the Beaten Track
Off the Beaten Track || Saeeda Bano

Why did I think of writing the story of my life? Well, the entire credit goes to my friend Sheila Dhar, whom I met during the most eventful time in the history of our country, back in September 1947. When she saw the unusual situation I was grappling with during those tumultuous days of Partition, it made a deep impact on Sheila’s impressionable mind. She was quite young at the time; I came across to her as an unconventional woman – one who had chosen to take the road less travelled.

 

As time went by the circumstances I was dealing with became more exceptional. Sheila was witness to all this. She was older now, mature enough to understand what was happening in my life. Perhaps that is why she encouraged me to start writing. 

 

 

Little did I know that one day my circumstances would change so dramatically that by 1947 I would become famous as the first Indian woman to read news for All India Radio’s (AIR) Urdu service. And bless Sheila Dhar, she got me to write this book.  

 

 

On the 13th of August I was to reach office by 6am and read the 8 o’clock bulletin in Urdu. Mrs Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, sister of Independent India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, had been a frequent visitor to Lucknow. She was Beevi’s good friend and because of that I met with her quite often. She treated me like a younger sister. During one such meeting I mentioned I had sent a written application to AIR Delhi for a job. Mrs Pandit was a keen supporter of women’s rights and immediately asked me to give a copy of the application to her. ‘I will try and see what I can do.’ She then sent the letter to a certain Dr Syed Hussain in Delhi with instructions that ‘the work should be done.’ And so it was. How could Syed Hussain not honour Vijayalaxmi Pandit’s orders? That is how I came to Delhi. 

 

I was ready to deliver my very first news bulletin on air on the 13th of August 1947. Prior to this, no woman had been employed by either the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) or AIR Delhi to work as a news broadcaster. I was the first woman AIR considered good enough to read radio news. Of course they had to train me and I was taught how to first introduce myself on air with my name and then start reading the bulletin. The quality of my voice was appreciated. The feedback I got was that listeners were quite impressed by the style in which I delivered the news. The Statesman newspaper even published a few words of praise about me. I believe some people said I must have planted this story. But that’s pure conjecture. 

 

 

I am always grateful to the Almighty that people were eager to hear me read news on radio and appreciated my work. But I never gave this public acceptance undue importance. Hundreds of letters would pour in from various parts of the world in praise of my voice. Several gentlemen even expressed a desire to marry me! Though some of the listeners went as far as to curse me, asking that now that Pakistan had been formed why was a traitor like me still living in the enemy state? From this side of the border, some my own countrymen would write in saying, ‘Get out of our country, go to Pakistan.’ 

 

After a while, this continuous barrage of reproach ended, but hordes of letters continued to arrive regularly. I didn’t give them too much weightage nor did they get to my head. I met and mingled with everyone but I did not know how to tell witty jokes or interesting anecdotes, sing or even make delightful gossip at a social gathering. 

 

 

We were in the midst of our discussions when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru saw us. He came over to where we were and asked, ‘What are all of you doing? Have you had breakfast? You guys have to get here so early in the morning, you must be famished. Come over to Teen Murti House… I will give you brown bread to eat… homemade brown bread.’ 

 

Who could refuse the Prime Minister of India? We reached Teen Murti House (former residence of the first Prime Minister of India) and were made to sit in the front veranda on the top floor. Spread out in front of us were the verdant Mughal Gardens and sitting next to us, Nehruji himself. He was busy giving precise orders to the waiter to bring brown bread, cheese and God knows what. Though we were in seventh heaven my mind was preoccupied. I was worried sick and kept wondering where Asad and Saeed could be. Panditji buttered the warmly toasted brown-bread himself, then he sprinkled it lightly with salt added a dash of pepper and asked, ‘Have you ever eaten bread like this?’ 

 

‘No I haven’t,’ I replied, thanking him politely as I took the slice. 

 

He then made another toast for me, which I ate as well. But by now I was extremely anxious. Here was the Prime Minister of our country, being hospitable and there I was worried sick with thoughts of where my children could be. Panditji saw the concern on my face and asked, ‘What is the matter? What is bothering you?’ 

 

‘My son is lost.’

 

‘How old is your son?’ 

 

‘Eleven.’ 

 

‘Eleven year old children do not get lost… he will come. Have your tea, it is getting cold.’ 

 

In my heart I so wished Asad and Saeed could have been with me. They would proudly remember this moment, when they ate toasted brown bread prepared by the Prime Minister of India, who made the effort of sprinkling salt and pepper on it himself before handing it around to us. These thoughts were racing through my mind as we finished breakfast. Then we took permission to leave. As we were walking out, Panditji said, ‘An 11-year old cannot get lost. You’ll find him.’ 

 

I did a courteous adab and thanked him for his reassurance. As we reached YWCA I saw Asad and Saeed sitting there waiting for me. 

**

We shall overcome: Your dose of inspiration from sportstars!

These are times of collective struggle, and inspiration is more important than ever. As our future is thrown into uncertainty, it can oftentimes get difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The ‘Dear Me’ series of letters first appeared in Hindustan Times in 2017. These columns, penned by India’s top sporting icons, were published with the intent to inspire a young generation of struggling sportspersons, to serve as the light at the end of the tunnel for them.

We are revisiting some powerful letters that have given us an unexpected zeal for overcoming hardships and survive!

 

Milkha Singh

Also called the Flying Sikh, Milkha Singh is an Indian track and field athlete. He was the first Indian man to reach the final of an Olympic athletics event—the 400m race at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.

He writes to is sixteen-year-old self:

You have endured enough, but your hardships are not over. Later on you will realize that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It will be four more years before you discover running. However, I do wish you would have found your passion at least four years earlier because I don’t want you to lose an Olympic medal.

The quest for survival will take you to the world of sports. As a teenager, you may not have an idea about running as a sport. As an orphan, it will not only be about learning how to survive the brutal world, but also about carving out an identity for yourself.

*

 

Abhinav Bindra

Abhinav Bindra is an Indian shooter who is also a Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna awardee. He was the country’s first individual Olympic gold medallist.

He writes to his fourteen-year-old self:

The support you receive from your family and the fact that your every training need is fulfilled may well be held against you when you go on to achieve success. Yours cannot be the conventional story of adversity to redemption that many usually look for. Never mind that.

You do this for yourself and for what it can mean to others who understand. You will need to earn every success, and no one else can do it for you. This will make you the man you aspire to be.

*

Bhaichung Bhutia

Bhaichung Bhutia is a former Indian footballer. Dubbed the ‘Sikkimese Sniper’, Bhutia is known for his superb accuracy. He has been awarded the Padma Shri and Arjuna Award.

He writes to his eight-year-old self:

Young man, the one thing you need to realize is that you won’t win all the time. So stop fighting and crying every time you lose a match. In other words, stop being a bad loser. Your oldest brother, Rapden, is very good at football and thinks you are very talented, but he finds it difficult to deal with your tantrums when you lose. Winning and losing are part of the game, and you will have to take them in your stride. The sooner you accept this, the further you will go.

*

Jwala Gutta

Jwala Gutta is a professional badminton player who has represented India at international events, both in mixed and women’s doubles.

She writes to her eleven-year-old self:

As you soar, remember you will also have to accept your share of criticism. It comes with that thing called success. You will be labelled a ‘cribber’ for speaking out. But then, you have faced criticism since you were eleven. So, it will not affect you any more.

What works for you is the belief your parents have in you and the fact that they have taught you to stand up for your rights. Both these lessons will take you far.

*

Joshna Chinappa

Joshna Chinappa has won global recognition as a hugely successful junior squash player. She became the first Indian ever to win a British Junior Open title in 2005.She writes to her thirteen-year-old self:

She writes to her eighteen-year-old self:

I know you are a happy-go-lucky person. But now you will be facing the biggest challenges in life. You will need to have the right kind of people around you when it comes to friends or social situations.

You should probably be a little bit more aware of the kind of people you want to let into your life because your inner circle determines everything.

You will have to foresee everything that will go on in your life. I know you like to talk to everyone, you are always happy to chat with anybody and everybody, but if you continue this later in life you will wish you had been a bit more selective.


Whether in the sporting world or anywhere else, these struggles and words of wisdom and advice from some of the biggest sportsstars in the country are certainly relevant for all of us. Head over to the ebook to explore more such words that will inspire you towards persistence, struggle, and survival.

 

Can you Compare Delhi and Peshawar?

John Butt came to Swat in 1970 as a young man in search of an education he couldn’t get from his birthplace in England. He travels around the region, first only with friends from his home country, but as he befriends the locals and starts to learn about their culture and life, he soon finds his heart turning irrevocably Pashtoon.

Read an excerpt from his book, A Talib’s Tale below:

 

A Talib’s Trade

 

 

The best provision is that which one has worked for, with the labour of one’s own hands.

—Hadith

 

1973

 

I owe a lot to Maulana Khan Afzal, but two things in particular. For one, he instilled in me a love of India. Secondly, he showed me practically that one should always work for one’s living.

When I said to Samar Gul in Bara that I was going to the Afridi heartland of Tirah Maidan, he immediately mentioned Khan Afzal. Laiq’s family had some land in Tirah, and he and I had decided to move there for the summer. : ‘That is great,’ Samar Gul said, ‘you will be able to study with Maulana Khan Afzal.’ Like the Sarkai maulvi sahib, Maulana Khan Afzal was an eminent scholar, but at the time he did not have any students residing with him. He was able to devote all his time to tutoring me. I believe it was largely because Tirah was so inaccessible that there were no other students studying with the maulana. Later on, in the late nineties when I visited Maulana Khan Afzal again, he had a good ten to twelve students studying with him. He had become a focal point for talibs, as the Sarkai maulvi sahib had been in the 1970s.

Every day, with my books under my arm, I would make the forty-five-minute walk from Saddar Khel, where Laiq lived, to Landi Kas. Tirah Maidan is a huge, expansive plateau, the like of which there are many in Afghanistan—the Gardez and Logar plateaus are two that spring to mind. The difference with Tirah Maidan is that it is surrounded by richly forested hills, while the hills that surround other Afghan plateaus are mostly bare. Two tributaries of the Bara river meet at the centre of Tirah Maidan, the Malik-Din Khel Bagh. It is the natural capital of Tirah Maidan. The land dips towards that point, as do the streams and the people. From the eastern side, the tribes of Zakha Khel and the Lower Qambar Khels, known as Shalobaris, from the western side the huge swathe of Malik-Din Khel territory, and beyond that the Upper Qambar Khels. From Saddar Khel, I would walk down towards the Malik-Din Khel Bagh, then fork right towards Landi Kas, tucked in a hillside between Bagh and Dunga in Sholobar territory.

I had been studying a Sufi type of collection of Hadith, entitled Riyadh’as-Saliheenthe Path of the Righteous. I say it was Sufi oriented since it was mostly organized according to the virtues that Sufis strive to attain—repentance, patience, sincerity, trust in Allah, steadfastness. It is very spiritually oriented. I am glad I began my study of Hadith with this book. It has remained my favourite collection of Hadith—extremely cleansing and refreshing. However, Khan Afzal switched me to the more mainstream and standard Mishkat’al-MasabihMishkat is arranged more conventionally, according to the various strands of jurisprudence: prayer, fasting and the other forms of worship or ibadat—one’s interaction with Allah—followed by muamilat—one’s dealings with other human beings. In the entire Islamic canon, there is this distinction between the rights of Allah—huqooq’Allah—and the rights of one’s fellow beings, indeed of all Allah’s creatures—huqooq’al-ibad. While in Hadith study Khan Afzal went for the more orthodox Mishkat, in jurisprudence, his choice of book for my study was distinctly unorthodox. His preference was Taaleem’al-Islam, written in Urdu by his own teacher, Mufti Kefayatullah of Delhi. ‘Along with learning Islamic jurisprudence—fiqh—you will learn Urdu,’ he recommended. For Taaleem’al-Islam I went outside with his elder son Abdul Hakeem, then a teenager. I guess Abdul Hakeem felt more comfortable teaching me with his father not immediately on hand. We sat on the verge of the field, had a laugh and chatted a lot, while at the same time also reading Taaleem’al-Islam.

In encouraging me to learn Urdu, it was as though the maulana had a premonition or was goading me in the direction of study in India. It had not been that long, maybe twenty or twenty-five years, since he had returned from studying in the Aminiya madrasa in Delhi. India had rubbed off on him to a considerable degree, in a way making him an unusual Afridi. He even continued to wear a lungi—a skirt-like garment favoured by Muslims of India—at home. Pashtoons generally consider this garment effeminate. Even the maulana would not be seen in that garment outside the home. I have replicated Maulana Khan Afzal in this regard. Even when I am in Afghanistan, I wear a lungi in my place of residence; when I am in north India, I wear my lungi a little further afield, as far as the local shops; when I am in south India, I wear a lungi pretty much all the time. At the time when I was studying with the maulana, I used to ask him a lot about India. In a memorable phrase, he once told me that ‘even the dogs of India have manly virtues’—’da Hindustan spi ham saritob laree.’ ‘What’s Delhi like, compared to Peshawar?’ I once asked. ‘What is Hangu like compared to Peshawar?’ he asked rhetorically, referring to a town in the Frontier province, where buses set out towards Tirah. I answered that it was just a tiny town by comparison to Peshawar. ‘Well, so is Peshawar tiny compared to Delhi.’

Yet at the same time the maulana was the most staunchly Afridi of all the Panjpiris. He absolutely loved his native Tirah. I am getting ahead of myself here, but when he was expelled from Tirah along with other Panjpiris and resided for a while in Peshawar, he pined for his motherland so much that he used to console himself by reciting poems written by muhajirs—those who had emigrated from Mecca to Medina at the time of the Holy Prophet—expressing their homesickness for Mecca. He was also invariably cordial with his fellow Afridis, irrespective of whether they subscribed to his Panjpiri views or not. I never saw him take issue or argue with anyone about matters of dogma. He would enact his duties as the pre-eminent Islamic scholar in Tirah Maidan, in the course of which he would explain how important it was to believe in the oneness of Allah and to follow the Sunna of the Holy Prophet. These two things—Tauhid and Sunna—are the twin pillars on which Panjpiri dogma is founded. But he would never become aggressive towards those who did not subscribe to Panjpiri beliefs.


A Talib’s Tale The Life and Times of a Pashtoon Englishman is available now (also as an e-book)!

Kurumba- A Tribe That Possesses Magic

The Maria girls from Bastar practise sex as an institution before marriage, but with rules-one may not sleep with a partner more than three times; the Hallaki women from the Konkan coast sing throughout the day-in forests, fields, the market and at protests; the Kanjars have plundered, looted and killed generation after generation, and will show you how to roast a lizard when hungry.

White as Milk and Rice weaves together prose, oral narratives and Adivasi history to tell the stories of six remarkable tribes of India-reckoning with radical changes over the last century-as they were pulled apart and thrown together in ways none of them fathomed.

Here’s an excerpt from the book below:

Lying on the mattress, Mani follows the movement of his father’s breathing. Moments ago, he had watched his father’s sweaty hips thrust up and down while his stepmother, Bindu, lay still beneath him, muffling her pain. His father stayed silent, though maybe his lips kept moving – he was always moving his lips as though he were talking to someone invisible. A mongrel laid beside Mani’s feet, its ears pricked for the sound. Each time his stepmother moaned, the dog yelped.

Like most other children in Hulikkal, a small village in the Nilgiris, Mani lives in one-room mud hut, where pots and pans are pushed aside every night to make room for mats, where they can hear their parents make love, or whatever else it is, through the mosquito net that hangs between them. He shifts on the floor; his upper back hurts from being slammed against walls by his angry father when he had come back jobless from the Badaga village.

“I can’t pay for the giant morsels you eat any more,” he had shouted as he thrashed Mani. Mani wonders what it must be like growing up in the big Badaga houses he saw today, where children sleep in different rooms, thick brick and cement walls separating them from their parents.

He had not seen anything quite like the homes that appeared in the Badaga village: concrete square structures with windows painted smooth in purple, green and blue, with large vegetable patches or a stretch of tea estate sloping down in front. Each home had a little chimney with smoke swirling from it like the incense sticks his father used for the pujas.

The trees and bushes were all trimmed; from the top of the hills, he could see fields of tea, with men and women moving through them, carrying their baskets on their backs, their feet stained red from the soil. When it rains in the Nilgiris, this red earth trickles like blood under its green skin.

Earlier in the day, Mani and his uncle had walked uphill after getting off the bus; the long walk had made his legs hurt, but that did not bother him. He was willing to cross many more such hills. In the absence of trees, that part of the Nilgiris was full of gusty wind that stung his eyes till tears stained his cheeks.

When his uncle spoke, the winds carried his voice louder than he meant it to be, “I told them you already know sowing”; he’d brought him here for a daily wage job at a tea garden. Mani nodded, although he’d hardly worked in fields: They had only a small plot where they grew vegetables and some millet.

On other days, they ate what they collected – roots of yam, herbs and honey – from the forest where they lived or rice given to them by the government. This village, meanwhile, only housed the Badagas, an educated, prosperous tribe that had migrated to the Nilgiris in the early twelfth century. The estate owner his uncle was taking him to had political aspirations and everything he did was to be transactional, driven by the desire to secure votes. Among his pet constituencies were the hamlets of the Kurumbas, also some of the poorest people in Nilgiris, and the area beyond.

“Call him appa,” his uncle insisted, in the Alu Kurumba language, a mix of Tamil and Kannada.

“Remember, you’re a Kurumba. Do not stare at their family members.” Mani nodded, though his uncle had already told him this many times, just as he had told him to pat his hair down and not to say inane things: They are all educated, so don’t talk any jungle hocus-pocus.

Mani wished people did not speak to him as if he were a jungle idiot; that said, he couldn’t help but gape at the women who were walking their children to school. How smooth their skin was, their hair shining with oil, decorated with jasmine and plaited neatly with ribbons; their eyes, unlike the yellowed eyes of Kurumbas, were as white as their teeth.

Minutes later, Mani waited outside the Badaga man’s house, while a few boys chatted on their way back from school, clapping each other’s backs, laughing as they walked past him. Only a few from his hamlet went to school, but he could read what was written on their bag – “Government”. He recognised the word from its shape – it was on every pamphlet and poster handed to them.

One of the boys said something that made the others shout with laughter. Mani bunched the hole in his shirt with his fist while admiring their uniforms. They then slowed their steps to look back at their friends coming behind them, signalling them to join. That was what he wanted to do when he got older – saunter with friends through these neat little hills, talk and laugh.

When Mani looked at them again, one of the them seemed to be pointing at him, at his hair matted like a mop on his head, teeming with vermin. After some whispering, one of the boys, pretending timidity, wrung his hands beseechingly before Mani, “Spare me, oh Kurumba! Spare me from your sorcery,” and ran up the lane with the others, received by them with a hoot of laughter and much back-slapping. Mani had squeezed his eyes shut against the fierce brightness in which the boy’s oiled head laughed and moved among the waves of sudden bright sunlight.

When he recovered his vision, Mani ran behind them, but only mustered enough courage to spit in their compound. Before the Badaga estate owner could see them, his uncle tugged at his wrist and hurried him back to the bus stop. The sun was sinking behind the mountains without any play of colours or movement, save for their flustered stomp downhill.

It was only in these last few years that his forest tribe, the Kurumbas, had started working in the fields of Badagas during the day. Until a few years ago, whenever the forest tribals came in view of a Badaga, word flashed through their village, and women and children ran for the safety of home, hiding inside till the Kurumbas had gone.

If Mani knew a spell or two, he would have twisted those boys’ knickers till they fell screaming from groin pain, and practise the sorcery that they claimed his people knew.

The Kurumbas, they said, had medicines that could put all the inhabitants of a Badaga village to sleep before slinking back into the woods. Their ace sorcerer, an odikara, could make openings in the fence, and the Badaga’s livestock, under his spell, would follow him through it without so much as a cluck or a bleat. They could, apparently, turn into bears and kill people, just as they knew how to counter the other spells, to remove or prevent misfortune.

Many decades ago, when the Badaga grandfathers were little boys still hanging from their mothers’ waists, one of their elders returned from a Kurumba settlement situated outside the jungles, where he went to scout a plot for tea planting. He came back breathless, just about stuttering that their end was near and that a monster was around. Now, a Badaga knew that if a Kurumba sorcerer was casting spells, he could be appeased with rice, oil, salt and clothes. But what was this big brown animal he was screaming about, its eyes glowing red?

As the story goes, the goats, hens and cows were restless; they knew for certain that the elderly man had seen an irate Kurumba-turned-monster. All night, they howled in their sheds and tapped the ground, and the villagers slept fitfully, imagining figures and shapes in the hilly darkness.

The Badaga elders today still fear the sorcerer Kurumbas, often banding against them; their school-going children, though, have less faith in the Kurumbas’s magical abilities. “Isn’t your father, what is his name…Moopan? The limping old man who pretends to be a doctor?” a boy had teased Mani at the bus stop.

The Kurumba magic was wearing off, and a pervasive sense of futility remained. There it was, a distant murmur telling Mani that this fat Badaga life was not his birthright; there was always the possibility of running into people who spoke in hushed whispers around him; always a chance that however clean a shirt he wore, a passer-by may assume from his yellow eyes and uncouth hair that he was not a farm owner but the son of Moopan, the limping old sorcerer. His uncle had fallen asleep on the bus ride back home; Mani’s eyes burnt as he looked out at the rolling tea estates of the Badagas.

 


White as Milk and Rice has stories of India’s isolated tribes.

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