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16 must-read Indian books in translation this World Translation Day

Here is our list of 16 must-read books in translation, from the length and breadth of the country.

As a reader, you are bound to be a little more inquisitive than the general population. So, your incredible brain must not be limited to the understanding of the diverse nation that we know India to be with the variety of languages, food, clothes and spices grown its separate regions. You must delve deeper! And nothing can tell you more about a land and its people than their stories. Let this specially-curated list act as your binoculars for taking a good look at India!


Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree, translated by Daisy Rockwell
Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree, translated by Daisy Rockwell

Tomb of Sand 


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.





I, Lalla by Lal Ded, translated by Ranjit Hoskote
I, Lalla by Lal Ded, translated by Ranjit Hoskote

I, Lalla

The poems of the fourteenth-century Kashmiri mystic Lal Ded, popularly known as Lalla, strike us like brief and blinding bursts of light. Emotionally rich yet philosophically precise, sumptuously enigmatic yet crisply structured, these poems are as sensuously evocative as they are charged with an ecstatic devotion. Stripping away a century of Victorian-inflected translations and paraphrases, and restoring the jagged, colloquial power of Lalla’s voice, in Ranjit Hoskote’s new translation these poems are glorious manifestos of illumination.







Anthology of Humorous Sanskrit Verses by A.N.D. Haksar
Anthology of Humorous Sanskrit Verses by A.N.D. Haksar

Anthology of Humorous Sanskrit Verses

In recent times, whenever ancient Sanskrit works are discussed or translated into English, the focus is usually on the lofty, religious and dramatic works. Due to the interest created by Western audiences, the Kama Sutra and love poetry has also been in the limelight. But, even though the Hasya Rasa or the humorous sentiment has always been an integral part of our ancient Sanskrit literature, it is little known today.
Anthology of Humorous Sanskrit Verses is a collection of about 200 verse translations drawn from various Sanskrit works or anthologies compiled more than 500 years ago. Several such anthologies are well-known although none of them focus exclusively on humor. A.N.D. Haksar’s translation of these verses is full of wit, earthy humor and cynical satire, and an excellent addition of the canon of Sanskrit literature.






Temple Lamp by Mirza Ghalib, Maaz Bin Bilal
Temple Lamp by Mirza Ghalib, Maaz Bin Bilal

Temple Lamp: Verses on Banaras by Mirza Asadullah Beg Khan

The poem ‘Chirag-e-Dair’ or Temple Lamp is an eloquent and vibrant Persian masnavi by Mirza Ghalib. While we quote liberally from his Urdu poetry, we know little of his writings in Persian, and while we read of his love for the city of Delhi, we discover in temple Lamp, his rapture over the spiritual and sensual city of Banaras.

Chiragh-e-dair is being translated directly from Persian into English in its entirety for the first time, with a critical Introduction by Maaz Bin Bilal. It is Mirza Ghalib’s pean to Kashi, which he calls Kaaba-e-Hindostan or the Mecca of India.





Rajinder Singh Bedi by Rajinder Singh Bedi, Gopi Chand Narang and Surinder Deol
Rajinder Singh Bedi by Rajinder Singh Bedi, Gopi Chand Narang and Surinder Deol

Selected Stories: Rajinder Singh Bedi 

Rajinder Singh Bedi: Selected Short Stories curates some of the best work by the Urdu writer, whose contribution to Urdu fiction makes him a pivotal force within modern Indian literature. Born in Sialkot, Punjab, Rajinder Singh Bedi (1915-1984) lived many lives-as a student and postmaster in Lahore, a venerated screenwriter for popular Hindi films and a winner of both the Sahitya Akademi as well as the Filmfare awards. Considered one of the prominent progressive writers of modern Urdu fiction, Bedi was an architect of contemporary Urdu writing along with leading lights such as Munshi Premchand and Saadat Hasan Manto.








Battles of Our Own by Jagadish Mohanty
Battles of Our Own by Jagadish Mohanty

Battles of Our Own

Jagadish Mohanty’s Battles of Our Own is a rare work of modern Odia and Indian fiction. It seeks to delineate a world that is off the grid. Its action unfolds in the remote and non-descript Tarbahar Colliery-a fictional name for the over hundred-year-old open-cast Himgiri Rampur coal mine in the hinterland of western Odisha. A work of gritty realism in its portrayal of a dark and dangerous underworld where coal is extracted, the novel poignantly reveals the primeval struggle between man and brute nature.






Four Chapters by Rabindranath Tagore, translated by Radha Chakravarty
Four Chapters by Rabindranath Tagore, translated by Radha Chakravarty

Four Chapters

Char Adhyay (1934) was Rabindranath Tagore’s last novel, and perhaps the most controversial. Passion and politics intertwine in this narrative, set in the context of nationalist politics in pre-Independent India.
This new translation, intended for twenty-first-century readers, will bring Tagore’s text to life in a contemporary idiom, while evoking the flavour of the story’s historical setting.








Hungry Humans by Karichan Kunju and Sudha G. Tilak
Hungry Humans || Karichan Kunju and Sudha G. Tilak

Hungry Humans

Ganesan returns, after four decades, to the town of his childhood, filled with memories of love and loneliness, of youthful beauty and the ravages of age and misfortune, of the promise of talent and its slow destruction. Seeking treatment for leprosy, he must also come to terms with his past: his exploitation at the hands of older men, his growing consciousness of desire and his own sexual identity, his steady disavowal of Brahminical morality and his slowly degenerating body. He longs for liberation-sexual, social and spiritual-but finally finds peace only in self-acceptance.






Vultures by Dalpat Chauhan and Hemang Ashwinkumar 
Vutures by Dalpat Chauhan and Hemang Ashwinkumar


Based on the blood-curdling murder of a Dalit boy by Rajput landlords in Kodaram village in 1964, Vultures portrays a feudal society structured around caste-based relations and social segregation, in which Dalit lives and livelihoods are torn to pieces by upper-caste vultures. The deft use of dialect, graphic descriptions and translator Hemang Ashwinkumar’s lucid telling throw sharp focus on the fragmented world of a mofussil village in Gujarat, much of which remains unchanged even today.







Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar and Jerry Pint
Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar and Jerry Pinto

Cobalt Blue

A paying guest seems like a win-win proposition to the Joshi family. He’s ready with the rent, he’s willing to lend a hand when he can and he’s happy to listen to Mrs Joshi on the imminent collapse of our culture.
But he’s also a man of mystery. He has no last name. He has no family, no friends, no history and no plans for the future.
The siblings Tanay and Anuja are smitten by him. He overturns their lives. And when he vanishes, he breaks their hearts.






The Prince and the Political Agent by Binodini Devi and L. Somi Roy
The Prince and the Political Agent byb Binodini Devi, L. Somi Roy

The Prince and the Political Agent

The Manipuri writer Binodini’s Sahitya Akademi Award-winning historical novel The Princess and the Political Agent tells the love story of her aunt Princess Sanatombi and Lt. Col. Henry P. Maxwell, the British representative in the subjugated Tibeto-Burman kingdom of Manipur. A poignant story of love and fealty, treachery and valour, it is set in the midst of the imperialist intrigues of the British Raj, the glory of kings, warring princes, clever queens and loyal retainers.







Hangwoman by K.R. Meera and J. Devika
Hangwoman by K.R. Meera, J. Devika


The Grddha Mullick family takes pride in the ancient lineage they trace from four hundred years before Christ. They burst with marvelous tales of hangmen and hangings in which the Grddha Mullicks figure as eyewitnesses to the momentous events that have shaped the history of the subcontinent.

In the present day, the youngest member of the family, twenty-two-year-old Chetna, is appointed the first woman executioner in India, assistant and successor to her father Phanibhushan. Thrust suddenly into the public eye, even starring in her own reality show, Chetna’s life explodes under the harsh lights of television cameras. As the day of her first execution approaches, she breaks out of the shadow of a domineering father and the thrall of a brutally manipulative lover, and transforms into a charismatic performer in her own right.





Ha Ha Hu Hu by Velcheru Narayana Rao and V. Satyanarayana
Ha Ha Hu Hu by Velcheru Narayana Rao, V. Satyanarayana


Ha Ha Hu Hu: A Horse-Headed God in Trafalgar Square

Ha Ha Hu Hu tells the delightful tale of an extraordinary horse-headed creature that mysteriously appears in London one fine morning, causing considerable excitement and consternation among the city’s denizens. Dressed in silks and jewels, it has the head of a horse but the body of a human and speaks in an unknown tongue. What is it? And more importantly, why is it here?

In the hilarious satire Vishnu Sharma Learns English, a Telugu lecturer is visited in a dream by the medieval poet Tikanna and the ancient scholar Vishnu Sharma with an unusual request: they want him to teach them English!







Tejo Tungabhadra by Vasudhendra and Maithreyi Karnoor
Tejo Tungabhadra by Vasudhendra, Maithreyi Karnoor

Tejo Tungabhadra: Tributaries of Time

Tejo Tungabhadra tells the story of two rivers on different continents whose souls are bound together by history. The two stories converge in Goa with all the thunder and gush of meeting rivers. Set in the late 15th and early 16th century, this is a grand saga of love, ambition, greed, and a deep zest for life through the tossing waves of history.









Phoolsunghi by Pandey Kapil and Gautam Choubey
Phoolsunghi by Pandey Kapil, Gautam Choubey


The first ever translation of a Bhojpuri novel into English, Phoolsunghi transports readers to a forgotten world filled with mujras and mehfils, court cases and counterfeit currency, and the crashing waves of the River Saryu.









Lilavati by Tridip Suhrud and Govardhanram Tripathi
Lilavati by Govardhanram Tripathi, translated by Tridip Suhrud

Lilavati: A Life

In a moment of rare passion Govardhanram Madhavram Tripathi, author of Sarasvatichandra, exclaimed ‘I only want their souls’. He was referring to the souls of his countrymen and women, which he sought to cultivate through his literary writings. Lilavati was his and Lalitagauri’s eldest daughter. Her education and the writing of Sarasvaticandra were intertwined. She was raised to be the perfect embodiment of virtue, and died at the age of twenty-one, consumed by tuberculosis. In moments of ‘lucidity’ , she spoke of her suffering and that challenged the very foundations of Govardhanram’s life. In 1905 he wrote her biography, Lilavati Jivankala. This is a rare work in biographical literature, a father writing about the life of a deceased daughter. Despite Govardhanram’s attempts to contain Lilavati as a unidimensional figure of his imagination, she goes beyond that, sometimes by questioning the fundamental tenets of Brahminical beliefs, and at others by being so utterly selfless as to be unreal even to him.






So, with this breathtaking list in hand, let’s get travelling, shall we?


The Making of the Indian Muslim Civilization

Today roughly 500 million Muslims inhabit South Asia, although the process of Islamization began in the eighth century, the region developed a distinct Indo-Islamic civilization that culminated in the Mughal Empire. In the Gulf, while paying lip service to the power centres, including Mecca and Medina, this civilization cultivated its own variety of Islam, which was based on Sufism.
‘The Islamic Connection’ gathers together some of the best specialists on the pan-Islamic ties and explores  ideological, educational and spiritual networks, which have gained momentum due to political strategies, migration flows and increased communications.
Revisiting the old notion of ‘acculturation’ from the point of view of the ‘connected history’ school of thought,5 Sanjay Subrahmanyam argues that when civilizations meet, ‘Time and again, then, we are forced to come to terms with a situation that is not one of mutual indifference, or of a turning of backs, or of a deep-rooted incomprehension, but of shifting vocabularies, and changes that are wrought over time by improvisations that eventually come to be part of a received tradition.’ In South Asia, Muslims have invented their own ‘brand’ of Islam soon after their arrival in the region, following their encounter with the dominant civilization, Hinduism.
Certainly, the Caliphate played a role in the initial conquest of South Asian territories by Arabs in the eighth century. It was the Khalifah al-Walid b. ‘Abdul Malik who, hearing that Arab traders had been captured by the ruler of Sind, asked the governor of Baghdad to send an army to liberate them in 711. The soldiers of Muhammad b. Qasim did more than that and conquered the whole of Sind. The social structure of the Muslims of South Asia, who became dominant in spite of their remaining a minority, reflects their attachment to the Arabian peninsula: the upper strata was made of those (the Syed) who claimed that they descended from the Prophet. Another source of prestige came from the accomplishment of the Mecca pilgrimage (the Hajj), the title ‘Hajji’ being affixed to the name of those who had done it.
However, the Muslims who brought Islam to South Asia in a sustainable manner were not those who used the sword to conquer the region and/or who looked back, but the Sufis who made India a sacred land for Muslims, as mentioned in the introduction of this volume, after the establishment of khanqahs (buildings designed for the gathering of Sufis saints’ disciples) and dargahs (tombs of saints) which became major pilgrimage centres.
Not only did Muslims of medieval India distance themselves from the holy cities of Arabia and develop sacred sites across ‘their’ land, they also initiated spiritual relations with the Hindus. While orthodox scholars developed forms of Islamic proselytization in order to convert these ‘infidels’ (kafirs), some Sufis and several Muslim rulers promoted a very substantial spiritual dialogue with Hindus. The encounter of Sufis and Yogis resulted in rich spiritual exchanges.For making possible this dialogue, which reached its culminating point during the Mughal Empire under Akbar, spiritual treaties were translated from Sanskrit to Persian and Arabic. Besides, after 1579, Akbar appeared as a competitor for the Caliph himself as suggested by Sanjay Subrahmanyam:
In early September 1579, a group of theologians, including the Shaikh ul-Islam, were pressurized into signing a text claiming for Akbar a special status of Padshah-i Islam, beyond that even of a Sultan-i Adil. […] one of the epithets used for him was now Mujtahid, as also Imam-i Adil, the latter startlingly close to the usages favoured at one time by Süleyman. Indeed, the challenges was directed in good measures at the Ottomans, who had claimed superior status as the Khalifas of the east, with their conquest of Egypt.
These words and the spiritual innovations of Akbar reflected the great autonomy of the Indo-Islamic civilization vis-à-vis West Asia, including the holy cities of the Arabian peninsula and Istanbul, the seat of the Caliphate. But the fact that Akbar claimed that he was a kind of Caliph also shows that the Indian Muslims were deeply attached to the idea of the Caliphate, that they somewhat tried to replicate. And when the Mughal Empire started to wane, the attitude of the Muslim Indians towards the Ottomans changed.
Local Muslim rulers threatened by the Europeans turned to the Ottoman Sultan for help and recognition in the eighteenth century, including those of the Malabar coast and Tipu Sultan, the warlord of southern India who put up the most successful resistance to the British. Tipu Sultan sent an ambassador to Constantinople in 1785 requesting that he bring back a letter of investiture from the Ottoman Sultan and military support. He got the former, but not the latter. The declining Mughal dynasty also turned towards the Ottoman Sultan. In fact, the less power the dynasty retained, the more Indian Muslims turned to the Caliph as their protector. In the first half of the nineteenth century, ‘the name of the Ottoman sultan definitely came to be mentioned in the Friday khutba in some Indian mosques.’ Gradually, Indian ulama recognized the Ottoman sultans as the holder of the universal caliphate. This trend reached its logical conclusion after the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah II (1775–1862) was deposed and exiled to Rangoon in the wake of the 1857 Mutiny which marked the final phase of the Mughal decline.
Find this book: The Islamic Connection: South Asia and the Gulf

What attracted Usha Narayanan to Mythological Stories?

Usha Narayanan, author of Prem Purana, has donned many hats, before becoming a successful full-time author. In her glorious career, she has dabbled with genres like thriller and romance, before turning to mythology. Her works Pradyumna: Son of Krishna and The Secret of God’s Son have been praised as ‘Indian mythology at its fiercest and finest’. 
Her latest book, Prem Purana is about stories of love and extraordinary devotion found in Hindu mythology. On the launch of the book we asked her what about the mythological stories attracted her to write about them.
Here’s what she had to say.
The idea of writing mythological love stories was born during a conversation with my editor Vaishali Mathur at the Jaipur Literature Festival when she suggested that I should combine my strengths in writing mythology and romance. At that point, I was busy with The Secret of God’s Son and it was only after it was completed that I could think seriously think about this. I knew that our epics and Puranas focused more on the battle between good and evil, with heroic gods and fearsome demons confronting one another. Only a few love stories were widely known, such as the one of Kama shooting his arrow of love at ascetic Shiva, or of Arjuna winning Draupadi’s hand at her swayamvara.
I began my quest by re-reading all the ancient lore with an eye to discovering tales of the heart. As always, when writing mythological fiction, I wished to focus on untold stories, using my imagination to bring alive minor characters or lesser-known aspects of major ones. The first character who caught my eye was Ganesha. We think of him as the lovable elephant-headed god with a fondness for modakas. But who did he marry? People in the south of India swear that he is single, but others state vociferously that he is married. The images in temples show him either alone or with a wife or two. What are their names? Some say Siddhi and Riddhi, while others think their names are Siddhi and Buddhi. That was enough intrigue to stimulate my mind!
Another interesting layer to the story is the idea that Buddhi, Siddhi and Riddhi represent intellect, spiritual power and prosperity. As their names are merely mentioned in passing in most Puranas, I could give full rein to my imagination in portraying them. I endowed the three with distinct characteristics and showed Ganesha wooing them in different ways, according to their particular likes and dislikes. My Riddhi is sprightly, Buddhi is silent and deep, and Siddhi is fierce and opposed to the very idea of marriage! Their stories span three realms and four yugas, shedding light on many engaging aspects of Ganesha, the first among the gods. To add to the appeal, I discovered that in Bengal, during Durga Puja, Ganesha even has a banana bride!
I think readers will enjoy seeing Gajamukha in a refreshing new light in Ganesha’s Brides, the first of the three stories in Prem Purana.  
“Siddhi watched as more and more arrows struck Ganesha, causing blood to flow like a flood. Was he ready to meet death rather than forsake his promise to her? Would he sacrifice everything for the sake of his love?”
For the second story, Mandodari, my inspiration came from the Ramayana. Ravana was Brahma’s great grandson on his father’s side and an asura prince on his mother’s. Choosing to follow the asura path, he pillaged heaven and earth, ravished women and abducted Rama’s wife Sita. What I found of interest was not his war with Rama, but his relationship with his wife Mandodari. How did she react to all this? Did she protest or did she submit silently to his actions? What was her background? Did the rakshasa love her? And the most exciting question of all―did Mandodari come face to face with Sita, the woman she regarded as the instrument of doom that would bring down Lanka?
I found no answers in the commonly available texts where Mandodari features in a mere two or three scenes. Fortunately, however, there are many Ramayana versions available. I followed the uncommon trails, used my imagination and fleshed out the queen’s character, placing her emotions at the centre of the narrative. The story also reveals startling new facets of Ravana’s character and motivations. I think Mandodari, with all its twists and turns, will be riveting and revelatory to readers.
“‘Snatching a woman by force or stealth is not an act of valour, Ravana. She is not an object of lust or a means to settle scores with your enemy,’ said Mandodari, her voice loud and clear. She would speak the truth regardless of consequences. It was a risk she had to take for Ravana and her people.”
After delving into the lives of a merry god and a dire rakshasa, it was time to move to the human plane, with the story of King Nala and Princess Damayanti. She turned down the gods who courted her at her swayamvara and chose Nala as her husband. Though she chose love over immortality, Nala was driven by his own demons and abandoned her in a dangerous forest. Damayanti struggled to survive the perils that confronted her at every turn, but forged forward regardless. She did not give up hope and devised various stratagems to reclaim her happiness.
I was fascinated by her strength and also by the magical swan that plays a key role as the messenger of love. I named the swan Gagana, meaning sky or heaven, and created a charming and audacious companion to Damayanti. The Kali demon, who plays a major role in my previous books, Pradyumna: Son of Krishna and The Secret of God’s Son, is the enemy that Nala and his queen must confront. How can a mortal pair combat the power of the demon who reigns over a dark yuga that signals the end of the world? Love, loss, hope and despair form the chequered background of this poetic tale.
“‘Majestic Ashoka, whose name signifies one who destroys grief . . . Free me from pain and unite me once more with my Nala!’ cried Damayanti, sinking to her knees under a soaring Ashoka tree. Alas, the tree made no answer and all she could hear was the wind rustling among the leaves.”
A major part of my excitement in writing these stories came from the opportunity to focus attention on the women in our epics who are often sidelined. We often find that a woman is regarded as a prize to be won, someone who is forced to watch quietly while her husband makes disastrous decisions. However, the heroines in Prem Purana are central to the action. They are strong, independent thinkers who inspire the males in their lives―god, asura or king―to do the right thing and live up to their responsibilities.
I hope readers enjoy reading these tales which provide a good mix of fervour and fury, heroism and heartbreak, set against a spectacular backdrop spanning heaven and earth.
Prem Purana Footer (1)

Five significant contributions of Islam’s advent in India

The relationship between Hindu and Islamic traditions has existed in the subcontinent since the Persians set foot in Asia. The relationship has seen a lot turns and turmoil ever since. In the light of recent political climate, the alliance has become more relevant.
Historian Raziuddin Aquil, in his book The Muslim Question: Understanding Islam and Indian History has given a poignant and detailed account of the evolution of Islam from its prime to its transformation in India due to colonialism.
Here are five instances which capture the legacy of Islam in India.
India’s integration of Islam also opened a transfer of fresh political ideas which had evolved over the centuries in Iran and Greece. In many ways, this was a re-emergence of political ideas in a new garb.
Islam 1.jpg
There was also an emergence of ‘syncretic’ traditions in different regions which did not conform to any particular religion.
Islam 2.jpg
Although the main undertaking of Sufi traditions was to restrict any deviations from the Muslim rule, their belief in unity within multiplicity contributed to religious synthesis and cultural amalgamation.
Islam 3.jpg
Jalal-ud-Din Muhammad Akbar due to his inclusive religious and administrative policies is regarded as one of the greatest rulers of India.
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Under Akbar’s rule, man’s reason (aql), not tradition (naql), was acknowledged as the only basis of religion.
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Read more about Islam’s journey in Raziuddin Aquil, in his book The Muslim Question: Understanding Islam and Indian HistoryGet your copy here.

6 Myths Around India that Bollywood Has Debunked or Upheld

From Raj Kapoor to Amitabh Bachchan to Shah Rukh Khan, Bollywood has been India’s best cultural ambassador all over the world. In her remarkable new book – Bollywood Boom – Roopa Swaminathan shows how Bollywood has the power to mould India’s fortunes by winning the hearts of people across continents.
Amidst its rising power to influence the world, Bollywood has both debunked and upheld few myths that surround India and Indians. Here’s a look at six of those popular myths!
Myth 1
When lead characters in mainstream Bollywood films were supposed to have sex onscreen, the scenes showed the rubbing together of two flowers  or cutaway shots of birds chirping. But Bollywood has come a long way since! It’s a case of building up an already popular myth – that Indians don’t do sex, or they do it mysteriously – and then busting it some decades down the line.
Myth 2
That’s one of the myths that Bollywood has busted in recent times. Indian girls do choose how their lives play out and that is well-represented by a plethora of modern characters in Hindi cinema. The female protagonist in Love Aaj Kal makes a mistake, gets married to the wrong guy but has the guts to break it off and walk into the sunset with the right guy at the end.
Myth 3
When it comes to sex, Indians have increasingly started to explore and choose. The sentiment is reflected in this new era of Bollywood. In Ek Main aur Ek Tu, the female protagonist openly claimed to have slept with more than a few guys.
Myth 4
Either your parents’ house or your home after marriage – apparently, those are the only options that two consenting adults in a romantic relationship can manage. That myth has been debunked! Salaam Namaste deals with the pros and cons of ‘living together’ before getting married
Myth 5
Gone are the days when the international community viewed India only as this mystical land, full of old-world charms. New Bollywood movies show India in its full range now. Much of the diaspora who travel to India do so after being fascinated by an India that they’ve seen in Bollywood films.
Myth 6
Not every Bollywood film is laden with songs and dances. And certainly, not every aspect of Indian life is a high-volume drama. Increasingly, the new wave of Bollywood has brought to the fore other sensibilities of the Indian culture.
Do you, too, have a myth in mind that you think Bollywood has busted or upheld? We would love to know!

Art in the Time of Orthodoxy

By Faiqa Mansab
There is a saying in Punjabi: When you make friends with elephants, you should build bigger doors. I’ve always felt that’s an apt way of describing what being an artist means. Art is the elephant; and an artist must make space for the subsequent battles that their art lets into their life. Such battles are small at first: about time spent doing ‘better, more useful things’; then the battles are angrier, ‘you want to end up dead?’ Rubbing the orthodox demagogues, the wrong way isn’t safe in my country and I chose to write stories that are taboo, dangerous even, in the current scenario.
For orthodoxy and extremism to succeed—and they are conjoined twins—a single identity is imperative. Plurality weakens the declaration of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ necessary to the narrative of dogma and so plurality is being systematically shunned. When religion is constructed as the defining feature of a society, then any difference in opinion is perceived as a threat. The bid for a religious identity must be singular, and it must be patriarchal—much like the concept of nationalism. Such an ideology is based on binaries: one must hate in order to love. Extremism is a necessary tool to the fulfillment of nationalistic jargon and jingoism, even though both are in response to global power dynamics and socio-economic oppression.
The battle between organized religion and spiritualism is as old as religion itself. Art for me is a kind of spiritual expression.  Doctrine commands that life must be lived with rules. An artist, by nature, flouts rules. Spiritualism suits me better than orthodox tenets, even if spiritualism is currently out of favor within the society and State I call home. This is precisely because conventional religious dogma suits the State. Orthodoxy means rules, rules mean control and control means power.
It isn’t a West versus Islam condition at all. Even a largely Muslim majority country like Pakistan is facing ethnic and sectarian issues because difference is not tolerated in any form at any level. Look at what is happening at Sufi shrines, the very cradle of love and tolerance is being targeted to reinforce orthodoxy.
Extremism around the world is fed by the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ psyche, spreading like a contagion; and it is not just xenophobic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic. Shia versus Sunni; liberal versus conservative, orthodox Muslim versus Sufi Muslim, neighbor versus neighbor—as if 1984’s Orwellian universe has become the new reality. These days one must have a single identity to be considered ‘true’ to one’s country, one’s race, one’s people. Not having a single identity makes one suspect. Plurality and hybridity are threats to be eliminated. Hence the witch hunt against seekers of truth—journalists and artists ongoing in Pakistan.
When society is divided between self-proclaimed self-righteous soldiers of God and ‘others’, then any deviation is open to interpretations of madness, of rebellion and sin. When ‘justice’ is meted out by mobs, and social media becomes a platform for shaming and blaming rather than a platform of freedom of speech, then extremism has already infected the socio-political fabric of society. It is already an unstable environment where conformist thinking has taken strong root and flowered into radicalism. These conditions bother me and in my stories, I’ve tried to depict this volatile and insecure place where law is open to interpretation by the highest bidder.
There is a lovely poem in Urdu by Dr. Khalid Javed Jan “Main Baghi Hoon”. It’s a beautiful poem about an artist, a person of principles, who is aware that he dares to do the right thing by speaking out against oppression. It’s one of my most favorite poems.
Man is a political animal. So is woman.
The worst off in this tussle, as in many other power struggles over the past centuries, are women. Their bodies are the site of struggle between conformist and liberal thinkers, and patriarchal wars are waged on their bodies. Should women be ‘allowed’ to wear the hijab?  Should they be ‘allowed’ to wear burkinis? Should they be ‘allowed’ to wear bikinis? If perchance, it’s the body of an immigrant woman, then the right to speak about it, to dictate to it, to pass laws and judgment on it, increases manifold.
It began with Eve, who was not only an exile but also an immigrant. She came to a new world, leaving the familiar, her home—the Garden of Eden (‘Home’ is always the garden of Eden in memory and nostalgia) looking to build a new life with Adam on Earth. Immigration is ingrained in human psyche. It is a natural progression for some, a necessary act of survival for others.
There is another kind of immigration that the world finds problematic: the one between genders. Where do people of indeterminate gender, people who choose to change their sexual identity go? There is no country for queer people.
We can all agree that gender is a political declaration. My novel, This House of Clay and Water tells the stories of Bhanggi, Nida and Zoya, a hermaphrodite, a woman, and a child who are victims of their place, their society and culture, because of their genders and because they do not conform. Gender is still at the heart of power struggles in a lot of places in the world. And place, space, position is important in negotiating with power. Where one is from, and where one can go, are equally dynamic parameters of negotiation.
I often wonder, what art means. It is a roar against patriarchy for me, and it is a declaration of independence against conformity. Art reflects its times and the response of people to those times.
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5 Momentous Performances of Sonal Mansingh

At the tender age of 18, Sonal Mansingh began dancing professionally. In a  career of fifty-five years, she has given many mesmerizing performances in Bharatnatyam, Odissi, and Chhau.
Mansingh has travelled the world for her dance and won many accolades. Here are five momentous performances by her that make us want to go back in time and witness them.
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Read more about her illustrious dance career in Sonal Mansingh: A Life Like No Other.
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Seven Derek Walcott Quotes that will Etch Him in Your Memory Forever!

Born in Castries, the St Lucia capital, Sir Derek Walcott’s first poems, which were self-published, emerged in 1948. His work celebrated his Caribbean culture, enhanced by an encyclopedic knowledge and insight in world history, global cultures and triumphs of humanity.
As a youngster, he struggled with questions of race and his passion for British poetry, describing it as a “wrestling contradiction of being white in mind and black in body, as if the flesh were coal from which the spirit like tormented smoke writhed to escape.”
Sir Walcott won the Nobel Prize in 1992, two years after his epic book-length poem Omeros, which brought him worldwide acclaim, was published. His dazzling, painterly work earned him a reputation as one of the greatest writers of the second half of the 20th century.
Today, as we remember him, let us have a look at some of his quotes.
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RIP Sir Derek Walcott.

What Aurangzeb Loved: 6 Things that Moved His Heart

Aurangzeb was an enigmatic king. To quote Khafi Khan, the laudatory eighteenth-century historian of Aurangzeb’s reign, who, comparing Aurangzeb to the Persian ruler Jamshid said, “To attempt a summary of the major events of a fifty-year reign of an emperor the equal of Jamshid is to measure the ocean’s water with a pitcher.”
There were many layers to Aurangzeb, many things that inspired and moved his heart.
Here are six instances from Aurangzeb’s life that reveal his loves and passions!
He had a passion to carry the Mughal legacy forward and building a great career
He had a deep love for literature and poetry
Few know about Aurangzeb’s whirlwind romance
Leisure and music moved his heart
He had a passion for justice
And he loved mangoes!
Fascinated? Looking to read more about this Indian emperor who is often misunderstood? Get Audrey Truschke’s Aurangzeb: The Man and the Myth here!

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