Posts tagged ‘India’

February 19, 2011

February Thoughts from South Asia

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BY KULPREET YADAV

 

Prof P. Lal, one of the most loveable Indian Publishers, closes his final book

I won’t talk about the literary festivals that are proliferating in India these days like wildfire (but don’t take me as someone who is averse to them). Rather, with esteemed reverence I would like to remember one of the India’s greatest publishers and writers, Prof P. Lal, who passed away recently. His ‘Writer’s Workshop’, during the five decades plus of its existence, published many famous names of the present times: Vikram Seth, Anita Desai, Shashi Deshpande and Raja Rao, to name a few.

 

I got to know about Prof P. Lal about four years ago and spoke with him on a few occasions. This was the time when I was looking for a suitable publisher for my novel. I had spoken to about a dozen editors and publishing house receptionists or so, and the only one who spoke to me with excitement was Prof Lal. Not just that, he also gave me a few words of encouragement, something that did a lot to my confidence and for which I am forever indebted.

But sadly, I couldn’t publish with Writer’s Workshop (I repent it to this day). And the only reason I didn’t publish my first title with him was due to the simple fact that WW didn’t have a distribution setup. Mr. Lal’s love for books was so deep-routed and his idea of books so unique that he hand-bound the books himself in lovely and colorful Indian sarees (the traditional clothing of Indian women) cloth pieces from his house at Kolkata, in north east India, and the book numbers were kept as low as 100, something like a limited edition.

During one of our recent conversations, I requested him to accept a small donation from me for the Writer’s Workshop, which his website announced they needed. I was honored because, not only did he accept my offer, but he also made it a point to talk about my small gesture on WW’s website. It is still there now. Aside from this, there was a poetry collection I had been working on, too, about which I told him and he asked me to send it for consideration. But since it wasn’t fully ready, I couldn’t send it. Now, perhaps, I never will. Worse, no one as good might ever be willing to see it.

 

A father at 94

Well, this got me thinking, I mean, how is it possible to father a child that is biologically one’s own at 94?

But it has happened right here in India! The man who achieved this feat asserted, according to a national daily, that it’s due to the food he had consumed when young: three liters of Buffalo milk, half a kilo of almonds and half a kilo of ghee (melted, clarified butter) everyday. It’s a magic formula to remain virile until the final breath, if you go by his theory. Food for thought for scientists, I guess.

In a race to unsettle the previous record holder, another Indian man who fathered a child at 90, this nonagenarian farmer is not just happy, he is bubbling with newly attained fatherhood and posing for pictures in his village in India’s northwest. He has called this unique achievement, ‘The God’s gift’. His wife is in her mid-fifties.

An important question: Is it not the responsibility of a parent to consider, before bearing a child, if he or she has enough residual time to bring up the child properly? But at 94 he can hardly be blamed to worry about such issues. And as Hugh Hefner, CEO of Playboy enterprises, recently said during his engagement to a Playboy model 60 years younger, ‘When you’re in love, age is just a number.’ Let’s watch out: he’s 84.

 

When it’s for the family, it pays to fight the weather

With the onset of a particularly aggressive winter this year, it hurt many of us to see so many people stuck at the airports all over Europe and America, spending Christmas and other holidays sprawled on hard benches or floors. So the question is: is it really worthwhile for you to jettison your travel plans, or the possibility of being with your loved ones, for the fear that the weather may play a spoil sport?

I would like to share what happened to me when I was confronted with the option and the opportunity came for me to visit my family at Delhi, nearly three thousand kilometers from where I am stationed. The newspaper had reported diversion of 76 flights during the last few days of December yet I grabbed the opportunity to visit my family with both hands and booked myself a flight for the first of January. And as luck would have it, the aircraft arrived in the afternoon on a clear day and on time. So you see, it does pay to fight the weather.

December 19, 2010

December Thoughts from South Asia

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BY KULPREET YADAV

John Lennon – We Imagine you!

The two people who impacted me the most when I was teenager growing up in downtown Pune, a large city in India’s Midwest, were John Lennon and James Hadley Chase. John’s gone for thirty years now.

Why do crazy people spot and erase such geniuses? It’s a question that I have been wondering about recently. Imagine if we had John’s songs for a decade or two more. I can’t imagine, can you? I think only John could tell me how and with his untimely demise our right to vivid imagination has been stolen away. The BBC, in a specially aired show on the eve of the anniversary of his death, showed young college students singing his songs at campuses in America and other places. I guess the songs of John Lennon will continue to live forever – just like him. This I sure can imagine.

 

Publishing ruckus in India

Throughout India, there is a lack of publishers, surely not enough for the appetite of millions who have the aptitude to pen down their stories, poetries or observations. Understandably, many from foreign shores are queuing up, which leads to strong emotion here, but if you are alongside me here in India you will see the point. A recent article in a leading weekly has pegged the publishing industry in India growing at twenty percent, an enthusiasm that is slated to sustain for at least five more years. Recently, U.S.-based publisher Hachette set up their India office and more are rumored to follow.

The traditional Indian publishing industry, if they intend to survive this invasion, need to put their houses in order. Distribution and sieving through each submission that comes their way is the key. While the former might be easy to figure out, it is the latter that is the real problem. A publisher friend says he has time and resources to read only five percent of what he receives.

 

Winters at Port Blair

While my family is braving the chills in Delhi, I am all bandana, shorts and T-shirt clad here at Port Blair, an island city in the middle of the Bay of Bengal. It’s December and here the weather is as good as it can get. There are people – Indian tourists and irregular foreign ones – everywhere you see. It’s good fun to visit bars in the evenings and I do just that on most days. At the bars everyone wants to sing, most men can be heard boasting their stories at the tables with others around the table not necessarily listening, and the girls are their giggly best. But I still miss my family. Anyone who has stayed away from his wife and kids for over two months at a stretch can feel my pain.

 

***
Kulpreet Yadav is a novelist, short fiction writer and a poet from India. You can visit his blog here.

September 9, 2010

CanLit Book Review: Chef by Jaspreet Singh

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CHEF
by Jaspreet Singh

Vintage Canada
(CA – April 2008; US – April 2010, CAN $19.95, 246 pages)

In 1984 India carried out the military operation Meghdoot, which saw the successful invasion and occupation of the Siachen Glacier in the eastern Karakoram range of the Himalayan mountains. Ensuing from this invasion, India and Pakistan have continually warred atop this highest battlefield on earth, raging over the rights to the 70 kilometre stretch of frozen land.

For retired Indian-Sikh military chef Kirpal Singh, the main character in Jaspreet Singh’s Georges Bugnet Award winning novel Chef, his experience of the Siachen Conflict burns deep inside him. Literally, Kip (Kirpal) suffers from cancer. Symbolically, his cancer is war’s destruction personified. Eating away at Kip are memories of serving a corrupt government concerned more with right to land ownership than the will of its people.

Chef opens with Kip embarking on a long train ride from Delhi to Srinagar, his former camp, to cook a feast for the Governor of Kashmir’s daughter’s wedding. The Governor was Kip’s commander, one General Kumar, fourteen years earlier when Kip joined the army and became protégé to expert military chef, Kishen. As Kip flashes back to his war days from behind the closed kitchen quarter doors where higher rank officials stayed away from, we learn how Kip witnessed the sour fundamentals of Indian bureaucracy and, most importantly, how important political dignitaries are in bed with the military.

Kip’s first lesson in the army is understanding his role as chef which, with fierce allusion to the Indian caste system, means answering to those above him. Young and naïve, Kip adapts to his place in military society, and through his chef-minded perspective, Singh’s allegorical binding of food to cultural tradition becomes clear. When Kip visits the home of a Muslim girl, he is propositioned by her brother to marry her, and the girl serves a metaphorical dowry of tea. Kip simply wants to observe her cooking, and wonders why she does not join them for tea. Her place, like Kip’s, is in the kitchen, and he learns something about both Muslim culture and elitism along lines he understands. A similar scene unfolds later when Kip becomes flirtatious with a nurse who is Kishen’s lover. She bats him away, saying “I have no tea to offer you.” Hence, enjoying tea, a mainstay in everyday life, symbolises age-old interaction between the sexes.

As Kip grows into adulthood, Singh’s food metaphors sink deeper. Cultural faux pas extending from food preparation relate to social class when Kishen feeds a non-vegetarian dish to a group of Muslim clerics visiting Srinagar. The clerics are there on official, sketchy business, and for the offensive act marring the General’s reputation, Kishen is sent on permanent leave to a camp on the peak of the Siachen Glacier. Here, food leads to a perfect depiction of the power an elite has over a peasant.

Early in part three of Chef, an assumed insurgent, a Pakistani woman named Irem, is captured. Kip is the only one able to interpret her Kashmiri language, and is ordered to learn everything about her. Still a hormonal twenty-something virgin, Kip becomes obsessed with helping Irem, who turns out to be ‘clean’, or not a terrorist. In fact, she warns the General is being targeted for assassination by real Pakistani insurgents and, with Irem’s tip-off, Kip prevents the incident. Irem also provides Kip with information that Kishen is planning to commit suicide. This curdles Chef Kip’s stomach, and he travels to the freezing camp to help his mentor.

Atop the second coldest place on Earth, Kishen lures Kip into kidnapping a group of Indian army officials for a publicity stunt that bluntly lays out Chef’ s discourse: “More dead Indians at the front means more profits for officers and their friends in Delhi. The question I ask today is: Are we dying for nothing?” Kishen proclaims. “We feed the army, we work hard, and those at the very top have failed us. [. . .] And I say the same thing to the bastards on the other side. What are they dying for, the Pakistanis?” If that isn’t enough for Singh to get his message across, Kip echoes more accusations toward corrupt India and Pakistan. He says “Kashmir was a beautiful place and we have made a bloody mess of it.”

At the end of his journey, Kip’s cancer is near fatal, linking his suffering to a nation strung up like a punching bag for corrupt war mongers to bruise and bloody. Arriving at Srinagar, he reveals the true reason for his painful escapade, having less to do with preparing the wedding feast than one might assume. His recurring phrase of “India passing by” resonates profoundly as he reunites with Rubiya, the bride, and she reveals shared feelings of a sad, lost Kashmir instilled within her by Irem’s haunting life as a political prisoner. Now, back in Srinagar, Kip is satisfied. Poetic and romantic, Chef unravels the underbelly tale of modern India being dragged through meaningless, catastrophic destruction.

~John Coleman