Bangladeshi writer Shahidul Zahir’s “Life and Political Reality”, the first of two novellas in this collection and more aptly described as a long paragraph, is a breathless account mostly of two days fifteen years apart—and to some extent a few days in between. The first day is the day the then-West Pakistani army enters Lakshmi Bazar, a small neighbourhood in East Pakistan in 1971.
After the Buddha died or, as believers hold, attained Mahaparinirvana, the remains of his body—tooth, hair, bones—were reportedly disseminated to different Buddhist stupas in India. These relics have been understood to be at the centre of various miracles and legends since then and have also been highly coveted objects. Rulers of various kingdoms have wanted to get hold of these relics in their bid to legitimate their sovereignty with the Buddha’s blessings. As a result, each relic has interesting stories around its existence—about being lost, stolen, refound, and even destroyed.
Saadat Hasan Manto is a writer the South Asian reviewer or commentator attempts with trepidation. Usually approached in anthologies of Partition literature where the brutality and violence of being human are expected, there is temptation to wash one hands of him by reading Toba Tek Singh, his most well-known story about the exchange of inmates of mental asylums between the newly independent India and Pakistan and thereby, along with maybe a couple more, tick the box.
The grand churches of Europe are studied as great works of art and architecture. They continue to fascinate believers, historians, and art historians alike. The great names behind these works are hailed as legends and visionaries blending beauty with devotion to give meaning to the rituals that these buildings were home to. Compared to these monuments, what does India, as a land of great faiths and temples, offer as manifestations of art, architecture, religiosity, ritual, and symbols of power—both divine and human?
In her new book Ancient India: Culture of Contradictions, historian Upinder Singh seeks to correct the way Indians project the concerns and aspirations of the present onto the past. Apart from making complex, highly contentious matters of histories of faith, caste, non-violence, desire and tolerance simple to engage with, Singh has a unique quality of engaging with the larger whys of the book.
Contrary to what may be implied by the term “contemporary Indian literature”, India is not a geographic or political monolith. Rather, India is a composite of very strong regional identities cultivated by and among its provinces. Indian fiction is only now increasingly exploring these regional stories that have somewhat been eclipsed by the larger grand narrative of the idea of India. Anirudh Kala’s Two and a Half Rivers is a debut novel about the region of Punjab in India that works brilliantly as a voice reflecting the diversity, and even conflict, within that idea of India.
The Indian epic Mahabharata is a complicated story of two sets of cousins, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, fighting over property. The five Pandavas, the sons of King Pandu, want their share of the kingdom but the Kauravas, the sons of Dhritarashtra, don’t want to share anything of the kingdom they see as entirely their own. The Kauravas are jealous that their cousins have turned a barren piece of land into a flourishing kingdom they parted with very reluctantly and want to have it all. They invite the Pandavas to a game of dice in which the Pandavas lose their kingdom, themselves, and their wife, Draupadi. They are also exiled for fourteen years—one of which they have to spend in disguise or they would need to spend another fourteen years in exile. When their exile ends, the Pandavas, urged by their wife Draupadi and supported by Krishna (a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu himself) challenge the Kauravas to war and win.