Victorian poets such as Matthew Arnold and Alfred Tennyson are celebrated for having survived the test of time, as literary historians would put it. But it is someone else, an “Oriental” poet from England and a popularizer of Buddhism in the West, in Asia, and even on the Indian subcontinent who has been translated into 13 European and 22 Asian languages.
Love makes for a great story, yet love stories are so much hogwash, especially those emerging from India via Bollywood. In Indian reality, love is all too often a scandal with grave consequences for lovers, consequences that arise out of a perception of love as “affairs” that bring dishonor to families’ prestige. Sunjeev Sahota goes deeper into this experience of love as a scandal in his new novel China Room, a story set in a remote village in Punjab of 1929 about a child bride who merely wants to know whom she is married for to, her mother-in-law, Mai, sends her sons to the wives only in the dark. But Mehar is audacious and she pays for it: her love is crushed by those who see the unfolding events—a case of mistaken identity, love and adultery—as an act of transgression.
Sindh, the “homeland” of the eponymous ethnic group, is in what is now Pakistan. In India, Sindhis often call themselves the Jews of India because they do not have a territory of their own, especially in a nation that is internally organized around linguistic ethnicities. Their request for things that other linguistic communities enjoy, such as having a government-owned Sindhi language channel, largely go ignored. Time and again, they are questioned for their loyalty: sometimes for naming their local businesses after Karachi, and sometimes for the removal of the word “Sindh/Sindhu” from India’s national anthem. But it’s not that a defined territory would guarantee political success for the Sindhis in Sindh are not doing very well either, politically, economically, and culturally. A look at Asma Faiz’s book In Search of Lost Glory: Sindhi Nationalism in Pakistan confirms this by showing that Sindhis in Sindh have also been struggling to assert their identity.
Living along a border can be literally living on the edge, for borders are places of uncertainty where death, humiliation and misery can be all too common. As Suchitra Vijayan points out in her book Midnight’s Borders, this is where entire communities can become stigmatized as foreigners, illegals, smugglers and traitors.
Vanessa R Sasson’s debut novel Yasodhara and the Buddha takes the life of Gautama Buddha, the stuff of scripture and legend, and lays out a story about love between him and his wife. And a fascinating story it is, too, about ego, love, and renunciation as love.
History is commonly thought to be a subject about discovering the past in terms of exploring the origins and beginnings. Manan Ahmed Asif has previously written about resisting the need to look for beginnings and focusing on belonging.
Indology—a field of study about India’s history and culture associated with 19th-century British and German figures—had an interesting German-Dutch predecessor, Jacob Haafner (1754-1809). The man reached India as the servant of the VOC (or the Dutch East India Company) after having lived in South Africa and Java for a while. His travel-writing about India, vituperative views on colonialism and writings on missionary activity in India and the East in general made him unpopular among the Dutch elite whose help he desperately needed to be employed as a bureaucrat or to sponsor his writing.