Books & Reading

“Liberté” by Paul Eluard

I keep asking myself — why do I feel the horror? Why does the grief hit so close to home? After all, I didn’t know anyone on the ground in Paris; I didn’t know anyone who lost their lives. But do I need to? The horror is so close. I sit on the couch and watch the news unfold; I read the names of those who fell, senselessly, unknowingly, innocently, to an absurd and abhorrent crime. It bothers me and it should bother you too, whether you’ve been to France or not, whether you know these people or not. Why? Good question, let’s see if I can answer it. Because humanity, because freedom of religion and freedom of thought, because end this now, because love, peace and brotherhood, because preciousness of all life, because solidarity and support, because tragedy, because kinship and empathy, because home and humanity, because equality amongst all and a profound respect for life.

“Liberté” by Paul Eluard

Sur mes cahiers d’écolier
Sur mon pupitre et les arbres
Sur le sable sur la neige
J’écris ton nom

Sur toutes les pages lues
Sur toutes les pages blanches
Pierre sang papier ou cendre
J’écris ton nom

Sur les images dorées
Sur les armes des guerriers
Sur la couronne des rois
J’écris ton nom

Sur la jungle et le désert
Sur les nids sur les genêts
Sur l’écho de mon enfance
J’écris ton nom

Sur les merveilles des nuits
Sur le pain blanc des journées
Sur les saisons fiancées
J’écris ton nom

Sur tous mes chiffons d’azur
Sur l’étang soleil moisi
Sur le lac lune vivante
J’écris ton nom

Sur les champs sur l’horizon
Sur les ailes des oiseaux
Et sur le moulin des ombres
J’écris ton nom

Sur chaque bouffée d’aurore
Sur la mer sur les bateaux
Sur la montagne démente
J’écris ton nom

Sur la mousse des nuages
Sur les sueurs de l’orage
Sur la pluie épaisse et fade
J’écris ton nom

Sur les formes scintillantes
Sur les cloches des couleurs
Sur la vérité physique
J’écris ton nom

Sur les sentiers éveillés
Sur les routes déployées
Sur les places qui débordent
J’écris ton nom

Sur la lampe qui s’allume
Sur la lampe qui s’éteint
Sur mes maisons réunies
J’écris ton nom

Sur le fruit coupé en deux
Du miroir et de ma chambre
Sur mon lit coquille vide
J’écris ton nom

Sur mon chien gourmand et tendre
Sur ses oreilles dressées
Sur sa patte maladroite
J’écris ton nom

Sur le tremplin de ma porte
Sur les objets familiers
Sur le flot du feu béni
J’écris ton nom

Sur toute chair accordée
Sur le front de mes amis
Sur chaque main qui se tend
J’écris ton nom

Sur la vitre des surprises
Sur les lèvres attentives
Bien au-dessus du silence
J’écris ton nom

Sur mes refuges détruits
Sur mes phares écroulés
Sur les murs de mon ennui
J’écris ton nom

Sur l’absence sans désir
Sur la solitude nue
Sur les marches de la mort
J’écris ton nom

Sur la santé revenue
Sur le risque disparu
Sur l’espoir sans souvenir
J’écris ton nom

Et par le pouvoir d’un mot
Je recommence ma vie
Je suis né pour te connaître
Pour te nommer

Liberté.

On my school notebooks
On my desk and the trees
On the sand on the snow
I write your name

On every page read
On all the white sheets
Stone blood paper or ash
I write your name

On the golden images
On the soldier’s weapons
On the crowns of kings
I write your name

On the jungle and the desert
On the nests on the bushes
On the echo of my childhood
I write your name

On the wonder of nights
On the white bread of days
On the seasons engaged
I write your name

On all my blue rags
On the pond mildewed sun
On the lake living moon
I write your name

On the fields on the horizon
On the wings of birds
And on the windmill of shadows
I write your name

On each breath of the dawn
On the ships on the sea
On the demented mountain
I write your name

On the foam of clouds
On the sweat of the storm
On the dark and insipid rain
I write your name

On the glittering forms
On the bells of colour
On physical truth
I write your name

On awakened paths
On opened ways
On scattered places
I write your name

On the lamp that gives light
On the lamp that is drowned
On my reunited house
I write your name

On the halved fruit
Of my mirror and my room
On my bed’s empty shell
I write your name

On my greedy and tender dog
On his listening ears
On his awkward paws
I write your name

On the sill of my door
On familiar things
On the fire’s sacred stream
I write your name

On all flesh that’s in tune
On the brows of my friends
On each hand that extends
I write your name

On the glass of surprises
On lips that attend
High over the silence
I write your name

On my ravaged refuges
On my fallen lighthouses
On the walls of my boredom
I write your name

On passionless absence
On naked solitude
On the marches of death
I write your name

On health that’s regained
On danger that’s past
On hope without memories
I write your name

By the power of the word
I start my life over
I was born to know you
And to name you

Liberty.

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Books & Reading, Fiction

Top 9 opening lines in children’s literature

A response to Guardian‘s 10 favourite opening lines in children’s books because The Virgin Suicides? Rudyard Kipling? and no Harry Potter? That’s unacceptable! Here’s what I would have done if Guardian had asked me to list my favourite opening lines from children’s literature.

P.S.) Alice isn’t included because there’s really no need, is there? She’s the guardian angel of every piece of children’s literature written, ever.

 

1.
“All children, except one, grow up.”

 2.
“There was once, in the country of Alifbay, a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad that it had forgotten its name.”
Cover art by Lesley Barnes for Vintage. http://www.lesleybarnes.co.uk/Haroun-and-Luka

Cover art by Lesley Barnes for Vintage. http://www.lesleybarnes.co.uk/Haroun-and-Luka


 3.
“Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

 4.
“It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.”
Cover Art by Mirjam Dijkema. http://www.mirjamdijkema.nl

Cover Art by Mirjam Dijkema. http://www.mirjamdijkema.nl


5.
“Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.”
Cover art by M. S. Corley. http://mscorley.blogspot.sg/

Cover art by M. S. Corley. http://mscorley.blogspot.sg/


 6.
“Where’s Papa going with that ax?”

 7.
“These two very old people are the father and mother of Mr. Bucket.”
Cover art by Nicolai Sarbib.

Cover art by Nicolai Sarbib.


 8.
 “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

9.
“It was a dark and stormy night.”
Cover art by Ellen Raskin. First edition dust jacket.

Cover art by Ellen Raskin. First edition dustjacket.

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Books & Reading

What’s going on at Penguin India?

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed…

– William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming (1921)

Thus begins my copy of Hindu Myths, published by Penguin with introduction and notes by Wendy Doniger. I had bought Wendy Doniger’s book while at university, inspired by a module on South Asian religions and my lecturer’s effusive praise for Doniger’s research and textual scholarship. I remember looking specifically for the Penguin edition because I held them to the highest standards. Now? Not so much.

Wendy Doniger (November 20, 1940), a prolific translator of Sanskrit texts, has published Vātsyāyana Kāmasūtra, The Laws of Manu, and Hindu Myths: A Sourcebook among others,

Wendy Doniger (November 20, 1940), a prolific writer on the Hindu religion and translator of Sanskrit texts, has published Vātsyāyana Kāmasūtra, The Laws of Manu, and Hindu Myths: A Sourcebook, among others.

In an out-of-court settlement with a Hindu nationalist group, Penguin India has agreed to recall and destroy all copies of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History within India. The lawsuit in which her book is implicated claims that Doniger is accused of hurting “the religious feelings of millions of Hindus by declaring that Ramayana is a fiction”.

Time.com provides a succinct summary of events thus far:

In 2011, the Hindu nationalist group Shiksha Bachao Andolan filed a civil case against Penguin India over The Hindus: An Alternative History, by Wendy Doniger, a professor of religion at the University of Chicago. The group claims the book offends Hindus by, among other things, inaccurately representing the religion and offering an overly sexual interpretation of Hindu texts. This, it contends, violates a section of the Indian penal code that prohibits “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.”

However Penguin India chooses to justify its decision, the fact remains that there was no court order and that the great publishing house could definitely have fought its case further and harder. Naturally, we’re all furious with Penguin’s chickening out. But despite our alarm, fury, outcry and protestations, I wonder if Penguin India is the real villain here.

William Dalrymple pointed out that “real villains are the laws in this country, which were old colonial laws drawn up in the 1890s, and which make insulting religion a criminal offence… The reality is that it is very difficult to defend yourself because the law is stacked very heavily on the side of any lunatic.”

Adding to Dalrymple’s voice of reason, Doniger herself defended her publishing house. Despite her anger and disappointment, she believes Penguin India was “finally defeated by the true villain of this piece – the Indian law that makes it a criminal rather than civil offence to publish a book that offends any Hindu, a law that jeopardises the physical safety of any publisher, no matter how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book”.

A copies of The Hindus: An Alternative History within India will be recalled and pulped.

All copies of The Hindus: An Alternative History within India will be recalled and pulped.

However, Arundhati Roy appears has a different opinion on the matter. In an open letter to Penguin India, she has demanded an explanation of their decision. And to be perfectly honest, as someone who’s seen Penguin as a hallmark of great literature, I cannot help but agree with her. Who else is going to fight for free speech when senseless, arbitrary laws threaten writers and readers with censorship? What a heart wrenching, agonizing irony it is that the purveyors of speech are the ones undermining free speech. If Salman Rushdie’s fatwa issued by the Ayatollah had sent a tsunami wave of shock and disbelief through the literary world, I can’t imagine that the pulping of Wendy Doniger’s books in the Indian subcontinent won’t do any less. The only point this proves is that fascists have no creed or nationality, and that sometimes, they do win.

As a citizen of the world and a woman of Indian origin, I am deeply concerned and a little frightened about the future of the freedom of speech in India as long as saffron-robed fascists are in power.


					
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Let’s get it clear: no one reads Dan Brown to uncover the mysteries of the universe or unravel the complexities of the human psyche through skillfully turned phrases. We read Dan Brown because he is bloody entertaining. He makes 500-year-old paintings relevant and textbook Dante, well, cool. I like that he’s managed to unearth such precise architectural terms that reading about Byzantine and Gothic buildings is like a vocab lesson. He’s like that supernerd in school who finds everything fascinating. My friend wasn’t wrong about the writing. What kept me going were the tiny nuggets of trivia. Just fascinating.

Book Review

Book Review: Inferno by Dan Brown

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Tender, luminous, lively and poetic, this is a novel I wish I’d written. Four generations of the Patel family are documented, and while the questions Doshi asks are not new (Where is home? What is my identity?), her writing sparkles. The story flows seamlessly from episode to chapter to continent. Each character is richly realized, no small feat considering this is a slender novel traversing almost 80 years. You meet characters as they fall in love, and follow them through their life, meet their parents and grandparents and children, and children’s children and lovers and… it’s just beautiful. Read it.

Book Review

Book Review: The Pleasure Seekers by Tishani Doshi

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A novel by an Iranian writer about an Iranian writer who wants to write a love story and see it published in Iran. But he finds himself in a metaphorical burqa. Almost everything he writes is in danger of being censored, or political, or blasphemous, or offensive to some unknown party. Circumstances threaten to kill characters; other characters go out of control and rebel against the story and narrator.

Read this novel if you want to know how Shariar Mandanipour manages to treat censorship like a new literary form, much like a sonnet or a graphic novel. So. Fucking. Smart.

Book Review

Book Review: Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shariar Mandanipour

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With Terry Pratchett, so much happens and happens so delightfully that a summary takes away the fun of reading. So, all I can say is: almost-16-year-old witch, Tiffany Aching, the hag o’ the hills, is accompanied by tiny, invisible, high strung, ale-guzzling, chaos-causing, half-men half-dwarves, as she takes on a witch hunter from the 16th century, and discovers love along the way. Crivens!

Book Review

Book Review: I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

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