Event: This Sunday, come over to Blossoms Book House

Of all the ones I’ve been to, Blossoms Book House is especially close to my heart. Maybe because it was in their vast collection on tantrism that I first came across the climax of my first book of Anantya Tantrist series – Cult of Chaos. I’ve spent hours in the bylanes of its fantasy and science fiction sections. Oh and don’t even get me started about the corner that houses the comics. The ideas I’ve found there, have fuelled a lot of my other books, including Anantya’s upcoming adventure, The Matsya Curse.

How important are bookstores for authors when it comes to inspiration and research? Did I really find ghosts and supernatural monsters in Blossoms Book House? I’ve been roped in by the lovely people at The Humming Tree and Book and Brews to do a session about my love for bookstores as part of The Book Shop Crawl on Sunday. I will tell you why, even though I voraciously read on my Kindle, bookstores remain important for me.  This Sunday. 2.30pm.

Even though the event is sold out, I’m allowing readers and those curious to sneak in to hear the stories. So come, peeps!

Event details

How a hair oil brand inspired an Indian science fiction tale in 1896

While reading about early examples of Indian science fiction, I came across a wonderful scholarly tale of how Jagadish Chandra Bose, a physicist and science fiction writer in India in late 19th century, wrote a bilingual science-fiction inspired by a hair oil brand. The article, written by scholars Anil Menon and Vandana Singh, who also write speculative fiction (here and here), has names of  various other writers who wrote science fiction in late 19th and early 20th centuries. Using it on my website with due permission from Anil and with a lot of glee.

 


We have chosen two stories—one by Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858-1937), the other by Naiyer Masud (1936—)—not as representatives of Indian speculative fiction but as interesting instances of the genre. Bose’s story is indicative of a special period in the subcontinent’s history and we finally had an excellent translation to work with. We chose Masud’s story because it is a wonderful story.

Of course when the range includes seventeen-odd languages over some hundred and fifty years of scribbling (two thousand plus, if mythic fiction is included), these two choices are more or less equivalent to two hands raised in surrender. We were tempted by the first south-Asian short story in English, Kylas Chunder Dutt’s “A Journal of 48 Hours In The Year 1945” (1835), Shoshee Chunder Dutt’s “Republic of Orissa: Annals From The Pages Of The Twentieth Century” (1845), V. K. Nayanar’s “Dwaraka” (1892), Sarath Kumar Ghosh’s Prince of Destiny (1909), Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain’s much-reprinted “Sultana’s Dream” (1905), Rajshekar Bose’s Ulat Puran (1925), the satirical Hindi SF of Harishankar Parsai, the Tamil pulp SF of ‘Sujatha’ Rangarajan, Premendra Mitra’s whimsical Bangla tales, and the eerily postmodern folktales recorded in A. K. Ramanujan’s anthologies. We could just as easily have picked Manoj Das’s “Sharma and the Wonderful Lump” (1973), Bibas Sen’s “Zero-Sum Game” (1994), Manek Mistry’s “Stories of the Alien Invasion” (2007), or one of Kuzhali Manickavel’s short stories. We had to sidestep one of the most talked-about works this year, Shovon Chowdhury’s alternate history The Competent Authority (2013). Ultimately, we chose Bose and Masud.

Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose—the “Acharya” means teacher—pioneered research in electromagnetic waves and biophysics, and invented and built instruments of astonishing precision and delicacy to measure plant development. He probably would have been a brilliant polymath in any age, but the colonial time in which he lived and his courageous response to its constraints made him once-in-a-generation scientist. In 1896, Bose wrote a bilingual science-fiction story, “Nirrudeshar Kahini” (The Story of the Missing). The main narrative is in Bangla, but the embedded scientific material is in English. The story is about a man who calms a storm at sea by pouring a bottle of hair oil on the troubled waters.

Hair oil? Continue reading “How a hair oil brand inspired an Indian science fiction tale in 1896”

Looking at speculative fiction beyond mythology

Is speculative fiction beyond mythology possible in the literature coming out from our country? Till now, most of the speculative fiction that has come out of the country (even mine) has been heavily inspired or uses characters from our rich Hindu mythology. I take the topic head on in this talk at the LitFestX. This video is from 2015, so a little dated and since I’ve spoken there, there has been a lot of amazing books that have come out in the genre, but I’m adding it now because frankly, at that time, I lost track of things and never added this in my blog. See if you’re interested in hearing my thoughts on the topic. Have thoughts, disagree? Add to the comments below.

Slavery in India and how it compares to the world

While browsing the layers that is the internet, I came across Global Slavery Index and found the facts that they’d written about India after research quite intriguing. There are lots of little nuggets there to mull over and think about various ways we ignore, encourage and are okay with slavery in our country. I had hoped this is not true, that it’s fiction, or something that can come under my Tall Tales section, but unfortunately, that is not to be. An excerpt from the report.


How many people are in modern slavery in India?

India is undergoing a remarkable ‘triple transition’, in which economic growth is both driving and is being affected by rapid social and political change. Economic growth has rapidly transformed the country over the past 20 years, including the creation of a burgeoning middle-class. In 1993, some 45 percent of the population were living in poverty; by 2011 that had been reduced to 21 percent.  In addition to economic growth, ambitious programmes of legal and social reform are being undertaken right across the board, from regulation of labour relations to systems of social insurance for the most vulnerable.

Even with such remarkable change, given India has a population of more than 1.3 billion people, there are still at least 270 million people living on less than US$1.90 per day. While laws, systems and attitudes regarding key ‘fault lines’ such as the caste system, gender and feudalism are rapidly changing, social change of this depth and scale necessarily takes time. In this context, it is perhaps unsurprising that existing research suggests that all forms of modern slavery continue to exist in India, including intergenerational bonded labour, forced child labour, commercial sexual exploitation, forced begging, forced recruitment into nonstate armed groups and forced marriage. (bold is mine)

…The survey data suggest that there are more than 18 million people or 1.4 percent of the total population, who are living in conditions of modern slavery in India. Industries implicated in the survey data include domestic work, the construction and sex industries, agriculture, fishing, manufacturing, manual labour, and forced begging.

Bonded labour

While bonded labour has been outlawed for decades, survey data and pre-existing research confirms that this practice still persists. Narratives available from 2016 survey respondents identify that some respondents perceived their situation to be one of bonded labour, some of which is inter-generational:

“Sir, it is the sin of my father that I have to repay the debts unless I shall have to beg. I have a threat against my family. I am prone to physical violence everyday.” (Survey respondent, 2016)

“This is an old disease in the village that if you are not able to pay off your debts you will have to work as a bonded labor in the field of a powerful person. My husband was employed far from the village so that he can not run away.” (Survey respondent, 2016)

In other cases, it appeared that bonded labour reflected debt lending practices and continuation of a feudal mindset:

“There are many people in the village who were working with me as a bonded labor. I was physically and sexually assaulted when I was working in the field. I had also threat on my life and on my family. I was also threatened that I had to leave the village.” (Survey respondent, 2016)

“It’s very common in this village that we have to work for repay the amount, our family borrowed. I was one of them. My motto was just repay the amount as soon as I could. They threatened to evict us from our homeland, shown their anger if I denied to perform any task. Sometimes the consequence extended to my family and they used physical torture in several time.” (Survey respondent, 2016).

Bonded labour is not only illegal, research confirms that it has serious negative health impacts for those affected, who typically work in unsanitary and dangerous working conditions with no access to health care.

Domestic service

Examples of forced labour of domestic workers were described by survey respondents. While not all domestic workers are abused, domestic workers are a particularly vulnerable group as work takes place in private homes and largely out of the reach of regulation. Official figures in India suggest that there are more than 4.2 million men, women and children working as cooks, cleaners, drivers, gardeners and caregivers across the country. These estimates are from 2004 and experts suggest that there may be many more workers unaccounted for in these statistics…. It is reported that girls as young as ten continue to be hired in private homes.Domestic workers can be subject to threats of and actual physical violence and in, some cases, sexual abuse.

“You are well aware that if a young lady works as a domestic servant she is always a soft target of being easily molested. So with me. I have not paid a single amount and in the name of debt I was made a victim of the sexual violence.” (Survey respondent, 2016)

Forced begging

Street begging by adults and children is a prominent feature of many Indian cities. Though many beggars do so out of economic desperation, survey data confirms that criminals also force people to beg:

“Though I am begging I am not paid a single amount. I have to deposit all to them. I am deprived of food and good sleep. I am not paid my wages only working as a bonded labor.” (Survey respondent, 2016)

“I was forced to do begging and still begging with the others…I cant say anything to you because I am in constant fear. I am threatened by my employer not to open my mouth to anybody otherwise I will be punished severely.” (Survey respondent, 2016)

Commercial sexual exploitation

Existing research and the 2016 survey data confirm the existence of forced prostitution. As one survey respondent said:

“My wife is kept in the locked room and sexually harassed and being forced to work as a prostitute. She is physically punished whenever she refuse to have sex. My family is under death threat. We are also threatened of legal action against us.” (Survey respondent, 2016)

Another reported:

“I was forced to work in the flesh trade… Can you imagine that I kept in a locked room for the whole day when I refused to work under pressure? It is because they had always threatened me and my family for physical violence and tortured.” (Survey respondent, 2016).

Existing National Crime Records Bureau data indicate there were almost 5,500 cases across India under existing human trafficking laws in 2014. As the law does not differentiate between human trafficking and sex work, and there are no formal guidelines on who is identified in rescue and raid situations, it is impossible to know if every one of these cases involved force or children, or whether some were simply cases of economic survival.


This is just a little bit of the report. Read it here completely. Think, ponder, try and change.

True love stories from Tinder. Internet style.

How does love blossom in the world that is the internet? What do you feel as you swipe left or right, deciding instantly on a pose, or a hashtag or just the numbness in your thumb? I’m always fascinated by how love shapes itself online. Which is why when I came across #100IndianTinderTales, an art project by the fantastic Indian artist, Indu Harikumar or Induviduality, whose work I’ve been following for years, I just had to share some of it on my site. The project has “true stories and experiences of people using Tinder in India and Indians using Tinder abroad” with images by the artist. They’re full of glee, sex, intrigue, crushes, obsessions and in some cases true love. Curl up this Valentine’s with a few of my favourite ones. For more, head to the artist’s Facebook or Instagram page.


 Day 22: P from #Delhi writes about a night of unbridled passion

“By age 37, I have experienced the truest of loves and its devastating loss. A heart that has loved so singularly & lost so purely becomes either fearless or reckless. So when a chance Tinder encounter (truly chance because he is only in the same location for a couple of hours when we ‘match’) reveals himself to be perfect in all ways except that he’s married, I don’t disqualify him. It is the coldest thing I’ve ever done – to pursue an intensely sexual encounter with an absolute stranger from whom my heart wants nothing. It also makes me feel alive. We meet and have a spectacular night without an ounce of sleep. I get a cab in the early hours of the morning and as I ride back, there’s a smile on my face, a glow in my body and an absolute absence of guilt.”


Continue reading “True love stories from Tinder. Internet style.”

The ultimate Bangalore dosa map. What’s your favourite dosa place?

Bangalore dosa map

Bangalore dosa map? Now that’s called craziness. As I write this, I giggle. A friend recently asked me why do people in Bangalore make early morning plans for dosa rather than evening plans for a drink. It’s true. If you’ve been in Bangalore long enough, or have turned to become one with the city like I have, well, you do talk dosa and breakfasts.

Bangalore dosa mapMy husband, Ashwani, who is absolutely crazy about dosas have always thought about making an ultimate map of all the dosa places that come in our favourite haunts. Which is why when we came across this map, made by a friend of a friend, Niranj, we were absolutely thrilled. It lists down all places where you can have a scrumptious dosa. Know of some they’ve missed? Add them in. So if you’re in Bangalore, explore these spots. For others, come over, we’ll take you there! For there’s nothing better than that sumptuous, delectable thing we call dosa (or dosai, dosha, doshai, dhosa, anything. What’s in a name till oodles of ghee is added on top of it?)

Note: The above dosa image is not from Bangalore. We rarely take dosa pictures, for obvious reasons. This was in a small darshini somewhere in Andhra Pradesh. I can give you the town’s place, but only if you comment below and ask me!

Year end and so much to be thankful for

Time is a thing of beauty. There are moments it trickles, slows down enough that you can hear your heart beat, beat by beat. There are flashes when time zooms, taking you on a journey full of laughter and glee. That’s how my 2016 went. Flew by, waited tiresomely and pondered. So I just want to list down the things I was thankful for.

img_20160417_131120

Made new friends

Beginning of the year, I shivered and learnt from Booker Prize winners at Chichester as a Charles Wallace fellow. Gave a talk in London. Worked on three books simultaneously, editing two and writing a new one. Learnt how empty it feels when you finish a project you’ve been with for years. Wandered in loneliness and heard myself. In the process, hung out with new people and made new friends.

img_20160513_140258

Learnt about failure

The book I started, refused to come to me. I lacked the skills for it and had to park it. I learnt to breathe and learnt about patience. I learnt to let things go. Attended a wedding in the middle of July in Delhi. Roamed on the streets. Found bugs with nephew and saw them through a lens so we could appreciate the beauty in their wings.

img_20160622_120615

Did things new to me

Saw a zebra running wild and a lioness being licked by her cubs. Found how hard it was to plant a tree. Launched a book and became a hybrid author. Started a new book, which I’m halfway through as I write this and am hoping to finish. Joined an ATM line, two days after demonetisation was announced and read a book on my Kindle. Joined two startups as their communication advisor.

All through this, I made many new friends and spent time with my old ones. Wandered the streets, chattered over filter coffee and green tea. Heard stories, nodded in empathy and danced away the nights. I’m so thankful my year went so beautifully.

img_20160816_145859

As you read this, I’m off somewhere in Madhya Pradesh, with my closest buddies, doing what I do to recharge my creative batteries: Walking, hiking and listen to collective wisdom on the road. I’ll come back with new stories, probably of ghosts, woes to share, ideas to write down and more things to be thankful for.

Have a wonderful year end, peeps.

Read, learn, make new friends, be merry, share laughter with strangers, fall in love, learn a new skill, slow down, get fit, plant a tree and listen to what it says to you. Take your life away from gadgets and make time for the people you love. For we won’t be here forever. And remember to be thankful for everything the universe has given you. Oh, and keep having that tea with Mad Hatter.

img_20160325_145929

Is Internet freedom dead?

I’ve been fascinated by the idea of Internet. For many it represents freedom, democracy and equality. However, the way internet is going now, it seems that it’s simply mirroring the realities of our real lives. It is building similar power structures and has enhanced human insecurities and the difference between have-its and have-nots. Pokemon was one example. The poor cousins in India never got to play it. Gender inequality and bullying is beautifully rampant in the annals of comments on every blog.

Which is why when I came across this article by Jennifer Granick, the director of Civil Liberties at the Center for Internet and Society, I was nodding my head at most of the things. Here’s what she says about the internet:


Twenty years from now,

• You won’t necessarily know anything about the decisions that affect your rights, like whether you get a loan, a job, or if a car runs over you. Things will get decided by data-crunching computer algorithms and no human will really be able to understand why.

• The Internet will become a lot more like TV and a lot less like the global conversation we envisioned 20 years ago.

• Rather than being overturned, existing power structures will be reinforced and replicated, and this will be particularly true for security.

•Internet technology design increasingly facilitates rather than defeats censorship and control.

It doesn’t have to be this way. But to change course, we need to ask some hard questions and make some difficult decisions.


Now this is a scary scenario and something that we might see coming after all as our dependence on algorithms and what we want increases. See the video of the speech below or reach the complete speech over at Backchannel.


How do you feel? Are you still positive about the change that Internet can bring in to our lives or do you think it simply reflects the issues already entrenched in our society?

Crowdsourced maps of real places in your favourite books

I’m a literature geek who loves to visit places that I’ve read about in fiction, especially detective fiction.  While in Switzerland, me and my husband (who’s equally crazy about this stuff) made a special excursion up a hill to see the Reichenbach Falls where Sherlock Holmes tussled with Moriarty and fell off the falls. While posing against the  Sherlock dummy placed there for tourists, we thought it should have been Dudhsagar falls if Doyle never wanted his detective hero to come back (for Reichenbach are just not tall enough).

Which is why when I came across Placing Literature where you can map the real places your favourite author writes about, it made me go glee. The website creates maps of literary scenes that take place in real locations. If you’re in a city, you can check on the website and see which all spots were written about in which all books. Each spot also comes with the description of the scene and what happened in the plot there. Since it’s a crowdsourced map, you can make a map on their site by logging in with your Google account. Isn’t it fantastic?
Explore yourselves while I plan out my travel around spots talked about in Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes or places to visit in New York City.
london_101316

 

Poet Shubham Shree’s satire on sanitary napkins

 

I came across 25-year-old Hindi poet Shubham Shree through an article in The Caravan by Daisy Rockwell. Shubham has just won the prestigious Bharat Bhushan Agarwal Prize in August and there was a lot of criticism that her poems faced because the pillars of Hindi literature didn’t think her poems were literary.

Here’s one of my favourite ones. It’s not the one that won the prize (which is called ‘Poetry Management’). This one’s titled ‘My hostel’s cleaning crew has refused to throw away sanitary napkins’.

It makes fun of the fact that if you go to a chemist to buy sanitary napkins, they wrap it in newspapers and hide it from view, even though semen-laden men underwear lie all over the countryside. I loved this poem and some of her others. Continue reading “Poet Shubham Shree’s satire on sanitary napkins”