Rushdie, India and Freedom – Reflections of a Grateful Reader

 

 

Even as India crosses another midnight to complete 75 years of its independence, one must necessarily hark back to that famous tryst with destiny at midnight and reflect on the extent to which the dreams and aspirations of that midnight have been fulfilled or violated. For students of literature, particularly Indian English literature, it is almost inevitable that such an act of remembrance will lead them directly to the famous creator of Midnight’s Children, that iconic literary masterpiece which celebrated, with kaleidoscopic verbal exuberance, both the magical potentialities of that moment and the self-inflicted destructive assaults against those potentialities. In a strange way, much like Saleem Sinai, the protagonist of Midnight’s Children, handcuffed to history from his very birth, Rushdie too has remained unfortunately chained to his past ever since the publication of Satanic Verses, the howls of bigoted rage that it generated and the fatwa which was issued against him by the Iranian Ayatollah. Even though he himself has always wanted to lead a relatively normal life, last week’s gruesome attack on him, once again brought him and us face to face with a past laced by religious toxicity from which there is apparently no escape. In the process, much like Saleem, his creator Salman has become a metaphor for India as well – a source of inexhaustible magic, humour and creativity that is now laid low by the ensanguined wounds inflicted by janissaries of divisive hatred, fuelled by self-deluding notions of persecution and vengeance which snake back to imagined and actual pasts. Therefore we staggered into midnight of 15th August by reading reports of how a 9 year old Dalit child was beaten to death by his ‘upper-caste’ teacher because the boy touched his pitcher of water, how a fundamentalist organization based in Benaras has already made plans of unveiling a new Indian constitution which will officially make India a Hindurashtra, by restoring caste-based hierarchies and granting voting rights to only Hindus or how the attempted boycotting of the film ‘Laal Singh Chadda’ was continuing to trend on social media.

Perhaps no other author has dealt with these issues of bigotry, violence and suppression of freedom of expression more consistently in his fiction than Rushdie himself. His immediate response to the fatwa was to write that wonderful fantasy Haroun and the Sea of Stories – a title that merged the legend of Haroun al Rashid, the Khalifa of Bagdad with the Sanskrit anthology Kathasaritsagar, a veritable sea of stories. The novel itself revolves around a fantastic struggle in the moon named Kahani between the Land of Gup and the Land of Chup where Haroun and his father Rashid Khalifa, along with General Kitaab, Prince Bolo, Iff the water-genie, Butt the Mechanical Hoopoe, the page Blabbermouth and many others join a battle against Cultmaster Khattam-shud, the tyrannical sorcerer who worships the dumb god Bezabaan and is bent on silencing others. As anyone familiar with the narrative knows, the novel is an allegorical celebration of the power of literature and freedom of expression against censorship and denial of free speech. Perhaps the most splendid and multidimensional representation of this freedom comes in the form of Haroun’s description of the Ocean of Stories:

“He looked into the water and saw that it was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different colour, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity; and Iff explained that these were the Streams of Story, that each coloured strand represented and contained a single tale. Different parts of the Ocean contained different sorts of stories, and as all the stories that had ever been told and many that were still in the process of being invented could be found here…. And because the stories were held here in fluid form, they retained the ability to change, to become new versions of themselves, to join up with other stories and so become yet other stories…” (Haroun and the Sea of Stories)

 

In fact, it is not just stories or narratives or texts, but identities are also indefatigably plural. Fundamentalisms of all kind tend to ignore such pluralities in favour of singular affiliations which then become the bedrock of unconscionable violence. Rushdie, however, consistently celebrates plurality through his variegated characters such as Mogor dell’Amor in The Enchantress of Florence, Geronimo Manezes in Two Years Eight Months and Twenty Eight Nights or even the figure of Saleem Sinai in Midnight’s Children, who, though brought up by the Sinai family was actually the illegitimate child of William Methwold the Englishman and Vanita, a poor street performer’s wife. But Rushdie has never bothered about the supposed purity of origins and instead has always revelled in the play of inexhaustible pluralities which shapes both his language and characters. This is also perhaps why when he chose to write a quasi-historical novel like The Enchantress of Florence he chose the realm of Akbar the Great, peopled with such diverse characters as Birbal, Abul Fazl, the artists Dashwanth and Mir Sayyid Ali and of course Akbar himself, the vegetarian Muslim monarch who created a religion for all his subjects that synthesized aspects of Hinduism, Islam and much else. Such synthesis was obviously directly antithetical to the kind of monochromatic, unidimensional discourse which fundamentalist doctrines of religion have always espoused. Rushdie has repeatedly showcased the collision of such opposing views in his novels and this has also been true for his latest novel Quichotte where we see Quichotte and Sancho both being subjected to racist abuse and violence enacted by white supremacists with animalistic rage. While Quichotte represents such an equation between man and animal in surreal terms, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty Eight Days represents the crisis of a world dominated by bigoted discourses in terms of a fantastic battle between demonic djinns inspired by the dogmas of medieval Persian thinker Al-Ghazali and a host of benevolent djinns inspired by the ideals of Ibn Rashd or Averroes, the Aristotelian philosopher who preferred reason and free will as opposed to blind belief. This is why, in a dialogue with the spirit of Ghazali, centuries after their death, the spirit of Ibn Rushd remarks,

“You will see, as time goes by, that in the end it will be religion that will make men turn away from God. The godly are God’s worst advocates. It may take a thousand and one years but in the end religion will shrivel away and only then will we begin to live in God’s truth.” (Two Years…)

The godly, who attack Rushdie, kill Gauri Lankesh, Narendra Dabholkar or Govind Pansare, the religions which teach men to murder in the name of cows or ram planes into towers in search of virgin houris in heaven, the gods who preach violence and unreason – are indeed the greatest enemies of not just God but humanity. In many ways, like the humans of Rushdie’s novel we too are victims of monstrous ‘strangenesses’ that are turning our world, our country, and our communities upside down. But Rushdie, through Ibn Rushd’s voice also gives us hope: “There is no originality in tyrants, and they learn nothing from the demise of their precursors. They will be brutal and stifling and engender hatred and destroy what men love and that will defeat them. All important battles are, in the end, conflicts between hatred and love, and we must hold to the idea that love is stronger than hate.”

Rushdie, through his own life and art has not only proven himself to be a master storyteller but also a prophetic descendant of Ibn Rushd whose stories have constantly championed love, plurality and that wedding of reason and imagination which illuminates great art. His corpus as well as his fearless life is that book of coherence which offers us “a plea for a world ruled by reason, tolerance, magnanimity, knowledge, and restraint” (Two Years…) – something that we in India must imbibe urgently. It is only through our commitment to such a utopian vision that we can come to a future where, like Rushdie’s narrator, we too would be able to claim:

“We take pride in saying that we have become reasonable people. We are aware that conflict was for a long time the defining narrative of our species, but we have shown that the narrative can be changed. The differences between us, of race, place, tongue, and custom, these differences no longer divide us. They interest and engage us. We are one…Flow on, rivers, as we flow on between you, mingle, currents of water, as we mingle with human currents from elsewhere and from near at hand! We stand by your waters amid the sea gulls and the crowds, and are glad.” (Two Years…)

It is this distillation of hope through a dazzling canvas of countless multiplicities that makes Rushdie a hero for our times. His struggle is therefore ours and his recovery can become a metaphor for ours, even if it takes several years. Therefore, reworking his own words in the prologue to Haroun and the Sea of Stories, we can chant together the following prayer for his recovery so that his art can continue to enrich and enlighten us as effervescently as ever:

 

Zembla, Zenda, Zanadu

May all our hearty prayers come true.

Even as Rushdie fights for life

His words outwit the hater’s knife

And Iff and Butt and Duniya will

Make beloved Salman heal.

This, the prayer we readers chant

In honour of his fearless art.

 

 

 

 

 

Abin Chakraborty teaches English Literature in Chandernagore College. He is one of the founders of Plato’s Caves. He is the author of the monograph Popular Culture. His scholarly articles have been published in several national and international journals and anthologies.

Book Review: Ritamvara Bhattacharya’s August Rituals

A Wink of Dust in the AirRa Sh

Ritamvara Bhattacharya is an Indian English poet who is yet to gain her much deserving place in the hierarchy of the networking system ruling poetry globally. She, therefore, mostly remains unsung and her poems are largely confined to certain close friends and well-wishers. She and her work is quintessentially that of a true poet, a quality I have rarely seen in other famous names being bandied about. It is a surprise, therefore, that her debut collection of poems is coming out only now apart from a small chapbook she did before. Being annoyingly careless about their own works is also a hallmark of a poet. She expects her poems to reach the readers through their own lingo which is so unique. In her hand, language undergoes such transformations that her poetry stands out entirely original and without any trace of influences though she teaches English Literature with an overwhelming enthusiasm. So, she has the temerity to ask –

aren’t we an exhumed history?

a wink of dust in the air? (Rebirth)….

Exhumation is a laborious process, here. But it is also a ‘wink’ of dust. She is confining the entire history of mankind to one speck of dust. Exhumation of history is digging out a culture.

Most of her poems are about the monsoon season, rain, her mother and the city. She is constantly preoccupied with these themes.

Thus, about her mother who is a figure that looms large in her life, she says –

Sometimes her finest touch is felt

in the dark mesh of woods meeting

the unmarked strip of light.

The touch of a dead mother is never felt,

it is stuck like a pin, safe inside the epidermis

to be carried like a hidden house,

with trees rattling all around and

flowers meaning more than flowers. (Touch of a dead mother)

She imagines her mother as dead and as a flower meaning more than a flower whose touch is a pinprick or a persisting pain carried inside forever. 
In another poem, mother is none but herself who has forgotten how to write. This is a condition she is familiar with accustomed to long intervals in which she just stays quiet hardly writing. She transforms herself into her mother and through a strange wave of a wizard’s wand; mother is her child now who can take her on the path to salvation.


Her face draws circles into an unknown hemisphere,

in a cocoon of eternal silence,

she feeds on love and light..
Ma you are my little girl

perch on my forehead

and draw a mandala art of the seventh heaven  (To My Mother Who Has Forgotten to Write. )

She also imagines her mother in the image of the Goddess Kali, the wrathful version of benign Durga. From where she comes, the Durga cult is most prominent and Durga is omnipresent. But, she has another vision of the Goddess embodied in her mother. The poem goes on in the form of a prayer to the Goddess, but not for the usual reasons. This is another vision of Kali/Mother/Her mother. She imagines her to be in a neo natal state of unborn language. This, we can connect to the mother who has forgotten to write because language is yet to be born of  her. 

her womanhood bleeds a firestorm,

her womanhood is a plucked cloud

from the mountain’s heart,

her womanhood is the itr of frangipani,

her womanhood is the seismic movement of tectonics

her womanhood is strangely absurd. 

Womanhood is in a Neo natal state

of unborn language. (Kali)

August Rituals is a collection drenched in rain, whiplashed by incessant rain and wetness. It is a common presence even in other poems though there is no specific mention of it. As we know, August is the season of the Monsoon and the rains come and go as if they are following a yearly ritual. This is symptomatic of a poet whose life is dependent on the inevitability of seasons. But, to be noted also is that fact that this poet is not a lover of the other seasons. Rain is what excites her.


blues of the blue sky are amputated veins

laid with artistry at the threshold of the heralding day;

a mammoth butterfly in the shape of an irregular cloud (August and the Ragas)

But rains falling on the city are different from the rains in the villages. The poet who is an urban dweller is a keen observor of this phenomenon. Hence she calls out to the urban poet ‘to uncurl like leaves after the rain.’ This is an unexpressed desire in life to be in the villages, far away from the cities where a poet’s abilities are diminished. This uncurling indicates the hope of resurgence.

Fume of pitch-black smoke paints your stark white pages,

political rallies, posters, pamphlets howl in your mind. 

Dear Poet, if you are done with the process of catharsis on the dumb pages,

let us uncurl like leaves after the rain; (To the City poet)

The sleeping city is all but dead. All the muck gathered in the city streets and people’s lives and minds have all but killed it. Even the monsoon rains cannot do the cleansing.  Though, at times, certains suns do come out to shine upon the world, but they are soon overrun with (Nostalgia) where “night is the body huddled with mine,/ It pastes its mark on my slender skin.”

The cold marble sun

scatters on the portico,

smudges on the moist soil,

hangs like a broken umbilical cord; (For a Forgotten Sun)

The trees stand in a line,

They shiver in lust,

each leaf speaks for a longing

of an anticipated orgasm. 

 Each drop of water is a discordant hymn,

a relentless shudder

for a tilting monsoon Sun. (Monsoon Sun)

And, occasionally, there are stars too in the ideal world, where they “in colloquium as shape poems outshine my backyard arm chair, they play on their harmonica, tug and pull shadows, strain of a coyote’s song, coos of an afternoon dove, refrain of a mocking bird….”. (Storm)

Ultimately, death is what she sees as salvation or journey to the seventh heaven. A place where her mother joins her in a non-urban land where language is yet to be born not to talk of poetry. Forgiveness is what she seeks for having lived in ‘illusory sorrow’ as she marches “unnoticed, unnamed, into the oblivion of death.”

Ritamvara Bhattacharya writes from a darling’s heart, Darjeeling. She believes in what Sylvia Plath said, “And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” She writes for the pleasure of it. She received The Nissim International Poetry Prize in the year 2020 and the Tagore Poetry Prize in 2020. Her
poems have been published in some noted portals like The Muse India, Café Dissensus, The Sunflower Collective, Aynanagor, Chakkar, The Indian Periodical, Plato’s Caves Online and others. Her debut chapbook,’ In the mirror, our graves’ along with veteran writer Ravi Shankar N published in
2021 has received accolades. She is an avid lover of life, literature, colours and has lived in awe for the past quarter-century. She believes contradiction adds to the aroma of living and would love to dwell in the same giving birth to more celebratory bells.

A Note on the Reviewer: Ra Sh has published four collections of poetry, Architecture of Flesh (Poetrywala), The Bullet Train and other loaded poems (Hawakal), Kintsugi by Hadni (RLFPA) and a chapbook In the Mirror, our graves with Ritamvara Bhattacharya. Some of his poems have been translated to Italian, German and French. Also published a play Blind men write in Dec 2021 (Rubric Publishing). Some poems have been included in significant anthologies like the Red River Anthology of Dissent poems (Witness), Red River Book of Erotic Poems (The Shape of a poem) and Collegiality and other ballads – the Hawakal Anthology of Feminist poetry by non-women. Translated C K Januvinte jeevithakatha as Mother Forest (Women Unlimited) and Tamil Dalit writer Bama’s short stories as The Ichi Tree Monkey and other stories (Speaking Tiger). Co- translated Sri Lankan Tamil poems in a collection Waking is another Dream (Navayana) (with Meena Kandasamy). Also edited and translated a collection of 101 Malayalam poems How to translate an earthworm (Dhauli Books, Bhuvaneswar.)
He has also published several reviews of poetry in World Literature Today.

Poems By Swapna Sanchita

The Falling of the Flowers

The flowers fall,
For no reason at all
Off the stalks, the branches, the tree.
And I see them strewn
On the grass, yellow on green
On the concrete, yellow on grey.
The flowers fall,
Their falling should mean something
It doesn’t.

A Conceit- Washing Line

Am stretched out between two trees

Out in the backyard, just a string

Where the people who walk in

Through the front doors cannot see

The tightly strung, strong, tied me up

And someone will lay out the clothes to dry
Heavy wet sheets, that they drape over me

And before the weight becomes almost too much

These garments that I hold up

So that they may soak up the sunlight

Grow lighter, and flutter in the breeze

No water left inside bearing them down
It is then that I am left free, still strung
Except that I start to sag all the time

Tired out from the daily burden of
Wet clothes needing me to hold them up

And when they can no longer tighten me
By retying my ends around the two trees
They will let me go, cast aside in the corner

Of the same backyard, frayed, forlorn.


Swapna Sanchita is a poet, a storyteller, and an educator. Her collection of poems, Des Vu was well received upon publication. She has contributed to a number of anthologies and journals. Swapna lives in Ranchi, India with her husband and two sons. 

Poem By Sonali Chanda

Illustration by Subarnarekha Pal

FINEST JOKE!

May be they’re lying to behold the hue, of those fresh bosoms, like strangers or like some unworthy overlooked trashes; may be I’m like them; waiting thirsty, alike them overlooked, someday, I’d touch the first sunray.

I’ve swallowed the hues of maternal love; I’ve been in sandy shores, waiting for blue waves; to have a fresh bath or to be washed away; or maybe it’s the time to be under the feet of an unknown traveller, alike some useless thorns or mosses.
I did weave a dream to get a corner some day; an eclipse of false hope showed me a little piece of hope, it’s not at all the corner but a barb wire which I found; though I’ve adorned it with the apron of roses.

What’s truth, what is the falsehood; now it’s all equally rejected; I’ve bejeweled in silence, watched each joke.
Suppose it’d be a truthful promise; not to be broken; legitimate and loyal;
  I didn’t ever get the rightness of the promise, which claimed as a deadly pledge.

Overlooked mosses shouldn’t dream of permanent corner, you know;
they’re the most trivial being in this vast world,
If they receive a life of little span; they’re blessed by anyhow or count their days.
A promise is a fine joke to the tiny moss life,
  It’s quite uncertain how many days it’d survive.

Sonali Chanda completed her Post Graduation from Burdwan University in English Literature and Language,
Recently She was honoured by NISSIM INTERNATIONAL AWARD 2022 for her Travelogue LADAKH: Enroute TIBETAN TABOOS.

Two Poems by James Croal Jackson

ABBATOIR

I worked in the slaughterhouse. I fed cows
but wanted to feed more the mouths of bulls.
Commuted through tunnels in morning rush. Threaded
needle between lanes. Sunlight’s golden mustard
fired me up to free caged meat. Can’t believe I hadn’t
seen the fire inside. The rust on my city’s hinges. Land of bridges.
I cannot identify what kind of animal I will become.

WOLF IN THE GARDEN

Wolf in the garden, feast on tomatoes,
rabbits, organs in your teeth. This
haze in my throat a belonging
fog I can’t cough out. I want
to reach for ruddy crescent
mud moon to hang on the wall
of forthcoming transformation.
You appeared rain and branches,
strutted into town with horsehide
in your mouth– a grave to majesties,
a purple-mountained pride.

Two Poems By Basab Mondal

JINXED

The night caves in
in the secluded penumbra of the city.
The moll readies herself.

The final touches
of colour, on her lips
darken.
The quietness within deepens.
The fetus of hope, nestled with care extends its hand
to grab
the unending vacuity,
within the dark sanctum.

ABSENTIA

The balcony
that houses my body,every night
knows,how my soul
embraces vacuity
with umpteen satiation.
Like a blown out candle
my heart, still
lets out a hissing smoke.
I close my eyes
a light engulfs me to say
‘the snake and ladder game
is still on’.
I die every night, muttering
‘e tu absentia…..’.

Basab  Mondal, is a bilingual  poet and columnist from Kolkata. He writes  in English  as well  as Bengali.  His poems ,stories  and  translations  have appeared  in several  anthologies  and literary magazines. He writes  to gratify his own inner self  and  the world around him serves as the cue.

“The Best Plan is No Plan”: A Cauldronful of Love, Politics and Friendship in David Yates’s The Secrets of Dumbledore

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore' review: Less of magic, more  about greed and lost love - Entertainment News

At the end of Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts, Emma Watson speaks of how  Harry Potter represents the power of storytelling and encompasses everything that is safe, good and kind. For the generation that grew up with Harry Potter, and for many more succeeding generations, this is certainly true. Perhaps this is why spin offs like Fantastic Beasts prove so successful with the audience even though the Fantastic Beasts franchise, according to many a critic, lacks the original magic of the series. But what it lacks in magic the franchise makes up in nostalgia and grandiosity: the cinematic universe of Fantastic Beasts, from the very first film, is opulent and darkly lavish. We left The Crimes of Grindelwald at the crucial juncture of Credence finding out his identity as a Dumbledore from Grindelwald and the phoenix soaring across the sky to land on his arm. The Secrets of Dumbledore begins where the events of The Crimes of Grindelwald ended: we meet Grindelwald and Dumbledore chatting in a muggle coffee shop with Grindelwald warning Dumbledore to stay out of his way.

     The Secrets of Dumbledore opens with the theme of love: lingering stares, nostalgic memories shared, passions simmering beneath the surface between Dumbledore and Grindelwald. But this love is not pure or uncomplicated: it is a love born out of twisted ideas and wrapped ideals. Grindelwald will not let Dumbledore forget that their association led to the birth of his vision for a muggle free world and to reinforce that knowledge, there is the blood pact, a cruel talisman that Dumbledore carries around his hand. Jude Law playing Dumbledore and Mads Mikkelsen playing Grindelwald are excellent actors who make the emotions in their scenes together go up a notch and bring out the complexities of their relationship beautifully. When Theseus, Newt’s brother, asks Dumbledore what possessed him to make a blood pact with Grindelwald, Dumbledore’s answer is that it can be any one of the poisons of love, naivety or friendship. The Secrets of Dumbledore as a film navigates this beautiful yet poisonous terrain of friendship and love coupled with politics: the film’s background is the rise of political Fascism in Europe.

     Newt Scamander is adorable as usual in his bumbling, awkward way but in this film Newt does not enjoy center stage. There are a host of other characters who share screen space: there is the resourceful Professor Lally Hicks, the mysterious Yusuf Kama, the ever entertaining Jackob Kowalski, the lovesick Bunty (Newt’s assistant who nurtures a soft spot for Newt). All of these characters are at their core kind and good who remain committed to foiling Grindelwald’s plan of taking over the world and oppressing the non-magic people.  But their plan, as Newt says, is to have no plan. And it is here that the film falters a little: trying to tie too many threads together, walking the tightrope of love and politics makes Yates’s universe a bit tedious and scattered. Add to that the lack of a proper plan on the part of the characters to defeat Grindelwald ( which translates to the lack of a proper plot for the film) and The Secrets of Dumbledore does run the danger of driving away its loyal audiences. But what saves the film and the franchise is the echoing beauty of Rowling’s writing: every time Jacob cracks a joke, laughs hysterically or cracks us up, we see the hand of a master storyteller at play. The scenes between Lally and Jacob are beautiful, an ode to friendship that can be brave and courageous in the worst of times.

     We have to agree with Lally when she says that Jacob is essential to defeating Grindelwald because he is a man who ‘won’t duck behind the counter’ when he sees a wrong deed taking place. Jacob is the heart of this film: funny, rambling yet essentially a kind and generous man who is madly in love with his old sweetheart, Queenie. The ageing Dumbledore told us in Harry Potter that love is the purest and oldest form of magic: it can withstand the greatest evil. In The Secrets of Dumbledore a young Dumbledore proves this again and again: he reminds his brother of his love for his son and how that love needs to be claimed. He is himself tortured by his love for Grindelwald but refuses to let that love manipulate his intentions or motivations.  Interspersed with love in the film is politics: the two rarely mix well and in this film they mingle to create a simmering cauldron of fearsome terrains. The film takes us on a tour of 1930s Europe where we are met with increasing cries of support for Grindelwald and a continent that is fast surrendering to ‘what is easy’ and not fighting for ‘what is right’. Fascist politics rarely follows any rationale and this is what we witness in The Secrets of Dumbledore: Grindelwald woos the crowds with his rhetoric of anti-muggle speeches and nobody questions as to how a muggle free world is going to be better or in what way are muggles a threat to wizards.

     Rowling understands the power of speeches, rhetoric, politics of purity and hate all too well. We see how Lally, Newt and Jacob are overpowered by the overwhelming support for Grindelwald in the German Ministry of Magic. We feel for Jacob as he watches Queenie walk past him  to execute Grindelwald’s twisted orders. We weep with Dumbledore for the helpless Credence and the cruel way he has been manipulated by Grindelwald. Friendships and love need to be cherished; otherwise they can fester and kill. Credence symbolizes this all too beautifully: abandoned at birth by Aberforth (Dumbledore’s brother), hungry to belong, lonely and abused, Credence becomes an obscurious, suppressing his magic and identity which bursts out of him in stressful moments and can be threatening for him and others around him. Grindelwald feeds Credence’s resentment, his hate as all fascists do; he misuses Credence’s power and lures him into the dark world of his politics. It is to Credence’s credit that he recognizes Grindelwald for what he is and thwarts his plans at the end.

     At the end, The Secrets of Dumbledore take us to Bhutan, a magically beautiful mountainous country where the election for the new Minister for Magic is to take place. Grindelwald has a clever plan of his own which Newt and his gang need to thwart to prevent a disaster. Both Newt and Grindelwald have a vitally important creature, a quillin, who has the power to choose a worthy leader. Credence stands up to Grindelwald and reveals the true nature of his creature and thus ultimately does the right thing. The film concludes with Grindelwald fleeing the scene and then we jump to the wedding day of Jacob and Queenie (who also ultimately sees the evil Grindelwald for what he is). The concluding scene is a hot bath in a warm cauldron of the central emotion in the film, love. Jacob and Queenie, Tina and Newt make us grateful for the existence of love even in the darkest of times. The Secrets of Dumbledore is not a masterfully crafted film; it is not even a very good film perhaps. But it is an entertaining and a love filled film that reminds us of the magic of a wonderful world, and that resonates with the message: “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if only one remembers to turn on the light”.    

 

 

Somrita Misra is Assistant Professor in the Department of English in Chanchal College, Malda, West Bengal. She is a Potterhead, a researcher in children’s literature and a thorough bibliophile.

An Interview with Kavita Ezekiel Mendonca by Susmita Paul

 

Q. 1. Reminiscences about your childhood are strewn across your recent collection of poetry, such as ‘Light of the Sabbath’. Could you tell us why is it that your childhood surfaces so eloquently in this collection?

Memory is a wonderful thing. It has allowed me to celebrate the warm and loving personalities and places of my childhood in my chapbook, ‘Light of The Sabbath.’ It has allowed me to re-live my childhood days, to walk with my paternal grandmother down the broken sidewalks of Bombay with ‘every square inch teeming with humanity’, to the synagogue to light the lamp, ‘to squeeze the purple grapes of faith’ on sacred Sabbath Fridays, with my aunt, whose faith could move mountains, ‘Those hands that move mountains/ Stirred the curry fluffed the rice/. ’Faith may move mountains’… She is also celebrated in my poem ‘Chain of Events.’ Speaking of the gold chain with a Star of David pendant that she gave me before she left, I wrote in the poem: ‘These are the chains that bind/ Twenty-two carat gold/ into bonds of love’…

It is memory, and not merely nostalgia, that has prompted me to recreate the distinct taste of the China Grass Halwa (Indian pudding) made by another aunt, to eat ‘the curry with ten green chillies when we visited the village of Alibaug, instead of the twenty she usually put in’, referring to my ‘Alibaug aunty’, and to have a ‘jovial uncle with a rich laugh who owned a grain mill and where the grain poured out of the ancient machines like his patient and unselfish love for us’, to name a few of the dear people celebrated in my poems. Despite a challenging childhood due to a complicated family situation, I was blessed with aunts and uncles on both sides of the family, who freely gave me an abundance of unconditional love. The reminiscences of my childhood are celebrations of the relatives that peopled my young world. I would have to put together a whole other book of poems which commemorates my grandfathers, uncles, and my cousins. I do have individual poems about them.  My amazing aunt Hannah, whom I celebrate in my title poem, ‘Light of The Sabbath’ more than helped me survive the traumas of some of the loneliest times in my life. She was there at my birth and remained in my life till she made Aliyah to Israel.  Her faith and devotion to her God when ‘she read all one hundred and fifty psalms each Saturday’, is something that is indelibly engraved on my mind. My memories capture the essence of these souls, paying tribute to these strong yet gentle extended family members, and immortalizing them in verse.

In the poem about my maternal grandmother, ‘The Ballad of Little Ma’, my memory takes me to my petite, yet strong four-foot eleven inches tall grandmother who ‘spoke less, but when she put her hand on your shoulder/ you knew you were loved.’  And who had ‘no muscles or six pack / just strength of heart and soul.’

My childhood was a magical time, and yet, to borrow that well-known Dickensian phrase from the ‘Tale of Two Cities’, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ My focus in my chapbook was on ‘the best of times.’

 

Q.2. From the vantage point of your Jewish identity, how important is writing to stop the  erasure of socio-religious-political identities?

I was born and raised in the Bene-Israeli Jewish community in Bombay, the largest of the three communities of Jews in India. We were a minority community like the Parsis. Many Jews rose to prominent positions like Dr. E. Moses who was a Mayor of Bombay. Several Jews became prominent doctors, teachers, and lawyers The Jews, like the Parsis, blended seamlessly into the Indian landscape and never faced any discrimination. Many people in the western world express surprise to learn that there are Jews in India. The community of Indian Jews that immigrated to Israel in large numbers in the fifties and sixties by contrast, faced much discrimination in Israel.  Indian Jews were not even considered Jewish. Darker skin color and a failure to speak fluent Hebrew are cited as being among the causes of discrimination. Numerous Jews left India for a better life in ‘The Promised Land.’ ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ was the dream of so many Jewish people I met when I was young. To their credit, the Bene-Israelites are making strong efforts to preserve their heritage and even getting some of their traditions like Malida, an Indian Jewish Thanksgiving ceremony, cited in textbooks. They are working hard to assert and retain their identity.  Poets, artists, and writers can document this rich heritage through their work and ensure their history and presence is well-established as a significant presence in the world, and not erased. The world has much to gain by learning about diverse minority communities in India, and in other parts of the world as well.

In a New York Times article titled ‘Fighting Erasure’, Parul Sehgal says “Erasure refers to the practice of collective indifference that renders certain people and groups invisible… It goes beyond simplistic discussions of quotas to ask: Whose stories are taught and told? Whose suffering is recognized? Whose dead are mourned?”

We were a liberal Jewish family. At my grandparents’ homes particularly, we observed the customs and traditions of the Indian Jewish community, which are often quite distinct from those of the Western Jews. Since I attended a Christian school and also worked in Christian schools in India and overseas, I learned much about Christianity. As I grew older, I wanted to discover my Jewish roots and see what impact they had on forming my world view and the influence on my life today. In my poem ‘Shipwreck’, I speak about the origins of my people who arrived on the Konkan coast of India as their ship struck a rock, with most perishing, but according to legend, seven couples survived.  The fair-skinned, curly-haired light-eyed people arrived over two thousand years ago and settled in the villages there, later moving to Bombay ‘I am from that same seed/ Descendant of those shipwrecked warriors/ God’s rock occurs in dreams/ my ‘ship’ breaks ever so often/ On life’s rocks but I survive/ like my ancestors/  Pressing seeds into verse/ To preserve a story of survival/ Not just on Saturdays.’

In my poem ‘Ancestral Shipwreck’ I also describe the origins of my community.

I arrived on stormy seas/ Flung against a rock by a shipwreck/ I don’t remember who I was fleeing/ Or why I boarded the ship. / The village gave me shelter/ I remembered *The Shema and The Sabbath/ I forgot my language…

 

 

Q.3. In writing, we carry the legacy of our ancestors- both biological and literary. How does it affect you, given that your father Nissim Ezekiel is considered the father of Indian poetry in English?

It is a matter of immense pride, along with an equal measure of humility for me, that my father, the late poet Nissim Ezekiel, is widely acknowledged as the Father of Indian Poetry in English. Biologically, I am his daughter, his flesh and blood. My name ‘Kavita’, which means poem in Sanskrit, was perhaps both symbolically and prophetically given to me by my father.  Or he might have had a vision, like the prophet Ezekiel! My mother told me that when I was born, my father rejoiced as if he had written his best poem!  It is significant that I was not given a Jewish name. In several interviews and presentations about my father I have always maintained that preserving his legacy is near and dear to my heart. It is more important to me than my own writing. Many of the poems I write are either dedicated to my father or make reference to him in one way or another. We shared a deep bond. In my poem ‘Daddy’ I write that ‘the love of words is my steadfast inheritance.’ My father sowed the seeds of my love of words… the beginnings of my literary legacy. My home was always more full of books than any other household object. My father was a voracious reader and poured his love of reading into all three of us. He held informal poetry reading classes in the house, which I attended as a child.

The biological relationship was never one of mere physical connection, his genes to mine.  There was a powerful engagement with each other – total acceptance of the other, but also suffering in acknowledging the reality of the other’s life – its strengths, weaknesses, sometimes uncaring, other times, too involved… but never indifference.  To me that is the essence of love.

My poem ‘My Father, That Man’ is a poem that speaks of my love and admiration for my father’s passion for words. The last lines express my hope that he has left something of his gift for writing poetry for me. ‘I know that man well/ For he was my father/ I have his flaws/ In my genes/ And perhaps a little/ From his gift of words.’

 

Q.4. How far do you think Indian poetry in English has evolved since its beginning?

I think every generation of Indian poets writing in English have made a unique contribution to the field of Indian poetry in English. The style and content of pre-colonial poets was very different from poets of the post-colonial generation. It is the same with contemporary poets. In my opinion, it would be somewhat unfair to judge the quality of poetry of various eras by placing them in a sort of direct comparison with each other. Or juxtaposing them to render one seemingly superior and more evolved than the other.  I can’t remember the exact source, but when asked if his writing was different from his predecessors, one of the Indian English poets writing in post-Independence (1947) times said, “That’s just the way we wrote.” With contemporary poetry, I find a lot of experimentation with several types of poetry like Haiku, Tanka and Haibun, Prose poetry, to name a few.  Also, in keeping with the pressing concerns of the times, the content of today’s poetry reflects themes like Climate Change, Racism, Feminism, and other urgent political and social issues. Several poets have adopted a more colloquial style, which is actually my preference.  Translation has also begun to occupy an important space in the field of poetry today.

 

Q.5. How do you visualize yourself in the poetic arena of contemporary English poetry? 

I spend a lot of my time, writing about my father, giving readings of his poetry, lectures, and presentations about him. Preserving his legacy is very near and dear to my heart. I am more than happy to introduce him to the younger generation of poets, that may not be acquainted with him, as well as to international audiences. For me this is a labor of love, and more important than my own writing. Of course, I am a published poet myself and enjoy writing poetry. I have taught poetry in schools and colleges in a teaching career spanning over four decades and published my first book ‘Family Sunday and other poems’ in 1989. Raising two children and working full time consumed the intervening years. I happily, but sometimes wistfully, put my writing on hold. Giving time to my family was important at that stage. It was a priority for me.  After a long hiatus, having retired from teaching, I started writing again and my chapbook ‘Light of The Sabbath’ was published in September 2021. My simple desire is to share my most treasured memories and experiences with readers.  My greatest reward is when the poems are well-received and have touched the reader is some way.  My poems are also a record in verse of my family history.  On one occasion, my father, knowing my love of the Beatles, bought me a book of their lyrics from a bookshop in New York. He inscribed the book ‘To Kavita, with faith in her potential.’ If, in some small measure I can fulfil that potential, then I have not only fulfilled his hope for me, but my own dream for myself.

Kavita: Thank you for the opportunity of sharing my thoughts and ideas with you.

Susmita: Thank you Kavita for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us. We are filled with gratitude.

 

Kavita Ezekiel Mendonca was born and raised in a Jewish family in Mumbai.  She was educated at the Queen Mary School, Mumbai, received her BA in English and French, an MA from the University of Bombay in English and American Literature, and a Master’s in Education from Oxford Brookes University, England.  She has taught English, French and Spanish in various colleges and schools in India and overseas. Her first book, Family Sunday and Other Poems was published in 1989, with a second edition in 1990. Kavita is the daughter of the late poet, Nissim Ezekiel. She manages her Poetry page at https://www.facebook.com/kemendoncapoetry/

Susmita is a creative writer and independent scholar with bipolar mood disorder with schizophrenic potential. She writes in English and Bengali and is published in “Headline Poetry and Press”, “Montauk” and “Learning and Creativity”. Her published books are Poetry in Pieces (2018) and Himabaho Kotha Bole (When Glaciers Speak) (2019). She is the Founding Editor-in-Chief of The Pine Cone Review. Her personal website is www.susmitapaul.org 

Two Poems by Rizwan Akhtar

Free Market Economy

Not for ambition or bread—Dylan Thomas

just when the evening is about to collapse

like a market haggles rattles and shut

his tea settles in a cup bringing a reprieve

behind window a dusty urban Narcissus

flouts lavish curls (on a glossy cell phone)

so that when the day is done and the memory

tucked inside body is worn by sweating labor

nine to five battle with bread culminates

he is on a soft pillow munching dreams

indeed his muse is an aristocrat unaware

of her assets whipping world’s stock exchange

compare to this mean vendor of survival whose

poetic is so undernourished even trees he choose

gasps for more oxygen and grass craves water

the sun is so capitalistic intent on lurching him

a wildness lives at heart’s surroundings.

Hermeneutics

We do not live in proximity

with a sea and neither are

there gods so our pantheon

never originated except an

encounter on a bench since

then only personifications

be any other implicit way

to wind up all our chapters 

we shouldered even trees

close by called for glossary

ever since there is a simile

stuck on some page treated

your arms for all sorts of

purposes from a nuanced

analogy to a wild biting

to say I love you was the

death of punctuation till

an alcove of silence and

the book alone shelved.

Rizwan Akhtar’s debut collection of Poems Lahore, I Am Coming (2017) is published by Punjab University Press, Lahore .He has published poems in well-established poetry magazines of the UK, US, India, Canada, and New Zealand. He was a part of the workshop on poetry with Derek Walcott at the University of Essex in 2010.

Poems by Devika Mathur

BARREN DAYS

These days, possibly
I could stay awake all night
without lids open
without an outgrown mass for affection
staring into the raw rims of oval mouth- night shifters, I say.

A thing might be done during the afternoons
but generally nothing much happens in my house
all yellow- mahogany ruptured landscape
with tainted smiles to watch
monotony of colours, pigments and textures.
I have frowning faces all over
for spilled, spoiled milk (whatever you say)
A woman dragging her shadow in circles
counting till 50 backwards to go off to sanity,
nothing to stop her,
often, she skips if not running.

I can smell the salt all day.
Through the hanging stale night lamps,
a toothpaste now old and rusting
with beds cracking,
days pale like the birds bereft of water

brown as your memory
brown table, brown cinema and nothing wonderful.
Breakfasts are small,
small and wholesome.
Pinkish fruity nectar,
jasmine tea
and no words.
The rose from my balcony is my muse
a snippet from a falling sky-
it reminds me of my field of stone,
air and blur.
Sunsets and smiles.

These days, possibly
I can imagine going off to sleep
with everything inside my clumsy fist.
Askew, I will wake and break.

A RED FANCY

Red washbasins under my tongue
mosaic bones,
a shiver on my knee,
red is the sky and red is you.

This time is a wound now,
red fluttering itch.
I see you in my transparent dreams-

made of paper hearts and porcelain art,
a red opaque mirror
of us-

holding a sniffle of barren mouth
a sniff and a snuggle-
how do you want this?

how much do you want it?
A red shadow.
a red bed for a growling moon.

Count the ways, now.
the red floors of mannequins dancing/ the nail bite/
the fever. 
Count the ways you want it again?

  Cold now. 
Almost slippery.
Close to the red door.

Close to immature death once again.
The red sky is empty again.

-Devika Mathur resides in India and is a published poet, writer, and editor. Her works have been published in The Alipore Post, Madras Courier, Modern Literature, Two Drops Of Ink, Dying Dahlia Review, Pif Magazine, Spillwords, Duane’s Poetree, Piker Press, Mojave heart review, Whisper and the Roar amongst others. She is the founder of the surreal poetry website “Olive skins” and writes for https://myvaliantsoulsblog.wordpress.com/   She recently published her book “Crimson Skins”  and her five poems were also published in Sunday Mornings River anthology recently and has her works upcoming in two more fierce anthologies