Mahabharata: A Modern Retelling

4ac656cc6cd94f862d478f7a03748991-w204@1xby Carole Satyamurti
W. W. Norton & Company, 2015

British poet Satyamurti works from scholarly versions—such as K.M. Ganguli’s unabridged 5,000-page English prose translation—to condense all 18 books of the Mahabharata into this single volume of blank verse. The task is formidable and many would say impossible, yet Satyamurti moves smoothly between episodes with a consistent, understated rhythm. Inevitably, many of the core episodes and events are overly simplified; moreover, the bloody, cataclysmic battle at the end of cosmic time and the struggle for virtue—both human and divine—are unfortunately made to seem far more tame than in the original.  

Carol Satyamurti is a poet, sociologist, and translator. The author of many books of poetry, she has taught regularly for the Arvon Foundation and for the Poetry Society (UK). She lives in London.

The Lotus Singers: Short Stories from Contemporary South Asia

51pmboga-0l-_sx330_bo1204203200_Edited by Trevor Carolan
Cheng & Tsui Company, Inc., 2011.

The Lotus Singers: Short Stories from Contemporary South Asia is a collection of contemporary short stories by South Asia’s most renown authors.  With writers from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, this anthology gives readers a glimpse into the complexities of a region so diverse in both landscape and people through the exploration of themes such as social upheaval, gender inequality, economic and spiritual struggle, and challenges to cultural orthodoxy.

In his review, Alan Cheuse describes that while the writers featured in The Lotus Singers are little know in the US, this anthology shows “how a distant part of the world seems so foreign and yet so close to home.”   Ira Raja also writes that the collection seems at first “to confirm out expectations of the standard stereotypes associated with South Asia—poverty, caste, and the pressures of the traditional family—[it turns] those expectations around in bold, subtle, and intriguing ways, forcing readers to rethink everything they thought they knew about this place at the crossroads of the world” (quoted from the back cover).

Trevor Carolan was born in Yorkshire but grew up in New Westminster, British Columbia.  He received an interdisciplinary PH.D. at Bond University, Australia, and currently teaches English at University of the Fraser Valley near Vancouver.  His current works include Another Kind of Paradise: Short Stories from the New Asia-Pacific and Against The Shore: The Best of Pacific Rim Review of Books, which he co-edited with Richard Olafson.

Fearful Symmetry: India-Pakistan Crises in the Shadow of Nuclear Weapons

510r7nm2cxl-_sx323_bo1204203200_By Sumit Ganguly & Devin T. Hagerty.

Oxford University Press, 2006.

With the nuclearization of the Indian subcontinent, Indo-Pakistani crisis behavior has acquired a deadly significance. The past two decades have witnessed no fewer than six crises against the backdrop of a vigorous nuclear arms race. Except for the Kargil war of 1998-9, all these events were resolved peacefully.

Nuclear war was avoided despite bitter mistrust, everyday tensions, an intractable political conflict over Kashmir, three wars, and the steady refinement of each side’s nuclear capabilities. Sumit Ganguly and Devin T. Hagerty carefully analyze each crisis, reviewing the Indian and Pakistani domestic political systems and key decisions during the relevant period. (Publisher’s Descrption)

Sumit Ganguly is professor of political science and Rabindranath Tagore Chair of Indian Cultures and Civilizations at Indiana University, Bloomington. Devin T. Hagerty is associate professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Speaking Havoc: Social Suffering & South Asian Narratives

51lmorbwcxlBy Ramu Nagappan

University of Washington Press, 2005

Who has the right to speak about trauma? As cultural products, narratives of social suffering paradoxically release us from responsibility while demanding that we examine our own connectedness to the circumstances that produce suffering. As a result, the text’s act of “speaking havoc” rebounds in unsettling ways.Speaking Havoc investigates how literary and cinematic fictions intervene in the politics and reception of social suffering. Amitav Ghosh’s modernist novel The Shadow Lines (1988), A Fine Balance (1995) by Rohinton Mistry, the short stories of Saadat Hasan Manto, Salman Rushdie’s postmodernist novel Shame (1983), and the “spectacular” films of Maniratnam: each bears witness to social violence in South Asia. These works confront squarely a number of ethical dilemmas in representations of social suffering – the catastrophes and innumerable minor tragedies that arise from clashes among religious and ethnic communities.

Focusing on central events such as the Partition of 1947, the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984, and more recent religious conflicts between India and Pakistan, Nagappan demonstrates the differing ways that narratives engage – often in ambiguous and problematic ways – the political violence that has marked the last fifty years of South Asian history. Is it possible to tell fully the stories of those who have died and those who have survived? Can writing really act as a counter to silence? In his compassionate engagement with these concerns, Nagappan demonstrates the relevance of literature and literary studies to fundamental sociological, anthropological, and political issues. (Publisher’s description)

Ramu Nagappan is an instructor and coordinator of Interdisciplinary Studies in Medicine and the Humanities in the School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco.

The Blue Sky

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By Galsan Tschinag

Translated by Katharina Rout
Milkweed Editions, 2006 

Galsan Tschinag is the German name taken by Irgit Shynykbai-oglu Dshurukuwaa, a Tuvan born in Mongolia in the early 1940s. Tschinag studied in Germany in the early ’60s and ended up leading the Tuvan people, dispersed under Communism, back to the High Altai mountain region. This autobiographical novel, the first of a trilogy, mines his Mongolian boyhood as a youngest child with an unusual devotion to his grandmother (who comes to live with his immediate family in their yurt). Galsan has aspirations to increase the family’s holdings to 1,000 animals and a yurt with a mirror and a suitcase. As Tuvan customs get disrupted by the Communist government’s attempts at societal homogenization, the boy continues to tend sheep without the company of his siblings (sent to boarding school) and turns to Arsylang, his dog, for companionship. The foundations for his natural ambitions disappear piecemeal. Tschinag offers softly outlined characters more in the oral tradition than that of the novel, and fly-on-the-wall depictions of the Tuvans, a generally nonaggressive, nomadic tribe with a knack for maxims and poetic superstitions. Descriptions of the Altai mountains, remarkable sky, and closeness to the flock are slow but rich. The book is filled with small pleasures. (Publishers Weekly)

Wild Form & Savage Grammar

By Andrew Schelling

La Alameda Press, 2003. 

These essays are reports from an increasingly important crossroads where art and ecology meet. Andrew Schelling belongs, in the words of Patrick Pritchett, “to a small group of poets who are actively engaged with the rhythms and pulses of the natural world.” He is also the preeminent translator into English of the poetries of ancient India. Wild Form, Savage Grammar collects ten years of essays, many of which investigate the “nature literacy” of American and Asian poetry traditions. Other topics include recollections of Allen Ginsberg and Joanne Kyger, wolf reintroduction in the Rocky Mountains, pilgrimage to Buddhist India, and the possible use of hallucinogens among Paleolithic artists. An underlying commitment to ecology studies, Buddhist teachings, and contemporary poetry weaves the collection together. (Publisher’s description)