Q&A with Author Sonia Faleiro: “I’m Suspicious of Easy Stories”

A man would protect them from themselves. You could never, ever, said Priya, underestimate what a relief it was to have someone waiting for you when you returned from the dance bar. ‘To be held,’ she said, ‘even in the arms of a thief, is worth something.’ – Beautiful Thing

When reporter and novelist Sonia Faleiro (The Girl) meets a lively, fast-talking 19-year old dancer named Leela in Mumbai, she finds herself intrigued by the characters of the dance bar world and decides to learn more. Over the course of five years, Faleiro painstakingly interviews Leela and her friends and family, as well as other key characters in the Mumbai dance bar scene and captures their stories. The result? Beautiful Thing, a captivating nonfiction narrative full of rich prose and powerful Hinglish dialogues that exposes readers to an underground world where people are mere commodities. A world where relatives sell young girls to the highest bidder and dancers lose their value well before their mid-20s. Continue reading

The Great American 9/11 Novel

For the last four months, I have been trying and failing to finish a book gifted me as a Christmas present, The Submission, the first novel by New York Times journalist Amy Waldman, released shortly before the anniversary of 9/11. I had almost completed it this week (grudgingly) before I was made aware of the depth of its popularity. I must confess, I was shocked. The book that I had considered passing to the thrift-store unfinished has in fact received rave reviews from a handful of the nation’s top papers.

The New York Times noted its “limber, detailed prose.” The Guardian stated: “Waldman’s prose is almost always pitch-perfect, whether describing a Bangladeshi woman’s relationship with her landlady or the political manoeuvring within a jury.” In The Washington Post, Chris Cleave wrote that Waldman “excels at involving the reader in vibrant dialogues. Additionally, The Submission was named Esquire’s Book of the Year, Entertainment Weekly’s #1 Novel for the Year, NPR’s Top Ten Novels for 2011 and the list goes on. NPR’s Maureen Corrigan called it “gorgeously written novel” and went so far as to call it the 9/11 novel. High praise, indeed. Continue reading

Q&A with Daisy Rockwell AKA Lapata

Unsettling. The Little Book of Terror, a slim, brightly-colored book of paintings and short essays by Daisy Rockwell hardly contains standard coffee-table fare. Divided into five sections, this cheeky little volume features your usual gallery of big-name, international rogues. Osama bin Laden. Saddam Hussein. But the feeling of uneasiness comes not from these over-chronicled villain archetypes whose images we’ve all seen scattered over televisions a hundred times over.

Instead, it comes from candid portraits such as that of Mohamed Mahmood Alessa, a 20-year old in New Jersey who was appended by the FBI after he tried to join a militant group in Somalia. In her portrait of Alessa, Rockwell depicts him in bubble-gum pink tones, prone on a floral bedspread, cuddling with his beloved cat, Princess Tuna. Unsettling. The narrative of terror that we often see seldom contains photos of wannabe terrorists cuddling with their kitty cats, or of the underwear bomber as a sullen teenager, posing during a school trip. Continue reading

Charles Dickens in India

“Please, Sir, I want some more.”

Charles Dickens would have turned 200 today. If you haven’t read his books, here is the digested read. At the request of BBC World Service I wrote a brief reminiscence recalling my experience reading Dickens in my childhood. Here is the longer version of what I recorded for them:

Children have lurid imaginations. They don’t need much help imagining misfortune. But if you are aware of poverty, or see suffering around you, Charles Dickens can be a boon. This is because he is so good at populating that stricken landscape with indelible characters outfitted with violent habits and unforgettable names.

I grew up in a small town in India. The novels of Charles Dickens, in abridged form, were required reading in schools. My uncles on my mother’s side worked in prisons. I could look up from a page of Great Expectations and see the convicts working in the house, sweeping a stone courtyard or feeding the cows. Each man, clad in white khadi with blue stripes, would have an iron manacle around his ankle. I went back to the page I was reading, but now troubled by the thought that soon one of them would be beside me, asking me to fetch a file.

In the books that we read, a dramatic pencil illustration would be printed every few pages, with a line from the novel serving as a caption.

“Please, Sir, I want some more.” That line was Dickens’s gift to me.

At bus-stops, in the homes of less well-off relatives, outside tea-stalls, I looked at the faces of other children as they regarded food that was displayed, or that someone else was eating, and I’d think back to the line I had read in Oliver Twist.

In the new shining India, 42.5 percent of its children suffer from malnutrition. The term “Dickensian” evokes cold dark workplaces and cramped rooms. It doesn’t belong to the India of teeming cities with soaring flyovers and glittering multirise buildings. Yet, you can still look at the stunted children and remember, without sentimentality, that old line from Dickens: “Please, Sir, I want some more.”




Of Writings, Marriages and Giveaways

(L-R) Hisham Matar, Amitava Kumar and Zohra Saeed at the “War and its Representations” panel discussion at last Saturday’s AAWW event. Photo Credit: Preston Merchant

Today is exactly six days after Sugi sent me to the Asian American Literary Festival and four days into National Novel Writing Month. What better than a poetry contest with a literary giveaway and some photos of your favorite Asian American writers to inspire you fervent scribblers?

Here’s the deal. This week marked the end of a pop culture era. I’m talking about the anti-climactic marital misadventures of E! darling Kim Kardashian. Frankly, my dears, I don’t give a damn. But Sir Salman Rushdie obviously thought it worth a Tweet or three. Here’s his limerick about the sex-tape starlet:

“The marriage of poor kim #kardashian / was krushed like a kar in a krashian. / her kris kried, not fair! / why kan’t I keep my share? / But kardashian fell klean outa fashian

But guess what, mutineers. You can do better. Leave your entries in the comments along. Winner gets a copy of Amitava Kumar’s award-winning book, A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb. We’ll announce a winner in the comments next Friday, November 11th.

Writer’s block? Check out another lovely photo from the Asian American Literary Festival below from the Mutiny’s own Preston Merchant along with some writing advice. (Thanks Preston!) The accompanying quotes were tweeted on the day of the event through the SepiaMutiny account. Continue reading

AAWW Award Winner Amitava Kumar: “I Want to Portray How Messed Up the World Is.”

Photo Credit: Preston Merchant

I love me a good book. But even more than that, I love me a good literary festival featuring some of my favorite authors. Tonight kicks off Page Starter 2011, the Asian American Literary Festival’s third annual event. The event, which concludes tomorrow, features literary darlings such as Junot Diaz and Teju Cole. And even more exciting for Sepia Mutiny, our very own Amitava Kumar will be honored as the winner of the Asian American Literary award for nonfiction for his book, A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb. To celebrate, we turned the tables on this SM blogger and asked him some questions for a change.

What surprised you about the response to your last book, A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb?

That it won a prize?

No, actually, now that you ask, let me unburden myself. At the New York launch of the book, an academic friend, very political, a proper hater of the FBI, walked out after I had said something about how exasperating I had found talking to one of my subjects, someone who was convicted of terrorism. Was the man guilty of everything the government had charged? No. Was he a pathetic liar? Yes. Couldn’t both facts coexist?

Academics, so many of them, demand such purity! I hate it. As a writer, I want to portray how messed-up the world is. Also, if I could add: As a writer, I am so messed-up, and I don’t want to hide that either. Continue reading

How Will We Remember?

On this day I woke up to images of the twin towers falling on TV, eerily similar to what happened ten years ago at the same time. Deliberately, I’ve avoided the videos over the years, quickly changing the channel, images of people jumping from the building permanently embedded in my memory already. But today, I watched. I needed to be reminded, I guess. Where will we be in 300 years of remembering? This is Chee Malabar & Tanuj Chopra’s interpretation.

The video was created as a DVD insert to the Asian American Literature Review Tenth Anniversary of September 11th issue.

So many of our communities have borne witness to so much over the past 10 years; it behooves us to critically consider the moment and its aftermath—the various political, legal, and civil rights repercussions, particularly for the communities most directly affected, South Asian, Arab, Middle Eastern, and Muslim American. But how can we do so, when so many of the voices of affected communities remain unheard? [AALR]


You can order your copy of the AALR special issue online here now.

Q&A with Author Patrick French

In the past, I have tried and failed to complete books about India. They tend to make me yawn. But when Amitava gave me a copy of Patrick French’s India: A Portrait, I was immediately hooked. The book contains a generous sprinkling of humorous, well-executed anecdotes guaranteed to delight (and likely inflame some) readers. After I completed the book, I reached out to Mr. French, who was kind enough to entertain my questions.

Why India: A Portrait? Why not the story of Japan or China or any number of other countries? What about India fascinates you enough to dedicate close to 400 pages and over four years to covering the country? Because India is, objectively speaking, the most interesting country in the world at the moment – with the possible exception of the United States. I felt there was no current book which provides a snapshot of India as it is right now, at a time of great change, but which also placed the economics and politics in a historical context.

What challenges were there to writing “an intimate biography of 1.2 billion people”? Did you ever feel as if you had swallowed off more than you could chew? The book’s title is India: A Portrait. It’s a picture drawn from many angles, but it doesn’t seek to be comprehensive. For example: there’s not much about cricket, Bollywood, the north-east or music. That “intimate biography” line is an advertising slogan from one of the editions of the book. Yes, it’s an intimate piece of writing. It uses personal stories to communicate a larger history – for example by looking at Indira Gandhi’s death through the eyes of her assassin’s son, or at the Permit Raj through the experiences of a junior scion of a business dynasty.

Patrick French.JPG Continue reading

Way To Go, Anika / A Speech for Libraries

This is a video of 14-year-old Anika Tabovaradan giving an impassioned speech about the need for libraries in Toronto. It is 2 a.m., she hates public speaking, she’s been waiting for four hours to talk, and a bunch of Toronto officials–including Mayor Rob Ford–are watching her. AND SHE IS AWESOME.

Way to go, Anika. You reminded me how much I love libraries, librarians, and community space.

(Here’s the related article in the Toronto Star, and a tip o’ the old hat to Romesh H, who pointed out the vid in the first place.) Continue reading

Activist, Poet Ifti Nasim, 1946-2011

KXB’s news post brings to my attention the passing of Ifti Nasim, an out and outspoken gay Pakistani poet who was based in Chicago. Dustin Nakao-Haider’s short film about Nasim captures a bit of his vibrance and humor, at his work as a radio host, at an interfaith community event where he talked about being Muslim, and ends with the poet reciting his How To “Kill” Your Brother With Kindness (Especially If He Is Homophobe).

Continue reading