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Year in Review: Books 2014

Year in Review: Books 2014

January 4 2015

They say variety is the spice of life, our coverage of books in 2014, shows that in ample quantity…

DANCING girls got us underway in 2014.

Well to be more precise, academic Anna Morcom talked to us about her book, “Illicit worlds of Indian dance”.

It was something of an eye-opener (perhaps even eye-popping), Morcom has delved deep into its origins and very much explores the hidden worlds of the courtesan dancer, made famous in popular Indian culture by figures such as Pakeezah and Umrao Jan.

It also examined the role of transgender and transvestites in dance culture and suggests there were times in the past when there was more acceptance and tolerance (within certain boundaries still).

Umrao Jan

The full article is here and fascinating her book is too.

The announcement of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature always throws up some interesting books.

And this year’s list was no different – though it perhaps had bigger and more recognised names than last year’s, which the hitherto relatively – but not quite unknown – Cyrus Mistry triumphed with “Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer”.

This tale about a transgressive love affair between a low caste Parsi man and a high caste young woman from a priest’s family told in a spare and unadorned style won many plaudits.

Its quiet, understated but effective detail, narrating the discrimination and lack of sympathy for the less fortunate in 1940s still colonial Bombay, showed the prize could turn a spotlight on dark, obscure worlds but utterly deserving of our rich attention. The modest and self-effacing author gave an interview in at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival (Zee JLF) just a short time before the announcement and spoke at length about the novel’s genesis and inspiration. That interview may yet be published as something of an introduction to the 2015 edition.

And so what of the author-reader jamboree in Jaipur from January 21-25 this year?

Among the British Asian contingent, Hanif Kureshi, Anita Anand, Farrukh Dhondy, Monisha Rajesh, Razia Iqbal, Simon Singh, are all confirmed attendees. There’s a high quotient of glamour with the British Trinidadian Nobel Laureate and grand old man of English letters, Sir VS Naipaul attending and other celebrated mortals also set to adorn the grounds of Diggi Palace. Among these are 2013 Booker Prize winner, Eleanor Catton, Elizabeth Gilbert of “Eat, Pray, Love” fame, and rising literary star, Eimear McBride (“A Girl is a half-formed thing”, which won six separate literary awards 2013-2014).

But back to last year’s edition and review (a full preview story of Jaipur will appear in due course).

Among the highlights was Nobel prizewinning economist Professor Amartya Sen’s opening address. It was one of the finest expressions of Indian liberalism ever delivered in a public forum.

Three of the judges of the 2015 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature at the announcement in London of the five shortlisted books. The winner will be announced on January 22 at Zee JLF

It had zero impact on the subsequent General Election which ended with a landslide victory in May for the Hindu inspired Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Narendra Modi (no liberal he, funnily).

One of the other highlights at Jaipur was author Shereen El Feki talking about how an Arab world has become more conservative and strict and less tolerant about sexual practices and pleasures. Here’s the overall assessment of Zee JLF last year

And who can forget listening to Gloria Steinem welcoming and urging men to join the struggle for women’s equality everywhere and applauding those Indian men who stood up for them in the wake of the terrible Delhi bus rape tragedy of 2012.

As would befit any number of cupid’s arrows fired on Valentine’s Day, Chayya Syal spoke to academic Dr Amandeep Kaur Takhar about how her book, “Computer Culture and Evolution in Sikh Courtship and Rituals“. The academic dispelled the notion that the older you are the more resistant you are to internet dating – in fact she found the gatekeepers approved because it meant a greater chance of retaining one’s faith and culture

The first part of the year was still agog over Hanif Kureishi’s “The Last Word”.

Controversy over Hanif Kureishi's 'The Last Word' continued on into early 2014 Pic: Keir Kureishi
With Kureishi and his supposed inspiration for the character of ‘Mamoon’ drawn from VS Naipaul himself, it will be interesting to see if there’s any acknowledgement or recognition at Zee JLF 2015. Kureishi himself has always strenuously denied any connection or comparison – and in a sense he’s right – it doesn’t matter whether Mamoon is a literary doppelganger of sorts, the character stands in its own world and has to work in that one, not ours.

Keen to join the authors club is Adnan Sarwar – a one-time solider, turned writer. His Bodley Head/Financial Times Award was for his essay, “British Muslim Soldier”. Thoughtful and reflective, his yet to be published memoir chronicles his times in Iraq and shows one side of the important debate about faith and British identity.

Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival brought three independent spirits to talk about sex and the politics around it.
Moni Mohsin gave us a wonderful preview, delving deep into the psyche of Pakistan, and outlining the constrictions that have governed the subject since the mullahs became more powerful in that country. There’s an insight into far more than just sex in this interview.

In May, the Alchemy Festival featured Neel Mukherjee and his book, “The Lives of Others”. The (2014) Booker nomination had yet to come but it was quite obvious the audience was in thrall to a profound and very distinct voice. Chitra Mogul found the book and his appearance, powerful and compelling.

Quite different in style and scope but more obviously prescient and really on the button, was Nikesh Shukla’s “Meatspace”, which examines the world of social media and scrutinises just how much of an impact it has on us, as human beings with a likely compulsion to be social and liked. Shukla gives us a chance to examine the world anew. Seetal Kaur Gahir, in her review of “Meatspace”, found much to like and enjoyed Shukla’s ability to keep you guessing. Her observation that the central family had confusingly (and purposefully) both Hindu/Muslim, Gujarati/South Indian names carried on with Shukla via Twitter. And the latter suffered something of a burnout on social media not too dissimilar to what happens to his main protagonist. Thankfully, Shukla’s twitter self is back to rude health.

The launch of 'Beyond the Border': New Writing by British Asian Women. Review coming to the site soon

The Edinburgh International Book Festival, one of the other attractions come the international arts and fringe festival in the city, saw twice Booker nominated South African Damon Galgut talk about his latest book, “Arctic Summer”.

Centred around the great English novelist EM Forster, Galgut explores Forster’s friendship with Syed Ross Masood. Crudely perhaps in the following summary, Galgut believes that Forster’s most celebrated novel was inspired by Masood and their unconsummated love affair. Masood never expressed any physical attraction to Forster but the older man was hugely smitten, suggests Galgut.

There was no South Asian Literature Festival in the UK this year. Founder and co-director Bhavit Mehta explained why We wish him well as he endeavours to make it bigger and better in 2015.

New literary festivals supporting and promoting (British) Asian authors are to be welcomed – and the newly constituted Bradford Literature Festival looks set to do that this May.

There was an opportunity for to examine the work of Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi. Jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and authors in their own right, it was important to acknowledge their work and ongoing ambitions. Malala, as she is better known, was also the subject of an extended profile in last year’s “GG2 Power101“. Written by editor Sailesh Ram, it charts Malala’s rise from schoolgirl to global campaigner who can ring Barack Obama or David Cameron and demand action.

At the end of November, publisher and writer Farhana Shaikh launched a collection of women writers in “Beyond the Border“, subtitled, “New Writing by British Asian Women”. There’ll be more on this soon…

And we come virtually full circle with the story about the five nominated books in this year’s DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and our festive book competition saw Kamila Shamsie’s “A God In Every Stone” knock up a sizeable quantity of entries. A big thanks to all the entries there, bodes well for future book giveaways!

As always, thanks for your interest and support and remember we’re here to serve you, so don’t be shy…contact us via FACEBOOK

With Jaipur looming on the horizon towards the end of this month, expect to see something different here! Follow the bird on its travels …;)

Have a great 2015!

Thanks to section contributors: Chayya Syal, Chitra Mogul, and Seetal Kaur Gahir.
Sailesh Ram, editor of

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture


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