Hello and welcome to the latest update from South Asia Speaks, the literary mentorship for early career writers. We are now more than halfway through our program and have wonderful news to share: several of our mentees have either published or are in process of publishing their first books. We’re delighted for them!
Before we dive in, one bit of housekeeping: applications for the new season of South Asia Speaks open on September 1. This year we have twenty four mentors who will workshop a major project. The project must be in English and fit into the following genres: fiction, non-fiction or reportage. In 2022, we will also accept fellows in the following special categories: Climate in Asia, Partition of India, Translation (any language), and North-East India. We also look forward to welcoming an Afghan fellow who may be based anywhere in the world. The mentors for these special projects are Fatima Bhutto, Aanchal Malhotra, Arunava Sinha and Aruni Kashyap.
This year we are delighted to welcome novelists Avni Doshi, Diksha Basu and Deepa Anappara, journalist Mujib Mashal and non-fiction writer Taran N. Khan as mentors.
The last date to apply is September 30. Visit our website for details and do please spread the word.
And now on to our news.
We’re delighted for Zeyad Masroor Khan, whose memoir of growing up in Aligarh, has been acquired by Harper Collins India in auction. Zeyad tells us that his memoir is an account of how recurrent riots make people normalise communal violence. It dives deep into how this violence deteriorated his relationship with his father and ended their friendship before his father succumbed to cancer. “It’s the story of every Muslim ghetto in India,” Zeyad says.
Zeyad’s mentor is The New Yorker staff writer Isaac Chotiner. “I found Isaac at one of the worst phases of my life,” Zeyad told us. “Apart from being the best writing mentor there could be, Isaac quickly became a friend and therapist who made me believe in myself. I think the best thing a mentor can do is restore faith in you and your abilities, and that is what Isaac did, in-between his very busy schedule working as a writer for The New Yorker. Surprisingly, for a man of his achievements, he didn't come with any airs only empathy. In an age where offence is seen as a virtue, he was unusually sensitive. Isaac was the best mentor a struggling writer in Aligarh could have ever hoped for. I thank South Asia Speaks and Sonia for pairing me with this gem of a person.”
Congratulations Zeyad, we are very much looking forward to reading your book.
“From strange sightings to urban legends, from haunted buildings to not-so-friendly ghosts, colleges across the length and breadth of India have their fair share of spine-tingling tales. Young Blood is a collection of ten stories that reimagines these urban legends and first-person accounts to give shape and voice to the fears of growing up in India,” says Chandrima Das whose first collection of short stories Young Blood will be published by Harper Collins India in October. Congratulations Chandrima!
Chandrima’s mentor is Aruni Kashyap.
The third fellow with a book out this year is Sarbajaya Bhattacharya. The Poet’s School: A History of Patha-Bhavana and Siksha-Satra is written by Swati Ghosh and Ashok Sircar and translated by Sarbajaya and Sujaan Mukherjee. “The work combines information and anecdotes in narrating the history of the school(s) set up by Rabindranath Tagore in Santiniketan,” says Sarbajaya. The Poet’s School is published by Jadavpur University Press and will be available in September. Congratulations Sarbajaya!
Sarbajaya’s mentor is Arunava Sinha.
We’re also thrilled for Ajay Patri, whose short story A Need for Shelter has been shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize 2021. The story will be published in an anthology from Tangent Books later this year. Congratulations Ajay!
Ajay’s mentor is Madhuri Vijay.
And congratulations are also in order for Subi Taba whose short story A Night with the Tiger, has won the New Asian Writing Short Story Competition. You can read it here. Another one of Subi’s short stories, Spirit of the Forest, about a range forest officer and his encounters in the Pakke Tiger Reserve appears in the Zubaan anthology, The Inheritance of Words.
From A Night with the Tiger: “I felt strangely dignified, when one summer, my father decided to take me along his hunting expedition. Mother was worried that I was too young for an expedition, but father insisted that, to bring out the hunting expertise in me, I would have to start at an early age. Heavy-hearted, my mother helped me adorn with my own set of a bow with six fine arrows smeared with a pinch of wild root poison at the sharp tip and a small machete encased in a bamboo case fixed to a small sling made out of dried leather of Asiatic bear with its thick black hairs still intact on it. Mother packed us rice, roasted chicken wings, and salt in green leaves which I carried in my narah. Father carried his famed Kartoos gun that had hunted down two Asiatic bears, twenty-three barking deers, seventeen wild boars, dozens of marbled cats and uncountable birds. “Be careful!” mother shouted as father and I threaded towards the north of our village with other village hunters, disappearing into the rich verdant mountains that smelt of wild berries and tropical flora.”
Subi’s mentor is Aruni Kashyap.
Journalist Ravish Kumar described Monika Mondal’s latest piece, on how monkeys and humans are battling for space in cities in India and elsewhere, as “shandaar” and we couldn’t agree more.
“Ever so often, English newspapers in India and abroad, mesmerised by the monkeys of Lutyens’ Delhi, will point out that our coexistence with monkeys is fraught, and that we should do something about it. Elite concern for human-animal relations doesn’t use words like pests, menace and vermin. But it does see animals as a threat to the human stranglehold on land, food and ecosystems. “Who is a menace for whom?” Dr. Kumara asked. Humans created monkeys’ problems.” Read Troops on FiftyTwo.In. (Illustration by Akshaya Zachariah).
Monika’s mentor is Fatima Bhutto.
Also making his debut on Fifty Two.In is Nikhil Eapen who tells a very modern story about a very old adventure in Solo.
“The world didn’t simply sail to India for its great markets: it also came here to have boats made. The Arab boum—a medium-sized sailing vessel—that sailed the western Indian Ocean along the coasts of the Gulf, Sindh and East Africa was likely designed and constructed in teak in the shipyards of Malabar, Konkan and Gujarat. From the sixteenth century, the Portuguese built large teak ships in the naval yard in Goa, which they regularly sailed on the Atlantic voyage home.”
Nikhil’s mentor is Sanam Maher.
Amruta Byatnal has been tracking the fall of Kabul for Devex and reporting on how the development sector in Afghanistan will deal with the crisis. Earlier in the year, she tracked the pandemic in a series of reported pieces including this one for National Geographic, in which she dug into efforts to measure the covid death toll. “The past year has also been a stark reminder of inequalities throughout the world—including the resources needed to collect timely and accurate data on deaths. In an assessment conducted in 2019, the WHO found that about two-thirds of the countries in the world lack strong civil registration and vital statistics systems that keep a count of births and deaths.”
Amruta also helped launch and is co-writing Devex’s global health newsletter CheckUp, which you can subscribe to here. In September she will interview Winnie Byanyima, the executive director at UNAIDS, on what decolonizing means for the United Nations and humanitarian efforts going forward.
Amruta’s mentor is Samanth Subramanian.
Sonakshi Srivastava has also had a very busy few months. Last month she made the shortlist for Serendipity Arts’ inaugural FoodLab Residency. And her new short story features in the third edition of Global Youth Review magazine. Soon she will join The Bilingual Window as contributing translator for their serialised fiction series. Sonakshi will be serialising satirist Harishankar Parsai’s classic short story “One Girl, Five Lovers.”
Sonakshi’s mentor is Arunava Sinha.
And a final bit of wonderful news: Samia Mehraj’s ethnographic poem War Waits for Nobody’s Mothers in Kashmir has won an Honorable Mention in the Society for Humanistic Anthropology’s Ethnographic Poetry Award 2020. Congratulations Samia!
Samia’s mentor is Mirza Waheed.
And here’s what Samia and some of the other fellows have been up to this summer: Samia set up a writing group, bringing together thirteen fellows for regular virtual meetings. “So far the group has clocked in 18 days of writing together,” Samia says. The group hosted Fatima Bhutto, and will host Karan Mahajan and Sonia Faleiro for a series they call “Mentor Talks.” A second series “Mentee Talks” was organized by fellow Pallavi Narayan to knowledge share. This series was inaugurated with an interactive talk on grant writing by fellow Monika Mondal.
“The Writers' Group at South Asia Speaks is a compassionate, community-a driven, and encouraging space, strengthened further by our love for writing and reading,” Samia says. Well done for this initiative fellows!
And now on to our mentors, who also never seem to take a break.
We’re excited for Arunava Sinha’s English translation of Manoranjan Byapari’s Bengali novel Imaan, forthcoming from Westland Books in October.
And we loved Sanam Maher’s essay on Karachi’s beloved Mr Burger for Desi Delicacies, an anthology of Muslim South Asian food stories edited by Claire Chambers. The paperback is out in December.
The Delta variant is already cramping American spending, writes Samanth Subramanian in Quartz. Browse Samanth’s archive at Quartz, where he is a senior reporter looking into the future of capitalism. You can sign up for his newsletter in which he takes readers behind the scenes of his stories.
For The New Yorker, Isaac Chotiner continues his series of searing interviews, most recently interviewing Katie Strang, a sports journalist on how the media covers sexual abuse and David Petraeus on American mistakes in Afghanistan.
Aruni Kashyap spoke to The Rumpus about the connection between human rights and literature. “I use my writing to generate and sustain conversations about justice. To achieve this, I have often returned to my roots, my home in Assam. I use this location sometimes as a canvas, sometimes as a lens, to comment on the vagaries of the Indian nation-state.”
Aanchal Malhotra’s stunning Museum of Material Memory is a digital repository of material culture of the Indian subcontinent. It traces family history and social ethnography through heirlooms, collectibles and objects of antiquity. Keep up with regular updates here. And here’s Aanchal discussing her work with Amit Varma on The Seen and The Unseen podcast. (Photo by Rajita Banerjee).
Sonia Faleiro reviewed two new books of non-fiction set in India for The Times Literary Supplement. The books, she writes, “present the compelling argument that the attack on Indian democracy started even before (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi came to power.” More here.
A must read: Rahul Bhatia’s eulogy for Danish Siddiqui, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Reuter’s journalist who was killed in Afghanistan in July. Bhatia writes in The New Yorker: “Siddiqui, who was thirty-eight, was a largely self-taught photographer. He said that ninety per cent of what he knew he had learned through experimentation. He took pictures slowly, almost leisurely … he showed younger colleagues, whose instinct it was to rush headlong into a moment, that understanding the story before taking a picture made the resulting work deeper.”
Fatima Bhutto spoke to The Guardian about the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and its aftermath: “Occupiers can only have temporary power, eventually they have to leave. They have to go back somewhere. But men fighting for their home cannot be defeated. You give them no choice, they have to fight you. They have nowhere else to go, nowhere to retreat to. This is a lesson the feverish colonisers of the west cannot seem to learn: the concept of home, not violence, is how wars are won. The west’s profound misunderstanding of Islam – and proud refusal to learn anything about it as they launched wars all over the Muslim world over the last two decades – coupled with this ignorance is what made defeat in Afghanistan inevitable.”
And Fatima has an essay in This Woman's Work: Essays On Music, a collection of essays by 18 female writers, writing about exclusively female experiences in music. “The instrument makers, the experimentalists, the harmonisers, the avant-garde, the genre-breakers, the pop queens, those on the margins who expose the lack of intersectionality in this industry.” The collection is out in April 2022, but you can pre-order a signed copy here.
That’s all for now! Thanks so much for reading. Please join us on Twitter: @asiaspeaks and on Instagram @southasiaspeak. Until next time.