Archive for the ‘Kolkata’ Category

May
144

Rabindranath Wrap-Up

Just in time for the 150th birthday of Rabindranath Tagore, I moved all the way across the country from Kolkata–Tagore’s home–to Ahmedabad, Gujarat. This fits perfectly with my fractured relationship to the great writer.

During my five months in Kolkata, I had several conversations about Tagore’s oppressive grip on the literary heritage and imagination of Bengalis. My bookshelves are littered with translated Tagore volumes that endless aunts and cousins have gifted to me over the years, but I’ve never quite fallen into a Tagore poem (or story, or novel) and had it capture my heart and soul. Tagore has always represented my plight as a second-generation Bengali American. I feel shut out of truly understanding Tagore’s magic because of the elevated Bengali he uses in his poetry, because the translations of Tagore into English are sneered upon by any self-respecting Bengali, and because I lack the intense cultural memory of the 2000-plus Rabindra Sangeet songs that are such markers for most Bengalis.

My connection to Tagore has everything to do with my sense of Bengali-ness though. There is something that melts inside of me when, in the midst of a conversation, an elder looks off into the middle distance and starts reciting some Tagore poem in that deep, dirge-like poetry recitation voice that was in vogue in the 1940s. And though I don’t really know Rabindra Sangeet, I spent my childhood weekends learning the graceful, emotional folk dance that accompanies the music from my mother, who recently brought me to tears when she did an impromptu performance at a gathering of ladies in her hometown. The women sang and clapped and my mother, her own performer’s radiant smile wavering on her face, glided and swerved her way into a timeless moment. When I was 16, I starred as the butch Chitrangada in Tagore’s famous drama about a warrior-princess who is raised as a boy since her father did not have any sons, but then yearns for beauty and female grace when she meets Arjuna one day. It was the pinnacle of my performing arts career and I remember the rush fondly. And just before leaving Kolkata, I was mooning over Kolkata’s Tagore fetish at the Rabindra Sadan Metro Station, which is decorated by drawings and scribbled notes from Tagore’s notebooks. I rushed to copy down this fragment before the train rushed in: “The butterfly does not count years/ but moments / and therefore has enough time.”


This past week, I talked about Tagore to some 50 young people at a three-day summer camp for youth served by Manav Sadhna. I talked about Tagore’s genius, but then also told the classic Tagore ghost-story “The Hungry Stones,” which was inspired by Tagore’s four-month stint in Ahmedabad when he was 17 and staying in a old Mughal mansion not far from where our apartment is. In order to make the activity interactive and connect it to a tabla and nature lesson that Robin was doing — we assigned certain tabla bols for different elements in the story, like the train, the river, ghost footsteps and the wind. After a long day of activities and dinner, some of the younger kids fell asleep

during the story — which had to be translated from English to Gujarati — but what’s better than a ghost story right before bed at summer camp? It was especially scary at the climax of the story when all the elements rise to a crescendo.

I thought I’d do a little wrap-up of the best writing I’ve seen around the web celebrating, debunking and discussing Tagore:

• Here’s a great piece in The Guardian by Ian Jack really giving a sense of Tagore’s rise and fall in favor in the West, and a wry look into the Bengali attitude about him.

“More than anything, what Tagore stood for was a synthesis of east and west. He admired the European intellect and felt betrayed when Britain’s conduct in India let down the ideal.”

• A more personal identification from Salil Tripathi at LiveMint:

“Tagore was at home in the world. He believed in its beauty and aesthetic. And he enhanced my life, through his presence on my bookshelves in the homes I have lived in over the years. His ideas gave shape to many of my thoughts, impulses, responses and emotions. It was a Tagore poem, Ananta Prem (Unending Love) that I read out when I got married; it was to that poem that I turned nearly two decades later, at my wife’s funeral, and read aloud again, for Tagore sang “the songs of every poet past and forever”.”

• A piece by the always-hilarious Sandip Roy at the recently-launched First Post about why he just can’t get it up for Tagore.

“The Bengali diaspora has ruined Tagore. I think there should be a  moratorium on Rabindrasangeet sessions at Banga Sammelans in San Jose and Atlantic City. It’s Bengali culture by intravenous drip for the second generation.” Ouch.

• And here’s a link to “The Hungry Stones” and other stories by Tagore.

“As I sat down again, thinking it to be an illusion, I heard many footfalls, as if a large number of persons were rushing down the steps. A strange thrill of delight, slightly tinged with fear, passed through my frame, and though there was not a figure before my eyes, methought I saw a bevy of joyous maidens coming down the steps to bathe in the Susta in that summer evening. Not a sound was in the valley, in the river, or in the palace, to break the silence, but I distinctly heard the maidens’ gay and mirthful laugh, like the gurgle of a spring gushing forth in a hundred cascades, as they ran past me, in quick playful pursuit of each other, towards the river, without noticing me at all. As they were invisible to me, so I was, as it were, invisible to them. The river was perfectly calm, but I felt that its still, shallow, and clear waters were stirred suddenly by the splash of many an arm jingling with bracelets, that the girls laughed and dashed and spattered water at one another, that the feet of the fair swimmers tossed the tiny waves up in showers of pearl.”

Jan
179

Notes from the Apeejay Kolkata Lit Fest

I attended the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival this past weekend–a bit of a warm-up to Jaipur. I have to say it wasn’t quite like any literature festival I’ve ever attended, well maybe the closest thing to it was the Aspen Literature Festival that I attended a few years ago. When I went, the theme was South Asia and my aunt hooked up Premasoul, a band Robin plays with, to provide the music. I got to meet Salman Rushdie and heard some drunk older ladies talking about whether Rushdie was sexy or not. This year the theme is the Middle East. Similar to Aspen, the Apeejay Festival appears to be organized and run by a coterie of rich ladies that brought a surprising element of glam to book events–Apeejay is one of those mega-families that runs a billion industries and runs the fancy Park Hotel. Of course, my idea of a literature festival comes from Litquake, which is exciting and fancy in it’s own San Francisco way, but that mostly means standing room in crowded bars. And my last experience in Kolkata, as I recently detailed, was a reading in a small room with a tea break and a gift of Bengali sweets—already a great step up from readings in SF. So, imagine my surprise when I went to see Shailja Patel—a San Francisco writing community friend and contributor to Indivisible with an amazing new book called Migritude—kick off the festival on a panel on migration at the shiny Rabindranath Tagore Center. Then later that evening, an event on Pakistani writing at The Park featured a Sufi singer—as well as an amazing (free!) dinner buffet with extensive dessert and free drinks. Robin showed up in a sweatshirt and jeans and we seemed totally under-dressed around the older ladies in their fancy saris and jewels. I think the average age for the event was around 55! How fascinating. The crowd seemed decidedly younger for a panel on the City as Muse on Saturday night—and it was a full house for a panel on Indian film back at the ICCR on Sunday. I thought I’d share some choice quotes and ideas from the panels I attended.

Migrations, Connections and Identities: Performance, political history, and migrant journeys

Professor Saugatha Bose, director of the South Asia Institute at Harvard University and the author—most recently—of A Hundred Horizons: the Indian Ocean in the Age of Global Empire (Harvard University Press: 2006), traced Tagore’s “global oceanic voyage” during World War I through Southeast Asia then to Japan and then onto the West Coast of North America, then again in 1927 when he traveled to Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, and then finally to the Middle East, where he connected with the writing of Hafiz and shared a meal in a Bedouin tent in Iraq. Bose pointed out some of Tagore’s famous works that came from this period, including a poem and a song. This very-distinguished historian gave a soul-stirring rendition of one of Tagore’s songs in the middle of his presentation. I wonder if he always does this or if it was a special moment for Kolkata? Totally charming.

• “There is an openly fascist climate against immigrants in Italy. The textile trade of Florence is entirely supplied by labor from China, yet these people are completely invisible in Italian culture—nobody has any mental image of Chinese people in Italy, or North Africans in Italy, yet they are there. The ways in which these people are made invisible but their labor is presented as the best of Italy—Italy design. The parallel lines of this visibility and invisibility is really the nexus of where my work comes from. {Our jobs as artists and poets] is to show the underside of the tapestry.” — Shailja Patel on her own poetic connectivity of migrant communities.

An Evening in Karachi: Pakistani Writers in Conversation

• This was definitely the most inspiring and informative session for me as a fiction writer—I really enjoyed both Shehryar Fazli’s work and Nighat Gandhi’s as well. Fahzli’s book Invitation is described on the back as “Karachi Noir” and I’ve been interested in South Asian noir for quite some time now. The passages he read were tinged with an edge of danger and forbidding and I am especially interested in journey towards complicity that the main character, a Pakistani returnee from Paris in the tumultuous 1970s, will go through. Gandhi’s short stories cut right to the bone of personal relations, and, again, I’m really excited to read the stories in the collection Ghalib at Dusk, which span across three cities: Karachi, Allahabad and Ahmedabad.

• Gandhi, who is a trained psychologist, is also writing a non-fiction book about love and sexuality in the lives of Muslim women, which sounds fantastic. Westland publisher Renuka Chatterjee insisted on setting up the questions in a way that hailed Fazli’s work as political and Gandhi’s work as a-political. But Gandhi gave a great answer.

Chatterjee: I know that you’ve said you steer clear of overtly political writing, but there is politics of gender here, politics of class – can you talk a little about your concerns as a writer?

Gandhi: I think my primary concern as a writer is to be a good writer, and to write from the heart, and if in the process of that writing, something transformative happens, then it happens. Very often, it happens for me, if it happens for the reader, then I consider myself fortunate…. To be pigeonholed into one identity, really does the disservice to the writer. I consider myself a feminist writer, I am a muslim, I am a Buddhist, I am a woman, I am a mother—all of these aspects do come into my writing. Whether any writing is political or not, maybe overtly the story [I read from], is not, but we are talking about migration, displacement, being a refugee, are those not political statements. And we are talking about love, which infuses all those identites and dislocations that we are being faced with.

• Later, Gandhi also spoke about how in her experience Pakistan is a rich, complex place that can’t be described just in terms of fundamentalism:

“No matter how many shrines the Taliban bomb, the plurality of Pakistan is not going to die. It’s about time we looked at the wonderful traditions that are alive [in Pakistan]. As a writer, I’m doing that. I’m not concerned with what the fundamentalists are doing. I’m wondering why the media is concerned with only what they are saying and not looking into these wonderful living traditions. Why is it that we only talk about beards and veiled women when it comes to Islam. It is also up to us, what we chose to focus on.” – Nighat Gandhi

City As Muse

There was a crowded panel discussing the role of the city in literature and arts, with some exciting people on it.

Manishankar Mukherjee, one of Kolkata’s most beloved writers, opened the panel with a charming grab-bag of literary tidbits about the city, saying: “We still call Calcutta the literary capitol of India. I don’t know why but we do…. Kolkata pampers the poet. Who does not know that every 2nd Bengali living in this city is a poet? That is statistically based.”

Zak O’yeah, a scandanavian mystery and travel writer, pointed out that there needs to be more literary tourism in India–and I couldn’t agree more. I mean, there’s so much to see besides the Tagore stuff — it would make an interesting book. (Hmmmm…)

Nandita Palchoudhuri asked: “What makes an artist chose a specific city? Is it familiarity or something else?” This was a pointed question for me at this moment since Kolkata has been figuring as a major muse to both Robin and I.

• Moderator Bachi Karkaria talked about Rajarhat or NewTown — a futuristic new Northern section/suburb of Kolkata — becoming the center of the city in a few years, which most people would consider horrifying. This made me wonder when arts will start coming out of that space, the suburban, futuristic space, like it has in America, especially with novels like The Ice Storm and movies like American Beauty.

Our Films … Their Films: Indian cinema then and now

• Over all this discussion was kindof a downer. The main thrust of the discussion was that the Golden Age of cinema in India is gone and now it is all based on raising money and marketing.

• Director Suman Mukhopadhyay said: “Today what is called “independent cinema” is not actually independent, it is part of a huge market… Altogether the money and the market and the media is dictating what kind of film you’re going to make. And if you are not following the “rules” as a filmmaker, then you are marginalized, and that marginalization means there is no system to get people to see your films.” But as Mukhopadhyay was talking, all I could think about was my friend Q and how his latest film GANDU has created something of a revolution in Indian media and internationally, and he and his team refuse to follow any of the rules and are using new technologies to their limits. He should have been on this panel.

Nasreen Munni Kabir said some great things about the way Bollywood films are received internationally, and how the perceived popularity abroad isn’t quite what everyone thinks it is:

“What intrigues [Western audiences] the most is the popularity of the stars and and the massive audience for Hindi films. It is the audience that interests them, more than the films. It is the number of people who love the movie stars, rather than sitting through a Sharuk Khan film or a Salman Khan film. It is the repuation … once I said to a friend of mine that Indian films have a wider audience now and he said, do you mean a “whiter” audience. I think that is the key question, in Africa, in the Middle East and much of the developing world, Indian films have been loved since the 50s, but I am very embarrassed to say that most Indian producers and Indian journalists never to any stories about Tunisian fans but they will do something about Polish fans.” – Kabir

Samit Basu was the most charming and up-beat person on the panel and the one I was most excited to see, especially since this was a Literature festival. Basu is the author of several books, along with a comic book writer, and now a script writer. I just finished his first book The Simoquin Prophecies (which was totally amazing, especially to read a sci fi/fantasy book where the characters aren’t only white and/or western–but I’ll do a longer review later) and he kind of represented the new ideas and the future of film making.

“A few months after my first book was published Chetan Bhagat published his first novel, which was the equivalent of the first big Bollywood blockbuster of Indians writing in English. In England it is said that each person believes he or she has a book within himself or herself, this was not the case in India at all, but now we’ve come to a situation in the world of publishing, where people don’t feel like they need to be educated in literature, A, which I wasn’t either, but they don’t feel like they need to be readers either or even have a working knowledge of English to write a book. We’ve reached the point where anyone can write a book … Making films is far more complicated. But in the future the technology will help you get it out there …. Your friends will fund the project, the camera will do most of the work and the internet will distribute it for you.” – Samit Basu

Now to quote the great poet Jay-Z: “I’m on to the next one, on to the next …”

Jan
3

Re-launching My Literary Life in Kolkata

As I’ve mentioned, my aspirations for a literary life are flourishing here in Kolkata, whether by intention, sheer luck or just the poetic climate, I’m not sure. My first few weeks in this city were spent preparing for an amazing reading hosted by an experimental Bengali poetry magazine called Kaurab. Founded in 1970, Kaurab has been doing fascinating work–both at a language and craft level and in terms of artistic community, and has recently become transnational in the last decade. One of Kaurabs co-founders, Aryanil Mukherjee, was probably the final poet we confirmed for Indivisible, and along with being a fellow Bengali—Aryanil happens to live in 45 minutes from where I grew up in Southwest Ohio with his family. Aryanil and I had exchanged a few emails in the last few months of anthology production madness, but then I got to know him a bit better when we read together at the wonderful Bon Mot/ley Reading Series in Cincinnati, which was hosted by blogger, academic and poet Kristi Maxwell. In the Fall, Aryanil came to read at the Indivisible event at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and we got to chat for some time before having a wonderful dinner with writers Brian Roley and Cathy Wagner, along with professor Nalin Jayasena. At that time, I told Aryanil-Da I was coming to Kolkata and it would be wonderful if he could connect me to a writing community and help set up a reading for Indivisible. He said it was no problem and he would certainly connect me. I had no idea how amazingly fertile the connections would be!

PathraLekha Publishing House

Preparing for the Indivisible reading, for which I translated section 1 of “Angerfish” — a beautiful poem by Minal Hajratwala, included: the exquisite task of bending over words with a fellow poet and wrestling meaning from language; sitting in the tiny, crowded office of Patralekha Press — one of the most successful small poetry journals on the scene — as the publisher decided on cover images for some of the 50 books he will put out at the upcoming Kolkata Book Fair; drinking notoriously bad coffee in the famous Coffee House, where I was informed that reading poetry would be just too pretentious; and struggling to understand a poem read to me in Bengali, my brain grasping at the words I know, as though they were lifelines tossed from a passing boat. What a wonderful way to get to know a place. It was like healing balm for a lost writer—streets and streets and streets lined with books. Yet at the same time it is semi-torturous—like standing on the shore of a deep blue ocean that stretches towards the horizon, it’s warm waters lapping against my feet, but I cannot swim. I mentioned to Aritra, my friend and guide, that I felt like Pablo Neruda, who was obsessed with the ocean, but unable to submerge himself in the sea until much later in life. I have made a goal to read and write in Bengali before I die.

The Kaurab reading was held at Jibanananda Das Hall at The Bangla Academy at Rabindra Sadan – a major arts complex. I decided to wear an embroidered sari and a big red bindi to show off my Bengali-ness, though when I showed up the rest of the Kaurab crowd were dressed as most people dress for literary events in San Francisco—jeans and semi-nice tops. I must have looked like a little girl playing dress up to them, which is pretty accurate. The most exciting part of the night was the introduction of Indivisible by Calcutta University English Professor Santanu Majumdar. It was a first for the book, since usually it’s just ourselves talking about it and it was lovely. Here’s a video:

Indivisible South Asian Poetry Anthology as Exile Literature from Neelanjana Banerjee on Vimeo.

Afterwards, I talked about the anthology, read some poems from it and also read some of my own work—including my translation of Minal’s poem and one of the only poems I have ever written in Bengali —which even though it has the sophistication of a poem written by an 11-year-old—got a rousing round of applause. I also read my poems about Radha and Calamity Jane, a poem based on The Little Mermaid. The reading also had several amazing readings from poets like Subhro Bandhopadhyay, who writes in the voice of undocumented Bengali workers in Spain, and Shankar Lahiry, who translated some of his beautiful work into English just for me, and then Barin Ghosal—whose work I didn’t totally understand in Bengali, but who lead a great discussion afterwards about words not needing to have meaning. Then Minal read her work about beauty queens and unicorns, two mythical creatures who go surprisingly well together.

There was a dedicated discussion session for each poet so they could discuss their work! I’ve never seen such a thing and the questions I got were some of the best and most difficult questions I’ve received in all my Indivisible reading events–questions about how Indivisible fits into the larger canon of American writing, how the South Asian poets of this generation compare to the Bengali poets writing now, about which is more important expression or communication. In fact, I wanted to share one with you here – one that I answered quite badly and thought that this would be a good space to re-answer it. (Very rough Bengali subtitles.)

Kaurab Indivisible Reading: Tough Question from Neelanjana Banerjee on Vimeo.

I fumbled the answer, but have been thinking about the question ever since. The audience member intimated that my poems were dependent on legends and philosophy, but take those away and what do we have of any of the humanities? Take for instance the popular and critically acclaimed art exhibit I saw recently about the Mahabharata–this exhibit was powerful because the artist dug inside these universal characters and found his own expressions of modern anguish. I am also of Angela Carter’s work retelling not only fairy tales, but also portraits of the famous and infamous. In his introduction to her collected stories, Salman Rushdie says: “Carter wears her influences openly, for she is their deconstructionist, their saboteur. She takes what we know, and having broken it, puts it together in her own spiky, courteous way… She opens an old story for us, like an egg, and finds the new story, the now-story, we want to hear, within.” I think the possibilities for this deconstruction are even more possible within poetry, where the constrains of narrative are left behind and philosophy or legend or religion or science can be broken down to words and sounds and images. I’m not sure I attain this with my work, but it is the inspiration behind the attempt.

I get another chance to read from Indivisible on January 29th at 4 p.m., when Robin and Bansuri player Eric Fraser will accompany me at the Kolkata Book Festival in the American Center’s auditorium at the Milan Mela. Come and ask me more hard-hitting questions. (I certainly wish my co-editors Summi Kaipa and Pireeni Sundaralingam could be with me for some of these events in India. Miss you guys.)

Dec
131

Literate-Literary-Literati Journalism

After working 10 years as some kind of journalist or editor, I’ve spent the last six months trying to unhook the information IV from my brain. (Hello, my name is Neela and I used to mainline the interwebs.) In my last year as an editor with a non-profit media organization, I would daydream through editorial meetings of writing a book proposal about spending a year without imbibing any kind of modern media. It was textbook burnout. The general malaise about the death of the newspaper didn’t help either. Knowing how many good reporters my local newspaper had recently laid off, I very rarely picked it up, except maybe to absent-mindedly peruse a forgotten paper left on a train seat. Skimming through websites and following Twitter links killed time, but it didn’t seem to inspire me. I had no sense of ritual to go along with reading the news except a faint carpel-tunnel-esque twitch in my right wrist from all that web surfing.

My trips to Kolkata over the last decade have always been different. Here newspaper media is fiercely alive and competitive, with several papers (in several languages) to choose from in each city. Much of the commentary I have done from India over the past years came directly from the inspiration I got from not only reading the newspaper, but observing the way the news had an affect on the community. I also love the way it distills this disparate and complex country. For example, yesterday’s Telegraph includes a story about a new salon at the Constitution Club in New Delhi where all the nation’s MPs and their families are getting a fancy new facial treatments, a story about a possible tiger poisoning in Orang National Park and one about striking tea workers in Alipurduar—and then a few obligatory grip and grin shots of Bollywood starlets at some event or another. It’s both the array of stories and the array of people you see reading the newspaper—from a scarf-wrapped gentlemen in a lungi at the tea stall to my wizened old aunties to a young woman at Café Coffee Day – the daily community building of news media is still happening in a analog way here.

When my grandmother was still alive, she’d have sent someone for a newspaper early in the morning and I’d read it while sipping tea and eating the luxurious breakfast she prepared. Now, on my way to the market or after the gym, I’ll walk the three blocks down to Rash Behari where there are several newspaper and magazine stands. There is a beautifully elegant woman, with short stylish graying hair, who sits at the newspaper stand, wrapped in a red shawl. She chats up the other regular customers, all men, who seem to be drawn to her, as I am. I linger by the stand sometimes to try and hear what they are talking about, whether they are discussing personal issues or news, but I can never quite catch the drift. (My Bangla eavesdropping skills need some serious work.) I’ll buy a Telegraph or a Statesman, or both, or an Open—a Newsweek meets Salon.com magazine that I’ve been enjoying. One of my uncles told me to take delivery, but I wouldn’t give up this small walk and interaction for the world.

One interesting thing I’ve noticed about Indian papers, or at least the ones in Kolkata, is that there is a story about a writer, or about writing or publishing, or literature every day. Writers have a different kind of celebrity here than they seem to in America. There seems to be a similar kind of fascination with writers that there are with movie or television celebrities in America. Not entirely, but enough to get them in the paper on a regular basis. Also, because writers in India seem inherently more political, the sense of their role as rabble-rousers is also present.

For example, back in December, there was a Telegraph article about a jungle bungalow that Arundhati Roy owns, which may or may not encroach on tribal land. Under dispute, the case will be judged by a Manoj Srivastava—known for his “nationalist” (read conservative) tendencies. The tone of the article, written by Rasheed Kidwai, was tongue in cheek—sending up both Roy and Srivastava and celebrating this clash between India’s literary left and bureaucratic right. The surprising thing for me was the large amount of space this took up on the Telegraph’s National section (page 5) – in the prominent above-the-fold placement with several photographs – including a stunning one of Ms Roy, one of the disputed jungle bungalow and one showing Srivastava looking, well, exactly how you think a stodgy Indian bureaucrat should look. About a week later there was an article almost in the same space about a Gujarati poet named Aqeel Shatir who was asked by the Gujarat Urdu Sahitya Academy to return the money they had spent to publish his collection, Zinda Hon Main or “I’m Still Alive”— some two years after it was published. This happened after the publishers discovered an offensive remark about Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in Shatir’s book. The sentence was not written by the poet, but in the introduction by another poet named Raunaq Afroz, commenting on Modi’s controversial involvement in communal riots and about the poor state of Urdu in Gujarat. Yet Shatir insists that the Academy is coming down on him because he filed a Right to Information act to look carefully at the way the organization is using their funds. Again, a fascinating story, but not one I’m sure would find it’s way to mainstream media in America.

The Telegraph has also run a series of articles about the upcoming Kolkata Book Fair, or Boi Mela, which will be held in late January. This festival, in its 33rd year, is one of the biggest book fairs in all of India and runs 12 whole days. The articles have been aimed at exposing the controversy surrounding the fact that the Book Fair, or to be more specific the Publishers and Booksellers Guild — the non-profit org that runs the Book Fair — has received serious discounts and incentives on space rental, etc., even though the Book Fair is a trade convention that makes all the members of the Guild money. Writer Kinsuk Basu’s “objective reporting” seems to come down hard on the Guild, as you can see by the lede: “Book-lover Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s favorite annual event is reeling from the shock of a Rs 3.14 crore rent estimate for the next edition after being spoilt silly by sops that have swelled it’s coffers and eroded the state exchequer.” [Emphasis mine.] Actually, Bhattacharjee, West Bengal’s Chief Minister, is quite a literary patron, as well as a poet in his own right and cousin-brother to revolutionary poet Sukanta Bhattacharya. Again, it is fascinating to be in a place where the inner workings of a literature festival make their way to the front of the metro section.

There have also been a series of articles both covering events that have to do with Tagore’s 150th birthday. Sunday’s Metro paper led with a feature story covering a two-day conference in Kolkata about Tagore, and today’s paper talked about plans for a joint conference on Tagore to be held next Spring organized by both India and Bangladesh. Other recent literary stories include one in yesterday’s Telegraph about making George Orwell’s birthplace – which apparently is a run-down house in Bihar, some 160 km north of Patna – a protected site. I had no idea he was born in India!

Anyway, this is just the beginning of my investigation of Indian writing/reading. I am conducting a slow survey of Kolkata’s bookstores to learn more about what Indians are writing about, but am equally as fascinated by what books they are reading. I’ve also been wandering around the alleys of Kolkata’s College Street area, which are rife with publishing houses and–as my friend Aritra says–smell of ink, or kali. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to spend all of 2011 writing about my literary journeys, tourism, investigations and event coverage weekly or more on this blog. In January alone, I will be writing about the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival, the Jaipur Literature Festival and the Kolkata Boi Mela!

Tomorrow there’s an event to launch Indivisible in India sponsored by Aryanil Mukherjee’s indie poetry magazine Kaurab. It will be held at the Bangla Academy — a renowned place for Bangla literature. I will be reading some of my work, as will my friend and Indivisible contributor Minal Hajratwala — currently on her own Fulbright year in Mumbai. In honor of the reading, held in a hall named after this popular Bengali poet, I’ve been working on a translation of the first section of Minal’s amazing poem “Angerfish”. I’m terribly nervous about reciting this translation in proper Bangla, as I am about how my own work will hold up in such a storied venue. The flip side of living in a city where so many people are thinking about and valuing literature, is that it is held to an incredibly high standard. Wish me luck.