Reviews of the latest books from and on Southasia

Pilgrimage to Paradise:Sufi tales from Rumi
edited by Kamla K Kapur
Penguin, 2009

Rumi is undoubtedly one of the best-known of the Sufi masters. Even so, the public, for the most part, accesses only a miniscule percentage of his extensive work. Featuring 30 stories, this anthology too provides only a glimpse of the great mystic's teachings. Having read three volumes of Rumi's six-volume Mathnawi, Kapur has chosen these particular fables. The final product is an extremely enjoyable read, especially after the contextualisation provided by the preface. A word of caution to all Rumi scholars, though: Kapur is not an academic, as she explicitly notes; rather, she is simply a great fan of Rumi, something that comes through clearly. Kapur also admits to having edited with a heavy hand for clarity's sake – taking out the numerous digressions of thought and plot to present a more compact story. Perhaps this brief introduction will lead readers to delve deeper into Rumi. (Surabhi Pudasaini)

Unbordered Memories:Sindhi stories of Partition
edited/translated by Rita Kothari
Penguin, 2009

This unusual collection of stories in Sindhi, translated and edited by Rita Kothari, brings together hitherto-marginalised narratives of a community that was wholly dislocated during Partition. The pain of the Hindu Sindhis has generally been eclipsed by the horror stories of the Punjabis and Bengalis, whose land was dissected and whose people were divided, killed and raped. In her vivid introduction, Kothari says, "For the globally diasporic Sindhi community spread across three continents of the world doing business, the nation is a notional place, an idea with no physical contours."

Hostilities between Pakistan and India have made Sindh inaccessible to Sindhis in India in both reality and memory. Yet through the work of writers from both sides of the border, the stories in this collection explore a range of 'borderless' Hindu Sindhi experience. Thakur Chawla's "6 January 1948" and Popati Hiranandani's "When I Experienced the Simultaneity of Life and Death" are stark reminders of the violence that led to the migration of the entire community. Sundri Uttamchandani's "Bhoori" is a metaphorical elegy for a prosperous community forced to become refugees; while in "Lost Nations", an elderly Sindhi refugee in Hong Kong reminds us of how the value of a homeland is realised only when encountering those who have lost one. The sensitive translation preserves the imagery of the rich Sindhi tongue. In "Familiar Strangers", for example, a story of the Sindhi interaction with Muslims, Gordhan Bhatti writes of a village, Bubak, where "The white dome of the mosque and the red kalash of the temple stood sulking, with their backs to each other."

Most of the stories are nostalgic and embody a lament for a world lost to the Sindhis in India. But not least, Gulzar Ahmed reveals the best way to eat mangoes: "when there is water in Begari canal, you put the mangoes in an earthen pot and dunk the pot in the flowing waters of the Indus … you have to eat [them] while you are still in the water, and only then will you know the real taste of mangoes." (Laxmi Murthy)

The Torn First Pages
by Amar Kanwar
Public Press, 2009

More than two years have now passed since frustration boiled onto the streets of Burma in August and September 2007. During those weeks, what began with anger over spiking fuel and food prices quickly roiled into the largest pro-democracy protests since the touchstone mass demonstrations of 8 August 1988 – and leading to the largest crackdown by the junta government since that time in response. Despite the two-decade gap between them, there were several similarities between these two events. But none has been as frustrating as the brief surge of hope and optimism that was generated, followed by the continuation of the status quo after the usual round of international condemnation.

To commemorate and remind of what took place in 2007 on the streets of Burma, this arty little book (with the emphasis on little – an annoying 4×6 inches) draws from and expands upon an earlier video project by Kanwar, a Delhi-based video artist. The work takes both its name and spirit from the evocative story of Ko Than Htay, a Mandalay bookstore owner who in the mid-1990s was accused of tearing from his wares the stipulated propagandistic notices outlining the junta's "specific political, economic and social objectives" and what are euphemistically referred to as the "four main People's Desires".

Over the following 250 fast-cut pages, mostly made up of vague-to-compelling video stills, readers are briefly introduced to the stories of several Burmese activists, artists and refugees. The energetic core of the book, however, lies in a retelling of General Than Shwe's October 2004 grotesque pilgrimage to Rajghat in Delhi, to place flowers at Mohandas Gandhi's cremation site (likewise published in Himal's pages), buttressed by poignant and at times shocking images from the 2007 Saffron Revolution. This latter is introduced by archival images of what took place in August 1988, and ends with a doctored image of a monk standing in front of riot police festooned with the banners of their 'sponsors' – the corporate logo of the international oil giant Chevron, along with the flags of China and India. On the ground in front of them all, the words, "We will not forget."(Carey L Biron)

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