This Issue of Usawa, themed, ‘Violence, Resurgence Closure’, was chosen, as a response to the tumultuous events which have occurred, and are still under progress around us – internationally, nationally, and locally.
Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a bloody conflict, since the last 16 months, with no end in sight. Thousands have been displaced, many more rendered homeless, or KIA (Killed in Action). At the time of writing this, Russia is preparing its long-range missiles, infantry divisions, and anti-armour columns to thwarter the much awaited Ukrainian counteroffensive. The US, along with 53 other countries has been sending new cachets of Air Defence weapons, battle-tanks, and multiple rocket launch systems. Amidst these grand narratives constructed by nation-states, one is tempted to ask, where is the voice of the ‘ordinary citizen’ who happens to be the fundamental building-block of these nation-states. Aditi Yadav’s review of Tomiko Higa’s World War II memoir,The Girl with the White Flag comes at a relevant time. In her review, Yadav asks us, “what battles are we winning when the future of the earth, of humanity, is suffering under such duress?”
Closer home, protests at Jantar Mantar have become a somewhat routine affair. In 2019-20, the area resounded with a line from the poem, ‘Sab Yaad Rakha Jayega’, raised in response to the CAA/NRC; then, a year later, came the farmers protesting the three Farm Laws, this year, we witnessed our wrestlers – medal- winners, Olympians, Khel Ratna awardees – sit there, protesting against practices of rampant sexual harassment, by the Wrestling Federation of India President, Brij Bhushan Sharan. Professor Krishnan Unni P, in his review of Kisaan Andolan, Lehar Bhi, Sangharsh Bhi, Jashn Bhi, provides an alternative, though accurate historical perspective to the farmer protests of 2020-21, while also pushing the reader to reflect on the new architectures of resistance and reclamation.
Over the previous month, India’s north-eastern state of Manipur has been grappling with horrific ethnic violence, the trigger of which, at least according to some reports, “was the Kuki community’s frustration regarding the potential allocation of guaranteed quotas for government jobs and other benefits to the Meitei community as a form of affirmative action”. Abhimanyu Acharya’s review of Dr Jamini Bini’s short-story collection, Ayachit Atithi aur Anya Kahaaniyan (Unwanted Guest and Other Stories) based in Arunachal Pradesh, sheds light on a complex society, its people, customs, and traditions. Likewise, Monica Singh’s review of Anirban Bhattacharya’s novel, The Hills are Burning which tells the story of three brothers amidst the Gorkhaland agitations of the late 1980s, sheds light on the unique demography and cultural fabric of a place which is often stereotyped by calendar art, tourism industry and Bollywood. Though it stands to attention that mention of these books, one based in Arunachal Pradesh, and the other in Nepal, in the same space as violence in Manipur does in no way indicate that all these places are similar, but only that most of these regions, states, and places, which majority of us tend to, or choose to see in singular light, are in fact, immensely complex, with their own struggles, and cultural and social dynamics – something that these two reviews paves the way for us to imagine.
Coming to the question of gender. While the by-turns provocative, evocative, and banal arguments made for and against same-sex marriage during the Supreme Court hearings of Feb-March 2023 still echo in our minds, two important books shedding light on queer relationships find space in this Issue. First is noted writer and critic, Mridula Garg’s review of Kinshuk Gupta’s collection of short-stories, Yeh Dil Hai ki ChorDarwaza, and the other is my review of Onir’s memoir, I am Onir and I am Gay. Both books in their own ways analyse what it means to be queer in the Indian social milieu, while simultaneously providing a cogent, sophisticated counter- narrative to the conservative view that ‘homosexuality is not part of Indian culture’ which we heard repeated ad nauseam during the Supreme Court proceedings.
While the books discussed in the first three paragraphs cover the theme of ‘Violence’, and the next two (about gender) cover the theme of ‘Resurgence’, the last two, Kabir Deb’s review of Nilim Kumar’s poetry-collection, I am Your Poet, and Urna Bose’s review of Amanita Sen’s poetry-collection, What I Don’t Tell You provides the necessary ‘Closure’, both to this brief introduction, as well as to the arc of violence, which it began with.
In the end, I thank all contributors who chose to review these wonderful, and timely books.
Given that writers (and in fact all artists) can be inherently self-obsessed people, respectfully engaging with someone else’ work, and spending time to read, reflect and write a review, is, to my mind, not only the greatest compliment to the writer and the work, but also an affirmation to the craft itself – for which I am thankful to each of the Contributors.
Lastly, I thank Ms Smita Sahay, EIC of Usawa Literary Review, for inviting me to be part of the Usawa Family, as the Books Editor. This has been the first issue I worked on, and I can proudly say, I have fallen a little more deeply with the written word, and all the possibilities, ideas, and worlds it encompasses!
May this falling continue!
Do send in your reviews for the next Issue. Happy reading! Happy writing.