The 70th Milestone

October 12, 2018

Does it matter
where I come from
or where you belong
as we pass along
from one moment
to the next?
Come, be with me…

These lines, informed by simplicity, lyricism and compassion, reflect the spirit and purpose of this remarkable collection of poems: drawing upon a lifetime of experience and emotion, Robin Gupta invites us on a journey of togetherness. There is no pretence here, no denial, no holding back; there is the generosity that comes from the courage to show one’s vulnerabilities and to leave the doors to one’s home and heart open.

Robin writes about longing and heartbreak, despair and hope, isolation and friendship. He speaks in the voices of star-crossed lovers and exiled kings; he draws our attention to trees ablaze with summer flowers, birds returning to their groves at sunset and grass scattered by monsoon rain. He speaks of intense desire, and also of the need to accept the inevitable with equanimity.

Nostalgic, sensitive and poignant, these are poems for everyone who understands that literature should touch the heart and move us.

What Gandhi Didn’t See

August 29, 2018

From 1684 till the present, the Indian diaspora in South Africa has had a long history. But in the country of their origin, they remain synonymous with three points of identity: indenture, apartheid and Mahatma Gandhi.
In this series of essays, Zainab Priya Dala deftly lifts the veil on some of the many other facets of South African Indians, starting with the question: How relevant is Gandhi to them today?
It is a question Dala answers with searing honesty, just as she tackles the questions of the ‘new racism’—between Black Africans and Indians—and the ‘new apartheid’—money; the tussle between the ‘canefields’ where she grew up, and the ‘Casbah’, or the glittering town of Durban; and what the changing patterns in the names the Indian community chooses to adopt reflect.
In writing that is fluid, incisive and sensitive, she explores the new democratic South Africa that took birth long after Gandhi returned to the subcontinent, and the fight against apartheid was fought and won.
In this new ‘Rainbow Nation’, the people of Indian origin are striving to keep their ties to Indian culture whilst building a stronger South African identity. Zainab Priya Dala describes some of the scenarios that result from this dichotomy.

She Goes to War

May 2, 2018

Purnima, a faith healer in Imphal, Manipur, and Ribini, a nurse in a hospital in Assam. Unlikely occupations for women who once lived life on the run: the former as the fearless Nalini, a member of the rebel Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), a crack shot much in demand as an assassin and extortionist, and the latter as Lance Corporal Raisumai of the Bodo Security Force (BdSF), a banned militant separatist organization in the northeast.

In faraway Kashmir, Khalida was just another schoolgirl till 21 January 2007, the day she was found with a bullet through her head—gunned down by the Baramulla police who believed she was going to meet her comrades in the dreaded militant organization, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Or by the militants, who suspected her of double-crossing them? No one will ever know who killed Khalida, but hers is a fate often met by the women of this embattled state.

Since the time that LTTE operative Dhanu, the first known human bomb in India, assassinated former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in a suicide bombing in 1991, women have been crucial operators in insurgencies in Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Chhattisgarh and Kashmir. Given the same rigorous training as their male comrades, they carry AK-47s, rob banks, ambush security forces and play the game of subterfuge with amazing élan. Through the stories of Purnima, Khalida, Ribini and others profiled in this book, Rashmi Saksena attempts to get under their skin and fathom what goes into the making of a woman militant. What motivates them to abandon the traditional playbook for girls and embrace the uncertain life of an insurgent, and, equally, how easy is it for them to return to the ‘normal’ world, when age, or the desire for marriage and motherhood, makes them want to give it all up?

The Meaning of Civilisation

September 1, 2017

When Naguib Mahfouz left his job as a civil servant in 1971, a Nobel Prize in literature was nowhere on the horizon, nor was his global recognition as the central figure of Arab literature. He was just beginning a new job on the editorial staff of the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, and elsewhere in Cairo, Anwar Sadat was just beginning his hugely transformative Egyptian presidency, which would span eleven years.

The Meaning of Civilisation is a collection of essays that captures one of Egypt’s most important decades in the prose of one of the Middle East’s most important writers. It stitches together a fascinating and vivid account of the dramatic events of the time, from Egypt’s break with the Soviet Union to the Yom Kippur War with Israel and eventual peace accord and up to Sadat’s assassination by Islamic extremists in 1981.

Through this tumultuous history, Mahfouz takes on a diverse array of political topics—including socioeconomic stratification, democracy and dictatorship, and Islam and extremism—which are still of crucial relevance to Egypt—and the world—today. Clear-eyed and direct, the pieces illuminate Mahfouz’s personal and political convictions, which were more often hidden in his novels, enriching his better-known corpus with social, political, and ideological context.

This collection is a rare treasure, a story of a time of tremendous social and political change in the Middle East, told by one of its most iconic authors.

I Want to Destroy Myself

September 1, 2016

My life cannot be made over to anyone, not even Namdeo Dhasal.

Malika Amar Shaikh was born to Communist-activist parents—her father, Shahir Amar Shaikh, was a trade-union leader and legendary Marathi folk singer. Brought up amidst the hurly-burly of Maharashtrian politics of the 1960s, and exposed to the best and the brightest in Bombay’s cultural scene, Malika was a cosseted child, drawn to poetry and dance. She was barely out of school when she married Namdeo Dhasal, co-founder of the radical Dalit Panthers, and celebrated ‘poet of the underground’ who transformed Marathi poetry with his incendiary verse.

After the initial days of love, and the birth of their son, the marriage crumbled. Namdeo was an absent husband and father—given to drink, womanizing and violence—and uninterested in his family. And while he would repent his actions and his negligence, and they would make up, he never stopped or reformed. I Want to Destroy Myself is Malika’s searing, angry account of her life with Dhasal.

The unvarnished story of a marriage and of a woman and a writer seeking her space in a man’s world, Malika Amar Shaikh’s autobiography is also a portrait of the Bombay of poets, activists, prostitutes and fighters. There isn’t another memoir in Indian writing as honest and pitiless as this. Published originally in Marathi, it quickly became a sensation and vanished as quickly. Jerry Pinto’s superb translation revives this lost classic and makes it available for the first time in any language other than Marathi.

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