What kind of times are these: December at Navayana

What kind of
times are these
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December 2016
Dear Reader

There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

Najeeb Ahmed has been missing from the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus for over forty days—if his disappearance hasn’t caused enough of a stir despite institutional prominence, one can only imagine the impunity with which millions of others are effaced on a daily basis. Or we could simply walk past a bank today, ruing our own privilege.

I’ve walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread
but don’t be fooled, this isn’t a Russian poem,
this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

The Navayana annual sale last month was overwhelming, to say the least. Since we do not function like Amazon, Flipkart or other plunderbunds—we only have the faith our dedicated readers put in us (and our sometimes unpredictable website) to be thankful for. By buying directly from us, you become responsible for the print lives of books which otherwise may never have made it to the marketplace. The American writer Matthew Stadler called publishing the “creation of a public shaped by reading”. So thank you for joining us—small but persistent—in supporting the independence of expression and, we’d like to believe, becoming a thorn in the side of corporate publishing and brahminism.

I won’t tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light-
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

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Hoshang Merchant’s My Sunset Marriage has been clocking rave reviews. His poems are a nonchalant exchange between what is customary and strange, desperation and light. Which is perhaps why the nonchalance becomes hard to understand, and even harder to laugh at. This reviewer in Firstpost came close to appreciating Merchant’s life’s work by calling it “the rhetoric of an approach that militarises language with a sentiment that comes close to self-referencing, self-satirising wit, but refuses to be restricted to that walled identity”.

Meanwhile, Nathaniel Manheru writes in the New African that he discovered Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed’s The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire a year too late. The raging petition at the University of Ghana in Accra to take down Gandhi’s statue resonates with his bafflement in 2012 on seeing a sole statue of the Mahatma demurely placed at the source of the Nile in Jinja, Uganda.

D.N. Jha’s old rejoinder The Myth of the Holy Cow remains as pertinent as ever—from Frontline to Juggernaut books seeking interviews with the historian to remind us that the cow was neither unslayable nor sacred in the Vedic period. Many of Navayana’s titles have been available on the Juggernaut phone app, which now also works on the desktop: Amita Kanekar’s A Spoke in the Wheel, Siddalingaiah’s A Word with you World, Ajay Navaria’s Unclaimed Terrain, Gogu Shyamala’s Father Maybe an Elephant and Mother Only a Small Basket, but… and now Jha’s book. Single stories from Navaria’s collection—of which Teju Cole says “the reader emerges from the pages of this fierce book wiser”—can be read at prices as low as Rs 30. Given the imperialism of the novel as a form and the high favour it seems to find with publishers, it becomes imperative to appreciate the subtlety of short stories.

And yes, here is the last stanza of Adrienne Rich’s poem:

And I won’t tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it’s necessary
to talk about trees.

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Navayana’s feeble attempts to make you listen to poetry finds a platform in Mumbai’s Times lit fest (December 2–4), where you could catch many of our authors. Venkat Raman Singh Shyam and S. Anand will present The Ganja–Mahua Chronicles, a mix of poetry, prose and colours mounted as a massive mural-installation in the quad area of Mehboob Studio. Fusing history and the present, cinema and mythology, weed with wine, Venkat and Anand, picking up the thread from Finding My Way, offer stories of love that transgresses boundaries featuring the untouchable Ganja and the brahmin Mahua, Divya and Ilavarasan, Bhimrao Ambedkar and Fanny Fitzgerald, Archie and Parshya (from Sairat). The poets N.D. Rajkumar (Give Us this Day a Feast of Flesh), Hoshang Merchant and Ali Cobby Eckermann (Too Afraid to Cry) will also perform their work.

This December, with Dr Ambedkar’s sixtieth death anniversary upon us, we are happy to offer a re-issue of Gail Omvedt’s compelling study Seeking Begumpura: The Social Vision of Anticaste Intellectuals that must adorn every bookshelf. Finally, if the work we do at Navayana interests you, how about working here as an editor? You will, among other things, get to draft newsletters like this one. Knowing your Ambedkar and Dhasal, Adrienne Rich and N.D. Rajkumar will help. Go to our website for more details.

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