This spring and summer I've been reading fiction and non-fiction from Pakistan and India. As I've said before, I feel slightly 'fake' mixed race but, at the moment, I feel very pulled to writing from South Asia. I have the books above on my side table and others I'm reading/have read include Mohammed Hanif's brilliantly cheeky and dark satirical novel A Case of Exploding Mangoes (am impatiently waiting for the paperback of Our Lady of Alice Bhatti to be released); Aboard the Democracy Train by Nafisa Hoodbhoy (very factual non-fiction, taking me a *long* time, I dip in and out on Kindle) and Alok Bhalla's Partition Dialogues: Memories of a Lost Home, which I'm eagerly waiting for from Amazon. I watched this wonderful interview with Alok Bhalla a few weeks ago and was struck by his statement that 'the function of art (culture) is to imagine spaces where we can live differently from the way we have been'. By differently, he means better, more ethically. (approx. 20 minutes in)
This weekend, I learned The Friday Project had published an e-book version of British novelist Niven Govinden's Black Bread White Beer, already published in India. I downloaded the sample and immediately downloaded the whole book, something I seldom do. I was grabbed, particularly by one sentence in the opening pages: Amal, the day after his wife's miscarriage, is in conversation with a Polish car mechanic who says that in his country this is 'something we do not speak of. It is kept in the preserve of women'. Amal replies: "'My country too'. Automatically, he bows to the Indian gene. Though he thinks of himself as educated and enlightened, it is always the pull of the genes that navigates him through crisis, as if there was a state of sense-making that comes solely from the combined force of his parental cells". I still have to read the rest of the book, but for me a novel or short story often spins on one sentence, above all, and those words stay with me long after I've finished.