Books, Festivals, Sharjah

Nandita Das on Manto at SIBF2018

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“Who among all of you had never heard the name Manto before today?”, asked Indian actress and film maker Nandita Das to a room full of audience. Several hands went up and a discerning smile curled up at the corners of her mouth as she nodded her head. Perhaps when Nandita decided to make a film on the life of famous Urdu author Manto almost six years ago she would not have known that she would inadvertently become an ambassador of his work and beliefs to modern day readers and cine goers.

Saadat Hasan Manto was born in 1912 in Ludhiana, Punjab and later moved to Lahore, after the partition. Remarkably even though he died at the very young age of 42 he left behind a legacy of around 300 literary works including short stories, plays and essays. Manto was known to be mercurial, outspoken, an alcoholic and was tried for obscenity six times. His writings centered around partition, political corruption, drug addiction, prostitutes, sexual slavery of women among other socio-political issues of his times.

According to Nandita Manto was admired for his unabashed truthfulness that brought a rare sensitivity in his writings, a deep concern for people living on the margins as well as an unprecedented empathetic gaze for women’s issues. “Through his writing he talked about caste, religion, gender and human behaviour.  I feel he is deeply relevant today because we are grappling with all these issues. We see artists silenced by authorities, by the moral police, or by the censor board and at times they themselves chose to not express their true feelings. That’s why I wanted to tell the story of Manto, who celebrated free-spiritedness, especially now,” she said.

An acclaimed actress, Nandita has to her credit several honours and awards. Manto is her second directorial venture. Starring the talented Nawazuddin Siddiqui, the movie traces the struggles in the life of the writer between the years 1946 to 1948, the time around which India gained independence. Due to the partition Manto who lived in Bombay, India was forced to move to Lahore, Pakistan. Nandita spent close to six years making the film, and started collecting research material a few years before that. To know the real Manto she spent time with his three daughters who live in Pakistan.

During the talk Nandita spoke about spreading the idea of Mantoiyyat or Mantoness. “It is the desire to be more honest. Mantoiyyat is that feeling that gives confidence to be strong about your convictions, which in turn gives the person courage to stand up for their beliefs. Manto wrote the truth about what was happening in the society even though every time he did he got into trouble with the law.”

Close to the end of the talk Nandita was joined on the stage by her eight year old son who also played a small part in the movie. In a Facebook post she wrote later that ‘her son was probably the only eight year old who had heard so much about Manto, and that it is never too early to hear about the importance of honesty, convictions and courage’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Books, Festivals, Sharjah

Thumbs down to SIBF 2014

I have been a regular at the annual Sharjah International Book Fair since 2009. The fair provided an opportunity to not only buy an assortment of books but was also a forum to interact with celebrated authors. Through the fair I have been able to meet a number of authors and a few Indian celebrities.

The event has grown leaps and bounds over the years with an increasing number of exhibitors and visitors thanks to an extensive advertising campaign. But this is precisely where it has taken a beating. For the last few weeks all newspapers, news websites ran stories on the book fair, there were frequent radio advertisements and Sharjah was entirely full of billboards announcing the celebrities scheduled to arrive at the fair. While this excessive advertisement would have translated into a grand success for the organisers for me it meant driving in rush hour traffic for more than two hours from Dubai to stand in a huge crowd outside closed doors of the conference room where Dan Brown and later Indian actress Manju Warrier were speaking.

It was terribly frustrating and sickening to see people pushing and shoving in that crowd to get a chance to enter the room. On top of it the volunteers who stood outside the closed doors did nothing to either inform the people about their chances of making inside that room nor disperse the crowd. Everyone just stood there hoping that those doors would finally open. Some in the crowd were not even informed about the events inside, they just waited to see stars (I have been told there are famous people inside, whispered a few). I hope to attend the fair in future as it was one of my favourite events hope by then it would be better managed.

Memories, Sharjah, Travel fun, Uncategorized

Trip to Khor Fakkan

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No, these are not pics from holiday spots in Maldives or Seychelles but from very own neighbouring Sharjah. Like you I too was surprised when I first caught a glimpse of the pristine Khor Fakkan beach. Clear blue waters, a white sandy beach along a lush green park with rugged mountains in the backdrop — what more could a holiday seeker ask for? Pack a picnic hamper and enjoy this view or fly high with para sailing here. Khor Fakkan, which means, Creek of Two Jaws, is just a two hour drive from Dubai.

Books, Outdoors, Sharjah

‘When the home is happy the world is happy’, says Dr Kalam

On Nov 7th it seemed all roads in Sharjah led to the Expo Centre. We braved traffic enroute and outside the centre only to find a sea of people at each information counters. Two words were clearly audible everywhere ‘Kalam and hall no 5’. And when we finally managed to locate the hall we found a large crowd who had left not a single seat empty. Within minutes in walked the eminent scientist and India’s former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam with an entourage of dignitaries. Post a standing ovation and a thunderous applause Dr Kalam took to the stage. Clearly his style of engaging with the audience gets him top points for being a great orator. Everyone was in rapt attention as he made the crowd repeat “When home is happy society is happy, when society is happy nation is happy, when nation is happy world is happy.”

A noted author with several books to his credit Dr Kalam urged all parents in the audience to create a home library with at least 10 books. Watch less television and discuss books at the dining table, he said.

The other important message from Dr Kalam to his little admirers was to have a little prayer room in their house where they can thank God for all the blessings in their lives. The key to your success it to make your mother happy, he told every child and made them chant “I will make my mother happy. If my mother is happy, then my home is happy, if my home is happy, then society is happy.”

When it came to the turn of the audience to ask questions Dr Kalam’s young fans could not have enough of him. Finally Kalam told them to email their questions and he promised to answer them in 24 hours.

JLT, Memories, Outdoors, Sharjah, Travel fun

Beach fun

It’s May but the evenings continue to be pleasant. So, this weekend we decided to savour the goodness of the sun and sand at Sharjah beach. Armed with a bag of snacks and an elaborate sand play set we landed at the beach late afternoon. The Sharjah beach has always been secluded with a few families camping on the rocky shores or joggers running along the sand. But this time we spotted two men parasailing over the beach, several others swimming and one fishing.

On our part we enjoyed walking through the sand with the waves crashing on our feet picking shells and stones. A sand castle was made and some munchies gobbled, a few scenic scenes shot and some serene moments enjoyed with nature made it a splendid way to spend an evening away from the glitzy malls.

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Sand Castle in progress

Books, Festivals, Memories, Sharjah

Crazy about Christie

I am a huge Agatha Christie fan. I have read all her detective titles including her biography Come Tell Me How You Live. So, imagine my luck when I chanced upon these at the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival 2013.

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These books took me back to my school days when I would get obsessed reading her novels. If I had issued an Agatha Christie from the library (and this happened quite often) I could think nothing else but how fast I could reach the last page. This meant I would be found reading at the dining table, in the quilt, quietly at night, through holidays foregoing homework. In short I would be possessed unless I finished it.

Although these titles that she wrote under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott are not crime thrillers I went through the same obsession. Besides of course the igneous plots what I like about her books are that they are peppered with insights into the many shades of the human mind. Her close observations of human nature and life in general are weaved together in the stories and into her characters.

It seems she wrote anonymously as Mary Westmacott because she wanted to prove to herself that her books could sell on merit rather than on her fame alone. For me whatever name she may choose her books remain compelling reads forcing me to turn one page after another. Looking forward to laying my hands on the rest of the four titles in this series. And when I do deadlines and household chores can take a break 🙂

Art, Festivals, Sharjah

Peek into Sharjah Biennial 2013

The sound of gunshots broke the shrill silence inside the art museum in Sharjah. With my heart in my mouth I looked around and spotted a room from where the shot had been fired. Unlike what I expected ala the movies there was no commotion, no blood flowing out, in fact it was all so quiet. So, I just walked up to the room and popped my head in a little to catch not a murder scene, but only a video exhibit depicting a gun made of ice melting away slowly. The melted droplet triggered the sound of a gunshot as it seemed to fall on the ground beneath creating ripples. The brainchild of Amine El Gotaibi, this video is called Gota de Gracia (a drop of gratitude). Check it out at the ongoing 11th Sharjah Biennial.

For most of us art is an expression through colours on canvas. But it was at the Sharjah biennial that I first glimpsed the many avenues of creative expression. Since 2009, I have been a regular at this event. From food installations to modern day sculptures to striking paintings and photographs the bi annual is a delight for both art enthusiasts and amateur visitors. This year the theme of the biennial is ‘Re-emerge: Towards a New Cultural Cartography’ and it runs till May 13 all over the Sharjah Heritage Area.
Some interesting exhibits captured through my lens:

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Faces by artist Amal Al Khaja

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Digital art by Sumayyah al Suwaidi

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Prayer rooms in UAE by Ammar Al Attar

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Artist Khaled Jarrar’s Stamp of Palestine

All images are taken by me. Please do not copy.