Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Some reviews and interviews

On the new anthology 'Unbound: 2,000 Years of Indian Women's Writing'

"Zaidi's project is sound without being pretentious, a welcome diving-board for the uninitiated who, hopefully, would want to test the waters further" - From a review in Hindustan Times

More review links:

A review in Business Standard

A review in The Hindu Businessline

A review in DNA  

A review in The Indian Express

A review in the The Kathmandu Post

Snippets from interviews:

I wanted to keep it wide open, to be as inclusive as possible while also being selective from a literary viewpoint. I was not commissioning fresh work but choosing from what’s already out there. So I had to think not only about which particular writer to represent, but also which poem, what passage from which story should be included. I wanted readers to experience the whole spectrum of literature produced by women writers in India. An interview with The Hindu

The only sections that can be said to be particularly associated with women are ‘Children’ and ‘Food’. Most of the other themes – spirituality, love, sex, marriage, work, politics, war, death – are as much the stereotypical domain of men and male writers as of women. In fact, some of these themes are often not associated with women at all (in a stereotypical sense)... 
... with food, I wanted to showcase the complex – the human! – relationships women have to food. It is not just that women purchase or cook food. They help to grow it. They can be seduced through food as much as through flowers and candles. They think about the politics of it, as Nilanjana Roy does in her essay on meat-eating (we’ve included a short extract). One of my favourite extracts is from Nayantara Sahgal’s novel Mistaken Identity, wherein she describes a group of prisoners going on hunger strike. It is one of the most evocative passages I have ever read about food or eating.”
From an interview with Verve

Each book that I've picked extracts from (and many others read for research) taught me something new about a different part of the country, a new culture and the troubles of people (both men and women) at a particular moment in history. It has given me a new lens with which to look at India, especially women's history. It has also taught me the significance of writing not only as self-expression but also as a form of unsilencing, as a tool of engagement with our past and future. Irawati Karve's essays in Yuganta do all of the above. Reading the memoir of the ruler of Bhopal, Sultan Shahjahan Begum, and Gulbadan Begum, author of Humayun-nama (not represented in the anthology) taught me how important it is for women to not just do all kinds of work but to be seen to be doing all kinds of work, including power play and governance.
From an interview with Scroll

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

On shutting doors, safety and the citizenry

I, coming from Mumbai, was marvelling at something else. We could get into trains in a civil fashion. There were announcements asking passengers to stay away from the edge of the platform and to let passengers alight first. By and large, they did.
In Mumbai, although railways would make half-hearted announcements to this effect, everyone knew that it was a question settled by whether the crowd waiting to get off the train was a mightier force than the crowd waiting to board. For years, I had braced myself twice a day, trying not to get killed by a stampeding crowd that was not just impatient but often hostile.
In the Delhi Metro, there was no hostility. There was a tentativeness at first. People were obviously at ease; they didn't hurl themselves into the compartment as if their lives depended on it. There were good reasons for this - they knew the train would not leave without them. They could afford to wait until the passengers disembarked. There was no need to elbow someone in the ribs or dig your nails into someone's forearm. The train would not move until the doors had closed completely, and the doors would not close as long as people were still trying to board.

Friday, July 03, 2015

There's more than just one kind of Indian

Is it a "good" custom? A bad one? I cannot say. What I can say is that my own view of Indian marriage changed forever at 17. My Sociology textbook informed me that there are eight types of marriage mentioned even in that problematic text, Manusmriti. Among them was "gandharva vivah" - what we call "love marriage".  
This was a revelation. Personal choice in matters of matrimony had always been presented - by most grown-ups, friends, Hindi films, television - as something alien. Love, premarital sex and divorce were talked of as "modern" or "Western" ideas. To hear a lot of right wing religious and political leaders, it would appear not much has changed in two decades. (Witness the moment in the documentary film Morality TV Aur Loving Jehad, when a man declares that in Indian culture, there is no space for conjugal love). 
It was through Sociology textbooks (particularly MN Srinivas' India: Social Structure) that I woke up to the fact that love marriage is very much part of our culture. That book taught me the basics of marital norms in different Indian communities.  
Some encourage marrying cousins or uncles. Some encourage marrying a brother's widow. Some tribes mandate a courtship period. Others have a provision for the bride or the groom to live with the other's family, to test the waters and experience the family environment before the marriage is solemnised. Some tribes pick out a mate after just one glance during a community fair or at a dance. 
Have your say. You can comment here.
Read the full article herehttp://www.dailyo.in/politics/child-marraige-natha-pratha-divorce-dowry-women-consent-inheritence/story/1/4683.html

Monday, June 29, 2015

And what if you could fly

Haven't you wished you could escape the road traffic jams and commute in the sky overhead, instead? 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

and what if plants had the power of speech?

I've often thought about what everyday life might be like if plants could talk to us? This comic with some beautiful art by Vartika is the result of that pondering:

Friday, June 12, 2015

A review of 'Sleeping on Jupiter'

At the heart of the story is an ashram that was led by a powerful, politically linked guru, and the abuse and torture of orphaned or war-affected children who were being brought up there as his wards. The connivance of many other adults who are not merely mute witnesses but active participants to this torture, puts a gruesome, frightening edge to the story. There is an excruciating feeling that the reader knows where this is heading and yet, with every page turned, dreads the revelation. There is little trace of theashram when the adult Nomi returns to Jarmuli but she finds a hint of the old dangers still lurking about in the town in the garb of monks, who are still a threat to vulnerable young boys like Raghu.
Each character brings her (or his) own baggage to Jarmuli. 
Read the full review here: http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/VzxI6i5b8JUccDdTJe1kLJ/Book-Review-Sleeping-on-Jupiter-by-Anuradha-Roy.html

Sunday, June 07, 2015

An excerpt from the Introduction to Unbound

Editors and writers, male and female, have equated domestic themes with dullness, or the lack of imaginative daring. In fact, there was a time when I (and I’m squirming as I write this) used to say that I didn’t care much for ‘kitchenized’ fiction. It took me over a year of exclusively reading women writers to realize how deep and strong the roots of my own bias were and how foolish our undermining of ‘domestic’ fiction.
Of course it’s domestic! Patriarchy is nothing if not domestic. Besides, there is more sex, violence, politics and overall drama in the average household than, say, the average office. Why are we surprised if domestic settings are chosen for fiction? From such settings emerge stories of great rebellion, and poetry that directly challenges the myths fed to us over thousands of years.
Hindi writer Krishna Sobti had once said in an interview that she wants to have fun, to live and not just write. She also said that families and marriages were anti-art, anti-writing. Yet, it is marriage and family that form the basis of her own writing. Her delicately crafted, aurally delicious novel Dil-o-Danish (translated as ‘The Heart has its Reasons’) is firmly domestic. It tells of endless manoeuvring by women as they struggle for economic security and personal dignity. And while the bold reclamation of a woman’s sexuality was one aspect of her novel Mitro Marjani (To Hell With You, Mitro), it was also the story of a joint family.
A longer excerpt from my introduction to Unbound: 2,000 Years of Indian Women's Writing can be found here: Editors and writers, male and female, have equated domestic themes with dullness, or the lack of imaginative daring. In fact, there was a time when I (and I’m squirming as I write this) used to say that I didn’t care much for ‘kitchenized’ fiction. It took me over a year of exclusively reading women writers to realize how deep and strong the roots of my own bias were and how foolish our undermining of ‘domestic’ fiction.
Of course it’s domestic! Patriarchy is nothing if not domestic. Besides, there is more sex, violence, politics and overall drama in the average household than, say, the average office. Why are we surprised if domestic settings are chosen for fiction? From such settings emerge stories of great rebellion, and poetry that directly challenges the myths fed to us over thousands of years.
Hindi writer Krishna Sobti had once said in an interview that she wants to have fun, to live and not just write. She also said that families and marriages were anti-art, anti-writing. Yet, it is marriage and family that form the basis of her own writing. Her delicately crafted, aurally delicious novel Dil-o-Danish (translated as ‘The Heart has its Reasons’) is firmly domestic. It tells of endless manoeuvring by women as they struggle for economic security and personal dignity. And while the bold reclamation of a woman’s sexuality was one aspect of her novel Mitro Marjani (To Hell With You, Mitro), it was also the story of a joint family.

More of the Introduction excerpted here: http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/RFTsUHoRDcxJroUmmFXJsJ/Excerpt--Unbound-Edited-by-Annie-Zaidi.html

Honestly speaking

Have you never wondered what exactly goes into your food, and where it comes from, and what it does to you? What if your food actually gave you all the facts about itself?

Here's me doing some dreaming:

Monday, May 04, 2015

A new anthology is out

For over two years now, I have been looking for and reading Indian women writers across genres as part of my research for a new anthology, which is now out as 'Unbound'. Here's the cover and (below) some links to interviewswhere I try and explain the processes, choices and motivations that drove me as I put together this manuscript.

From a piece about the book in the Bangalore Mirror:

"It was also important to challenge the way 'Indian' women are represented in popular culture. Motherhood is a minefield. Food is life itself. It is very boring to think of women and food only in one framework: woman preparing food at home. It is also an inaccurate portrait. I wanted to present a more authentic collage through the extracts I chose"

From an interview with Verve magazine:

8. Which are some contemporary female writers you admire?
“Oh, many, many, many! You will note that about half of the writers included in the book are indeed contemporary writers. I have, however, left out very ‘new’ writers – those who’ve started getting published only in the last 8 to ten years. This was a conscious decision because, sometimes, you are blown away by a new book but within a year, the new voice is already fading from your consciousness. Substance has to be balanced against style. A work may or may not have lasting value, but it is difficult to judge that in the short term. In my (limited) experience, it takes a distance of at least 10 years for me to be able to judge a piece of writing in isolation, to look at it against its own light, not against the light of all the other writing that surrounds it.”

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Book review: City of Spies

Decades have passed since the 1977 coup in Pakistan but the forces unleashed as a result have had such a devastating impact on the nation that it still continues to struggle with the legacy of the “Zia” years. Pakistani artists and writers have recalled those years of military dictatorship, the growing influence of the secret service, the bypassing of democractic and human rights, and the ensuing chaos. Sorayya Khan’s City Of Spies is another addition to the memory file.

Read the full piece here 

Monday, April 06, 2015

Registered Post: a short story

It was 7.30 in the morning and my alarm hadn’t gone off when Suhail showed up. I was still in my nightie when the bell rang and I was just looking for a dupatta to throw over my chest. But Shahryar said he’d get the door, so I settled back into bed. 

A whole minute passed. The silence outside was making me nervous. Nobody who comes to our door in this town leaves without saying a word or two, even if it is just salaam, ram-ram, or I’llshowyoubitchjustwatch. Milkman, postman, courier, goons sent by the other party after I’ve had a good day in court. Everybody has something to say. 

Read the whole story here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A stained culture of menstruation

Despite advertising hinged on 'change' and girls growing wings, I still see women – some of them educated women in metros – who are embarrased about taking a used (wrapped up) sanitary napkin to the dustbin. I've seen women concealing it in the folds of their dupatta or saree pallu. I've talked to women in small towns who don't throw sanitary napkins in their dustbin at home; they walk instead to the end of the lane, and drop them off on a huge anonymous garbage dump – preferably very early in the morning so nobody sees them. We still do not have a sensible disposal system.

Read the full piece here.

Monday, January 26, 2015

An Ode to the Ordinary Muslim

Sometimes I look to you, minority citizen, to understand what it means to have faith in the motherland. 
There was a time when many of you could have left India. Hundreds of thousands did, after all... But you did not go. You stayed.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

On writing, getting published etc

I often get approached by aspiring authors who want to know how to get published, and what my own experience has been like. So I thought I should collect my thoughts into a single post that will serve as a response to all questions that I am able to answer. Treat all advice, however, as general advice. Each writer has a different journey and therefore different points of view on the publishing process.

1. Finish a manuscript. There are no fixed rules about how long/big a book has to be, but you have to know that you will be satisfied with a book of 'this' particular length before you take it to a publisher.

2. Edit the manuscript to the best of your ability. Format it properly, check grammar and spelling.

3. Send a query letter directly to a publisher. You will know of most publishers if you are a reader (and if you are not a reader of books, I don't know what you are doing trying to become an author).

4. Most publishers have websites. You just have to run a google search. Many Indian publishers these days do encourage you to query directly, so send an email. Try and make sure your email has complete sentences and full words instead of sms-ese.

5. Find an agent if you are confident that you will get a good advance. India has very few literary agents but Siyahi and Writers' Side are two examples. For foreign agents, you will have to again send out query letters. I am afraid I don't know anything about finding foreign agents. I don't yet have any agents myself.

6. There is some good advice, from those who are clearly more experienced than me, here : http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/getting-published


I recently talked to Cosmopolitan (India) magazine about how I got published. Here's the Q and A, which might be useful to some readers:

1) What made you take to writing? What were some of your motivations, aspirations, goals etc? Anxieties, concerns too?

A - I do not recall ever making a conscious decision to 'take to writing'. I wrote a bit in high school, but mainly essays or my speeches for debating contests. As an undergraduate, I used to participate in all extra-curricular activity - song, dance, drama, fashion show. The college had an extempore (on-the-spot) poetry contest and I participated, and to my surprise, won. I began to take writing a little more seriously then, mainly because of the encouragement I received by my English Literature teachers. Soon I began to co-edit the students' magazine. By the time I finished college, I knew I could write decently, and didn't know if I could do anything else. I had no clear ambition or, indeed, motivation. But I did write quite a lot of letters, diaries, poems. Mainly to express myself, I think. Nor did I have many anxieties in the early years. I had the arrogance and confidence that very young people often do. I think I needed it knocked out of me, and that happened very quickly when I moved to big cities and my reading widening to include contemporary Indian writers who was clearly leagues ahead in terms of both creative expression and basic knowledge of the world, society, culture and so on.

2) Did you start by getting feedback from your inner circle? How did the aspect of support and encouragement from family/ friends play out?

A - I rarely sought feedback in college, though I did show my poems to close friends. It was only a couple of years after college that I began to think about what I could do to get better. I began to read a lot more contemporary work from India as well as translations from everywhere else, that it began to sink in that perhaps I was not ready yet. I began to seek peer review groups and found a couple of places online. 

Friends and family are reasonably supportive, though I do not show my work to them while it's in process. Unless these friends happen to be writers themselves. We've had well-known writers in our family before (my maternal grandfather), and in any case cultural growth has always been encouraged in my family.

3) Were there steps involved? A progression? Diary...blog...digital...publishing/ author conventions & seminars...networking...print? Would you recommend that to aspiring writers?

A - Yes. Like I said, I wrote a lot of letters and essays initially. I began working for newspapers and magazines and wrote almost daily from the year 2000 onwards. At home, I would try to work on fictional stories though none of them came to fruition. In addition, I blogged a lot, from 2005 on, and was offered my first book deal on the strength of those posts.

I don't think seminars or writer conventions helped in the publishing process. I am not good at networking and when I attend, I do so in a quiet way. However, it is always good to hear other writers speak of their ideas, and be introduced to new kinds of writing through such seminars. Writers come in all kinds of personalities, so what they take from a gathering of writers depends on what they came looking for.

4) What's the best way to pitch/ put together a proposal and make oneself stand out in the clutter?

A - I wish I knew. I've rarely attempted book proposals, and when I have, I have not been successful. I prefer to just write the whole book and then try to get an editor interested in the manuscript.

5) Could you please dwell on the writing process itself? Timeline, schedule, any experimentation involved? Learnings from the process? What was particularly fulfilling/ frustrating? What to guard against?

A - I like to experiment with genre. I want to try and write in as many kinds of ways as I can, so I give most genres at least one shot. I also get rejected a lot, and some of my work is a failure even in my own estimation. My main learning is that you've got to keep at it. 

I don't have a fixed schedule, but I try and write regularly, and I read regularly too.  

What's most fulfilling is when I've finished something - a poem or a story - and it is just where it needs to be. For now, this is the best it can be. The feeling that I've said what I wanted to say in the genre I chose. Most frustrating is not being able to do this - to start something and then not finish it as I'd hoped.

6) How would you summarise the publishing and writing industry in India currently? Is it a good time for first time writers and is there a general openness towards new voices? In your opinion, what are the challenges first time writers are likely to/ can potentially face in this setting?

A - There is a fair degree of openness. But this is not a good time for everyone in a commercial sense. Writers whose voices are very experimental, or who do not translate easily for foreign markets must be content with very small print runs and very few readers. The Indian English market is very crowded, and there is not just a lot of intellectual laziness and creative stasis, there are also a lot of below-average writing available at a very low cost. It is easy to be lost in the crowd.

7) Do you think it's tenable to be a full time writer in the Indian context? How do you manage it? Tips on how to follow one's calling and also keep the roof up?

A - Not easy if you're a fiction writer. Impossible if you're a full time poet or playwright. I have thus far made a living from journalism and related media formats. But I continue to struggle, so I really should not offer anyone any advice.

8 - What was the response to your first book like and what's in the pipeline?

A - There were decent reviews when 'Known Turf: Bantering with Bandits and Other True Tales' first came out. I'm not sure how much it's sold but it did go into a second edition, which was good news. I'm trying to work on a novella and also editing an anthology for next year.

9) Any general pointers/ insight that you'd like to share that's not been covered in the questions above.

A - General advice - read. Read constantly. Those who live in the world of words must be familiar with the landscape. Reading is what you want others to do, when you write. You better know the worth of what you're offering before you expect anything from readers. 


If you're looking for more details from my own personal experience, here is another interview:

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Thela aur thithak: kuch yaadein

I have been searching online for the English translation of "thithak" – "baulk" comes closest but it does not quite capture the mix of emotions – hesitation, surprise, confusion, discomfort – represented by the Hindi word "thithakna".
Thithakna is what happens to regulars at a roadside chai stall whenever I stop by for a cup of tea like the men do – alone, sipping slowly, looking at the passing traffic, street signs, posters pasted on walls.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Gulab hooks reviewers

"Gulab is restrained, ephemeral, delicate. Her characters leave much unsaid; there are telling silences and crucial pauses. Her prose is sparse and minimalist. All of which suits the subject matter - the mysteries of the paranormal - perfectly."
- The Hindustan Times

"The story unfolds like a Bollywood movie of suspense and thrill from the 70s, urging the reader to keep at it, even though the ending doesn’t do much to dissipate the anxiety. The plot, rife with unexpected twists, is fitting for stage production or even a Bollywood script, and in the form of a novella, it provides the reader a perfect adrenalin rush."
 - The Kathmandu Post

"Annie Zaidi's Gulab is a near-perfect ghost story and one of the things it does so well is achieving this balance. It is perfectly paced and uses its ghost shrewdly and sparingly."
- The Sunday Guardian 

"Zaidi makes brilliant use of the sense of disorientation that comes from an unacknowledged sense of loss, coupled with an unfamiliar location, a strange language and self-assured strangers. Bit by bit, she tugs away at all that Nikunj knows—his memories of Saira, his belief that he’d gotten over her, his ideas of life, love, fidelity and death—till he stands naked, confronting only the reality of himself and his perceptions."
- Mint

"There is a whirlwind of conversations, heated exchanges, physical fights and helpless sobs as the tempo builds and the mystery deepens. It’s nothing sort of a roller coaster ride, smooth one minute, scary the other and in between pregnant with foreboding."

"It begins with a darkly comic, almost absurd response to the idea of courting the supernatural with its everyman ordinary hero. And it ends with a chilling and seductive struggle as Nikunj is drawn to the magnetism of a dead woman’s charms."
- The Asian Age

"There’s more fun watching a ghost movie than reading a scary book. But Annie Zaidi’s novel, Gulab, ticks all the right boxes for an entertaining read. To start with, the book is all of 184 pages, it is a love story, it has a ghost, it has intrigue and a twist in the tale."

"From the very beginning we know what to expect from the story, yet the simplicity with which the author has woven monologues and dialogues, built up suspense and created situations keeps you hooked.
What binds the narrative together is the 24-hour time-span within which the story takes many unexpected turns." 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

In a new anthology

I have a new graphic short story in this great new anthology of feminist speculative fiction Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean. It is targeted at young adults, but can be enjoyed by all. 

My story was extracted in Scroll

The reviews for the book are great too! 

'A Cross-Continental Flight of Fancy', by Maegan Dobson Sippy at New Indian Express

'This Anthology of Short Stories Takes an 'Alternative' Approach to Women Empowerment' by Debesh Banerjee, at Indian Express

'Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean: Feminine Tales of Unity' by Nuvena Rajendran, at Deccan Chronicle

'An Anthology Dripping with Collaborative Alchemy', by Aditya Mani Jha at Sunday Guardian

'For the Girls Who Mess With Boundaries' by Kareena Gianani, at Mid-Day 

'It's a Woman's World' by Karan Bhardwaj, Daily Pioneer

Press Trust of India, at NDTV and at Economic Times

'High As the Sky, Deep As the Ocean' by Sravasti Datta, at The Hindu

'Book Review: Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean ' by Bijal Vachharajan, at LiveMint

Unsweetened greetings

What does it mean to "indulge" in a food culture that has made sugar and grease the norm?
Today, you can get a bar of cheap chocolate for ten rupees. You cannot buy any fruit (except bananas) for that price, nor a bajra roti, boiled peas, boiled potatos. Cookies, full of sugar, salt, fat, are available for less than that, as are deep-fried chips and colas, where the main ingredient is sugar. You can get salted butter cheaper than a litre of whole milk.
How has this happened to us, and what are we going to do about it?
Read on: http://www.dailyo.in/life/why-feasting-on-festival-sweets-is-no-longer-a-treat/story/1/1218.html

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Governance, Dear Santa, governance!

Dear Santa,
Compliments of the season. I don't usually write, but I've been a very good girl this year. Worked hard, met deadlines, paid taxes, filed returns. So I feel entitled to a few things. Besides, the Indian government seems to like you and Christmas a great deal. They're upping the celebration ante with this Good Governance Day thing, which is sort of providential. Good Governance is just the thing I wanted. So, please, get the Indian government to do the following:

Interview: Esther Freud

Mr Mac And Me, set in 1914, neatly blends fiction with history as it tells the story of a young boy with a twisted foot and a talent for drawing, and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Scottish artist and architect who did actually live in a seaside village during World War I. In fact, he stayed and drank at the pub that later became a house where Freud lived. It was this small fact that got her interested in his story, she says. “Someone told me many years ago, did you know Mackintosh came to this village a hundred years ago, and people were suspicious and they thought maybe he was a German spy? And I thought, wow, amazing story! But it had nothing to do with me. But when I discovered that he had stayed in the house I lived in, then I thought, hmm, maybe there is something in it for me.” 

Freud believes that most writers need an “in” into a story; for her, it is a personal connection with her material. “It doesn’t have to be autobiographical. But something that’s enough to make it feel like it’s my story. I didn’t feel like I could just go to Glasgow and start researching Mackintosh. I mean, why me? But when I think that the man who lived in my house designed the Glasgow School of Art, then I want to go and look at everything he did.” Eventually, she was so fascinated with the man and his work that she looked for a way to insert a mini biography of Mackintosh into the novel even though the story spans just about a year.

Read the rest of the article here: http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/PuSFK7SsQH6eURTQXepS3J/Esther-Freud-Its-always-personal.html?utm_source=copy
Tweets by @anniezaidi