Queens and robbers

Queens and robbers
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First Published: Fri, Jun 04 2010. 11 24 PM IST

Bandit king: Zaidi writes on Gabbar Singh. Dinodia
Bandit king: Zaidi writes on Gabbar Singh. Dinodia
Updated: Fri, Jun 04 2010. 11 24 PM IST
It is seldom that Royalty gets into the news for anything apart from being Royalty. Unless, of course, it is for no longer being Royalty. Jordan’s Queen Rania is an exception to this rule. In recent weeks, she has been appearing in all the fashionable American shows—from Good Morning America to The Winfrey Show—for being a best-selling author.
Early in May, Queen Rania’s The Sandwich Swap hit the best-seller list (for children’s literature) of the prestigious New York Times. It was launched in New York, at a ceremony attended, among others, by Bill Clinton and Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general. The story revolves around the Christian American girl, Lily, and the Muslim Arab girl, Salma, who decide to swap their lunch packets one day. This “intercultural” children’s book, Queen Raina has charmingly explained in interviews, is about tolerance and respect for human beings across differences.
Queen Rania was born in 1970 in an exiled Palestinian family of doctors and completed a master’s in economics from Cairo. In 1993, she married Prince Abdullah ibn Hussein, who was later crowned King Abdullah II of Jordan. Apart from literature, Queen Rania is actively involved in various educational and welfare activities.
Real-life Gabbars
How can my generation ever forget Amjad Khan’s immortally villainous Gabbar Singh? Like so many others, I can still recall reams of dialogue from the film, and they are mostly lines spoken by Daku Gabbar Singh: “Kitne aadmi the?”
Bandit king: Zaidi writes on Gabbar Singh. Dinodia
Annie Zaidi’s Known Turf: Bantering with Bandits and Other True Tales lifts off from essays on Gabbar Singh, Malkhan Singh, various other dacoits and, of course, the Chambal ravines to engage with much of the rest of India. Some of the essays, as in the second section, can be slight, personal ones, while others grapple with issues of immense proportion: caste, hunger, gender discrimination, urban aspirations, the lure and pitfalls of immigration to the “West”, etc. At its best, the book combines a reporter’s on-the-spot perception and a writer’s reflection and language to etch interesting, nuanced portraits of that half-mythical being in the throes of constant change: contemporary India. Known Turf is definitely worth reading, and not just for the sake of Gabbar Singh.
Nothing happens
“For poetry makes nothing happen:…/ …it flows south / From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs, / Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives / A way of happening, a mouth.” Thus wrote W.H. Auden in memory of W.B. Yeats, who was, despite the impotence of poetry, a much-feted Nobel laureate by the time he “disappeared in the dead of winter”.
There are, however, poets who live in those raw towns and ranches of isolation from where poetry flows. They never win the Nobel Prize. But they keep publishing and, in the process, they keep poetry flowing. These are poets who run small poetry circles and edit little magazines.
Sometimes, I am sent collections by such poets, and—despite the inevitable unevenness imposed by writing in isolation—I am inevitably struck by a phrase here, a poem there. I sit here today with three such books on my desk: The Timeless Epitaph by M.T. Ahmad (published by Skylark Press, a small house run by the Urdu-English poet Baldev Mirza, who encouraged my poetry when I was a boy writing from nowhere), Poetry Time Here by Amarendra Kumar (self-published in Bihar) and Tality Tales by Ian Lukins (from a small press in Denmark). There are different strengths in all three. But more than that, in their “way of happening”, such collections give poetry a “mouth”. Without them, the Muses would be gagged.
Tabish Khair is the Denmark-based author of Filming. Write to him at readingroom@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Jun 04 2010. 11 24 PM IST