Monday, January 20, 2020

A new short story and interview

I have a new short story out in the Massachusetts Review. The story's called Mallika Reflects on the Events of Discount Monday. 

The journal also interviewed me for its blog about the writing of this story and other writing stuff in general. 

What inspired you to write this piece?
Well, I’m a woman and I wish I could say that I am the sort of woman who rejects all norms around femininity. But I do go to a salon once in a while. In India, there are all kinds of salons, more frequently known as ‘beauty parlours.' Parlours come in all sizes and cater to all classes. Many women operate from their own homes or rent little shops in neighborhood markets. I’ve seen some of the fancier ones too, though I usually go to a ‘normal’ parlour, which caters to the average middle-class woman.

Women sometimes go to a parlour looking for some kind of life affirmation, for emotional reassurance rather than physical plucking and primping. I remember going to a fancy salon once for a haircut, having just recovered from a bout of malaria. I was alone most of that week and feeling quite shaken. I needed to treat myself to something. The haircut cost five times what it would in the place where I usually go. The stylist told me that my skin and hair was in bad shape, and that I needed to buy fancy shampoos that cost ten times my normal shampoo, which she wrote out as a ‘prescription.’ I walked out feeling angry and have sworn off the place.

I’ve overheard some strange and sad conversations over the years at various parlours. I see beauticians trying to coax you into spending much more than you can actually afford by thrusting fresh norms, which they’ve picked up from Western (usually North American) magazines, upon their clientele. I also see women coming to the same place for years, never pushed into trying anything beyond the thing they came looking for. The story was an attempt to capture some of these conversations and experiences.

Here's a link to the whole ten questions: 

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

कैसे ये मस्त लोग थे क्या नौजवान थे

अली जवाद ज़ैदी साहब की एक नज़्म जो उन्होंने 1941 में लिखी थी, लखनऊ जेल में, जहाँ वो जंग-ए-आज़ादी में शामिल होने की वजह से क़ैद थे। 


गोली के ज़द पे जम गऐ , सीनों को तान के
तोपों के मुँह पे डट गऐ ,अंजाम जान के
क्या वीर थे सुपूत वो हिन्दोस्तान के

कैसे ये मस्त लोग थे क्या नौजवान थे

फौजों को अपने ध्यान में लाऐ नहीँ कभी
दुश्मन के दिल नज़र में समाऐ नहीँ कभी
मैदाँ से अपने पाऊँ हटाऐ नहीँ कभी

कैसे ये मस्त लोग थे क्या नौजवान थे

रण सामने था जोश में बढ़ते चले गऐ
कुहसार ज़ुल्म-o-जोर पे चढ़ते चले गऐ
आशार झूम झूम के पढ़ते चले गऐ

कैसे ये मस्त लोग थे क्या नौजवान थे

सुख चैन की बहार न ललचा सकी इन्हें
धन की नई फ़ुहार न बहका सकी इन्हें
घरबार की भी चाह न घबरा सकी इन्हें

कैसे ये मस्त लोग थे क्या नौजवान थे

क़ानून को रौंदते गाते गुज़र गऐ
सच्चाईयों की धूम मचाते गुज़र गऐ
दुख में भी सुख के गीत सुनाते गुज़र गऐ

कैसे ये मस्त लोग थे क्या नौजवान थे

मिटते हुऐ समाज को ठुकरा के बढ़ गऐ
धर्म आ गया जो राह में कतरा के बढ़ गऐ
इठला के, गा के , सैकड़ों बल खा के बढ़ गऐ

कैसे ये मस्त लोग थे क्या नौजवान थे

ये मुस्कुरा के शौक़ से रण में चले गऐ
ये भूक और प्यास के बन में चले गऐ
ये चाँद इब्तिदा के गहन में चले गऐ

कैसे ये मस्त लोग थे क्या नौजवान थे.

- Borrowed from Mehfil Sukhan

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Prelude to a Riot: excerpts, interviews and reviews



An interview with the Huffington Post about my new novel: Prelude to a Riot

An excerpt published in Scroll:

Annie Zaidi’s new novel takes us to a south Indian town where trouble is being brewed

Scroll.com describes Prelude to a Riot as 'immediately affecting, often harrowing, and sometimes hopeful'. 
"...a painful read, not because of the prose, which is exquisite, nor the narrative, which never flags, but because it invokes the troubling subject that is closest today to any sympathetic Indian heart" 

https://scroll.in/article/947357/annie-zaidis-novel-paints-a-searing-picture-of-how-communal-disharmony-affects-each-of-us


A review in The Hindu: 

Prelude to a Riot is an accurate, fearless and gripping account of the divided and uncertain times we are living in
A review in Open magazine:

Zaidi’s emotionally intelligent novel is remarkable in the complexity it manages to convey

A review in Hindustan Times:

Prelude to a Riot has the depth of reportage and a deep understanding of the human condition

A review in The Hindu Businessline:

Her skill lies in etching the attributes of each character with finesse, without ever forcing the reader to be judgemental.

Learning to see and speak: 1

In 2018, I had begun to maintain a document of fear and self-censorship. In the wake of online aggression, often coordinated, and the killings and arrests of writers and journalists, not to mention the chilling effect of cases being filed in courts under one pretext or the other, I had begun to hold back a lot, writing only for myself, if I had to. Even where I did write and publish, I found myself not doing much to share my work around, wondering whether that would bring me negative attention, or get me onto some kind of list someone was maintaining of people who had to be gagged or worse.

One of the essays I published that year, but did not share much, was about protest, about how I grew up apolitical and was suspicious of student politics, until I became a journalist and finally learnt the dangers of distancing oneself from politicking as citizens and confining oneself merely to the exercise of the ballot.

I know now it is disengagement that makes us disenchanted, makes our politics unhinged. We ought to have been taught this before we turned eighteen and started sending people to parliament. At twenty-five, a citizen can stand for national elections. To tell university students not to ‘do politics’ is a slap in the face of democracy.

Please read the fully essay here:

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Gandhi and students protests

The recent wave of protests by students, and several others, and especially young people opposed to the CAA and the NRC/NPR rolled out by the government reminded me of what M.K. Gandhi had said to students during the freedom struggle.

Writing in ‘Young India’, in 1928, Gandhi refused to humour a principal who had wanted him to stop students from getting more involved with politics. At a convocation address at Kashi Vidyapeeth, which is also printed in ‘Young India’ in 1929, Gandhi had said: “The aim of government institutions is pre-eminently to turn out clerks and others who would assist the alien government to carry out its rule.”

He also gave students courage, asking them not to worry about their few-ness. He cited the example of the prophet Mohammad and Abu Bakr when they were facing their enemies. Abu Bakr is supposed to have said, “What shall we two do against these heavy odds?”  The Prophet rebuked his faithful companion by saying, “No, Abu Bakr, we are three. For God is with us.”

Again, in 1931, writing in ‘Young India’, Gandhi was urging students’ parents not to sign letters guaranteeing that their children will not participate in politics.

A lot of what Gandhi said and wrote changed. Reading his various letters and addresses to students, one might be struck by the changeability of his stance on the question of protest. There are times he asks them to be wary of 'political' protest in the sense of getting involved with a particular political organisation. But there is no doubt that he urges them to stand up in the cause of the right and in the interests of justice. He urges discipline too, but never silence in the face of injustice. 
Tweets by @anniezaidi