Tag Archives: #anthology

Migration, Belonging, Pandemic: Kitaab’s Anthology Has It All

As a humble writer and avid reader of fiction, I’m always in awe of the short story. While on one level the short story is challenged by its need for brevity, on another level it is that very need that frees it into a realm of creativity without the bounds of structure, form, and formula that apply to larger works. Unlike a novel that begs for details on and off the page, the short story has the privilege of precisely capturing a moment, an image, an observation or a phenomenon. Many good short stories do not seek a resolution and in that nuanced restraint, unforgettable stories are created. The Best Asian Short Stories 2020, an anthology does just that.

Inspired by the Best American Short Stories, this series was started in 2017 by Kitaab International, a Singapore-based publisher. The intention has been to allow writers of Asian descent and those with strong connections with Asia to have a place to submit their works to be considered for publication. In its fourth year, the series has been reviewed, featured, and recommended over several platforms across Asia and the world. 

This year’s anthology includes themes of migration, pandemic, and the ever-present human condition of wanting to belong. These stories by previously published and unpublished authors are set in all parts of the world ranging from the mountains of Uttarakhand and Australian outback to the outskirts of Atlanta and the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Through them runs a common thread of uniquely Asian voices and stories.

Zafar Anjum, the founder of Kitaab.org and the editor for this year’s anthology says, “Living in Singapore, I was curious to find out about other Asian cultures and I thought it was important to build the bridge – that connection among cultures.”

As a reader, I can attest that this bridge was successfully built. The Post-Colonial use of the English language here is used not so much to express the linear, individualistic storytelling of the west, but the communal and cyclical tradition of stories that Asian cultures share. Our rituals, our families, our superstitions, and our desires are shared in these pages. I read a story called A Woman’s Place by Jasmine Adams about a Chinese and Indonesian family spanning four generations, I couldn’t help but resonate with the issues of raising a girl child in an Indian family.

In Kelly Kaur’s Singapore Dream, the human question of belonging is explored through three generations with the theme of the soul’s eternal search for a home and the constant push and pull between the old and new.

In Seema Punwani’s beautiful story Spin, the challenges of parenting are explored in raising a special needs child.

Similarly, in Moazzam Sheikh’s Sunshine, the hard task of parenting in an unsafe world is discussed.

Renowned poet Sudeep Sen’s Gold Squares is poetry in prose of great caliber against the backdrop of Mumbai.

Closer to home, Atlantan author Murali Kamma’s notable Route to Lucky Inn is a suspenseful and intriguing account of the interplay of migration and politics, but at its core, it is an exposition of the tragic state of human existence.  

It’s impossible to mention all the stories in the collection, but if I were to sum up the experience of the profundity of reading this book, I would quote a character from the story Singapore Dreams. She says, “Nothing is free…immigrants are forever conflicted as we are. This is our unique burden.”

Preeti Hay is a freelance writer whose writings have appeared in publications including The Times of IndiaKhabar Magazine, India Currents, Yoga International, and anthologies of fiction and poetry.


Paava Kadhaigal: Of Love, Lies, and Betrayal

Even if the four-part anthology, Paava Kadhaigal, was made up of just one segment, Sudha Kongara’s Thangam may just have been sufficient to capture its all-encompassing theme. There’s the unlikely love triangle involving a sibling and a best friend, there’s unrequited love that forms the emotional core of the film, and the forbidden inter-faith relationship between its two principal characters. But despite having a heavy agenda, Kongara doesn’t appear to bite off more than she can chew. The movie effortlessly chugs along like a Malgudi Days’ tale, and tugs soulfully at our heartstrings. Along the way, the movie brings to the fore a heartbreaking reality that while families may eventually reconcile and accept their children, when it comes to letting a human being choose their gender, the world remains a massively one-sided place

The Confirmation Bias

If Kongara’s film touched multiple themes, Vignesh Shivan’s segment Love Panna Utranum handles several genres in one slick segment. There’s horror when we see a loved one electrocuted, drama when we witness the evil machinations of a leader and his crooks, and finally, delightful humor when the man’s lieutenant struggles to say the L-word (I fell off my chair watching him mouth ESPN repeatedly; Jaffer Sadiq as Narikutty is fantastic). But while Shivan deserves credit for his creativity, I found the transition from mournful moments to comic situations a little too jarring for a short film. Shivan redeems himself with a clever trick in the end though when Penelope (Kalki Koechlin) calls and talks to Narikutty looking at her phone while driving. I wondered if she was staring at the camera and calling the bluff on the viewers and their confirmation bias; early on in the movie, we see two characters lying on a bed, and begin to assume the nature of their relationship. “How dare we?” Shivan appears to ask. I’d like to think that the friendly cuss word is for Narikutty though.

The Judgment

If there’s one thing about Gautham Menon and his movies, it is that he makes them with his heart. While they are rough at the edges, one cannot help but note they have a soul. Ditto with Vaanmagal, a segment that most viewers would relate to considering today’s life and times. It deals with a middle-class family’s worst nightmare, one in which a girl whose hormones haven’t kicked in yet is mercilessly attacked. While most filmmakers would deal with the event itself and the trauma that the victim would undergo, Menon chooses to focus on the reaction of her family instead. There’s the father (Menon himself), who personifies guilt and cannot bring himself to look at his daughter in the eye, hanging his head in shame as a man. There’s the mother (Simran) whose character is used as a pivot to deliver a message to all parents (the use of the shot atop a hill may be manipulative in the trailer, but bears significance in the movie). And the brother, the instrument responsible for restoring parity in the film’s most defining moment. No lives are lost, and yet, Menon’s segment remains the only one in the film that delivers closure for a victim.

The Great Betrayal

The final act of Paava Kathaigal fittingly falls in the hands of Vetrimaaran, one of the finest filmmakers in India today. Narrating the story of a father-daughter relationship gone sour in Oor Iravu, Vetrimaran cuts back and forth between the past and the present, culminating in the baby shower that the father (the seasoned Prakash Raj) arranges for his daughter (a fine Sai Pallavi) as a way to make amends. Vetrimaaran shows us his finesse in dramatic thrillers, by bringing every frame to life and letting every scene breathe. Take, for instance, the scene when a character heads from the courtyard to the kitchen for a jug of water. The camera follows them and stops just at the doorstep. The character takes a fractional moment longer to return, in what seems like an eternity to us. It’s a bone-chilling finish, one that involves a murder without a weapon, but punctuated by the cries of two women locked in different rooms. Cries that echo in our ears long after the credits roll by. Chilling indeed…take a bow, Scorsese of Tamil Cinema!

Anuj Chakrapani loves cinema and believes movies, like other forms of art, are open to interpretation. And when you begin to interpret, you realize that the parts are more than the sum. Adopting a deconstructionist approach, he tries not to rate movies as “good” or “bad”, instead choosing to capture what he carries away from watching them. Anuj lives in the SF Bay Area and works for a large technology company.