Tag Archives: Preeti Hay

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 These stories by previously published and unpublished authors are set in all parts of the world ranging from the mountains of Uttarakhand and Australian outback to the outskirts of Atlanta and the Canadian Rocky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.


 

Magic Pot: Make Indian Food Instantly

How many times have you craved a good home cooked Indian meal and then settled on an easy sandwich? The time consuming cooking that “ghar ka khanna” involves is sometimes just not feasible in the fast paced, do it all yourself, American life. But what if it was? Imagine a freshly cooked Butter Chicken with rice, ready in 20 mins? Reading Chandra Ram’s, recently released, The Complete Indian Instant Pot Cookbook made me realize that an Instant Pot can really turn those impossible food goals into a reality.

When I was given The Complete Indian Instant Pot Cookbook as a gift for Christmas, I read it like a novel. Wth beautiful pictures and easy steps it was a comprehensible and fast read. It reminded me of my childhood in the 1980’s and 90’s in India when there were endless TV and print ads about the pressure cooker. The pressure cooker really was an object of liberation for Indian women, they could now have some time to themselves (imagine that!) and still not skimp on making a perfect indian meal for their families. The whistling trails of the pressure cooker followed every child in any Indian household with the promise of an instant snack.

This book offers 130 traditional and modern recipes. Even though I had been an Instant Pot user before I was truly surprised by the creative things that one can do with this pot in terms of Indian cooking. The book is neatly divided into sections like Yogurt and Cheese, Pickles and Chutneys, Snacks and Chaats, Soups, Vegetables, Porridge and Rice,  Biryanis, Lentils and Pulses, Meats, Breads and Desserts. It offers a diverse range of dishes to cook, whether you are a beginner or an advanced cook, new or old to Indian cooking. The real surprises for me were paneer, yogurt, lassis, cheesecakes, ras malai, roasted meats and many more unexpected items. The modern element involves some twists on traditional dishes like Matar Feta instead of Matar Paneer, using Chipotle Chilies in the Butter Chicken or making a Ginger Lime Cheesecake. 

Chandra Ram’s warm introduction about her own half Indian and half Irish upbringing is very relatable. I found much pleasure in reading vignettes from her childhood trips to India where she ate peanut butter sandwiches to avoid the confusing  and overwhelming flavors of Indian food. Her mismatch of a childhood reflects the state of many Indian American experiences imbedded with the love of Indian food and its pursuit to perfection.

A word of caution I would have for users of this book would be to understand the Instant Pot before attempting to use this book. Ram has a section in the beginning where she explains the functions of the pot such as the saute feature, releasing the pressure naturally and/or not naturally and the manual setting. Just like the pressure cooker, understanding the mechanism of the machine really helps to make sure your food is not overcooked or too watery. So don’t skip that section, because no one likes an overcooked Butter Chicken!

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


The Complete Indian Instant Pot Cookbook: 130 Traditional and Modern Recipes: By Chandra Ram. Robert Rose Publishing. 288 pages.

Chandra Ram image by Geoffrey Smith.

The Arrangement of Love

While talking to a friend in distress over dating dilemmas, I confessed that if life had not taken the drastic turn that it did for me, I would have perhaps resorted to the age old comfort of an arranged marriage. I could clearly see her disbelief as she jumped out of her chair, because my story was a wildly adventurous one of moving across the globe for an interracial love affair that evolved into marriage. But like everyone else, I have thought a lot about the what ifs of life. “How could you say that? How could you ever let someone else be liaison between you and your soul mate?” she gasped. “Well,” I said, “Isn’t that what dating websites do?”

I remember when dating websites like shaadi.com first showed up in India. They were a joke. I heard lots of aunties and uncles smirking at the prospect of a computer medium finding a right match. And yet I was interested to follow its development as a phenomenon in modern India.

A person enters their own information and what he or she would like in a partner. Issues like social status, money, looks, expectations and family values definitely play a role in the selection. A search engine acts much like an old, pan chewing, all knowing match making matriarch and produces options for consideration. Isn’t this what the idea of arranged marriage is?

Arranged marriages are most prevalent in India, China, Japan and predominantly eastern cultures. But unlike popular belief, arranged marriages date back to the 5th century in England. Their exposure in Victorian England is no more well known than being the subject of various romantic novels including Jane Austen‘s iconic classic Pride and Prejudice. Royal families across the world including the English monarchy have practiced arranged alliances and even practices like bride price aka dowry!

The West sometimes sees arranged marriage as a primitive and forceful proposition where the bride and the groom have no choice other than to submit their lives (without any say) to a partner who almost definitely will not be suitable. Parents are seen as controlling (yes, sometimes they are, but not always) and children as voiceless puppets. A drab life of no love and happily never after. Well, reality begs to differ. I think modern day arranged marriages are just means to find a partner. There is room to meet, date and weigh the prospect in a rational way.

Finding love is hard. Very few souls are blessed to find their soulmates very early on in life. Or how many of us can really walk into a bar and pick up the next super model and marry him or her? The pressure from society to be in love, to always be dating and the assumed pity when we are single is very hard on anyone, let alone young people. In a world of many options, where even finding the right breakfast cereal takes a lot of research, how are we expected to find life partners in a heartbeat?

Popular culture, even today, makes us think that there is something wrong if we have not been chased in the rain by a lovelorn secret admirer and if we are not happily married to him soon after. Love is not such a jackpot. If you ask any couple married long enough, you will find that a successful marriage is not an accident. It does not matter if you are head over heels in love with someone before you marry them or if your love grows and evolves after being married. Love is work. Period.

Relationships work or don’t work regardless of how they came to be. I wish there was a formula, but there isn’t. And that’s what makes it more alluring, more challenging and all the more human.

Why not then accept help? Why not allow channels to open for people to come into our lives, how they do so does not matter. It could be your long lost aunt or a friend calling with a proposal, a cheesy matrimonial ad, a new dating app, or even that supermodel at a local bar! You just don’t know.

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

“The Colonization of India was an Anarchic Corporate Event”–William Dalrymple

William Dalrymple is one of Britain’s finest and most extensive historians on India in the contemporary age. He is the bestselling author of many books such as The White Mughuls: The Last Mughal, which won the Duff Cooper Prize, and the Hemingway and Kapucinski Prize winning Return of a King. In an exclusive interview with India Currents, he talks to Preeti Hay about his latest book The Anarchy, and reveals the most shocking truths about the East India Company as the predecessor to the British rule in India, the complexities involved in the colonization and his recently concluded US tour.

Congratulations on The Anarchy. It’s surely a Masterpiece! What sparked your interest in the East India Company?

Thank you! Certain periods in history are very well studied such as the freedom struggle, the great Mughuls, Ashoka, and then there are periods in between when very little work is done. Between the Mughuls and the Raj was one such period, so much was not known and that is what drew me in. 

Unlike your other books that have focused on either individuals or shorter periods, this is the longest period you have covered. How was the process of research and writing different for this one?

That is correct. It took six years which is far longer than usual for me. There were massive reading lists to go through. Anarchy is mainly based on the Company’s own voluminous miles of records in Britain and at the National Archives in New Delhi. My long time collaborator, Bruce Wannell, helped translate from Persian sources. And there was some material in French as well. We spent months at the National Archives in Delhi, the British Library, provincial libraries in Rajasthan and Pondicherry. 

I was taken by the ruthlessness of the acts of power described in the book. Were these secretly recorded or were they just the order of the day?

Well, the 18th century was a rough period. One of the interesting things was what gave the company its edge was that so many financial and banking classes in India backed it. It was the least worst option. Indians ranging from Marwaris to Banarasi bankers were competing for the company’s attention. 

When I talk to British audiences they see the ruthlessness of their ancestors in a different light. One sees 2000 white middle class traders that conquered 2 million people by borrowing money from Indian bankers and paying Indian sepoys to fight. If you think that true, that is the most shocking thing. It was not white British soldiers winning these battles ( there are some of those for example the royal regiments that fought in the Maratha War) but largely they were Indian soldiers.

When I speak to Indian audiences, they are shocked to know of the collaboration between Indians and the company.

Shah Alam, the last Mughal emperor is the spine of this book. It is essentially his story that you tell. Unlike other famous Mughul emperors, he is not so well known. Where was he lost in History?

Shah Alam was one of history’s losers. History was written by victors and that’s where he was lost. He was good looking, young, dashing, brave and a poet at heart. Initially he had many resources but by the end, he turns into an old man who is blinded, an emperor of an illusory empire. He is the symbol of the final decline of the Mughals. This is a very melancholic story, even if you are not a fan of Mughla rule, like many nationalists today (they see them as foreign), you are still touched by his story.

You compare the East India Company to the Mega corporations of today. That seems strikingly true. How do you see these corporations’ impact on modern India?

There is no direct connection to East India Company, thank God! Microsoft does not have nuclear jets! Exxon mobil doesn’t have fleets of fighter air crafts. But it’s true, large corporations can compete and lobby to impose their will onto the nation state. And part of this story is the power of cooperation against the power of the state. The corporation is nationalized in 1858, but for much of this book the corporation is able to impose its will on the state and the will of the legislature. There are parallels to modern times, for example, the influence of Exxon Mobil on Bush Government and in India the links between corporations like Reliance and Tata to the Modi Government.

Colonization of India is a complex subject, it is not black or white. How does your book deal with its complexity and the judgements associated with it?

I think that is the main point of the book. We are all brought up in different parts of the world with black and white national images of history. In old fashioned British textbooks, the Raj was the jewel of the crown and glory of England. For old fashioned Indian text books, it’s a story of repression, resistance and liberation. But as we see there are many greys in between. Firstly it was a corporate event rather than a national event in reality, it was done by a corporation and not the British government. It was seven Indians who helped bring that about!

Let’s talk about your narrative style. I’m a big fan, you make history read like prose to me. What is your writing technique and practice like?

There are many ways to write history as there are a novel. What I am doing is not different from many writers like Anthony Beevor who wrote about the second world war using all the news from the soviet archives, writing history like a thriller. My Guru of sorts, Steven Runciman, wrote A History of the Crusades about Crusades of the Byzantine empire. So I try to write like these writers. My technique is primarily research based. I spent 5 years researching this book, creating card indexes, and then immersing myself in writing. It took me a year of locking myself down and writing all day, it was like the final year of university, you give it your all. 

How has your relationship with India evolved over all these years?

India has been my second home since I was 18. I have spent more time in India than Britain. As everyone knows, India can be a frustrating place, it is not at all a beautiful golden hour with cattle walking home in light of Bengali sunsets. There are times its quite the opposite–floods outside or endless Delhi traffic–but one thing is for sure, it’s never boring. For a historian and a journalist like me, I am like a child in a sweet shop. There is so much to write about.

How was your USA and Canada tour this past September?

I gave lectures about the book and the audience responded very positively. Very few people knew of the East India Company’s existence. It shocked the audience to hear this story.

What was the one thing you were surprised by in your research?

What most surprised me was that this was such an under researched area. I had no idea of the scale of the story when I embarked on this journey. It radically changed my view. 


THE ANARCHY: THE EAST INDIA COMPANY, CORPORATE VIOLENCE, AND THE PILLAGE OF AN EMPIRE. By WIlliam Dalrymple. Bloomsbury Publishing. 576 Pages.

Preeti Hay is a freelance writer. Her stories have appeared in various publications including Times of India, Khabar, Magazine, India Currents, Yoga International and anthologies of fiction and poetry.

Five Reasons to do Yoga this Holiday Season

Holidays can be a busy time to say the least; in spite of the joy surrounding it, you are pulled in different directions physically, emotionally and financially. For me, every year when the holidays come around, I resort to yoga. Yoga has been a constant thread in my life, one that I seek especially when my cup is overflowing.

The term yoga comes from the Sanskrit word Yujir which means ‘to yoke.’ The Bhagavad Gita says, “Yoga is said to be equanimity” (2.48); “Yoga is skill in action” (2.50). The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali say, “Yoga is the suppression of the activities of the mind.” An asana practice helps us achieve the higher goal of yoga. For me, asanas create equanimity which furthers my intention and understanding of utilizing that skill in all action that Lord Krishna is talking about. Asanas help calm the mind to take on the world a little better everyday. So if you are overwhelmed with love, joy, stress, foodlists, shopping lists or just too much on your plate, consider yoga this holiday season. 

Here are five reasons to give yoga a chance.

Stillness

What I crave most is silence when I’m consistently going to holiday parties and hosting guests. Carving out a few minutes for silence can really reset the body and mind’s rhythm and re-center me so I can face life’s busy-ness again.

Poses I love: Balasana ( Child’s pose), Viparita Karani (Legs up the Wall), Shavasana(Corpse Pose), Surya Bhedana (Sun-Piercing Breath) and Chandra Bhedana (Moon-Piercing Breath).

Detox

Who does not need a mind and body detox after the holidays? Inversion poses are really helpful for blood circulation and thus promoting detoxification and moving fluid to the lymph nodes.

Poses I love: Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downdog), Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana (One leg dog), Salamba Sirsasana(Headstand), Dolphin pose

Digestion

All that turkey and stuffing along with endless gingerbread men keeping you bloated all holiday season? I find that my digestion is sluggish, especially paired with the colder temperatures. A few simple poses that aid digestion can go a long way. 

Poses I love: Bharadvajasana (Seated twist), Pavanmuktasana (Wind Relieving Pose), Salabhasana (Locust) and Agni Sara.

Gratitude

The economic commercialization of the holidays makes us forget the true reason for their existence. Yoga makes me stop to give thanks for the opportunity to have and love family, community and God in my life. Giving thanks makes the chaos of my life worthwhile.

Poses I love: Apanasana (Knees to chest), Malasana( Yogic Squat), Ustarasana (Camel Pose), Balasana (Child’s pose), Padmasana (Lotus Pose).

Burning Calories

Okay let’s get real, everyone puts on those extra pounds during the holidays and everyone is seeking to burn calories. No time to go to gym? Yes yoga can help burn calories too! A vinyasa flow including the following poses can help tone and strengthen.

Poses I love: Plank pose, Utkanasana (Chair pose), Surya Namskar (Sun Salutation), Chattaranga Dandasana (Four Limbed Staff Pose), Navasana (Boat pose), and Agni Sara.

Preeti Hay has been a lifelong student of yoga. She has written for Yoga International, Yogi Times, India Currents and Khabar Magazine among others.