note_17 On Khaled Khalifa’s Death is Hard Work; ‘Undead, what and who will you defend and nurture as your world drowns?’

KK Death is

Death is Hard Work, Khaled Khalifa

(Trans; Leri Price. Pub/UK; Faber)

By Guy Mannes-Abbott

“Death had become hard work. Just as hard as living, in Bolbol’s view.” Abdel Latif al-Salim’s youngest son has promised, “in a rare moment of courage”, to honour his father’s dying wish to be buried with his sister Layla. The retired teacher and belated rebel died of natural causes in a hospital in Damascus when nothing else is natural in the middle of Syria’s uprising. Bolbol triggers the 400 kilometre drive north into Aleppo’s hinterlands, which takes 3 torturous days and ends with maggots climbing the windows of the family minibus.

Death is Hard Work is a huge novel of just 180 pages and the third of Khaled Khalifa’s to appear in English, courtesy of their translator Leri Price. In Praise of Hatred (2008) and No Knives in the Kitchens of this City (2013) were each short-listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, with the latter winning a prestigious Mahfouz Medal, and arrived in English in 2014 and 2016 respectively. They were preceded by two further novels, while their author has also written for television in Damascus, where he lives to this day.

Khalifa captured a freighted immobility in all this which his new novel disperses with ferocious intent.

Continue reading “note_17 On Khaled Khalifa’s Death is Hard Work; ‘Undead, what and who will you defend and nurture as your world drowns?’”

note_09 “It may require courage (but) take these marvelous essays to heart” Mezzaterra, Ahdaf Soueif

Mezzaterra US Cover GMA Quote Independent

Take these essays at difficult things inside you, let them pulse through your body and mind. And to your heart, yes. It may require more courage – in Britain, in English- than even I conceived in the last months of 2004. Courage and none at all, because these are a range of essays -as the short review below makes very clear.

I’ve been trying to develop a measure of truth in the context of the Persian Gulf and the regime in Abu Dhabi in as universal way as possible from an inventorised location in London and in English. I settled on a millennium-old measure from an Arabic treatise on taste. More on that in links to publications to come, but it reminds me of the increasing difficulty of being able to recognise a Palestinian right to exist in Britain or in English. Continue reading “note_09 “It may require courage (but) take these marvelous essays to heart” Mezzaterra, Ahdaf Soueif”

notes from a meeting, appendix 1. conversation: sejla kameric and i go east [to kalba]

Sejla Kameric 1395 Days Bait al Shamsi Photo G Mannes-Abbott

CLICK on image for more, or read on.

Sejla Kameric and I go East [to Kalba] 

March 2012 Sharjah UAE

1395 Days without Red is the Artangel-enabled film which received its regional premier in Sharjah. It comes in two parts; Anri Sala’s was shown indoors one evening, Sejla Kameric’s followed the next evening in an outdoor screening in Bait al Shamsi. Both are based on the experience of the 4-year long siege of Sarajevo [which began April 5 1992] and make different responses to it -while following a woman’s attempt to cross her city on foot. Continue reading “notes from a meeting, appendix 1. conversation: sejla kameric and i go east [to kalba]”

on not meeting edward said, who was right then and is right now

I enjoy unlikeliness and it seemed unlikely to me that Candia McWilliam would find herself in Edward Said’s memoir of his early life; Out of Place: A Memoir [Granta 1999]. That she does so in her own memoir [What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness Cape 2010/Vintage 2011] is one of many endearing things about it and its author. Also a high recommendation for Said and his own memoir.

I spent a number of mornings in June this year running past one end of Edward Sa’id Street in Ramallah, actualising the way he and his work feature near the beginning of my adult life and have been returned to repeatedly ever since. I’m posting an old review I did for The Independent of his collection of pieces The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and after [Granta 1999 -out of print/PenguinRandomHouseUS 2001 -linked] [BELOW]. Read almost anything of Said’s [especially on the question of Palestine] and the absence of a voice like his today makes you weep.

Continue reading “on not meeting edward said, who was right then and is right now”

al ahram; in the hand of pir wajihuddin

A 16th Century manuscript page in the hand of Pir Wajihuddin courtesy of the Pir Muhammad Shah Library in the centre of the old city of Ahmedabad, Gujarat. His pyramidal notes beguiled me on many happy days and ‘look’ like my memory; the heat, peace, civility and airs of the place. I often stayed within earshot of his dargah in Khanpur while this page rests within earshot of the Juma masjid. It’s true that it was an image to me, then. I’m posting it while it still is partially, because now I can read the words…

ahdaf soueif; views from a common, higher ground 2004

Ahdaf Soueif’s stark truth-telling about Palestine, in the journalism collected in Mezzaterra, saved the day in 2004.

It was a bleakly difficult year. The consequences of a series of deaths and accidents were felt thickly while I struggled with the scale and depths of my research on Gujarat, committed to writing a book worthy of a fascinating people/place and my own journeying ‘to the end’. Simultaneously,  global indifference to the ongoing dispossession and slaughter of Palestinians combined unique chronicness with acute horror to maddening effect.

What to do, exactly?

Click on cover to ‘see inside’

Ahdaf’s brilliant piece on Palestinian writers, in particular, lit a double pathway. It reminded me why critical journalism can be worthwhile and inspired the discovery of a way to channel outrage into something positive and productive.

Surely part of the reason Britain has supported the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine, part of the reason the British government raced into Afghanistan and Iraq in particular is willful ignorance. Ignorance about the people, their history and a culture only perceived mutely at the end of a gun, as a cross on a screen inside an aerial bomber or a cruise missile launcher.

I decided to discover as much as I could about Arabic and particularly Palestinian writing in English and to champion it in any way I could. In those 6 years there has been some increased attention beyond 2 or 3 best sellers but, just for instance, why is the assassinated Ghassan Kanafani so hard to get hold of in the UK [on this see here]?

More recently, I’ve been learning Arabic and because of the unique way in which it opens up the culture I would advocate a campaign to make a British passport holder fluent in Arabic for every bullet and bomb aimed at an Arabic-speaker in this century, never mind the last.

Take Iraq alone; if for every hundred thousand Iraqis killed by the angels of Democracy, there were an equivalent hundred thousand new Arabic speakers in Britain…

Meanwhile, in her introductory preface to Mezzaterra [dated London June 2004] AS wrote: “Personally, I find the situation so grave that in the last four years I have written hardly anything which does not have direct bearing on it. The common ground, after all, is the only home that I and those whom I love can inhabit.

Towards the end of the preface she wrote; “The question of Palestine is of paramount importance not just because of humanitarian concerns about the plight of Palestinians. It matters that now, in full view of the world and in utter defiance of the mechanisms the international community has put into place to regulate disputes between nations, a favoured state can commit vast illegal acts of brutality and be allowed to gain by them. If the world allows Israel to steal the West Bank and Jerusalem and to deny the history of the people it dispossessed in 1948 and 1967 then the world will have admitted it is a lawless place and the world will suffer the consequences of this admission.

This is to put it as gently -with hard earnt civility and width of appeal- as possible. Six years on settlement activity has flourished and is ongoing, Palestinians [and Lebanese] have been massacred, partly with US dollars and British military equipment, part of Palestine remains under total siege, anyone brave or desperate enough to protest or object is bombed to pieces by a state that is a close ally of the US/UK and EU. At the same time Britain’s fantastically profitable supermarkets are full of reliably cheap Israeli produce.

Instead of making any substantive attempt to stay this aberrant hand the British government has sought ways to weaken the application of International jurisdiction as it applies in Britain, so as to encourage links from the perpetrators of what the UN describes as war crimes. When Rudolf Hess fled to Britain from a mortifying regime he was imprisoned for life. Now the British establishment welcomes leaders who are not fleeing but arrive proud and boastful about their very own mortifying regime.

When despair is insistent it must be resisted. Resistance of this and all kinds is the propellant along an inexorable path towards justice; the easily achieved human justice of courts and a more open and potent recognition of truth. The rhetorical arc of Never Again peaked and fell into Yet Again during my own lifetime but that doesn’t reduce the universal import or urgency of achieving substantial justice in this particular instance. Free Palestine any which way but minus the cant.

Here are some links to directly related pieces by AS:

‘Under the Gun A Palestinian Journey’ The Guardian Dec. 2000 here.

Pt 2 ‘Our World is Upside Down’ here.

‘Do Something’ The Guardian Letter to Blair April 2002 here.

‘The Waiting Game’ The Guardian Nov 2003 here.

NB In between came ‘Palestinian Writers’ The Guardian Sept 2004; an abridgement of an excellent essay republished in Mezzaterra on the richness of Palestinian writers and writing. It is not online.

‘The Palestinians say; “This is a war of extermination”‘. The Guardian Jan 2009 here.

PalFest, the Palestinian Festival of Literature 2010, is ongoing here.

Screenshot 2018-03-12 10.30.56

Mezzaterra: fragments from the common ground,

by Ahdaf Soueif

A glimpse of hope in a polarised world

By Guy Mannes-Abbott

Tuesday, 9 November 2004

Ahdaf Soueif is best known for The Map of Love, a novel which did much to open up the minds of English-speaking readers to Egyptian modernity. It brilliantly interwove the love affair of an English colonial woman and an Egyptian nationalist in the early 20th century with a burgeoning national “renaissance”, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1999.

That book followed an earlier novel and two collections of stories. However, the political writing she began in 2000 with Under the Gun has made her a writer of special importance. Mezzaterra includes “The Waiting Game”, her brave, despairing return to the occupied heart of Palestine, and a recent portrait of Palestinian writers under existential siege.

Mezzaterra‘s second half, literary pieces from two decades in London, is the surprising bonus. It includes reviews of writers from Jean Genet and Amitav Ghosh to Philip Hensher, along with pieces on al-Jazeera, Islamic “queens” and “the veil”: a term without an Arabic equivalent. Each exhibits Soueif’s demanding exactitude, whereby she will apologise for making “small points” before demonstrating their full import. Words, she proves repeatedly, matter.

Soueif is obsessed with language and power, the way words like “freedom” and international laws are abused when applied to Islamic contexts. She dissects sloppy mistranslations of Arabic and ideological clichés about Islam. More subtle difficulties loom when transliterating her own name from the Arabic as Soueif, in contrast to her brother, Ala Swafe. Reviewing William Golding’s An Egyptian Journal, she takes elegant revenge for Ala’s anonymously belittled efforts to coach the author in such subtleties.

The brilliance of this collection lies in Soueif’s linkage of “small” things to universal categories. She praises her friend Edward Said for being “human”, “fair” and “inclusive”, qualities that describe the “mezzaterra” of her title. This common ground, where differences enrich rather than clash, is civilisation. A “with us or against us” world, with its “war on terror” and “peace process”, is the opposite.

Souief is transfixed by the Palestinian uprising. She writes, contra Said, of having always felt “essentially in place: Egyptian, Muslim”*. So, writing about Israel’s dispossession of the Palestinians in front of a wilfully diverted world, her combination of centred gravity, minute precision and insistent humanity generates highly clarified truth.

The truth makes for bleak reading, as her nightmares materialise in massive new Israeli settlements. “And yet there is still hope,” she writes, even in ravaged Ramallah where Palestinian writers like Liana Badr and Adania Shibli** shape exquisite stories against chronic injustice. The only real hope is for “a viable Palestine”. Although it may require courage, take these marvellous essays to heart.

* AS does write this here, but I’m aware that she has also described a more complex relationship to this identity during earlier years of living in Britain. In 1999 for example she explained to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown at The Independent that “15 years ago I think I might have said I was both Egyptian and English. Now I long for Egypt. I feel an anxiety that I am not in Egypt more often; that I am in this place but not of it.”

** Adania is one of the Beirut 39 here and has books forthcoming in English here.

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james salter; readers revenge & the sixth sense

Mandelstam,_Cukovsky,_Livshiz_&_Annenkov_1914_Karl_Bulla

James & Kay Salter         –         Osip Mandelshtam

In Life is Meals A Food Lover’s Book of Days, by James and Kay Salter [Knopf 2006], there is the following entry for the 29th May: 

THE SIX SENSES

One cannot think well, love well, slep well, if one has not dined well

VIRGINIA WOOLF

Brillat-Savarin recognised the five basic senses -taste, touch, hearing, sight and smell- but he  believed there was a sixth sense: physical desire, a unique and distinctly French idea.

Everything subtle and ingenious about the first five senses, he wrote, was due to this sixth, “to the desire, the hope, the gratitude that spring from sexual union.”

Well, call me Anglo-Saxon, but BS is a bore if he doesn’t understand the mutual implication of desire in the five senses. Desire uncompromised and desire realised.

I prefer Osip Mandelshtam’s notion of a sixth sense, mooted during his journeying to Mount Ararat:

Ashtarak. “I have cultivated in myself a sixth sense, an “Ararat” sense: the sense of attraction to a mountain.

Now, no matter where fate carry me, this sense already has a speculative existence and will remain with me.

[p. 57 Journey to Armenia Next Editions 1980. Orig. Puteshestviye v Armeniyu Zvezda 1933.]

Do we have to choose? Does a mountain sense include desire etc. or desire include “the sense of attraction to a mountain”? Then again, what is it with mediators and authorisation?

A mountain sense is my candidate because it adds something distinct and dimensional to the core senses in ways that desire doesn’t. I write that having climbed Shatrunjaya, ‘the mount that realises all desires’, more than once…

NB See my Note ‘js; reader’s revenge & last night 2006’ on the entanglements and ambivalence of these things.

gujarat, while baroda burns; TANK magazine 2004

while baroda burns

by Guy Mannes-Abbott

In 2004 TANK reprinted extracts from my extensive notebooks on Gujarat in western India.  They’re taken from the days of “mass massacres” when I was locked up under curfew in my room on the 4th floor of a hotel, forbidden to leave the building or even to go as low as the 1st floor.

The whole story of witnessing state-sponsored pogroms while trapped with Bhupen Khakhar in his car on the outskirts of Gujarat’s second city and its various contexts form part of my forthcoming book A Gram of Gujarat. A part, but only a part. A part along with many other equally vivid, penetrating and suggestive parts! Taken together they provide a unique insight into Gujarat and contemporary India which enables a proper grasp of these signal events.

These particular extracts reflect something of the raw experience of being trapped in a room [tall building, complicit city and bone-shaking witness] looking out of a window onto a building usually only ever animated by women. I watched discretely as the traditional rhythms of everyday life went on in an abstracted way. Above rose black impressions of the terror being inflicted on Baroda’s old city; common, abstract again [literally framed by my window] but presumably at least as intense as those I’d been caught in. Otherwise; silence.

After two or three days it occurred to me to take photographs [some of which are poorly repro’d here], as the oddity of life in the building and the realisation that the smoky evidence was likely to stop if or when the army eventually took control of the city dawned. Obviously I was as visible as the people opposite and didn’t want to impose on them, so each image was snatched and for me condenses hours of the life it captures. Similarly, I only took one image of the smoke at the end and with confused reluctance; a feeble effort all around.

The politicians and authorities responsible for the massacres believe that the subcontinent is both Fatherland and Holyland; that the very dust is bound up forever with the dharma/spirit of each and every Hindu. Hindutva is a terrifying ideology, drawn from European fascism and Nazism specifically and these “mass massacres” a direct and logical result of it. Followers believe that a Hindu never loses their dharma and so India’s 150 million Muslims must recover theirs and renounce Islam -or they can ‘leave’.

Press PDFS to Enlarge

This is the same India that has a secular constitution and which was once the proud centre of the Non-Alignment movement but which has never reconciled itself fully with several centuries of Islamic dominance and conquest. Not even though a consequently rich Islamic heritage forms just one part of the subcontinent’s definitively syncretic culture. This is part of the specificity of hindutva, and why it’s worth reading VD Savarkar on the subject and understanding what there is of substance beyond the shudderingly crude race hatred that so corrupted his mind and thought.

The same India where some of the nicest people I met, seasoned secularists of various stripes, were the most complacent/deluded about the pressing actuality. It’s distressing to listen to someone making fun of their own Muslim upbringing, poo-pooing any intimacy with Islam or its wider culture, laughing at the notion that they would have any insight into such a subject when their own work, memoirs and even academic cv contradicts them. Frustrating when the point is simple; ‘they’ perceive you to be Muslim whatever your self-image. This is the nature of racism, fascism and lest we forget Nazism specifically.

Any conversation of that kind contains the unmistakable presumption that as a Foreigner I can’t possibly understand. It’s all a very complex, internal affair and only one of us can really appreciate it. In such instances they were clearly mistaken. In one exemplary case, when politely listening to an excited account of brief passage through a ‘secret’ outpost on the edge of the Rann of Kutch, I kept to myself the knowledge that I’d ridden out to the same particular outpost four times, found a floor to stay on inside its walls, a cave to sleep in beyond them.

Such an intense, ‘deep’ encounter with place and people was the yardstick I developed , which is why I was able to contextualize just how much or little right-minded, out of touch secularists of this kind understood about their neighbours [and to contextualise their insulting and short-sighted presumptions]. It’s for this reason that what happened to that particular individual and to other Muslims [religious or otherwise] across the State was profoundly shocking to me, but not a surprise. This is why it all made a horrible kind of ‘sense’.

Whilst ‘Metro’ secularists disown, deny and delude themselves about what “mass massacres” meant for India, I’d been encountering it in mud and urban kitchens, chai stops in deserts and forests, main roads, side streets and camel tracks, mandirs, dharamsalas and masjids, chellahs, tirths and tuks, Bohra wads, mohallas/pols and Societies, forts, havelis, universities and cool alleyways across the state. I listened to barots and charans, dalits and Brahmins, shia and sunni, professors and ‘local’ historians, ram sewaks and their Big Men financiers, MPs and MLAs, victims and perpetrators, writers and architects. I’d witnessed what it meant for months before this discreet horror and for months afterwards.

Understanding requires a real engagement with a wide range of things, places, peoples and times. It requires the articulation of distinct and interrelated elements in an authoritative portrait of a people and their place. Such a portrait would enable understanding of these particular events but also a much wider context. If it succeeded it would reveal the interiors of  Gujarat as a whole and provide a unique insight into subcontinental India. This is what I’ve attempted to do with A Gram of Gujarat.

gujarat, on silence and massacres; raj kamal jha fireproof 2007

On Silence and Massacres.

Raj Kamal Jha is one of the most interesting and risk-embracing of his generation of Indian writers of fiction in English. His report on the mass murders and vast internal displacement of Muslims in the state of Gujarat in the spring of 2002 was brave in the context; a nuked up hyper-Nationalist government led by the same party which ruled in Gujarat at the time, the Nazi-inspired BJP.

When he came down from Delhi -albeit two months later- he ‘joined’ those of us not targeted by the officially sanctioned killers but trapped in extended curfews, in my case for days on the 4th floor of a building in central Baroda. Jha wrote a stunned and peculiarly angular piece for The Indian Express, a cutting from which I’ve scanned and posted. His discoveries as a “riot tourist” [‘riot’ is a common euphemism in India for racist massacres or ethnic cleansing, like ‘conflict’ elsewhere] inspired the novel Fireproof, which I reviewed for The Independent below.

Jha reprimanded his readers [urban, majority-community, new-India class] in the mildest of terms; imagine the surreal boot on the other foot. He was addressing those who quietly allowed this to happen, however, and if you won’t credit him with bravery at least understand the relative unusualness of his addressing a class of readers impatient with older Indian verities like those espoused by Nehru -let alone Gandhi! [both of whom happily allied themselves with the chauvinist Vallabhai Patel, India’s ‘Iron Man’ from Gujarat.]

Elsewhere, the hero of the day was Siddharth Varadarajan who expressed his visceral horror in regular reports for the Times of India, while the heroine was Dionne Bunsha reporting for Frontline magazine, [see her site/blog]. Varadarajan also edited the first and still best book on the massacres; Gujarat; The Making of a Tragedy [Penguin India 2002] [look inside] drawing in part on an excellent issue of Seminar [‘Society Under Siege’ from May 2002 is online but not link-to-able] and has a blog here.

What happened in Gujarat is not a matter of substantive dispute [though it’s ostensible trigger, the fire in a train carriage outside Godhra is, even though extensive investigations concluded that the fire which began within the carriage was a tragic accident], there are plentiful witness reports, accounts, proofs, burnt out buildings and neighbourhoods, bodies, refugees and subsequent changes across the state. What happened persuaded urban Gujaratis in particular to reward the government of the day with two further election victories.

So despite what happened no-one has been held to account: Narendra Modi remains Chief Minister of Gujarat. He is the BJP’s only current ‘star’ and commands a state that is India’s real powerhouse once more. A state that is as ever leading the way in new India, for good and ill, and rehearsing what the coming global power will look like. Modi’s mentor, LK Advani, is also a Gujarati MP and the octogenarian leader of a much humbled BJP. However, India’s national elections are three years or so away -if the present Congress administration lasts out its second term- and everybody loves a ‘winner’.

I witnessed some of what happened in Gujarat; I saw armed policemen in uniform holding one end of a street that was being systematically ‘cleansed’ for the second time in 24 hours by a group of 25-30 neatly dressed men, vehicles used to block the various roads and escapes routes and set on fire, as remaining stores, shacks, gadis/trolleys and possession of the neighbourhood Muslims were being dragged out onto the road within sight and smell of the same uniformed accomplices and set on fire.

I witnessed it from inside Bhupen Khakhar’s car as we were trapped by these same men in a near-deserted Manjalpura, Baroda, during a one-day bandh or shut-down. They weren’t after us at that time [though BK’s paintings and sexuality had been the focus of their maddened hatred] and we managed to escape through a series of already laid road blocks and away from the scene before the neighbourhood mosque was burnt down with three men trapped inside it. I was close enough to look hard into their faces as they indulged their fantasies and it’s a sight I’ll never be able to forget.

Then I witnessed the silence, the smoke stacks and discomfort at my front-row presence on the few faces I glimpsed in the coming week locked away [anger, too, once the curfew relaxed]. A silence indistinguishable from the way that such a massacre is possible in India, because what the black milk rising from the eery quiet of Baroda beyond my window proved was that this was long coming and represented something that didn’t need words.

Gujarat’s “mass massacres” only needed silence;  official permission, wider complicity, neatly printed official records of who lived where, who exactly owned what and enabling nods … ram ram

NB Incidentally, I don’t relish criticising India from afar; my view is simply that Modi should face justice in his own country. However, Indian justice is staggeringly slow and precedent  suggests that even if it catches up with Modi before he dies it won’t have any bite. Indeed, it is as likely that he might be the next PM or PM-maker. Things do change however; the case is very much live at this very moment [see here for example].

I support universal jurisdiction; if Modi wants to travel he should be willing to face trial wherever he lands, just like Pinochet and forces’ sweetheart Tsipi Livni and gang. Meanwhile, though, he rule’s India’s most interesting state and is free to roam a subcontinent of bottomless marvels. I remind you that Modi’s BJP forged alliances with the US and Israel when in power: sometimes it’s necessary to tell the truth whatever the distance…

Screenshot 2018-03-12 10.30.56

Fireproof, by Raj Kamal Jha

The perpetrators of Gujarat’s holocaust escape unscathed – as they did in life

By Guy Mannes-Abbott

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Raj Kamal Jha’s third novel is based on the “mass massacres” that began on 28 February 2002 in the Indian state of Gujarat. Jha visited a smouldering Ahmedabad in May 2002, and wrote a taboo-breaking article for The Indian Express.

He found Gujarat’s old capital with 80,000 Muslim refugees, a thousand dead and many thousands of homes and businesses burnt. This “remarkable restraint” was applauded by Gujarat’s Chief Minister after the “grave provocation” of an unexplained fire on a train carrying Hindu pilgrims, in which 59 people died.

I read Jha’s article gratefully in the disturbing quiet following Gujarat’s pogroms. I had witnessed armed police smiling as clean-shaven men sent their neighbours’ livelihoods – and later their lives – skyward in blackening towers. Five years later, Fireproof disrupts another silence: just 10 convictions have resulted from 4,252 cases filed with police.

Fireproof focuses on three killings, elaborating on the article with statements from dead characters, a playlet, footnotes and talking street-fixtures. Jha’s narrator, Jay, is awaiting the birth of a child in Ahmedabad. The hospitals choke with charred bodies as the city burns; a malformed baby, which Jay believes is his own, forces him to confront events and himself. As the truth looms, the sky rains bodies, and he loses all bearings.

Fireproof is written in Jha’s signature style; elliptical fragments accumulate sense while incidental things and words are mined for effect. This worked well in his debut The Blue Bedspread, rooted in a modernist Bengali literature. But Fireproof’s problem is dramatised in the word “betrayal”, used by a credible Indian critic. The betrayal is twofold. Jha’s novel obtains substance by revisiting the notorious rape and murder of a pregnant woman. He pays witness to this horror in accomplished passages before losing its import in a gratuitously distended novel.

He also betrays himself, as acts of ethnic cleansing by Nazi-inspired Hindus become human tragedies. Jha folds responsibility for events into individual excess and the power of “the mob”: the banality of evil minus the Nuremberg trials. He has lost sight of any original outrage.

The story in Fireproof began in Islamophobia and led to Gujarat’s ovens. Its perpetrators were not “hangers-on”, but “confident and educated”: I saw this myself. In Jha’s novel, these men and their allies emerge fireproof – as in life.

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03.09. archiving the future; from doshi to makiya

In March I was asked to interview Mohamed Makiya, the great Iraqi architect of the modern period, for Bidoun magazine’s Summer Issue. There were many reasons to agree and I spent most of the month with Makiya, his work and his words, our conversations eventually being reduced to a 3-4000 word piece published in August 09.

Throughout I was reminded of Balkrishna Doshi, another great architect of the modern period who remains under-appreciated beyond the ‘warm world’. In 2002-03 I spent a significant amount of time with Doshi [in Ahmedabad, Gujarat] his work and words and have written about him in my forthcoming book about India’s most interesting state; A Gram of Gujarat.

It took many mentions of Doshi’s name before Makiya -now in his mid-90s- picked up on it, his hearing not as sharp as his mind.

MM ‘Ooh he’s a friend of mine! Yes!! [laughs very happily] He’s the best man, he was a very close friend, I supported him in every way. He produced a project with Corbusier I think at that time [late 1950s in Paris and Chandigarh but most significantly Ahmedabad -vanguard of Indian modernity]. But he’s one of my very close friends, who believes in my ideas. Amazing that you mention him! To me he’s a school of thought and he knows what I think of him …’

GMA Forgive me, but I think Doshi is a better architect than Charles Correa [MM had mentioned CC to me before, also with affectionate respect].

MM ‘Yes! of course, oh yes [laughs] … Yes, Doshi is a different scale.

GMA I think you and he-

MM Yes, Doshi is … a copy of me, more or less, in feeling, funny you mention him! How did you know him? He is the closest architect to me!’

This closeness is real enough and took me back to a conversation with Doshi at Sangath, his remarkable office built partly below ground on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. We were trying to invent a term for his architecture’s unique solution of the deeply indigenous with the subcontinent’s historical syncretism [he often compares Ahmedabad’s labyrinthine old city to Baghdad’s bazaars, for example] and the urgently -sexily/sleekly/intelligently- contemporary. An impossible challenge, but any such term would also describe the work of the “deeply Baghdadi” Makiya.

Both of these giant global figures are sophisticated architectural innovators who cite trees for inspiration. Doshi enjoys paradoxical upside-downs and inside-outs, continuities and cosmology. Makiya describes the Iraqi palm as a perfectly structured dwelling, a “blessing from God”. With both, I’ve found myself archiving the future as the world turns and our new century re-orientates us all to the East again. It’s a notion that anyone familiar with or influenced by their work understands instinctively.

Neither MM nor I were aware of a documentary film being made about Doshi last year. For more information check its makers’ lovely blog which includes stills, clips and promise of a dvd. The figure that Doshi cuts in the clips below is familiar to me; notably articulate about his work and world, great riffs! -and can be researched through his office website here. There are two well illustrated books on Doshi -now in his mid-80s- from the end of the 20th Century. The best of them is by William JR Curtis; BD An Architecture for India, Rizzoli NY 1988. However, it’s out of print, a quarter of a century out of date and requires a follow-on volume to begin to do Doshi justice.

I’m linking to 2 clips made a couple of years apart, which only slightly overlap. The first [on Vimeo] is the more recent, includes Graham Morrison [Allies and Morrison] and footage towards the end of the stunning complex at Sarkhej -a 15th Century legacy of the Sultan of Gujarat- one of Doshi’s inspirations. The second includes Yatin Pandya and Rajeev Kathpalia, and footage of the Gufa/cave-like structure which Doshi designed for the great charismatic artist [Maqbool Fida] Hussain, now in exile. In both, Doshi speaks from inside his own office at Sangath, hands resting on a table that is level with the ground outside.

Doshi from Premjit Ramachandran on Vimeo.