Archive for August, 2020

Farrukh Dhondy is multi-facetted. He is a writer for young adults, and adults, a playwright, screen writer, journalist, as well as a prominent activist, engaged in front line political movements.

His activism covers his roles in The Indian Worker’s Association, The British Black Panther Movement, and the Race Today Collective.
On the employment side he has been a lecturer at Leicester College of Further Education, and taught at Archbishop Temple School, in London.

He was born in Poona, India, in 1944. He attended school and university there, coming over to Leicester to take a MA at their university.
In the 1980s he was commissioning editor with Channel 4, creator of Tandoori Nights TV series, and has always worked tirelessly to bring Asian culture into the media.

(What is about Leicester? Initially a shoe-making centre – yet Jeremy Barnes, founder of A Hawk and a Hacksaw, accordionist player of Middle and East-European music, and originally from Albuquerque… was a postman there for a while.
I met a witch from Leicester once.)

One of his earliest books was a collection of short stories for young adults: East End at My Feet, from 1976.
This was an eye-opener for me.

Reading this book was one of those instances when the familiar iniquities of class inequality took on a new dimensionality.
– Up to that period the opportunities in education and employment were stultifyingly limited. Then the Labour government brought access to higher education for all, and the EU market opened its doors.
The small, suffocating world of little England was opening out.

But what do I mean by dimensionality?
It’s a term used to attempt to catch that sudden opening: the world suddenly seeming a bigger place. And issues were no longer the class-based warfare we knew.

There is a story in the book exemplified all this for me:
a local upper school, and an after-hours poetry group, run by the English tutor. The narrator went along. The approved writing was to express the angst of high-rise urban living.
But the narrator’s contribution to the readings was a piece full of the zest for life, early rap perhaps, but from the Asian and Black experience.

There are bigger concerns – after the Marxist world had shut itself off, to consolidate socialism within set confines, what else was there? The reactionary Right wing were marching, and the whole culture was jostling to accommodate new cultures, new influences – new ways of looking at the world.
That last one in particular.

Think of the gritty anger of Punks, and the histrionics of Glam Rock, and then think of the sheer joy of Bhangra. Think what Reggae brought, that deepening and richness.
In a way it could be argued that we need the austerity in order to appreciate the richness.

Through his work with The Indian Worker’s Association he met Mala Sen. She was a powerhouse in her own right. They married, had children… and powered on.
Among her many writings and work, she researched and wrote articles, books and the screenplay for the film Bandit Queen.
Sadly, she died too soon.

Farrukh is still active.
Here’s to you, Farrukh.

And here’s to the power of writing to completely alter and change perspectives, to open minds, to connect us to the world.

OAMENI ŞI MARIONETE/ MEN & PUPPETS by DANIEL DRAGOMIRESCU. Orizant Literar Contemporan, Bibliotheca Universalis, 2017

This is a dual-language publication, produced by the excellent and indefatiguable Contemporary and Literary Horizon, of Romania. For their background, see:

Every so often a book comes along that makes you feel good to be alive. This is one of those.

The best books broaden and deepen our sense and understanding of the world. I was going to go on and write ‘and add destinations to our bucket list.’ But no, these best books have already taken us there; we feel we know the places, the people, with our hearts. The place? North-eastern and central Romania.

I feel privileged to have a copy of Men and Puppets, by Daniel Dragomirescu. The book is a collection of reminiscences, autobiographical snippets, and is well worth the time and effort in getting hold of. Elegantly presented, and well translated, this is part of a series of books by Orizant Contemporan Literar. All are dual-language, and by writers from many countries.

Daniel Dragomirescu grew up in the north-eastern Vaslui region of Romania, in the 1950s and 60s. He writes of life from the inside; the autobiographical angle gives a necessarily limited view of the times, limited to one’s interests, activities, and to the villages and small towns of the time.

Big Politics, the State, the Eastern Bloc, are not words or concepts of everyday life. He does come up against them (A Meeting with Cerebrus); they are also, on another level, a basic part of that life. Yet they are everywhere, especially for the generations from before the War, his parents’ and grandparent’s generations. It is they who have to watch what they say.
We see the unquestioned fate of pre-War bourgeois families, in their disgrace (Sandals). All is accepted as a part of life. The State restrictions have their circumnavigations, but they can be suddenly enforced due to the arbitrariness and fickleness of officials (At the Nadovari Camp). But they are not ‘officials’, they are people one’s father might know from school, from ‘before’ – their fickleness is the fickleness of everybody, everywhere.
We read also a first-hand account of a devastating earthquake hitting Bucharest. People at their most vulnerable. We read also the hidden threats made by people themselves.

One of my favourite stories, Marilena, has its own ways of handling the hopes, passions and lost opportunities that are always with us. And this is one of the heartening aspects of the stories: how love, hope of love, arranged love that could grow into itself, are always a part of our lives, our world. These things are instantly recognisable, and they go to the core of who we are.

What becomes clear through the reading is the seamless identity we all wear and are part of: here we all are, with all our hopes, woes and lapses of understanding. The details may differ, but the responses are so very recognisable. And because we can identify, our hearts are also in these stories, as we respond to the same things they did.

The last chapter, Typewriter, brings the whole book into focus. I had begun to wonder at the book’s title, Men and Puppets. Well, here it was, spelled out.
I wrote, above, how the fickleness of officials is the fickleness of man; there is the fickleness of officials themselves, though. I also wrote of the State being just the background to people’s lives. So it was, but as they took on more responsibility, became adults, the State became a major interference in their lives. Take Ceausescu’s decree that all typewriters should be officially registered.
It smacks of a Nazi-era dictat, and it is little surprise we find a militia chief admiring Nazi-era tactics.
After the Fall of Ceausescu, the militia excuse themselves as puppets of the regime. Officials, militia, puppets, anything rather than just ordinary people.

Daniel Dragomirescu has a masterful technique. The use of the motif of his meeting with a stray dog in a cemetery, in A Meeting with Cerebrus, becomes the key for opening up the whole part of his life at that period. It is this mastery that is the secret, it works behind the scenes to bring the chapters to life.

A most enjoyable book, full of the fears, hopes, loves and doubts of lives.
I will certainly be re-reading this one.

The Penguin Classics edition of the Gilgamesh story identifies five different and fragmentary versions, from different time periods. None are complete.
Another fragment has been found since publication.
Notice that all are fragments, that there is no complete version.
Not only that but many of the fragments are from different time periods, of different periods within both Sumerian and Babylonian periods.

My novel is an urban fantasy using these fragments as a springboard.

This fragmentary nature of the Gilgamesh story, with its newer episodes interleaved with older text, gave a great amount of freedom to create. Although I have kept abbreviated names and city names from the Gilgamesh story, the characters, setting, cultures, histories, even geography, are entirely fictional.

It was enjoyable to write. I hope that carries through into the story.

It all started with a comment by Stephen King in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. He commented that only one of his novels – up to that point – had been consciously structured; all the others had been allowed to develop as they would.

I thought I’d try a structured piece.
I’d done an amount of research on the Gilgamesh story for my Rings book: Gifts of Rings and Gold

I had intended to write a ringed and chiasmus-laden piece, but the story took over.
You could say the story is an amalgam of structured and free-form development.

It begins:
First Things

‘First thing they did. I mean I was already pretty freaked by then,’ he was saying. It was a warm, calm night in The City, and they were sat on the old river wall, a part not closed off, a part not structurally unsafe. ‘They took me up the Tower. You know…’ he nodded towards it in the distance, black on black in the night, its two upper floors dimly lit; watchful. 

‘I’d been running wild, getting into bother, just the usual sort of things. You’d know. Only, I kept getting told, I always took it too far. Then the Men in Suits called round. It was at my ma’s. I was trying to squeeze home nosh out of her, ok, but I was in. Knock at the door. Shapes outside the back door too. I was ready for shinning up the loft ladder, skylight onto the roof, and over. I had this all planned out. Just in case. Then a lamp post and down. And I had on my Angry Antonys; I was good. It was quite a jump; not sure I’d make it.’ He looked down at the river, watching slick after foamy slick coasting past. 

‘The daft… opens the door. And they were in. One grabbed my ankle on the loft ladder. He was a strong monkey, that one; built like an office block too. Yanked me clean off to his manly bosom.’ He paused, grinned, his teeth a sudden flash in the dim light from the street lamp below. ‘What was the point in struggling? Let him hold me.’ 

‘Boss wanted me.’ He looked across at his friend, his cheek, the line of his jaw, the slightly crooked nose, 

‘They gave my ma a funny look – and she stared them out.’ 

‘Let him see the lad.’ she said. ‘Then he’ll believe.’

‘What the…? What was all that about? I was thinking.’ He laughed.

Yup, what indeed?
To find out, the ebook is available on Amazon kindle: