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  • How Immigration & Mental Health Intersect

    COMMUNITY How Immigration & Mental Health Intersect VOL. 1 INTERVIEW Journalist Fiza Pirani in conversation with Editor Kamil Ahsan. FIZA PIRANI I’ve been very frustrated by the way that the media portrays suicide. Suicide contagion has been on the rise for teenagers in wealthy, suburban American neighborhoods. Financial prosperity does not protect them from mental illness. But suicide deaths still aren’t really reported on. —FIZA PIRANI RECOMMENDED: Foreign Bodies , a Carter Center-sponsored newsletter by Fiza Pirani, centering immigrants with a mission to de-stigmatize mental illness and encourage storytelling. One year after teen's suicide, Georgia father continues the fight , The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Oct 27th, 2018), by Fiza Pirani SUB-HEAD ​ ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: SHEBANI RAO A Freelancer's Guide to Decision-Making JAMIL JAN KOCHAI A Premonition; Recollected Watch the interview on YouTube or IGTV. SHARE ARTICLE: Interview Investigative Journalism Mental Health Climate Change Erasure The Intersections of Mental Health Suicide Contagion Immigration Foreign Bodies Teenagers Personal History FIZA PIRANI is an independent journalist, writer and editor based in Atlanta, Georgia. She is currently a student in the University of Georgia’s Master of Fine Arts in Narrative Nonfiction program and the founder of the award-winning immigrant mental health newsletter Foreign Bodies . Her work has appeared in The Guardian, Teen Vogue, Colorlines, Electric Literature. Previously, she was managing editor of The AJC’s Pulse Magazine. 16 Sept 2020 Interview Investigative Journalism Chats Ep. 12: On Ambition, Immigration, Class in "Gold Diggers" 21 Jun 2021 SANJENA SATHIAN Climate Crimes of US Imperalism in Afghanistan 16 Oct 2022 THE VERTICAL Alien of Extraordinary Ability 13 Oct 2020 FICTION & POETRY MORE LIKE THIS

  • COVID-19 and Faith in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

    FEATURES COVID-19 and Faith in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh VOL. 2 ISSUE 1 REPORTAGE How disaster and religion intertwine for those in Rohingya refugee camps SNEHA KRISHNAN COVID-19 IS directly impacting the most vulnerable section of society in Bangladesh—its Rohingya refugees—a community which narrowly survived genocide in their native Myanmar, now subjected to mass displacement in the region. Combined with the impact of Cyclone Amphan and Cyclone Yaas in 2020 and 2021 respectively, Bangladesh’s constant battle with the climate crisis is well-documented. The mass displacement and persecution, however, continue to impact the largely overlooked refugee population. Approximately 1.2 million Rohingya refugees have been living in the 27 camps in two sub-districts of Cox’s Bazar district since 2017. Late last year, there were state-led actions that alarmed both humanitarian and human rights groups. The Government of Bangladesh, in December 2020, began moving Rohingya refugees from Cox’s Bazar to Bhasan Char, a secluded island without adequate healthcare infrastructure or protection against extreme weather events like severe cyclones and tidal surges. So far, more than 20,000 people have been moved, out of the planned 100,000 refugees to the low-lying silt island. Grappling with the effects of double displacement, initially from their home country and now being forcibly shifted from refugee camp to camp, coupled with the uncertainties about their legal status and insecurity over their future in their host country, the plight of the Rohingyas is a humanitarian crisis that shames humanity. Faith and Health of the Rohingya Refugees In 2020, several months of lockdown measures, put in place by the Government of Bangladesh to protect against COVID-19, led to a severe loss of livelihood for many of the country’s vulnerable and poor. In Cox’s Bazar, women-headed households, persons with disability, and elderly people have resorted to strategies that affect their health and well-being. Women and children are eating less nutritious foods and fewer meals in a day, reducing the quantities they eat. These harmful dietary practices are a result of their socio-economic conditions, especially loss of livelihoods and limited food relief during the COVID-19 crisis. It speaks of people on the brink, left to their own devices, and at the mercy of their faith. The Rohingya people are predominantly Muslim. Their community leaders are usually imams and muezzins leading prayers at mosques. As witnessed the world over, several COVID-19 conspiracies were at play. This emerged as the case with both Rohingya and Bengali communities, who turned to faith in trying and testing circumstances and in the face of uncertainty and scant information. These are usually the circumstances in which people who have lost all hope resort to religion. Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar too believed that COVID-19 was a punishment and a test of their faith. Disease and health, thus, became entwined with spirituality, religion, and other spheres of life, including financial struggle. For this article, we interviewed imams, muezzins, women faith actors, and local NGOs who were instrumental in raising awareness on COVID-19 preventive strategies, surveying 100 households from both the Bangladeshi host populations and Rohingya refugees in Camps 15 and 19 in Cox’s Bazar. At the inception of the pandemic, in the throes of fear and insecurity on the ground, there were numerous conspiracies about the government in Bangladesh, just like anywhere else in the world. During Jummah prayers, religious leaders who initially supported fatalistic notions about COVID-19 virus were encouraging people to wash their hands to maintain cleanliness, and to wear masks. In the face of uncertainty and scant information in the pandemic, both Rohingya and Bengali communities turned to their faith in trying and testing circumstances. In 2020, Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM) set up a health outpost in Camp 19, and provided basic health services to the people living in the camps. The health staff assisted people with COVID-19-related measures and treatments. The DAM facility had referred 26 suspected cases—22 Rohingya members and 4 villagers—to the nearest hospital, where two positive cases were found amongst the Bengali villagers. The health outpost provided screenings for COVID-19 symptoms and referred them to the hospitals, while for the non-COVID-19 cases they provided treatments. As per the data provided to us by DAM, over 400 patients were treated, consisting of both Rohingya refugees and host community members. An official from DAM mentioned the following about the caseload: "As per health data, there were 367 positive cases and 10 deaths amongst Rohingyas across 32 camps. Within Camp 19, there were five positive cases in refugees and three hospital staff tested positive. Approximately 5,000 positive cases in the host community." This must be viewed within the larger context of limited facilities for testing within the camps in Cox’s Bazar. A medical doctor noted that only 25,000 had been tested so far out of 1.2 million people as of January 2021. Specifically in Camps 15 and 19, there are no sentinel sites. Inside a Rohingya Refugee Camp (RRC) Masjid. Courtesy of Abu Yousuf Shazid Another NGO, Dushtha Shasthya Kendra (DSK), undertook an initiative for public health messaging, generating awareness and providing timely information and discussions with around 700 Rohingya community members. They employed an interesting approach of using public speakers and microphones in the mosques, as well as door-to-door campaigns for providing information on COVID-19 preventive measures. They provided training to community and faith leaders, dispelling some of the rumours and misinformation that were rampantly spreading in these communities. With the collision of science and faith, there were interesting ways in which Rohingyas resisted and adapted to the new circumstances. From an outsider's perspective, it appeared that faith leaders were fatalistic, which percolated amongst other community members participating in our group discussions. Rohingya men and women were concerned that the elderly were susceptible because they did not remain “clean,” presumably concerning their personal hygiene. Many people shared that initially they had lots of misinformation and misbeliefs, believing COVID-19 was an act of God to punish the non-religious. Depending on who their community leaders were, such views would be either contested or encouraged, especially during prayertime. While there is a strong feeling that the pandemic is religiously ordained, a significant proportion of the people still believe it to be as a response to their sins; or nature's response to man's cruelty, or even due to a lack of belief in Islam. There were strong associations between cleanliness and the disease. Several rumours emerged about what causes COVID-19, just as it was commonly observed in countries in the Global South as well as Global North. Qualitative data indicates people received COVID-19 information through social media, public spaces like tea stalls, religious gatherings, and meetings at mosques. While there is a strong feeling that the pandemic is religiously ordained, a significant proportion of the people still believe it to be a response to their sins; or as nature's response to man's cruelty, or even due to a lack of belief in Islam . It is essential to note that these fatalist attitudes were the result of a combination of misinformation, manipulation, and inappropriate channels of information that the Rohingyas had limited access to. In the absence of large-scale humanitarian support, abandoned by their host and persecuted by their native country, the Rohingyas largely relied on their faith to tide over challenging circumstances. Hearing their stories about the painful and arduous journey from Rakhine state to Bangladesh, it is remarkable that these communities continue to thrive and survive in the face of challenging and dire circumstances. They relied on their community leaders, unelected Rohingya called “majhis,” for information and guidance to not only make this journey to Bangladesh but also manoeuvre the flailing political, administrative, and governance structures in the camps. Religious actors & women leaders With the merging of faith and public health, a key group of actors emerged as powerful and influential in changing beliefs and attitudes about COVID-19. Imams and muezzins played a crucial role in promoting healthcare in the Rohingya community, and several humanitarian NGOs relied on these religious leaders to promote preventive messages on COVID-19. Within the Bangladeshi community, the imam is a leader of the community revered for their exemplary adherence to faith. Imams in the Rohingya community play a similar role, and thus it is widely accepted that an imam’s verdict and messages about COVID-19 are sincere and trustworthy. Majhi, although originally a term used to refer to the leader who helped Rohingya refugees flee from Myanmar to Bangladesh, was also the name of the camp in-charge in Cox’s Bazar. The majhi system was initially established by the Bangladeshi authorities to manage the influx of refugees in 2017, but over the years it became an administrative position elected without participation and representation of the Rohingya communities. In effect, majhi were no longer the traditional leaders or elders of the Rohingya communities, and they neither reflected nor represented the voices, needs, and aspirations of these displaced groups. Several NGOs trained and addressed misconceptions held by the imams and muezzins and enlisted their support in delivering COVID-19 messaging during prayers. Interestingly, some imams married scientific facts with religious edicts. A Rohingya teacher said: "Lots of people live here and it is difficult to manage them. If any message and information are needed to deliver to the people, the leaders act as the main role. For NGOs and other officials, it is not possible to reach all people. The leaders also discuss different issues with the officials." Religious gatherings, especially jummah/Friday sermons called by the imam, appear to be the best source of information for the masses. A woman leader, who actively participated in the DSK NGO’s training programmes, noted that every Friday at the time of prayer, the imam discussed how we could be safe from the coronavirus. However, since women do not usually go to the mosques, those who attended the training from DSK would share what they learnt with other women near their homes. She also shared that since schools were closed due to lockdown measures in 2020, they lost out on a vital and reliable source of information. They had to pay approximately 100 takas ($1) per month for school, hence many could not afford going to school. A COVID-19 DSK awareness poster in a refugee camp. Courtesy of Abu Yousuf Shazid There were other information sources that were reported as the highly trusted and least trusted information sources for COVID-19: radios, television, posters, billboards, social media channels, and websites. People relied on social actors from both health and religious institutions, such as community health workers, majhis, imams, madrassa teachers, traditional healers, and members of the Tablighi Jamaat. Some depended on their friends, neighbours, and community health events for health-related information. Of these, community health workers and faith leaders such as majhis, imams, and madrassa teachers emerged as the top three sources of information as reported. Imams and muezzins were considered as trustworthy by the community members. The majhi system was initially established by the Bangladeshi authorities to manage the influx of refugees in 2017 but over the years it became an administrative position elected without participation and representation of the Rohingya communities. In effect, majhi were no longer the traditional leaders or elders of the Rohingya communities, and they neither reflected nor represented the voices and aspirations of these displaced groups. Rohingya members were skeptical about messages received from posters and radio as these did not explain much of the instructions they had to follow. Many times, these were in languages—English or Bengali—they were not able to read or comprehend easily. The lack of educational and literacy programmes for Rohingya refugees is pivotal to understanding Rohingya communities. Rohingya refugees are not allowed to read and write in the local Bengali language. There are no integration programmes available for refugees in Bangladesh, particularly for the Rohingyas. Although the Rohingya language, Ruáingga , has some affinity to the Chittagonian dialect spoken in Cox’s Bazar, many refugees are unable to read and write in Bengali. The refugee members have poor literacy rates due to systemic persecution and lack educational opportunities in Myanmar, and continued negligence in Bangladesh. The access to and continuation of education for Rohingya girls is very limited. Parental attitudes towards education for girls reportedly shift once girls turn ten years old as societal norms may allow girl children to be married. With limited economic means young girls are not enrolled into education programmes run by NGOs in the camps. Their educational attainment levels are well below average after having fled genocide and war in Myanmar, a symptom of the abject exclusion of the Rohingyas from education in both host and home countries. Male teachers provided a different perspective on how religion was limited in its capacity to counter the global coronavirus pandemic. One of the teachers who was interviewed clarified that there is nothing related to COVID-19 in the Quran or Hadith, although Islam asks everyone to stay clean. He went on to reflect how teachers were “trying” to unlearn misinformation that they gathered through various mediums like social media or others. The madrassa teachers also had a role to play in the COVID-19 response. Firstly, teachers from schools or madrassas are very respected people in Rohingya society, an intellectual privilege that allows them an ease in delivering their messages. Rohingya exclusion from society, education, and other opportunities has fed into cynicism over science and outsiders, and they heavily rely on local actors and leaders whom they trust rather than external social workers. While the teachers are involved in the faith-based committee, they also have access to mobile phones which means they can access updated information. Their involvement in the training and awareness programmes has helped NGOs to build trust with refugee community members. This process has been capitalized to deliver COVID-19 preventive messages to the people, through teachers who have a unique way of perceiving and explaining scientific ideas with religion to counter misinformation amongst the people. Rohingya refugees are not allowed to read and write in the local Bengali language. There are no integration programmes available for refugees in Bangladesh particularly for the Rohingyas. Although the Rohingya language, Ruáingga , has some affinity to the Chittagonian dialect spoken in Cox’s Bazar, many refugees are unable to read and write in Bengali. Despite religious leaders being male figures, there were local women leaders who actively participated in religious activities. Although women leaders have lesser authority than their traditional male counterparts, Rohingya women can reach out to women leaders easily. Imams and muezzins did not interact directly with women and children because their religious responsibilities were largely centred around the mosque. An Arabic teaching room in an RRC Masjid. Courtesy of Abu Yousuf Shazid Since women did not have access to religious and educational spaces, they were more likely to have untested misbeliefs and attitudes towards COVID-19. Some women leaders in the Rohingya communities were included in NGO training and were enlisted for house-to-house visits and providing information on COVID-19 preventive steps. However, their numbers are few—most women leaders continue to believe and share their misinformation about COVID-19. For instance, a 35-year-old female leader (name withheld) explained her understanding about the cause of COVID-19 as being an “order from God,” and that we need to keep ourselves “neat and clean” in order to prevent ourselves from being infected. They have little access to information, with limited to no educational opportunities, and are unable to voice their opinions and apprehensions in relief and awareness programmes. Such misinformation is, of course, not limited to Rohingya or Bangladeshi women. In order to stop the flow, the government, humanitarian actors, and media will have to take steps to rule out every possible rumor with scientific fact. This should be accessible and available in several languages, written and orally presented widely. This reveals the fact that women are less considered for group and organized meetings; they remain as passive receptors of information passed onto them by their husbands. This provides fertile ground for the spread of misinformation and misconceptions, often used to suppress women further in such isolating circumstances. There were physical and social barriers that determined the uptake of COVID-19 preventive messages, such as low literacy levels, cultural and linguistic differences between host and refugee communities, and no access to basic health, educational, and livelihood opportunities. Local faith and community leaders can play a vital role in addressing vaccine hesitancy and cultural biases related to vaccine uptake amongst both Bangladeshi and Rohingya communities. Since women did not have access to religious and educational spaces, they were more likely to have untested misbeliefs and attitudes towards COVID-19. Some women leaders in the Rohingya communities were included in NGO training and were enlisted for house-to-house visits and providing information on COVID-19 preventive steps. However, their numbers are few. Gender experts are also alarmed at the increased rates of domestic violence during the pandemic. There have been numerous cases of intimate partner violence against women isolated with abusive partners. Women’s responsibilities and workload were overburdened as men were barred from going out during lockdown. COVID-19 has had a huge impact on women’s rights and their access to justice. There are strict restrictions imposed on them, which became stricter during the pandemic: limited movement outside the home and adherence to follow instructions. Several rumours reported by Rohingyas were shared by a senior official from DAM NGO during a telephone interview. "Rohingya people were scared. They used to say: 'If we go to the health post, we will be sent to Bishan Char island, or we may go missing. We may even be killed.” The official interpreted these rumours as symbolic of a genuine mistrust between the health system and refugee populations. However, they reflect the harsh realities of the Rohingyas who have no one to turn to and who fear further persecution from authorities, constantly coming across government initiatives that push them further into destitution. The Future of Humanitarianism in Cox’s Bazar No country was prepared to face such a pandemic, and yet, for persecuted communities like the Rohingyas, these uncertainties and health emergencies are symptomatic of a larger phenomenon that isolates, negates, and further reproduces the injustice and unfair conflict that they have faced not only with the government authorities. Misinformation and mistrust is not a unique phenomenon to the Rohingyas but it is important to unpack why people are peddling conspiracy theories instead—lack of information, spread of disinformation campaigns on social media and the Internet, and politicians and society leaders questioning the severity of the pandemic while silencing the needs and voices of Rohingya refugees. On September 29, 2021, Mohibullah, 46, chair of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights (ARSPH), was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen in Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Several human rights and NGO workers have criticized this killing as not only silencing Rohingya voices, but also refusing to have a dialogue with the refugees for their safe future, either in Bangladesh or in a safe return to Myanmar. Many believe that the non-state actor Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), an armed group present in the camp, is responsible for this violent and gruesome murder. With disarray in camps and limited resources from humanitarian actors, violence has become rampant, resulting in murders and abductions. It is the responsibility of government authorities to ensure the protection of people in the camps, including refugees, activists, and humanitarian workers from both the Rohingya and local community, many of whom have shared concerns about their safety. Any humanitarian effort should build on an understanding of the underlying drivers of conflict, violence, and issues affecting social cohesion within the local Bangladeshi communities in Cox’s Bazar. Social cohesion factors such as a sense of social or group identity, sense of community, and attachment to place can be important adaptation drivers when considering how populations respond to public health and other crises. These factors, together with community-based leadership, including faith-based leadership, can play an important role in the development and increasing social bonds central to Rohingya capacities when confronting COVID-19 and a range of other hazards. Mapping out power relations and structures within and beyond the Rohingya community could help meaningfully engage with the persecuted minority. The battle for citizenship and statehood for Rohingyas is long and dates to colonial history and negligence by Burmese authorities. While these groups await their uncertain future, it is the responsibility and mandate of neighbouring countries like India and Bangladesh to be proactive and participatory in their approaches to the needs of this population. While the humanitarian world debates whether Myanmar is culpable for the genocide of the Rohingyas, their day-to-day needs and lived realities can no longer be brushed under the carpet or silenced through more violence. ▢ SUB-HEAD ​ ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: SHEBANI RAO A Freelancer's Guide to Decision-Making JAMIL JAN KOCHAI A Premonition; Recollected Photograph courtesy of Abu Yousuf Shazid, depicting Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM) hand washing station. SHARE ARTICLE: Reportage Cox's Bazar Rohingya Refugee Crisis Bangladesh COVID-19 Religion Faith Leaders Intimate Partner Violence Disaster & Faith International Law NGOs Internationalist Perspective Humanitarian Crisis Human Language Longform Literacy SNEHA KRISHNAN is a writer, teacher, and translator. She is an Associate Professor for Studies in OP Jindal Global University and Founder-Director of ETCH Consultancy Services. Her poems have been published by Belongg, Analogies and Allegories, Indian Poetry Review, Lit Stream Magazine , and AllEars Magazine . Her translations and essays have appeared in Gulmohar Quarterly, The Hindu, The Statesman, Deccan Herald, Conversation, Medium, Feminism in India, Science Policy Forum and The Wire . Her short fiction has appeared in The Walled City Journal and the New Writing Anthology by Helter Skelter. 27 Feb 2023 Reportage Cox's Bazar Swat Youth Vanguards 24 Feb 2024 MANZOOR ALI Chokepoint Manipur 3 Oct 2023 THE VERTICAL In the Yoma Foothills 26 Feb 2023 FICTION & POETRY MORE LIKE THIS

  • Syncretism & the Contemporary Ghazal

    COMMUNITY Syncretism & the Contemporary Ghazal VOL. 1 INTERVIEW Musician Ali Sethi in conversation with Editor Kamil Ahsan ALI SETHI The Ghazal originated in Arabia in the 8th century. That's the funny stuff right? That in order to retrieve legitimate cosmopolitanism, we have to go back to a medieval multicultural moment. SUB-HEAD ​ ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: SHEBANI RAO A Freelancer's Guide to Decision-Making JAMIL JAN KOCHAI A Premonition; Recollected Watch the interview on YouTube or IGTV. SHARE ARTICLE: Interview Music Ghazal Art History Historicity Syncretism Pakistani State Repression Faiz Ahmed Faiz Khabar-e-Tahayyar-e-Ishq Siraj Aurangabadi Mah Laqa Bai Sensuality Metaphor Cultural Repression Art Practice Sound Poetic Form Performance Art Grief Raaga ALI SETHI is a Lahore-born writer and musician. He is the author of the novel The Wish Maker and a contributor to The New York Times op-ed page. Ali is also a classically trained vocalist. He made his singing debut on Season 8 of Coke Studio Pakistan and was featured on the soundtracks of Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2013) and Sarmad Khoosat’s Manto (2015). In 2019 he performed as a soloist at Carnegie Hall. As of July 2018 he is working on a record with producer Noah Georgeson. 14 Oct 2020 Interview Music Bibi Hajra’s Spaces of Belonging 3 Jul 2023 IMAN IFTIKHAR Whose Footfall is Loudest? 24 Feb 2023 FEATURES Fictions of Unknowability 28 Feb 2023 BOOKS & ARTS MORE LIKE THIS

  • Four Lives

    FICTION & POETRY Four Lives VOL. 1 SHORT STORIES Four interconnected lives from the archives of the acclaimed polyglot writer. AAMER HUSSEIN Editor's Note: Earlier versions of these stories have appeared in Aamer Hussein's collections, albeit not as an interconnected set in conversation with one another as they are intended to be published here. Shefta 1. AS a young man, Mustafa Khan Bangash was given to revelry, wine and the love of dancers. His pen-name was Shefta. He composed verses for his lover Ramju, who many years later wrote her own book of poems. They say he had another lover too. He took lessons in prosody; his verses were improved by illustrious contemporaries: Momin Khan Momin, then later Mirza Ghalib. At the age of thirty-two, he set off on a pilgrimage to the Holy of Holies. On the way he and his fellow-passengers were shipwrecked on an island from where, for many days, they found no rescue, no route to freedom. They lived on a diet of sifted salt-water and herbs. When he returned to Delhi after an absence of two years and six days, Shefta had lost his taste for wine and the love of dancing women. In this city of poets, musicians and courtesans there were also many scholars and saints. Where once he had written of rapture, he now wrote lyrics of renunciation. He still sat beside his master Ghalib and watched the older poet drink, but Shefta no longer raised a glass with anyone. 2. - In 1857, during the Uprising in Delhi, the conquering British accused him of sedition and of fraternising with rebels. He was imprisoned without proof for seven years. His family’s land and properties were confiscated. He was released to see his wrecked and haunted city rebuilt and transformed, the traces of his life erased. Delhi—his birthplace, his prison, his grave. Though he does not know this yet, the task of vindication will fall to his descendants who will fight for freedom. Some will make their home in the new nation of Pakistan. But that’s in another century, in another story that has yet to be written. Uncle Rafi I can’t remember when, exactly, I first heard my mother and aunts talk about Shaikh Rafiuddin Siddiqi, known as Rafi Ajmeri, their maternal uncle whose delightful volume of short stories, Kehkashan , was published only after his early death at the age of 33. I do recall that when I began to take an active interest in modern Urdu fiction, my aunt and then my mother told me of Mamu Mian, as they called him. He had, in his youth, been considered more than promising; already well-known in his 20s, he published fiction and essays in journals such as Sarosh and Saqi . He was handsome and highly literate; although he grew up in Ajmer, where his maternal grandfather Nawab Haji Mohammed Khan had settled, his mother’s family were from Kabul, so Persian was spoken around him. His Kashmiri father was highly educated and encouraged his children in literary pursuits; both Rafi and his sister, my grandmother, published at an early age. They were an articulate, gregarious family; the brothers and sisters quoted Saadi, Rumi and Khusrau from memory; they had heard Iqbal recite his poems in their own home. They also sang and narrated the story-songs of Rajasthan where they were born and raised. I heard these stories and songs in my Karachi childhood from my mother, and with even more enthusiasm from my grandmother during long summer holidays in her home in Indore, and that’s certainly where, at least in part, I inherited my love for old stories. Grandmother married in 1914 and soon devoted herself to family pursuits, while Mamu Mian wrote story after story, spent most of his time in Delhi, and travelled from town to town in search of material. He often visited my grandparents in Indore. My mother, a schoolgirl then, remembers him on his last trip there, in 1937. He was afflicted by a mysterious ailment they referred to as melancholia, and strolled in the garden leaning heavily on his older sister’s arm. Today his condition would be called severe depression. He’d fallen in love with a distant cousin who probably returned his feelings but, in those changing times, he just hadn’t had the courage to propose: she’d married someone her parents chose for her. When the young woman’s mother heard about Mamu Mian’s feelings, she said: He only had to tell me. But it was too late. A few months later, while visiting his niece in Bombay, Mamu Mian was found dead. A literary acquaintance who will remain unnamed, was left in charge of his stories. My uncle complains that Kehkashan was randomly edited; some of Rafi Ajmeri’s stories were lost forever, and others plagiarised and published in other people’s names. However, Kehkashan survived. But though Rafi’s life’s brief story was as fascinating as any tale he might have written, no one in my family had managed to preserve a single copy of his book. It wasn’t until ’97 or ’98 that my friend, Asif, a descendant of one of Uncle Rafi’s earliest editors, unearthed a copy of it in Karachi, which he xeroxed and sent me. (Thank God for Pakistani libraries.) For days I inhabited Rafi’s world. His fiction was set in the increasingly modern milieu of his own time; it barely touched on the princely India my grandparents, and their now-married older daughters, inhabited. He wrote about students, young women and men, seeking their fortune in a competitive late colonial world. The prevailing tone of his stories is light and witty, wordly but never cynical, tinged with romance. (In one, a young woman manages to reach her lost love by an astute or accidental use of subtitles in a silent film.) Later stories show an awareness of the nuances of class and the economics of marriage. In ‘Muhabbat ka bulava’ (my own favourite), a young man falls in love with his friend’s sister, and when his loved one’s very rich father forbids the marriage, not only do the lovers elope, but the hero’s friend escapes with them to set up a life away from the rigid social norms of his family. How would Rafi Ajmeri have fared in the Progressive era that was dawning just then? Would his liberal attitudes have hardened into dogma, or would he have swung to conservatism in the Pakistan to which his brothers migrated as he too probably would have? Or would his fictions have echoed the calm voice of conscience? No way of telling, though one short, bitter text of his suggests another direction he might have taken. Here retells, from an old song, the legend of the bandit Daya Gujjar, who robbed the king’s wife of her jewels to please his demanding wife. Amma ko mera Ram-ram kehna Behna ko mera salam Gujri ko bas itna kehna Reh jaye joban ko re tham Daya ab aana nahin Daya julmi ke phande Daya phaansi ke phande (Give my greetings to my mother and sister, but to the Gujri just say to make good use of her youth: Daya isn’t coming back, he’s in the clutches of the oppressor, the noose is around his neck). As I read it, I could hear my grandmother’s singing voice. My hair stood on end as it did when I first heard it at the age of nine or ten. Lady of the Lotus 1. Her daughter gave her the red diary with a sketch or a poem printed on each page, as a gift for her fifteenth wedding anniversary in February. She had a meeting that morning, and a formal dinner to attend in the evening. Her husband had a difficult day. He didn’t want to go. The next day she was at the airport at noon, to receive the ‘Mother of the Nation’ who was coming home from a trip abroad. Later, a meeting at her sister-in-law’s house, to discuss the situation and progress of Muslim women. Her husband told her he’d had disturbing news. In the diary, she wrote: Just when I feel on the edge of a discovery—an illumination . Between then and June, after her opening entries, she used it only to write down the words of the songs she was learning. Her handwriting intertwined with the printed words and pictures on the pages. 2. June was a musical month. Her teacher, whom she called Khan Sahib, invited connoisseurs of classical music, including Shahid Ahmad, the editor of the literary journal Saqi , to hear her sing. She performed three raags— Khambavati, Anandi and Des — without making a single mistake. Her teacher was quite satisfied, her husband was pleased, the audience impressed. She was thinking of her deadline: a text to be handed over to She the next morning. A musician from Bengal, Begum Jabbar, played the sitar very well. She sang Khambavati and Darbari. Her teacher was satisfied, she wasn’t. She missed a farewell party for her friend Jane who was going back to America. At the next session four days later, Begum Jabbar played well again, Khan Sahib sang well, and her songs were well-appreciated. Her husband was very pleased with her singing, her teacher exultant. Two days later, she was singing again at a concert; she didn’t feel she sang too well; her teacher was most dissatisfied. There was a series of dinners to attend before the music conference at the new Arts Council began. Amanat Ali and Fateh Ali were performing on the opening night, she enjoyed their recital; on the second, Nazakat Ali and Salamat Ali were good in parts, but she was bored by the vocal gymnastics of Roshanara, Queen of Song. She started to learn the new Darbari tarana . It was a composition by Tan Ras Khan. She tried to sing a Thumri in Bhairavi, with her own improvisations and embellishments, but she didn’t make it. She practiced Darbari in the evenings for twenty minutes. She cancelled a party at her friend Suad’s, to practice a new Malhar, but he made her sing Anandi. She waited for him at 5.30 and he appeared at 8.30. She wanted to sing the Malhar she’d learnt but instead he made her sing Aiman and Kedara. June was ending, and she had another deadline, for the Morning News this time. She wanted to sing Malhar. He made her sing Darbari. She wanted something new and he made her repeat old lessons. Then he started her on a new raag, Mian ki Todi . She practiced Des and Bhopali, shifted to Bahaar, wanted to sing the rest of them, but he moved her to Malhar. She’d hoped he’d teach her the new string, but he made her revise the oldest. She didn’t like them much. A full Darbari with a new Tarana, and a new Khambavati at last. Satisfied ( she writes). 3. She notes her deadlines in the diary, but she doesn’t write about driving her children to school in the mornings four miles from P.E.C.H.S to Clifton, or picking them up for lunch. She mentions the parties she attended, but not the night she came back laughing because the Portuguese Ambassador had called her the Maria Callas of Karachi. She doesn’t record the passing of the seasons, the walks to the lake in the mild evening breeze, the flowers and fruit she grows, or the frangipani fallen on wet grass or picked off the branch in the morning for her hair. 4. July. Khan Sahib arrived unexpectedly. She revised Anandi, learnt a new Khambavati. Some beautiful new improvisations: Satisfied (she writes). A few days later, another unexpected visit. From Jahan Khan this time, her teacher’s maternal uncle. He started her on Khambavati. Ai ri mi jagi piya bin sagri rain Jab se gaye mori sudh hu na leni kaise kahun man ki batiyan … Ustad Jahan Khan comes by regularly now (she writes). Her pages were filling up with the lyrics of the songs she learned. She was practising ornamentation, Alankaar, in Khambavati. 5. In August, Ustad Jahan Khan brought her voice down to a lower pitch by half a note. She sang all her songs without the accompanying harmonium . The discovery amazed her and surprised everyone. She was not very satisfied with her voice at that pitch. The next day her teacher tried out the old raags at the new pitch, with only the tanpura . Every note was in tune. He will teach me morning raags in the morning ( she writes) and come in the evening to teach me evening raags . 6. After trying out several raags in Khayal, Ustad Jahan Khan struck upon Dhrupad, which her husband liked very much. She started to learn Raag Durga in the Dhrupad mode, with the Khamach rhythm; unusual and rarely recognised. She sang with the pakhwavaj , a single, two-faced drum, instead of the usual paired tablas . Eri mai nand kunwar eri mai nand kunwar eri mai nand kunwar maaa-aai nand kunwar maa-aai nanda Her voice throbbed and soared. 7. When a blister appears on the first forefinger (she writes) it is a sign that you have achieved the perfect pitch. One hour a day should be set aside, sacredly, for the practice of taans and sur sadhan: the art of song. 8. Her children will remember the concerts in the garden on nights lit up by flares or by the moon, they remember the songs and remind her of them, when she sang what, and even the words and melodies. They sat around her as she sang, or listened from the open window. They learnt her songs like the grey African parrots in their aunt’s big cage, half-understanding the words; they delighted her by singing raags in the bath, but when she persuaded them to take formal lessons all but her middle daughter would run away. They will remember her favourite book: The Lady of the Lotus , illustrated with classical miniatures: a story from her native Malwa, of Baz Bahadur and the poet-singer Roopmati, whose melancholy verses their mother set to music and sang. Years later, her son will find her a copy of the book she lost in transit, and find some of those verses. But it’s a new edition. Had I but known what pain with love would come, had I but known Jo main aisa jaanti preet ki ye dukh hoe I would have banished him by beat of drum, had I but known Nagar dhandora peetti preet na kariyo koe Did the rain fall that year of 1963? None of them remembers now: they think it never came. They remember, though, all the years she longed for rain and missed her native Malwa, and how she exulted when it finally fell. 9. After trying her voice out in several pitches, Ustad Jahan Khan brought it back to the original note. He said he’d been worrying over it for days. 10. So, what did it mean to you, the singing? Her son will ask her as he transcribes, and reads back to her the words of her diary. She remembers it all, the rooms, the faces, the applause, the ecstasy and the fall. Expression, she will reply, and release. The poetry in the music is thought, and through singing I expressed those thoughts. Sometimes late at night, the lady of the lotus will sing to herself, those songs, of rainfall, separation and exultation. Later, her son, who never wanted to, will also sing to find release. But one night, he will stop mid-song, terrified of the audience around him and the failure of his voice, and swear he’ll never sing on stage again. He will exchange the ecstasy of music for the dry solace of thoughts; he’ll write, but he inherits from her the pursuit: of austere phrase, soaring note, throbbing pulse, blistered forefinger. 11. She abandoned the diary with a final, terse entry. 23rd Nov 1963. Dinner at Khan Sahib’s house. Music after dinner. Sang Darbari. No exhilaration after singing. After this, there are only poems, wedding songs and musical notations. Dove 1. OFTEN on those long afternoons in the old house in Badayun when sunlight spread golden carpets on the stones and the older women had taken in the washing and the children were tired of playing hopscotch in the open courtyard or leaping from balcony to balcony, the girl would go to the terrace and shelter in a stone pavilion with a novel or write couplets in a notebook and then, as if she’d invited it over, the dove would begin to call her from a tree, and its call would lie like a shadow on her skin, but she never saw the bird that gave her invisible company. 2. For years after she left and crossed borders and moved houses in Karachi then Lahore and then Pindi and back to Karachi, and was known as the country’s queen of melancholy verse, she thought her invisible friend had abandoned her. Yes, but once in a top floor bedroom in a tall empty house in an Islamabad paralysed by strikes and demonstrations against a corrupt regime, as she stood looking out of a window at a flowering jacaranda, she heard the dove’s call from the tree’s upper branches, and she wondered how its plaintive song could ever have seemed to her to be the harbinger of joys to come. ▢ SUB-HEAD ​ ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: SHEBANI RAO A Freelancer's Guide to Decision-Making JAMIL JAN KOCHAI A Premonition; Recollected Artwork by Prithi Khalique for SAAG. 3D motion and interaction design. SHARE ARTICLE: Short Stories Karachi Raaga Generational Stories Stories in Dialogue English Urdu Language AAMER HUSSEIN was born in Karachi in 1955. He began his literary career as a short story writer and reviewer in the mid-’80s, writing in both English and Urdu. He is the author of story collections Mirror to the Sun (1993), Turquoise (2002), Insomnia (2007), 37 Bridges (2015), Hermitage (2018), andd Zindagi s pehle (2020) . He is also the author of two novels, including the acclaimed Another Gulmohar Tree . His work has been widely translated in many languages including Spanish, Arabic, and Japanese. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2004, and is currently based in London and Karachi. 25 Nov 2020 Short Stories Karachi The Craft of Writing in Occupied Kashmir 24 Jan 2021 HUZAIFA PANDIT Chats Ep. 1: On A Premonition; Recollected 13 Nov 2020 INTERACTIVE COVID-19 and Faith in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh 27 Feb 2023 FEATURES MORE LIKE THIS

  • Origins of Modernism & the Avant-Garde in India

    COMMUNITY Origins of Modernism & the Avant-Garde in India VOL. 1 INTERVIEW Author Amit Chaudhuri in conversation with Editor Kamil Ahsan. AMIT CHAUDHURI Formal preoccupations are presumed to be a part of the European avant-garde, even though what form and form can be has been deeply influenced by writings from other parts of the world, and the West's straitjacketed understanding of the Renaissance being exposed to that. RECOMMENDED: Sojourn by Amit Chaudhuri (New York Review Books, 2022). SUB-HEAD ​ ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: SHEBANI RAO A Freelancer's Guide to Decision-Making JAMIL JAN KOCHAI A Premonition; Recollected Watch the interview on YouTube or IGTV. SHARE ARTICLE: Interview Avant-Garde Origins Modernism Anthology Traditions Vaikom Muhammad Basheer Avant-Garde Form Auto-Fiction Wendy Doniger Multimodal Stream of Consciousness Rabindranath Tagore Tagore as First Impulse of Modernism Literary Activism Impoverished Histories Contradiction Criticism Intellectual History Internationalist Perspective Performance Art Satyajit Ray Avant-Garde Beginnings in India Varavara Rao AMIT CHAUDHURI is the author of eight novels, the latest of which is Sojourn . He is also an essayist, poet, musician, and composer. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Awards for his fiction include the Commonwealth Writers Prize, the Encore Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction, and the Indian government's Sahitya Akademi Award. In 2013, he was awarded the inaugural Infosys Prize in the Humanities for outstanding contribution to literary studies. His first novel, A Strange and Sublime Address , is included in Colm Toibin and Carmen Callil's The Modern Library: the 200 best novels of the last 50 years, and his second novel, Afternoon Raag , was on the novelist Anne Enright's list of 10 best short novels for the Guardian. Its 25th anniversary edition appeared last year with a new introduction by the critic James Wood. He is a highly regarded singer in the Hindustani classical tradition and has been acclaimed as a pathbreaking composer and improviser who performed, most recently, at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. In 2017, the government of West Bengal awarded Chaudhuri the Sangeet Samman for his contribution to Indian classical music. He is Professor of Contemporary Literature at the University of East Anglia, and was University College London's Annual Visiting Fellow in 2018. That year, he was also an inaugural fellow at the Columbia Institute of Ideas and Imagination in Paris, and in 2019 became an honorary fellow at Balliol College, Oxford. 4 Oct 2020 Interview Avant-Garde Origins Experiments in Radical Design & Typography 12 Mar 2023 DIVYA NAYAR Climate Crimes of US Imperalism in Afghanistan 16 Oct 2022 THE VERTICAL Pakistan's Feminist Wave: A Panel 27 Sept 2020 COMMUNITY MORE LIKE THIS

  • FLUX · A Preface

    INTERACTIVE FLUX · A Preface VOL. 1 EVENT Things that seemed possible and realistic suddenly turning utopian. DIVYA NAYAR · KAMIL AHSAN · VISHAKHA DARBHA On Intent FLUX was held on 5th December 2020 during Volume 1 of SAAG. The event's discussions were largely in the context of US politics, with some exceptions, and thus focused more on American diasporic views than our content in general. For the editorial team, FLUX: An Evening in Dissent was about the immense flux in ideas, social norms and political realities we were experiencing, frequent whiplash while wearily towing vessels we knew were obsolete day in and day out. Things that seemed, finally, ripe as they could ever be had suddenly turned utopian. A global pandemic that had stranded us all emotionally and psychically. A sense—despite the defeat of Donald Trump—of a heightened sociopolitical danger amongst the US Left in the wake of the historic progressive defeat of the Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren campaigns in the Democratic primaries. A dissipated progressive movement. Disillusionment with local and national politicians who reneged on promises to defund the police following a summer of protests after the killing of George Floyd. A media landscape monopolized by corporate elites. A lack of inaction on meaningful abolitionist goals, from prisons to detention centers, that had gotten mainstream attention in unprecedent fashion just weeks or months earlier. As the panels with Nikil Saval, Kshama Sawant, Bhavik Lathia, Jaya Rajamani discussed, this retrenchment of the centrist wing of the Democratic Party—the old guard, that had seemed tenuous for some time—was at the time asserting itself powerfully in the form of cabinet appointment announcements and a sense of unease that, truly, not much would change. What could we do whilst in eternal quarantine? Most crucially: where could we find optimism? We found it in media spaces, in the poetics of internationalism, in the attempts to think about capitalism & neoliberalism during a global pandemic in internationalist terms, whilst also being specific about what we wished to highlight about the American context. Whether it was housing rights protests in Philadelphia, protests to tax Amazon in Seattle, or harsh truths about the Left's failure to engage with key demographics based on statistics from the general election, even the demoralizing moment gave us a great deal to be honest about. Meanwhile, those in other countries offered great succor and support in community building. All of this was reflected in the design system by Divya Nayar & videography by Vishakha Darbha that allowed the event to move smoothly. The background generative artwork shown above was created by Designer Neha Mathew was literally evokes fluid topography: the sense of the grounds shifting beneath our feet heightening our sense of change and even danger. Scroll below to subscribe to our newsletter today & get exclusive news about our upcoming in-person and virtual events. Navigate through FLUX: An Evening in Dissent through the links below, or watch the full event on IGTV ( Part 1 , Part 2 , Part 3 ) Natasha Noorani's Live Performance of "Choro" Jaishri Abichandani's Art Studio Tour Kshama Sawant & Nikil Saval: A panel on US left electoralism, COVID19, recent victories, & lasting problems. Tarfia Faizullah: Poetry Reading Bhavik Lathia & Jaya Sundaresh: A panel on the US Left & its relationship with media in the wake of Bernie Sanders' loss. Rajiv Mohabir: Poetry Reading SAAG, So Far: A Panel with the Editors DJ Kiran: A Celebratory Set SUB-HEAD ​ ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: SHEBANI RAO A Freelancer's Guide to Decision-Making JAMIL JAN KOCHAI A Premonition; Recollected Generative artwork by Neha Mathew. SHARE ARTICLE: Event The Editors 2020 US Election US North American Diaspora Internationalism Crisis The Disillusionment of the Left Post-George Floyd Moment Defund the Police Racial Justice Pandemic COVID-19 Divya Nayar is a multi-disciplinary artist and designer based in Queens. Kamil Ahsan is an environmental historian at Yale, a Franke Fellow in Science and the Humanities, and the founder of SAAG. He is also a writer and critic based in New Haven and Lahore. Vishakha Darbha is a multimedia journalist, currently an Associate Producer on The New York Times Opinion audio team, formerly with The Atlantic, Mother Jones, Vox , and Grist . She is based in New York. 5 Dec 2020 Event The Editors Experiments in Radical Design & Typography 12 Mar 2023 DIVYA NAYAR Battles and Banishments: Women's Encounters with Heroin Addiction in Maldives 28 Feb 2023 FEATURES COVID-19 and Faith in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh 27 Feb 2023 FEATURES MORE LIKE THIS


    MANZOOR ALI MANZOOR ALI is a Peshawar-based journalist with Dawn . He has contributed reporting to Life and Thyme , Al Jazeera , TRT World , New Internationalist , Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty , Himal Southasian , Roads and Kingdoms, and Foreign Policy . AUTHOR WEBSITE INSTAGRAM TWITTER Heading 5 Heading 6 Heading 6 Heading 5 Heading 6 Heading 6 LOAD MORE

  • A State of Perpetual War: Fiction & the Sri Lankan Civil War

    COMMUNITY A State of Perpetual War: Fiction & the Sri Lankan Civil War VOL. 1 INTERVIEW Novelist Shehan Karunatilaka in conversation with Kartika Budhwar. SHEHAN KARUNATILAKA The stereotypes of the commercial sphere, the smiley, happy go lucky, Sri Lankans—there is something to that stereotype. It's not a grim place, even though a lot of grim things take place here. A tragedy will happen, the jokes will start almost immediately. Maybe it's gallows humor or a coping mechanism. Whatever it is, that seems to always be there. RECOMMENDED: This interview took place prior to the publication of Shehan Karunatilaka's Booker-Prize winning novel The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida (Penguin), which he discusses in the interview as a work-in-progress. SUB-HEAD ​ ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: SHEBANI RAO A Freelancer's Guide to Decision-Making JAMIL JAN KOCHAI A Premonition; Recollected Watch the interview on YouTube or IGTV. SHARE ARTICLE: Interview Sri Lanka Sri Lankan Civil War Satire Chinaman Tamil Tigers Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam Enforced Disappearances Cricket Extrajudicial Killings Kumar Sangakkara Shakthika Sathkumara Sri Lankan Literary Tradition Chats with the Dead Booker Prize Buddhism Ghost Stories Theater South Asian Theater Carl Muller Anarchist Writing Writing about Recent History Discourses of War Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna Marxist-Leninist Uprising JVP Worrying Humor Gallows Humor Absurdity Queerness Gananath Obeyesekere SHEHAN KARUNATILAKA was born in Galle, Sri Lanka. He grew up in Colombo, studied in New Zealand and has lived and worked in London, Amsterdam and Singapore. He emerged on the world literary stage in 2011 when he won the Commonwealth Prize, the DSL and Gratiaen Prize for his debut novel, Chinaman . Karunatilaka is considered one of Sri Lanka's foremost authors; his most recent novel, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, is the winner of the Booker Prize 2022. In addition to novels, he has written rock songs, screenplays and travel stories, publishing in Rolling Stone, Gentleman's Quarterly and National Geographic . He lives mostly in Colombo and partly in Singapore with a wife, two kids, four guitars, and 27 unfinished stories. 10 Jan 2021 Interview Sri Lanka The Uneasy Dreamscape of Katchatheevu 16 Jun 2023 JEEVAN RAVINDRAN Scenes From Gotagogama 23 Feb 2023 THE VERTICAL Disappearing Act 2 Apr 2021 FICTION & POETRY MORE LIKE THIS

  • FLUX · Jaishri Abichandani's Guided Studio Tour

    INTERACTIVE FLUX · Jaishri Abichandani's Guided Studio Tour VOL. 1 EVENT Artist, activist & curator Jaishri Abichandani gives us a live guided tour of her studio. JAISHRI ABICHANDANI FLUX: An Evening in Dissent A guided tour—with the famous Feminist Wall & an exclusive look at the piece Kamala's Inheritance (2021 Sculpture Wire, foil, epoxy, MDF, stone and paint), with acclaimed artist-activist Jaishri Abichandani & Senior Editor Abeer Hoque. Tarfia Faizullah: Poetry Reading Kshama Sawant & Nikil Saval: A panel on US left electoralism, COVID19, recent victories, & lasting problems. Natasha Noorani's Live Performance of "Choro" Bhavik Lathia & Jaya Sundaresh: A panel on the US Left & its relationship with media in the wake of Bernie Sanders' loss. Rajiv Mohabir: Poetry Reading SAAG, So Far: A Panel with the Editors DJ Kiran: A Celebratory Set SUB-HEAD ​ ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: SHEBANI RAO A Freelancer's Guide to Decision-Making JAMIL JAN KOCHAI A Premonition; Recollected Watch the event in full on IGTV. SHARE ARTICLE: Event Live Studio Tour Art Practice Feminist Art Practice Sculpture Painting Ceramics Art Activism Art History Politics of Art Feminist Spaces Feminist Organizing JAISHRI ABICHANDANI has intertwined studio and social practice, art and activism in her career, founding the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective (SAWCC) in New York (1997) and London (2004). Abichandani has exhibited internationally including at P.S.1/MoMA, the Queens Museum of Art, and Asia Society in New York, 798 Beijing Biennial and Guangzhou Triennial in China, IVAM in Valencia, Spain, and the House of World Cultures in Berlin. She served as the founding Director of Public Events and Projects from 2003-06 at the Queens Museum of Art, where she organized Fatal Love: South Asian American Art Now, Queens International 2006: Everything All at Once , and curated Her Stories: Fifteen Years of SAWCC . In 2017, Abichandani engineered a collaboration between the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Asia Society and the Queens Museum to organize a three-day national convening of South Asian American artists, academics and curators; along with the exhibition Lucid Dreams and Distant Visions , in which she was a co-curator and a participating artist. In 2019, Abichandani organized a trilogy of exhibitions to inaugurate the Ford Foundation Gallery: Perilous Bodies, Radical Love, and Utopian Imagination centered the visions of BIPOC artists. Abichandani’s work is in the Burger Collection, Asia Art Archive Collection, and Saatchi Collection. She has been a resident of LMCC’s Process Space residency and an honoree of the Brooklyn Arts Council and ASHA for Women. She was awarded grants by the FST Studio Projects fund and the Foundation for Contemporary Art in 2021. 5 Dec 2020 Event Live Studio Tour Bibi Hajra’s Spaces of Belonging 3 Jul 2023 IMAN IFTIKHAR Pakistan's Feminist Wave: A Panel 27 Sept 2020 COMMUNITY Skulls 4 Apr 2023 FICTION & POETRY MORE LIKE THIS

  • Dispatch from a Village Near Hamal Lake, Sindh, in August

    THE VERTICAL Dispatch from a Village Near Hamal Lake, Sindh, in August VOL. 2 ISSUE 1 DISPATCH In the wake of this year’s monsoon, villagers in Sindh contend with the loss of their livelihoods and the ecological disaster that’s become increasingly familiar. Photograph courtesy of Rahmat Tunio. IBRAHIM BURIRO THE WEATHER in northwest Sindh remained hot and humid a month after the torrential monsoon spell that wreaked havoc in the region. Among the ceaseless deluge, the struggle to save major cities in north-west Sindh such as Dadu, Sehwan, Johi, Mehar, and Warah continued. In the aftermath, people themselves have taken the charge to strengthen and monitor flood protection bunds, reflecting a mistrust of the state and its elected officials. As per the official statistics, which are still believed to be under-reported, rainwater and floods have impacted 33 million people, displaced nearly 10 million, and killed more than 1500. 1.5 million houses and a million livestock have also been lost, and hundreds of thousands of acres of crop fields—15% of the country’s rice crop and 40% of its cotton—have been ruined. The full picture of the destruction will only emerge once the water level recedes and surveying becomes possible. On the morning of 24th August, our village, Sabu Khan Buriro, was flooded due to intense water pressure from the overflowing Hamal Lake. The rising water soon breached the flood protection bund, and as water gushed into our village, our priority was to bring our valuables and belongings to dry patches of land. Wading through waist-deep water and in some areas chest deep water, people couldn’t take anything other than bed sheets, charpoys and some rice and wheat grains. They were forced to retreat to elevated surfaces like the flood protection bunds, which were soon packed with people and their belongings. Official rescue efforts are rare in these areas, but surprisingly, the district administration sent 5 mini trucks to evacuate the village. In a state of panic and shock as the water submerged the village, the people were evacuated and most of us ended up on the road. But this is not a story about my village alone. It’s the story of an entire region dispossessed by the floods and unprecedented rains, and the specter of poor governance, unchecked capitalism, and climate disregard that has enabled ecological collapse. Mass migration has begun. Families on the roads are forced to stay on charpoys without shelter, food is scarce, and people are struggling with basic necessities. Many people left for cities unwillingly to save their lives, but still there are hundreds who stayed back in dry areas near villages to look after their livestock or moved to safer places with the help of local boats as flood water levels increased. Thanks to the timely help of comrades from the Women Democratic Front, a Pakistan-based socialist-feminist organization, in our village, my family and I succeeded in rescuing essential goods before the village was delinked from mainland Sindh. This is the story of an entire region dispossessed by the floods and unprecedented rains, and the specter of poor governance, unchecked capitalism, and climate disregard that has enabled ecological collapse. One of the biggest challenges we are facing after rescuing our families is making contact with people who decided to stay behind. When the flooding began, the elected MPA’s family, a major feudal family in the area, instructed people to leave, but many refused in order to look after their livestock and save what little grain they could. It's impossible for 'elected' MPAs and feudal families to understand the logic of village residents. Our livestock and the rice and wheat saved from last year’s harvest are all we own. It is difficult for villagers to leave the only assets they rely upon at the mercy of the government, because we’ve learned over our lifetimes that the government isn't serious about helping people in the long term, indulging instead in corruption around flood relief goods without any long-term planning. Many of the villagers migrating have brought cattle and other livestock with them, fearing the animals would suffer from deadly ailments. Caring for the livestock and arranging for their fodder has become an additional responsibility on top of people’s own survival, but to neglect them would further threaten people’s livelihoods. The livestock and the products they offer—wool, eggs, milk, and more—are not only a source of essential nutrients, but social wealth as well. With their crops destroyed and livestock impacted, people are left with no source of earning or income for the year ahead. As villages and crop fields have turned into lakes and wetlands, cities, water sieged from all sides and acting as makeshift refugee shelters for flood-impacted people, have become a breeding ground for different diseases. Diarrhea, malaria, fever, skin diseases, and respiratory illnesses are spreading, and one of the major priorities for flood-displaced people has been the provision of medical care along with food. But in addition to physical ailments, for displaced persons, the traumatic experience of losing their homes and becoming refugees has led to psychological issues that largely go untreated and ignored. In the medical camp that we organized through the Awami Workers Party and Women Democratic Front's help, many patients, unable to sleep at night or during the day, asked about sleeping pills. This trauma has been repeating, and worsening, for those living in the floodplains of the Indus. My grandfather's brother, Hakim Ali, who is visually impaired, has spent 60 years in the fields and villages of our region. He learned to herd with his brothers in childhood and then passed that knowledge onto his sons, and now grandsons and granddaughters. He has brilliantly memorized how to navigate around the village and the grasslands around Hamal Lake, and in the mountains and fields of Kachu. He says he has never before witnessed such a long monsoon. This is the first time in his life that he has had to take refuge in a city. Signs of despair and restlessness are visible in his body language, as limited space in the city has snatched his freedom to move about in familiar open spaces. The unique experiences of each impacted person tell a tale about people's relationships with their surroundings, land, and ecology. In addition to physical ailments, for displaced persons, the traumatic experience of losing their homes and becoming refugees has led to psychological issues that largely go untreated and ignored. I first experienced displacement when I was in the 8th grade due to the floods in 2007. We lost our wooden and mud huts and were forced to take refuge in Kamber city, 30 kilometers to the east towards the Indus River. Again in 2010 floods destroyed our houses, crops, livestock, and everything on which we had established our livelihoods. My parents spent the next couple of years selling assets like crops and livestock, saving up bit by bit to slowly build a solid house for us. One summer it was a mud-made room, the next, it would be a wooden part of the house. Enduring in this way, our parents made a house out of their labor, patience, care, and most of all, love. Now, a decade later, we’ve once again lost our homes and entire livelihoods. Located along the edge of Hamal Lake in Kamber Shahdadkot District, Sindh, we and hundreds of our fellow villagers have been facing an ongoing water crisis for several years now. Due to water scarcity in the Indus River and little rainfall, Hamal Lake has been completely parched for the past couple of years. Last summer many pastoral families from our village and nearby villages who completely rely on the lake migrated nearer to the Indus for grasslands and herding. When this monsoon started, the long awaited rainfall bore happiness and hope—the hope of rebuilding the lake, of rebuilding the livelihoods entirely dependent on wetlands, of food for our livestock in the arid zones of Kachu where rain creates the possibility for grasslands to emerge. In the last couple of decades, however, rain has either become scarce or bursts forth and the dry soil is unable to soak it in, leading to floods and bringing misery and destruction in another form. The rain continued for a month. At one point it rained for 72 hours without a break. As monsoon spells came to an end in the second half of August, my family, village, and nearby villagers lost everything they had invested in the land: rice crop seeds, rice paddies, fertilizers, and their labor. People here depend on crops, livestock, and Hamal Lake’s wood and fish. In these desperate times, it’s a harsh reminder of how working people and farmers suffer doubly in an extremely unequal and unjust state and society. The government has not learned anything from the floods that have marked the second half of the twentieth century. During the floods of the 1990s, 2007, and 2010, cities had remained safe, but this time, what many are comparing to a doomsday, continuous rain has hardly left any home undamaged. Other than its capital city Karachi, every sphere of public life in Sindh has been disrupted. As village life is uprooted and completely devastated, semi-urban or urban areas aren't safe as well. Food crises have worsened, and inflation is skyrocketing as wheat flour mill owners and small shopkeepers to big dealers hike up prices to cash in on the miseries of the flood-displaced population. The rain continued for a month. At one point it rained for 72 hours without a break. As monsoon spells came to an end in the second half of August, my family, village, and nearby villagers lost everything they had invested in the land: rice crop seeds, rice paddies, fertilizers, and their labor. Climate change is intensifying the monsoon spells. When Hamal Lake dried up last year, it destroyed livestock and wildlife, the livelihoods of millions of people who depend entirely on the lake to make their ends meet. The story of Pakistan's largest lake, Lake Manchar, is no different. In recent years, it has been either completely parched or filled with contaminated water. When rain is scarce, the Indus River water is diverted to upper stream areas or dammed. But this year it’s threatening to inundate two districts in Sindh. These dual problems of drying and overfilling are directly connected to monsoon cycles becoming increasingly unpredictable in nature. According to environmental scientists, Pakistan is the sixth most vulnerable country to climate-related changes. From dried lakes to heavy monsoons, scorching heat waves and extreme winters, this is already our reality. In the face of climate emergency, local, provincial, and federal governments lack preparation and their inefficiency in addressing these crises have furthered the suffering of the people. We can't let governments hide behind words like ‘unprecedented’, 'natural disaster’, or ‘punishment due to our sins’. These are man-made disasters and a crisis of governance at the regional and international level. Economic priorities of profiteering at the cost of ecological disruption have resulted in mass miseries for the working classes. In the epoch of the Anthropocene, worsening air quality, water scarcity, extreme heatwaves and unprecedented rains are becoming a regular feature, not just devastating entire livelihoods but disrupting entire populations. Rain and floods in Sindh are not natural disasters but manifestations of inadequate infrastructure planning as well as consequences of inappropriate efforts to mold and control nature. Rivers, lakes, and natural water streams pave their own ways through the land, and disturbing their natural routes is only causing disasters. If we are to save ourselves from these devastating monster monsoons—as they are being called this year—or deadly heat waves, we need to radically rethink our relationship with nature. We collectively need to reassess our misplaced and delusional drive to alter nature according to our unbridled desires. We need to call out the elephant in the room: Capitalism. And we need to put reins on the unprecedented commodification of everything. If we do not do this and organize against this life-threatening crisis, we will be left with nothing to take protection or refuge in. Each season of the year in South Asia will bring with it a hitherto unknown face of devastation. ▢ SUB-HEAD ​ ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: SHEBANI RAO A Freelancer's Guide to Decision-Making JAMIL JAN KOCHAI A Premonition; Recollected Photograph courtesy of Rahmat Tunio (2022). SHARE ARTICLE: Dispatch Sindh Climate Change Floods in Pakistan Capitalism Women Democratic Front Awami Workers Party Sabu Khan Buriro Hamal Lake Livestock Crops Trauma Displacement Anthropocene Environment Sehwan Warah Dadu IBRAHIM BURIRO is pursuing a Masters degree in Development Studies at the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi. He organizes around issues of ecology, particularly on the subject of the free-flowing Indus River, and has been active in the students' rights movement. Buriro belongs to a remote village in Sindh impacted by flooding. He writes in Sindhi and English. 12 Mar 2023 Dispatch Sindh The Uneasy Dreamscape of Katchatheevu 16 Jun 2023 JEEVAN RAVINDRAN In the Yoma Foothills 26 Feb 2023 FICTION & POETRY Climate Crimes of US Imperalism in Afghanistan 16 Oct 2022 THE VERTICAL MORE LIKE THIS

  • Between Form & Solidarity

    COMMUNITY Between Form & Solidarity VOL. 1 INTERVIEW Poet Chandramohan S in conversation with Senior Editor Sarah Thankam Mathews CHANDRAMOHAN S "One’s privilege cataracts one’s vision. Aspects of that privilege create a form of blindness, a cataracting of one’s advantage. My modus operandi is to illuminate as many blind spots as each of us have. It is not my fault that I may be born into a privilege, but it will become my fault if I do not make myself aware of it." RECOMMENDED: Love After Babel and other poems by Chandramohan S (Daraja Press, 2020) SUB-HEAD ​ ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: SHEBANI RAO A Freelancer's Guide to Decision-Making JAMIL JAN KOCHAI A Premonition; Recollected Watch the interview on YouTube or IGTV. SHARE ARTICLE: Interview Kerala Language Vernacular Literature Internationalist Solidarity Dalit-Black Solidarities OV Vijayan Dalit Literature Ajay Navaria Avant-Garde Form Poetic Form Deepak Unnikrishnan Chandramohan S is a Dalit Indian poet, writer and social activist. He is the author of Warscape Verses, Letters to Namdeo Dhasal , and Love After Babel . He is based in Thiruvandanapuram, Kerala. 31 Aug 2020 Interview Kerala The Uneasy Dreamscape of Katchatheevu 16 Jun 2023 JEEVAN RAVINDRAN Chats Ep. 1: On A Premonition; Recollected 13 Nov 2020 INTERACTIVE COVID-19 and Faith in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh 27 Feb 2023 FEATURES MORE LIKE THIS

  • Experiments in Radical Design & Typography

    BOOKS & ARTS Experiments in Radical Design & Typography VOL. 2 ISSUE 1 PRESENTLY Appropriating the predator-drone & other notes on the new design system. DIVYA NAYAR How does a magazine like SAAG understand space & geography? How does it grapple with the many South Asian communities—those acknowledged as such, and those that aren't—to begin to identify the wrongs we must right from a long legacy of media that construed and continue to construe "South Asia" so narrowly? When I set out to design a whole new SAAG, these questions were on my mind. Unconsciously, material things—street signs we passed by, patterns we'd been looking at for years but noticed again for the first time—gave me some answers that buttress our current design system, allowing for a conversation within the team from many countries. These ideas came from my own subjective personal experiences, yes, but that intimacy I felt led all of us as a team to wonder: what might everyone else find intimate? How do we bring it all together? The design system is an expression of solidarity—finding commonality in what we all see or read; wear or draw—while admitting exception and difference, and also that this is, of course, an ongoing process. Disaster Timeline: Cover Artwork Our first issue allowed us to think about space on a broader level too. More specifically we asked: How does networked space see? Through the eyes of capital and the modern surveillance state—much like the seeker-head of a predator drone—the human subject has reached the zenith of abstraction. Humanity is now a set of data points, and collective struggles, in turn, simply distant blips on a radar. Visibility doesn't come easy. In an attention economy with content tethered to the whims of capital, only the profitable survive. Large-scale disasters cannibalize attention, obscuring the slow devastation occurring across regional, social, bodily, and psychic scales on a continuous loop. It’s a circular timeline. In a sense, the apparatus of surveillance defines the contour of strife: what better way to capture that present state of invisibility than to mimic how the predator drone sees the regions discussed in the issue? Thus, the cover art for Issue 1 by Mukul Chakravarthi attempts to capture the cold cartographies of collective strife through the aesthetics of the modern surveillance state. The appropriation is an affirmation of our editorial commitment to deeply human narratives that emerge in the form of rigorous local reporting but also, critically, in the aesthetic responses of struggle and dissent, many of which you will find in the issue. The custom display-face was derived from a grid system mapping the eight main cities—from Islamabad in the west to Naypyidaw in the east—that feature in the first issue. It was an exercise conceived to be just as spatial as it was typographic. The intention was to construct a display-face that gave form to regions that otherwise figured in the margins of the globalist imagination. Iconography The iconography is the foundation of Volume 2. I truly hope you come to remember these icons and the content and forms of creative work they represent. The process began with my own archival, oral history and mixed-media research, which led to a great deal of conversation and more findings from the whole design team. The iconography is inspired by textiles across many South Asian countries and communities. It is a visual representation that interweaves recurring patterns across geographies and peoples. Each icon is a recurring motif in textiles from seven or more contemporary South Asian nations, and countless communities within them. SAAG's general approach to "South Asia" is pertinent here. We deliberately does not construe "South Asia" specifically in terms of geography. This is because we recognize, as our archives indicate, that: 1. Diasporic communities originating in the subcontinent exist in countries as far east and as far west as any map will show. 2. "South Asia" is generally conceived of as countries within the subcontinent, but the history of its terminology is often nationalist, divisive, and problematic for many peoples even within the region's most populous country. As Benedict Anderson has argued, it is also a construction to some degree of the rise of area studies; its arbitrariness can be seen in its inconveniences: some countries in what is academically considered "Southeast Asia" share more historical, cultural, and linguistic similarities with those considered "South Asian", and vice versa.* For the purposes of our iconography, we researched motifs stretching from Laos to Iran, as well as the Caribbean. Typography & Colophon ​ Our web typography was also selected carefully. Our primary typeface, Social by Dinamo type foundry, reflects the playful, collaborative spirit of SAAG as a "multi-people, multi-width mega collaboration" itself. It's also a remarkably sturdy sans that allows us to be flexible: based on the theme of each issue, we want to use a new display font entirely. We hope it keeps you on your toes. The body text for the work we publish is set in Erode by Nikhil Ranganathan and Indian Type Foundry (ITF), a startlingly original, idiosyncratic and yet almost unobtrusive typeface that we greatly admire. Meanwhile, each issue of Volume 2 will use a different display typeface. For Issue 1, we chose the spiky and precise TT Ricks by TypeType. ​ Our colophon—conceived by Prithi Khalique and designed in many iterations and styles by Hafsa Ashfaq—is a nod to our print future, inspired by one of the works first cited when SAAG began: Rabindranath Tagore's painting Head Study , a work of dazzling ingenuity that provides the metaphorical architecture for our identity. Of all the decisions we made, this one came the easiest to us. A design system that coheres around our collective past feels best to embody our aspirations for the future: we cannot predict the future, but we can take stock from the conceptual frameworks our many contributors provide to us. Moving forward, the design system will move much like the issue artwork itself: fluidly adapting to best represent the radical potential of the present in its aesthetic form. Website Our new website is a complete overhaul, and a sharp contrast to the original SAAG website as well. We think fondly of what we made for Volume 1: its maximalist, wild, and mysteriously glitchy exterior paired with very serious work and dialogue. But if the eternal doom scroll has taught us anything, we are inundated with maximalist content. What we wanted was care, intentionality, attention, flexibility: an ease to the user experience that reflects the care we took to make every choice inspired by South Asian custom, movement, or labor. We hope that our new website—designed and developed by myself and Ammar Hassan Uppal, with help and feedback from editors and designers on the team alike—flows much more organically, whilst feeling both tactile and geometric. We felt that the digital space shouldn't distract from the ideas and concepts of the difficult material discussed in Issue 1 of Volume 2 as well as in the archives. It should enhance it. What you see is also a website intended to take on the spirit of the issue currently featured, adapting at each turn. At the same time, we wanted to inject a little whimsy into the experience: easter eggs sprinkled through the website, which we hope you'll find. We hope to evoke a more orderly and idea-focused experience of SAAG’s content, and challenge the dominant sense that the "avant-garde" need be synonymous with disorderly maximalism; instead, we eschewed both maximalism and minimalism—as well as the neo-Brutalist response to minimalist design—with a warmer color palette and approachable typography. In Volume 2 of SAAG, we hope to demonstrate that we take the intellectual and conceptual happenings and developments in the worlds of design, typography, web development etc. just as seriously as anything else. Stay tuned for forthcoming content and events on the many political-aesthetic challenges contemporary designers face, as well as how they understand, learn, teach, and reckon with the histories and legacies of design. Top of mind for us throughout this process was affect and emotion: how one might feel when one logs onto the website or reads one of our pieces? We do hope you feel welcomed . ▢ * Benedict Anderson, A Life Without Boundaries ( Verso , 2018) SUB-HEAD ​ ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: SHEBANI RAO A Freelancer's Guide to Decision-Making JAMIL JAN KOCHAI A Premonition; Recollected The display-face superimposed on the cartographic grid system it arose from. SHARE ARTICLE: Presently The Editors Design Disaster Aesthetics Drone Warfare Surveillance Regimes Iconography Textiles Benedict Anderson South Asia as a Term Cartography Colophon Rabindranath Tagore Affect Web Design Design Process Typography Indian Type Foundry TypeType Dinamo Head Study Divya Nayar is a multi-disciplinary artist and designer based in Queens. 12 Mar 2023 Presently The Editors Mukul Chakravarthi is a Senior Product Designer at Fidelity Labs, a Visiting Critic at Massachussets College of Art and Design, and former Adjunct Professor at the Rhode Island School of Design. He is also a typographer, interaction designer, and architect based in Boston. Prithi Khalique is a visual designer and animator based in Dhaka and Providence. Hafsa Ashfaq is a visual artist, graphic designer, currently an editorial designer for DAWN . She is based in Karachi. Ammar Hassan Uppal is a professional designer and web developer based in Lahore. FLUX · A Preface 5 Dec 2020 DIVYA NAYAR · KAMIL AHSAN · VISHAKHA DARBHA Climate Crimes of US Imperalism in Afghanistan 16 Oct 2022 THE VERTICAL Fictions of Unknowability 28 Feb 2023 BOOKS & ARTS MORE LIKE THIS

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