Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests








Saturday, August 17, 2019

“Of Fists and Rubs" - A Short Story by Ismat Chughtai - Translation of  "Mutthi Maalish," from Urdu (Lahore: Naya Idara, 1967). Translation copyright 2010 by Muhammad Umar Memon.








“Of Fists and Rubs" - A Short Story by Ismat Chughtai - 
Translation of  "Mutthi Maalish," from Urdu  (Lahore: Naya Idara, 1967). Translation copyright 2010 by Muhammad Umar Memon. 

Ismat Chughtai 

August 15, 1915 - Buduan, India

October 24, 1991 - Mumbai, India


It has been sevrn years since I posted on a story by Ismat Chughtai, time is getting away ftom me.  One of my priorities this month, as part of my limited participation in womenintranslationmonth# is to share with my readers translations of a few stories originally written in Urdu.  Ismat Chughtai is considered a pioneer writer on issues concerning the lives of Urdu women. 

(Urdu is spoken by close to 100 million people around the world. It is the official language of Pakistan, a status which it shares with English. It is also spoken and understood in parts of India, Bangladesh, Nepal, the Middle East, and many other countries around the world where Pakistani communities have settled. - 
from the BBC)

“Of Fists and Rubs” contains very disturbing descriptions of abortions preformed on women from the poorest elements of Indian Society, women with no access to any form of medical care.  I say this first as it is graphic enough to be disturbing.  

As the story opens a woman is waiting in a long line to cast her vote:

"Bai, O Bai! How are you?” The woman wrapped in a dirty-looking kashta bared her filthy, yellow teeth and grabbed my hand.
“Oh, it’s you, Ganga Bai . . .”
“No, Ratti Bai. Ganga Bai was the other one. She died, poor woman.”
“What a pity! Poor woman . . .” And my mind zoomed back five years. “Rubs or fists?” I asked.
"Rubs,” Ratti Bai winked. “I kept telling her not to, but why would she listen, the blasted woman. Who are you voting for, Bai?”

Of course I wondered what rubs or fists might refer to, evidently a common expression.

The woman, of a higher caste than Ratti, first encountered her and Ganga Bai, when she was in the hospital giving birth.  Both worked there, doing the lowest of jobs beneath that of nurses.  The two women seem to hate each other. Each calls the other a slut and a whore.  Each wait on the woman and lose no change to tear each other down.  The woman finds out both want to go home to their villages.  Both are married to abusive men, normal for them.  Both work on the side as near prostitutes.  One of the occupational hazards is pregnancy.

Now we learn the meaning of "rubs or fists".  They refer to alternative methods of back street abortions.

"Rubs” work perfectly during early pregnancy—like a doctor, absolutely first-class. The Bai makes the woman lie down flat on the floor, then holding herself with a rope suspended from the ceiling or to a club, she stands on the woman’s stomach and works it with her feet real well, until the “operation” is performed. Or she makes the woman stand against the wall and after combing her own hair she ties it tightly into a topknot. Then, after dousing it with a fistful of mustard oil, she bangs it against the woman’s legs like a ram. Certain young women used to hard labor don’t respond to this. Then it’s time for “fists.” After dipping her unscrubbed hands with their grimy nails in oil, she just pulls the throbbing life from the womb.
Most of the time the operation goes off without a hitch on the very first assault. If the performing Bai happens to be a novice, sometimes one of the hands is broken off, or the neck comes out dangling, or even a part of the woman’s own body that needed to stay inside spills out.
Not too many die from the “rubs,” but the woman generally falls prey to all kinds of disease. Different parts of her body swell up. Permanent wounds@ form and never heal, and if her time’s up, she dies. “Fists” are used sparingly, only when everything else fails. Those who survive aren’t able to walk. Some drag on for a few years and then croak."

We learn a lot about the lives of the two women, both in the hospital at work and back home in the village.  Debt bondage has caused many small farmers to no longer be able to support their families.  Their wives go to the big city where caste discrimination, sexual abuse and often an early death await them.

This is a very powerful story.


“Ismat Chughtai (Urdu: عصمتچغتائی) (August 1915 – 24 October 1991) was an eminent Urdu writer, known for her indomitable spirit and a fierce feminist ideology. She is considered  the grand dame of Urdu fiction, Along with Rashid Jahan, Wajeda Tabassum and Qurratulain Hyder, Ismat’s work stands for the birth of a revolutionary feminist politics and aesthetics in twentieth century Urdu literature. She explored feminine sexuality, middle-class gentility, and other evolving conflicts in the modern Muslim world. Her outspoken and controversial style of writing made her the passionate voice for the unheard, and she has become an inspiration for the younger generation of writers, readers and intellectuals.”  From Goodreads

Mel u

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Late Victoria Holocausts by Mike Davis - 2002

Late Victorian Holocausts by Mike Davis (2002, 470 pages)

Posted in Observation of Indian Independence Day, August 15

If you have any illusions that British rule in India had any positive side,Late Victorian Holocausts by Mike Davis will totally relief you of that opinion.  I recently read a very good history of the Irish famines in which the author said in terms of sheer numbers it was not as bad as the famines in Russia and China in the 20th century but never mentioned  that there was a far worst famine in India famines  in the  1870s in which 60 million people died   I think what shocked me so much in this book was that it exposed the depth to which my view of history has been shaped by historians who see the process of "westerning" the world as progress.

 If I were to divide my five decades plus of near compulsive reading, one decade at least would have been devoted reading history but I was completely stunned by the revelations in this book.    Most people have no knowledge of these famines and those few who do, as Davis shows us, attribute them to bad weather.   Davis explains that very few of the great famines of modern  history were caused by a lack of food. It is caused by the poor not having the means to buy the available food.   (There was plenty of food to feed the Irish but social planners  thought giving out free food would encourage idleness. ).   Indian troops with English officers stood guard in front of huge granneries while millions starved.   Indian land was planted in cotton to be either shipped to the UK or sold in India.   This was part of the cause of the famines.  I know now Gandhi knew this.  Davis explains how El Nino weather patterns worked to limit the rainfall in India, China and Brazil.   He also talks of large scale famine deaths in the Philippines in the 1870s under Spanish rule (I live in the Philippines and have read many books on it history and this not in any of the standard histories..  The old ones were all written by Spanish clerics.)

Davis begins his book with a horrifying description of the famines.  I do not want to get into a "whose famine was worse" contest but my first impression was that that in India was worse than Ireland in terms of human suffering and in terms of the moronic and immoral way the country was administered by the British.   At the height of the famine Lord Lytton, ruler of Indian, and his staff were only concerned with not turning Indians into idlers by giving them free food.   When he did give free food to those in work houses, he gave less than was given in German concentration camps.   The rulers of Indian puppet states were all lackeys of the English and were often worse then them in terms of their indifference to human suffering.

Davis explains how much of the suffering was caused by the transition of India, China and Brazil from small subsistence farmer economies to capitalistic societies.   The famines had large scale social consequences.  The spawned the Boxer rebellion in China and created many religious cults.  Before around 1776 the average Indian peasant lived better than an English or European slum dweller or tenant farmer .   This began to shift as England took more and more of the resources of India.  

Davis expands history to explain how these famines brought in the poverty of the third world and contributed to their stagnation and decline.   Davis in one the most shocking parts of the book explains that from 1759 to 1947 when India was freed the per capita income stayed the same.   Before colonial masters took over, Indian and China had a good record in dealing with famines, better than Europe.   Under British rule in India there was a famine every four year, but in the previous two thousand years there was only one famine a century.

Davis shows how Indian was made to pay for the cost of the British army and when their planners tried to impose European systems of agricultural management the results were disastrous.

Davis backs up everything he says.    I was amazed by how much I did not know but even more amazed by how much of what I though I knew was wrong.    Davis also gave me lots of good reading ideas about Indian history.   He also talks extensively about famines in Africa and Brazil.

This a very serious book which destroys the myths prevalent in western societies about the causes of poverty in the third world.   I am quite sure that many western politicians including recent American presidents and presidential candidates subscribe to the idea that people in the third world are "poorer" than westerners because they are somehow lazy, decadent and in many cases non-Christian.   Davis also explains the terrible way China treated its people during the great leap forward period so he is not just a "left historian".

If you want to understand much of what is going on  the world today, this book is a good place to start.

My great thanks goes out to Max u for providing me with a gift card that allowed me to read this book.

Mike Davis

Named a Macarthur Fellow in 1998, he was also honored for distinguished achievement in nonfiction writing this past fall by the Lannan Literary Foundation. Professor Davis is the author of more than 20 books and more than 100 book chapters and essays in the scholarly and elite popular press. His scholarly interest span urban studies, the built environment, economic history and social movements. Perhaps his best know book, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles was named a best book in urban politics by the American Political Science Association and won the Isaac Deutscher Award from the London School of Economics and has been translated into eight languages





Mel u

Laajwanti by Rajinder Singh Bedi (1956) - translated from Urdu by Muhammad Umar Memon


A post in observation of Indian Independence Day





Rajinder Singh Bedi.

September 1, 1915 Sialkot, Punjab, British India

October 12, 1984 Mumbai, India

He had a prolific and successful career as a script writer in movies and was widely admired for his novels and short stories

From Words Without Borders

"Rajinder Singh Bedi was born in Sialkot in 1915. He first worked as a clerk in the postal department; later he joined the Lahore office of All India Radio and wrote many successful plays, having meanwhile established himself as a highly nuanced fiction writer with the publication of Daana-o-Daam, his first collection of short stories. On Partition he moved to India. After working for a short period as Station Director for Radio Kashmir, he joined the Mumbai film industry producing and writing scripts for a number of successful films. His Urdu novel Ek Chaadar Maili Si, translated into English as I Take This Woman, received the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1965. Bedi, who died in 1984, is regarded as the second most prominent Urdu fiction writer after Sa’adat Hasan Manto."


Midnight August 15, 1947 bells rang all over the Indian Subcontinent celebrating the end of 190 years of British Rule.  In order to try to accommodate the Muslim and Hindi citizens, the largest groups, the country was partitioned into West and East Pakistan, meant to be Muslim, and India.  This final act by the English, in a long vicious history of exploration, lead to an estimated two million deaths and fourteen million refugees.  No accommodations were made for other segments such as the Sikhs.   Hundreds of thousands of women were raped by men of the other religion.  In the culture of the time, a raped woman should kill herself.  In any case, few married men would continue with them.  In part this should be seen as an excuse by young men to let out their hatred.  Eventually decent people on both sides began to try to convince everyone that raped and kidnapped women should be accepted back by their families.  The partition lead to one of the largest mass migrations in history.  (The Bangaldesh War of 1971, extimates of deaths are as high as two million can be clearly traced back to the Partition.) Women who lived close to the borders were very much in danger of rape and kidnapping.  Our story today deals how a married couple deal with this.

(From Stanford University, a good brief introduction to the Partition


Muhammad Umar Memon, recognized as a leading authority on Urdu literature, in his invaluable introduction to The Greatest Urdu Short Stories, tells us that Lajwanti by Rajinder Singh Bedi (1956) is one of the best literary accounts of the Partition.   (He acknowledges that Saadat Hasan Manto must be given priority in this area.  I have previously posted upon his work.)


As the story opens a committee has been formed designed to get people to accept back in the community women who had been raped or kidnapped by Muslims.  Conventional morality requires suicide to preserve honor.  

"There was one programme, though, which seemed to have escaped notice. It concerned the rehabilitation of abducted women. Its rallying cry was ‘Rehabilitate them in your hearts!’ It was bitterly opposed by Narain Bawa’s temple and the conservatives who lived in and around it."

We learn that Laajwanti was a kidnapped wife.


"Early in the morning when Babu Sundar Lal and his companions Rasaloo and Neki Ram used to make their rounds through the streets singing in unison, Touch the leaves of the laajwanti,/ they curl and wither away! Sundar Lal’s voice would fade. Walking along in silence he would think about Laajwanti—who knows where she might be? In what condition? What would she be thinking of him?  Would she ever come back?—and his feet would falter on the cobblestone pavement."

During their marriage he was abusive to her.  A true man was expected to beat his wife on occasion.  No beatings was seen as a lack of love for his wife and a lack of masculinity.  Her husband says if she ever returns he will open his heart to her.  An exchange of women between border areas begins.  At first the Hindus complain only old ugly women are being returned, some are refused.
A friend tells her husband that he has seen Laajawanti on a truck of returned women.  When they are united her husband begins at first to wonder why she seems healthy and happy.  

Conservative clerics cited passages from the Ramayana which support the idea that returned women should be rejected by their husbands, sons and even fathers.

When they are united her husband acts strange to her.  He no longer beats her. He sees her as a holy woman, she thinks he no longer loves her.

Just a simple story about two ordinary people whose lives were ruined by the Partition.

You can watch a video of the story, in English with Hindi subtitles, at the link below


Oleander Bousweau













Monday, August 12, 2019

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair - 1906 - 495 Pages









September 20, 1878 - Baltimore, Maryland, USA

1906 - Publishes The Jungle

1934 - Runs u sucessfully for Governor of California as a Socialist

1943 -  Wins The Pulitzer Price

November 28, 1968 - Bound Brook, New Jersey, USA

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair shocked the nation, depicting incredibly filthy, unhealthy, unsafe conditions in Chicago Meat Packing Plants.  In 1906 a very high percentage of the cattle and hog production of America was sent to Chicago plants to be slaughtered and processed for sale.  This book so outraged the nation that politicians were forced to initiate inspection procedures and regulations in the plants.  Sinclair worked undercover for seven weeks to gain first hand knowledge.  Sinclair was appalled by how the workers, mostly immigrants were treated. The nation was horrified by the way their food was processed.  The book is really one horror story after another with stories of workers who fall into cooking vats left to become part of canned meat, just one abomination after another.

The story centers on Jurgis Rudkis and his family, newly arrived from Lithuania.  He and his teenage wife Ona are getting married in Lithuania as we meet them.  They have heard how wonderful things are in America, especially they hear everyone gets rich in Chicago.  When they arrive in Chicago Jurgis gets a job in the plant. It is very much a huge factory with thousands of workers mostly doing the same thing over and over. His job is to cut the throat of hogs.

Chicago is a totally corrupt place, inspectors are paid to see nothing, workers toil 12 hours a day, sometimes in extreme heat in cooking rooms, sometimes in below freezing conditions.  Sinclair shows us the horrible impact the brutal working conditions have on the employees, destroying their health while paying them near nothing.  The foremen and bosses exploit the workers, women are forced into sex to avoid being fired.  Everywhere there are people lying in wait to rob immigrants.


Ona’s Wife is forced into sex by an Irish boss named Pat O’Connor.
This begins a terrible downward cycle for the family.  Jurgis gives the man a beating.  After he is arrested he learns the man is highly placed in the Chicago political machine.  He spends thirty days in jail and when he gets out he finds he has been blacklisted from getting a job at the plants.  


Just one bad thing after another happens to Jurgjs and his Family.  The incidents are very well depicted.  In one really weird segment Jurgjs meets while walking the streets a son an owner of The Meat plant.  The man insists he come home with him when he learns Jurgjs is hungry.  The man lives in an incredible mansion, he complains because his father left him with only $2000.00 to get through a week, ten years pay for a packing factory worker. He gets a wonderful feast, is given $100.00 then thrown out by the butler.  Soon he will be robbed of that.

Jurgis does get some breaks, he becomes a small cog in the political machine,teams up with an interesting man he met in jail as strong arm robbers, and more.

There is a disturbing element in the novel.  During a strike the plant brings in large numbers of African Americans from the south to work.  They are depicted in what seems to me a grossly racist fashion.  

Toward the end Jurgis goes to a meeting,thinking there might be free food.  It turns out to be a Socialist Gathering. Jurgjs is entralled, he Is amazed to hear powerful speeches denouncing the plants and the corruption of Society.   He now has an identity, he is a Socialist.

The final two chapters are devoted to speeches by Socialists.  

The Jungle kept my attention as i waited to see what terrible things would happen next.  

From Goodreads on The Publication history of The Jungle

“For nearly a century, the original version of Upton Sinclair's classic novel has remained almost entirely unknown. 

When it was published in serial form in 1905, it was a full third longer than the censored, commercial edition published in book form the following year. That expurgated commercial edition edited out much of the ethnic flavor of the original, as well as some of the goriest descriptions of the meat-packing industry and much of Sinclair's most pointed social and political commentary. 

After reading The Jungle, President Roosevelt invited Sinclair to the White House to discuss it. The president then appointed a special commission to investigate Chicago's slaughterhouses.  Roosevelt overcame meat-packer opposition and pushed through the Meat Inspection Act of 1906. The law authorized inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to stop any bad or mislabeled meat from entering interstate and foreign commerce. This law greatly expanded federal government regulation of private enterprise. 

The text of this new edition is as it appeared in the original uncensored edition of 1905. 
It contains the full 36 chapters as originally published, rather than the 31 of the expurgated edition.”  

A very informative account of The Meat packing industry in 1905 and The impact of The Jungle.


A twenty  minute video on The Jungle, perfect for classrooms.


I urge all teachers of American history to read The Jungle.  

Sinclair published nearly 100 books.



Oleander Bousweau
Mel u