Saudamini Deo: My Heart Doesn’t Want

Rajasthan in four cities

1909 Imperial Gazetteer of India map of Rajputana. Source: Wikipedia



My great-grandfather, a feudal landowner in West Bengal, had a troubled marriage with my great-grandmother, who finally left him in 1927 and came to live with her mother in Jaisalmer. Her mother, my great-great-grandmother was one of the few female doctors in the country at the time and was employed with the royal family of Jaisalmer. My grandfather grew up in the royal household but left home one unsettled morning. He left just a note: my heart doesn’t want.

He wanted to be a classical musician. Failure meant that my mother and uncle grew up in dire poverty in the dirty back alleys of the blue city. No one knows what happened to my great-grandfather or the house or the land. I have never seen a photograph, only an image narrated to me by a distant relative: a man on horseback with leather boots and the eyes of a snake.

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𝐹𝑜𝓊𝓃𝒹 God’s Spies

No, no, no, no! Come, let’s away to prison:
We two alone will sing like birds i’ the cage:
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down,
And ask of thee forgiveness: so we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too,
Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out;
And take upon’s the mystery of things,
As if we were God’s spies: and we’ll wear out,
In a wall’d prison, packs and sects of great ones,
That ebb and flow by the moon.

— from King Lear (Act V, Scene III)


Youssef Rakha: The Postmuslim

A. Abbas, Pakistan, 1988. Source:

Return of the Prodigal Muslim

Everybody knows the Enlightenment is dying. I don’t mean in the hells from which people board immigrant boats. It was never very alive here in the first place. I mean in the heavens to which the boat people seek suicidal access.

They end up drowning less for the love of the Postchristian West, it would seem, than out of despair with the Muslim East. Blame politics and economics, for sure. But could it be that all three phenomena – despair, poverty and dictatorship – are rooted in the same cultural impasse?

Today Brexits, Trumps and, let us not forget, the Islamic Invasion of Europe are spelling an Endarkenment all across the North, confining progressive and egalitarian principles to intensive care units. And I’m wondering what that could mean for despairing Muslims in the South.

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أحمد الفخراني: التلميذ الأخير

Mansoura, early 20th-century postcards. Source:

طيلة الطريق من القاهرة إلى المنصورة، كنت أردد لنفسي: لم يكن علي المجيء. أتبع شعورا غامضا بالذنب، أو ربما – وهو ما حاولت إنكاره – أسعى لتحقيق نزوة قديمة: أن يعترف الأديب العجوز، وأستاذي اللئيم فرج الكفراوي بنجاحي، وهو الذي عدّني دوما أقل تلاميذه موهبة.
قبل خمسة عشر عاما، لم أكن أتمنى سوى أن أصبح مثله. الآن، أفعل كل ما بوسعي كي أتجنب مصيره.

استمر في القراءة

𝐹𝑜𝓊𝓃𝒹 صوته يقتل التماسيح

الأسد. من السباع والأنثى أسدة وله أسماء كثيرة فمن أشهرها أسامة والحرث وقسورة والغضنفر وحيدرة والليث والضرغام ومن كناه أبو الأبطال وأبو شبل وأبو العباس وهو أنواع منها ما وجهه وجه إنسان وشكل جسده كالبقر وله قرون سود نحو شبر ومنه ما هو أحمر كالعناب وغير ذلك وتلده أمه قطعة لحم وتستمر تحرسه ثلاثة أيام ثم يأتي أبوه فينفخ فيه فتنفرج أعضاؤه وتتشكل صورته ثم ترضعه وتستمر عيناه مغلوقة سبعة أيام ثم تفتتح ويقيم على تلك الحالة بين أبيه وأمه إلى ستة أشهر ثم يتكلف الكسب بعد ذلك وله صبر على الجوع والعطش وعنده شرف نفس يقال أنه لا يعاود فريسته ولا يأكل من فريسة غيره ولا يشرب من ماء ولغ فيه كلبويتحير عند رؤية النار ومن كرمه انه لا يقرب المرأة خصوصا إذا كانت حائضا وقيل أربع عيون تضئ بالليل عين الأسد وعين النمر وعين السنور وعين الأفعى … إذا أقبلت على واد مسبع فقل أعوذ بدانيال والجب من شر الأسد وسبب ذلك على ما قيل إن بختنصر رأى في نومه أن هلاكه يكون على يد مولود فجعل يأمر بقتل الأطفال فخافت أم دانيال عليه فجاءت إلى بئر فألقته فيه فأرسل الله له أسدا يحرسه وقيل إن بختنصر توهم ذلك في دانيال فضرى له أسدين وجعلهما في الجب وألقاه فلم يؤذياه وصارا يبصبصان حوله ويلحسانه … فمن خواصه أن صوته يقتل التماسيح وشحمه من طلى به يده لم يقربه سبع ومرارة الذكر منه تحل المعقود ولحمه ينفع من الفالج وإذا وضعت قطعة من جلده في صندوق لم يقربه سوس ولا أرضة واذا وضع على جلد غيره من السباع تساقط شعره وهو من الحيوان الذي يعيش ألف سنة على ما ذكر وعلامة ذلك كثرة سقوط أسنانه.
— من كتاب “المستطرف في كل فن مستظرف” لشهاب الدين الأبشيهي


𝐹𝑜𝓊𝓃𝒹 The Prize and the Coffeehouse

If one disregards the money that goes with them, there is nothing in the world more intolerable than award ceremonies. I had already discovered this in Germany. They do nothing to enhance one’s standing, as I had believed before I received my first prize, but actually lower it, in the most embarrassing fashion. Only the thought of the money enabled me to endure these ceremonies … I let them piss on me in all these city halls and assembly rooms, for to award someone a prize is no different from pissing on him. And to receive a prize is no different from allowing oneself to be pissed on, because one is being paid for it. I have always felt that being awarded a prize was not an honor but the greatest indignity imaginable. For a prize is always awarded by incompetents who want to piss on the recipient. And they have a perfect right to do so, because he is base and despicable enough to receive to receive it … Accepting a prize is in itself an act of perversity, my friend Paul told me at the time, but accepting a state prize is the greatest.

Who knows how my life would have developed if I had not met Paul Wittgenstein at the height of the crisis that, but for him, would probably have pitched me headlong into the literary world, the most repellent of all worlds, the world of Viennese writers and their intellectual morass, for at the height of this crisis the obvious course would have been to take the easy way out, to make myself cheap and compliant, to surrender and throw in my lot with the literary fraternity. Paul preserved me from this, since he had always detested the literary coffeehouses. It was thus not without reason, but more or less to save myself, that from one day to the next I stopped frequenting the so-called literary coffeehouses and started going to the Sacher with him—no longer to the Hawelka but to the Ambassador, etc., until eventually the moment came when I could once more permit myself to go to the literary coffeehouses, when they no longer had such a deadly effect on me. For the truth is that the literary coffeehouses do have a deadly effect on a writer.

— From Wittgenstein’s Nephew by Thomas Bernhard, translated by David McLintock

1982 (1989)

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