A petty thief’s loyalties are tested in the midst of an audacious jail break
The only thorn in the flesh of newly appointed jailer Bireshwar Mukherjee, a formidable man with a spotless twenty-five-year record are the inhabitants of Cell No. 12, the prison within a prison, which houses five Naxals, fiery young men dedicated to demolishing class society. When Bhagoban “Bhogai” Sardar, a thief who has committed a petty crime returns to jail, where he feels at home, Bireshwar Mukherjee has an idea. Bhagoban will secretly function as his pair of eyes on the inmates of Cell No. 12 and detect their nefarious plans. Slowly, however, Bhagoban gets drawn to the empathy of these strange young men. As the Naxals plan a daring escape that will either win them freedom or cost them their lives, he has to make a decision about a purpose that’s bigger than him.
Published in 2013 as Batashe Baruder Gondho in Bangla, Gunpowder in the Air is a darkly comic indictment of the Indian prison system as well as a deeply empathetic historical document of Naxalism in West Bengal.
Manoranjan Bypari was born in the mid-fifties in Barishal. After he migrated to West Bengal at the age of three, he lived in two refugee camps before he moved away at the age of fourteen to work. At twenty-four, he became politically active with the Naxals after meeting famous labour activist Shankar Guha Niyogi. It was in prison that Byapari taught himself to read and write. Later, when he was working as a rickshaw puller, he had a chance encounter with Mahasweta Devi who asked him to contribute to her journal Bartika. He has since then published eight novels, four volumes of memoirs and over fifty short stories. His essay ‘Is there Dalit writing in Bangla’ which was translated into English by Meenakshi Mukerjee for Economic and Political Weekly launched him into mainstream prominence. He worked until recently as a cook with the Helen Keller Institute for the Deaf and Blind in West Bengal. He won the 2019 Hindu Prize For Non-Fiction for his biography Itibritte Chandal Jiban translated into English as Interrogating My Chandal Life: An Autobiography of a Dalit.
Arunava Sinha translates Bengali fiction and nonfiction into English. Fifty-one of his translations have been published so far. Twice the winner of the Crossword translation award for Sankar’s Chowringhee (2007) and Anita Agnihotri’s Seventeen (2011), respectively, he has also won the Muse India translation award (2013) for Buddhadeva Bose’s When The Time Is Right. He has been nominated for the Independent Foreign Fiction prize and the Best Translated Book award in the US. He is a recipient of an English PEN translation grant for Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay's The Yogini. Besides India, his translations have been published in the UK, the US, and in several European and Asian countries. He has conducted workshops at the British Centre for Literary Translation, UEA; University of Chicago; Dhaka Translation Centre; and Jadavpur University. He is an associate professor of practice in the Creative Writing department at Ashoka University.
Leela Samson is a virtuoso performer and a sensitive interpreter of the nuances of bharata natyam. Spanda, a body of work choreographed by her 20 yrs ago, is still celebrated for its innovations in bharatanatyam traditions. Leela is the author of Rhythm in Joy and Rukmini Devi – a life. In her many roles, she has been the director of Kalakshetra,the chairperson of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, and the chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification. Leela has been the recipient of many awards for her work and contribution to the arts, including the Sanskriti Award, and the Padmashri Award.
Sara Rai (chair) is a writer and literary translator working with Hindi, Urdu, and English. She has published three collections of short stories in Hindi with her first novel, Cheelvali Kothi (The House of Kites) published in 2010. The German translation of her selected short fiction, Im Labyrinth (The Labyrinth) won the Coburg Rückert Prize 2019, and was also nominated for the Weltempfӓnger Prize, Frankfurt 2020. Her translation of Vinod Kumar Shukla’s Blue is Like Blue won the Atta Galatta Prize 2019 and the Matrubhumi Award 2020. Over the years her work has been translated into Urdu, German, French, Italian and English.
Dr. Annapurna Garimella is a designer and an art historian. Her latest book is a co-edited Marg volume titled The Contemporary Hindu Temple: Fragments for a History (2019) and her upcoming edited volume is titled The Long Arc of South Asian Art: A Reader in Honor of Vidya Dehejia (New Delhi: Women Unlimited, 2021). Annapurna is the Managing Trustee of Art, Resources and Teaching Trust, along with heading Jackfruit Research and Design.
Shahnaz Habib is the author of the nonfiction book Airplane Mode, and the translator of the novels Jasmine Days and Al-Arabian Novel Factory. She, along with the author Benyamin won the JCB Prize for Literature for Jasmine Days in 2018. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker online, Creative Non-fiction, Agni, Brevity, The Guardian, and Afar, among many others. She currently teaches writing at The New School and consults for the United Nations as well.
Prem Panicker is the editor of Peepli.org, an independent website dedicated to longform multimedia storytelling. He has worked as a journalist and editor for over 30 years across print and digital mediums. Prem was one of the team of journalists who helped start Rediff.com. and has also worked as the Managing Editor, for Yahoo! India. Prem conducts storytelling workshops, and consults various media houses from time to time.
Amit Varma is a writer and podcaster based in Mumbai. He writes The India Uncut Newsletter and hosts the longform conversation podcast, The Seen and the Unseen. He has been a journalist for over two decades, and won the Bastiat Prize for Journalism in 2007 and 2015. Amit also teaches the online course, The Art of Clear Writing.
ARUNI KASHYAP writes and translates in both English and Assamese. His books include His Father’s Disease and Other Stories, The House With a Thousand Stories, and Noikhon Etia Duroit. His poetry collection, There is No Good Time for Bad News, was a finalist for the 2018 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize and the 2018 Four Way Books Levis Award in Poetry. Aruni won the Charles Wallace India Trust Scholarship for Creative Writing to the University of Edinburgh, and has penned short stories, poems, and essays for the Oxford Anthology of Writings from Northeast, The Kenyon Review, The New York Times, and The Guardian UK, amongst others.
Author & Professor
Tejaswini Niranjana is currently Professor and Head, Department of Cultural Studies, Lingnan University, Hong Kong, and Visiting Professor with the School of Arts and Sciences, Ahmedabad University, India. She is the author of Siting Translation: History, Post-structuralism and the Colonial Context, as well as Mobilizing India: Women, Music and Migration between India and Trinidad. Her collection of essays in Chinese, Nationalism Refigured, was re-issued in 2019. Tejaswini Niranjana's translation of Jayant Kaikini's No Presents Please was jointly awarded the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. Her translation of MK Indira's Phaniyamma won the Central Sahitya Akademi Award for best translation into English.
Playwright & Director
Ramu Ramanathan is a playwright and director based in Mumbai. He has scripted notable plays such as Cotton 56, Polyester 84; Comrade Kumbhakarna; and Mahadevbhai. Eight of his plays have been anthologised in the book 3, Sakina Manzil And Other Plays. He is also the author of the poetry collection My Encounters with a Peacock and co-editor of Babri Masjid, 25 Years On…
Ramanathan writes on theatre and culture in newspapers and periodicals. He has been associated with the printing industry for three decades as a journalist. He is the editor of PrintWeek and WhatPackaging? magazines.
Head of Arts & Culture Portfolio, Tata Trusts
Deepika Sorabjee heads the Arts & Culture portfolio at Tata Trusts, and serves as the Trusts representative on the Board of Trustees at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maha Vastru Sanghralaya, Mumbai. Deepika received her M.B.B.S. degree from Grant Medical College and the Sir J.J. Group of Hospitals before pursuing her passion for the arts She has been an independent writer on contemporary art and the city since 2009. In 2012-2014 she was a selector for the International Competition section for the Mumbai Film Festival (MAMI). Deepika is also one of the Founder Trustees of the Mumbai Art Room.
Author & critic
Anjum Hasan is the author of the novels The Cosmopolitans, Neti, Neti and Lunatic in my Head, the short story collections A Day in the Life and Difficult Pleasures, and the poetry collection Street on the Hill. Anjum was, until recently, Books Editor at The Caravan. She has been Charles Wallace Writer-in-Residence at the University of Canterbury and visiting professor of creative writing at Ashoka University. She is currently a Homi Bhabha Fellow. Her short stories, essays and poems have been published in Granta, Baffler, Five Dials, Wasafiri, Drawbridge, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Asia Literary Review, Caravan, and several anthologies.
Filmmaker & environmentalist
Pradip Krishen is a filmmaker who taught himself botany and became an ‘ecological gardener’, restoring degraded habitats with native plants, mostly in the desert regions of western India. He is currently Project Director of the Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park, Jodhpur, the Abha Mahal garden, Nagaur and Kishan Bagh, Jaipur, and he curates the garden of the Calico Museum, Ahmedabad. He has written The Trees of Delhi: A Field Guide and The Jungle Trees of Central India: A Field Guide For Tree-Spotters. His films include Massey Sahib (1986), In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones (1988) and Electric Moon (1991).
K R Meera writes fiction in Malayalam and essays in English, and has published four novels, five novellas, six collections of short fiction, two children’s novels and two collections of essays. She has won all the major Malayalam literary awards, including the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award, Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award (for best novel and for best short fiction), the Vayalar Award and the Odakuzhal Award. Her works in translation include Hangwoman, The Poison of Love, The Unseeing Idol of Light, Yellow is the Colour of Longing and The Gospel of Yudas.
Parvati Sharma began her writing career with The Dead Camel and Other Stories of Love, which earned her praise for its depictions of love and sexuality in urban India. Her novella, Close to Home, was acclaimed as ‘tender, acute and pulsing with real Indian life’. She has also written a book for children, The Story of Babur, and, most recently, a historical biography, Jahangir: An Intimate Portrait of a Great Mughal. Sharma lives in New Delhi, where she has worked as a travel writer, editor and journalist.
Arvind Subramanian was Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India and is now a Visiting Lecturer at Harvard University. His award-winning book Eclipse: Living in the Shadow of China's Economic Dominance was published in September 2011. In 2011 Foreign Policy named him one of the world's top 100 global thinkers. He has written on India, growth, trade, development, institutions, aid, climate change, oil, intellectual property, the WTO, China, and Africa. He has published widely in academic and other journals.
Amitav Ghosh was born in Calcutta and grew up in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. He is the author of two books of non-fiction, a collection of essays and eight novels. His most recent book is The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (2016). His books have won prizes in India, Europe and Myanmar and he has been awarded honorary degrees by the Sorbonne, Paris, and by Queens College, New York. He is married to the writer Deborah Baker and divides his time between Brooklyn, Goa and Kolkata.
Amitav Ghosh’s work has been translated into more than thirty languages and he has served on the Jury of the Locarno Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival. In 2007 he was awarded the Padma Shri, one of India’s highest honours, by the President of India.
Deepa Mehta is an Oscar-nominated filmmaker whose work is celebrated on an international scale. Her emotionally resonating, award-winning films have played every major film festival, and been sold and distributed around the globe. Her films include the Elemental Trilogy: Earth, Fire, Water, the final film of which received an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film, Bollywood/Hollywood, Heaven on Earth and the epic adaptation of Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie’s three-time Booker Prize winning novel. Her work challenges traditions and stereotypes and is always daring, fearless and provocative. It’s this spirit that saturated her latest work, Anatomy of Violence. Amongst her many honours, she has just received her star on Canada’s Walk of Fame and the Honorary Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cinema at the Reykjavík International Film Festival.
Entrepreneur and scholar
Rohan Murty is a technology entrepreneur. At Harvard University, he founded the Murty Classical Library of India, whose mission is to present the greatest literary works of India from the past two millennia to the largest readership in the world. He has a PhD in computer science from Harvard and an undergraduate degree from Cornell. His research work on white spaces networking was seminal in opening up a new area of inquiry and has won awards and fellowships from Microsoft Research, Siebel foundation, and the National Science Foundation (NSF). In 2012 he was selected as a Junior Fellow at the Society of Fellows at Harvard.
Theoretical astrophysicist and author
Priyamvada Natarajan is a theoretical astrophysicist at Yale. She is recognized for her seminal contributions to the study of dark matter and the formation and growth of black holes. She uses gravitational lensing observations, the deflection of light rays by matter in the universe, to map the detailed distribution of dark matter. Another abiding interest has been the study of the growth history of black holes over cosmic time and, in particular, the formation of the first seed black holes. She has proposed and worked on models for the formation of massive black hole seeds, direct collapse black holes and their observational signatures.
Recipient of many awards and honors for her work including the Guggenheim, Caroline Herschel and Radcliffe fellowships, she also holds the Sophie and Tycho Brahe Professorship at the Dark Cosmology Center at the University of Copenhagen, and an honorary professorship for life at the University of Delhi.
Aside from research, she is also deeply invested in the public dissemination of science. She is a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books and her first book, Mapping the Heavens: Radical Scientific Ideas that Reveal the Cosmos, was published in 2016
Novelist and playwright
Vivek Shanbhag is one of India’s leading novelists. He has published five short story collections, three novels and two plays. Several of his short stories have been adapted into plays and one has been made into a short film. Shanbhag was editor of the literary journal Desha Kaala from 2005 to 2012, and founding editor of the literary supplement of Prajavani, a leading Kannada newspaper. His short stories have been translated into English and other Indian languages. His critically-acclaimed novel Ghachar Ghochar was published in India, the US and UK in English translation; it is now translated into 16 other languages. He is the co-translator of U R Ananthamurthy’s book Hindutva or Hind Swaraj into English.
Shanbhag was a Fall 2016 Honorary Fellow at the International Writing Program, University of Iowa. He is an engineer by training, and lives in Bangalore.
Translator and expert in Indian classical languages
Arshia Sattar has a Ph.D. from the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. She has been a Fulbright Scholar (2010) and a Rockefeller Centre Fellow (2009). Arshia has translated Sanskrit Tales from the Kathasaritsagara and The Ramayana of Valmiki, both of which are published as Penguin Classics. Her most recent publications include Uttara: The Book of Answers (Penguin India, 2016) and The Ramayana for Children (Juggernaut, 2016). She continues to work with the Valmiki Ramayana and teaches courses on classical Indian literatures in India and abroad. She also writes on books and Hindu myths for various magazines and journals and over the last decade, has been a jury member for several literary awards.