In the times of Love and Longing: Amrita and Imroz, translated by Arvinder, edited by Uma Trilok, Full Circle, Rs. 295.

In the days of instant messaging and breathless communication over social networking sites, this collection of letters between India’s first prominent woman poet in Punjabi, Amrita Pritam, and her long-time companion Imroz may appear like a relic when in effect the oldest letter is of a not-so-distant 1959 vintage.

So little was said between them, but so much was communicated through these short letters they sent each other almost daily when work forced them to live in different cities. And, so intimate are the letters, some are no longer than a couple of sentences, that the reader feels like an intruder into their extremely private space where Pritam became Maja, Aashi, or... and Imroz is Jeeti, Mirza, Imma or...

The letters reveal their turmoil over the age-difference (she being several years his senior), the relationship outside marriage, the mood swings, the mutual yearning, and the impact each had on the other’s creativity. Some are basic Facebook stuff; things they did during the day or books they are reading.

Extremely personal though this collection is, the letters also make a statement on their times; particularly, the late 1950s to the mid-1970s. There is a fleeting mention of censorship in one letter and another is indicative of the prevailing mood over Indira Gandhi’s decision to nationalise banks as the two yearning souls seek to bridge the distance between Delhi and Bombay with words of hope and despair.

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Left View

Putchalapalli Sundarayya: An Autobiography, edited and abridged by Atlury Murali, National Book Trust, Rs. 145.

If there is one area where competition from private players has not made a government department shape up, it is in publishing. And, P. Sundarayya’s autobiography, brought out by the National Book Trust (NBT), is a fitting example. And, not the first.

Put together by University of Hyderabad professor Atlury Murali with the help of the Sundarayya Vignana Kendram Trust, the manuscript has been culled out of an oral autobiographical narrative stored on 20 cassettes of 90-minutes each.

Agreed, the need to be true to the original, particularly since Sundarayya recorded the narrative mostly in English, must have weighed on Murali, but some attention to detail would have made this chronicle of “Communist Gandhi” and his times in his own words much more reader-friendly.

Still, there can be no denying the mine of information in this autobiography; detailing as it does the various twists and turns in the Communist movement in India.

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Iron woman in deed

Burning Bright: Irom Sharmila and the Struggle for Peace in Manipur, Deepti Priya Mehrotra, Penguin,

Rs. 275.

Just for her sheer determination, Irom Sharmila can easily stake claim to the title of ‘Iron Woman’, having refused to swallow a morsel since November 2000 in protest against the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Force-fed through nasal tubes since then by the Government and kept in isolation, the seeming futility of her indefinite hunger strike has not weakened her resolve.

It was a chance email seeking women volunteers to double up as hospital attendant for Iron Sharmila that brought Deepti Priya Mehrotra in contact with the ‘satyagrahi’ in November 2006. Evidently impressed by her conviction, Mehrotra took up the task of telling not just the 37-year-old’s story but has used it as a launch pad to write about the web of violence that has been woven around the people of Manipur by the security forces and militants.

Given that there is very little mention of the Northeast in mainstream media, any effort to write about the region is welcome; more so, when it presents a people’s perspective since whatever information that does come out of the area is essentially security-related.

And, even as her book was hitting the stands, news trickled in of 22-year-old Chongkham Sanjit being killed by the police in a crowded market; bringing to focus not just the state of affairs in Manipur but also the disconnect between the region and mainstream India which remained indifferent to the stark images of a human rights violation.