When I reviewed the first installment of the Obliterary Journal a couple of years ago, I described it as (among other things) “spectacularly ill-conceived”. To my amazement, Blaft have chosen not to put this on a blurb anywhere.
Last weekend’s column, on meat, literature of, and also emus.
Consider the first war of Indian independence, commonly associated with angry sepoys protesting against being forced to consume cow and pig fat. In the aftermath of the recent events in Khirki, a local man explained to a reporter that he had heard that African immigrants ate all sorts of meat, even human. Consider the ways in which racists justify their dislike of people from the North-East of the country by claiming that “those people” eat dogs. Consider the ways in which the question of what forms of meat one does or doesn’t eat is used to keep neighbourhoods free of particular communities. And also, I suppose, consider the uncle downstairs who was always cooking fish, and the smell floated into your bathroom so that you were never rid of it. Meat is inherently political as well as emotive.
Blaft’s second, meat-themed, Obliterary Journal recognizes this. Its portrayals of meat are delicious and disgusting, exploitative and egalitarian. Ali Sultan’s photo-essay “Butcher, Butcher: Lahore” and Somdutt Sarkar’s infographics about animal slaughter (interspersed with pictures of PETA protests) provide some of the realities around the meat we eat, while Madhurya Balan’s “Livestock” and Appupen’s “The Hunters” are among a few pieces that imagine what it might mean to be prey. Nazeer Akbarabadi’s “Mouse Pickle”, translated here by Musharraf Ali Farooqi and illustrated by B. Anitha, Anil Kumar and Michelle Farooqi, is comically gross.
On the other hand there’s Meena Kandasamy’s “How to Make a Bitch Give Up Beef”, with art by Samita Chatterjee. Kandasamy collects some of the personal attacks employed against her in the wake of the 2012 Beef Festival in Hyderabad. There’s occasional lightness in the wordplay (“Plan Nine” is followed by “Plantain: Promote Vegetarianism”, for example) but since the “strategies” enumerated include threats of rape and acid attacks, it’s hardly a pleasant piece, made worse by the fact that it’s true.
Tarun Padmakumar’s “Jamalpur” has friends coming together over a shared love of meat, and the brilliant Prabha Mallya in “On Making Wet Food at Home for Your Growing Kitten” chronicles the lives and loves of four people with completely incompatible food choices. Nochikuppam Fisherwomen Comics, by Ratzzz and X. Kumar and starring Ilavarasi and Kala, is wonderful, with its two fisherwomen turned into superheroines and vengeful goddesses.
“The Legend of U Thien” (Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih and Aratrika Choudhury) and “The Stepson’s Meat is in the Kitchen” (Dukhushyam Chitrkar and Megha Bhaduri) are both translations of folk stories; a Khasi legend and a tale from Bengal. Women do not come out of either of them well, as is the case with far too many folk-tales, but I particularly liked Chitrkar’s Patua-style art and the fact that his story is clearly meant to be recited, not read, and thus particularly relevant to this collection.
The standout of the collection for me remains Aneesh K.R’s “The Past and Future History of the Emu” which begins with the bird’s evolution and traces it through the emu farming bubble in 2000s Tamil Nadu (and surely there are entire books about that just waiting to be written?) and continues into a plausible future in which only the combined efforts of India, Pakistan, China and Nigeria stand between the human race and a cyborg emu apocalypse.
In both volumes of this journal Blaft have tended to prioritise idea over execution and while this can be a problem (though perhaps this concern with execution is another of those things the obliterary journal is supposed to obliterate?) it is better than the alternative. Blaft continue to provide one of the few venues in which one can write emu-centric SF or Star Trek fanfiction (in the form of Gurjot S. Mamik’s “They Came From the Stars”) and this collection is a useful reminder of the important space that they are.