July 2013 Posts

Guest Post: Shovon Chowdhury on Bengali-ness

Guest Post: Shovon Chowdhury on Bengali-ness

Shovon Chowdhury is an ad man. His debut novel The Competent Authority is being published by Aleph in August 2013. I have reviewed the book and interviewed him for the Hindu Literary Supplement, to be published on 4 Aug 2013. Meanwhile we got chatting about Bengali literature. I do not speak or read Bengali, but in response to my question, I received a lovely email from Shovon last night. I am reproducing it as is, with permission.

30 July 2013
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Hi Jaya,

Sorry I didn’t respond yesterday. I was working from morning till midnight, and then I passed out, shortly after my wife whispered in my ear, “You’re getting old now.”

To answer your question, I was hauled back from the UK at the age of 10, in 1973, to Calcutta. Once I got over the shock of learning that there was no TV, I was told that I had to pass Bengali in my annual exams, around a year from that point, or I would be kicked out of school. They weren’t as impressed with my English origins as we had thought they would be. You can’t really learn a language until you read stories, and in this respect, Satyajit Ray was a godsend for me. The first Bengali book I ever read was Felu-da’s Baksho Rohoshyo (The Box Mystery), purchased at A.H. Wheeler and read on the train, through the night, under a tiny bulb. I traced my finger along the words as I read it.

Further investigation of Satyajit Ray led me to Sandesh, a kid’s magazine he and his family ran from their house. Most of us young subscribers met him at one point or the other, and he would hand over our copies with the utmost gravity. In the very first issue I met Professor Shanku, an eccentric, but intrepid scientist, in ‘Eksringo Obhijan’ (The Unicorn Expedition) which was published serially in the magazine. I thought it was the best thing since Twenty Thousand Leagues. It would make a great movie. I was lucky that the first two Bengali books I read where so very up my street. I scraped through the annual exam, eventually, and remained part of the education system, to my lasting regret.

In the next few years, I spent most weekends in my grandfather’s two rooms in a narrow lane in Bagbazar. I had six aunties and one uncle, and usually they and most of their kids were in situ. Having been brought up as an only child, this was a thing of great horror to me, second only to the absence of Scooby Doo. Luckily, like all good Bengali households, they had complete sets of Rabindranath, Bankim Chandra, and Sharat Chandra, which nobody ever read except my grandmother. So I would park myself in a corner every weekend and pick myself a volume.

I ended up reading most of it. Bankim Chandra was rather tough, his Bengali very classical, his whole aspect very Old Testament. I knew all about the Old Testament because of bible classes back in Yorkshire, although as a matter of principle I never sang ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ or ‘Rule Britannia’. Rabindranath should have won the Nobel prize just for his short stories, which are brilliant. His plays were great fun, too. I found his poems a little old-fashioned. Sharat Chandra was a flat out genius, and easily one of the ten best novelists who ever lived. No one had a clearer eye.

By the time I reached college, I was reading a lot of Bengali poetry, in the hope of impressing girls, but ended up being impressed myself, particularly by Shubhash Mukhopadhyaya. He was a disillusioned man. Much like the rest of us, he started out admiring Che Guevara, and ended up with Jyoti Basu. Some of us fled, while the rest gave up. I was one of the runaways, to Delhi, in my case. Many years later, shortly before he died, I saw Jyoti Basu on TV, and was consumed with horror. I had no idea he was still alive. It was like The Return Of The Mummy. But that was much later.

Back then, even though the Party was consuming us all wholesale, like a crimson anaconda, we managed to have some fun. During my time in Cal, I did around two decades of movies, from the point where Uttam Kumar was doing the cha cha, to when Aparna Sen was doing the twist. In fact, all the members of the Very New Young Men’s Bodybuilding Society – Bhanu, Johor, Robi, Chinmoy and Tapen — are named after Bengali comedians I remember with great affection.

And then there was theatre. I spent many evenings at the Academy, watching productions by Nandikar and Theatre Workshop and Bahurupee. I can sing you every song from Manoj Mitra’s Narak Gulzar, or the incredible Theatre Workshop production of Schweyk Goes To War. I also read a few contemporary Bengali novelists, like Moti Nandi, and Shirshendu, and whatever ‘Desh’ was serving up that season. But I have to admit that most of them were a bit too social realist for me. The flights of fancy were all happening in the theatre, with Utpal Dutta, and Badal Sircar, and Ajitesh of the booming laughter, and more Brecht than you can imagine, from Galileo to The Good Woman. I wish he could have seen it.

Been out of touch the last ten years, sadly, except for the theatre part. I often re-read Sukumar Roy, though, and discover new things every time. He died young, like Alexander, and did things like this — http://shovonc.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/pome-of-the-day-5/, which everyone says is funny, but do we not live here today? The last four lines always terrify me.

Just to clarify, I am not a UK citizen. I wish I could say it was some kind of stand I took, but the fact is, it never occurred to me.

Cheers!

Shovon

Women and diets / healthy living

Women and diets / healthy living

The Diet Doctor, Ishi Khosla

Over the past few months I have read a bunch of newly published books on weight loss, healthy living, eating wisely and dieting. All the books seem to be targetted at women, all though men too would benefit hugely from reading these. Ishi Khosla gives practical advice on how to measure quantities of food (with the actual size of a cup printed), to eat regularly and healthy. More than going on a crash diet to lose weight, it is more about managing one’s time, health, food etc.

Kitchen Clinic

Charmaine D’Souza discusses the importance of understanding your ingredients and how a fair knowledge of kitchen herbs and spices ensures a healthy living. She explains the spices, their properties and then lists some common ailments that are easily prevented or treated at home. For novices the line drawings of the spices will also help in recognising the spices and herbs being discussed. Recently I had a long discussion on Skindalous Cuisine ( A Facebook group that discusses food and shares recipes) about recipes that use Kalonji or onion seeds. It is rarely used in cooking despite it being extraordinarily beneficial for the health. According to Charmaine D’Souza these seeds have been used medicinally for over 3,000 years. It is used to treat ailments including asthma, bronchitis, rheumatism and related inflammatory diseases. Also skin infections and cold symptoms too. But from the discussion group I discovered that it is rare to find recipes using this spice since it is usually offered as prasad to the gods. Hence it is used sparingly in Indian cuisine.

Get Size Wise

Sheela Nambiar writes for the Indian Woman. Her advise is to stop agonising about chasing the pipe-dream of achieving a Size Zero figure, instead concentrate on getting fit than just losing weight. She has packed her book with loads of tips on how to manage oneself. How to exercise while scrambling to finish the day’s chores. There are few illustrations but easy to understand.

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Reenita Malhotra Hora also advocates a healthy living but by relying upon Ayurveda.

All the books mentioned are useful to have and read. Also to practice. I would even go to the extent of saying how empowering these texts are in teaching a person, especially a woman, on how to manage her time, her diet, her health. It is well-known that women always compromise on their health and needs. For most of the time they are so focused on their family, children, careers etc that they do not think twice about neglecting their own needs. Little realising that self-preservation is very important. My only concern about these books is that they may be bought, they will inspire but to sustain these diets and routines is expensive. It will be an added expense to a family’s budget, it will be a strain on the women (who are inevitably in charge of the kitchens) to create a separate dish for themselves etc especially after all the needs, requirements and demands of the family are met. It is much easier for many women then to be accommodating and eat whatever is put on the table, rather than assert themselves. So the purpose that these books set out to achieve will be negated. Unless these authors instead of taking on only high-society clientele actually design and distribute meals suitable for a person on a diet. These could be according to the requirements (and budget) of the client. Thus ensuring that for a nominal fee, the dietician gets a new client and the client has a stress-free way of managing their diet. The food arrives at their door step, with the right size of portions. I am not sure how feasible it is to conduct such programmes in India given distances, weather conditions etc but I hear that these are being done in America and are actually working.

The Weight Loss Club

On a related note. Devapriya Roy has published a novel about the weight loss club in the Nancy Housing Cooperative. It sounds promising. (I have just begun to read it.)

Marc Auge, “No Fixed Abode”

Marc Auge, “No Fixed Abode”

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Ethno fiction…a narrative that evokes a social fact through the subjectivity of a particular individual. however, since this is neither autobiography nor confession, that fictional individual has to be created ‘from scratch’ or, in other words, out of the thousand and one details observed in every day life. ( p vii)

Slim, elegantly produced volume. It belies the disturbing facts that lie within. The horror of the story is not just in the plot but in the events seeming plausible. The blurb on the dust jacket says “Contrary to popular opinion, according to the website for the Coalition for the Homeless, forty-four per cent of the homeless in First World countries actually have jobs.”

A book I would recommend.

Marc Auge, No Fixed Abode:Ethnofiction
Translated by Chris Turner
Seagull Books, Calcutta, 2013
Hb, pg. 80
$19 / GBP 12.50 / INR 325

Of women travellers and writing

Of women travellers and writing

All the Roads are Open

In recent weeks I have read three books. All the Roads are Open: the Afghan journey by Annermarie Schwarzenbach (translated by Isabel Fargo Cole); The Nanologues: 10,000 kms across India in the world’s cheapest car by Vanessa Able and Almost Intrepid by Anjaly Thomas. Except for All the Roads are Open, the other two are contemporary accounts by women travellers — Vanessa’s account of travelling in a Nano across India and Anjaly Thomas backpacking across the world. As for Annermarie Schwarzenbach, she travelled in a new Ford across Afghanistan with Ella Maillart from 1939-1940. The translated text contains snippets of her writings and dispatches to various newspapers describing the country, the exquisite gardens, the reception that they received etc. A comment made “In the garden of the beautiful girls of Qaiser” is about the “young King Ammanullah, upon returning from a trip to Europe, had instituted hasty reforms in Afghanistan, attempting to follow Turkey’s example in particular. He had moved too quickly. More than anything else he was reproached for emancipating women. For a few weeks the chador had fallen in the capital of Kabul; then the revolution broke out,women returned to the harem, to their strictly cloistered domestic life and from then on they could not show themselves on the street without a veil.”

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For Vanessa Able travelling in her Nano, whom she affectionately refers to as “Abhilasha”, winding her way through India, its crowds, is a frank account of her drive through India. It is a challenge to be a driver on the roads of India, but to be a woman and a foreigner at that, can be a challenge indeed! Vanessa Able braves it well, making some good friends along the way, but also getting a firsthand experience of they way men view/treat women. For instance, the young men loitering on the streets or the cab drivers misbehaving. At times she would worry about the fast roads and the sanitised lodgings were killing the spirit of the journey, but then the images of the Ambassadors and the over-zealous chaperones would remind her of the reasons for being on this trip. When Ratan Tata met her, he remarked that it was very enterprising of her to have driven the Nano through India. But Nanologues is a mixed bag of a traveller’s account with plenty of anecdotes, all though it could have done with a few photographs. Though she did blog regularly – http://www.nanodiaries.com/ and http://www.vanessaable.com/

Almost Intrepid
Anjaly Thomas’s comes across a feisty young woman, who is game for any sort of adventure. All her trips have been impulsive decisions. She has travelled through Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, Indonesia, and India. Her account is of the kind that would be useful for women to use as a checklist, also take a leaf or two from her book of being fiercely independent, determined and focused about her goals. The common fears/questions that would prey upon any woman traveller’s mind came to her often. Such as afraid of being robbed/mugged/raped? did she have her parents approval? did she sleep alone in the hotels? how did she cope with female issues of dealing with her periods to washing underwear? where did she get her money from? did she ever get any help? was she scared of being labelled? She comes to the conclusion that these questions, including that of danger lurking, can even happen to a woman comfortably ensconced at home. It really depends upon the individual and the circumstances. To her surprise and relief she actually found a lot of help on the road. A few lessons she learned from travelling solo were confidence, self-dependence, patience, responsibility, love and compassion, prioritizing, letting go, and dreaming.

Women travelling alone is not a new feat. It has been done umpteen times before. Many wrote about it too. Lady Mary Whortley Montague and Alexandra David-Neel come immediately to mind, but there were many more. Yet the fascination that travellers hold, definitely when they are women, always make for captivating accounts.

19 July 2013

Annermarie Schwarzenbach All the Roads are Open: the Afghan journey Translated by Isabel Fargo Cole. Seagull Books, Calcutta, 2011. Hb. pg. 140.

Vanessa Able The Nanologues: 10,000 kms across India in the world’s cheapest car Hachette India, Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp. 324. Rs. 399

Anjaly Thomas Almost Intrepid Konark Publishers, New Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp.220 Rs. 299

The Casual Vacancy, Rowling

The Casual Vacancy, Rowling

The more I read of The Casual Vacancy the more I am amazed at the power of Rowling’s storytelling. How can she make the most mundane, incredibly dull and at times narrow and very class-conscious English life that too in the countryside so fascinating? Why would anyone want to read every single word that graphically describes a run down Council housing estate? Why would anyone be interested in knowing about the silly political wranglings for a silly, inconsequential Parish council seat? Well, it is not inconsequential to the locals.

Rowling for mastery in telling a good story and etching each character with incredible detail and force. Like Hardy before her she has created her own fictional landscape called Pagford. (A combination of Pagnell and Chagford/Forest of Dean.) Her experience in writing the Harry Potter series and writing for young adults has obviously stood her in good stead. The shades of characterisation, the nuances come through remarkably well. While reading the novel you can practically hear the voices, the dialects that so clearly demarcate the people, and immediately discern their attitudes towards each other. She obviously plots her stories well since the characters are well connected and if they ever come in contact with each other (however briefly) there is a transformation that helps in moving the story forward.

The novel is in the good old tradition of an English novel (particularly in the second half) the reader begins to yearn for a good bit of editing. Of course the novel lends itself to be adapted for ( or rights to be sold) the stage, television, radio and cinema. There is scope for serialisation too. Novels like this written by Dickens would be acceptable since they were first published in serial form and then compiled into a book, so the length was accounted for. Whereas in this case to have so many little details, conversations and minor plots intertwined can begin to get tedious. In India 80,000 copies of this novel were printed by Hachette India. Apparently it is the highest run for an (expensive) adult hardback (and its not a thriller or mass market genre). But the story (coming from Rowling) was probably unexpected since her fans wanted more of Potter. This is diametrically opposite. A tragi-comedy set in a nondescript and typical English village.

PrintWeek India did a photo-essay on the printing of these copies. Here is the link by the group editor, Ramu Ramunathan. http://www.printweek.in/Feature/318531,manipal-technologies-first-print-firm-in-asia-to-print-a-j-k-rowling-bestseller.aspx

12 Oct 2012

Samantha Shannon, “The Bone Season”

Samantha Shannon, “The Bone Season”

Bone Season

It is a complicated world that Samanatha Shannon has created in The Bone Season. The heroine is nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney. She has been working in the criminal underworld of Scion ( pronounced as “Sigh-on”) for three years. She was recruited directly from school and made a member of the Seven Dials, a group that is in the central circle of the city. They consist of the White Binder, the Red Vision, the Black Diamond, the Pale Dreamer, the Martyred Muse, the Chained Fury and the Silent Bell. She is employed by Jaxon Hall and is considered to be a rare clairvoyant, since she is a Dreamwalker, and can break into people’s minds to gain information.

Scion is London of 2059. It consists of clairvoyants ( “voyants”, as they are popularly referred to). Voyants can be identified by their aura, mostly coloured dreamscapes. Jaxon Hall has identified seven orders of clairvoyance: soothsayers, augurs, mediums, sensors, furies, guardians and jumpers. Paige Mahoney or the Pale Dreamer she is known on the streets falls into the last category, a Dreamwalker. This is a category that is rarely to be found. It is an oligarchy, with a very strict social pecking order.

There is a dark side to this society. A netherworld, if you wish, based in Oxford. It has been in existence for nearly two centuries. It is actually a penal colony where stray voyants and/or criminals are sent. Sheol I is governed by six and a half feet tall Nashira Sargas, the blood-sovereign of the Race of Rephaim. Every decade they “harvest” as many voyants they can to co-opt them into their own society. Depending upon the abilities of the voyants selected, they are introduced into different levels of society. Those deemed worthless are relegated to being slaves or entertainers (“harlies”).

Paige Mahoney is sent off to Sheol I after she kills two people. But she is considered to be fortunate since she is spotted by the blood-consort or fiance of Nashira, Arcturus Mesarthim, known as The Warden. He decides he will be responsible for Paige’s training, a fact that makes her very special ( and causes some envy) in the society. This is Bone Season XX, but everyone refers to Bone Season XVIII as being exceptional, since it was when a rebellion was quelled. But little details emerge, save what is mentioned in hushed whispers on the streets.

Without giving out to many spoilers it is a classic story of good vs evil, familiar adventures and experiences of a young adult, albeit in a newly fashioned dystopian landscape. Irrespective of the fantastic world that she inhabits and the exceptional talents she possesses, Paige comes across as a normal girl, with the usual ups and downs of life and emotions ( including getting a flutter about Arcturus). Bone Season is a book that once you get into whisks you off on a jolly ride.

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon is to be released on 20 Aug 2013. It is the first of a planned seven-volume series, all though Bloomsbury has signed the twenty-one-year old author for only a three-book deal. ( Apparently it is a six figure advance against royalty that the young Oxonian has been given, negotiated on her behalf by legendary literary agent, David Godwin.) Well before the book has been released the film rights were optioned by The Imaginarium Studios. It is London-based performance capture studio led by Andy Serkis ( The Lord of the Rings ) and Jonathan Cavendish ( produced of Bridget Jone’s Diary).

A newspaper claimed that Samantha Shannon was the next big writer after J. K. Rowling, presumably based on the advance figures. The story that Shannon tells in The Bone Season is imaginative, but not exceptional. It is a story well told, by a talented novelist who in time to come (as her writing skills mature) will be influential on the literary landscape. Where most debut novels tend to be semi-autobiographical, in Shannon’s case the autobiographical elements are literary, existing in the atmosphere, the plot and the story details. Shannon was born in 1991, on the eve of an era, when there was a burst of fabulous literature for children and young adults. (Notably, Rowling published her first Harry Potter book in 1997.) Some of the international writers who came to dominate the period from the early 1990s were Lois Lowry, J. K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctrow, Suzanne Collins, Stephanie Meyer etc. The stories that they told were unusual for the time, they focused on what were termed as dark topics, but obviously struck a chord with many young readers. Details of nineteenth century England is a characteristic of Steampunk fiction and shades of which are visible in the slang used by the Scion, Voyants and Rephaim. The idea of toying with memories has been explored before in literature and films such as by Aldous Huxley, Men in Black, Lois Lowry’s Giver etc. Even the relationship that Paige has with the Warden has shades of Darcy ( Pride and Prejudice), Charles ( The Grand Sophy ) and George Knightley ( Emma). So entire generations of readers have been brought up on exciting and imaginative literature. It is bound to be influential. This is not really a space for a literary deconstruction of a tale well told. As T.S. Eliot said in his essay, “Tradition and the individual talent”, “No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the …poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison…. I mean this as a principle of æsthetic, not merely historical, criticism.” The fact is Samantha Shannon has carved a niche for herself as a writer to be watched.

SAMANTHA SHANNON:
Twitter: http://twitter.com/say_shannon
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Samantha-Shannon/391393244245437?fref=ts

THE FOURTH ORDER (Art by Leiana Leatutufu): http://thefourthorder.tumblr.com/

THE BONE SEASON
https://twitter.com/TheBoneSeason
http://www.boneseasonbooks.com/
https://www.facebook.com/TheBoneSeason

15 July 2013 ( Updated 16 July 2013)

Taiye Selasi, “Ghana Must Go”

Taiye Selasi, “Ghana Must Go”

Ghana Must Go

Kweku dies barefoot on a Sunday before sunrise, his slippers by the doorway to the bedroom like dogs. At the moment he is on the threshold between sunroom and garden considering whether to go back to get them. He won’t. His second wife Ama is asleep in that bedroom, her lips parted loosely, her brow lightly furrowed, her cheek hotly seeking some cool patch of pillow, and he doesn’t want to wake her.
Ghana Must Go

There is a moment in reading, when you need to put down the book and take a deep sigh and say, “Wow”. This is new. Not necessarily the plot, but the style, the ease with which the writer flits through countries, social and economic milieus, without sounding trite. Plus the style of writing is so refreshing. There are no apologies made about references from other cultures and languages. They are used as lightly and easily as if they are going to be understood by a new generation of readers — the Facebook generation. A bunch of youngsters who are very well-informed and reading voraciously. Understand different cultures and know how to navigate their way through. Ghana Must Go falls in that category.

The title is borrowed from the phrase “Ghana Must Go”, a slogan that was popular in 1983 when Ghananian were expelled from Lagos. This is a story about a family of immigrants based in America. Folasadé Savage (Fola) leaves Lagos for Pennsylvania to study law, but meets her future husband and brilliant surgeon, the Ghanaian husband, Kweku Sai. Fola abandons her professional aspirations to raise their four children. But after losing his job at the hospital under unsavoury circumstances, Kweku abandons them all and returns to Ghana. The family splinters and regroups when the news of Kweku’s death in Accra brings them all together. It is a story that has to be read, to be experienced. It is a bittersweet story that will stay with you for a while.

Taiye Selasi was born in London of Nigerian and Ghanaian parents, and raised in Massachusetts, now lives in Italy. Earlier this year she was one of the twenty recognised as Britian’s upcoming novelists. It is an award that is well-deserved. The other two pieces of writing by Taiye Selasi that I enjoyed are “Driver” in Granta: Best of Young British Novelists and her essay “Bye-Bye Barbar” ( http://thelip.robertsharp.co.uk/?p=76 ). The latter is on being a cultural hybrid or an Afropolitan. This is what she says:

the newest generation of African emigrants, coming soon or collected already at a law firm/chem lab/jazz lounge near you. You’ll know us by our funny blend of London fashion, New York jargon, African ethics, and academic successes. Some of us are ethnic mixes, e.g. Ghanaian and Canadian, Nigerian and Swiss; others merely cultural mutts: American accent, European affect, African ethos. Most of us are multilingual: in addition to English and a Romantic or two, we understand some indigenous tongue and speak a few urban vernaculars. There is at least one place on The African Continent to which we tie our sense of self: be it a nation-state (Ethiopia), a city (Ibadan), or an auntie’s kitchen. Then there’s the G8 city or two (or three) that we know like the backs of our hands, and the various institutions that know us for our famed focus. We are Afropolitans: not citizens, but Africans of the world.

It isn’t hard to trace our genealogy. Starting in the 60’s, the young, gifted and broke left Africa in pursuit of higher education and happiness abroad. A study conducted in 1999 estimated that between 1960 and 1975 around 27,000 highly skilled Africans left the Continent for the West. Between 1975 and 1984, the number shot to 40,000 and then doubled again by 1987, representing about 30% of Africa’s highly skilled manpower. Unsurprisingly, the most popular destinations for these emigrants included Canada, Britain, and the United States; but Cold War politics produced unlikely scholarship opportunities in Eastern Bloc countries like Poland, as well.”

Trust me when I say. Read Ghana Must Go. ( Possess the printed book for the fabulous cover design.)

Taiye Selasi Ghana Must Go Viking, an imprint of Penguin Books, New Delhi. 2013. Pb. pp. 320 Rs. 499

Nuclear energy – pros and cons

Nuclear energy – pros and cons

Chernobyl

It is 25 years since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster ( 26 April 1986). It is a couple of years ( 11 March 2011) since the earthquakes and tsunami destroyed the Fukushima nuclear reactors. And the nuclear energy debates rages on in India, most notably about the Koodangulam nuclear power plant complex — http://kafila.org/2012/03/21/kudankulam-a-brief-history-and-a-recent-update/ . There are many pros and cons to setting up power plants based upon nuclear energy. It is a renewable source of energy that has to be considered when non-renewable sources like coal are becoming more and more expensive to mine and use. But setting up nuclear energy plants come with many disturbing aspects — displacement of people, the effects of radiation on the local community and eco-system and of course, the perennial dread of a nuclear disaster. The local eco-system would take centuries to “recover” from a nuclear spill or leak. An explosion as in Fukushima is still uncharted territory. For instance, the effect of the explosion on marine life is still undocumented.

Ramana, Examining nuclear energy in India

Two books, published recently in India — Voices from Chernobyl and The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India — are crucial in understanding the debates about nuclear energy, but also sobering reminders about what it entails. Voices from Chernobyl is a novel about the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster — contaminated food, metallic water, radioactive showers, deformed babies etc. It maybe a fictionalised account but it is horrifying since many of the stories seem to be based on real events and people. The unorthodox structure of the text does not ease one into reading the story for a moment. Instead it forces an engagement with the text. It has been translated from the Norwegian by Taralrud Maddrell. It won the Sult Prize in 2010.

The Power of Promise examines the nuclear energy programme of India, its growth, the economics of it and of course, the impact on international relations. It is probably no coincidence that these books are available soon after Indo-US bilateral treaty on nuclear energy was signed or the importing of Thorium from France. Now India’s conversations with Japan on a civil nuclear deal are being sped up. Here are a couple of reviews about The Power of Promise , published in the Frontline ( http://www.frontline.in/books/nuclear-questions/article4569496.ece ) and Kafila ( http://kafila.org/2013/03/21/understanding-the-empty-promises-of-nuclear-energy-nityanand-jayaraman/ ). There was a response to the Frontline review-article in the letters section by M. V. Ramanna but I am unable to locate it online. And here is another article by M. V. Ramanna on nuclear energy and safety in Kafila — http://kafila.org/2013/04/04/nuclear-energy-reassurances-dont-guarantee-safety-m-v-ramana/ and a debate on the subject http://kafila.org/2013/03/22/responding-to-a-debate-on-the-kudankulam-struggle-against-nuclear-energy/ .

Today it has been announced the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) in Tamil Nadu is set to start functioning in less than two days. http://www.ndtv.com/article/south/kudankulam-nuclear-plant-to-start-soon-after-it-gets-all-mandated-approvals-390956?pfrom=home-otherstories . The question that begs to be asked is “are these the temples of Modern India” that Nehru dreamed about? If so, at what cost?

12 July 2013

M. V. Ramanna The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India Penguin Books India, New Delhi. Hb. pp. 366 Rs. 699

Ingrid Storholmen Voices from Chernobyl Harper Perennial, Noida, India. Pb. pp.200 Rs. 299

Sunjeev Sahota, “Ours are the Streets”

Sunjeev Sahota, “Ours are the Streets”

Sunjeev Sahota

This is an old review of mine. ( Here is the original link: http://www.dnaindia.com/lifestyle/1543283/review-ours-are-the-streets-from-sheffield-boy-to-suicide-bomber ) It was published on 15 May 2011 in DNA. I am reposting it on my blog. Sunjeev Sahota has just been recognised as one of the twenty promising writers in the Granta 4: Best of Young Novelists anthology.

Ours Are The Streets is a story well-told, with admirable logic and precision. The author uses English and Hindustani, moving between the two languages effortlessly.

Imtiaz Raina is a British-Asian born and brought up in Sheffield. He is leading the typical life of an undergraduate — hanging out with friends, being stubborn and defiant with his parents (asking of them often, “Why can’t you be normal?”), but also getting aggressive when his dad, Rizwan, a taxi-driver, receives racist abuse from his passengers. Imtiaz is unable to comprehend how his father could bounce back the following morning, and “be ready to fall in love with the world again.” And yet, he marries a “white” girl, Rebekkah or Becka or B, who agrees to “revert” to Islam, and raise their daughter, Noor, as a Muslim.

All this changes when Imtiaz returns to Pakistan with his Ammi, to bury his father. The time away from UK proves to be a life-changing period for Imtiaz.

He whiles away his time on his uncle’s farm with his clan, including a collection of male cousins. Sometimes, a ‘friend’ like Aakil would take the “velayati” for an occasional visit to the neighbouring city. The sights and smells of the crowded and narrow lanes, the rotten roads, the cow dung strewn are an assault on his senses, but he is comfortable being “at home”, for here in the village, “I were always so and so’s grandson or such and such’s nephew or whatever. I were never just me, on my own . . . And I loved that. It were like for the first time I had an actual real past, with real people who’d lived real lives. Now I think that maybe when Noor takes her kids back home . . . they’ll sit in the shade of a banyan tree and listen open-mouthed to stories of the struggle that I, their baba, were part of.” So, when it is suggested that they take a trip to Kashmir and later Afghanistan, Imtiaz is ready. He thinks of the journey as an adventure, little realising the impact that it would have upon him as he is transformed from a Sheffield lad into a suicide bomber fighting for a cause.

Ours Are The Streets is a story well-told, with admirable logic and precision. The author uses English and Hindustani, moving between the two languages effortlessly. The use of the interior monologue shows the sure but insidious way in which a ‘normal’ person can be brainwashed into becoming a shaheed.

Ours Are The Streets
Sujeev Sahota
Picador
320 pages
Rs450

‘I publish what I wish to’, Naveen Kishore, Publisher, Seagull Books

‘I publish what I wish to’, Naveen Kishore, Publisher, Seagull Books

naveen in office 02

My interview with Naveen Kishore, Publisher, Seagull Books was published today in the Hindu Literary Review. ( online edition, 6 July 2013 and print edition, 7 July 2013). Here is the link: http://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/i-publish-what-i-wish-to/article4884047.ece

Choosing a manuscript is a curious mix of instinct and detective work, Naveen Kishore says.

Naveen Kishore, publisher, Seagull Books, has been awarded the Goethe Medal 2013. Seagull Books owns worldwide English-language publishing rights for books by Paul Celan, Ingeborg Bachmann, Jean-Paul Sartre, Thomas Bernhard, Imre Kertész, Yves Bonnefoy, Mo Yan, Mahasweta Devi, Peter Handke and Hans Magnus Enzensberger. The Goethe-Institut awards the Goethe Medal, an official decoration of the Federal Republic of Germany. It honours foreign personalities who have performed outstanding service for the German language and international cultural relations. Excerpts from an interview with Kishore:

Why did Seagull opt to make translations, especially from International literature, its focus?

We began in 1982 by translating Indian languages into English. When Seagull went international I turned instinctively to the kind of literature that had sustained me through my growing years. Translations from European languages had begun to disappear from English-language bookshelves, worldwide, over the last so many years. We thought we would bring them back!

Who are the prominent German writers you have translated into English?

Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Alexander Kluge, Peter Handke, Chista Woolf and Ingebog Bachmann and, newer voices such as Thomas Lehr, Dietmar Dath, Inka Parei, and Tillman Ramstedt, among a list of almost 80 now.

In your catalogue translator Teresa Lavender Fagan says, “A translator must absorb the essence of a work, feel the author’s soul and do what she can to minimise what must necessarily be lost. The paradox of translation: the desire to replicate a work in one’s own language while knowing it can never truly be done.” Do you think you are able to achieve this?

We try and locate the best translators; people steeped in the literature that we are hoping to share with the world. I work with translators who have, over the years, become the English voices of particular authors. This nurtures long-term relationships between translators, authors and the publisher. We prefer to publish authors, not just books, and do more than one work by an author. Whether we have achieved a substantial body of translations is up to readers to judge. The paradox of translation will always remain, but that will not prevent great works of literature travelling from one language to another and spreading across the world.

Most English-language publishers have a very slim list for translations. The reason often given is that it is an expensive proposition. So, how do you achieve so many translations every year?

It is expensive. So what? The world of letters would be so much poorer without it that we juggle and stretch our resources on a daily basis in order to make it happen. There is no miracle formula. We do it because if we didn’t it wouldn’t happen.

What is the methodology employed?

I trust my own instincts and responses to manuscripts or books that I contemplate publishing. I seek the active participation of my colleagues and translators. I trust publishers that I work with who often suggest titles to me. I read the Rights catalogues sent to me from publishers all over Europe. Our translators are encouraged to give us their wish-lists. We have our own. Selection of books, therefore, depends on a combination of recommendations and detective work. The translations are always done from the original languages. All our living writers work very closely with their translators. For those no longer with us, the translation is sent to their Estate for approval. Translations, when they are successful, capture the essence of what a writer is trying to say. Always.

The Goethe medal citation says, “Naveen Kishore is led not by the market, but by personal convictions and passions.” Seagull Books has offices registered in London and New York. Its books are distributed all over the world (except India) by the University of Chicago Press. So isn’t the market an important consideration for publishing?

I publish what I wish to. My presence in the U.K. and the U.S. is in itself an interesting reversal of traditional market strategies! It also offers a model that no longer suggests that Indian publishers must buy rights only for India. Seagull buys world rights, because our distribution through the University of Chicago Press allows us to sell across the world. It is a globalised world; your geographical location is of no consequence. The market has a responsibility too, you know! The market must learn to find you. And it does. It takes time, but it does.