September 2013 Posts

On self-publishing, Oct 2013

On self-publishing, Oct 2013

PubSpeak, Jaya

I am looking to speak to and interact with authors who have self-published in any genre or field. It could be fiction, non-fiction, children’s literature, cooking, photography, wildlife, memoirs, travelogues, poetry, medicine, academic, religion, mythology, short stories etc. They could have published printed books or ebooks or used any of online platforms like Kindle Direct Publishing ( KDP), Smashwords, Lulu, Author Solutions, Partridge Publishing etc. It could also be in any language but my impression is that these services are predominantly being offered in English only.

I would like to connect with authors who have only self published or even hybrid authors so as to understand this form of publishing. Please email me jayabhattacharjirose dot gmail dot com . Please mark the subject line as “Self-publishing”.

Also if anybody is interested in attending two events about self-publishing, to be organised in Delhi or Mumbai, please message me. It is only by invitation.

 

27 Sept 2013 

Jim Crace, “Harvest”

Jim Crace, “Harvest”

 

 

“…life should be allowed to proceed in its natural and logical order.” (p.226)Jim Crace, Harvest

Philip Crace’s novel Harvest is set in 16C England. At a time when unenclosed commons were being converted into enclosures, owned by an individual. It was a sweeping agricultural change that was changing the character of the villages and a way of life familiar to villagers. Harvest is narrated by Walter Thirsk, an outsider to the village who was brought here when his master, Master Kent, married the daughter of the manor. Twelve years on, both the men are widowers, and within seven days there is a massive transformation in the village that they had begun to know well. With the arrival of strangers — a couple, including a woman with a magnetic personality, a chart maker, and the new owner of the manor who had come to stake his claim– there is utter confusion in the small community. In the space of seven days the village and its community is destroyed, the houses burnt to rubble and the people have fled.

It is probably no coincidence that there are very strong Biblical parallels in the story and in the imagery used. If Jim Crace had not made it clear in an interview ( http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/jim-crace-author-of-bookershortlisted-quarantine-im-leaving-craceland-8488415.html ) that he has never read any novels by Thomas Hardy, I could have sworn that the landscape he has created is very Hardy-esque. The form and structure is so reserved and sophisticated, at times you miss the violence and destruction that it is conveying — the accusations of sorcery and witchcraft, the disappearance of the women and the five-year-old Gleaning Queen, the unnecessary brutal slaughter of Master Kent’s horse, the burning of the manor, the near lynching of Master Jordan’s groom etc.

Harvest is on the ManBooker shortlist. The winner will be announced on 15 Oct 2013. My bet is that this novel will be a strong contender.

Jim Crace Harvest Picador, London, 2013. Pb. pp. 275 £ 12.99

Pam Grout, E Squared

Pam Grout, E Squared

Pam GroutThis is one of those books that are quick to read but stay with you forever. The premise is quite simple. Think positive and you will be rewarded well. It could be in any form. An opportunity or a material request fulfilled. According to Pam Grout, thinking positively unleashes positive energies swirling around you and make things happen in your favour. She argues that never underestimate the power of your thoughts and what you wish for, it can come true.

There are nine chapters based upon nine experiments. One of those being the Abracadabra principle. The literal translation being that ” I will create as I speak”. For Pam Grout this is a powerful concept. It is the positive attitude that changes one’s outlook and earns rewards.

The book is mostly anecdotal but it is strangely comforting to read. Much like the articles that were published once upon a time in Reader’s Digest. When you are down in the dumps, reading and being inspired by such pep-me-up kind of literature may not be a bad thing at all. It is a confidence building measure. Read it.

Pam Grout E2 HayHouse, New Delhi, India, 2013. Pb. pp. 164 Rs. 250

 

“Am I a monster?” Confessions of a Sociopath, M. E. Thomas

“Am I a monster?” Confessions of a Sociopath, M. E. Thomas

Confessions of a sociopathI could sense this was true about life, even at the age of four or so. I could choose to take charge of my life, to leverage my time, talents, and health, and to potentially profit or die trying. (p.76)

I think it’s more interesting why I chose to buy a house for my closest friend, or gave my brother $10,000 the other day, just because. I recently got an e-mail from a friend with terminal cancer, saying I give the most thoughtful and useful gifts and how she is so grateful to know me. I am considered a very helpful and considerate professor and am consistently rated one of the best in the school. I am devoutly religious. I am functionally a good person and yet I am not motivated or constrained by the same things that most good people are. Am I monster? I prefer to believe that you and I simply occupy different points on the spectrum of humanity. ( p.24)

Memoirs are popular. Memoirs are fashionable to write. Memoirs sell well. (Tough to say if they are fiction or the truth, but that is a never ending debate.) I like reading memoirs. They tell you about the person, more about their socio-cultural context. Or at least what the person chooses  to tell you about their life. Confessions of a Sociopath is a chilling account by a successful lawyer and professor. She is a Mormon, who is well respected and good at her work. I found the memoir disturbing (and gripping). It is a frightening realisation that there are such cold-hearted, emotionless and manipulative people in the world who on the face of it are charming individuals. There are no violent incidents documented in M.E. Thomas’s life. Nothing extraordinary. It is merely the cold, heartless, calculating and precise manner in which she documents her life that takes one’s breath away. I was unable to read it from beginning to end at one go. I had to keep pausing and resume my reading. I was left struggling with the question — how candid is she in this memoir? Or is she manipulating the reader’s emotions as she does with people around her? Frankly I am not surprised that this book has become a success.

M. E. Thomas Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight Crown Publishers, Pan Macmillan, Great Britain, 2013. Pb. pp. 310 £12.99

 

Fun and fantastic reads!

Fun and fantastic reads!

Steampunk-An-Anthology-of-FaThree collection of short stories by three different publishers — Walker Books, Hot Key Books and Bloomsbury —  that I have thoroughly enjoyed in recent weeks are on steampunk fiction, the fantastic and unnatural creatures and witch stories. I have absolutely loved the collections. Taken my own sweet time to read them, dip into them and enjoyed the stories tremendously. Read them if you can. Under my Hate, Tales from the Cauldron, Hot Key Books

Unnatural Creatures, short stories chosen by Neil Gaiman

 

 

 

 

 

Ed. by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant Welcome to Steampunk! Fun anthology of fantastically rich and strange stories Walker Books, London, 2012. Pb. pp. 420 £7.99

Ed. Jonathan Strahan Under my Hat: Tales from the Cauldron Hot Key Books, London, 2012. Pb. pp. 420 Rs 350 

Neil Gaiman, stories chosen by Unnatural Creatures Bloomsbury, London, 2013. Hb. pp. 465. Rs. 499

“Girls of India” series

“Girls of India” series

A Mauryan Adventure, Subhadra Sen GuptaPuffin, an imprint of Penguin Books India, launched the  “Girls of India” series. The idea is to introduce young readers to history, make it come alive and accessible, without confining it to history textbooks where history is dry, dull and boring. Far from it! The first three titles in A Chola Adventure ( Anu Kumar), A Harappan Adventure (Sunile Gupte) and A Mauryan Adventure ( Subhadra Sen Gupta) are the adventures of twelve-year-olds, Raji, Avani and Madhura in 990 CE, Tanjore; 2570 BCE, Bagasara village, Harappa and 3rd Century BCE, Pataliputra, India respectively. Well-told tales that immerse you immediately into the stories, the period and the antics of the girls. Of the three, Subhadra Sen Gupta’s A Mauryan Adventure is the finest, evident in the ease with which the story is told, details of the story come together and so do the facts from history– but then she has years of experience in making history accessible for children through tales.

I am delighted to see historical fiction being made available for younger readers. It definitely has its uses for the sheer pleasure of reading or being introduced as supplementary readers in schools, thereby giving trade publishers access to an age group of readers who usually fall of their radar, since exams and textbooks hog all their attention, only to re-emerge as readers in their early twenties. In fact Prof Narayani Gupta wrote “It is very important to have teachers use this as well as referring to dauntingly clever theses. My husband [ well-known historian Prof. Partha Sarthi Gupta] used to recommend specific Sherlock Holmes stories for European diplomatic history!” ( A comment she sent via email upon reading my article on Historical Fiction — http://www.jayabhattacharjirose.com/jaya/2013/03/26/on-historical-fiction-my-article-published-in-hts-brunch-9-march-2013/  )

While I am all for encouraging young girls to be readers too, I do have reservations about restricting the series to “Girls of India” or having girls on the book covers. These are books that will be enjoyed by both boys and girls. Given that they are targeting the 12+ age-group, this is a very sensitive lot of youngsters. Details like making the book covers more amenable to girls for reading can quite easily deter the boys from picking up these titles. It is a fine balance to be achieved.  In March 2013, Dame  Jacqueline Wilson had commented upon publishers stopping the pink tide, of creating books dressed up in pink to lure young girls as readers. Her argument was based on the premise that “a boy is going to have to feel really quite confident if he is going to be seen in front of his mates with a book that is bright pink because it is immediately code for this being ‘girlie’.” ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10039848/Dame-Jacqueline-Wilson-challenges-publishers-to-halt-the-pink-tide.html ) A valid argument for accessing boys as readers, I think, holds true here as well.

Bottomline. My verdict for the series. A thumbs up. Read. Recommend.

Girls of India Series, published by Puffin, Penguin Books India. June 2013.

17 Sept 2013

Telling tales, an interview with Emily Gravett, 14 Sept 2013 (The Hindu)

Telling tales, an interview with Emily Gravett, 14 Sept 2013 (The Hindu)

Emily Gravett and Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, 29 Aug 2013, Jumpstart 2 ( I interviewed Emily Gravett in late August. The interview has been published in the Hindu Literary Supplement. Online – 14 Sept 2013 and in print – 15 Sept 2013. The url is: http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/telling-tales/article5124153.ece I am reproducing the longer version of the interview below. )Emily Gravett, twice Kate Greenaway medal winner (Wolves, 2005 and Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears, 2008) is known for her picture books. Her father is printmaker and mother an art teacher in a special needs school.  Emily always loved to draw and paint but her passion for picture books, writing and reading to children began when she saw her two-month-old daughter respond to picture books. (The infant’s eyes lit up when other children in the room were being read out aloud to.) After that Emily began to draw and paint, tell her daughter stories via sketches and finally enrolled for a programme in illustration. Her first two books, including Wolves, for which she won her first Kate Greenaway medal was produced while she was still studying.Wolves pb_FCQ. How do you draw? How long does it take you to create a picture book?

A. I prefer to draw using pencil and watercolours. The images are then scanned into the computer and then the pages are designed.

 

Q Do you take an interest in designing and overseeing the production of every picture book?

A. I draw and design every single book that I work upon. I hand over the ready-to-print files to my publisher where the editors then pitch in. For instance, in the Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears, I had scanned pages from old books to create the withered background feel on the pages. The editors began to proofread the pages and discovered that the writing from the scanned pages was still visible! So it had to be scrubbed off. Or in The Rabbit Problem the editors had to actually count every single rabbit on every page including on the last pop-up page.

 

Q. Why work only with picture books? How long does it take to conceptualise and finish a picture book?

I prefer to work with illustrated form of books. I love image and text that are integrated. You can do anything with a picture book even though it has a strict format. Of the books published so far, I have only done the shout-along Monkey and Me which is in the big book format. It can take me anywhere from a few hours (Orange Bear Apple Bear) to a few weeks (Wolves) to over a year (The Rabbit Problem).

 

Q. Tell me more about your explosive pop-up book, The Rabbit Problem Rabbit Problem PB FC

The Rabbit Problem emerged after I heard a radio programme on the thirteen century mathematician Fibonacci. There was an annual competition conducted to figure out “the rabbit problem” and what as the solution for the number of rabbits proliferating in the fields. Fibonacci solved it by creating the Fibonacci series that took into consideration an idealised situation of a pair of rabbits, assuming that no rabbit died, he created the Fibonacci sequence where the rabbits are able to mate at the age of one month and then reproduce again after the second month. (It was known much earlier to Indian mathematicians like Pingala too.)

I do not have a head for mathematics and was about to turn off the radio but this conversation caught my attention. It set me thinking and I created The Rabbit Problem. It took me over a year to make the book. Every single rabbit in the book had to be drawn and painted; each page had to be checked for consistency in the drawings (of the generations) and every rabbit had to be counted to confirm if the number of rabbits on each page conformed to the Fibonacci sequence. Even the little pieces pasted on to the pages like The Fibber newspaper, or The Carrot Cookery Book took some weeks to prepare. For the sake of authenticity, I rummage through old bookshops, garage sales and second-hand bookstores to discover old clippings, old cookery books. Then I try and imitate the design in to my picture books. Since I am not very good at identifying the font being used or what would be the most appropriate one to use in the picture book, when I work on the design, I collaborate closely with an art director.

 

Q. How many books have you published so far? Do you collaborate with anyone?

I have published fifteen picture books, all of which I have written, illustrated and designed myself. I have only collaborated once with Julia Donaldson on Cave Baby. I was really pleased with the result, and very glad I did it as it was a great experience and a challenge as I’m used to both writing and illustrating.

Q. In India it is difficult for illustrators to make a living off their chosen career and of picture books it is definitely not possible. So how do you sustain yourself as a full-time illustrator of picture books?

I have been very lucky in all my projects. The first book I published–Wolves–while still at university. It got me a three-book contract with an advance that allowed me to remain afloat for a year. Once it became evident that my books were selling well worldwide, the advance against royalties for a book helped me concentrate on my work at hand. Now the royalties are flattening out but they still allow me the leisure to focus on my ideas and picture books.

 

Q Your choice of stories for the picture books seems to be a play on well-known folk lore and children’s literature –Blue Chameleon (Eric Carle); Wolf Won’t Bite! (Three Little Pigs); Dogs ( Seuss); Meerkat Mail ( Country Mouse, Town Mouse). Is this a conscious decision?

A. Wolf Won’t Bite! is a play on a story that children are already familiar with – The Three Little Pigs, otherwise I do not actually work with well-known tales consciously. I do love wolves, the actual animals and also they have this storytelling mythology woven around them. It must sound bad, I don’t often think of children but of what I like when I am working on an idea. Yes, you do get the feeling inside your stomach, a mixture of excitement that fairy tales generate.

 

Q How well do picture books translate into other languages? Do you oversee production and design?

A. It is a challenge translating a picture book. The result varies depending upon the language of destination and the script used. If it is a Romance language like French that uses the Roman script, then the translation is more or less easily done. If it is a pictorial script like Chinese or Thai then adjusting the script and illustration takes time, but I am not involved in the process. I only receive the finished copies. But the most intriguing translation has been that of Orange Bear Apple Bear into Catalan. I am unable to read it but the original text is a play of five words, but the translated text consists of a string of words spread across the pages. It definitely has a lot more words!

Q Who are the illustrators whom you admire?

A. Quentin Blake, Raymond Briggs, Posy Simmonds, Polly Dunbar, Anthony Browne, Alexis Deacon and Edward Ardizzone.

Q The technical details in your picture books are a delight – end paper, copyright pages, use of a comma etc.

A. I love the structure of a book. So whether it is designing the copyright page of Blue Chameleon in the shape of the reptile or working on creating little images and details on the end papers as in the Odd Egg and Again!, I love it. It even extends to playing with the use of a comma and five words in Orange Bear Apple Bear. I enjoy making these details.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an international publishing consultant and columnist

“Permit To Read” Unfortunately (or fortunately) the act of women reading still makes news, PubSpeak, Sept 2013

“Permit To Read” Unfortunately (or fortunately) the act of women reading still makes news, PubSpeak, Sept 2013

( My monthly column, “PubSpeak”, in BusinessWorld online has been published. Here is the original http://www.businessworld.in/news/economy/permit-to-read/1072156/page-1.html. This time it is on permission to read.)

PubSpeak, Jaya

I heard a lovely story (and true) from Aditi Maheshwari, publisher, Vani Prakashan. (Vani Prakashan have been publishing in Hindi for 55 years.) They participate in book fairs around the country. One of the biggest events for Vani Prakashan is to set up a large stall at the Patna book fair, with a long walk between the entry and exit points. At one of these events, Aditi noticed a married couple browse through their stalls. The wife paused when she spotted the Hindi translation of Taslima Nasreen’s Lajja. She nudged her husband and said, “I have heard about this book. I read a review in a women’s magazine. Could you please buy it for me?” The husband looked appalled and said, “No. I will not. This is a book I will not allow in the house. If you buy it and read it, I will throw you out of the house.” And then he pulled his wife away.

She followed him as she was used to. Aditi saw this exchange. She quickly picked up a copy of the book, slipped it into a paper envelope, rolled it up in a catalogue and asked a colleague to slip it into the wife’s hand as they were exiting out of the stall. A few weeks later Aditi received a few lines scribbled on a postcard from the woman. She said, “Thank you for the book. My life has changed after reading it. I did not realise that if anyone touches my body without my consent can be construed as rape, even if it is my husband demanding his ‘right’ at night. Could you please send me the author’s address? I would like to write to her as well.”

Aditi did. A couple of months later the publisher received an ecstatic phone call from Taslima Nasreen telling her about the beautiful note of 20-25 lines that had been sent to her by the wife in Bihar. The book had stuck a chord. (And it must have with many more. Since the Hindi translation was published in 1996, Vani Prakashan has sold over 5,00,000 copies of Lajja reasonably priced at Rs 150. The other Taslima Nasreen titles that they have published have also had equally extraordinary print runs.)

In order to access women readers women’s presses were established. Some of the better known names worldwide are Virago, Kali for Women, Zubaan, Women Unlimited, Persephone Books, Spinifex Press, Modjaji Books, and The Feminist Press. When these publishing houses first began — inevitably all of them were established after 1970 — they were not considered too seriously by their peers in publishing. The notion of creating a distinct list for women was unheard of, but a publishing house dedicated to creating books for women, by women and with women readers in mind was inconceivable.

The Game Changers
Slowly over a period of time it became obvious that this was a strong and healthy market segment. After about two to three decades mainstream publishing houses recognising the potential announced their own imprints dedicated to women or began collaborations. In India, Zubaan entered into a co-publishing agreement with Penguin Books. But as Urvashi Butalia, publisher, Zubaan (and co-founder, Kali for Women), said in an interview in April 2013: “Around the time Kali for Women came to be, there were very many feminist presses globally, with Virago being the most prominent. There are now only a handful; most of them have either scaled back or shut shop, and part of the reason has to do with feminism going ‘mainstream’.

There is a moment in Chitra Banerjee Divakurni’s Oleander Girl when Korobi advises her hostess in America, Seema Mitra, how to flee New York and return to India, in time to have her baby in Calcutta. “Flee” because her husband consumed completely by his addiction to gambling is being unreasonable and unable to look after her. Korobi assists the young, heavily-pregnant Seema to hatch a plan to leave New York City for India without the husband even getting a whiff of it. The plan is ridiculously simple and Seema escapes easily.  Oleander Girl has been published in India by Penguin Books India, but Divakaruni has been writing for many years, with many “mainstream” publishing houses, around the world, some of her books have been adapted into films — notably, the Mistress of Spices had Aishwarya Rai acting in it. The strength of Divakaruni’s writing lies in the finely etched women characters that populate her stories. Her retelling of the Mahabharata from the perspective of Draupadi in The Palace of Illusions continues to sell extraordinarily well. In India alone the sales in hardback and paperback have crossed 25,000 copies (probably is higher). It is said that the commercial success of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey can be attributed predominantly to the word-of-mouth recommendation by women readers who initially read the book on their electronic devices, reading in “secret” albeit in public spaces say, while commuting since the book cover was not visible. So, they were able to read, share and discuss erotic fiction without being condemned for the act of reading, let alone the genre. This anecdotal evidence suggests that there is a growing market amongst women readers.

The format in which it is delivered is immaterial, but it is the accessibility of it that is crucial when connecting with women readers. It could be in printed volumes, easy to handle slim volumes of large texts, creating audio books that are delivered via electronic mediums including fixed landlines and mobile phones, getting books to many book clubs that exist and meet regularly, selling books via newspaper vendors (as Harlequin is exploring in Kerala), and definitely marking the books at price points that are affordable for women, even if it means exploring a membership with the publisher or paying in installments for the books.

Many women now have expendable income especially those who are entering the workforce, young and single whereas the priority for many married women continues to be the family. But the fact is many do read and want to read. A significant fact since it affects the bottomline of publishing too. News about publishing is generally dominated by articles on digital and print conversations, self-publishing, emerging markets, language publishing, children’s and YA literature, new forms of electronic readers, the collapse of brick-and-mortar bookstores – all very relevant aspects of publishing but slowly the conversations about women readers as a distinct market is no longer centre stage.

Society Versus The Individual
Unfortunately (or fortunately) the act of women reading still makes news. It still upsets people. Akshay Pathak, writer, wrote in an article last month, “My mother was the only person in the family who had read some books. But she was married into a family where reading books was forcefully discouraged. And so gradually she stopped. Had to.” It is still not uncommon for women who are reading at home to hear, “Why are you lolling? Isn’t there any work to be done?”

Muneeza Shamsie, literary journalist, in her contribution to Fifty Shades of Feminism writes “… the last word belongs to my mother. [Jahanara Habibullah] In her last years, to try and cope with my father’s terminal illness, she began her very first book, a memoir. She was 84 when it was published as an English translation and later in the original Urdu. In 2003, after she died, I found stacks of Urdu classics – often written by her kinsmen – tucked away in the lower bookshelves. To me, my mother’s tenacity, her love for a literature and language that neither her husband nor her children could read, embody the suppressed voices of women. But my mother’s tale is one of triumph. On the last night of her life, she rang my paternal aunt Tazeen and said “All these years I was turned into a housewife and made useless! I should have been a writer!” Such a self-revelation, at 86, a few hours before dying! By her bedside table sat Kamila’s novels and my anthologies – a far cry from secretarial college where success depended on reproducing accurately someone else’s words.” Pink Poster, Asmita

There is a fabulous poster created during the women’s movement in India by an NGO, Asmita. It shows a woman dressed in a sari sitting in a chair, with her feet up and reading a book. The television is on and she has a couple of books open and scattered on the floor besides her. Basically she is looking very relaxed and is obviously in her own private space — a dream for many. But as William St. Clair says in The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period, “Women’s reading, at any rate women’s reading of the upper-income groups, the commonplace books suggest, was by no means limited to writings regarded as suitable for women.” A fact that holds true two centuries later.

11 Sept 2013
Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an international publishing consultant and columnist

@JBhattacharji

Jumpstart, 28-29 Aug 2013

Jumpstart, 28-29 Aug 2013

Logo

 

Alok Rai, Manisha Choudhury, Subir Shukla, Jumpstart 2013Jumpstart this year was focused on talking, discussing, tackling issues in children’s literature in a range of languages. The discussions were not necessarily confined to the domain of English-language publishing. The presentations, panel discussions and conversations on the side were representative of the enthusiasm, involvement and engagement that the various stakeholders in children’s literature hold. For Subir Shukla, the definition of children’s literature, was inclusive of textbooks that were being created for children in all languages across all states. It was not necessarily confined to the domain of trade literature ( picture books, chapter books, fiction and non-fiction) but that which was being created and used on a daily basis in classrooms across states. According to Subir Shukla textbooks such as the ones he was discussing had phenomenal print runs of 700,000 + as opposed to 5,000+ of trade literature, so it was a definition hard to dispute. Though there will always be quibbles about what constitutes “children’s literature”.

Anita Roy, Sampurna Chattarji and Anushka Ravishankar, Jumpstart 2013

Anita Roy, Sampurna Chattarji and Anushka Ravishankar, Jumpstart 2013

 

The first day sessions were attended very well. There were an estimated 175 people who had registered, apart from the invitees, speakers, panelists etc. But there was even better constructive engagement to be experienced on the sidelines, during the coffee and lunch breaks, the reception ( by invitation only) in the evening etc. The second day was quieter with a hum of activity in the various sessions. These were primarily masterclasses focussed on writing and illustrating, followed by the book souk — a form of B2B speed-dating between authors and publishers. Audience, Jumpstart 2013

Jumpstart 2013

Jumpstart 2013

This is the fourth edition of Jumpstart. Every year there has been something new on offer. In terms of content, formats and organisation. For instance, this year participants could register on separate days, depending upon what sessions were of interest to them rather than sign up for the two-day conference. It made a marked difference to the level of engagement between the audience and speakers. There were (mostly) focussed questions from the floor instead of too many rambling observations. The proposed format of inviting speakers to make presentations like the TED lectures was a good idea, since these are highly experienced professionals, but without a rehearsal the day before there was palpable nervousness amongst the speakers. So very soon the TED-like talks fizzled out into simple presentations from the podium followed by a panel discussion.

This time it was evident that the first day of the conference was meant for intensive networking. People were obviously engaged in serious conversations, business cards were being exchanged and the immense (business) possibilities of bringing so many stakeholders in children’s literature together was apparent. If only it were possible to know beforehand who were all the registered participants at Jumpstart, maybe the networking could have been more effective, since there is a limit to how many conversations one can have in a few hours. Energies do get spent. Maybe upon registering Jumpstart visitors could visit a restricted access section of the official website and view the names of expected people and their email ids, reach out to them, fix appointments, and do a bit of homework before attending the conference so the interactions could be far more constructive. Otherwise too much time was being spent in exchanging pleasantries, especially for Jumpstart virgins. Veterans, of course, knew how to mingle and move swiftly from one huddle to the next, glean information, exchange cards and initiate conversations, many to be completed days later. Over the years, I hear, many business engagements have emerged from  or facilitated by Jumpstart. This year one of the immediate ones was award-winning illustrator Julia Kaergel’s visit to Kumaon University, facilitated by Arundhati Desothali.

(C) Julia Kaergel

(C) Julia Kaergel

 

 

 

Masterclass, Jumpstart 2013The “practical” aspect of the conference – the masterclasses and the Book Souk  – are  feature that continue to enchant a number of participants. Illustrators and writers have the opportunity have face-to-face interactions with publishing professionals, experts and of course authors can meet editors of publishing firms to show them their manuscripts.  Maybe next year a session on learning how to cost one’s labour and/or the costs involved in producing children’s literature could also be factored in. It would certainly help many of the conversations to be a tad sharper and focused. People have dreams and it is up to the publishers to make them come alive through a partnership, but many of those dreams need to be realistic, only possible if economics and money are discussed.

 

Translation panel, Jumpstart 2013

Translation panel, Jumpstart 2013

Rohini Chowdhury, translator and writer, says it well about children’s literature, something that German Book Office is constantly working at and facilitating through such platforms like Jumpstart  – “Children are demanding readers, they absorb and observe, criticize and comment with a great deal more engagement and involvement than do most adults. They are also our future, and therefore, whether it is an original novel or story, or a translated work, children deserve the best that I can give.” (http://bit.ly/18OytEa )

11 Sept 2013

 

Guest post: Rohini Chowdhury, translator of “Bosky’s Panchatantra”

Guest post: Rohini Chowdhury, translator of “Bosky’s Panchatantra”

( I invited Rohini Chowdhury to talk about her experience in translating Bosky’s Panchatantra for Red Turtle. She translated Gulzar’s verse rendition of Panchatantra.

She is a widely published children’s writer, and an established literary translator. As a children’s writer, she has more than twenty books and several short stories to her credit. Her published writing is in Hindi and English, and covers a wide spectrum of literary genres including translations, novels, short fiction, comics, and non-fiction.

Rohini’s primary languages as a literary translator are pre-modern (Braj Bhasha and Avadhi) and modern (Khari Boli) Hindi, and English. She has translated the seventeenth century Braj Bhasha text Ardhakathanak, into modern Hindi and into English; both translations were published by Penguin India. Ardhakathanak is the autobiography of the poet, merchant and philosopher, Banarasidas; written in 1641, it is widely regarded as the first autobiography in an Indian language. Her translations include the Hindi novel Tyagpatra [The Resignation] by Jainendra, one of the leading Hindi novelists of the modern period, into English, also published by Penguin India.

Rohini was born and educated in India, and was a management professional before moving to London in 1997. She is widely travelled and brings in the nuances of the cultures of Asia, Africa and the West in her writings.

Bosky's Panchatantra by Gulzar, Rupa Publications, Rohini Chowdhury (transl)Gulzar Bosky’s Panchatantra Translated by Rohini Chowdhury, illustrated by Rajiv Eipe. Rupa Publications (2013)  Pb. Rs. 195

 When I was first asked to translate Gulzar’s verse renditions of stories from the Panchatantra, I was both excited and curious. Excited because I would be translating Gulzar, and curious because these were familiar tales, that I had grown up listening to; also, I had earlier translated several of these stories from the original Sanskrit Panchatantram. Moreover, these stories had been told and retold a hundred times before, in varying forms and formats, by writers and translators of all colours, and I wondered what new twist or angle Gulzar could possibly have given them. The excitement and curiosity were soon replaced by apprehension: Would I be able to do justice to the tales, or would my own familiarity with them stand in the way of my translation? And then, it was Gulzar that I was translating, and translating the work of a living poet of his stature brought its own demands— the quality of my translation had to match the greatness of his reputation, and please the poet as well!  As if these doubts were not enough, the tales were meant for children, and children, as anyone who has had anything to do with them will tell you, are far more demanding and discerning than adults. So there I was, faced with a trio of unprecedented challenges— an overly familiar subject, the text written by a famous and much-revered poet, and meant for children!

But I need not have worried, not about the ‘overly familiar’ at least! As I worked through the tales, I was drawn into their magic once more, and this time the magic came with the added sparkle of Gulzar’s wit and lively humour. Gulzar’s gentle imagination had fleshed out the original tales with dialogue and descriptions, and added events and happenings the way one does when telling a well-loved story to a child several times. The humour and the detail made these stories uniquely Gulzar’s, familiar yes, but new as well!

Gulzar Sahib approved my translation of the first story, and I breathed a sigh of relief. So the second worry was gone too! I could now focus on what, in any case, is any translator’s primary concern— to transmit the original in as accurate and as interesting a manner as possible to her audience, which, in my case, would be made up mainly of children.

Gulzar’s Panchatantra stories are in Hindustani, that inimitable mix of Hindi and Urdu that is so rarely heard these days, the tales related as he would have related them to his daughter, Bosky, when she was little. My main challenge now became to transmit the tones and nuances of his sparkling, softly flowing, idiomatic Hindustani into the much staider, crisper English.

Each language brings with it its own context, social, historical, cultural, so that when we move from one language into another, we also move worlds.  Translation therefore becomes a negotiation between languages and cultures, and the translator, as mediator, must address the issues that arise in such a negotiation: How accurately must the translation follow the original? Which words may be kept, which must be discarded? How best may an idea that is intrinsic to the original culture but alien to the other be transmitted? Can it be transmitted at all? I, too, asked these questions as I sat down to translate Gulzar’s stories.

Gulzar’s use of idiom makes the stories easy to read, but difficult to translate without taking some liberties with the original. Take, for example, the Hindi phrase, ‘jhoot ke pair nahin hote’ which translates literally into  ‘falsehood has no feet’.  In Hindi the phrase makes perfect sense, in English, not so much, not without further explanation of some sort. We finally settled upon ‘A lie never goes very far/For it has no feet at all’.

Certain cultural and social norms which are easily conveyed in Hindi, are almost impossible to convey in English, and compromises are inevitable. Consider the Hindu practice whereby a woman may not address her husband by name. This is conveyed perfectly in Hindi but in English translation, the cultural context is by and large lost. Take the tale of Manram Swaroop, the Brahmin. Though he had a wonderful name, no one ever used it: the entire village called him ‘Panditji’, and his wife, of course, would never address him by name:

His wife would call him

‘Hey, sir!’

‘Ho, sir!’

‘Do you hear me?’

That’s how she would address him…

Though technically correct and adequate for the purpose of telling the story, the translation does not and cannot in itself capture the social and cultural implications that are implicit in this tradition, unless it be accompanied by further explanation, either in the main text itself or in footnotes. But any such explanation would have made the text heavier, and given that my translation was not a scholarly exercise but aimed at young readers, I decided to skip the explanation.

Puns and double meanings are ever the translator’s bane and Gulzar’s gentle and clever play on words throughout the text presented another challenge in translation. Unfortunately, in some instances, this was inevitably lost in translation, though sometimes English actually enhanced the humour of the original. In the tale of the singing donkey, for example, English gave me the facility of playing with two words ‘donkey’ and ‘ass’ to convey the two meanings (the animal, and a fool) of the single Hindi word ‘gadha’.

Gulzar’s stories are in free verse, and therefore, to stay as close to the spirit of the original as possible, I wanted my translation to be in free verse as well.  Translating into verse constrains the translator even further for verse demands economy in the use of words, so that the translator must use words not only effectively, but both efficiently as well. I found myself writing and rewriting, cutting and pruning and editing, till the lines fell into place just so. An arduous exercise, but worth the effort.

Of course, as I worked, every decision I made— the words I used, the phrases I chose to explain or leave to the readers’ understanding, the ideas I chose to convey or glossed over briefly – was influenced by the fact that this work was meant for children.

One might ask, and I asked myself this: why should a translation aimed at children require more care from the translator than a translation aimed at adults? The answer, I realized, lay in the responsibility I feel when writing for children. Children are demanding readers, they absorb and observe, criticize and comment with a great deal more engagement and involvement than do most adults. They are also our future, and therefore, whether it is an original novel or story, or a translated work, children deserve the best that I can give.

London, 11 Sept 2013

(C) Rohini Chowdhury

Email: rohini.chowdhury@gmail.com