February 2014 Posts

Gulabi Gang

Gulabi Gang

Pink Sari revolution, Amana Fontanella-KhanFreedom is when I have my own money, but how do I do that?’ she wondered. 

( p.84 Pink Sari Revolution, Amana Fontanella-Khan)

When the Pink Gang hosts a ceremony for a love marriage, the women sometimes erect a wedding tent on an empty strip of land on the outskirts of town. On other occasions they simply organize the festivities at an accommodating temple. Sampat calls the local district commander of the area and gathers a hundred of her Pink Gang members for the occasion, which invariably attracts the local media.  She uses these weddings to deliver speeches on the ills of the caste and dowry systems and to demand why, in this day and age, young people do not have the right to choose their spouse…At these happy-go-lucky weddings, Babuji has the duty of chanting the wedding shlokas from the Bhagvad Gita, and Sampat presents the bride and groom with large garlands strung with marigold, jasmine and gerbera daisies to place around each other’s neck as a sign of respect. Once the rituals are completed, the Pink Gang hands the couple whatever the women have been able to pool together to help the newly-weds, who are often only eighteen or nineteen years old, pay their first few months of rent. 

( p.126-7, Pink Sari Revolution, Amana Fontanella-Khan)

Gulabi Gang or the Pink Gang  have  been creating a buzz in India for sometime now. It is a 20,000 strong, all-women vigilante group operating from Bundelkhand, Uttar Pradesh under the able leadership of Sampat Lal. Gulabi Gang fights injustice against women. It began with Sampat Lal bringing together women to fight on behalf of domestic violence victims, but slowly the movement has grown to respond to other forms of violence against women. Warrior in a pink sari, Zubaan

Some of the prominent films made on Gulabi Gang are Kim Longinotto’s Pink SarisNishtha Jain’s documentary Gulabi Gang; and the forthcoming Bollywood film starring Madhuri Dixit-Nene and Juhi Chawla Gulaab Gang ( trailer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAcN8RR3Ry4 ). According to the director, the latter is a fictional account that has been inspired by and is not based upon the life of Sampat Lal.  Some of the recent reviews and blog posts are by Suparna Sharma, Asian Age, reviews Gulabi Gang http://www.asianage.com/movie-reviews/pink-revolution-123 and Jai Arjun Singh blogs about two films on Sampat Lal and her gang http://jaiarjun.blogspot.in/2014/02/pink-saris-and-gulabi-gang-two-films.html . NDTV did a fascinating interview ( 30 March 2010)  http://www.ndtv.com/video/player/the-unstoppable-indians/the-gulabi-gang/135096. The two books that are regularly discussed since they are authentic accounts– by Anne Berthod and Amana Fontanella-Khan. Anne Berthod wrote Sampat Lal’s biography after extensive conversations with her whereas Amana Fontanella-Khan spent time in Bundelkhand, living and documenting Gulabi Gang, its members and of course, speaking to Sampat Lal. The official website of Sampat Lal, Gulabi Gang http://www.gulabigang.in/ .

The gang has caught the imagination of people across the world, not just for the manner in which they work, their uniform of pink saris make them stand out; obviously there battles seem to resonate with women across the world, across socio-economic classes. They have received positive media attention, with documentaries, films and books being created about them. Sampat Lal, the founder, has written an autobiography as told to Anne Berthod, plus she has had no qualms participating in Indian television reality shows like Big Boss.

Sampat Pal, Warrior in a Pink Sari: The Inside Story of the Gulabi Gang as Told to Anne Berthod Zubaan, Delhi, 2013. Pb. ( Autobiography of Sampat Lal as told to Anne Berthod and published in France, 2008)

Amana Fontanella-Khan Pink Sari Revolution: A tale of self-reliance and female grassroots activism Picador India, New Delhi, 2013. Hb. pp.300. Rs. 599

Paulo Coelho moves to Penguin Random House in India, the UK and Australia

Paulo Coelho moves to Penguin Random House in India, the UK and Australia

Penguin Random House

For immediate release

Thursday 27th February 2014

 

 

Paulo Coelho moves to Penguin Random House in India, the UK and Australia

 

Susan Sandon, Managing Director of Cornerstone, has acquired rights to Paulo Coelho’s new novel, ADULTERY, acting on behalf of Hutchinson at Cornerstone, Hamish Hamilton in Australia and New Zealand, and Random House India. The six figure acquisition, with separate deals for each territory, was struck with Mônica R. Antunes at Sant Jordi Asociados. ADULTERY will be published this August simultaneously with Knopf in the US.

ADULTERY is a thought-provoking novel about the blurred lines between love and infatuation, adventure and self-sabotage. Linda is happily married to a wealthy man, has two children and works as a journalist – she knows she is lucky which only makes her unhappiness more confusing.  While being afraid of change, she is also terrified of life continuing as it is. A meeting with a politician, and ex-boyfriend, ignites a side of her she thought had been shut-down with far-reaching consequences for everyone. The inspirational message for the reader is that you need to discover the passion in the life you have, not the life you imagine.

Meru Gokhale, Editorial Director, Vintage, Random House India says: ‘We are absolutely delighted to be publishing Paulo Coelho in India – he is a writer who is cherished by millions of Indian readers for his unique style, insight and wisdom.’

 

Paulo Coelho has sold more than 150 million books worldwide. His work is published in 80 languages and he is the most translated living author in the world. Paulo has an enormous digital media presence. He is the writer with the highest number of social media followers reaching over 17 million fans through his Facebook page and 9 million followers on Twitter.

 

For further information, please contact Caroline Newbury on cnewbury@randomhouse.co.in

Penguin Random House (http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/) is the world’s first truly global trade book publisher.  It was formed on July 1, 2013, upon the completion of an agreement between Bertelsmann and Pearson to merge their respective trade publishing companies, Random House and Penguin, with the parent companies owning 53% and 47%, respectively.  Penguin Random House comprises the adult and children’s fiction and nonfiction print and digital trade book publishing businesses of Penguin and Random House in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and India, Penguin’s trade publishing activity in Asia and South Africa; Dorling Kindersley worldwide; and Random House’s companies in Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, and Chile. Penguin Random House employs more than 10,000 people globally across almost 250 editorially and creatively independent imprints and publishing houses that collectively publish more than 15,000 new titles annually. Its publishing lists include more than 70 Nobel Prize laureates and hundreds of the world’s most widely read authors.

Good Books Guide for children, NBT and PAG-E

Good Books Guide for children, NBT and PAG-E

The Good Books Guide, 1Ever so often I am asked by parents, educators and schools to recommend books that are age-appropriate for children. Every time I put together a list based upon the sensibilities of the people asking. It has been a long time since I began working in publishing and engaging with children’s literature. For many years I guest-edited a special issue of The Book Review on children’s and young adult literature. Last year I was on the jury for the Crossword Book Awards for children’s literature. But in all these years of working in the publishing industry I have rarely come across catalogues of children’s literature that could be easily recommended. Apart from compilations of titles available in English and other Indian languages, it is also crucial to understand how to select a book for a child. Introduction to literature after all is part of the nurturing and grooming process of a child into a independent, informed and literate individual. From the basic picture books, hardboard books for toddlers to picture books, chapter books and novels and non-fiction for older kids, it is not always easy to come by information. Having said that, in the last one year, there have been three titles published in India — 101 Indian Children’s Books We Love ( Young Zubaan), Children’s Books 2014 ( NBT) and The Good Books Guide: How to select a good book for children ( NBT and PAG-E) that are a beginning. They introduce titles from English, in translation and available in other Indian languages. Children’s Books 2014  was launched during the New Delhi World Book Fair 2014 as the theme was Kathasagar- Celebrating Children’s Literature. This catalogue includes details of around 800 titles from all Indian languages and National Book Trust has decided to make it an annual 20140226_122508publication. Fortunately a list of publishers with all their contact details have been included in the book. Next year, I hope ebooks will be included in the selection as well. Zubaan

The Good Books Guide: How to select a good book for children is a slim manual that was created by Subir Shukla, after a national consultation between National Book Trust and PAG-E ( Publishers’ Action Group) held at Sonapani, Nainital from 26-29 September 2012. It focuses primarily on the criteria necessary for selecting a book. Details such as illustrations match the text; do the theme and contents have any bias; is the plot weak or illogical?; is the language used appropriate for children; is the typescript and type-size inappropriate; are the illustrations and design unsuitable or of poor quality?; how to identify ‘desirable’ books; does it stimulate curiosity and engagement?; if it is a non-fiction title is it correct and factual? and so on. There is a table given towards the end that helps in classifying books according to classes and ages. This manual is a beginning. It will open a debate but at least such a publication has come into existence!

101 Indian Children’s Books We Love! is a collection of short reviews of children’s and young adult titles that have been published in India recently. The books were selected by Anita Roy and Samina Mishra; then authors, reviewers and publishing professionals were asked to contribute short notes on the titles. It gives a sense of gravitas since as a reader you are assured that the titles have been assessed by experts. Years ago, the Puffin Good Reading Guide for Children was published, with a preface by Ruskin Bond; it focused on English-language books from India and rest of the world. All these books are useful in their own way, but for the first time with the NBT publication we have now access to titles from other Indian languages as well!

Report draft by Subir Shukla; Editorial co-ordinators – Manas Ranjan Mahapatra and Dwijendra Kumar The Good Books Guide: How to select a good book for children National Book Trust, India, 2014. Pb. pp. 40 Rs. 130

Ed. Rubin D’Cruz; Editorial team – Meenakshi Behl, Ritu Krishna Children’s Books 2014: An annotated catalogue of select children’s books in India National Book Trust, India, 2014. Pb. pp. 290 Rs. 100

Eds. Anita Roy and Samina Mishra 101 Indian Children’s Books We Love! Young Zubaan, Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp. 168. Rs. 195

Ruskin Bond Puffin Good Reading Guide for Children Penguin Books India, Delhi, 2006. Pb. pp. 260. Rs. 250

26 Feb 2014

Puffin

Wild Girls, Wicked Words

Wild Girls, Wicked Words

Wild GirlsAt the recently concluded World Book Fair, New Delhi, Kannan Sundaram of Kalachuvadu publications gave me a copy of Wild Girls, Wicked Words.  An anthology of four women poets who write in Tamil –Malathi Maithri, Salma, Kutti Revathi and Sukirtharani. The poems have been translated from Tamil into English by well-known translator, Lakshmi Holmström. This book is a joint publication of Sangam House and Kalachuvadu Publications. It can be ordered online from Flipkart: http://www.flipkart.com/search?q=wild+girls+wicked+words&as=off&as-show=off&otracker=start . 

I enjoyed reading the poems. Powerful poetry. The themes range from love, war to oppression. With the women poets included in this anthology they write about the feelings commonly shared by women. Poetry is a form of expression that helps them to articulate their feelings and experiences. I can only read the poems in English but the Tamil versions have also been made available. 

Given below is an extract from the exquisite introduction to the book. In it Lakshmi Holmström gives a nuanced and sensitive context to the poets featured, and places them within the traditions of Tamil literature and poetry. It is being reproduced with permission of Lakshmi Holmström, Sangam House and Kalachuvadu Publications.

Wild Girls, Wicked Words

Introduction

Lakshmi Holmström

In 2003, at a time when politicians and other establishment figures of Tamil Nadu were caught up in a surge of Tamil chauvinism, a group of men and women, setting themselves up as guardians of Tamil culture, objected publicly to the language of a new generation of women poets, particularly in the work of Malathi Maithri, Salma, Kutti Revathi and Sukirtharani. They charged the women with obscenity and immodesty.Malathi Mythri

These women poets came into prominence at the same time; their first collections of poetry were published between the years 2000 –2002, when they were in their late twenties and early thirties. Though each of these poets is unique in what she has to say in her poetry, there are some themes which are common to all of them, notably the politics of sexuality, and a woman’s relationship to her body. For the moral police, such language was not permissible for Tamil women. So the poets were condemned and vilified. The debate gained focus with the publication of Kutti Revathi’s Mulaigal (Breasts, 2002). The poets received abusive letters from individuals as well as literary organizations. The media had a field-day. A popular song writer for films gave a much publicised interview to a literary journal condemning women writers in general. This was followed by another film-song writer, Snehithan, who appeared on television declaring that these women should be lined up on Mount Road in Chennai, doused with kerosene oil and burnt alive.

kutty revathiIt might have been easy for these self-appointed moral guardians to assume that the young women poets were all ‘powerless’ and, therefore, particularly vulnerable: none of them comes from a privileged background. Salma comes from a conservative Muslim family based in a small town near Madurai; Sukirtharani is a school teacher in Lalapet, and a Dalit. On the contrary, despite considerable persecution and even death threats, the women refused to be intimidated, insisting on their freedom to write as they chose. Malathi Maithri sought legal advice, and made a complaint to the Women’s Commission against Snehithan.

The Tamil literary world was divided in its response. Kalachuvadu, a literary-cum-political journal which has always engaged with political and literary issues, called a meeting in Chennai on 21 November 2004 to debate the issues that had been raised by the violent response both towards the poetry written by these four women poets, and towards the women personally. The meeting was chaired by Indira Parthasarathy, and attended by well-known writers such as Prapanjan, Ambai and Ravikumar, and older women poets Krishangini and Thaamarai. Rajasekaran reports in Kalachuvadu that the discussions were mostly to do with the larger issues of freedom of expression: Ravikumar spoke at length about the need to struggle against all oppressions, Prapanjan about patriarchy’s various and subtle workings, and Krishangini about why men find it so difficult to accept it when women write in specific and personal terms about their sexuality. However, Rajasekaran also pointed out that none of the critics and writers present analysed in any detail the specific poems which were at the root of the controversy.Sukirtharani 1

Meanwhile, by 2005, the national press more generally was taking up the issue of moral censorship of Tamil women by all the political parties of Tamil Nadu. About this time too, two film-makers, Anjali Monteiro and K.P. Jayasankar, made a documentary on our four poets, entitled SheWrite. The film was important in that it brought to the notice of the nation at large the courageous stand the four women had taken; it also served to bring out many insights about their personal lives and backgrounds. However, in the film, the poetry was shown mostly as the focus of a controversy, and not examined in any detail for its own worth and value.

It is now ten years since the publication of Mulaigal. During this decade, each of our poets has published more than one further collection, continuing to write and publish as courageously as before. Each of them has won national and international acclaim. However, the grumbling against the language and thrust of their poetry goes on, while the wider issue of what Tamil women are allowed to wear, say, and where they choose to socialize continues to be raised from time to time and debated by the politicians, and in the press.

salmaWhen we look back at the history of Tamil poetry, the marginal status of women in the literary canon and their relatively meagre output is evident since classical times. It is true that, in modern times, Tamil women have been writing and publishing in various genres, but as far as poetry is concerned, we have seen a gradual change only since about 1970. Women such as R. Meenakshi and Sugantha Subramaniam were being published throughout the 1970s and 80s, yet it was only in the late 80s that their poems appeared in significant numbers, both in anthologies and single volumes. Then, suddenly, in the 1990s, the contribution of women to Tamil poetry became notable. This was a poetry that had to be noticed, not because it was written by women, but because it was different from what appeared in the mainstream.

As V. Geetha points out in her Introduction to an anthology of poetry by women from Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, Paratthal Athan Sudandiram (Flight is its Freedom, 2001), not all the contributors to the book are feminists, nor even necessarily sympathetic to feminism, yet they bring completely new themes into Tamil poetry: an engagement with the minutiae of everyday life, new perceptions of familial lives, the truth about a sudden end to childhood, about bleak marriages, the joys and sorrows of childbirth and motherhood. And some women, at least, were writing with boldness about their inner lives in very different terms, using an awareness of their bodies and their sexuality. Drawing attention to an overall tendency in the anthology towards inwardness and the inner world, V. Geetha calls upon the Tamil women poets of her time to engage more with the outer world and its politics; to consider social and cultural oppressions and inequalities more widely. She suggests that the difference between the Sri Lankan women and those from Tamil Nadu lies in the political engagement of the former; that as far as the Sri Lankans are concerned, even when they write about ‘myself’, ‘my love’, ‘my sorrow’, there is an underlying political discourse that pushes the individual story into a wider context.

That was in 2001, and it was important to say it at the time. Since then, we have seen another generation of women poets whose poetry does indeed engage with a wider political discourse and a more nuanced feminism. Yet, in the case of Malathi Maithri, Salma, Kutti Revathi and Sukirtharani, ever since the events so publicised by the media in 2003, their poetry has been grouped together and discussed only in terms of their engagement with questions of sexuality. It is also clear that a deep divide persists in the way readers and critics perceive women poets as a whole, today. The editor of a well-known literary journal observed to me that for these past years, Tamil women poets have been categorized into ‘Bad Girls’ who write ‘body poetry’ and ‘Good Girls’ who refrain from doing so.

This anthology, then, celebrates four women poets, Malathi Maithri, Salma, Kutti Revathi, and Sukirtharani, and showcases, through English translation, a small sample in each case, of their work over a decade. My attempt has been to bring out the beauty, originality, and above all the individuality of each of these poets. It is perhaps useful to remember that the traditional values prescribed for the ‘Good’ Tamil woman were accham, madam and naanam (fearfulness, propriety, modesty or shame). Our poets have chosen instead, the opposite virtues of fearlessness, outspokenness, and a ceaseless questioning of prescribed rules. It is surely significant that at different times and variously, they have claimed as their foremothers, role models and equals, Avvai, Velliviidhi and Sappho; Anna Akhmatova, Sylvia Plath and Kamala Das. And Eve, above all, who defied divine authority to pluck the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Bad Girls indeed, all of them.

***

There are many common themes and tropes among the poems presented here: light ‘prowls like a cat’, the tiger stalks within the bedroom and along the imagined mountain landscape. But there are also profound differences, which the reader will note. Each poet has struggled to find a language of her own to express her particular vision. ‘Language must be redeemed from the grave of its own inadequacy’, Malathi Maithri wrote in 2001, in her Editor’s Note to Paratthal Athan Sudandiram, putting forward, later on, the possibility of a pey (demon) language. Sukirtharani seeks an ‘infant language’, with all the rough and physical reality of new birth, still sticky with blood. Kutti Revathi invents a blazing language of love. Salma reaches out, even to the ‘rust of silence’.

Above all, in this anthology, I have wanted to celebrate the courage of each of these poets in breaking out of and defying easy categories. As Sukirtharani puts it in her magnificent poem, ‘Nature’s fountainhead’ (Iyarkaiyin peruutru):

I myself will become
earth
fire
sky
wind
water.
The more you confine me, the more I will spill over,
Nature’s fountainhead.

***

Wild Girls, Wicked Words Poems of Malathi Maithri, Salma, Kutti Revathi and Sukirtharani. Edited and translated by Lakshmi Holmström. Kalachuvadu Publications and Sangam House, Nagercoil, India, Dec 2012. Pb. pp. 240. Rs. 295

26 Feb 2014

Meena Kandaswamy

Meena Kandaswamy

Meena Kandaswamy, Trivandrum Press Club, July 2013Meena Kandasamy is a poet with two collections to her discredit: Touch and Ms Militancy. Her first novel The Gypsy Goddess releases next month.  Reproduced below with permission is a poem she published on Facebook on 17 February 2014, soon after the Wendy Doniger and Penguin India controversy broke on 11 February 2014. At the time of posting it on the blog, it had been shared 219 times, 452 ‘likes’ and 85 comments.

This poem is not a Hindu.
This poem is eager to offend.
This poem is shallow and distorted.
This poem is a non-serious representation of Hinduism.
This poem is a haphazard presentation.
This poem is riddled.
This poem is a heresy.
This poem is a factual inaccuracy.
This poem has missionary zeal.
This poem has a hidden agenda.
This poem denigrates Hindus.
This poem shows them in poor light.
This poem concentrates on the negative aspects of Hinduism.
This poem concentrates on the evil practices of Hinduism.
This poem asserts its moral right to use objectionable words for Gods.
This poem celebrates Krishna’s freedom to perch on a naked woman.
This poem flames with the fires of a woman hungry of sex.
This poem supplies sexual connotations.
This poem puts the phallus back into the picture.
This poem makes the shiva lingam the male sexual organ.
This poem does not make the above-mentioned organ erect.
This poem prides itself in its perverse mindset.
This poem shows malice to Hinduism for Untouchability and misogyny.
This poem declares the absence of a Hindu canon.
This poem declares itself the Hindu canon.
This poem follows the monkey.
This poem worships the horse.
This poem supersedes the Vedas and the supreme scriptures.
This poem does not culture the jungle.
This poem jungles the culture.
This poem storms into temples with tanks.
This poem stands corrected: the RSS is BJP’s mother.
This poem is not vulnerable.
This poem is Section 153-A proof.
This poem is also idiot-proof.
This poem quotes Dr.Ambedkar.
This poem considers Ramayana a hetero-normative novel.
This poem breaches Section 295A of the Indian Penile Code.
This poem is pure and total blasphemy.
This poem is a voyeur.
This poem gossips about the sex between Sita and Laxman.
This poem is a witness to the rape of Shurpanaka.
This poem smears Rama for his suspicious mind.
This poem was once forced into suttee.
This poem is now taking her revenge.
This poem is addicted to eating beef.
This poem knows the castes of all the thirty-three million Hindu Gods.
This poem got court summons for switching the castes of Gods.
This poem once dated Karna who was sure he was no test-tube baby.
This poem is not curious about who-was-the-father.
This poem is horizontally flipped.
This poem is a plagiarised version.
This poem is selectively chosen.
This poem is running paternity tests on Hindutva.
This poem saw Godse (of the RSS) kill Gandhi.
This poem is not afraid of being imprisoned.
This poem does not comply to client demands.
This poem is pornographic.
This poem will not tender an unconditional apology.
This poem will not be Penguined.
This poem will not be pulped.

(C) Meena Kandaswamy, February 2014 

 

Child sexuality

Child sexuality

Dark Room, Pankaj Butalia“A discussion of childhood sexuality is further complicated by our definitions of the very term, childhood. When does it end? Is a sixteen-year-old a child? The contemporary world brackets adolescence within childhood rather than as a phase of preparation for adulthood. By attaching adolescence to childhood we absorb into childhood a time which is sexually potent and where sexual energies are more overtly manifested, setting up a disciplinary framework shaped by a specific ordering of our social codes. Contrast this, for example, with the sexual practices of many tribal communities, which build into their social and celebratory practices a way of recognising and sanctioning sexuality among the young.” p. xxx, “Introduction” by Dr Shalini Advani, Dark Room

Dr Advani, in her powerful introduction, “Childhood Sexuality: History, Memory, Mythology” to Pankaj Butalia’s Dark Room: Child Sexuality in India dwells upon the silences that govern sexuality in children. All though research shows that children as young as four year olds are curious about their bodies. In fact in an essay published by Lauren A., discussing her experiences as an undergraduate student who is also a sex-worker, mentions that “when I was 5 years old and beginning to discover the wonders of my body, my mother, completely horrified.” ( http://m.xojane.com/sex/duke-university-freshman-porn-star?utm_medium=facebook ) At least Lauren A. is truthful about her experience. In 2010, Tehelka published an article about sexuality amongst urban schoolchildren. http://www.tehelka.com/sex-lies-homework/

Pankaj Butalia’s Dark Room: Child Sexuality in India is one of the first publications of its kind in India that hopes to open this conversation outside of the specialized, academic circles. It needs to be discussed, work has to be done in the family domain since most of the perpetrators of child sexual abuse are known to the victim and inevitably related. This collection of eleven stories, he says, “is a modest effort to put together intimate accounts of sexual episodes from childhood”. But he does recognise that ” For adults, it is …a delicate balance that has to be negotiated. On one hand, parents need to give their children space and not inhibit the natural progression they need to make in the development of their sexuality. On the other hand, they need to be extremely careful that their children do not transcend boundaries of what could be called age-appropriate behaviour.” It is a courageous attempt to put this volume together since many of the people interviewed preferred to remain anonymous; yet it is a book to be read.

The Bad TouchThere are many stories about children and sexuality, most of the time it is focused upon child sexual abuse. There are many CSA (Child Sexual Abuse) survivors who are beginning to write and share their experiences. Organisations like RAHI (Recovering and Healing from Incest), based in New Delhi, are doing phenomenal work in this area. Payal Shah Karwa has recently published a collection of true stories called The Bad Touch that includes contributions from Harish Iyer and filmmaker Anurag Kashayap.  Everyone else chose to write under pseudonyms. It is a disturbing and traumatic book to read. There is an incredible amount of pain shared. What horrifies one is the manner in which children are preyed upon and sexually abused. Recently Woody Allen and Mia Farrow’s daughter, wrote an open letter about the sexual abuse she had suffered as a young child. http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/01/an-open-letter-from-dylan-farrow/?module=BlogPost-Title&version=Blog%20Main&contentCollection=Opinion&action=Click&pgtype=Blogs&region=Body . There will be innumerable stories like these, but it is crucial that they are shared. It is the creation of common pool of knowledge and awareness. 

A couple of years ago NDTV had a programme on CSA. It was a brilliant conversation on the topic of CSA. More importantly it focused upon boys and girls, otherwise much of the conversation seems to focus upon girls. Whereas boys are equally vulnerable. Unfortunately I am unable to locate the link to it.

Last year too, a short clip on CSA went viral on Facebook. It was brilliantly made. Once again I am unable to locate the link.

Let's Talk About SexMany times the best way to teach children about sexuality and help them in protecting themselves is via literature. Walker Books has three titles, classified according to age ( 4+, 7+ and 10+) called Let’s Talk About Sex. These are useful introductions to children and even an excellent guide for parents/educators in giving the child sufficient information appropriate for their age.  Years ago, I also read a lovely picture book by Sohaila Abdulali on good touch and bad touch. Unfortunately it is not available in print. Otherwise it would be a wonderful resource tool to have. Finally, Ponytale Books published Lighthouse in the Storm, a collection of 24 stories written by members of the AWIC Book Therapy Project. In it there is a story by Ken Spillman, ” A bubble of shared knowing”, a chilling story about sexual abuse.Lighthouse in the Storm

Pankaj Butalia Dark Room :Child Sexuality in India HarperCollins Publishers India, New Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp. 180 Rs. 350

Payal Shah Karwa The Bad Touch Hay House India, New Delhi, 2014. Pb. pp. 208 Rs. 299.

Lighthouse in the Storm AWIC, Ponytale Books, New Delhi, 2012. Pb.pp. 230 Rs. 225

24 Feb 2014 

PubSpeak: Total Recall

PubSpeak: Total Recall

My column, “PubSpeak”, in BusinessWorld online focuses on the Wendy Doniger book controversy. Here is the url to it:   http://businessworld.in/news/economy/total-recall/1266222/page-1.html   . ) 

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose On 11 February, Penguin Books India reached a compromise drawn up in a Delhi Court that insisted it cease the publication and sale of American Indologist, Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History in India within six months. Dina Nath Batra of Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samitri had filed a civil suit against the publishers to withdraw from circulation all copies. Given that Batra had filed the case four years ago and it was still subjudice, the news of this compromise spread like wildfire. Later that day, Doniger issued a press statement “I was, of course, angry and disappointed to see this happen, and I am deeply troubled by what it foretells for free speech in India in the present, and steadily worsening, political climate. And as a publisher’s daughter, I particularly wince at the knowledge that the existing books (unless they are bought out quickly by people intrigued by all the brouhaha) will be pulped. But I do not blame Penguin Books, India. Other publishers have just quietly withdrawn other books without making the effort that Penguin made to save this book. Penguin, India, took this book on knowing that it would stir anger in the Hindutva ranks, and they defended it in the courts for four years, both as a civil and as a criminal suit. They were finally defeated by the true villain of this piece — the Indian law that makes it a criminal rather than civil offense to publish a book that offends any Hindu, a law that jeopardises the physical safety of any publisher, no matter how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book.”Wendy Doniger

PBI logoPenguin Books India released a statement on 14 February stating “a publishing company has the same obligation as any other organisation to respect the laws of the land in which it operates, however intolerant and restrictive those laws may be. We also have a moral responsibility to protect our employees against threats and harassment where we can…. The settlement reached this week brings to a close a four year legal process in which Penguin has defended the publication of the Indian edition of The Hindus by Wendy Doniger. We have published, in succession, hardcover, paperback and e-book editions of the title. International editions of the book remain available physically and digitally to Indian readers who still wish to purchase it.”

What followed the announcement perhaps was only a natural outcome given the speed at which social media helps communicate information. There was public outrage at this development— newspapers, print, digital, and, of course, social media forums. A number of commentators, journalists, and even Penguin authors wrote passionately against Penguin Book India’s decision to destroy the book. Arundhati Roy in an open letter spoke of her distress and said “You owe us, your writers an explanation at the very least”. Nilanjana Roy, author and member of PEN Delhi wrote on censorship and how to remain free; Jakob de Roover in an outstanding essay “Untangling the Knot” discussed the complexities of governance, judiciary and free speech; journalist Salil Tripathi commented perceptively on the issue on many platforms ; Stephen Alter wrote, “Both as a writer and as a reader, I am deeply offended that anyone should dictate what I may read or write”; Penguin author and essayist, Amit Chaudhuri reiterated that “It’s important that the law protect all texts”; and Antara Dev Sen, Editor, The Little Magazine, wrote that the Indian Penal Code “Section 295A targets ‘deliberate and malicious acts (which include speech, writings or signs) intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs’. In an age of identity politics and hurt sentiments, this has been used frequently by politically motivated people to stifle free speech. But back in 1957, the Supreme Court had ruled that only when there is a ‘deliberate and malicious intention of outraging religious feelings’ is it an offence under this law. Higher courts in India have consistently ruled in favour of freedom of speech and have protected books and people hauled to court under this law.”

In fact, two Penguin authors, Siddharth Varadarajan and Jyotirmaya Sharma, asked for their contracts to be terminated. Another Penguin author, Arshia Sattar (who has translated Valmiki’s Ramayana and the Kathasaritsagara from Sanskrit to English) expressed her dismay at the “complete capitulation” of the firm and how her “pride and that faith has been shaken…of being with a publishing house that protected its people and the books they wrote”.

A counter legal initiative perhaps was expected. According to the website, Legally India, advocate Lawrence Liang, part of the Bangalore-based Alternative Law Forum, has issued a 30-paragraph legal notice to Penguin India, claiming that the publisher has violated freedom of speech laws and readers’ rights by agreeing to destroy all copies of Wendy Doniger’s book ‘The Hindus’. The notice sent on behalf of Liang’s clients, Shuddhabrata Sengupta and Aarthi Sethi, argues that because Penguin has agreed to withdraw the book from India and destroy all copies, after a legal dispute with a religious group, it has “effectively acknowledged that it is no longer interested in exercising” its ownership in the work and should surrender its copyright to the Indian public. Sengupta is a Delhi-based artist and writer, while Sethi is an anthropologist with a “deep interest in Hindu philosophy”, according to the legal notice. Both are “avid bibliophiles” and were apparently “delighted” when Penguin published Doniger’s book, “and as people who have closely followed the scholarly contributions of the said author they regard this book to be a significant contribution to the study of Hinduism. They consider Ms Doniger’s translations of Indian classical texts and her work on various facets of Hinduism from morality in the Mahabharata to the erotic history of Hinduism as an inspiration for their own intellectual pursuits.”

At the recent Globalocal event (German Book Office, New Delhi’s annual B2B conference on publishing), a regional language publisher wondered if it was possible for any other publisher to option this book and publish it, after all it has not been legally banned in this territory. Echoing this sentiment, Shamnad Basheer, IPR lawyer, writing in Spicy IP, reflected upon the pros and cons of compulsory licensing, and whether it was possible if a publisher decides to stop publication, one could apply for a compulsory license.

Globally Penguin has been in the news related to their peripheral businesses and their merger with Random House. In 2012, Pearson PLC (of which Penguin Books India is a part of) acquired the self-publishing firm, Author Solutions, for $116 million. But in 2013, this deal soured as a number of disgruntled authors filed lawsuits against Author Solutions for its poor service. In the landmark case pertaining to ebooks and agency pricing, in April 2012, the US Department of Justice sued Apple and five publishers, including Penguin, for conspiring to raise prices and restrain competition. This was done after Amazon filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. In 2013, Penguin was obliged to pay $75 million. George Packer observes in the New Yorker, “an enormous sum in a business that has always struggled to maintain respectable profit margins”. On 1 July 2013, the global merger between Penguin Books and Random House was announced. It was a strategic alliance, forged as a response to the growing presence of Amazon in the publishing industry. The formation of Penguin Random House (PRH) has created a group that has 25 per cent of the market share. A merger comes at a cost of resources that have to be taken into account for the new firm to begin work on a strong footing.

In Oct 2013, Penguin Random House announced the completion of its purchase of Ananda Publishers Private Limited’s minority stake in Penguin Books India. It plans to invest Rs 55 crore or $8.6 million for this stake buy. As banker-turned-author Ravi Subramanian, with whom in June 2013 Penguin Books India signed a two-book deal worth an estimated Rs 1.25 crore (approx $210,700) wrote on his blog with respect to Doniger’s case, “publishing is a business”. For any firm, particularly in publishing, this is a lot of money being moved around its balance sheets.  Naturally the ripple effect of these financial adjustments will be felt even in the local markets—it is like conducting business in a global village where in the context of a globally contacted world, the minimum consumption that people desire is also influenced by what is going on elsewhere.

Similarly, with the Doniger case, Penguin Books India has probably taken an informed business decision, based upon a global strategy when it signed this deal on 11 February, in order to preserve a healthy English-language publishing market in India.

Chiki Sarkar, Publisher, Penguin Books India, in a guest blog post in 2012 during the Banned Books week, had this to say: “Injunctions make things costly, time consuming, and take our energies away from the work we are really meant to do. And so we try and avoid them as much as possible. Apart from the fact that we don’t fight hard enough for them, I wonder whether it means we impose a kind of self-censorship on ourselves.”

Ironically this latest controversy broke exactly twenty-five years after the fatwa was issued against Salman Rushdie for his ‘Satanic Verses’ published by Penguin. At the time, his publishers stood by him and did not pulp the book. The fact is publishing is a business that is built upon the creative energies and emotions of people. India is also a functioning democracy. Freedom of speech is the right of every citizen. With the General Elections less than a hundred days away, the need for openness, frank conversations without any inhibitions, and certainly not a capitulation to any ideological position is imperative.

Scholar-journalist and historian Mukul Kesavan points out that that selling books is not like selling any other commodity. Publishers have moral responsibility and a publisher voluntarily agreeing to withdraw a book has previously been challenged with the case of James Laine’s book on Shivaji in 2007. Oxford University Press voluntarily agreed to withdraw the book. An FIR was issued against the publisher and printer of the book in Pune (one charge, under Section 153 A, was ‘inciting class hatred’) and the printer was actually arrested. When the case (‘Manzar Sayeed Khan vs State Of Maharashtra, 2007’) came up before the Supreme Court, however, the government of Maharashtra’s case against the author and the publisher of the book was found to be wanting. So, there is a precedent by the Supreme Court to rule in favour of free speech.

Nevertheless, the Wendy Doniger book controversy raises a bunch of issues pertaining to the publishing industry. Questions about legislation and the freedom of speech, what are the ethics involved in publishing, do readers and authors have a right that they can exercise, what does it mean for licensing, do possibilities exist in a mixed environment of digital and print publishing such as do readers have a choice?

Finally does this self-censorship by a publishing firm mean an inadvertent promotion for self-publishing, encouraging authors to be responsible for their books completely? Interestingly in a space of less than six weeks I have heard John Makinson, CEO, Penguin Random House and Jon Fine, Director, Author & Publishing Relations, Amazon talk about their publishing businesses and both have stressed upon the importance of discoverability of an author. This controversy could not have come at a better time for Doniger and even Penguin. They have achieved the Streisand effect whereby in an attempt to censor a piece of information, it has had the unintended consequence of publicising the information more widely. It has achieved what no PR could have—a boost in sales.

21 Feb 2014 

PENGUIN BOOKS INDIA – STATEMENT ON THE HINDUS BY WENDY DONIGER

PENGUIN BOOKS INDIA – STATEMENT ON THE HINDUS BY WENDY DONIGER

PBI logoThis is the press release issued by Penguin Books India on 14 Feb 2014. It is pertaining to their decision to pulp the remaining copies of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus)

Penguin Books India believes, and has always believed, in every individual’s right to freedom of thought and expression, a right explicitly codified in the Indian Constitution. This commitment informs Penguin’s approach to publishing in every territory of the world, and we have never been shy about testing that commitment in court when appropriate. At the same time, a publishing company has the same obligation as any other organisation to respect the laws of the land in which it operates, however intolerant and restrictive those laws may be. We also have a moral responsibility to protect our employees against threats and harassment where we can.

The settlement reached this week brings to a close a four year legal process in which Penguin has defended the publication of the Indian edition of The Hindus by Wendy Doniger. We have published, in succession, hardcover, paperback and e-book editions of the title. International editions of the book remain available physically and digitally to Indian readers who still wish to purchase it.

We stand by our original decision to publish The Hindus, just as we stand by the decision to publish other books that we know may cause offence to some segments of our readership. We believe, however, that the Indian Penal Code, and in particular section 295A of that code, will make it increasingly difficult for any Indian publisher to uphold international standards of free expression without deliberately placing itself outside the law.

This is, we believe, an issue of great significance not just for the protection of creative freedoms in India but also for the defence of fundamental human rights.

 

 

 

Penguin Books Ltd is registered in England and Wales with company number 861590. The registered office is 80 Strand, London. WC2R 0RL. A Penguin Random House company.

Wendy Doniger’s statement

Wendy Doniger’s statement

( Statement issued by Wendy Doniger, author of The Hindus, published by Penguin Books India. This press release was issued on 11 Feb 2014 by Wendy Doniger upon hearing that her publishers had struck an out-of-court-settlement with Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samitri, including pulping all remaining copies of the book that are in stock. The case had been in court for four years but no legal decision was taken. It has not been banned in India.)

Wendy Doniger“Dear friends, I have had literally hundreds of requests for interviews, in various media, and I can’t do them all. So here is a statement that you may use. I hope it’s enough; it’s the best I can do right now. I intend to write a longer article for
publication in a couple of weeks. Yours with gratitude for your courage and compassion, wendy.

I was thrilled and moved by the great number of messages of support that I received, not merely from friends and colleagues but from people in India that I have never met, who had read and loved The Hindus, and by news and media
people, all of whom expressed their outrage and sadness and their wish to help me in any way they could.

I was, of course, angry and disappointed to see this happen, and I am deeply troubled by what it foretells for free speech in India in the present, and steadily worsening, political climate. And as a publisher’s daughter, I particularly wince at the knowledge that the existing books (unless they are bought out quickly by people intrigued by all the brouhaha) will be
pulped.

But I do not blame Penguin Books, India. Other publishers have just quietly withdrawn other books without making the effort that Penguin made to save this book. Penguin, India, took this book on knowing that it would stir anger in the Hindutva ranks, and they defended it in the courts for four years, both as a civil and as a criminal suit.

They were finally defeated by the true villain of this piece—the Indian law that makes it a criminal rather than civil offense to publish a book that offends any Hindu, a law that jeopardizes the physical safety of any publisher, no matter
how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book.

An example at random, from the lawsuit in question:
‘That YOU NOTICEE has hurt the religious feelings of millions of Hindus by declaring that Ramayana is a fiction. “Placing the Ramayan in its historical contexts demonstrates that it is a work of fiction, created by human authors, who
lived at various times……….” (P.662) This breaches section 295A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).’

Finally, I am glad that, in the age of the Internet, it is no longer possible to suppress a book. The Hindus is available on Kindle; and if legal means of publication fail, the Internet has other ways of keeping books in circulation.

People in India will always be able to read books of all sorts, including some that may offend some Hindus.”

Citation by the Jury for the Crossword Award 2013 for Children’s Books

Citation by the Jury for the Crossword Award 2013 for Children’s Books

I was on the jury for the Crossword Book Prize for children’s and young adult literature in 2013. We read over 90+ books to decide the winner. The award was split between two authors — Payal Kapadia and Uma Krishnaswami. Here is the citation read out at the ceremony on 6 Dec 2013 in Mumbai.) 

Wisha WozzariterCitation by the Jury for the Crossword Award 2013 for Children’s Books
7 December 2013 at 07:46
The Crossword Book Award 2013 for Children’s Books goes to:

Wisha Wozzawriter by Payal Kapadia

And

Book Uncle & Me by Uma KrishnaswamiBookUncle and Me
As seasoned readers who pore through books on a routine basis, it isn’t often that we sit up and gasp and exclaim, WOW! This year while perusing the collection submitted to us by the Crossword team it was the books ‘Wisha Wozzariter‘ & ‘Book Uncle and Me’ that triggered this rare flash of exuberant surprise.

Wisha Wozzawriter

The drudgery, complexity and rigour of creative writing are not exactly the ingredients of a story. Rather than the basis of a storybook, and a children’s book at that, this material belongs squarely in the realm of textbooks. The genius of author Payal Kapadia and her pocket-sized creative writing storybook, Wisha Wozzariter, is the manner in which she has transformed such a drab subject into a wonderful, colourful, absorbing book.

Payal’s book is imaginative, creative and witty. It is one of those uncommon books that work at multiple levels. Unfolding as it does at a captivating pace, it weaves in sentences and references that open up myriad worlds of books and ideas. It is a book that a young reader can enjoy for its wackiness and inventiveness, and constantly return to over the years, growing old with it. Not only is it technically sound but above all it is a good, enjoyable read.

Book Uncle & Me

One of the continuing struggles in Indian writing in English is the quest for a self-confident voice writing in a language given to us by colonialism. Indian children’s books are still finding a voice that reflects our particularities and yet transcends those to speak of universal ideas, a voice that is neither didactic nor exotic, a voice that can both spark the child’s imagination and lead it towards action. Book Uncle and Me is that rare book.

It weaves a simple story in a voice that is strongly rooted in an Indian context and yet speaks of childhood experiences that cross cultural borders. A broken pavement, a library and a girl who has decided to read one book a day come together in an inspirational story about forging a community to create change. Uma Krishnaswami’s skill in experimenting with form by telling the story entirely in free verse is matched with her nuanced understanding of the child’s world. She recognises that children are capable of negotiating complexity in their everyday lives and refuses to talk down to them. Priya Kurien’s illustrations add another layer of resonance, making Book Uncle and Me a truly unforgettable book.

 Samina Mishra, Deepak Dalal, Jaya Bhattacharji Rose

 12 Feb 2014

UPDATE

I uploaded this note on my Facebook page last week. Since then the authors and other jury members have also commented on the post.I am reproducing their comments below.

Uma Krishnaswami I was unable to make it for the awards ceremony last year, so I missed the reading of the citation. Jaya, I’m getting misty-eyed reading it now. So much of a writer’s life and heart goes into a book, and sometimes (OK, I’ll say it–often) it can seem as if no one is paying any attention at all. I’ll treasure what you had to say about my book. It will bolster me when the writing on the next book gets tough (which it will) or the reviews and sales iffy (things I have no control over). Thank you again to Samina Mishra, Deepak Dalal, and you, Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, for your perfect and instinctive understanding of both intention and craft in Book Uncle and Me.

Samina Mishra Uma, I’m delighted that you think the citation reflects a “perfect and instinctive understanding of both intention and craft in Book Uncle and Me

Deepak Dalal Speaking about misty eyes, that’s what happens to me when I read great books. ‘Book Uncle & me’ did all kinds of things to my eyes. It was a pleasure and a privilege selecting your book, Uma.

Payal Kapadia Dear Jaya, Deepak and Samina: Wisha had something weighty and worthwhile to say in the face of such a generous tribute! Does a thank-you sufficiently express the gratitude I feel for the warm welcome I’ve received when I’m just the new kid on the block? I was at the awards and I don’t remember the citation being read out — probably because my heart was thumping so fast I could barely think (and still is). Haven’t gotten over the flush of the award, and I’m sure that “the drudgery, complexity and rigor of creative writing” will not appear to be so with your kind words ringing in my ears. I wrote “Wisha Wozzariter” to see if I had it in me to be a writer. Thank you for believing in me — and for showing me that I can take life one book at a time.

Deepak Dalal What a wonderful book, Payal! Deserves all its plaudits and more. Now you have to keep those creative juices flowing…

20 Feb 2014