July 2016 Posts

A Q&A with Australian author and 2016 Stella Prize-winner Charlotte Wood ( Bookwitty.com)

I interviewed award-winning Australian writer, Charlotte Wood, for the fantastic European literary website bookwitty.com . It was published on 27 July 2016. Here is the original url: https://www.bookwitty.com/text/a-qa-with-australian-author-and-2016-stella-prize/57961bbeacd0d0170d1e421a . I am also c&p the text below. 

From Stella Prize website

From Stella Prize website

Australian writer Charlotte Wood’s latest novel, The Natural Way of Things, is a an allegorical tale about the power relationships between women and men. Winner of the prestigious 2016 Stella Prize for women’s contribution to literature and the Australian Indie Bookseller’s Award, the Natural Way of Things is about ten women who have been kidnapped and taken to an abandoned station in the Australian outback from which there is no escape.

These women have little in common with each other save for the public scandals associating them with prominent men – politicians, footballers, clergymen etc. “… they are the ministers-little-travel-tramp and that Skype-slut and the yuck-ugly-dog from the cruise ship; they are pig-on-a-spit and big-red-box, moll-number-twelve and bogan-gold-digger-gangbang-slut.” The story is set in an altered present that explores deeply entrenched patriarchal structures in society and yet, as the story proves, these gendered equations are a mirage; women and men are equal. This is apparent in the gradual transformation of the two main characters, Yolanda and Verla, who take on what would otherwise be deemed as “manly tasks” of hunting, skinning rabbits and providing food for everybody.

It may be fiction, but it is a landscape that echoes what a woman feels on many occasions. Having worked with women artisans, in a feminist publishing house, curated the visual mapping of the women’s movement in India by documenting posters made across the country since the 1970s and now reading a lot of women’s literature, I am more than familiar with many of the stories women share. What continues to amaze me is how similar the experiences are across continents and how various forms of violence, whether physical or psychological, exist in patriarchal structures  across socio-economic classes. The sensation of being trapped with no hope is ghastly, but in Wood’s novel, with no escape route possible as illustrated by the electric fence encircling the compound, it is suffocating. The rules are set by a diabolical corporation, Harding International, represented by the two men hired to guard the ten women; Boncer and Teddy. Mostly their arbitrary rules are horribly violent. Their swift, violent reprimands echo real life.

It is remarkable how the bleak and rough landscape turns into an symbol of sisterhood. In reality this exists too, although it is rarely acknowledged. Unconsciously women who may be complete strangers to each other will band together if need be. This is brought to life in the description of the chained women mastering “the rhythm of marching when chained so none of them is jerked or stumbles. This way of moving, shackled together, has become part of them, unremarked, unconscious.”

Charlotte Wood has imbibed the vocabulary of feminist activism, turning it to her advantage in storytelling, neatly encapsulating a range of feminist discourses.

The dystopian representation of a woman’s world in the novel may be too close to reality for many women. Women, universally, irrespective of their socioeconomic class, are often trapped in situations from which there is no escape.

Charlotte Wood, who is deep in the throes of writing her next novel, kindly agreed to an email interview.

Why this story? What inspired it?

Charlotte Wood: The first glimmer of the story came to me in an ABC Radio National documentary about the Hay Institution for Girls, a brutal prison in rural New South Wales, where ten teenage girls were drugged and taken from the Parramatta Girls’ Home in the 1960s. At this place, which operated in extreme cruelty until 1974, the girls were forced to march everywhere, were never allowed to look up from the floor or speak to each other, and endured all kinds of official punishments. But there were also many sadistic unofficial punishments inflicted on them. I was drawn to writing about a place like this, and how someone might survive it, but I needed to immediately to unshackle my story from the real place – for various reasons, including that many surviving women have written their own testimonies, and I didn’t want to appropriate their experience. Equally importantly, I needed the creative freedom to go anywhere with the story, without sticking to established facts or history.

From The Inconvenient Child

But a more powerful engine even than this arose in the early stages of the writing, which was that setting the book in the past, in a purely naturalistic style, was not working at all. The writing was dead and sludgy and lifeless.

Around this time, when I was having this difficulty and trying to make the work live, I began noticing something. It was already in my mind that the reason many girls were sent to the Parramatta and Hay homes in the first place was that they had been sexually assaulted – at home, or wherever, and had told someone about it. It was this – speaking about what had happened to them – that got many of them sent there. They were deemed to be promiscuous and ‘in moral danger’. This seemed to me the cruelest thing, that their crime was that they had been abused, spoke the truth about it, and were punished for doing so.

I began noticing things in the news, things happening around me in contemporary Australia, that showed these attitudes about punishing women for speaking up were not of the past. We had David Jones department store CEO Mark McInnes resigning after sexually harassing an employee, we had the Australian Army soldiers Daniel McDonald and Dylan Deblaquiere secretly filming a fellow (female) cadet having sex, and broadcasting it to their mates. In both these cases, the woman was vilified for speaking out. The David Jones employee was labelled a gold-digger, the army cadet became known as ‘the Skype slut’ by her peers. Around this time there were also football group sex scandals where the women were reviled for speaking about it and public apologies by the men were made to their wives, families and employers – the assaulted woman, by implication, deserved what she got. We had women assaulted by the likes of Rolf Harris and Bill Cosby derided as liars and money-hungry, publicity hunting ‘sluts’.

And I suddenly thought, ‘Oh, it’s not old, this stuff. These attitudes are not historical, they’re absolutely flourishing right now.’ And then, partly out of this sudden bucket of cold water and partly because the book was not working – set in the past, written in naturalistic prose – I decided to do what I sometimes do when things aren’t working: try the opposite. So instead of setting it in the past, I thought, what if I set it in the future, or some kind of altered present? Instead of writing ordinary realism, what if it became a bit surreal in its narrative style? And I started writing about ten contemporary, urban Australian girls who find themselves abducted and dumped in this remote prison because they’ve been involved in some kind of sexual scandal with a powerful man or men, and they either spoke about it or were found out.

And at that point the writing just took off, a sudden energy really came into the work, and for the next year or two I got to know my girls and things in the story got more interesting, weirder, stranger, funnier and darker.

And at that point the writing just took off, a sudden energy really came into the work, and for the next year or two I got to know my girls and things in the story got more interesting, weirder, stranger, funnier and darker. I just came to understand that I could only keep writing the book if I let it get weird, as weird as it wanted to. More than any other book I’ve written, I feel almost like someone else wrote this, sort of through me. I don’t believe that of course, but this tapping into the darkest and strangest things in my unconscious, or subconscious mind, was the only thing that would let this book come out.

At the same time, I was actively keeping a lookout for contemporary representations of incarceration – which in our country, mainly come from images and discussion of our immigration detention centers. The grotesque cognitive dissonance between the bland, PR-spin language of corporations that run these prisons and the horror stories emerging from them (all kinds of violence, sexual assault of women and children, self-harm, suicide, illness and death) attracted me as an artist. You go to stuff that is complicated, contradictory. A quick scan of the real company Serco’s website, for example, yielded a slogan for my fictional corporation Hardings International: ‘Dignity & Respect in a Safe & Secure Environment’. That seemed simply bizarre and obscene to me, that a company running a prison could use such schmaltzy language.

How long did it take you to write the novel? How much research was involved? Some of the descriptions such as skinning the rabbits & cleaning the leather with rabbit brain to create fine chamois must have required research.

CW: Around three years. Strangely, not much research beyond the first radio documentary (I deliberately did not seek out more information about the Hay or Parramatta homes), and visiting an exhibition at the National Museum of Australia of images and objects from children’s homes in our country (where many, many children were abused and ill-treated). For the rabbit skinning, I did watch a few YouTube videos (!) and I had heard about using the brains to cure skins on a television program somewhere. I grew up in the country and had friends who lived on grazing properties where rabbit traps of the kind in the book (now illegal) were used. I kept a file of images from the internet of all kinds of things to do with my book, in a Pinterest board – you can see it here. Other than that, I used my imagination rather than research.

Why is the character Verla given so much space in the story especially when it comes to her feverish dreams?

CW: She’s one of the two main characters. Dreams were a way of creating another consciousness, a world where she could drift into her memories and experiences of beauty and culture, a way of escaping the horror of her present experience. Her fever dream where she finds a river and feels the kangaroos rushing past her is a way of looking at the beauty of nature rather than the horror of their prison.

How did you feel while writing this book and later editing it?

CW: For a time in writing this book I really struggled with the darkness of the material, and felt that something must be wrong with me for letting myself be drawn there. But once the first draft was written, and the mess of it was in front of me, then the job of the novelist kicked in: to shape it into a compelling story. The artistic job was to make the material into something shapely and even beautiful in its darkness – but most of all I wanted to create a gripping story. The book’s main question grew more and more urgent: Will my girls escape or won’t they? Who will rescue them? How can they rescue themselves?

Tell me more about the title The Natural Way of Things?

CW: The title comes from a section in the middle of the book where the authorial voice steps away from the characters and muses on whether the girls will be missed in their own lives; whether anyone cares that they have vanished; and ultimately, whether harm that comes to women is their own fault – it’s the ‘natural way of things’. But the title also plays with the question of what a ‘natural’ female body is, plays on the notion of a return to nature and whether there is such a thing as a ‘natural state’ for humans – and whether that natural state is to revert to primitivism in gender relations. It also reflects the book’s interest in the natural world as a redemptive force, if the girls choose to see it that way.

If your book was ever optioned for a film or television do you think it could ever capture the feral anger so dramatically etched in your story?

CW: The book has been optioned for a film to be made by a team of young women filmmakers in Australia – I have handed all creative control to them as I would like the film to be a completely new creation of its own, and for them to have total ownership of it.

You can read an extract from Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things here.

Svetlana Alexievich Second-Hand Time: The Last of the Soviets (Translated by Bela Shayevich)

38077-vnmgcbvbbz-1469206831Second-Hand-Time_150_RGB-682x1024(My review of Nobel winner Svetlana Alexievich’s Second-Hand Time was published in Scroll on 23 July 2016 with the title” Imagine the tragedy of abandoning Communism without knowing how to live with capitalism”. Here is the link: http://scroll.in/article/812306/imagine-the-tragedy-of-abandoning-communism-without-knowing-how-to-live-with-capitalism. I am c&p the text below too. )

Nobel Prize winner (2015) Svetlana Alexievich’s Second-Hand Time: The Last of the Soviets explores what the aftermath of the fall of USSR meant for ordinary folks. Svetlana is a Belarusian journalist who was born in Ukraine, writes in Russian and lived in Paris for nearly 11 years before returning to Minsk to be with her daughter and granddaughter. According to the New York Times, “she had left to protest the regime of the Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994 and curtailed press freedom. She said she planned to remain in Minsk and hoped the Nobel would give her some protection and freedom to speak her mind.” Based on interviews carried out between 1991 and 2012, the book was published in Russian in 2013, with the first English edition coming out in 2016.

By the little people consists of a series of transcripts of interviews. Sometimes these are structured thoughts, sometimes ramblings and sometimes monologues. Rarely does Alexievich intrude with comments or even an introduction to the speaker. At most, a reference to the person or the memory being recorded will be acknowledged in the chapter heading, such as “On Romeo and Juliet…except their names were Margarita and Abulfaz”. No wonder Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen calls the 2015 Nobel Prize winner a “memory keeper”.

According to Bela Shayevich, the translator of Second-Hand Time, the book is “an update of 19th-century Russian literature for the 21st century.” People read Russian novels not for the happy endings, she added, but “because there is great catharsis in great pain and then something that is sublime.” Listing it as part of her Summer Reads 2016 in The Guardian, Marina Warner called it “a Greek tragic chorus of memories about the Soviet Union”.

The stories we hear add up to something close to a dystopia created by Communist indoctrination. Having subjected the former Soviet citizens to almost an artificial reality, the regime incapacitated them from understanding the transformation of their society after 1989, when Communism began to fade.

“My mother is not going to help raise my daughter…I won’t let her. If she had her way, my child would only watch Socialist cartoons because they’re ‘humane’. But when the cartoon is over, you have to go out on the street, into a completely different world.” As an ex-Army officer who had fought in Afghanistan told Alexievich, “It’s important to write it down while there are still people around who remember it…we’d work the night shift, unloading train cars, or as security guards. Laying asphalt. The people working alongside me were PhDs, doctors, surgeons. I even remember a pianist from the symphony. …socialism is alchemy.”

What also emerges tragically from these accounts is the fact that ordinary people did not even have the skills to survive in the post-Soviet landscape, after the disintegration of the USSR. They had been brought up to believe in dreams such as the motherland. This is a constant lament in the book – the inability of many people to understand basics, such as what is real money, how it operates, and the value of it. Many did not know how to earn a living in the new socio-economic system, and rapidly sank into poverty.

Distilled testimonies

In an interview to the Dalkey Archive Press when her book Voices from Chernobyl was published, Alexievich said she sees her work as witnessing. She repeated this in her interview to The Millions: “I’m interested in little people. The little, great people, is how I would put it, because suffering expands people. In my books these people tell their own, little histories, and big history is told along the way. We haven’t had time to comprehend what already has and is still happening to us, we just need to say it. To begin with, we must at least articulate what happened.”

In the opening chapter of Second-Hand Time, Alexievich writes of her intent to document the Communist collective memory, which recalls Pravda, Little Octoberists, parades, Solzhenitsyn, Komsomol, and allegiance to the motherland: “In writing, I’m piecing together the history of ‘domestic’, ‘interior’ socialism. As it existed in a person’s soul. I’ve always been drawn to this miniature expanse: one person, the individual. It’s where everything really happens…It never ceases to amaze me how interesting everyday life really is. There are endless number of human truths. History is concerned solely with the facts; emotions are outside of its realm of interest. In fact, it’s considered improper to admit feelings into history. But I look at the world as a writer and not a historian. I am fascinated by people.”

An insight into her fascinating methodology reveals a practice not uncommon amongst those who document oral histories. According to Alexievich, she “selects one out of five interviews, and that one makes it into the published book. For each person I record four tapes or more, making 100-150 printed pages, depending on the voice, timbre and the pace of the oral story, and then only about ten pages remain…”

So the seeming chaos of individual narratives has a strong underlying sense of structure, much like the ordered chaos of Darcy’s garden in Pride and Prejudice. These stream of consciousness testimonials are the common form of recording oral narratives, particularly of women survivors, of a traumatic experience. The form is a testament to the writer’s sensitivity as a listener, allowing the interviewee to speak openly and without fear. These are experiences that, Alexievich is quick to remind us, formed “a large part of our lives – more, even, than love. Thus, the Russian experience of suffering acquires particular value.”

“I grew up in a dissident family…in a dissident kitchen…My parents knew Andrei Sakharov, they distributed Samizdat. Along with them, I read Vassily Grossman, Yevgenia Ginzburg, Dovlatov, listened to Radio Liberty. In 1991, I was, of course, in front of the White House, in a human chain, prepared to sacrifice my life to prevent the return of Communism. Not a single one of my friends were Communists. For us, Communism was inextricably linked with the Terror, the Gulag. A cage. We thought it was dead. Gone forever. Twenty years have passed…I go into my son’s room, and what do I see but a copy of Marx’s Das Kapital on his desk, and Trotsky’s My Life on his bookshelf…I can’t believe my eyes! Is Marx making a comeback? Is this a nightmare? Am I awake or am I dreaming? My son studies at the university, he has a lot of friends, and I’ve started eavesdropping on their conversations. They drink tea in our kitchen and argue about The Communist Manifesto …Marxism is legal again, on trend, a brand. They wear T-shirts with pictures of Che Guevara and Lenin on them. [ Despairingly] Nothing has taken root. It was all for naught.”

The blurb on the dust jacket begins: “What if you could tell history through the countless voices of ordinary people who lived through it?” It is as if in one fell swoop the editors have negated the very existence of the discipline of subaltern history while using the very same idea. Maybe Alexievich’s preferred definition of “witness” would have been more appropriate.

Svetlana Alexievich Second-Hand Time: The Last of the Soviets (Translated by Bela Shayevich) Juggernaut Books, New Delhi, 2016. Hb. Pp. 570. Rs 699

A paragraph that could not be included in the published article for reasons of length is reproduced below: 

In the case of Soviet society, in seven decades, they went from the Romanov era, Bolshevik Revolution, CommunismRussia-Putin-sworn-in-again ( Stalin et al) and then post-1989 hurtled completely unprepared into a capitalist economy society soon to be dominated by Putin. As Simon Sebag Montefiore says in his magnificently detailed and stupendously rich history of The Romanovs: 1613-1918 says: It is ironic that now, two centuries after the Romanovs finally agreed a law of succession, Russian presidents still effectively nominate their successors just as Peter the Great did.” ( pxx-xi). And yet Putin, the Russian president’s state symbol is the two-headed eagle that was of the Romanovs too. This direct linkage to the royal period of Russian history refuses to acknowledge the communist era except for the trifle detail of Putin having been an ex-KGB officer, the secret police of the Soviet Union.

Simon Sebag Montefiore The Romanovs: 1613-1918 Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2016. Hb. Pp. 746. Rs 1299 ( Distributed by Hachette India)

Ritu Khoda and Vanita Pai’s “Raza’s Bindu” with an afterword by S. H. Raza

IMG_20160724_102616In late 2014 Scholastic India published a remarkable little book called Raza’s Bindu. It is the first in “I am an Artist” series created by the firm to introduce children to great Indian modern artists. This book is to be followed by a peek into the life and works of another famous painter Ambadas. Raza’s Bindu is a slim and neatly produced little hardback that introduces children to the life of renowned painter S.H. Raza. Instead of being merely a dry autobiographical account the book incorporates fabulous tasks for the child to engage with. They are not run-of-the-mill instructions of creating paintings at home but pages incorporated into the book design that permit the child to scribble happily in the book itself. Though the book could not have been easy to put through to production with its fussy IMG_20160724_102720detailing it is reasonably priced at Rs 350.

Yesterday with the sad news of the passing away of ninety-four-year old Raza I could not help but reflect on the remarkable legacy he has left for the next generation of children and more. Sure his paintings hang in galleries and private collections around the world but in his final years IMG_20160724_102701he was able to reach out generously to children breaking into tiny morsels his philosophy of painting by exploring the multiple possibilites which reside in the universal dot or bindu. Is it a window to the world? Does it represent the God who resides in one’s heart? Is it the Panchtatva ( five elements — earth, water, fire, air and space) that IMG_20160724_102634exist in all his paintings? By mixing storytelling especially beginning with him being a daydreamer in class who was more intent on doodling till he reprimanded by his teacher and asked as a punishment to stare at a dot drawn on the blackboard. It was to be the turning point in Raza’s life. In fact  some of his more familiar paintings incorporated into the book will resonate with the young reader.

This is a tremendous book conceptualised and created by Ritu Khoda and Vanita Pai.

Ritu Khoda and Vanita Pai “Raza’s Bindu” with an afterword by S. H. Raza. Scholastic India, Gurgaon, 2014. Hb. Rs 350 

24 July 2016 

 

“Oluguti Toluguti” and “Dum Dum Dho”: Nursery Rhymes for Children

235_coverI recently read two wonderful Tulika Book publications. Both the volumes published four years apart are a collection of popular collection of rhymes from various Indian languages. Interestingly the first volume, Oluguti Toluguti, consisted of translations into English but with the rhymes published in the original script/ language side by side on the page and at the end the transliteration was provided in Hindi. Whereas Dum Dum Dho consists of many of the same rhymes published before but without it in the original script. In 2011, I recall hearing Radhika Menon of Tulika Books discussing Oluguti Toluguti  at Publishing Next conference. Later the audio books was made available on storytruck dot com too. When Storytruck redesigned their site the simple read along format didn’t work! A large team of writers and translators worked at putting these books together.  After reading the books I emailed the publishing director of Tulika Books, Radhika Menon. Here are extracts from our correspondence:Dum Dum Dho

IMG_20160721_164104

The “army” of people involved in making this wonderful collection of rhymes come true.

Jaya: Thank you for sending the books. I have enjoyed reading and comparing them. Both are extremely beautiful editions.  From the notes I gather these poems were crowdsourced and you have amassed quite a few of them. So I have a few questions to pose:

  • Approximately how many lyrics did you garner? In how many languages?
  • Is it possible to access the lyrics you collected and did not publish?
  • How did you select the poems to include in the first book?
  • I recall your saying years ago that these had been released as an iBook. Is that still true? Or are these exclusively available on Storytruck?
  • Why did you opt to create a companion volume of lyrics exclusively in English ? Are these books catering for two separate markets?
  • One day, one day I want to hear the backstory of these books, the anecdotes about production etc. I am very sure there is a fascinating story here.

Radhika: Happy you enjoyed the books. The note on how we collected the poems is in Oluguti Toluguti*.

Oluguti Toluguti offers a culturally rich alternative. [to the popular English nursery rhymes most Indian school kids are taught] Drawn from various Indian languages, the rhymes have been carefully and skilfully adapted in English so that they retain the lively, distinctive cadence of the original while keeping the meaning and acquiring a recitable character of their own. They are selected on the basis of their popularity, their rhythmic quality, and the familiarity of the images they evoke. Thus they reinforce a feeling of comfort and confidence, invaluable for positive early childhood learning.

 Sometimes the poem in English is a fragment, sometimes it is the whole. What is interesting is that many of them, although from different regions, carry similar patterns of language and imagery. And the original is never far away. In fact, it appears on the same page, in its original script, and in transliteration. A transliteration in Devanagari is provided at the end of the book.

The number of languages we collected them in have all been included. We did have several in some languages but had to struggle to get some northeast languages as expected. We don’t have the ones we didn’t include as they didn’t work or were difficult to adapt. Selection was based on the oral appeal of the poem, the relatability to an extent for readers in English and how well it could be adapted in English. Though we make it clear that they are free adaptations keeping to rhyme and rhythm rather than meaning and not literal translations (we say that in the book) there are criticisms from native speakers that the translation is wrong, unacceptable etc. That was a risk we were aware of. Can understand their discomfort too – if you have grown up with the rhymes it is difficult when the English deviates from the original. It is parents/grandparents who feel strongly about multilingualism and see the value in being able to hear the sounds of other unfamiliar languages in the English that really respond to them. Also sourcing them from different languages makes them culturally rooted in a region in a way original rhymes in English would not have been. We wouldn’t have got this plurality of characters (including animals and birds!), settings, names, sounds, food we wouldn’t have got if we had got original poems.  We do get a lot of submissions and none of them appeal because they are so forced in their efforts to making it ‘Indian’! And we see the poems in Oluguti as a baby’s first rhymes  – my grandsons at three months loved the sounds and my improvised actions :-).

While Oluguti works very well when used with babies and toddlers Dum Dum Dho is for the next age group roughly 3 to 6 years. In this we have included original poems in English and a few from Oluguti that fitted into this collection. Out of 45 we have 27 original ones from different writers. We included the 18 also to keep them in circulation because they are quite unique.

It is no longer on Storytruck. The way to popularise is to set the rhymes to music. Producing an audio is quite challenging – we have been trying with a couple of people and it hasn’t worked. They tend to go all ethnic which we don’t want or they make it very western rhymes like which doesn’t work either. Also the pronunciations are bad and that we can’t allow and we don’t know all languages either! Which means we need professional film or ad music directors to do it and that we can’t afford. Quite a project. But haven’t given up! Let’s see.

They are the first of their kind collections with a multilingual approach to ‘nursery rhymes’!

Here is a lovely snippet from YouTube of Sandhya Rao and Indrani Krishnaiyer reciting the title poem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=llF15-JL6sk

Radhika Menon and Sandhya Rao ( Eds.) Oluguti Toluguti: Indian Rhymes to Read and Recite ( Illustrated by Kshitiz Sharma) Tulika Publishers, Chennai, 2011. Hb. Rs 385

Deeya Nayar and Radhika Menon (Eds.) Dum Dum Dho: Rhymes and Rhythms ( Illustrations by Anjora Noronha) Tulika Publishers, Chennai, 2015. Hb. Rs 345

21 July 2016

Sarah Crossan, “One”

sarah( My review of Sarah Crossan’s award winning novel-in-verse One was published in Scroll today. Here is the url: http://scroll.in/article/811911/a-novel-about-conjoined-twins-in-verse-beats-facts-that-can-be-rather-terse . I am also c&p the text below. ) 

She’s not a piece of me
She’s me entirely
and without her
there would be
a gaping space
in my chest,
an expanding black hole
that nothing
else could
fill.

Award-winning Sarah Crossan’s One is a free verse novel about Siamese twins Tippi and Grace. One has been awarded some of the most prestigious awards for young adult literature such as the CILIP Carnegie 2016, the Bookseller’s YA Book Prize 2016 and the Irish Children’s Book of the Year Award. Crossan has also won, along with Michael Rosen, the CLIPPA children’s poetry award. Writers consider the CILIP Carnegie, given by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, “the one they want to win” since it is awarded by librarians.

One is about Tippi and Grace, named after Hollywood actresses Tippi Hedren and Grace Kelly. They live with their parents, their grandmother aka Gammie, and their younger sister Nicola nicknamed Dragon. Their father is unemployed and has turned into an alcoholic. Their mother works in a bank but is constantly working at home too. Yet the parents never compromise on their twin daughter’s medical care, regular health check-ups and psychiatric visits to Dr Murphy. The novel has been told from the point-of-view of Grace. It is set in a short span of eight months – August to March.

These twins are of the ischiopagus tripus variety – two heads, two hearts, two sets of lungs and kidneys. Four arms, a pair of fully functioning legs. The vestigial leg has been docked. Intestines begin apart and then merge. They are like any other sixteen-year-olds except for the tiny detail of them being conjoined at the hip.

For most of their life they have been home-schooled but the city no longer wants to fund this. So they have to join a private school, Homebeacon High. The twins dread being in public since they are constantly stared at or called monsters and freaks or cursed as devil’s spawn. Fortunately they are befriended by classmates Yasmeen and Jon, who protect them in a manner similar to their family.

We are tired of getting rides
to school and back again every day
so we take the train home
with Jon
and pretend we can’t hear all the words around us
like little waspy stings.

“I bet celebrities don’t even have it this bad,” Jon
says.

“I can’t imagine what it must be like
for you.”

“It’s like that,” Tippi tells him
and points at
a woman across the aisle with a phone
aimed at us like a sniper rifle.

The twins enjoy their short spell at school before they contract a flu which unfortunately develops into cardiomyopathy for Grace. It means that Tippi’s heart is functioning for the two of them. Complications arise, necessitating the urgent physical separation of the sisters.

It is expensive surgery, although the doctors have waived their fees. Sadly, there is no guarantee that the girls will survive the medical procedure. So far the girls have miraculously surpassed all medical expectations to live beyond the two-year life span predicted for them.

Just before the sudden dip in their health, their younger sister, who dreams of being a ballet dancer, is invited to a tour of Russia. Of course, the family is too poor to afford it. To make things worse, their mother loses her job.

Much against their will, the girls decide to allow themselves to be shadowed by a documentary filmmaker for a handsome fee of $50,000. They are not particularly keen to be in the limelight like the conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton (born 1908), who were the wealthiest performers of their time.

If it were not for the twins being conjoined, One would be like any other YA novel telling a story about teenage angst, love, heartbreak, smoking on the sly, climbing trees etc. And this where the beauty of Sarah Crossan’s graceful craftsmanship lies. She is able to become one with Grace and experience the story, the emotional roller coasters, and focus upon the harsh reality of what it means to be Siamese twins.

This is the only one among her books that she spent more than a year researching. She began writing it after watching a BBC documentary about Minnesotan conjoined twins Abby and Brittany Hensel. As shewrote, “I was immediately captivated by the idea of their lives – fascinated by the ways in which these amazing women managed to live as two separate people in one body, and I made it my mission to find out everything I possibly could about conjoined twins. I knew there was the potential for a novel in there, but I was also petrified of writing about something that was entirely unknown to me.”

Crossan spoke to “Edward Kiely, leading separation surgeon for conjoined twins in Europe, to help answer some of my hypothetical medical questions, forcing me to tighten up certain parts of the plot to create a world that was completely real.”

“Although I was working on Apple and Rain at the time, and actually scrambling to get it to my publisher by deadline, I would go to the British Library every day and instead of focusing on Apple and Rain, would ask the librarians to help me find articles and books about the lives of conjoined twins through history and especially medical research about separation surgery. I had found a topic that I wanted to write about, but I wanted to tell it honestly and accurately, because the more the I read, the more I realised how misunderstood the lives of these people have been, and how ready people seem to be to say, ‘If it were me, I would want to be separated,’ without every fully considering the intimacy of such a relationship, not to mention the many joys it brings.

— Sarah Crossan in ‘The Guardian’


One
deserves all the awards it has garnered, not only for the range of issues it touches upon – for instance what it means to be a conjoined twin with no option to move independently but to be tethered in body, mind and, possibly, spirit – making joint decisions and unable to live an independent life – but also for its unique form.

Normal is the Holy Grail
and only those without it
know its value.

There are also ethical issues at play. The documentary is ultimately made more for voyeuristic entertainment purposes than out of empathy for the twins’ predicament. The medical fraternity’s offer to separate the twins free of cost stems from a rare opportunity to understand this unusual biological phenomenon.

One is a seminal book for its refreshing experiment in form and content. Crossan has to be admired for the sensitivity with which she has written the story, without being crudely inquisitive or didactic. She has raised the bar many notches for YA literature.

Sarah Crossan One Bloomsbury, London, 2015. Hb. Pp. 432 Rs 499 

 

 

Vinay Sitapati “Half-Lion: How P.V. Narasimha Rao transformed India”

Narasimhudu1Ramu Damodaran remembers the moment of change. ‘The first time I got a sense of how self-assured he was becoming was when he started referring to himself in third person. He would say, “This is a situation where the prime minister has to act.” That’s when I knew.’ ( p.198)

Vinay Sitapati’s Half-Lion: How P.V. Narasimha Rao transformed India is a biography of the former prime minister of India. In order to write it the author interviewed many people (some who wished to remain anonymous) and was given access to the private papers of Mr Rao by his family. In the acknowledgements he is grateful to the politician’s family for helping him access the papers “without expecting a hagiography”. In some senses Half-Lion is a straightforward biography documenting the birth-to-death life of a prominent politician despite its overly dramatic opening chapter entitled “Half-burnt body”. Vinay Sitapati meticulously ( at times tediously) records moments in Mr Rao’s life from a landowner-turned-politician of Andhra Pradesh to a powerful politician in Delhi including the few occasions when he was sidelined in politics. Yet it is a fact that Mr Rao was the home minister in 1984 when India ( particularly Delhi) experienced horrendous communal riots following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and later when he himself became prime minister, the Babri Masjid was destroyed leading to widespread communal clashes across India. It was a significant moment in the history of independent India since it marked the rise of the right wing Hindutva forces. Despite this horrendous track record that forever changed the secular fabric of the country there is an undeniable whiff of admiration in Vinay Sitapati’s account of the former prime minister’s role in ushering in liberalisation and transforming the country from a mixed economy and its socialist values of self-reliance to that of free trade. The fact is Mr Rao had no other option except to bring in economic reforms with Manmohan Singh as his finance minister. As journalist Mihir Sharma points out in his column:

…look at his great supposed achievement: the liberalisations of 1991.

The truth is this: in 1991, India had no choice but to reform. Rajiv Gandhi’s over-spending and the oil price crisis pushed India into a corner. Our autarkic industrial and economic policies were unsustainable. Any prime minister with a horizon of more than a few months in office, unlike Rao’s predecessor Chandra Shekhar, would have had to begin the process of opening up India.

What is particularly shameful, however, about calling Rao the “architect of reform” is that Rao did not just do the least he could – but he did it in a craven and dishonourable manner that has doomed the reform process in the decades since.

But did he not provide “political cover” to his team of reformers? No. The centrepoint of the first reform Budget, in 1991, was reform of fertiliser subsidies, which had grown tenfold in cost over the previous decade. The Budget speech quite bluntly reads: “with effect from this evening… there will be an increase of 40 per cent, on an average, in price” of fertiliser. It’s said Manmohan Singh even got Rao’s consent to this particularly difficult reform – the only part of the original 1991 reform process that was actually politically tough – in writing! Naturally, the moment that his Congress MPs raised their eyebrows at this, Rao abandoned his commitment, and it was rolled back. So much for the myth of “political cover”. It has little or no basis in reality.

( Mihir S. Sharma “Don’t praise Rao” Business Standard, 24 June 2016.  http://www.business-standard.com/article/opinion/don-t-praise-rao-116062400651_1.html )

The purpose of a biography is to not only record the life of its subject but place it within context. More often than not a biography serves another purpose — that of presenting a period in history as being continuous and particularly in the history of a nation to be stable. As Michael Holroyd points out the golden period of writing literary biographies in Great Britain began in the 1950s and continued till the late 1990s. ( Paris Review, Summer 2013, No. 205 http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6223/the-art-of-biography-no-3-michael-holroyd).  It is no coincidence that the art of writing biographies that required considerable scholarship and research began in UK soon after the end of World War II. It was a period of reconstruction and establishing the image of united Britain, one nation. Biographies of eminent people helped bolster this image considerably by seeping into the collective consciousness of people. In addition the scope of these biographies allowed exploration and understanding of contemporary historical, socio-political and economic events too. Similarly it is to be hoped that this was part of Vinay Sitapati’s intention with his Half-Lion since the life of Rao coincides with the birth of independent India, a geo-political entity and a significant player in international politics. Also for the many centuries of its existence India till 1947 had never existed like this as one nation state, a united entity, and certainly not for so long — nearly seven decades. So the significance of biographies particularly of politicians takes on a completely new dimension. In fact “in Telenagana, the TRS has adopted Rao as a local icon in a newly formed state looking for regional heroes. Starting in 2014, the Telengana state government has chosen to officially celebrate his birth anniversary in Hyderabad every year. It has announced that Rao’s life will be taught to schoolchildren, and a district and university renamed after him. In 2015, the new BJP Central government built a memorial ghat for Rao in Delhi.” (p.7)

Vinay Sitapati does what a classical biographer would do — “footstepping” in the wake of his subject to determine and recreate a life. But he lacks the craftsmanship of a true biographer in being unable to journey in to the interior life of his subject while being wholly aware of the historical and geographic. Nor is there any moment of self-awareness presumably because the biographer is too much in awe of his subject. Unfortunately despite the magnificent revelations about the internal workings of the Congress party or that of the tenuous relationship between Sonia Gandhi and Mr Rao, Half-Lion blurs the very fine line between a biography and a hagiography. This is a book that will continue to create the ripples it has caused with its publication in late June 2016 and it will be no surprise if this book is optioned for a film.

I interviewed Vinay Sitapati on 4 July 2016 via email. Here is the interview:

  1. Why Rao? Even after reading your book I am curious to know why this politician? The connect between you and him is missing in Half-Lion and a book of this magnitude requires that pivotal link to keep you going through such a humungous project. 

I am a Bandra boy, and have memories growing up through the changes of liberalisation. But I wanted this book to not be about me. The word “I” is not used in the book, and I wanted it to be an honest, objective book, undiluted by the personal impressions I had of the man. I am not a Telugu-speaker, nor did I know Rao. I am just like millions of Indians who were affected by his policies. The power of the book is in this neutrality. I only relied on evidence gleaned from documentary research and interviews, without having any personal opinions or biases. But if you ask me one emotion that kept me going, it was anger: anger that a man as consequential as Rao has been completely ignored by history.

  1. How many drafts did it take to write Half-Lion?

I completed research and writing of this book in a year. I began in April 2015. After 5 months of research, I began writing. Ramachandra Guha had told me that it takes him about 10-12 days to write a 30-page chapter, once all the research is there. It took me the same. I then circulated the draft of each chapter to about 11 people – from writers and MBA-types to hard-core academics. Their varied feedback both enriched the book and made it accessible to a wide range of readers.

  1. Before embarking on this project did you research the debates revolving around biographies? 

I read about 20 political biographies before I began. I was especially influenced by the book Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China by the Harvard historian Ezra Vogel. There were two big debates on biography writing that I learnt from. One: what is the balance between scholarship and accessiblity. This is an academic book, with more than 1100 footnotes. But I’ve also tried to make it fun and simple to read. The second debate was between policy and personality. How much of the book should be about political and policy changes, how much about Rao’s personal life and quirks. Again, I’ve aimed for a balance.

4.Would you want this book turned to a biopic? Or has the book already been optioned for a film? 

I have not yet got an offer, but Rao’s life is ripe for a movie. Imagine: in April 1991 he is closing his bank accounts to become a Hindu monk. Two months later, he is the leader of the world’s largest democracy. You can’t make that script up.

  1. What do you intend to do with the archive you have created while researching this book especially the innumerable interviews you did? 

I have done more than 110 interviews. But more than that, it is Rao’s personal archives which are a national treasure. I’m working with his family to put everything online. That way, can access every single thing Rao wrote – public and private – from anywhere in the world. I feel I owe it to my country.

Vinay Sitapati Half-Lion: How P.V. Narasimha Rao transformed India Viking, Penguin Random House, 2016. Hb. pp.390 Rs 699 

17 July 2016

 

“Do you remember Kunan Poshpora?”

41DEZH1RXvL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_In the week when Kashmir is burning after the death of twenty-one-year-old Burhan Wani or as he is being referred in Indian media as “the poster boy of new militancy” ( http://bit.ly/29BWjgf ) it would be sobering to read Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora? Published by Zubaan in March 2016 it is about the mass rape of women and the brutal sexual torture of men in the twin villages of Kunan and Poshpora by soldiers of the Indian Armed Forces. The book also includes the text of the confidential report of the then Divisional Commissioner Kashmir Wajahat Habibullah (along with the deleted paragraphs). Since the book was published there were more developments in the case but could not be included in the publication. 

I am posting extracts from the book. The sequencing is mine.

While I was composing this blog post noted human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover posted on Facebook the following: 

Our silence, as young protestors are being killed in Kashmir and many severely injured, is suffocating me.
Kashmir is a political dispute and needs a political engagement. We must protest and demand an end to this militarisation. After the 2010 killings of over 112 persons by security forces in Kashmir, 4 of us – Sukumar Muralidharan, Bela Somari and Ravi Hemadri and myself – traveled across Kashmir visted the families of those killed and the wounded. We documented the excessive and indiscriminate use of lethal force against unarmed protestors that led to the grievous loss of life; the pellet gun and catapults that caused blindness and multiple organ injuries; the hospital in Patan that was attacked by the CRPF where injured were being treated and a child shot dead in the hospital premises; children like Tufail Mattoo and Sameer Rah were killed. No FIR was ever lodged and no one was held accountable for these killings. https://kafila.org/2011/03/26/four-months-the-kashmir-valley-will-never-forget-a-fact-finding-report/
Death has rolled its dice again.”

“We knew that if we remained silent, they would do it again, if not in our village then somewhere else.” — A survivor 

 

This book is that you are about to read is unusual, special and quite extraordinary. It spans, traverses and tracks a long passage of time — 24 years — during which the truth of the mass rape of women and the brutal sexual torture of men in the twin villages of Kunan and Poshpora by soldiers of the Indian Armed Forces, was sought to be distorted, denied or buried by the Indian state and its many agencies. When a truth of this nature and magnitude is thus treated or suppressed, the quest for justice is boosted not only amongst the victims / survivors but also amongst large sections of the population; women and men, none of whom is unscathed or untouched by the mass violence surrounding them. They are in fact, witnesses.

Many have grown up in the midst of this violence; the myriad forms it takes, the fear and terror that it unleashes on a daily basis, the lies and lawlessness of the state; be it on a street or one’s home — it is their lived experience. So it is with the five young authors of this book. They were either not born or just born at the time of the ‘incident’ in early 1991.

When I met these young women in the summer of 2013 ( at the office of JKCCS, the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society) in the course of my own work on sexual violence and impunity in J&K, each one of them was poring over various documents in English or Urdu in files that were scattered open; these were the documents that told and corroborated the ‘story’ of the mass rape in Kunan and Poshpora that JKCCS had accessed through several RTIs ( right to information) that they had filed in different government departments. There were also records of the victims’ / survivors’ testimonies that these young women had procured over a period of time. I was struck by the number of documents and the amount of information that was there, it reminded me of how different it was compared to fifteen years ago when hardly any information was available, either official or unofficial, particularly regarding sexual crimes/rape. Silence and fear had prevailed then but here were these young women fearlessly articulating the problem and determined to fight the state authorities for justice and accountability.

I was curious to know what had inspired them to look into a ‘case’ that took place so many years ago, even before some of them were born. What prompted them to take on this arduous journey, to undertake their frequent travels to Kupwara where these two villages are located? How did they manage to gain the trust and confidence of the victims / survivors such that they were willing to share their stories yet again, this time with a group of young, concerned women? One of them voiced it poignantly and succinctly: when a young woman physiotherapy student was gang-raped in a moving bus on the streets of Delhi in December 2012, the outrage among people was such that the entire country erupted into militant protests that demanded justice for the victim and punishment for the accused. How come the frequent rapes in J&K by the armed forces do not move the same Indians to protest this crime, not even when it is a mass rape of women as in Kunan and Poshpora? ‘We decided’, she told me, ‘that we have to raise our voice and wage our own struggle against such crimes. If we don’t, no one else will.’

This sentiment is reflected in the book when the authors ask: Is rape in India punishable but rape in Kashmir justifiable when committed by the men in uniform, the protestors of India’s honour in Kashmir? Is this the typical ‘face’ or attitude of the Indian authorities — of burying the truth and denying Justice? ‘In Kashmir, Justice is a hard thing to find’ say the authors at one point, reminding me of what a Sri Lankan woman in one of the IDP camps had once told me, ‘Justice is a dark room for us’.

The authors thus began to excavate the truth, by sifting it through a web of lies and botched-up investigations, by painstakingly building a bridge of trust and hope between the victims / survivors of Kunan Poshpora and the various courts of law where justice is meant to be dispensed.

These women were instrumental in re-opening the Kunan Poshpora case and demanding that it be re-investigated. They mobilized nearly a hundred women from different walks of life including a few women from their own families. Fifty of them joined these young women to file a PIL ( Public Interest Litigation ) at the lower court in Kupwara in 2013, even though the case had been closed as untraced by the JK police in 1991.

( From the ‘Preface’ by Sahba Husain. pp xxiii – xxvi)

The Sexual Violence and Impunity Project ( SVI) is a three-year research project, supported by the International Development Research Centre ( IDRC), Canada, and coordinated by Zubaan. Led by a group of nine advisors* from five countries ( Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka), and supported by groups and individuals on the ground, the SVI project started with the objectives of developing and deepening their understanding on sexual violence and impunity in South Asia through workshops, discussions, interviews and commissioned research papers on the prevalences of sexual violence, and the structures that provide immunity to perpetrators in all five countries.

Our discussions began in January 2012, when a group of women from South Asia came together in a meeting facilitated by a small IDRC grant, to begin the process of thinking about these issues. We were concerned not only at the legal silences around the question of sexual violence and impunity, but also how deeply the ‘normalization’ of sexual violence and the acceptance of impunity, had taken root in our societies.

It became clear to use that women’s movements across South Asia had made important contributions in bringing the issue of sexual violence and impunity to public attention. And yet, there were significant gaps, …

Over the three-year period since this project began, there have been amendments in the criminal law of India and the definition of sexual assault has expanded, we have gained considerable grounds in our understanding on impunity for sexual violence and consequently are better able to speak about it and fight for justice. It is noteworthy that during the recent targeted violence in Muzzafarnagar in India in 2013, seven Muslim women who were brutally gang raped and sexually assaulted by men belonging to other communities, filed writ petitions for protecting their right to life under Article 21. In a landmark judgement in March 2014, recognizing the rehabilitation needs of the survivors of targeted mass rape, the Supreme Court of India ordered that a compensation of INR 500,000 each for rehabilitation be paid to the women by the state government.

The ‘Occupy Baluwatar’ movement of December 2012 which some see as the ripple effects of the Delhi protests against sexual violence and demands for justice, had sexual violence and impunity at its centre. One of the major outcomes of the movement was the 27 November 2015 amendment broadening the definition of rape, bringing same-sex rape and marital rape into the ambit of law.

In Pakistan too, small steps forward were taken in the shape of a parliamentary panel approval in February 2015 of amendments in the anti-rape laws, supporting DNA profiling as evidence during the investigation and prohibition on character assassination of rape victims during the trial. …

The eight volumes ( one each on Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, two on India, and two standalone books on impunity and on an incident of mass rape in Kunan Poshpora in Indian Kashmir) that comprise this series, are one of the many outcomes of this project. The collective knowledge built on the subject through workshops, discussion fora, testimonies and interviews is part of our collective repository and we are committed to making it available to be used by activists, students and scholars. …

( From the Introduction by Urvashi Butalia, Laxmi Murthy and Navsharan Singh. pp ix – xviii)

*The nine advisors are: Ameena Mohsin, Hameeda Hossain, Kishali Pinto Jayawardena, Kumari Jayawardena, Mandira Sharma, Nighat Said Khan, Saba Gul Khattak, Sahba Husain, Sharmila Rege and Uma Chakravarti.

Essar Batool, Irfah Butt, Samreena Mushtaq, Munaza Rashid, & Natasha Rather Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora? ( Introduction by Urvashi Butalia, Laxmi Murthy and Navsharan Singh) Zubaan Series on Sexual Violence and Impunity in South Asia co-published with IDRC, Zubaan, 2016. Pb. pp. 250. Rs. 395 

11 July 2016 

 

Alain de Botton “The Course of Love”

13342897_10153552704446867_3870861296907992594_nI had posted this image on Instagram and Facebook. It had a tremendous response. Here are extracts of a conversation I had on Facebook. 

Starts well. Mixed with #AlaindeBotton ‘s advice on #relationships. Not an #authorial intrusion but “expert” advice. Curious mix in #fiction. Surprisingly a welcome intrusion. His first #novel in twenty years after his #bestselling #debut #EssaysInLove. #beautiful #bookcover Attention flags as the “novel” proceeds. The fiction is padding his true interest — commenting on relationships. I found myself reading the italicised portions with great interest and skipping chunks of the story. It is precisely the aspect of the book which is being played up in the book publicity. Take a look at this NYT article published last week on why you will marry the wrong person. http://mobile.nytimes.com/…/why-you-will-marry-the…. Every second person on social media seemed to be sharing it but few remarked it was by Alain de Botton. Its a rehash of an article published on his website, Book of Life, as “On marrying the wrong person”. But the multiple shares served the purpose of creating a buzz about the book. Frankly the wisdom Alain de Botton imparts on relationships IS fascinating to read. His earlier work was fascinating. On love, travel, architecture, news, all of it marvellous. But this one is a rehash of his earlier work.

Alain de Botton The Course of Love Hamish Hamilton, Peguin India, Pb. pp. 

11 July 2016

 

Freedom of Expression: Perumal Murugan, 5 July 2016

13606815_10154242058030279_2274827106389531026_nOn 5 July 2016 a landmark judgment was passed by the Madras High Court quashing the criminal case against Tamil writer Perumal Muruganor for allegedly offending religious sentiments with his writings on caste. According to Scroll (http://bit.ly/29hWGdC) :

The author, who is known for his sharp commentary on caste, was 13592615_1294572783886991_324027490996198510_nfacing an onslaught from religious and caste groups who said he had hurt their sentiments.

The Madras High Court on Tuesday quashed a criminal case against Tamil writer Perumal Murugan. …They also dismissed a plea moved by residents of his native town, Thiruchengode, to initiate criminal 13612276_1294572820553654_2532322020494602524_nproceedings against him.

The case was filed shortly after Murugan published Mathorubagan, a story about a childless couple in rural Tamil Nadu being pushed by their families to fall back on an ancient chariot festival in the temple of the half-female god Ardhanareeswara. Here, on the night of the festival, the union between any man and woman is permitted.

The book, which was translated into English as One Part Woman, published by Penguin India.
In response, the local administration organised a peace meet presided over by a district revenue official, where he had to agree to withdraw all copies of his book. However, on Tuesday, the Bench of Chief Justice SK Kaul and Justice Puspha Sathyanarayana held that the settlement arrived at during the peace-keeping meet would not be binding on the author.

Shortly after this meeting with the district authorities, Murugan announced on Facebook would stop writing. “Author Perumal Murugan is dead. He is no God. Hence, he will not resurrect. Hereafter, only P Murugan, a teacher, will live,” he had posted.

His books were then quietly removed from bookshops. Only the English translations of two of his more recent books – Pyre (published in Tamil as Pookkuzhi in 2013) and One Part Woman – are available. Two older books, Current Show and Seasons Of The Palm, are out of print and almost impossible to find. His Tamil books are entirely unavailable.

13590270_1294572853886984_5463788870472689861_nAn excerpt from the Madras high court judgement on Perumal Murugan :

The author Prof. Perumal Murugan should not be under fear. He should be able to write and advance the canvass of his writings. His writings would be a literary contribution, even if there were others who may differ with the material and style of his expression. The answer cannot be that it was his own decision to call himself dead as a writer. It was not a free decision, but a result of a situation which was created. …..”

“Let the author be resurrected for what he is best at, to write”.

Here is the complete judgment:

http://www.thehindu.com/multimedia/archive/02921/Perumal_Murugan_ca_2921087a.pdf13600254_1294572803886989_5785590099380635754_n

English translation of the new statement issued by Perumal Murugan, posted on Facebook by Kannan Sundaram, Publisher, Kalachuvadu Publications ( 6 July 2016). This statement has been translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan and the poem by Perundevi Srinivasan:

The judgment gives me much happiness. It comforts a heart that was in a fuming withdrawal. I am trying to prop myself up holding on to the light of the last lines of the judgment: “Let the author be resurrected to what he is best at. Write.” I will get up. It is just that my mind wishes to spend a little time in the joy of this moment. My thanks to friends who stood by me. My thanks also to friends who stood against me.
The Flower
A flower blooms
after the big bang
Sharp fragrance
Sweet countenance
Shining Splendor
The flower would
take up and establish
everything.

6 July 2016

On the Marrakesh Treaty and DK Braille Books

cd0877026f8140d697c127619a68bea4On 30 June 2016 Canada became the 20th country to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled (Marrakesh Treaty). According to logothe fabulously informative online community Spicy IP “The significance of this 20th ratification, (almost exactly three years since the date of adoption) is due to Article 18 of the Treaty which provides that the Treaty shall come into force 3 months after the 20th country ratifies it – thus setting 30th September 2016 up for the Marrakesh Treaty to finally become a reality!” ( 3 July 2016, http://spicyip.com/2016/07/the-miracle-of-marrakesh-finally-to-be-realised.html )

Spicy IP continues: “this treaty provides exceptions to copyright in order to provide access to published materials to the blind, visually disabled, and otherwise print disabled persons. With the coming into force of this Treaty, countries that have ratified it will finally be able to exchange accessible format copies across their borders. This is especially good news for countries such as India, where accessible formats are very hard to get.

The 20 countries that have ratified the treaty are India, El Salvador, United Arab Emirates, Mali, Uruguay, Paraguay, Singapore, Argentina, Mexico, Mongolia, South Korea, Australia, Brazil, Peru, North Korea, Israel, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala and Canada. It is pertinent to note that the United States is not a part of this Treaty as yet.

India was the very first country to ratify this Treaty in 2014, and thanks to the efforts of Rahul Cherian and others, back in 2012 had already brought in domestic legislation amendments which were in line with the treaty would eventually go on to say.”a66314d2c14d49bba85591d532aa1595

Given that only 1% of the books published are available in Braille this is a huge market waiting to be tapped. In terms of publishing what is truly exciting is that DK earlier this year began experimenting with Braille books. With the happy coincidence of the Marrakesh Treaty becoming a reality on 30 September 2016 it puts DK in an enviable position since they have spent a good amount of time researching this market space. ( http://www.dk.com/uk/explore/education/an-intro-to-dk-braille-books/ )

Though this project was originally conceptualised in UK, the books are available across book markets including India. They are available at online stores such as Amazon. A few weeks ago I saw some of these books. They are magnificently produced. The aim is to produce a series of high-quality, custom books with braille and tactile images for blind and partially sighted children, or sighted children with blind parents. The emphasis is on making the braille books fully inclusive, books that could be shared with sighted friends and siblings, teachers and parents. According to one of the production team members, Charlotte, who developed this list, “Children that have a visual impairment are more likely to have nightmares and experience them for longer than sighted children. Books about the world can help to reduce or at least mitigate these nightly terrors. Also, being able to access books means that people with visual impairments feel less socially isolated and experience improved mental health.” With this series “visually impaired people around the world can put their hands down onto DK book pages and instead of feeling nothing, words and pictures will reach out to them and will inform them of some of the pretty amazing things about our planet. Sighted readers will be able to feel the images too, and it will be a more interesting, exciting, and immersive experience. Both audiences can learn the same things by reading and sharing the same book.” These braille books are meant to be affordable, globally accessible, and fully inclusive.

Here are some sample images of the books:

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9e58e7ca77d24369874a08bbca3e73cf (1)

 

 

 

 

 

5 July 2016