January 2017 Posts

An Interview with Publisher Michael Bhaskar on the Power of Curation

My interview with Michael Bhaskar, co-founder, Canelo was published in literary website Bookwitty on 24 January 2017. I am c&p the text below. ) 

Michael Bhaskar, co-founder and publishing director at Canelo, is known for being at the cutting edge of digital and traditional forms. Very active on Twitter with his perceptive comments on publishing, Bhaskar’s first book was the prize-winning monograph, The Content Machine. In his second book, Curation, he puts forth forceful arguments about the merits of curating content, especially to add value to businesses. His research focuses on the way digital technology is transforming the business and cultural context for publishing and other industries.

Bhaskar has been a British Council Young Creative Entrepreneur, a Frankfurt Book Fair Fellow and is currently a Visiting Researcher at the Oxford Brookes International Centre for Publishing.

Following are edited excerpts of an interview with Bhaskar:

Is there only one definition of “curation” as borrowed from art circles or after your research would you have a modern definition for the term?

Curation is interesting as the word, in English at least, has evolved. It came from the Latin ‘curare’ which meant to be take care of but eventually morphed into putting on and looking after museum and art gallery exhibitions. Then something interesting happened: about twenty years ago, with the web starting to become mainstream, the word curation suddenly started being applied to all kinds of things. Now we use it all over the place. The definition I use, and the definition I think most people intuitively understand, is that curation means ‘selecting and arranging to add value’. That, for me, is the modern understanding of the term.

How does curation, primarily a social skill, convert into financial capital?

I wouldn’t say curation is a social skill… for me it’s also about expertise, understanding, talent. The reason it’s so valuable today is that we are overloaded in so many contexts. Supply more just doesn’t work as a strategy. For example, just releasing another song or a book won’t work without some curation to make sure it finds its audience. Whenever you have a saturated market then, curation becomes invaluable to making sure it carries on functioning.

It is said content is the oil of the 21st century. How do you monetize curatorial abilities? The evidence in your book shows how companies, particularly Netflix, have benefitted tremendously but how can individuals?

There is no easy answer to this. I like to say that curation itself isn’t a business model but is baked into a business model. So Netflix wouldn’t work without curation, but it doesn’t get paid for it; it gets paid or providing people with the things to watch. The curation is kind of folded into the business model. The same is true if, for example, you run a shop. You get paid when people buy something, but the better curated your shop the more likely that is.

How is curation applicable to publishing? Are curatorial skills and the ability to discover dependent on the medium like digital or print matter?

We have far too many books in the world – one million new English language titles released every year. So publishers should be (and are) defined by what they say no to, by the choices that they make, by the careful, considered and highly curated nature of their lists. To me it’s this curatorial element that is central to publishing of all kinds and is only becoming more important.

With human behavioural patterns on the Internet changing rapidly and in the process transforming various social media platforms, the arguments about big data vs small data are gaining momentum. In this scenario how can the concept of curation be still important?

I actually think curation spans big and small data, human selections and automated systems: curation for me is broad and diffuse rather than narrow. So if you look at any of the systems and arguments you mention, they tend to come down to ways of selecting and arranging information, media and even people in various ways. Curation is at the heart of it! Almost every decision and project in digital media has the concept of curation at the heart of it – just look for example at the discussion of Facebook and the US election.

Is human touch / intervention important for curation or can it be left to machines and algorithms?

The truth is we need both. There is this tendency in the tech world to think technology will just take over. It won’t. We value that personal, idiosyncratic touch. We want to know about things precisely because they come from an individual. Yet in the age of big data this isn’t enough – to sift through millions of songs or newspaper articles, you need an algorithm. So the future isn’t about one or another but blends of both.

If curation adds value to a business why don’t we see more posts in firms for such a role?

A few reasons: one, because as I mentioned, it’s baked into the business model. So a buyer, or an editor, or a merchandiser, or an information architect, or a holiday planner, or a DJ: all of these roles are curators but we don’t call them that. Secondly I think we are seeing more such roles being created every day – all the big tech companies have been on a hiring binge for people in these roles over the past year.

Isn’t the ability to curate or access curated material exclusively a middle class phenomenon?

Partly. It’s true to say that it impacts on more affluent people more than less. But that doesn’t mean it’s not spreading because it is. Anyone with access to the Internet is experiencing these trends. Yes, there are a lot of people in the world without access – but fewer with every passing year. So while much of this curation is relevant only to the better off, the direct of travel is that is becoming more significant everywhere.

Doesn’t curation of information have inbuilt biases that may in the long term perpetuate prejudices?

It can do, which is why we need a strong distinction between good and bad curation. Good curation is that which breaks us out of prejudices and goes beyond filter bubbles, bad curation just confirms it. We need to become literate about the kinds of curation going on out there and watch for it closely.

You are at the cutting edge of curatorial abilities in publishing. What do you think lies ahead in publishing? Will business models transform?

I’d like to think the work we are doing at Canelo, the digital publisher I co-founded, indicates the direction of travel. We are a digital publisher, but carefully curated; we take the best of the old world of publishing but combine it with an embrace of new technology and methods; we have a completely redrawn contracts for authors, which we think are much fairer. We believe in digital but we also believe in writers and words. It’s this kind of mixing of the old and the new, the tried and tested with the innovative that I think is the future of publishing.

Michael Bhaskar Curation Piatkus, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, Hachette, 2016. Pb. pp. 354. Rs 499 

24 January 2017 

Guest Post: “David and Goliath” by Naveen Kishore

( The following post is by Naveen Kishore, Founder-publisher, Seagull Books) 

David and Goliath. A vertical confrontation. Visually that is. One small. Even tiny in comparison to the other. Mountain. Giant. Immense. Frighteningly so.
 
This is what it is like when facing the enemy. Any enemy. The one in our midst for instance. The one that watches our every move a fraction of a second before we have begun the act of stepping into it. Imagine the anxiety of the citizen living with the knowledge that every single thought is a projected Xerox of the state’s ability to second guess. Accurately. Precisely. Menacingly. They know what you think. Therefore you are. Your compliance is the reason you are even allowed to breathe. After all what is to stop them from cutting off the next breath which in any case is something that they become aware of before you take it. 
 
It isn’t that I am afraid. It is more the vertigo that accompanies this feeling in my bones. The fact that there is nothing they do not know. 
 
And yet I must confront the enemy. With the slingshot of my ability to reduce the space between my enemy and me. By somehow bringing it to it’s knees. So that I force it to look into my eyes. And for once see what I see. Not just think my thoughts. Actually see the fate I wish upon them.
 
And feel what it is to be watched all the time. 
 
That is one way.
 
We have to find others.
12 January 2017

Guest post: Jacks Thomas, Director, London Book Fair

( At the London Book Fair/British Council/Publishers Association reception held at the British Council, New Delhi held on 11 January 2017, Jacks Thomas announced the LBF 2017 edition will see a special Spotlight on India. Here is the full text of her speech reproduced with her permission. ) 

Jacks Thomas, Director, London Book Fair

Thank you Alan, and indeed the British Council team who with Gill Caldicott have made this evening possible. Thank you also for attending our reception, held jointly with our strategic partners, the Publishers Association of the UK and British Council.

Last year, a year long-programme to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Indian independence and UK cultural ties was announced by our Prime Ministers during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the UK.  Less significantly — but importantly — and said perhaps with a hefty dose of British irony — 2016 was also the year that I first visited India. Not just once, but twice.

My visits were all part of very much wanting to meet the Indian book community and to extend my knowledge of your interesting and talented industry. Imagine my delight therefore on discovering the plans for The Year of Culture which will see an exciting festival of events celebrating the vibrant cultural history and present of the 2 countries. As part of these celebrations, 2017 will now also see  a special Spotlight on India at The London Book Fair 2017.

Working with Capexil, there will be an exhibiting presence over three pavilions with many Indian publishers already

At the reception, 11 Jan 2017

having confirmed their participation. The Spotlight will feature an author programme to showcase selected authors from India, an especially curated Rights catalogue of Indian writing co-created by FICCI and LBF, a professional programme of trade seminars organised with the UK Publishers Association on the Department of International Trade Export Theatre, product demonstrations of Indian publishing and printing technology and expertise as well as a celebration of the 60th anniversary of the National Book Trust of India. All activity underpinned, of course, through the support of FIP and API.

Books and literature are significant  assets in our understanding of both a changing world and each other’s worlds. Getting the literature of one country into the hands of another’s is important.

I believe The Spotlight on India is important.

So, may I ask us simply to raise our glasses to our cross country literary collaboration.

Cheers!

12 January 2017 

Guest post: Salil Tripathi on “Illuminating evening with Prabodh Parikh at Farbas Gujarati Sabha”

I read the following post on noted journalist Salil Tripathi’s Facebook wall. I am posting the text and pictures with his permission. He is working on a book about Gujaratis which will be published by Aleph Book Company.)  

Illuminating evening with Prabodh Parikh at Farbas Gujarati Sabha.

Alexander Kinloch Forbes was a British administrator in India who loved Gujarat and the Gujarati language and became a scholar of the language. He came to India as a young man in 1840s and lived there till his death in 1860s. He was a senior administrator in Gujarat and went on to become a judge in Bombay. He set up a famous library in Surat and learned Gujarati with the poet Dalpatram. He wrote the classic history of “Goozeraat” in two volumes. When he died in 1865, Dalpatram wrote a collection, called Farbas Viraha. Forbes’s contribution in supporting Gujarati literature is enormous.

My great-great-grandfather Mansukhram Tripathi was a close friend of Forbes. (Tripathi himself was a leading essayist of his time and wrote Forbes’s biography). Upon Forbes’s death, Tripathi took lead in establishing Farbas Gujarati Sabha, an organisation that has stood the test of time.

I used to go to the Sabha at its old building, Congress House, with Kartik Bhagat for evening addas with Jayant Parekh, Rasik Shah, Nitin Mehta, and we met Naushil Mehta there when he had just moved back from the US. This was in the late 1970s. Kartik and I wrote Gujarati prose and poems, and we would be critiqued there by leading thinkers in Gujarati in Bombay – a fantastic formative experience. It is there that I discovered the magazine Etad, that Suresh Joshi had just launched in Baroda. Kartik and I were so inspired by Joshi, that we called the wall-paper we ran at New Era Pratyancha, after Joshi’s book. (Years later, Paula and Ashish would go on to edit it as well).

Last evening, Farbas trustee and my good friend Prabodh Parikh showed me around its magnificent collection – over 32,000 books – where i had the thrill of holding in my hands a book gifted to my greatgrandfather, Tansukhram Tripathi (Mansukhram’s son – he, too was a Sanskrit scholar and essayist, and a cousin of Govardhanram Tripathi, who wrote Sarasvatichandra).

I thought that as I resume my search into Gujarat and its asmita, this library was an excellent starting point!

Old manuscripts, most of them are in Sanskrit

Prabodh Parikh admiring an old Sanskrit text.

Rast Goftar and Satya Prakash

First edition of Dalpatram.

The library has German books as well.

Salil Tripathi holding a book that once belonged to his great grandfather

 

 

 

A volume commemorating Govardhanram Tripathi on his centenary.

Bachubhai Ravat’s Kumar.

Old volumes of the magazine, Vismi Sadi (20th century).

Back issues of Navneet Samarpan. Editors Kundanika Kapadia and Ghanshyam Desai come to mind.

 

12 

 

Jaya’s newsletter 6 ( 7 Jan 2017)

Happy New Year!

January is an extremely busy month in terms of literary events. There are back-to-back literary festivals, book fairs, book launches and more. There have been some exciting announcements such as Amazon India launching Kindle in 5 regional languages. The annual NBT World Book Fair is now held 7-15 January and will showcase India’s cultural heritage. India is a significant book market. So it is no surprise that once again the Australian Council for the Arts is bringing a team of publishers to India for B2B interactions in January 2017.  Later this week the Hindu Lit Fest happens in Chennai, followed by Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival 2017 and Jaipur Literature Festival celebrates its tenth anniversary. Here is a preview.

As always the Costa Book Awards were announced at the beginning of the new year. And Etisalat Prize released its shortlist.

And for those based in Delhi, I will be in conversation with the wonderful novelist Chitra Bannerjee Divakurni about her latest novel, Before We Visit the Goddess. It is at 6:30pm on Monday, 16 January 2017, India International Centre, New Delhi.

Publishing Jobs and Appointments 

  • Sameer Mahale has joined Penguin Random House India as General Manager, Sales. He was earlier at HarperCollins
  • Manasi Subramanian moves to PRH India as Senior Commissioning Editor responsible for acquiring literary fiction and nonfiction.
  • There is a vacancy for Publisher, Scholastic India, Delhi. The person has to have minimum 6-8 years of experience in children’s and young adult literature. Please send resume to Neeraj Jain, Managing Director ( njain@scholastic.co.in ).

New arrivals ( Dec – early Jan)

  • Eric Bulson Little Magazine, World Form Columbia University Press
  • Narayan Rao Text and Tradition in South India Permanent Black
  • Emma Dawson Verghese Genre Fiction of New India Routledge India
  • Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers The Bestseller Code Allen Lane
  • Keith Houston The Book Norton
  • Prashant Reddy T. and Sumathi Chandrashekharan Create, Copy, Disrupt: India’s Intellectual Property Dilemmas ( with a foreword by Dr. Shamnad Basheer) OUP
  • Romila Thapar Indian Society and the Secular Three Essays Collective
  • William Dalrymple and Anita Anand Kohinoor Juggernaut
  • Jan Brandt Against the World ( transl. Katy Derbyshire) Seagull Books
  • Hannah Kent The Good People Picador
  • Maha Khan Philips The Curse of Mohenjadaro PanMacmillan India
  • Sarvat Hasin This Wide Night Hamish Hamilton
  • Ryan Lobo Mr Iyer Goes to War Bloomsbury
  • Laksmi Pamuntjak Amba Speaking Tiger Books
  • Sanchit Gupta The Tree with a Thousand Apples Niyogi Books
  • Andrei Sinyavsky Strolls with Pushkin ( transl by Catharine Theimer Nepomnyashchy & Slava I. Yastremski ) Columbia University Press
  • Armando Lucas Correa The German Girl Simon & Schuster
  • Martin Cruz Smith The Girl from Venice Simon & Schuster
  • Kate Furnivall The Liberation Simon & Schuster
  • Jeffrey Self Drag Teen PUSH
  • Lucy Sutcliffe Girl Hearts Girl Scholastic
  • Yona Zeldis McDonough Bicycle Spy Scholastic Press
  • Elizabeth Laird Welcome to Nowhere Macmillan Childrens Books

Interesting links

  1. Graphic novels radically rooted in Indian market
  2. The Great AI Awakening How Google used artificial intelligence to transform Google Translate, one of its more popular services — and how machine learning is poised to reinvent computing itself. ( An excellent article!)
  3. Andrew Wylie’s Global Approach to Agenting
  4. Vijay Prashad on “The essentials of socialist writing
  5. Juggernaut turns a page” A profile of the publishing house on
  6. On Meville House blogs an interview with a bookstore which closed down: An Interview with BookCourt’s Zack Zook
  7. Alt-right Milo Yiannopoulos’s cynical book deal with Simon & Schuster.
  8. Profile of sci-fi author, Ken Liu, bridging America and China
  9. Guwahati gets its first braille library
  10. In 2016, Hindi Literature Became the Voice of the Marginalised
  11. The nonfiction of my feminism by Amrita Narayanan
  12. Interview with Daisy Rockwell, Author, Artist and a Hindi-Urdu Translator
  13. Interview with Namita Gokhale on her new novel, Things to Leave Behind.
  14. Harvard discovers a few of its library books are bound in human flesh ( 2014)
  15. Photo album of Madras Literary Society ( estd. 1812) by Vikram Raghavan
  16. Most Women In Publishing Don’t Have The Luxury Of Being Unlikeable 

7 January 2017 

Graphic novels radically rooted in Indian market

( On 3 December 2016 the New Indian Express published a feature article on graphic novels in India by Catherine Gilon and Jayanthi Somasundaram in India for which I was interviewed as well. I have c&p the text below.) 

cf

Sharad Devarajan, co-founder and CEO, Graphic India

In a dark and stormy night, a dark knight rises, silhouetted against a moonless sky. Gods prepare for war a few thousand years in the mystical past. A goddess manifests herself in a young woman who has been raped and takes revenge. In the more recent past and in the now, history is retold through nostalgic strips of art. Sholay and Shivaay splatter across four-colour pages.

But the one that everyone’s waiting for is yet to come. S S Rajamouli’s breathtaking world of Baahubali promises to change India’s perception of graphic novels forever.

These heroes are not guardians of Gotham City, Metropolis or New York. They are in our own Indian backyard, spawning out of graphic novels, embedding themselves in the hearts of those who grew up with Batman, Superman, Spider-man and their league of super heroes. Artful pictures that tell tales of valour, humour, sex, gossip, introspection, despair, darkness and light—graphic novels are making a bold and in-your-face impression on paper in four colours.

Girija Jhunjhunwala, Publisher Pic: Shekhar Yadav

A mix of photographs, drawings and text bound together in a slim book brought out the colours and darkness in the lives of three men in Delhi in 2004 in Corridor, which leapfrogged its author Sarnath Banerjee and the rise of the graphic novel movement in India. It took Sarnath three-and-a-half years to complete the story set in the corridors of Connaught Place and Kolkata, capturing the essence of urban lives in all its madness.

V K Karthika, who was then senior editor at Penguin Books, took a huge risk by accepting his manuscript. “There was no commercially available graphic novel available in India at that time. She must have spent hours trying to convince marketing. Today, most publishers want to do graphic novels,” says the 44-year-old artist, whose work represents the rapidly-changing Indian lifestyle.

But graphic novels are not new to India. What is new is the themes they depict. With the success of events such as Comic Con 2016, people have come to view the genre of graphic novels in a different light. Visually strung-together powerful stories by 14 women in Drawing the Line: Indian Women Fight Back, published by Zubaan Books last year, reiterate that the realm of sequential art and graphic storytelling is here to stay.

“Amar Chitra Katha presented mythological tales in an illustrated format to readers all over India,” explains S Vijayan, the 49-year-old editor of Lion Comics, a pioneer in regional comics in Tamil Nadu. “Today, there are some young Indian comic book publishers who give an imaginative twist to our mythology for the English and Hindi audience. We need to keep pace with and embrace the changing times. That is why more space is now being created for graphic novels in other Indian languages as well.”

S Vijayan, Publisher. Pic : K K SUNDAR

The term ‘graphic novel’ was coined in 1964, and the Amar Chitra Katha comics were launched in India in 1967. The country welcomed the world of comics with open arms. Initially, they focused on retelling the epics, the Mahabharata and Ramayana. The reality of the power of graphic novels struck us much later when Orijit Sen penned his River of Stories in 1994. Published by Kalpavriksh, his pioneering work focused on how the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada river in Gujarat would impact locals. It was India’s first
attempt at cartoon journalism and, perhaps, India’s first graphic novel.

“I didn’t grow up with graphic novels as there weren’t any then,” says Sarnath, who was exposed to comics in a Bengali magazine in episodic forms—Indrajal, Amar Chitra Katha and even Tintin. “I was drawn to them because it was like staging your own play,” says the Berlin-based Indian graphic novelist.

Vijayan believes people need to accept that there is a thin line of separation between comics and graphic novels. “Comics in general are an all-encompassing genre, with awesome variety to suit all readers—young and not so young. Comics can mean fun-filled cartoons for kids, superhero stuff, mythology and more. On the other hand, graphic novels are a bit deeper, depict real life and target a mature readership,” he says.

Even though the last decade has seen the rise of more realistic stories, our hunger for superheroes has not gone down. “What has made superheroes and our genre of storytelling so successful is that great superheroes have for generations been reflective of larger societal narratives. They deal with serious storylines through characters that are flawed and go through a story of transformation and growth,” says 41-year-old Sharad Devarajan, co-founder and CEO, Graphic India, a publishing house.

Most readers will admit that the endless retelling of the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics still remain their all-time favourites. Adapting these deep-rooted classics by new-age publishers often see the use of latest technology—sharper, cleaner and refreshing strokes of Ram, Lakshman, Sita, Hanuman and their clan.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, International Publishing Consultant. Pic : Shekhar Yadav

Sarnath says graphic novels should reflect both mythology and reality. “There’s a lot of mythology that is created in real life, whether in politics or society. At the same time, mythology could be an inroad into understanding contemporary life. Comics with their multi-layered narratives and natural ability to play with parallel realities have a natural advantage,” says the author-illustrator, who was shortlisted for the Abraaj Group Art Prize 2015 at Art Dubai.

Even as some graphic novels look for inspiration from our yesteryear ethos, some look at present-day pathos. New York-based filmmaker Ram Devineni took up the case of rape survivors in his first novel, Priya’s Shakti. “I was in Delhi in 2012 when the December 16 gang-rape happened,” he says. “I participated in the protests that followed. I was horrified. The problem of sexual violence in India was not a legal issue, it was a cultural problem. For about a year, I travelled around India and Southeast Asia learning from poets, philosophers, activists, talking with rape survivors.”

During his journey, Ram realised how difficult it was for them to seek justice. On a parallel journey of understanding, he began researching Hindu mythology and discovered the many rich stories. “Often a disciple would call on the gods for help during dire situations. So I began formulating a new mythological tale where a mortal woman and rape survivor seeks help from Goddess Parvati. I wanted to create a new Indian superhero, Priya, who is a rape survivor,” he adds. What he did not expect was the stupendous success of the novel, which received so much acclaim that the World Bank approached them for Priya’s Mirror, an edition on acid attack victims. It was released in India in October at the Mumbai Comic Con.

Ram chose to work in this genre because he grew up reading Amar Chitra Katha, which influenced him hugely. “I first learned about Hindu mythology through their comic book series. Comics are an important part of our culture and hugely popular with teenagers and young adults,” he says. Ram explains how comic books have entered the commercial mainstream, major Hollywood releases are based on comic book characters and they fetch enormous box office returns. “Comic book characters like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman have become modern mythological icons. Other stories such as Art Spiegelman’s Maus address important historical events. We are using existing constructs that are familiar to everyone in India, but presenting them in a fresh and original way.”

Ram Devineni, Author and Filmmaker (second from left) with his creative team

Gaysi Zine, compiled by editor Priya Gangwani and art director Sreejita Biswas (aka Solo), is another success story that shocked conservative India. The country’s first graphic anthology with over 30 contributors visualising the gay Indian community is wacky, vibrant and brilliant. Solo from Bengaluru says she did not imagine its raging success. “The response was amazing. Starting from the successful crowdfunding and ending with the books selling out in the blink of an eye, it was quite the journey to be a part of,” she says. “When Gaysi Zine came out last year, a friend’s father called me to apologise for being homophobic and turning his daughter out of the house when she came out as a lesbian. That has been the biggest achievement for us.”

The making of a graphic novel involves a lot of hard work and intelligence. “It’s a great way to communicate with people across all ages, with people who can’t read, and overcome language barriers. It’s the cheapest way to make a three-headed alien having an epic space fight to come to life,” laughs Solo.

Rashmi R D, Editor, Blaft Publications. Pic: Sunish P Surendran

While many were exploring graphic novels to break stereotypes, Orjit used this format as a journalistic tool. He tried to narrate the voices lost in the 24-hour breaking news format with First Hand: Graphic Non-Fiction from India (2016). Vidyun Sabhaney, 29, who co-edited the book with Orijit, says: “First Hand came to us as an idea two years ago. We felt there were hardly any comics that told contemporary narratives. Comics that told urgent stories of the odds against which lives are being lived, and the events and forces that are shaping them, were missing. This understanding most often comes to us as reports, or in the form of books, but rarely as a visual story that can bring them alive with details, characters, location, etc.”

The Girl Not from Madras (perhaps the most poignant story from First Hand) takes you straight to the bricks of the police station, reluctance, apathy, et al. The Gurgaon-based writer recalls that when they put out a call for entries for the anthology, they got over 50 applications, many with preliminary sketches, storyboards and plots.

Vidyun agrees. “The community of creators is growing very quickly and attracting people from different disciplines. First Hand is an example of that. This is very different from how it was five years ago, when there were just a handful of comics creators. The medium is being used for many purposes—conventional storytelling, personal catharsis, documentation, education, etc.”

Graphic novels and comics have always sold well in India, says Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, an international publishing consultant in Delhi. “Characters such as Bahadur, created by Aabid Surti, are very popular. It is a familiar form of storytelling, and the Indian audience is receptive to it,” she says. But graphic novels require heavy investment. “When released, it must be affordable, and a substantial number of units must sell. It’s a Catch-22 situation. There is a lot of potential in this genre, but publishers will be wary of experimentation unless it is a tested author.” She cites Malik Sajjad’s Munnu as a remarkable graphic novel that narrates the story on J&K, with the Kashmiri Hangul stag anthropomorphised. “That’s an incredibly powerful book, but it was not published in India, though it was distributed locally,” she adds.

Sarnath points out that the international publishing world for graphic novels is dominated by the white middle-class male, with some designated spots for women, coloured writers and some easy-to-digest identity politics. The politics it represents is not as sophisticated as the form. “The story is different in India. A lot of bright people do graphic novels. It’s a better bet to work within the Indian sub-continent and look for markets outside the West, such as South Africa, Egypt and other non-Western regions,” explains Sarnath.

While working on the Gaysi Zine anthology, Sreejitha says she found that people want to read and know more. “The awesome thing about comic book lovers is that we actually want to keep reading new stuff from new places by new people.”

Vidyun Sabhaney, Author. Pic : Shekhar Yadav

There seems to be a tremendous amount of illustrated stories in the graphic novel format, straddling a variety of genres, both fiction and non-fiction, for a varied age group, from six years to infinity, believes Rashmi R D, 40, editor of Blaft Publications in Chennai. She agrees that comics with fictitious super humans with super powers thrived in the early years. But today, there are some amazing, hard-hitting non-fiction graphic novels for readers available in India.

Blaft Publications’ first graphic novel was Moonward by Appupen, which released in 2009. In 2011, it was selected for the Angouleme Festival, France. Reviewed as vicious, dark and brutally honest, Appupen created the world of Halahala, named after the poison generated through the churning of the primordial ocean and swallowed by Shiva. He brings to light the absurdities, idiosyncrasies and poisons of our own world through his debut novel. “Moonward knocked our metaphoric socks off at so many different levels. The world that Moonward was set in was so off the wall. It was what we wanted to get behind one hundred per cent,” recounts Rashmi. “First, it was Appupen’s art style; the second was that more than 70 per cent of the book was ready.”

Graphic novels have also arrived in the world of education. “The creation of a graphic novel is essentially storyboarding, just like a movie script. This similarity leads to a visual delight for young readers,” explains Girija Jhunjhunwala, 45, director, Campfire Publications, Delhi. Since their launch in 2008, they have published over 100 graphic novels. She admits that Campfire has faced several challenges, of which the first was to find authors, illustrators and editors in India.

“When we started out, graphic novels were a new format and several authors we approached were not able to help. It was an uphill task to find and convince artists to join Campfire, although several young artists that we recruited loved the idea of using their talent for something unique and new,” says Girija. “Booksellers tend to stock graphic novels at the back of shops where customers cannot see them. I am hoping that with the success of events like the Comic Con, the growing reader fraternity of graphic novels will one day convince book shops to bring graphic novels to the forefront in their displays.”

Vijayan agrees and underlines that the world over, graphic novels are an accepted entertainment format and have stunning sales numbers. “In India, there is a slight mental block and we tend to connect kidstuff to reading comics. One picture can convey what a hundred words can fail to. You will be stunned to discover the depth and volume that both comics and graphic novels offer,” he says.

With over 10 of their titles recommended by CBSE and 13 titles recommended by Kendriya Vidyalayas, Girija believes that graphic novels are a suitable medium for engaging young, hesitant readers who may find textbooks boring. “Keeping that end in mind, we have published graphic novel adaptations of well-known Western classics and historical events, biographies of famous persons (Mother Teresa: Angel of the Slums and Steve Jobs: Genius by Design), and tales and legends from Indian and Greek mythologies,” says Girija. “A graphic novel, when used as educational material for young readers, is essentially information disguised as entertainment. In today’s context, time is at premium for the young and graphic novels are indeed ‘instant coffee’ for young readers.”

Like all genres of books, graphic novels also face the brunt of digital revolution. But some use this to up their game. Ram uses augmented reality to elevate the reading experience. “Augmented reality is a major part of our comic book, and by scanning the book with the popular augmented reality app Blippar, you can view animation, real-life stories, and interactive elements pop out of the pages,” he says. Working on his next, Priya and the Last Girls, with Apne Aap Women Worldwide, an NGO working to end sex trafficking, Ram hopes to define new frontiers of integrating books, exhibitions, and public art with augmented reality.

For a nation that grew up with stories and later movies, it makes perfect sense to merge the grandeur of film-making with the in-depth storytelling nature of graphic novels. In the past, the likes of the Bollywood blockbusters Sholay—and more recently, Shivaay—were made into graphic novels.

The upcoming graphic series Baahubali: The Lost Legends is set before the Kalakeya invasion depicted in the movie, when Baahubali and Bhallaladeva as young princes of Mahishmati vie for the crown. The animated series will explore characters such as Prince Baahubali, Bhallaladeva, Kattapa and Sivagami as well as a dozen new characters as they reveal hidden secrets for millions of fans. The series will follow the relationship between the two cousins as they journey across the kingdom of Mahishmati, solving hidden mysteries, overcoming ancient terrors and defending their people from danger.

Sharad Devarajan from Graphic India says, “When Rajamouli revealed the depth of the characters and the world he created, we knew fans would love to go deeper than what could be shown in the films; comics and other transmedia storytelling experiences would allow for these opportunities. In the same way that Star Wars reshaped US cinema and sparked transmedia in the West for generations thereafter, Baahubali will be the pivotal moment we see that similar change emerge here in India.”

Are creating graphic novels an exciting and lucrative career option? “Graphic novelists are paid the same as any author’s royalty, usually 8-12 per cent of the book price. However, it’s a financial nightmare if you want to live on your books,” reveals Sarnath. Sreejita adds: “The payment a graphic novelist receives entirely depends on the publisher. Without a guild to help creators, there are no fixed rates. They can make as much as `5,000 for a page
or as little as `100.”

There’s another factor that publications consider. “In Blaft Publications’ early years, we’d get a lot of queries from people who had ideas and concepts for comics and graphic novels. Having an idea and having a volume of completed, original work ready to present, that’s crucial deciding factor.”

Characters Who Connected With Us

From super heroes to chaiwallahs, here are some characters who struck a chord with readers while presenting stories from India

Corridor
Sarnath Banerjee
Jehangir Rangoonwalla (dispenser of tea, wisdom, and used books), Ibn Batuta (looking for obscure collectibles and love), Digital Dutta (who lives in his head, torn between Karl Marx and an H1-B visa), and Shintu (the newly-wed).

Suppandi
Amar Chitra Katha
Suppandi is the most popular toon of Tinkle Comics, created in 1987. He is based on the Tamil folklore character chappandi, who is a total goof and makes you laugh with his silly antics.

The Gaysi Zine

Priya Gangwani and Sreejita Biswas
A collection of stories written and illustrated by artists captures the truth, from personal experiences, expressing values that are felt deep down to the core.

Munnu: A Boy From Kashmir

Malik Sajad
Seven-year-old Munnu presents an insight into everyday life through evocative graphics.

Astra, the Immortal

After creating superhero Chakra with the legendary Stan Lee, Graphic India will recreate the magic with Amitabh Bachchan. The story revolves around mythical superhero Astra, played by Amitabh’s animated version, taking on supervillains to rule the galaxy.

First Hand: Graphic Non-Fiction
From India, Vol 1
Orijit Sen and Vidyun Sabhaney
Gujarat riot victims as first-time voters, trafficking and forced marriages in Haryana, a vegetable vendor from Kolkata who becomes a world-renowned artist, and 20 other stories.

Odayan
Suhas Sundar and Deepak Sharma
Odayan is a superhero with a dark side in the backdrop of feudal Kerala. He amasses wealth and builds a criminal empire. The green Kathakali-inspired mask strikes closer to home in both the visual realm as well as contextual.

Moon Mountain
Saurav Mohapatra and Sayan Mukherjee
The story set in 1909 is about Shankar, a middle-class Bengali village boy who is expected to get a job and take on more responsibilities. But Shankar’s heart is full of wanderlust and he wants to venture into the wilds of Africa.

Nirmala and Normala
Niveditha Subramaniam and Sowmya Rajendran
Nirmala and Normala are twins separated at birth. One becomes an actress, the other a normal person. Their lives run parallel to each other, bringing out the stark contrast between reality and movies.

3 December 2016 

Australian delegation of publishers visiting India ( 18-24 Jan 2017)

In January 2017, the Australian Council for the Arts will be leading a delegation of publishers to India. They will also be attending the Jaipur Literature Festival ( 18-22 Jan). A B2B roundtable has also been organised in New Delhi.

The delegates from Australia include:
1. Australia Council representative
Dr Wendy Were, Executive Director, Strategic Development and Advocacy
Australia Council for the Arts | www.australiacouncil.gov.au

2. Fiona Henderson, Publisher
Affirm Press | http://affirmpress.com.au/

3. Cate (Catherine) Blake, Commissioning Editor, General Publishing
Penguin Random House Australia | www.penguin.com.au

4. Margot Lloyd, Event Manager, Marketing and Editorial
Wakefield Press | www.wakefieldpress.com.au

5. Stephanie Siriwardene, Publishing Assistant
Scribe Publications | http://scribepublications.com.au/

6. Edwina Johnson, Director
Byron Writers Festival | www.byronwritersfestival.com

7. Laura Kroetsch, Director
Adelaide Writers’ Week | www.adelaidefestival.com.au

7 January 2017 

An Interview with Daisy Rockwell, Author, Artist and a Hindi-Urdu Translator

This interview was first published on Bookwitty.com on 20 December 2016 ) 

Daisy Rockwell is an artist, writer and Hindi-Urdu translator living in the United States. Rockwell grew up in a family of artists in western Massachusetts. From 1992-2006, she made a detour into academia, from which she emerged with a PhD in South Asian literature, a book on the Hindi author Upendranath Ashk and a mild case of depression. Upendranath Ashk was a Hindi writer, based in Allahabad, who began publishing in pre-Independent India but soon, due to his irascible temperament chose to self-publish much of his later work. Daisy Rockwell met the Hindi writer on a few occasions in the 1990s and began translating his fiction with his permission. Unfortunately Ashk never saw Daisy Rockwell’s publications. Daisy Rockwell’s diligent dedication to the task shines through the quality of the English translations that were ultimately published. The translated literature is a pure delight to read; smooth and evocative of the early and mid-twentieth India they are set in.

Rockwell has written The Little Book of Terror, a volume of paintings and essays on the global war on terror (Foxhead Books, 2012), and her novel Taste was published by Foxhead Books in April 2014. Her translation of Ashk’s well-known novel about the evolution of a writer Girti Divarein was published by Penguin India as Falling Walls (2015), her collection of translations of selected stories by Ashk, Hats and Doctors ( 2013); and her new translation of Bhisham Sahni’s legendary novel about the partition of India, Tamas ( 2016).

An Interview with Daisy Rockwell, Author, Artist and a Hindi-Urdu Translator - Image 1
An Interview with Daisy Rockwell, Author, Artist and a Hindi-Urdu Translator - Image 2

How did you choose Hindi to be the language to master and translate from?

I wandered into Hindi in college and never really wandered out again. I loved learning languages and had studied French, Latin, ancient Greek, and German. I wanted something less familiar and happened to take a social sciences course with Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, who spoke of her life doing research in India, so I decided to sign up for Hindi. Translation was something one had to do anyway in graduate school, but I was fortunate to take a translation seminar with AK Ramanujan shortly before his death, and that illuminating experience has stayed with me always.

How do you select a text to translate?

It’s hard to say. Often a text chooses you, rather than vice versa. I wrote my doctoral dissertation about Upendranath Ashk, and always wanted to translate his work, though that project fell by the wayside. Eventually I took it up again because it wouldn’t let me go.

Do you have any basic guidelines that you follow while translating? For instance is it crucial to convey the authentic form of Hindi used in the language of origin or is it important to stress readability in the destination language?

What’s important to me is that the translation reads as well as the original, and that the reader in English can get the same feeling from it that the Hindi reader might (despite the vastly different reading contexts).

If the text you decide to work upon has been translated before into English, do you ever read it or do you like to approach your project with a fresh perspective?

I would never retranslate something that was already done well. I first check the existing translation against the Hindi in the opening chapter. If I decide to retranslate it, I keep the other translations at hand and consult with them, as though I were sitting among friends. Even if I think the previous translator did poorly, I recognize that he or she may see things in ways that would escape me, or know things I don’t know. Translation is a lonely business, and the other translators keep me company. I argue with them, listen to them, curse at them, and lean on them. Much of Hindi literature has not been translated, however, so retranslation is actually a rare luxury.

What has been the most exciting challenge you have encountered while translating Hindi?

Translation is almost always challenging, but rarely exciting.

What form of Hindi are you most comfortable with? Does it belong to a particular period of Hindi literature?

Because of Ashk and Bhisham Sahni, I have become really strong in 1930’s-40’s Punjabi-centric Hindi. I know all kinds of architectural details and articles of clothing and turns of phrase. Oddly, contemporary writing can be much more difficult for me.

Does translating Hindi while based in USA create any cultural challenges or is the immersion in your text so complete that your geographical location is immaterial?

It’s terribly challenging, but Twitter and social media have changed things dramatically. Much of the translating I’ve done would be difficult in India or Pakistan as well, without the reach of social media. There is much in novels of the earlier part of the 20th century that cannot be found in dictionaries nor in contemporary discourse. It’s not stuff most people know. I have to hunt high and low for definitions of some terms, and I depend greatly on my twitter friends for help in this regard.

Do you think it is “easier” to publish translations of Hindi literature as compared to when you first started in the 1990s? If yes, what are the possible reasons for this growing interest?

It is easier to publish them in India. In the US, I have yet to find a publisher for any of my translations. In India there is definitely a growing interest in translations and a growing respect for non-English language literatures. I am not sure how this happened, but I am thankful for it, and all signs point to continued growth in publication and interest.

How do you define “original text” as opposed to the “transcreations” authors such as Bhisham Sahni and Upendranath Ashk undertook with their own works when translating into English — a style not uncommon among many bilingual writers? Won’t the “revisions” to the text done later by the authors themselves be considered as “original” text? Which version do you opt to use in your translation?

I think bilingual authors should avoid translating their own work as much as possible. It seems most writers cannot withstand the temptation to alter the original while translating. They are the author, after all, so they have the right–but in doing so they deprive the English readers of the original text. At times, they alter the original beyond recognition, as in the sad case of Qurratulain Hyder’s translations River of Fire and Fireflies in the Mist. It is also often the case that bilingual people are rarely the same writer in two languages. Sahni translated Tamas himself, for example, but his English writing style was brittle and high-brow; though he knew English extremely well, he didn’t know the kind of English that Tamas would have been written in. The Hindi of Tamas is strikingly clear, succinct, and unadorned. His translation was unable to capture that. Hyder’s English was also perfect, but she clearly believed that the material must be presented differently to English readers and changed her works in sometimes very peculiar ways. And despite the fact that her English was perfect, I don’t believe that she wrote as well in English as she did in Urdu. It wasn’t a matter of being correct or not, but a matter of flow and style. In the case of the Sahni family, there was recognition that their father’s translation did not quite capture the spirit and they generously gave permission to retranslate. Sadly, Hyder’s heirs, following her wishes, refuse to grant permission to anyone to retranslate the books, so they remain off-limits to English readers, except for in their transcreated versions.

Your two creative pursuits — painting and translations can be exacting and very fulfilling. Do they in any way influence each other? For instance if you are tussling with a particularly challenging piece of translation does it get reflected in your painting and vice versa?

I’d like to think they’re connected, but if they are, the connection is not clear to me. I’ve occasionally illustrated translations or discussions of translation, but most of the time they are quite separate in my mind.

Is your preference only for literary fiction or would you try pulp fiction or even poetry in the future?

I’ve always been a high literature kind of gal. I never read pulp fiction (except for Blaft’s Tamil Pulp Fiction!) at all. There are plenty of translators who could do that, at any rate, but classics, in particular, require a great deal of reflection and research, and that’s where my niche lies. I have been translating some poetry lately though, such as Shubham Shree’s Poetry Management, and Avinash Mishra’s untranslatable poems on Hindi orthography . I’ve also been translating some poetry by Mangalesh Dabral, which has not yet been published.

An Interview with Daisy Rockwell, Author, Artist and a Hindi-Urdu Translator - Image 3

 

An Interview with Jaipur Literature Festival’s Co-Director, Namita Gokhale, on her Latest Novel, Things to Leave Behind

( This interview was first published on Bookwitty.com on 10 December 2016 ) 
An Interview with Jaipur Literature Festival's Co-Director, Namita Gokhale, on her Latest Novel, Things to Leave Behind - Image 1

One month before the 10th anniversary of South Asia’s largest and most renowned literary festival, Jaipur Literature Festival founder and co-director Namita Gokhale (with William Dalrymple) sat down with Jaya Bhattarcharji Rose to talk about her latest, and eighth novel Things to Leave Behind. It is a multi-generational story set between 1840-1912 in Nainital and Sat Tal, Kumaon, part of the Himalayas.

How did Things to Leave Behind come about?

A tangle of memories about a time I sensed and knew. I had accessed a rich treasure of information through Mountain Echoes, the book of oral biographies I had compiled and transcribed. Then there was Clever Wives and Happy Idiots, folktales that had been recorded in the memoirs of Russian spy and adventurer, Ivan Minayev, which we at Yatra Books [a Delhi-based publishing house specialising in translations where Gokhale works as director] published and I wrote the introduction to. I wanted to give voice to this, to record and to remember those days, those stories.

In your acknowledgements you mention how this novel was inspired by your grandfather’s text –The History of Kumaon?

I did not have the good fortune to meet Badri Dutt Pande but he was an inspirational figure, who helped rid Kumaon of the infamous British ‘begaari ‘ system of unpaid labour. His book The History of Kumaon, originally written in Hindi with the title Kumaon ka Itihas gave me deep insights into the past.

How much does family and memory, especially of the hills, play a role in your writing? How have those shaped the subjects you write about?

I grew up in a beautiful house called ‘Primrose’, which finds fleeting mention in the novel. Many of the stories and episodes have their source in family history, including the tale of the royal physician Jeevan Chandra Vaidya.

How is writing about the mountains a different experience from writing about anything else —for instance in the context of your other books like the very successful Paro and Priya.

Urban novels have a different edge to them. The city has a very different character and atmospherics from the mountains.

Why adopt the British Raj spelling when the story is told from an Indian perspective?

The story is told from several perspectives. The old ‘Raj’ spellings were in use and authentic to the times, so I used them, especially in the early parts. The language and spellings I employ become slowly ‘modern’ in the course of the narrative.

Your first book was commissioned by the legendary editor, Carmen Calil when she was at Chatto & Windus. This was at a time when it was not so easy to access London-based publishing firms. As a publisher and writer yourself what are the transformations you have seen evolve in publishing?

Publishing has changed in terms of markets. India has its own readers, writers and publishers, and this strong internal market is growing. We are the third largest English publishing market in the world, after the US and UK. My first novel struck a chord and succeeded. I was very young and I learnt a lot, including how to cope with subsequent failures.

Your fascination for literature is evident in the local publishing history of the late 19th century to the early 20th century that you blend into the story. Is this your fascination as an author or a publisher?

I am fascinated by the power of books and ideas, in transforming how every age views itself. I wanted to describe the books people were reading, disputing, talking about. My fascination was as a reader as well as a publisher.

How did the title Things to Leave Behind come about?

I had spent five weeks at the Bellagio Center [residency program] at Lake Como. I was working on In Search of Sita and also this novel. When I was to leave, I struggled with the packing and made out a list of Things to Leave Behind and realized that this was to be the title of my book.

Things to Leave Behind is a novel that is incredibly powerful in its syncretism. Although there is a thriving and lived caste system in the mountainous regions of Almora and Sat Tal a significant portion of your novel dwells upon the arrival of missionaries of different religions such as Swami Vivekananda and the Baptists. Yet you are able to show how people always find the breathing space to live life according to their terms. Were these manoeuvres by the characters an exciting challenge to write?

The story told itself, the characters made their choices and lived out the consequences. That’s all. There was a ferment of ideas; a conflict of identities, then as there is now.

You have painted an unsettling picture of the hierarchies of the caste system operating in the hills. Can you share a little more about this character – Jayesh Jonas – and where he came from? Do you feel things are different in these societies today?

The caste system was rigid and hierarchical in those times. It has changed, but the attitudes and prejudices cast a long shadow. I was a Pant [part of a compound of a North Indian surname of people with a Hindu Brahmin background] before marriage. Jayesh Jonas was based not as a character but in his situation on a branch of my paternal family tree (that had decided, in very different circumstances, to convert to Christianity).

How have these hills affected you as a writer?

I keep going back to that landscape because somewhere in my imagination it provides immense solace. But that’s not all I write or want to write. Let’s see where my muse guides me next.

What do you feel is the one myth about the hills that people have that you’d like to demystify through your work and writing?

I try always to demythify the false romanticism of the simple hill life. People are complex, complicated and cunning everywhere.

10 December 2016 

Madras Literary Society, estd. 1812

( The following pictures were posted on Vikram Raghavan’s Facebook page. I am reposting them here with his permission. 7 January 2017

Dr. Annie Besant renews her subscription to the Madras Literary Society.