Jaya Posts

Book Post 1: 8-14 July 2018

Beginning this week I am going to post on Mondays a list of all the book parcels I have received in the past few days. Embedded in the book covers and post will also be links to buy the books online. This post will be in addition to my regular blog posts and newsletter.

32 International Publishers Association Congress, 11-13 Feb 2018, New Delhi

From 11-13 February 2018 the 32nd International Publishers Association (IPA) Congress was held at Taj Palace Hotel, New Delhi. The International Publishers Association (IPA) is the world’s largest federation of national, regional and specialist publishers’ associations. Its membership comprises 70 organisations from 60 countries in Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe and the Americas. The congress was organised in Delhi along with the collaboration of the Federation of Indian Publishers ( FIP).

It was a wonderful congress with multiple panel discussions that fortunately ran in succession rather than in parallel and many fascinating conversations were to be had on the sidelines. It was a phenomenal gathering of publishers from around the world. The full programme can be accessed here.

Meanwhile given below are all the YouTube links uploaded by FIP of the panel discussions held at the IPA Congress.

11 Feb 2018 

12 Feb 2018 

13 Feb 2018 

 

Read more about the congress on the IPA blog maintained by James Taylor.

13 July 2018 

Freedom of Speech and Prix Voltaire Prize, 32nd IPA Congress, 11-13 Feb 2018, New Delhi

From 11-13 February 2018 the 32nd International Publishers Association (IPA) Congress was held at Taj Palace Hotel, New Delhi. The International Publishers Association (IPA) is the world’s largest federation of national, regional and specialist publishers’ associations. Its membership comprises 70 organisations from 60 countries in Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe and the Americas. The congress was organised in Delhi along with the collaboration of the Federation of Indian Publishers ( FIP).

It was a wonderful congress with multiple panel discussions that fortunately ran in succession rather than in parallel and many fascinating conversations were to be had on the sidelines. It was a phenomenal gathering of publishers from around the world. The full programme can be accessed here.

Day two the discussions continued as energetically as before. The highlights of the events on this day were the panel discussion on “The threat of self-censorship in publishing”. It was chaired by Kristenn Einarsson, CEO Norwegian Publishers Association; Chair, IPA Freedom to Publish Committee and the panelists were Trasvin Jittidecharak, Silkworm Books, Thailand and Jürgen Boos, President and CEO, Frankfurt Book Fair, Germany. 

The Keynote speech was delivered by Norwegian publisher William Nygaard. On 11 Oct 1993 he was shot three times in the back outside his home. Although the crime was never resolved it is widely believed that this was linked to the fatwa William Nygaard received for publishing Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. Both before and after the attack he has been a great defender of the freedom to publish and of free speech. His speech begins at 2:49:41 in the YouTube link given below:

Kristenn Einarsson during the course of conversation remarked that through libel laws economic sanctions are being imposed so allowing not necessarily governments but also people in power to really hit you economically if you publish something they don’t like or go to court with. So just a threat of that is hindering publishing.” Juergen Boos confirmed that the perception of self-censorship is on the rise particularly with the more and more populist governments being elected to power. At 3:32:12 Kristenn Einarsson remarks that the panel should have included an Indian publisher who could not make it and then opened the discussion to the floor except that once again no Indian stood up instead Edward Nawotka, Bookselling and International News Editor, Publishers Weekly spoke. He can be heard speaking off camera. ( Another equally telling observation is that while composing this blog post I discovered that Amazon India does not sell Rushdie’s Satanic Verses despite selling all his other books! )

Later in the day the 2018 IPA Prix Voltaire award ceremony was held. The award was given to Chinese-born Swedish scholar Gui Minhai who is a prolific writer often commenting on Chinese politics and political figures. He is one of the three shareholders of Causeway Bay Books in Hongkong. He went missing in Thailand in late 2015. It was received on his behalf by his daughter Angela Gui. “I think that my father’s version of optimism is perhaps precisely the kind that Voltaire describes. It’s an optimism that in the face of unimaginable cruelty still believes in change. And it’s an optimism that isn’t crushed by lies, force and humiliation.”

Bangladeshi Publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan was given a posthumous Special Award. He was brutally hacked to death inside his office at the hands of suspected religious extremists for his association with secular science writer Avijit Roy and other freethinking, secular and atheist writers on 30 October 2015. His widow, Razia Rahman Jolly, told the audience, “We have sacrificed our sunshine. We are in darkness,” but she promised to continue her husband’s work and keep publishing books in Bangladesh. In fact 12 July 2018 was Dipan’s birthday and Jose Borghino, Secretary General, IPA tweeted:

Months after the panel discussion was recorded at the IPA in Delhi, prominent Tamil publisher Kannan Sundaram, Kalachuvadu Publications, who is known for publishing Perumal Murugan, delivered a talk at the May Sahitya Mela in Dharwad, Karnataka, on May 26. It was published as an article for Scroll “As intolerance grows, India needs a brand of secularism that keeps a distance from religion, caste: Today, majoritarian fundamentalism is the biggest threat to a writer and an artist’s free expression.” ( 9 July 2018) This is what Kannan Sundaram says:

If one truly believes in freedom of expression, one has to fight to preserve the right of expression for ideas that one cannot stomach. For many people who consider themselves progressives, freedom of expression is often about fighting for the right to express only ideas they believe in. Some argue that freedom of expression is allowed only for rational thought. For ideas they consider regressive, they demand a ban and prosecution by the state. This strain of thought we know has led to the imprisonment and murder of writers throughout modern history by various regimes claiming to be revolutionary. Fascism can come from the right, left or centre of the ideological spectrum. It may come from any ideology or even from an ideological vacuum if people blindly and reverentially follow a demagogue.

In today’s context, majoritarian fundamentalism is the biggest threat to a writer and an artist’s free expression. If the Bharatiya Janata Party rules for another term, with full majority, it is sure to cause untold harm to the idea of India.

Intolerance is not a Hindutva creation. All ideologies, and political, religious movements and political parties in India have contributed to increasing intolerance. There is not one political party in India that has ever endorsed freedom of expression except mouthing it when it suits them. It is part of no political party’s manifesto. This soil was nurtured by intolerance over the decades by all political formations. Now, Hindutva has sown its seeds, watering it with blood and reaping it electorally. Yet, few have learnt the lesson. Hindutva intolerance cannot be met by anti-Hindutva intolerance. The real counter is to meet it with tolerance, discussion, debate, peaceful demonstration and campaigns – which are all, of course, relatively tougher options. We have to draw on the positive aspects of our tradition that have nurtured strong unifying points for different milieus and cultures.

Writers have always faced intolerance from family, neighbourhood, religion and caste. No government or party has ever supported their right to write. What is different now is that Hindutva organisations have been able to knit together multiple castes under their platform and launch major campaigns against writers or simply bump them off with hired killers.

A new definition of secularism in India has to define secularism as maintaining equidistance from all religious and caste formations.

The next important thing is to prepare a policy paper on freedom of expression and convince all secular parties to discuss and accept it.

Only time will tell how much freedom publishers and writers genuinely have, can they contribute to the cultural quotient as mentioned by Richard Charkin earlier at the congress or do many subscribe to the policy of self-censorship?

Read more about the congress on the IPA blog maintained by James Taylor.

13 July 2018 

Richard Charkin, Director, Bloomsbury’s address at IPA Congress, 11-13 Feb 2018, Delhi

From 11-13 February 2018 the 32nd International Publishers Association (IPA) Congress was held at Taj Palace Hotel, New Delhi. The International Publishers Association (IPA) is the world’s largest federation of national, regional and specialist publishers’ associations. Its membership comprises 70 organisations from 60 countries in Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe and the Americas. The congress was organised in Delhi along with the collaboration of the Federation of Indian Publishers ( FIP).

It was a wonderful congress with multiple panel discussions that fortunately ran in succession rather than in parallel and many fascinating conversations were to be had on the sidelines. It was a phenomenal gathering of publishers from around the world. The full programme can be accessed here.

On the first day of the congress the morning session included a Global Leaders Forum discussion led by the NITI Ayog CEO Amitabh Kant. The panelists included: Dr. Y. S. Chi, Elsevier, USA; Matt Kissner, John Wiley, USA and Richard Charkin, Bloomsbury. The panel discussion can be heard in the YouTube link given below. It was interesting to hear these global leaders of publishing, across different formats of publishing — academic and trade, share many similar concerns and talk about the growth of business.

Richard Charkin’s address ( heard from 1:33:30 mins in the link) was particularly pertinent, for here was a seasoned publisher sharing his experiences of many decades in the industry as well as offering great perspectives on how to deal with the future of this business. His mantra of “paying attention to authors” which is often tragically forgotten is worth paying heed to if the industry has to grow globally. Here is the edited version of my notes with inputs from Richard Charkin.

****

Speaking from my experience in general book publishing and academic and educational publishing particular issues affect English language markets. Predictions are a fools game! I shall focus on what will be my hope for the future.

  1. 1980-90s — all about book marketing. Leaders frequently came from sales end of business.
  2. ’00s/noughts – Focus on technology and logistics. “How else do we get better? Distribution? Growing size? Complexity of retailers? This resulted in the business people leading companies. We now have very few companies led by publishers.
  3. 2010s- Where are our profits? Returning to our roots — IPR, authorship, how well are we serving our authors?, how does it compare to the growth in self publishing?, What value can we add for the customer/author? ( “Our customer is the author, as well as and arguably more than the reader or retailer”)
  4. We get the responsibility of developing the authors by selling rights throughout the world.
    If only we could kick the habit of overpaying very successful authors. Thus we have created a system where established authors with large unearned advances authors are effectively being subisdised by the less successful. Without unearned advances we could perhaps pay a higher overall royalty rate. 
  5. Control wastage. Even if we halve costs the impact on our bottomlines would be substantial.
    Retailers would then become less than not diverse. Resist monopolistic control of some retailers. Editors would get back into leadership positions, which is really at the core of publishing roles. Also they would become more professional and understand the markets better they serve. Understanding role of the editor is understanding readers and authors. Also it would do away with the egocentric role it has become of late.
  6. We know what is “IQ” and later came “Emotional Intelligence” but I would like to emphasise on “Cultural Intelligence” which is the recognition of differences between old and young, rich and poor, one country and another, understanding boundaries globally and internationally with different cultures. We have a core, we need to recognise the bits around the edges.

We need to work together to build a global industry. Most importantly serve our authors.

13 July 2018 

“A Crackerjack Life” by Rajiv Tyagi

Ex-fighter pilot of the Indian Air Force (IAF) Rajiv Tyagi has built a formidable reputation on social media for his forthright opinions on contemporary politics. Apart from his posts being very informative, his is an influential and sane voice on social media where fake news goes viral rapidly. It is no wonder then that he has accrued more than 50,000 followers on Facebook alone.

Recently he published a collection of essays/stories that recalled incidents from his experience as an Air Force Officer and more. A Crackerjack Life is a memoir with a difference as it is not a straightforward narrative but a series of short pieces strung together, more or less chronologically, to chart the fascinating life Rajiv Tyagi has led. From being a little child who was travelling alone from Indonesia to his grandparents in Meerut so that he could then be sent on to boarding school in Mussorie, his passion for high altitude trekking, to later his absolutely fascinating accounts of serving in the IAF in various border postings, witnessing some incredible encounters that if he had not seen for himself would be relegated to modern myth making such as the convoys of Red Army and Blue Army suddenly finding themselves in together rather than on opposite sides but no one dared say or do anything but quietly parted ways. There are many more incidents some very personal and heartwarming such as the one about his classmate Virender whose leg had to be amputated after being diagnosed with cancer and how he was received by his classmates at school. Having said that the stories and experiences shared do to a large extent quell the annoying presence of editing mistakes but not necessarily overcome it. Perhaps the next edition of the book will be better edited. For now the brisk sales of this book since its release a few weeks ago are a testimony to Rajiv Tyagi’s passionate storytelling with a great eye for detail.

A Crackerjack Life is a delightful collection of memorably evocative stories. The stories are significant too for highlighting the richly diverse, secular, tolerant and democratic space that was newly independent India and hopefully will forever be.

With the author’s permission the following extract from the book is being published here.

****

PERSUASION

Thanks to an egalitarian, agnostic father and the Armed Forces, I did not know what a gotra was, till I reached my late twenties. Hindus assert that every single one of them, Chitra, Pappu and Manoj, are descended from an ascetic saint. My paternal line is said to descend from a Rishi Gautam. My gotra therefore is Gautam.

My father did his schooling in the Gurukul Kangri school and then college, in Hardwar in the 1940s. They wore dhotis and langot, spoke Sanskrit fluently, and wore wooden khadaaon (wooden slippers) on their feet. The day began at 4 AM, with a swim in the Ganga canal outside the college, followed with a bath, change and havan (Hindu congregational prayer), before breakfast and classes. Except for the discipline, which he maintained for himself all his life, despite failing miserably to instil any of it in his children, he found little to commend for his life in the Gurukul. For when he reached Germany to study Medicine at Munich University in 1950, he found his knowledge of Science and the world around him severely lacking in comparison to other students who had studied in Germany or in Anglo Indian schools in India. His edge over others, in conversational Sanskrit and his facility at reciting Vedic shlokas from memory, he found useful only as curiosities. He had to work extra hours to catch up on what he had missed of human knowledge, while he was learning what turned out to be mere trivia, useful only to regale the Sanskrit and Vedic illiterate.

A strapping, tall, athletic and handsome man, he exuded, on his occasional outings in churidaar-achkan and turban, the aura of an Oriental prince. He and his friends cultivated the image to the hilt, telling their German friends how shocked they were to see a poor nation like theirs, where everyone re-used crockery instead of throwing it away after use. The suggestion from a fellow Indian student, that they might be exaggerating just a wee bit, was met with the query how he would describe a ‘mitti ka shakora’! And if that would not constitute Indian crockery? And did he in his home, wash a shakora to re-use it?

He lived as a paying guest, in a room rented from a widow he called Mutter (Mother), dining with the family at their table; the family comprising his land lady and a pretty daughter, who Mutter was eager to marry off to this young man who would soon be Herr Doktor.

After graduating, on Mutter’s suggestion that he convert to Christianity, Herr Doktor escaped from pretty daughter and Germany, learned Italian while interning in a hospital in Italy, befriended some Catholic priests, who taught him enough Latin to show off to other Europeans and made his way back by ship to India, taking up his first job as a resident, at the Bhowali Sanatorium, in what is now Uttarakhand.

My Mother, Sharmaji ki chhoti beti (the younger daughter of Mr. Sharma), then an 18 year old beauty with impossibly thick tresses woven into two plaits, lived a few lanes away from my grand parents’ home in Meerut. It was a match made in heaven, said the astrologers from both families. Whereupon my father was summoned by means of telegram, to hurry home forthwith, as he was to be married to a girl they had chosen for him.

In my grand parents’ home, food was dropped from a height into the outstretched palms of the woman who came to clean the toilets and who they called the bhangan. In my parents’ home, infused with the liberal egalitarianism of a Western culture, the driver and maids used the same crockery and cutlery as we did. This dichotomy did not escape me, though I did not question it. My mother would tell us stories in Hindi, from the Ramayan and my father from the Mahabharat, interspersed now and then with long passages in Sanskrit, from some obscure version of the grand epic. But at no time do I remember being taught to pray, even though my Mother was a practising Hindu and a temple goer. She did tell us which god was which and how to recognize them.

My connect with prayer came only after I was admitted to a Catholic boarding school run by nuns in Mussoorie, in Class 2. Visits to the chapel and the whole atmosphere of religiosity were annoying to me. This improved when I moved to St. George’s College, inasmuch as there was never an air of religiosity within its environment. By Class 4, I had found a treasure trove of Greek mythology in the school library, along with some fascinating books for children, on magnetism and electricity. I consumed them voraciously, some even during Miss Dhillon’s classes! Sometime towards the end of Class 5, after a heavy diet of Greek mythology, magnetism and electricity, I experienced an epiphany – that religions are a collective and organized scam, propagated through stories that were pure fairy tales and fantasy. That was the beginning of my life as a rationalist, a humanist and an atheist.

To buy the book: Paperback and Kindle

13 July 2018

Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar

SUPER LEAD TITLE

Scholastic India is proud to announce that it has acquired the publishing rights for one of the most awaited books of the year, Ahimsa.

In 1942, after Mahatma Gandhi asks one member of each family to join the non-violent freedom movement, 10-year-old Anjali is devastated to think that her father will risk his life for the country. But he’s not the one joining. Anjali’s mother is. 10-year-old Anjali’s mother has joined India’s freedom struggle. Anjali gets unwillingly involved in the turmoil. She has to give up her biases against the Dalit community, or the so-called untouchables, and sacrifice her
foreign-made clothes for khadi.

As the family gets more and more involved in the cause, Anjali must give up her privileges and confront her prejudices to ensure her little contribution to the movement is complete.

This is a poignant debut about overcoming one’s internal struggles and giving up one’s biases. It is essentially about female empowerment.

Inspired by her great-grandmother’s experience working with Gandhi, Supriya Kelkar brings to life the stories of the unsung heroes of India’s War of Independence.

Shantanu Duttagupta, Head of Publishing, Scholastic India, says, “Ahimsa is a book every Indian should read, whether you are a parent, child, educator or book lover. It leaves a mark.”

Supriya Kelkar doesn’t shy away from the reality that progress can sometimes be slow and one must persist even when all hope seems gone. She draws inspiration from her own family history. Kelkar says, “I’m so thrilled Ahimsa is heading to India, and cannot wait to share this book with all the wonderful readers there!”

About the author
Born and raised in the Midwest, Supriya Kelkar learned Hindi as a child by watching three Bollywood films a week. Now she works in the film industry as a Bollywood screenwriter. She has credits on one Hollywood film and several Hindi films. Ahimsa, inspired by her great-grandmother’s role in the Indian freedom movement, is her debut middle grade novel.

“A poignant look at India’s independence through the eyes of a ten-year-old, Ahimsa is a well-crafted tale of resistance.”

— Rajkumar Hirani, director of the films Sanju3 Idiots, PK and Lage Raho Munna Bhai

A BOOK EVERY INDIAN MUST READ

AHIMSA

By  

SUPRIYA KELKAR

Releasing on August 6

PRE-ORDER NOW!

9789352755349

₹395; HB; 308 PP

 

For further information, please contact – Debosmita Sarkar ( dsarkar@scholastic.co.in )

About Scholastic India

Established in 1997, Scholastic India runs a dynamic publishing programme that aims to bring out innovative titles from the best of Indian authors and illustrators. Scholastic works closely with teachers, parents and students to encourage reading and promote the highest quality of reading and educational material in English.

 

12 July 2018 

Interview with Rana Safvi

Rana Safvi is a writer, blogger and translator. She documents her passion for India’s Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb [ culture] via its food, customs, festivals, monuments and clothes. She has recently published The Forgotten Cities of Delhi, the second book in her Where the Stones Speak trilogy, published by HarperCollins India. I interviewed her via email. Here are edited excerpts. 

I was in my teens when my father got posted in Agra and as we lived very close to the Taj Mahal that was the venue for our evening walks. That was the first time I felt the pull of stones and wished they would speak. At that time I had no idea that one day I would end up writing about these very stones or that Delhi would be the place that would beguile me. But they say that childhood passions never go away and I am lucky that I got an opportunity even if very late in life to fulfill those dreams. My trilogy Where Stones Speak is the fulfillment of those dreams of listening to stones and making them speak.

Somewhere along the journey of the first book I became a full time writer and I find it deeply satisfying on a personal note to be able to say all the things, which were, buried inside me somewhere waiting to come out. I’m lucky that I got a chance but I would urge everyone to hang on to his or her dreams. It’s never too late. I started at 55 years of age when my friends were retiring and I enjoy it. Staying busy also keeps me feeling very young.

Apart from this trilogy I have also translated Dastan-e-Ghadar: Tale of a Mutiny (Penguin Random House India) and Tales from the Quran and Hadith ( Juggernaut Books) and by God’s Grace, I have two more translations coming up later in the year.

  1. Why embark on this ambitious project of a book trilogy on Delhi with the first on Mehrauli Where Stones Speak and the second on The Forgotten Cities of Delhi? What is the third book going to focus upon? What sparked off this project? 

Delhi was never a destination for me till 2012 as I used it more as a transit point while visiting relatives in UP. At the time I was living in the Gulf.

It was only when my daughter shifted to Delhi that I started staying here for long periods of time. I had visited a few major monuments like Red Fort and Qutub Minar as a student but that was about it. Around the same time, I met the founder of Delhi Karvan, Asif Khan Dehlvi, who conducts heritage walks. I was part of his first walk in November 2013. He told us many stories from Urdu books written in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I realized that the books describing Delhi in English were either very dry and dull or written from a very British perspective in aftermath of the Uprising of 1857. There were no books with historical anecdotes and research especially from Urdu sources. As at that time I was relatively free and monuments are something I’m extremely passionate about I decided to write the books.

I have covered the seven medieval cities of Delhi till 1857. The first city was Mehrauli, which was the subject of the first book: Historical Trails in the First City of Delhi, Mehrauli. The second book, The Forgotten Cities of Delhi describes the five subsequent cities of Siri, Tughlaqabad, Jahanpanah, Firozabad and Dinpanah. Since this is a vast area and covers almost all of Delhi, I have added all the other areas which may not strictly have fallen within these cities but were built in that era. I have also included monuments from other cities such as Kilokhari and Mubarakpur Kotla which have been swallowed up by urban development. I have described these 14 cities in detail in the first book. My guide for including the monuments was the Urdu book Waqeat e Dar-ul Hukumat Dehli written in 1919 by Basheeruddin Ahmed from all the Persian, Urdu and English sources available to him at that time. The third and final book will be on the imperial city of Shahjahanabad leading up to the Uprising of 1857.

  1. How long did it take for this book to be made? How do the photographer Syed Mohammed Qasim and you work together as a team? Do you visit a site together and decide on the photograph to be taken together or do you help select the images later from his photo bank? 

I do a lot of field work, sometimes visiting a monument a number of times to verify details I find in books. It takes time as I research written material too. It takes me around two years to do fieldwork and research for a book and for Qasim to take the accompanying photographs. It is a combination of research and a bit of detective work on the ground – a time consuming process.

One day I had set off with Syed Mohammad Qasim to take photographs in Vasant Vihar. He mentioned a reference to a 14th century mosque and a dargah in that area that he had heard of. We kept asking the locals and going round the area till we saw huge iron gates in the Aravalli City Forest. We asked to enter but were only permitted to so when we explained we had come as part of our research for a book. To our surprise we saw a huge area beautifully forested and a 14th century dargah of Syed Murad Ali Baba Shah and a khanqah and mosque from same period which had been restored by the Abdul Mannan Academy who run a madarsa here. That we have such a huge green area and a Shahi Masjid (Tughlaq era) was a pleasant surprise for us.

Similarly, I had found a reference to a group of tombs in Zamarudpur called Panj Burja by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in his 1846 book, Asar us Sanadid (Vol 1). So I set off in search of them. The first one was easy to spot as it was at the entrance to the colony. This area is lal dora land, which means that it is out of New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) limits and these monuments are delisted so don’t come under Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Finding the next four monuments was a challenge and took me a whole day. The locals tried to chase us off and intimidate us into not taking photographs but I asked them for some orders which prohibited me from doing so and failing that I refused to budge. They eventually gave up and left us.  Another young heritage enthusiast Sahil Ahuja was with me and both of us put on out Sherlock Holmes hat. It was with great difficulty that we found them. The other four tombs are hidden within the tenements, used for throwing trash, one was even being given on rent to garbage collectors. The fifth could only be discovered by climbing six flights of steps as it was surrounded by high rises on all sides and so not visible from the ground. Discovering that the Zamarudpur tombs had been badly encroached, were in a badly decaying state and were almost inaccessible to the public was a very unpleasant shock.

With Where Stones Speak I explored Mehrauli initially with Asif Khan Dehlvi, founder of Delhi Karavan, who conducts heritage walks in Delhi and later when Qasim accompanied us to take photographs. The three of us entered the desolate areas to explore the ruins and in the process enjoyed the experience immensely! We work very well as a team, complement each other and are constantly learning from each other too.

Though now I don’t explore places in summer due to the extreme heat but I must confess for the Mehrauli book, Asif and I did make a lot of field trips in May and June. Now I am a little more careful though just as excited and enthusiastic about every trip. Some places that are more frequented by people I do visit alone but if they are very lonely I go with Qasim or some other heritage enthusiast, but a companion I must have!

When I’m describing a monument in words I have a certain facet of it in mind so I convey it to Qasim as well as I want the photograph exactly along the lines of the image I have in mind. Mostly we go together and take decisions on the spot but as I said sometimes both of us go alone if we can’t match our schedules. Qasim took all photos for the book. None of the images in the book are from stock photo collections.

  1. You write mostly in the first person as if you took notes while walking through the monuments that were typed up later more less as is.  Is that the case? Personally I like it for it is creates a warm and intimate atmosphere as if the reader is alone with the author on a personal tour of the monuments. Was that your intention? 

I’m glad you like it. I don’t know whether it was intentional or not but that is how it came naturally to me. I believe in letting words flow and take me with them. I normally edit after that process is over. For me it is a world into which I want my reader to enter with me. Perhaps it’s the effect of going for and conducting heritage walks. I take mental notes and nowadays videos when I visit so that I can cross check details.

  1. How do the names of monuments survive if most of them lack inscriptions? Take for example the “phoota gumbad” at JLN stadium.  I have often wondered if only a historian will know what primary source to consult and thus pass on the name to general public or do names continue to exist in the collective memory of the locals? 

Most of the tombs don’t have headstones so we don’t know who is buried there. Locals over the years gave it their own names, which we use even today. Some are very descriptive.

In 1854 Sir Saiyed Ahmad khan wrote Asar-us-Sanadid in which he described 130 monuments of Delhi. So these are identified. For others the books I use as reference are Maulvi Zafar Hasan’s book Monuments of Delhi written in 1919 for the ASI And Basheeruddin Ahmed‘s Waqeat e Darul Hukumat Dehli, also written at the same time. I have copied the names from these books.

  1. In your descriptions of Moradabad ki Pahadi and Wazirpur tombs you make references to how the locals (of all faiths) revere the tombs and leave offerings. This made me wonder if you would ever consider doing another book on the local lore (and people do have a colourful imagination!) that has developed around these monuments and juxtapose them with historical evidence?

That’s an idea! Actually recording oral history is a huge and very essential project. I try to do it whenever I can but don’t know if I can do it as a separate project.

  1. You don’t always give the exact location of these tombs. For instance, if I had not been familiar with Delhi particularly many of the spaces you speak of, I would be lost.  While reading the text I had to rely on my mind’s eye to conjure an image of the exact location and even then I am perplexed by many. Was this a deliberate omission on your part?

It wasn’t a deliberate omission and wherever I could I have given locations but I will remember to be more exact in the next book.

  1. I am curious as to why did you not include maps in this book? Perhaps hire a cartographer to draw at least the 15 historical trails you describe in the annexure? 

You know it didn’t strike me to make maps. But yes will definitely consider it now. I do realize maps make it easier to locate and visit.

  1. Are you concerned about the future of these monuments you chronicle? 

Yes, I am concerned, very concerned as so many are crumbling right in front of our eyes or being encroached. One purpose of these books is to acquaint people with these monuments and hope that they will come to love them and own responsibility for them. Till we don’t feel some sense of kinship or ownership for these monuments we don’t have hope of their survival. Urban development and rapid commercialization is eating them up.

  1. Do you think launching a campaign to protect these monuments is a good idea? If so of what form and shape should it take? 

I have been advocating adoption of nearest monument by schools and colleges and building programmes around it. Whether they are heritage walks, brochures, dynasty timelines, quiz programmes etc.

I met the principal of Vasant Valley School recently and put forward this idea to her. So far ASI has not given them permission to adopt Delhi’s first Islamic tomb, Sultanghari which is the closest to their school. ASI should allow and partner them. It’s only when the children are involved that we can hope to protect our heritage.  I think that would be the most effective campaign.

To buy the books mentioned, follow the Amazon links embedded in the book cover images. 

9 July 2018 

An interview with Roanna Gonsalves

Roanna Gonsalves is from India. She earned her PhD from the University of New South Wales. She teaches creative writing workshops within communities, schools, and universities. Her research focuses on the arts, social media, creativity studies and postcolonial literatures. She created a series of radio documentaries entitled, On the Tip of a Billion Tongues. She received the Prime Minister’s Australia Asia Endevour Award. She is the co-founder and co-editor of Southern Crossings. She is the author of The Permanent Resident, which won 2018 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, Multicultural NSW Award.

 

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Sunita De Souza goes to Sydney is a powerful set of stories that are atmospheric. Packed with detailed descriptions of Bombay/ Mumbai, Goa and Australia. “Home stays with you, in your stories” is a beautifully apt description of immigrant literature coined by by Norwegian resident, originally from Nagaland, and the Sahitya Akademi Bal Puraskar 2018 winner, Easterine Kiralu. The comment encapsulates Roanna Gonsalves short stories very well too.

It is not clear if the principle of arrangement of the stories is chronological but there is definitely a shift in the confident writing style and evolution of the women characters from the first “Full Face” to the last “The Permanent Resident”. There is a quiet determination evident in the stories to make literature out of the most ordinary experiences such as in the search for Sichuan peppercorns to prepare Kung pa khao chicken for lunch in “Easter 2016”. This is a devastatingly sharp story beginning with the title which is so apt with its double-edged reference to the resurrection of Christ and that of the woman narrator occurring on Easter Sunday. Roanna Gonsalves captures the relationship between her husband, Ronnie, and the narrator so well especially his insistence for Sichuan peppercorns No substitution with Indian peppercorn would suffice. His steely stubbornness that he wanted a change in the menu despite the fact the Easter Sunday lunch had already been cooked. The exhausted wife (not just physically but mentally and emotionally for being stuck in domestic drudgery and childcare, reminiscing about her life back in Bombay when she could also be a professional) agrees to look for the spice even though it is the long Easter weekend and in all likelihood all provision stores would be shut. The descriptions of the people walking on the streets as she goes by in her search is as if a bird has been let out of its cage and watches in numb wonderment. The narrator observes everyone so closely; as if the boundary lines between the narrator and author are blurred at this point. When she finally finds a store open, discovers a packet of the spice, nothing prepares the reader for her defiant act of tearing open the packet of pink peppercorns that are “pink as the sky at dusk over the backwaters of the Mandovi”, munching them and leaving the open packet on the shelf and walking out for a stroll reminiscing on how the fragrance reminds her of her grandmother while the flavour is that of a combination of lavender and Tiger Balm. The story works marvellously well at so many levels!

The dark twist of “Christmas 2012” is gut wrenching. “What you understand you can control” seems so innocuous a statement at first and then comes the story’s conclusion. I found myself holding my breath and was sickened to the core when I finished reading. It is a dark secret of many households even now if one keeps track of child sexual abuse stories. The horror of it is magnified by watching the news of the shocking rape of Dec 2012 but it seems to have no impact on the father.  I cannot get over the image of the bossy Martha, fussing over the linen and cutlery and carving of the turkey, being so precise about the Turkey sauce blemish on the white tablecloth; she knows exactly what home remedy to fix the stain but is clueless on how to “fix” the moral stain on her family. The poor woman stuck in a new land as an immigrant has no one really to speak to and cannot in any way jeopardise her situation or that of her husband by reporting Martin to the police otherwise they will in all likelihood lose their PR (Permanent Resident) status. Hell truly exists on earth and it is usually of man’s own making.

 

The stories are full of very distinct characters, particularly the women. Usually in a short story collection the danger always exists of the personality of the characters blending into each other and acquiring a monotonous tone. This is not the case for Sunita de Souza. With the women characters, the author explores situations and how far can women push their limits. It’s as if they have always had an urge to explore but were boxed in by social rules of conduct back home in India. Whereas being on one’s own in a new land provides an anonymity that pushes one to the brink to discover new spaces — physically and metaphorically too. Driven to extreme situations the women unexpectedly find their voices and take a stand. It is not as if they were weaklings in the first place, they just conform and conform. Then something clicks and they take flight in a good way. They take decisions that change their lives for the better. For instance, the protagonists of “(CIA) Australia”, “Full Face” and “Teller in the Tale” or even the “bold” mother in “Soccer Mum”. All the women try, some do take action and others contemplate it and in the process provide a role model to the readers.

The strongest stories in this collection to my mind are “The Dignity of Labour”, “Easter 2016” and “The Permanent Resident”. The themes of domestic violence, fragile male egos/ patriarchal sense of entitlement that the men exhibit and assertion of the individual’s identity are not new and never will be but come together ever so stunningly in these stories. These are horrendous stories for the violence highlighted. While reading these three stories I could not help but recall the commandment “Love thy neighbour as thyself”. The focus is inevitably on the first half of the commandment but increasingly I feel that women in particular should also learn to focus on the second half — self-preservation is equally critical. Don’t always give and give, but learn to maintain your dignity, self-respect, identity. The sleazy story “Up Sky Down Sky Middle Water” captures this commandment well. The girl was very sure she did not want to be a one-night stand but in that short ride she had done her calculation that having sex with the guy by the roadside would in all likelihood give her an advantage in negotiating her salary. It is a very unsettling story but in it lies quite a remarkable tale of self-preservation. She is near starvation with a very low bank balance and she has to do the quick calculation of whether using her body will give her an added advantage. It is tough to decide whether one passes moral judgement on the girl or appreciates her boldness, her quick thinking to be in some ways emotionally detached from the scene and think ahead of her future. The reader is put in quite a spot with this story.

The phrase “family friendly feminism” is fast becoming fashionable which is annoying for a variety of reasons but as your stories show there is so much work left to be done. Though the stories focus upon experiences of immigrants, specifically within the Goan/Bombay Catholic community, there is a universal truth embedded in every single story.

Fantastic collection!

 

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Here are excerpts of an interview with the author:

  • How long were these stories in the making?

I took about five years to write these stories, but they are standing on over two decades of writing experience.  My first job after graduating from St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai was as a reporter with Screen, in India, back in the days when it was a broadsheet. Since then I have written journalism, literary nonfiction, blogs, scholarly pieces in international peer-reviewed journals, radio documentaries, including Doosra: The Life and Times of an Indian Student in Australia  and On the tip of a Billion Tongues, a four part radio documentary series on contemporary multilingual Indian writing. I’ve written for the stage and had short fiction published in different journals, and anthologised in collections. I also wrote a novel (unpublished) which was longlisted for the Vogel Awards, back when I was under 35, which is the cut-off age for that award. As they say, you have to write millions of terrible words before you get to the good words. So all of this writing needed to be done, over two decades, before I could write my book. It took this long not because I’m a lazy or slow writer but because I’ve been a single parent and have had to work in many day jobs to support my family, while writing in my “spare time”.

  • Why begin writing short stories when most publishers shun this genre, especially from a first time author? How did you achieve this stroke of genius to be known as the debut author of a fantastic and now prize-winning collection?

Thank you so much for your warm and generous words, and your fantastic, considered questions. You’re right. It’s very hard to get published, particularly with a short story collection. I felt very honoured to be published by UWAP and Speaking Tiger. I wanted to write short stories because they call forth a respect for the limitations of time and space, and enable a focus on the particular, the intimate, and the fleeting. The short story form offers a set of sharp literary tools with which to sculpt complex experiences and render them economically on the page. This form of the short story felt most suited to writing about the complexities of the immigrant experience. It allowed me to explore different facets of that experience, from the point of view of different protagonists, something which would be harder to achieve with a novel.

  • Who are the short story writers you admire and why? Did their writing influence you in any way?

I’ve been heavily influenced by the work of all kinds of writers such as Eunice De Souza, Michelle De Kretser, Alice Munro, Jhumpa Lahiri, Ambai, Kiran Nagarkar, Jerry Pinto, Arundhati Subramaniam, A.K. Ramanujan, Chekhov, Arundhati Roy, Sampurna Chattarji, Arshia Sattar, Alexis Wright, Melissa Lucashenko, Tony Birch, Jeanine Leane, Ali Cobby Eckerman, Damodar Mauzo, bell hooks, and Elizabeth Bishop. I’ve had my fair share of Rushdie-itis, where I tried to magic-realise all my characters. That phase didn’t last thankfully. But yes, I owe a huge debt to Rushdie. So many writers have fed my work. As the Australian poet Andy Kissane says, “poems are cobbled together from other poems”. So too are stories cobbled together from other stories. I’m very aware of the debt I owe to the writers who have paved the way for people like me.

  • How did you start writing about the immigrant experience in Australia?

I started writing about this a long time ago, across various media.  My first piece of fiction, published in Eureka Street, ‘Curry Muncher’, was written as a response to the violence against Indian students in Australia. Having been an Indian student in Australia myself, I felt I needed to render the experience with nuance, and I felt fiction was the best vessel to hold this nuance and complexity. Exploring this topic further, I was also commissioned to write a radio documentary called Doosra, and was a co-writer on a national award-winning play ‘Yet to ascertain the nature of the crime’. All the links to my work can be found on my website.

  • Sometimes the turn in a story like that of the husband grinding the toes of his wife in “The Dignity of Labour” is too cruel a detail to be imaginative. It is as if you heard about it. Do these stories incorporate kernels of real incidents?

That is a lovely comment. However, I have to say that this particular incident is entirely made up. I’m sure this incident has happened to someone somewhere, but in this story it is an imagined detail. Some stories are based on things I’ve read in the media, but all the stories have been filtered through my imagination, and they are all fictional. I think fiction has the power to be truthful in a way that bare facts cannot.

I filtered some details of real stories. None of my stories are entirely based on true stories reported in the media. For example, in the first story, ‘Full Face’, the story of the hairdresser who is murdered by her husband is loosely based on the horrific murder of Parwinder Kaur here in Sydney, by her husband. But the main story itself is based on a different relationship. Yes of course, there is an important place for nonfiction. But the idea that fiction must be based on fact for it to be any good is not something I’m interested in. I believe in the power of fiction, the power of the imagination to help us glimpse our better selves. I’m not saying my fiction does this. But I believe that fiction as a whole has the power to do this.

  • Do you work or are associated with a shelter/organisation for Indian women immigrants?

No, I’m not, but I do know of many amazing Indian women here who work with survivors of family violence in the Indian communities.

JBR: Makes sense then. You have probably heard stories. it is not that I am insisting on looking for links but it is so clear that you are a kind and sensitive listener who has taken some stories to heart.

RG: Thank you.

  • I like the way you keep bringing in the Catholic Associations to support the immigrants, mostly provide them a communal and cultural base. The church communities do provide refuge for newcomers and immigrants. Was this a conscious detail to incorporate in your stories or is it a part and parcel of your own life as well?

Yes, it was completely deliberate to set my stories amongst the Indian catholic communities. One reason I did this was to counter in some small way the almost universal and inaccurate conflation of Indianness with Hinduism. As we all know, there is more to India than Hinduism, however rich and wonderful it may be. I wanted to gesture towards this multiplicity by deliberately focussing on a community I knew best. Yet, as you know, in my work, I do not shy away from critiquing Catholicism or the Catholic church. Yes, the church for Christians, the temples for Hindus, the mosques for Muslims, are all ports of anchor for new immigrants who find familiarity in old religions from the homeland when they arrive in a new country with an otherwise alien culture. I write about Konkani-speaking communities, Goan and Mangalorean and Bombay Catholics, just like Jhumpa Lahiri focusses on Bengalis, and Rohinton Mistry focusses on Parsis.

  • When you observe do you keep a notebook handy to scribble points or do these details come alive when you begin to write a story?

Yes, I keep a notebook, I also type up comments on my Notes app on my phone. I’ve gone back to these notes several times and they have provided rich material for my work. For me, the catalyst for each of my stories has been clusters of words that sound and look good to me. I begin with words that fit together in a way that is pleasing to me. I don’t begin with character or theme or plot. That comes after the words for me. So the notes and scribbles I make are primarily combinations of words that I’ve overheard or imagined suddenly when I’m waiting at the bus stop etc.

  • Your women characters come across as women who make difficult choices but would they be called feminists for making those decisions or just strong women?  How would you describe yourself as – a feminist or a writer of women-centric stories?

I am unapologetically a feminist. I owe everything to the struggles of the early feminists in India and across the world. Were it not for these brave women, I would still be stuck in the kitchen cooking rice and dal for my husband while nursing baby number nineteen. Our independence as women has been won through the struggles of many brave women, and I will never forget this debt. So yes, I call myself a feminist. All my female characters are feminists, in that they are strong women who make choices and are self-aware enough to deal with the consequences, however challenging or empowering those consequences may be.

  • Have you been trained in theatre?

I wish I could act like Shabhana Azmi and the late Smita Patil. However I have no talent and no training as a performer. But I have written for the stage and hope to continue to do so.

  • What are you writing next? 

I am writing a book of historical fiction, based on the imperial networks of the British and Portuguese empires. It’s about Governor Lachlan Macquarie and his Indian servant, set in the early nineteenth century in the south of India, the west of Scotland, and the east of Australia.

Roanna Gonsalves Sunita De Souza Goes to Sydney: And Other Stories Speaking Tiger Books, Delhi, 2018. Pb. pp. 296

3 July 2018 

 

On business and management books by Vaynerchuk, Taleb, Rosling, et al

Reading business and management books can be an interesting experience. Usually an entire book of approximately 300 pages has a single idea to discuss and will do so with innumerable examples and if required, experiments too. In an age when self-help and business books are inevitable bestsellers, then books by management gurus are definitely going to sell. It is a worldwide phenomenon. Surprisingly many of the books that are published inevitably trot out loads of common sense. It is as if reminding entrepreneurs and management professionals, don’t forget the basics of human engagement. Mantras like communication is essential, team work, data collection and analysis, pay heed to specialists but never forget to do your own homework, be responsible for your actions, push your limits, encourage your teams and always be a team player, exercise any leadership qualities you may have, learn from your mistakes, seek advice from professionals/specialists if need be, always look for empirical evidence, take risks but always be responsible for the consequences, do not be disheartened when mistakes occur — learn from them, create enduring legacies but always remember to evolve. Always seek facts, take deep dives and research your sector thoroughly before making critical decisions. Do not be in haste but do not overthink your decisions either as that too can be counterproductive. Micro-speed in today’s world is crucial but the macro-picture is equally essential. Finally, the bottom line is always important. Yet there is no harm to dabble in some experimentation and prepare for the future.

All the books discussed in some way or the other dwell on these important aspects of business management. This kind of advice can never get old and will always remain relevant. All that might change are the modes of communication and product diversification to match the changing expectations of clients/customers. Business climates may alter a bit and so will the economic policies across nations but the fact remains is that those who want to remain in the business will always be mentally agile, quick-witted, sure-footed, team players and always swift. Many anecdotes touching upon these aspects are shared in CEO Next Door is based on an in-depth analysis of over 2,600 leaders drawn from a database of more than 17,000 CEOs and C-suite executives, as well 13,000 hours of interviews, and the two decades of experience advising CEOs and executive boards that Elena Botelno and Kim Powell have between them. Based upon this data they identified four essential behaviours that define CEOs — be decisive, reliable, adapt and engage with stakeholders and not shy away from conflict.

Even though most of these books were fascinating to read with plenty to learn from, I could not help but think that at least two of the titles mentioned — Skin in the Game and Factfulness — were a little baffling. Great ideas. Fantastic premises for discussing their ideas. Taleb’s fascinating and equally logical principle that everyone should be fully responsible for the consequences of their action i.e. have their “skin in the game”. Factfulness again is goading its readers to not be wrong and miserable about the world as it is today. The Roslings list at least ten factors that come into play when an individual analyses the world and most of these are born out of ignorance and lack of knowing one’s true facts. Whereas it is always essential to remember that facts exist and should be paid heed to. In fact they will brighten one’s outlook of the world. Even though both the books are based on fine principles the fact is they do not necessarily seem to take into account that many readers who will turn to these books will do so with some hope to gain nuggets of wisdom from their business gurus. Many of these people may or may not have steady jobs as it is the gig economy which is dominant. In that case many won’t have the mental peace and security to think twice about their actions or even stop to analyse too many of the facts swirling around them. More and more people are keen to get the job at hand done so as to earn some income.

This is an aspect that Gary Vaynerchuk is very clear about. He often reiterates it in his podcasts, videos and books. Ensure you have some form of steady income coming in to experiment with your ideas. He never discourages anyone but asks them to face the hard truth before taking the plunge in a start up or changing business tactics. Financial security always brings with it some sort of internal peace and a sense of well-being to an individual before they can consider taking another step in professional growth whether personally or for their business interests. Interestingly Alex Hutchinson’s discovery from his passion for athletics is that the body is able to endure a fantastic amount of physiological stress and can invest in itself to push known limits but in order to do so there has to be mental peace. For him the truth is that “the brain and the body are fundamentally intertwined.”

It is for these many reasons listed that reading stories about business families such as profiled by senior business management professional Sonu Bhasin in her book The Inheritors. She interviewed the younger generations of family run businesses that have flourished in India for generations. The case studies provide a fascinating insight into the interplay of the traditional and acute awareness of being global players as well as of changing economic scenarios and the urgent need to adapt. So accordingly changing tactics, grooming the younger generations, and preparing them to lead the businesses.

All said and done this pile of books is an interesting mix and plenty can be gleaned from it about how to steer one’s own business, however big or small. Although one can read and learn from other’s stories, ultimately a business grows exponentially based upon the choices made by the decision makers and for this many, many factors are taken on board — some apparent, some not so apparent.

Books discussed:

Gary Vaynerchuk Crushing It! How  Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence — and How You Can, Too Harper Business, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2018. Pb. pp. 275

Elena Botelho and Kim Powell ( with Tahl Raz) The CEO Next Door: The 4 Behaviours that Transform Ordinary People into World Class Leaders Virgin Books, an imprint of Ebury Publishing, Penguin Random House, London, 2017. Pb. pp. 276

Alex Hutchinson (Foreword by Malcolm Gladwell) Endure: Mind, Body and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance Harper Collins Publishers, London, 2018. Pb. pp. 306

Hans Rosling ( with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund)  Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think Sceptre, an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton, an Hachette UK company, 2018. Hb. pp. 346

Nassim Nicholas Taleb Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life  Allen Lane, Penguin Random House UK, London, 2018. Pb. pp. 280

Sonu Bhasin (Foreword by Anand Mahindra) The Inheritors: Stories of Entrepreneurship and Success Portfolio, Penguin Random House, 2017. Pb. pp. 304 Rs 299

27 June 2018 

 

“Less” by Andrew Sean Greer

Arthur Less has been here for three days; he is in New York to interview famous science fiction author H.H.H. Mandern onstage to celebrate the launch of of H. H. H. Mandern’s new novel; in it, he revives his wildly popular Holmesian robot, Peabody. In the world of books, this is front-page news, and a great deal of money is jangling behind the scenes. Money in the voice that called Less out of the blue and asked if he was familiar with the work of H.H.H. Mandern, and if he might be available for an interview. Money in the messages from the publicist instructing Less what questions were absolutely off the table for H.H.H. Mandern (his wife, his daughter, his poorly reviewed poetry collection). Money in the choice of venue, the advertisements plastered all over the Village. Money in the inflatable Peabody battling the wind outside the theater. Money even in the hotel Arthur has been placed in, where he was shown a pile of “complimentary” apples he can feel free to take anytime, day or night, you’re welcome. In a world where most people read one book and that this night will be the glorious kickoff. And they are depending on Arthur Less. 

2018 Pulitzer-prize winning novel Less by Andrew Sean Greer. It is a comedic book about Arthur Less, a white male gay writer, about to hit fifty, who to avoid attending the wedding of his ex-lover decides to accept all the “literary” invitations in his inbox to attend around the world. A surprising win at this year’s Pulitzer award, Less is a delightful novel for its romp through the literary space around the world, attending book launches, panel discussions, literary festivals, workshop retreats, creative writing classes etc. Wait for the superb end!

Andrew Sean Greer was in Italy when he heard he had won the Pulitzer Prize. To confirm the win he called his friend, novelist and former winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Michael Chabon. This is what he posted on Twitter.

In this wonderful interview with Isaac Fitzgerald on AM to DM, Buzzfeed News, Andrew Sean Greer discuss writing of this comedic novel which also happens to set a new benchmark for gay art/queer narratives. Greer says that at first Less was a sad and serious book but taking pity on the character he rewrote it. He admits that events and places the character visits are “totally pilfered from my life, in a kleptomaniac way”.

Less is going to be a book that will be exceedingly difficult to forget. It will stick for years to come. There is something about it that is impossible to shed. It is there forever.

Andrew Sean Greer Less Abacus, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, London, 2018. Pb. pp. 265. Rs. 499 

25 June 2018