Jaya Posts

“Kamala Harris: The American Story that Began on India’s Shores” by Hansa Makhijani Jain

. <I find this interesting. Of all the publishers present in India, Hachette India seems to be the only one so far that has commissioned a biography of the USA VP-elect, Kamala Harris. The publication is timely and the AIS was circulated yesterday. The book has been released. In time for the Inauguration of the new US Presidential team tomorrow, 20 Jan 2021. >

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Kamala Harris: The American Story that Began on India’s Shores” by Hansa Makhijani Jain

‘Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last.’ –Shyamala Harris

When US presidential candidate Joe Biden chose Kamala Harris, senator and attorney, as his running mate in the race for the President’s post, the world sat up in attention. For the first time in the country’s history, a Black–Asian woman had emerged as a candidate for the most powerful office in the land. And, when the Democratic Party won, the firebrand leader became the first woman vice-president elect in the history of the United States.

Ever since Biden’s announcement, the questions have buzzed on: What is it that makes Kamala Harris perfect for the job? Why does she attribute so much of her success to her Indian immigrant mother? And how did she manage to seize –and hold –the imagination of a nation in one of the most polarized and keenly contested elections in modern America?

Kamala Harris: The American Story that Began on India’s Shores tells the extraordinary and inspirational tale of this courageous and charismatic woman, a pioneer in her own right, who has today become a symbol many look up to in the hope of a more inclusive world. Her inspirational rise to the top holds the promise that she will not be the last woman to conquer this mountain.

KEY POINTS

– A revelatory and inspiring biography of the female icon of the moment, the first woman US vice-president, Kamala Harris.
– In this engaging narrative, readers get a glimpse into Kamala Harris’s formative years with her mother and sister, and particularly the considerable influence her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, had on her life and worldview.
– Provides insight into the ideas that got Harris interested in law-making and the immense contributions she made in several areas in politics and society in America before entering the presidential race.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hansa Makhijani Jain juggles her time between writing and editing. In the 14 years that she has been in media, she has written prolifically across newspapers, magazines, books and the web. She served as assistant editor at Marie Claire India, and regularly contributed to magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, L’Officiel, eShe and Prevention. She has also been the deputy editor at Fashion101. 

19 Jan 2021

“Challenges of Translation”, 23 Jan 2021, AKLF and French Institute in India

I will be moderating a panel discussion on the “Challenges of Translation” on Saturday, 23 Jan 2021, 4:15-5:15pm IST.

Romain Rolland Prize
Challenges of Translation

with Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens, Diplomat. Counsellor for Education, Science and Culture at French Embassy in India / Ambassade de France en Inde & Director of @IFInde / French Institute in India, Maina Bhagat, Director, Oxford Bookstores & Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival, Chinmoy Guha, translator, Christine Cornet, Attachée Débat d’Idées et Livre, Institut français India/Embassy of France with Jaya Bhattacharji Rose.

Followed by the announcement of the winners of the prize with Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens, Virginie Corteval, Consul General of France in Kolkata, Maina Bhagat and Chinmoy Guha.

This AKLF event is in association with Institut Francais and Alliance Du Bengale.

As soon as the link of the recording will be available, I will post it here as well. But it will be LIVE on all the @AKLF social media platforms. Details are in the poster.

19 Jan 2021

“Kashmir! Kashmir!” by Deepa Agarwal

Deepa Agarwal’s Kashmir! Kashmir! ( Scholastic India) is a stupendous collection of short stories meant for children and young adults. There is something in it for everyone. There are nine stories that are told from varying perspectives of boys and girls and in different scenarios. The stories are very evocative of Kashmir. Whether you have been to the state or not is immaterial but if you have, then the tiniest description brings back a flood of memories. As Shantanu Duttagupta, Publisher, Scholastic India, says in his note to the book:

We hear so much about Kashmir in the news that we tend to forget its beauty — the people, culture, mesmerizing landscape, food . . . the list goes on. Deepa Agarwal’s writing is atmospheric and brings to life some known and unknown wonders of this beautiful part of India.

Deepa Agarwal achieves precisely this. She captures the heart and soul of this excruciatingly beautiful state and the difficulties under which its children are growing up. In a slim volume, the author manages to cover so many bases. Beginning with the fear that the children, especially young males live under, when they disappear unexpectedly and it is assumed that the boy has run off to join the militants. So in “The Case of the Missing Weaver” when Bashir’s elder brother, Murad, a supremely talented weaver, goes missing, everyone is worried. Or there is the reality of clashes between the Army and the locals with stone pelting being a fairly common occurrence, that young Rehman too had participated in but when he was rescued by Armymen after being trapped in an avalanche, there was a flood of emotions. Similarly there are so many other aspects of Kashmir’s tough reality that are covered with sensitivity by Deepa Agarwal to the extent that the stories throw up some universal truths like not allowing gender biases get in the way of parenting ( “Run, Zainab, Run”). Then there is the sad reality of Kashmiri Pandits having to leave their homes but when they return to the valley, they do so with some trepidation ( “My Kashmir Diary”). The trip to Kashmir with his parents is movingly recorded by Atharva in his journal and the reception that they received from his mother’s erstwhile Muslim neighbours and her best friend from childhood, Munaiza. Then there is the real anxiety felt by people due to the pandemic alert. It is drawn out well in “Lockdown” when Humra and her family have to manage her mother’s depression. The gentleness with which the children become adults before their time and manage their elders is stunningly created by Deepa Agarwal. 

There are so many details packed in this book that are astonishing such as Kashmiri cuisine is done so well. The predominantly non-vegetarian dishes are mentioned calmly without any apologies. It is a respectful acceptance of the local culture without exhibiting any prejudices and thereby hopefully allowing the young readers to be acquainted with the variety that exists in our fabulous country.

Kashmir! Kashmir! is a supremely elegant collection of stories that must not be restricted to children and the school market alone. It is meant for readers of all ages and needs to be seen prominently in trade publishing and bookstores.

Read it.

17 Jan 2021

Anthologies of stories for children

Hachette India has recently published two magnificently produced anthologies of stories for children — 100 Greatest Short Stories for Younger Children and 50 Greatest Short Stories for Older Children . These are collections with a mix of the oft anthologised folk tales, short stories and extracts in the English Literature canon but also some of the well-known stories from India or rather, mostly Bengal. Truly loads of fun! Just the kinds of books one relishes reading, recollecting favourite stories read in the past and sharing with the next generation. The emotions created at remembering them are as strong as when first encountered.

This is an excellent attempt at correcting the material with examples of Indian literature but it is inexplicable why the editors chose to represent India as the land of Hindus and Buddhists with theinclusion of more than one story from the epics and the Jataka Tales while ignoring all the other faiths that are an intrinsic part of this magnificently multi-cultural country? It is even more baffling since a few months ago, Hachette India produced a truly stupendous book called The Phoenix in the Sky: Tales of Wonder and Wisdom from World Religions retold by Indira Ananthakrishnan. So why not include stories that were already published in this collection assuming the sensitivity to India’s great diversity rather than capitulating to majoritarianism exists within the publishing team? It would be perhaps easier to ask this question of the editors who put together these anthologies except they are not mentioned anywhere in the books.

Having said that, 100 Greatest Short Stories for Younger Children and 50 Greatest Short Stories for Older Children are fabulous collections. A must have whether in a personal library or a school/classroom library. These books would also make excellent gifts given the affordable price of Rs 599 for a hardback. Good stuff!

17 Jan 2021

Arshia Sattar’s retellings of the epics for children — Ramayana and Mahabharata

Arshia Sattar, writer and translator, did her PhD from the department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago. The renowned Indologist, Wendy Doniger, was her advisor. Arisha Sattar is a reputed authority on the epics. She has written a wonderful collection of books, for adults and children, exploring the Hindu epics.

It is her fabulous retellings of the epics for children that are under discussion here — Mahabharata ( 2020) and Ramayana (2016), both published by Juggernaut Books. To convert oral stories into print, stories that have had centuries of storytelling behind them, as well as readers have very fixed notions of how these stories are meant to be, this is not a mean task. Arshia Sattar does it well. The stories are immensely readable. They also work very well if meant to be read out aloud. Or if someone is familiarising themselves with the stories for the first time. The books have been beautifully illustrated by Sonali Zohra. In fact, the two publications also highlight the journey of the illustrator, from being relatively unknown in the publishing world, Sonali became a “name” as indicated by her name being mentioned on the cover of the Mahabharata but not the Ramayana.

My only wish is that the publishers would focus as much on stories of other faiths as much as Hinduism. When last seen, India was not a theocratic state, despite an emotional cloud engulfing its citizens in the hope that it is. We are still a “Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic, Republic” when last heard and as enshrined in the Preamble to the Indian Constitution. So perhaps the publishers who ascribe to secular credentials could consider addressing the spectrum of religions practised in our magnificent country. Thereby enabling children and adults to be sensitised to what else exists in this multi-cultural society. Many of us are proud of this heritage as is evident in the fantabulous stories being documented by the India Love Project on Instagram ( @indialoveproject). It is time younger generations too were acquainted with their rich cultural inheritance.

17 Jan 2021

In Times Of Representation

Over a decade ago I did a regular column for Business World. It was on the business of publishing. Here is the original url.

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According to John Thompson in his book Merchants Of Culture: Literary agents first burst upon the scene in nineteenth century Britain. It began with A.P. Watt whose work as a literary agent appears to have begun around 1878, when he was asked by a friend, the poet and novelist George MacDonald, to sell his stories for him. By 1881, he was known as an advertising agent and a literary agent. Initially he charged a fee for the services he offered, but soon switched to taking a 10 per cent commission on the money that he earned for his clients on any transaction he completed. By the end of the nineteenth century, he was representing some of the leading writers of the time, including Arthur Conan Doyle, Walter Besant, Thomas Hardy and Rudyard Kipling. In 1893 when publisher William Heinemann wrote a scathing portrait of a literary agent, he in all likelihood had A.P. Watt in mind: ‘This is the age of the middleman,’ wrote Heinemann. ‘He is generally a parasite. He always flourishes. I have been forced to give him some little attention lately in my particular business. In it he calls himself the literary agent.

However uncomplimentary a statement this may have been of an agent, the truth is that a literary agent is an indispensable part of the publishing eco-system. Literary agents are defined as those who represent writers to publishers, theatre and film producers. They negotiate on behalf of the author for the best and fairest deal possible. For this, they are paid a commission, which is a percentage of the proceeds of the sale that they have negotiated for their client. It is usually 15 per cent for domestic rights and 20 per cent for international rights. An agent holds specialised knowledge of different publishing houses, is aware of the personal tastes of editors and is able to sell written material to them, matching the writer with the right stable. Agents also provide authors a range of services – reading a raw manuscript, assessing if it is fit for publication, if it is then helping them tidy it up before selling it to an appropriate publisher and in case it receives interest from more than one publishing house, setting up an ‘auction’ and selling it to the best bidder, negotiating terms and contracts and collecting payments and royalties. They also network with agents and publishers in other territories, across the world in order to ensure that the book gets published across the globe, and increasingly in different languages. A large part of this business happens specifically at the Frankfurt Book Fair. In his essay, Frankfurt (1981),  Martin Amis says, Frankfurt is the arena of super-deals, mega-business, and transactions so high-powered that entire currencies are but pawns in the publishers’ vast dream….Seen as a tripe vertex of high commerce, high culture and high living — clearly, in mid-October, the Frankfurt Book Fair is the place to be.

The Quintessential Multitaskers
According to David Godwin, agents represent everything that a writer does, and “usually an advance is paid over four moments — signature, delivery, publication and paperback publication”. There are exceptions to the rule and some extremely successful authors are on a lower commission structure. For instance, Paulo Coelho is represented exclusively by Sant Jordi Asociados, a literary agency based in Barcelona that represents the best-selling author’s worldwide rights. Author and poet, Jeet Thayil says, a literary agent is a blessing, since s/he is responsible for all the nitty-gritty administrative work, including the tedious follow up required in signing a book deal, releasing precious time for the author to focus their energies on a constructive and creative output, rather than be exhausted by paperwork. His agent, David Godwin, says that an agent’s role ranges from “advising on a manuscript, editorial advice, planning a career, making deals, following up myriad enquiries, taking phone calls any time of the day, and being a professional ally at all times.”

So is an agent necessary? A question often asked by new as well as seasoned authors. Renowned novelist, Hari Kunzru believes “it is now more or less impossible to access editors of mainstream publishing houses without going through an agent. The volume of unsolicited submissions means that the ‘slush-pile’ is enormous. Apart from using an agent to get connected to the right editor at the right publishing house, agents are also necessary to help you negotiate the increasingly-complex world of book contracts. Unless you know what percentage discount Amazon is going to try to negotiate for a paperback sale, or the going rate for e-book royalties in South Africa, or whether you should be assigning Canadian rights to your UK publisher, or reserving them for your US publisher, you need an agent. Publishing is probably more competitive than it’s ever been. As the book market transforms, and thousands of hopeful new writers pile in, looking for readers, writers need to have someone on their side.” Kunzru was offered an advance of approximately £1 million for his first novel. On the other hand, successful translator, Arunava Sinha has no literary agent representing him, but he does realise their significance. Sinha translates from Bengali into English and has fourteen books published in India, with six publishers. Two of the titles have been published abroad across fifteen publishers and in eleven languages, including English.

According to Sophie Lambert, Director of Tibor Jones Literary Agency, “Agents always provide some degree of editorial feedback ranging from extensive and multiple edits of a manuscript to light editorial notes. Otherwise an agent’s role lies in being the author’s best advocate and finding the best possible deal (which doesn’t necessarily mean for the most amount of money) for a project. The agent must then negotiate the terms of the agreement and always act as the go-between where legal and financial issues are concerned.”

Tripartite Axis
The industry norm is to sign a contract with an author for one book or as an annual agreement that is renewed. Ordinarily this is a one book contract but sometimes an agent may sell a two or three or even four book deal to a publisher, in which case the agent would be representing the author for the duration of the contract. David Godwin adds that “We do have a standard letter of agreement between ourselves and the writer but they are of little importance as a writer can leave an agent for any reason they choose and whenever they choose. What remains though, are the contracts made by the agent on behalf of the author. The monies under that contract will still come to the ‘ agent of record’ – who made the deal basically.” But a contract between the two parties is a must. The agent then negotiates on behalf of the author for the publishing and other subsidiary rights, across all territories. As Sandrine Paccher, co-Director of Lora Fountain & Associates explains, “Sometimes this is achieved by working with sub agents or colleagues in other territories, who are familiar with the domestic market and languages. It is easier for the sub-agent to select a title that is appropriate for the local publishing houses and will sell well.”

But the key word is trust in this three-way relationship. An editor builds up a relationship with an agent and comes to trust them in terms of the quality of the project and the way in which the agent does business. This holds true for an agent and the author too, who have an equally reliable relationship.

15 Jan 2021

The Business Of Literary Festivals

Over a decade ago I did a regular column for Business World. It was on the business of publishing. Here is the original url.

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The question most often asked these days in the literary world and beyond is, “Are you going to Jaipur?” I know of authors, publishers, agents, aspiring writers and even friends who have nothing whatsoever to do with literature (not even to read a book) heading off to the Pink City. The attraction ranges from seeing authors “in the flesh” to gawking at talk-show celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey. That said, I wonder how many would actually know what a phenomenal impact Oprah’s Book Club had on book sales in America — termed as the Oprah effect. She single-handedly recommended books that she enjoyed reading on The Oprah Winfrey Show. It is estimated that the 69 books she recommended over a 15-year period, saw the sale of 55 million units. But as with popular literary spaces, she too has had her fair share of controversies. Most notably being of her recommending James Frey’s memoir, A Million Little Pieces, only for it to be revealed that the book was a complete hoax, but that is another story.

Literary festivals are spaces to have a great time — good conversation, plenty of ideas swirling about, good company, especially if accompanied by good weather, food and facilities. What more can one ask of a long weekend break? It is a mela time to listen to panelists, to be able to ask questions directly of one’s favourite authors and discover new ones. It is also a space that provides opportunities for aspiring writers to contact publishers, word-doctors, and literary agents. Rohini Chowdhury, author and freelance editor says, “I think literary festivals serve an important function in providing writers and publishers a platform on which they can come together, particularly writers who often need the visibility. It also provides them with a sense of community and turn into exclusive clubs.” William Dalrymple, director, Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), says when he gets invited to international literary festivals as an author, he is always on the lookout for new voices or to connect with established names. It is easier to do it over breakfast than send off an impersonal email request.

A Costly Affair
But there is no such thing as a free lunch. It is never clear from the media stories that bear the cost of putting up this extravaganza. Often the stories are about celebrities attending a festival, the political and literary controversies surrounding some participants (it helps to pull in the crowds!), but rarely about the investments involved. At most there will be references to “breaking even”, but hardly any numbers are mentioned. Yet, there is a cost, and a substantial one at that to the organisers of the festival: financial and human resources and infrastructure. There is also a cost to the city that hosts the festival; although, both parties stand to gain in the long run.

Internationally, festivals are ticketed and are not the norm in India. (This is set to change with JLF announcing modestly-priced tickets for the musical events this year.) The income from ticket sales is rarely enough to cover costs of producing a festival — in fact, it is not even close, probably only 15 per cent of the total budget. So donations and sponsorship end up paying most of the costs. In addition to these, corporate sponsorship and individual donations are incredibly important to enable the literature festivals to run. A great deal of time is spent developing proposals, targeting potential sponsors (including big businessmen, bankers and financiers), sending out those proposals and following up. A festival director can send out 50 or more proposals and get only 5 or 10 responses most of which are polite rejections. Most people who generally do respond are those that already know the core team, especially the festival director’s work, so one needs to spend a great deal of time making and developing contacts. Add to this are other “hidden” costs that involve huge amounts of labour and are not easily quantified. They include planning and organising the events, particularly bearing in mind the ratio of local to international authors, as well as the linguistic ratios; keeping abreast of backlists and forthcoming titles; networking with publishers and authors; and putting together a judicious mix of ideas and entertainment. Also important are building confidence amongst participants and audience, timing the participation of authors if they are going to be in town (it helps to have information in advance as it differs the costs of running the festival). Additional costs to be factored are an honorarium or an appearance fee to be paid, especially to the star performers; organising cultural events where the artistes are paid their fee; media and publicity; salaries of the staff (permanent and volunteers); rent of the space; catering at the venue; transport and accommodation; and infrastructure. In fact, every person who walks in has a cost — registration tags (electronic or bar-coded), brochures, chair, and a system to buy a book. According to Adriene Loftus Parkins, Founder/Director of the Asia House Festival of Asian Literature, “I think it’s fair to say that no one realistically goes into this business to make a lot of money.  It is very important that we raise enough to cover costs, so that we can pay our suppliers and keep going, but we are running a festival for reasons other than profit.   I rarely have the funds to produce the kind of festival I’d ideally like to and to do the marketing and PR that I feel I need, so I do the best I can with what I have.”

Fundraising is a crucial aspect of organising a literary festival. An efficient team will stick to the budget and realise it is organic. Part of the fundraising is in kind – offering accommodation, free air tickets, conveyance, sponsoring a meal or an event. If it is in cash, then it is by networking with businesses, financiers, cultural and arts agencies like the British Council, Literature Across Frontiers, multi-national corporations etc. But it is crucial to find the relevant links between the festival being organised and the agency’s mandate. For instance, the British Council literature team promotes UK’s writers, poets and publishers to communities and audiences around the world, developing innovative, high-quality events and collaborations that link writers, publishers and cultural institutions. Recent projects include the Erbil Literature Festival, the first international literature festival ever to be held in Iraq; the Karachi Literature Festival; and a global partnership with Hay Festivals that has seen UK writers travel to festivals in Beirut, Cartagena, Dhaka, Kerala Nairobi, Segovia and Zacatecas amongst others. This ongoing work with partners helps provide the opportunity for an international audience to experience the excitement of the live literature scene in the UK. And for businesses it is a direct investment into the community. According to image guru Dilip Cherian of Perfect Relations, “Corporates find that they can reach otherwise with Lit Fests. It’s also an audience that captures influentials who otherwise have little space for corporate Branding. The danger though is that literary festivals may be going the way of Polo…Money too easily caught, could stifle the plot.”

The Host City Makes Hay
The business model of a literary festival depends upon who is it for — the city or the festival. According to The Edinburgh Impact Study released in May 2011, the Edinburgh “Festivals generated over a quarter of a billion pounds worth of additional tourism revenue for Scotland (£261 million) in 2010. The economic impact figure for Edinburgh is £245 million. Plus the festivals play a starring role in the profile of the city and its tourism economy, with 93 per cent of visitors stating that the festivals are part of what makes Edinburgh special as a city, 82 per cent agreeing that the festivals make them more likely to revisit Edinburgh in the future. The study calculates that Edinburgh’s festivals generate £261 million for the national economy and £245 million for the Edinburgh economy. To put this in to context, the most recent independent economic impact figure for Golf Tourism to Scotland is £191million. The festivals also sustain 5,242 full-time equivalent jobs. Although the festivals enjoy over 4 million attendances every year, the lion’s share of additional, non-ticket visitor expenditure is attributable to beneficiary businesses, such as hotels and retailers. 37 per cent (or £41 million) goes to accommodation providers, 34 per cent to food and drink establishments, 6 per cent to retailers and 9 per cent is spent on transport.”

Says Peter Florence, director, Hay-on-Wye Festivals: “We have done a hundred and fifty festivals over 25 years around the world. Just when you think you know how to do them, a new googly comes at you. The fun of it is working out how to play every delivery… .” He adds that since story telling is the basis for festival, they are open to exploring good writing in any form. Songwriters, comedians, philosophers, screenwriters and even journalists are treated with the same respect as are poets and novelists. It is all about great use of language. He clarifies that “We aren’t in business. We are a not a for-profit educational trust. We are the only part of the publishing-reading chain that is not out to make money. We simply aim to break-even and keep costs as low as possible.” Festivals grow only if the participants have a good time there. There has to be a word-of-mouth publicity for the festivals to get popular.

Frankly, it is very difficult to say that there is one clear business model for a literary festival. It changes from region to region. Yet it is obviously growing, otherwise why else would Harvard Business School be doing a case study on the Jaipur Literature Festival that is being studied over two semesters.

15 Jan 2021

The Bling Factory

Over a decade ago I did a regular column for Business World. It was on the business of publishing. Here is the original url.

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In 1999, an exhibition was organised in Delhi to support artisans in cyclone-hit Orissa. At the event, I spotted a young student working with an equally young Patachitra artisan. The way the student interacted with the artisan seemed odd. While she was ‘instructing’ the man to do things, the artisan meekly obeyed her and created dull Patachitra creations. I knew the man. He had retold some classic tales beautifully on dried palm leaves, and was using his art to record contemporary events and their impact. He had an entire Patachitra telling the story of lynched missionary Graham Staines. Hence, the lack of sensitivity of the student was bewildering. Equally or even more bewildering are stories that Shefalee Vasudev tells about the fashion industry in Powder Room. The book is a gripping narrative of the fashion eco-system in India. Vasudev, former India editor of fashion magazine Marie Claire, offers a strong perspective and weaves an excellent story about how fashion brands are lapped up by the nouveau riche and by the powerful. The bling factor is so high. Sample this: at an exclusive designer exhibition in Ludhiana, the author noticed a woman wearing six big brands, all at the same time, and wanting to buy some more. Vasudev starts with an admission that till she was in Class 12, she had not heard of Coco Chanel. But she goes on to prove that she is arguably the best hand around to decode the glam factory. She documents the aspirations of many of those who struggle to rise to the top within the fashion fraternity and the evolution of those who stay ahead by working hard and adapting. Vasudev interviewed over 300 people for the book, including people in small towns and big cities, well-established designers, shop assistants with dreams of their own, struggling and successful models and tailors. Statistics reeled out in the book explain the dynamics propelling the fashion market in India to the levels where it is today and beyond. For instance, clothing is a $33.2 billion dollar industry in India and accounts for the second largest pie in the country’s spending chart. In 2007, a McKinsey report — ‘The Bird of Gold’ — on India’s consumer market said there would be over 570 million middle class Indians by 2025 and India would be the world’s fifth-biggest consumer market. By July 2012, Louis Vuitton had 2,468 stores worldwide with 495 in Asia, and its growth rate in India was pegged above 20 per cent in 2011. A few months ago, consultancy firm AT Kearney said the fashion market was growing at 20 per cent and would reach $15 billion by 2015. But the author says fashion is a labour dominated industry, which includes not just the brands, but also artisans and craftsmen who, until recently, were the second largest contributors to the Indian economy. In many cases, it is creating a dichotomy in the fashion world. Probably, much of this is set to change as is evident by the recent news of Louis Vuitton Moet Hennesy buying an 8 per cent stake in Fabindia. Vasudev builds a natural narrative and creates sympathy for the profiled. She understands their ambitions and compulsions, but is emotionally detached to encapsulate relevant details. Hers is an in-depth understanding of the industry — “it is not a clean, decent industry… for those who want to hold on to values, fashion is not the easiest place to be in.” She, too, became disillusioned with the industry, losing interest in her job at Marie Claire as she was not sure what an editor’s job meant in a fashion magazine “except for being the smartest cookie in a team”. She felt it was “brochure journalism” and you had to figure out the “least common denominator between advertisers, celebs, the marketing wish list, personal obligations, put seven cover lines out of which three had to be international and get it right”.

15 Jan 2021

A Dying Tradition: Libraries

Over a decade ago I did a regular column for Business World. It was on the business of publishing. Here is the original url.

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Musharraf Ali Farooqui, author and translator, was in Delhi in April to launch his third novel Between Clay and Dust. The exquisiteness with which the book has been written is not only a credit to Farooqui as a writer of fiction in the English language, but to a translator who is equally proficient and comfortable in the source (Urdu) and translated (English) language. (At times, he himself is not quite sure which language is he writing in.) The point is that when it comes to Farooqui’s elegant use of language and his ability to understand and convey the nuances of the language he is translating, a large part of the credit goes to the many hours the writer spent browsing through the vast collection of Urdu literature in the Toronto Public Library to produce his masterpiece translation of Amir Hamza.

Ancient libraries, such as the ones in Alexandria and Nalanda, are legendary for the collections they contained. 2012 is being marked as the centenary of the library movement in India. According to Mr Jayarajan, Member, and K. K. Banerjee, Director and Member-Secretary of the Raja Rammohun Roy Library Foundation in Kolkata, “It was in the year 1911, the great Maharaja Siyajirao Gaekwar III of Baroda, mooted the idea of a public library system in his princely state of Baroda.  He invited W. A. Borden to set up a public library network in Baroda.” They inform that the Maharaja-Borden team set up many public libraries in Baroda, which included a Central Library in Baroda, with a large stock of books for lending as well for reference, libraries in town and villages, including remote villages. Children’s libraries and even many travelling libraries were also set up during this period. Sadly, none of these pioneering initiatives could be sustained in Baroda due to the return of Borden in 1913 and the demise of the Maharaja in 1936.

“The arrival of S.R. Ranganathan on the Indian library scene in 1924 was an important milestone in the library history of India. He worked on every facets of librarianship, including public library development and made a concerted effort — which started in 1934 — to get the public library movement accelerated in the country,” Jayarajan and Banerjee state. Ranganathan travelled through different states and prepared the ground for introducing library legislation in each of these states. He succeeded in getting library legislation passed by the erstwhile state of Madras (now Tamil Nadu) in 1948. That was the first library legislation in India. Till the demise of Ranganathan in 1972, only four states enacted library legislations, though many states had initiated the process by that time. “Library” is a state subject; only 18 states have passed the library legislation during 1948-2009.

Incentives For Change
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh commissioned a National Mission for Libraries, anchored in the Ministry of Culture. “The Mission will focus on improvement of the public library system of the country particularly concentrating on the States where library development is lagging behind. The National Mission hopes to cover approximately 9,000 libraries in three years. It will conduct a national census on libraries, work towards upgradation of infrastructure of reading resources, and seek to modernize and promote the networking of libraries,” he announced. For Dr. Chauhan, Librarian of O. P. Jindal Global University Library, libraries are important and at their library, they are constantly engaging with some of the best librarians and specialists around the world to ensure that the best facilities are offered, and also that a good selection of literature is available on the shelves and in digital formats.  Since most institutional libraries are under-utilised they are encouraging members from outside the university to enrol.

Apart from this, there are scattered and fascinating initiatives elsewhere in India. For instance, in Andhra Pradesh, Basic Research Education and Development Society (BREADS) is nurturing over a 1000 high school libraries. (They select schools based upon performance.) In addition there are initiatives like Hippocampus Reading Foundation (HRF), Friends of Books and Rent a Book that are creating spaces for books to be lent easily. Well before these were established, the National Book Trust and the Delhi Public Library had and continue to have mobile libraries that travel through the cities and rural areas. According to M. A. Sikandar, Director, National Book Trust, “Mobile Exhibitions are the heart of NBT which touches every district/taluk of the country. Now the GoI approved book promotion centre for each state/UTs with exclusive mobile van to cover rural population under the 21th Five Year Plan. At present there are ten vans (five more to be added later this year) that cover about 2500 points mostly rural and remote in a year.”

Peter Booth Wiley, Secretary of Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, believes libraries are extremely important social spaces for their positive impact on the local community and the exchange of ideas. Some of the library’s programmes are to provide grants that support library programmes and events, raise funds for capital projects for the library; advocate for today’s libraries, recycle more than 600,000 books each year through their Book Operations and offer readings, organise author signings, poetry festivals and other events that support the literary community. As a publisher too, Wiley can appreciate the importance of libraries as repositories and regular customers of their books.

End Of An Era?
On the other side of the Atlantic, the rapid closure of libraries in UK is a disturbing trend. According to Alan Gibbons, an award winning author and organiser of the Campaign for the Book, “Libraries are one of the great British institutions, probably second in popularity only to the National Health Service. According to the National Literacy Trust, a child who visits a library is twice as likely to read well as one who does not.” It is unfortunate that the UK, the country of Shakespeare and Dickens, Austen and the Brontes, now languishes in twenty-third place in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) reading rankings, laments Gibbons.  PISA is worldwide evaluation of educational standards in OECD member countries. “Our government’s policies of making 28 per cent public sector spending cuts and putting libraries at the top of the agenda are for funding reductions are threatening 600 branches. Opening hours are being cut, book funds are slashed and we have lost 10 per cent of our full time librarians. South Korea is near the top of the PISA rankings. It has its own economic challenges but it understands the importance of high literacy levels in a global market and it is building 180 new libraries. In addition to their cultural and educational role, libraries are at the heart of our communities, providing a hub and a place to meet. Campaigners for the public library service have a simple message for the British government: we will not go gentle into that good night,” he opines.

Despite these initiatives in India, there are not enough libraries. There is no doubt that internet activity has eaten into the library movement and there is plenty of funding required to maintain a library, especially with high standards. Maybe CSR initiatives or public-private partnerships could be encouraged some more to establish more such social places. In fact, William Kamkwamba, who’s been working on creating libraries across Africa, realised that libraries can act as engines of economic growth.

15 Jan 2021

Journey Towards Selfhood

Over a decade ago I did a regular column for Business World. It was on the business of publishing. Here is the original url.

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The Man Within My Head is Pico Iyer’s part-tribute to his “adopted” literary parent, Graham Greene, but also part-travelogue and part counter-biography. The title also echoes Greene’s The Man Within. Iyer initially wrote 3000 pages over eight years to finally reduce it to the 256 pages that were published. It is very clear that this is not a memoir. It is an exploration of ideas that are at the core of Greene’s writings, with a significant one being that of the “burden of displacement”. For Iyer, Greene strikes a chord on many levels. But at the core of it lies the fact that they both seem to share a fascination and a preoccupation with the individual, the sense of displacement in the world of migrants. How do you write about them? How do you live their life? How do you develop a cold detachment and yet experience something so acutely sensitively that it will be transmitted and resonate strongly in the literature written, whether it is an essay or a novel. Beyond these basic literary explorations, Iyer does wonder if it “was only through another that I could begin to get at myself?”

For him Greene could never be a fantasy figure but someone who would also help shed some light on his relationship with his real father. The dad who otherwise remained a distant figure, an academic and a highly respected theosophist, yet who flew half way across the world (from California to England) to meet an asthmatic Pico, after the wheezing son had made an emergency call or who left an emotional message on his son’s phone, after reading Pico’s essay on Greene “Sleeping with the Enemy”, published in Time magazine. It was the last time that Iyer ever heard his father, since he soon thereafter succumbed to complications due to pneumonia. But what distressed him even more was that “it was a shocking thing, “to hear his father sob, especially someone who was famous for his fluency and authority to lose all words”. 

Faith And Fortitude
Greene’s tussle with Catholicism is legendary. Much has been said and written about it. For Pico Iyer, it was the travels with his old school friend, Louis, who had discovered religion that much of Greene’s point of view on religion made sense. “I began to understand how one could be transported-and left in the cold-by the spiritual surrender of another. God, if He exists, has to be something larger, more complex and mysterious than just a headmaster reading rules. Sometimes you know He exists, as with a love, only when He’s very far away and you’re shouting out your rage at Him.” This is probably what prompted Pico Iyer to write in his Time essay that “Greene’s special grace-his curse-was to see ‘the folly and frailty of everyone around him.’ It’s never external devils that undo us, I suggested, but rather the ones that rise up in ourselves and those people who have the power to awaken them within us. Greene was ‘never a truer Christian,’ I concluded, ‘than when forgiving his un-Christian enemies.” But Greene was apparently reluctant, almost ashamed, to be seen being kind; it was only at his memorial service that Muriel Spark revealed that he had sent her a little money every month so that she could go on writing-accompanied by some bottles of red wine, so she wouldn’t feel like a charity case.

Shadow Of The Alter Ego
Pico Iyer is so obviously haunted and possessed by the notion of Greene (but he “never wanted to meet Graham Greene, I often told myself”). To get into the skin of another writer, live their life, but make it your own is astounding. To understand the choices the senior writer made, many times via your own experiences and epiphanic moments is not always easy to write about, although Pico Iyer makes it seem so effortless. At a time when memoirs and creative non-fiction writing is fashionable, to write a memoir that is part-travel part-litcrit part-tribute and part-self-exploratory, is quite a feat. There is no denying the huge influence Graham Greene has had upon Pico Iyer as a writer and an individual. He also shares a trait with Greene, “If you have a dangerous curiosity about the world, or if you’re a writer of sorts, trained to collect observations, you become in such situations, shameless. “There is a splinter of ice,” Greene wrote in his memoir, ‘in the heart of a writer,’ and he needs that sense of cool remove to do his job, as any diagnostician does.” For both the writers, “travel was most a way to see more clearly the questions and shadows it was easy to look past at home”. In a recent interview with Charles Rose, Iyer says that “eight years were spent on this book and yet, I could spend my life doing it. The way you have with a close friend.”

The cover design of the American edition of the book is striking. It has two photographs — the top one is of Greene and the lower one of Pico with his father. The careful arrangement of the book, title and cover and of course the content, shows not only the care with which Pico Iyer has put in thought and effort in to his latest book, but also how very important it is to him to understand, figuratively speaking, “both his fathers”, if you will. The Man Within my Head is a treasure. It is worth buying and savouring.

15 Jan 2021

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