Jaya Posts

A. F. Harrold’s “The Song from Somewhere Else”

It was music of a short she’d never heard before.

She was suddenly filled with shoals of fish, darting and moving like one great whole, darting and flowing this way and that, darting and flashing, hundreds and hudnreds of silver fish all moving as if they shared one brain. That was what she saw as she heard this faint, distant music. 

No piece of music she’d ever heard on the radio or in the background of a TV show had ever made her feel so special, had made her feel so cared for, so improved.

The smell of the house, the foresty smell, was stronger now. The air was cool on her face. She heard birdsong, smelt moss, rivers, evening. 

But it was unfair, wasn’t it, keeping such beautiful music, such kind and forgiving music, such perfect and clear and mysterious music, to himself? 

It wasn’t his music now though, was it? It was hers. It was in her ears, in her brain, sparking electricity through synapses in ways that made her unable to resist it. She was hooked like a fish.  

A. F. Harrold’s The Song from Elsewhere is about Francesca Patel or Frank as she is often called and her unlikely friendship with her classmate Nick Underbridge, who is often shunned by others for various reasons, probably because he is a large child, quiet and smells odd.  During the summer break Nick rescues Frank from a bunch of boys who have been bullying her for more than a year now. Afterwards Frank accompanies Nick to his house where she encounters this extraordinarily soothing piece of music.

The Song from Elsewhere may be about fantastical creatures and wormholes or leechways opening a passage to another dimension but is also about friendships, exploring boundaries, relationships and bullies. It is an astonishing novel for young readers with a touch of magic realism. Although having said that the novel is positioned well in that space for impressionable minds for whom imaginary friends, elements of the fantastic and other dimensions run in continuum with their reality. It is beautifullly illustrated by Levi Pinfold.

The longlisting of this book for the CILIP Award 2018 is well deserved.

A. F. Harrold The Song from Somewhere Else ( Illustrated by Levi Pinfold) Bloomsbury, London, 2016. Pb. pp. Rs 299

22 February 2018 

 

Mohsin Hamid’s “Exit West”

We are all migrants through time. 

Mohsin Hamid’s latest novel Exit West published nearly a year ago in spring 2017 was received positively worldwide to rapturous reviews. Despite the extremely long and breathless sentences with innumerable sub-clauses the story itself moves smoothly while unveiling a bleak yet monstrously fragile world of migrants, violence and lawlessness. It is told through the lives of Saeed and Nadia but the narrator remains in complete control, much like a cameraman choosing to tell the story through selected frames. The prose is structured almost like a slow dance fusing reality with elements of speculative fiction. Take the black doors for instance which open like portals to another land, not necessarily another dimension of time, leading refugees away from one physical space to the next.

This aspect of the story has in fact resulted in an incredible art installation in London. It can be viewed till 20 February 2018. According to The Bookseller, Penguin Random House UK has teamed up with Audible and Jack Arts to celebrate the paperback launch of Exit West. To quote the article:

Penguin is partnering with Jack Arts and Audible to celebrate the paperback publication of Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (Hamish Hamilton) with an interactive poster installation on Commercial Street, London.

Working with Jack Arts, themes explored by the Man Booker shortlisted novel such as movement and migration – and, as Penguin puts it, “the thin boundaries that exist in our world” and “the doors between neighbours” – will be “brought to life” in the form of poster art.

Taking a recessed wall space on Commercial Street, Penguin and Jack Arts have replicated the book jacket artwork of Exit West and installed posters with book extracts and cityscapes from locations in the book. Functioning doors open onto the posters, inviting people to engage with the story and to “rethink what the doors around them might mean”, according to Penguin. The campaign strapline reads: “You sometimes need a way out. You always need a way in.”

Penguin also teamed up with Audible, identifying the Commercial Street site profile as “directly overlapping” with Audible’s audience. The audiobook retailer is tagged on the installation and will promote the audio edition of the book to its four million UK social followers. Exit West will be an Audible Editorial pick and a recorded interview with author Mohsin Hamid will be available as an Audible Session.

The book’s author, Hamid said: “It was kind of magical for me to see the black doors on Commercial Street, to discover they could open, and to find words from Exit West inside.”

It is very exciting to see how many forms a good story will take. More so in this information age when readers have very high expectations and there are behavioural changes apparent in how people approach a book. With the blending of formats making it available in physical reality is truly marvellous — just as this unique book.

Read it if you have not already done so!

Mohsin Hamid Exit West Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2017. Hb.pp. 230 Rs 599

18 February 2018 

“Time Shifters” by Chris Grine

Time Shifters by Chris Grine is about young Luke who is devastated after a day in the forest spent with his brother. Due to an unfortunate encounter with a bunch of bullies Luke’s beloved brother drowns. Luke is heartbroken just as is his mother. One day while sitting on the back porch he spots a blue light in the forest behind his home. He ventures closer to take a look and before he knows it he is pulled into an adventure that involves time travel, a bunch of strangers and a dinosaur. When in the forest strangest of devices gets clamped on to his forearm. Apparently it enables time travel through the multiverse. It had been accidentally dropped by an odd bunch consisting of a mummy, a skeleton in a spacesuit, and “vampire Napoleon”. Luke is given chase by this extraordinary team who want the device back otherwise they will incur the wrath of their evil master. Fortunately Luke is rescued by an equally odd team: a robot Abe Lincoln, an Asian-featured ghost named Artemis, a dinosaur named Zinc, and Doc—the white inventor who looks a lot like a caricature of Einstein and as it turns out had invented the device on Luke’s arm. To escape from the clutches of the evil creatures Luke and his new friends shift to an alternate Earth where spiders the size of humans inhabit what looks like the Old West. It is a very engrossing read even though the evil folks come across at times like pantomine characters. A spellbinding adventure that works well for young readers particularly for introducing the concept of time travel. The unexpectedly though-provoking conclusion imaginatively opens many conversation spaces with youngsters and old alike!

Highly recommended!

Chris Grine Time Shifters Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., 2017. Pb. pp. 270 

19 February 2018 

Marius Gabriel’s “The Designer”

Marius Grabriel’s The Designer is a novel about the fashion designer, Christian Dior, in Paris in 1944. At this time Dior was still with the fashion house of Lucien Lelong, designing dresses for the wives of Nazi officers and French collaborators. His sister Catherine was a member of the French Resistance, captured by the Gestapo, and sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp. She was released in May 1945. The Designer is narrated by a twenty-six-year-old American journalist, Oona or “Copper” as she is universally known. She is stepping out of a short lived, messy marriage to an American and decides to set base in Paris as a fashion journalist. It helps that she is part of the inner circle of Dior.  It is about Paris, the war and the nascent fashion industry that blossomed into the multi-million dollar empire after the war.

The Designer is a pacy read for the first half of the book.  This was probably written to coincide with the 70th year celebrations of the Dior company. It is interesting how Marius Gabriel selects elements of historical truth for his literary backdrop, otherwise the story could be like that of any other commercial fiction novel. Once Marius Gabriel has made the literary setting with Christian Dior and his circle of friends including Suzy Solidor, usually to be found at the then fashionable La Vie Parisienne, he abandons all pretence of writing historical fiction. Instead the plot zips along purely on the basis of conversations which after a while become tiresome. Also his character, Copper, admirable as she may be comes across as too modern a woman fitting better in the twenty-first century than during the 1940s! Quite unlike Georgette Heyer who wrote with finesse a brand of historical fiction that today would be recognised as commercial fiction, Marius Gabriel’s story begins to jar. Having said that he does introduce concepts like Le Petit Théâtre Dior which ostensibly was conceptualised to create 2′ high dolls to showcase Dior’s creations, to avoid splurging on silk which was hard to come by in the war years. Obviously it is a trademark style that has survived within the firm judging by the gorgeous clips illustrating how perfectly these miniature mannequins are made. Be that as it may Marius Gabriel is considered to be a highly successful author who has also written romance novels under the nom de plume Madeleine Ker.

The Designer is a part of Westland ( an Amazon company) attempts to introduce in India original fiction published by Amazon abroad at reasonable prices.

Marius Gabriel The Designer Lake Union Publishing, Seattle. Pb. pp. 330 Rs. 399 

“The Crystal Ribbon” by Celeste Lim and “Untwine” by Edwidge Danticat

Strength of character is never with those who blindly follow. You need to be able to make your own choices and walk your own path. 

The Crystal Ribbon

Celeste Lim’s The Crystal Ribbon is about Jing who belongs to an extremely poor family. In order to have some food on the table the eleven-year-old Jing is sold for five silver pieces to a wealthy Guo family as a bride to their three-year-old son but her primarily role is to be his nursemaid. It is a cruel life and from this household she is sold to a courtesan.  She slowly with the help of a spider and a nightingale she escapes and returns home to her delighted father. She soon finds happiness in being an apprentice to Shenpopo, the shamaness at the local village shrine.

The Crystal Ribbon is historical fantasy with the characters, incidents, and certain places in the story being purely fictional. The story is set in AD 1102, during the Northern Song dynasty in the Taiyuan province of Medieval China and according to the author’s note in the book “much of the detail in the story, such as the practice of tongyang xi, traditional rituals, and the invention of paper money, are historically accurate”. She adds:

“Although the magical elements in the story are fictional, that isn’t to say that the people in those days didn’t believe in such magical creatures and deities; some of the Chinese beliefs, practices, and rituals mentioned in the novel still exist, and certain characters, such as the huli jing, spide jing, and baigu jing, are drawn from classical Chinese literature and compilations such as the Shanhai Jing, Journey to the West, Soushen Li, and Liaozhai Zhiyi.

What I especially hope to bring to attention is the tradition of the tongyang xi. Although the Chinese Communist Party ( CCP) banned this after its establishment, it is still practiced in rural areas, generally among poorer communities. My ama ( grandmother) used to tell us many such horror stories, including one about how our great-grandmother bravely fled China during the great famine and came to settle in Malaysia.” 

Award-winning writer Edwidge Danticat’s Untwine is another stunning book for middle-graders. It is about sixteen-year-old identical twins Giselle and Isabelle Boyer. They are talented musicians and live life like any other teenager except for the strong bond uniting the sisters. Also their life is a bit topsy-turvy for now as their parents have announced their separation though continue to live under the same roof. En route to a concert the family is involved in a horrific accident that rips their family apart. Just as the girls had to be untwined at birth from each other during the C-section performed on their mother, after the accident, Giselle has to learn to untwine herself in every sense of the word from her sister, Isabelle, who is no more. It is an excrutiating process as Giselle feels the absence of her twin sister very strongly.

“Split in half sometimes, and at other times walking, living, breathing for two. Two hearts are beating in one chest,but it feels like no heart at all.”

It is an extremely moving tale for any reader but if you are a twin ( as I am) the searing pain experienced upon reading the story is unforgettable.

Both the books —The Crystal Ribbon and Untwine –are written for young adult readers expressly but they are both such magnificently exquisite stories told ever so elegantly that they will be forever treasured.

Celeste Lim The Crystal Ribbon Scholastic Press, New York, 2017. Hb. pp.340 

Edwidge Danticat Untwine: A Novel Scholastic Press, New York, 2015. Hb. pp. 310

( Both the books are available in India courtesy Scholastic India as well.)

16 February 2018 

“Suragi” by U. R. Ananthamurthy

The  distinguished Kannada writer and public intellectual U. R. Ananthamurthy ( 1932-2014) dictated his “memoir”, rather memories to Ja Na Tejashri, Kannada poet and professor, in the last few months of his life. He was extremely ill and was being dialysed regularly. The notes were structured in U. R. Ananthamurthy’s lifetime under his guidance. Initially his preference had been for a conversational and informal approach. When he saw the first few trasnscribed pages, he found the style difficult to read and called for a more formal approach. Eventually, Tejashri helped him find a balance he was comfortable with: she recorded him, scribbled notes, touched up her trasnscriptions, and rearranged the episodes in chronological order. Ananthamurthy was keen to see this work translated in English. It only happened a year and a half after he passed away when at the behest of his son-in-law and novelist Vivek Shanbhag who requested S. R. Ramakrishna to translate the 450-page book Suragi. Shanbhag was merely reiterating the request Ananthamurthy had asked of Ramakrishna. 

U. R. Ananthamurthy was honoured with the Jnanpith Award in 1994 adn Padma Bhushan in 1998, and was one of the finalists of the Man Booker International Prize in 2013. 

Suragi has now been published by Oxford University Press India. The memoir is so named after the flower Ananthamurthy loved which gives out more fragrance as it fades. This is an incredible book recounting his life as a writer and a public intellectual through India and England. It is an exceptionally absorbing read given how he acutely witnesses, observes and reflects often upon the role of a writer, particularly that of an Indian writer, in society. There are many parts of this book that are worth reflecting upon given their relevance even today. The section on “the Indian writer’s dilemmas” is particularly powerful. For instance while commenting upon the role of writers during the Emergency his statements assume wider ramifications, echoing into modern India, decades later:

India’s biggest problem is hypocrisy. Intellectual hypocirsy has taken root deeper than we imagine. …A mind that hesitates to what must be said becomes corrupt. …The spirit of the times is such that we have compromised with everything. Nothing troubles us. We feel no psychological torment. …We are not troubled as we should be. The reason is that our spirit is feeble. There is no connection between our convictions, our actions, and our truths. …That is why speech is devalued.

Ananthamurthy’s confidently outspoken voice is to be treasured and is deeply missed. Take for instance the following extract “Moment Transcending Time and Space” which is being reproduced here with the explicit permission of the publishers, Oxford University Press India. 

Moment Transcending Time and Space

On the rare occasions we go beyond time and space, we see truths not just from the past but also those relevant to the present. I experienced this one night in Nepal. In 1996, some Indian writers spent three days with writers from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. A Himalayan range loomed behind the resort where we were staying. The snow-clad mountains could be seen from the lounge and also from our rooms. It was an informal meeting, with no agenda, where the idea was to sit and chat and share our thoughts and feelings. This was after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. The anxiety of whether our nations could rise above communal hatred had brought us all together.
Siddhartha, a friend from Bengaluru, had organized this conclave. He has set up an ashram called Firefl ies in Bengaluru. Born a Christian, Siddhartha was drawn to Buddhism. He blends thought with action. Another writer at the conclave was my dear departed friend D.R. Nagaraj (1954–1998). He was drawn to two extremes—the Buddhist vision of emptiness that rejects even the idea of the soul, and the Nietzschean assertion of the intellect against the Christian concept of sin.

I will only name one participant who had come from elsewhere: Urdu writer Intizar Hussain (1923–2016). Each writer spoke openly about the truths of their experience, without trying to justify themselves. They spoke of things they couldn’t speak about in their countries. Women writers had come from Pakistan and Bangladesh, and I feel I should only convey what they expressed, keeping them anonymous.

Among the writers from Bangladesh was a Hindu. We gathered he was a big poet there. He was fidgeting with a palmtop he had bought in the Nepal black market. It was a device on which one could take notes. He was trying to fi gure out how it worked, and muttering in frustration when he couldn’t. He said the moment the Babri Masjid was demolished, several Kali temples in Dhaka had been brought down. ‘Why don’t any of you speak about it? I am no Kali devotee but I don’t like the hypocrisy of your secular position.’ No one argued with him. The other Bangla writers said he was speaking from the heart. Everyone was keen to break the vicious cycle of blaming the other to justify one’s own actions. Having said his bit, the Hindu writer from Bangladesh shared in our anxieties.

It has become a politically correct ritual for us to talk about Muslim violence when we want to condemn Hindu violence, and Hindu violence when we want to condemn Muslim violence. We respond with cleverness when we lose the ability to see the victims as humans like us. The objective of this meeting, with both Hindus and Muslims, was to rid ourselves of such self-justification. I share a conversation that suggests we were successful.

We were lounging around comfortably, resting on mats and lolling on cushions. A middle-aged woman writer from Bangladesh began her tale softly, with her friendly, smiling eyes closed. She was the only woman writer wearing a sari. Her luxuriant, uncombed hair cascaded on her breasts. Perhaps she was secure in the confi dence that all of us were looking at her with compassion.

When she began, she addressed everyone. As she progressed, she seemed to be directing her words to the male writers from Pakistan. Towards the end, her voice became tremulous. She was an ordinary woman speaking about the war Pakistan had fought with her country, then called East Pakistan. Her husband had been a professor at Dhaka University. He had campaigned for Bengali as a second official language. One day he routinely left for the university and didn’t return. The evening turned to night. A day passed, then two. Their two children didn’t go to school. They
stayed at home, awaiting his return. They couldn’t venture out— Pakistani soldiers were everywhere, brandishing their guns.

After two days she went to the university with other women looking for their husbands. What did they fi nd? A heap of corpses. They had to sift through the heap to fi nd their respective husbands. The writer must have told this story several times. But it was perhaps for the fi rst time she was telling it in the presence of writers from Pakistan, whose soldiers had killed her husband. I was sitting beside Intizar Hussain’s. Like his friend Bhutto, he had stood by Jinnah, believing a separate country was necessary to practise and promote Islam without let or hindrance. He had
migrated from his native place to become a Pakistani. He was a big writer in Urdu, and earned a living from writing for the Dawn. The Bangladeshi writer said, ‘Tell me, where is Islam in all this? What is the use of what the Quran says? My husband was a Muslim too but they killed him in the name of Islam. Can you imagine what I went through as I searched for him among hundreds of corpses?’

The sharp-nosed Intizar Hussain had placed his hands on his lap, in a meditative pose, and was listening to her. When the Bangladeshi writer concluded, a young woman writer from Pakistan began to sob uncontrollably. Intizar Hussain slowly raised his head. His eyes were moist, and tears rolled down his cheeks. ‘On behalf of my country I apologize to you,’ he said in English. ‘What can I say but that we are all unwittingly implicated in the murder of your husband?’ He looked at the other Pakistani writers for approval. The three women writers bowed their heads,
endorsing his words with tears.

This is an incident I will never forget. The human is dwarfed by the idea of the nation state. He loses his sense of right and wrong, and becomes a nationalist. In the Second World War, such nationalism made monsters of the Japanese and the Germans. Even ordinary folks turn blind. The atom bomb dropped by the Americans on Hiroshima and Nagasaki destroyed everything. Communist nations can justify their crimes using the words of Marx. Muslim nations can justify their crimes using the Prophet. It is equally true that Christian nations can use the Bible to justify
their actions. Those hiding behind nationalism wreak a lot of damage before we wake up and criticize them.

To escape the mass hysteria of nationalism, we must always fearlessly keep extending a hand of friendship to other humane thinkers. I recall an incident. When we met in Berlin, I mooted with Intizar Hussain the idea of our Sahitya Akademi publishing an anthology of Pakistani literature to mark the fi ftieth anniversary of our two countries attaining Independence. Like India, Pakistan has a diversity of languages: Punjabi, Sindhi, and others. I wrote to
Intizar Hussain asking if he could edit an anthology of stories from all such languages in Urdu translation.

At the Sahitya Akademi’s executive committee meeting, some friends expressed their reservations. How could we publish a story that might speak against India? I said, ‘Intizar is a sensitive writer. He will never choose anything that promotes hatred. Leave it to me. I will take the risk.’ As the book was being finalized for publication, we faced another problem. How do we pay the writers? The two nations had no agreement to make payments possible. I
explained this to Intizar, who then spoke to the contributors to the anthology. We got letters from them, with some saying they were honoured the Sahitya Akademi, which gets grants from the Indian government, was publishing them. Just send us some copies. We don’t expect any money. Our country didn’t have the vision that Nehru did. We don’t have an independent academy, they wrote. When I met Intizar at a SAARC literary conference in Delhi, he said, ‘We have no other book in Urdu with writing from other Pakistani languages. The anthology you published is now a
textbook in our colleges.’

U. R. Anathamurthy Suragi ( Transcribed and compiled by Ja Na Tejashri. Translated from Kannada by S. R. Ramakrishna ) Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2018. Pb, pp.380 Rs.650

16 February 2018 

 

Marilynne Robinson “When I was a child I read books”


At the church garden fete I got lucky at the secondhand bookstall and bought a pile of books. One of these was Marilynne Robinson’s When I was a child I read books . It was published in 2012 and consists of her essays about literature and faith. She argues that her writing and probably that of others derives from the myriad experiences a writer garners in life. It could be from different aspects such as one’s reading, religious practices, academic discipline etc. In her essay “Freedom of thought” from which the following extract is taken she explores this argument in depth. 

******

There is a great difference, in fiction and in life, between knowing someone and knowing about someone. When a writer knows about his character he is writing for plot. When he knows his character he is writing to explore, to feel reality on a set of nerves somehow not quite his own. Words like “sympathy,” “empathy,” and “compassion” are overworked and overcharged — there is no word for the experience of seeing an embrace at a subway stop or hearing an argument at the next table in a restaurant. Every such instance has its own emotional coloration, which memory retains or heightens, and so the most sidelong, unintended moment becomes a part of what we have seen of the world. Then, I suppose, these moments, as they have seemed to us, constellate themselves into something a little like spirit, a little like a human presence in its mystery and distinctiveness.

Two questions I can’t really answer about fiction aer (1) where it comes from, and (2) why we need it. But that we do create it and also crave it is beyond dispute. There is a tendency, considered highly rational, to reason from a narrow set of interests, say survival and procreation, which are supposed to govern our lives, and then to treat everything that does not fit this model as anomalous clutter, extraneous to what we are and probably best done without. But all we really know about what we are is what we do. There is atendency to fit a tight and awkward carapace of definition over humankind, and to try to trim the living creature to fit a dead shell. The advice I give my students is the same advice I give myself — forget definition, forget assumption, watch. We inhabit, we are part of, a reality for which explanation is much too poor and small. No physicist would dispute this, though he or she might be less ready than I am to have recourse to the old language and call reality miraculous. By my lights, fiction that does not acknowledge this at least tacitly is not true. Why is it possible to speak of fiction as true or false? I have no idea. But if a time comes when I seem not to be making the distinction with some degree of reliability in my own work, I hope someone will be kind enough to let me know.

When I write fiction, I suppose my attempt is to stimulate the integrative work of a mind perceiving and reflecting, drawing upon culture, memory, conscience, belief or assumption, circumstance, fear, and desire — a mind shaping the moment of experience and response and then reshaping them both as narrative, holding one thought against one another for the effect of affinity or contrast, evaluating and rationalizing, feeling compassion, taking offense. These things do happen simultaneously, after all. None of them is active by itself, and none of them is determinative, because there is that mysterious thing the cognitive scientists call self-awareness, the human ability to consider and appraise one’s own thoughts. I suspect this self-awareness is what people used to call the soul.

Modern discourse is not really comfortable with the word “soul,” and in my opinion the loss of of the word has been disabling, not only to religion but to literature and political thought and to every humane pursuit. In contemporary religious circles, souls, if they are mentioned at all, tend to be spoken of as saved or lost,having answered some set of divine expectations or failed to asnwer them, having arrived at some crucial realization or failed to arrive at it. So the soul, the masterpiece of creation, is more or less reduced to a token signifying cosmic acceptance or rejection, having little or nothing to do with that miraculous thing, the felt experience of life, except insofar as life offers distractions or temptations.

(pp. 6-9)

Marilynne Robinson  When I was a child I read books Virago Press, London, 2012. Pp. pgs. 210 

15 February 2018 

Emma House, Deputy-CEO, Publishers Association UK, speech on Indian publishing industry ( 13 February 2018)

Emma House, Deputy-CEO, Publishers Association UK, gave the following speech on 13 February 2018 at the 32 International Publishers Association Congress held at Hotel Taj, New Delhi. The congress was held in collaboration with the Federation of Indian publishers.  Emma House’s speech has been published with her permission.  The quotes are from the book — Publishers on Publishing — and statistics from Nielsen

WELCOME TO INDIA

For many of you this is your first time to India and although we are on Day 3 of the Congress I hope you will have got a good feel for what India has to offer beyond the world of Bollywood, Cricket and Curry.

I’m going to give you a quick run through of some of the publishing insight I feel visitors to India should know about.

Over the past few days you will have heard some impressive statistics about India which I can add to with further impressive figures about the publishing sector here.

India is the sixth largest economy in the world with a nominal GDP of $2.45 trillion.

India recently overtook China as the fastest growing large economy and is expected to jump up to rank fourth on the list by 2022.

India’s GDP is still highly dependent on agriculture (17%), compared to western countries. However, the services sector has picked up in recent years and now accounts for 57% of the GDP, while industry contributes 26%. India is very much moving towards a knowledge economy.

India has 22 official languages – English is one of them but Hindi is the most common. Marathi, Malyalam, Bengali, Telugu and Tamil languages also have a strong culture of reading.

PUBLISHERS on PUBLISHING: Inside India’s Book Business Edited by Nitasha Devasar is a new publication specially developed for this congress and on sale here at the back of the room, and will provide everyone with valuable insights. Some of the information in my presentation comes from this book.

The publishing industry in India has a long history which has really boomed in the last few decades. It is now behind only the US and UK, ranking 3rd in the world in English language publishing. Many successful Indian publishing companies are family run businesses passing through the generations. In the last 20 – 30 years however we have seen many multi-national publishers set up their Indian offices, firstly as joint ventures but over time becoming wholly owned subsidiaries.

For many years Foreign Direct Investment into India was limited, however this began to change with economic reform in the 1990s leading to real movement in journal publishing from around 2003. The market has opened up since then. We now see over 9000 publishers, in at least 16 languages other than English forming a colourful publishing industry which accommodates the multinationals, independent and family run enterprises publishing in the English and Indian languages. English language publishing in India stands at around 55 per cent of total publishing, 35 per cent is constituted by Hindi, and other Indian languages make up the remaining 15 per cent. The Book Market is estimated to be around 7 billion dollars dominated by academic and K-12 publishing, and important to note – consumer publishing forming only a small percentage of sales.

To give you a flavour of the types of consumer books which are popular in India.

By genre – Children’s Books,  Romance and sagas, Crime Thrillers and literary fiction, Popular Psychology Mind, body and spirit as well as economic and management

BEST SELLING BOOKS 2017:  From both imported titles with world famous names like Harry Potter, Dan Brown, John Green but also home grown Indian voices, many of whom have great standing on the international stage

  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Book 12
  • Dan Brown – Origin
  • Turtles all the way down – John Green
  • Harry Potter
  • This is not your story – Savi Sharma
  • I do what I do – Raghuram G Rajan
  • The boy who loved turtles – Durjoy Datta

These impressive statistics about the population, the economic growth, the size of the publishing industry would all encourage those who look at India for the first time as a market destination for either publishing, selling rights or exporting books as a market of GREAT POTENTIAL.

  • Population – 324 billion and growing
  • Increased literacy rates
  • Increased investment in education
  • Fast growing middle class
  • Much greater promotion of books and reading

However the industry faces many challenges, some common to us all, some unique to India:

  • The size of the market is under-estimated with many book sales unrecorded due to sales through pavement news stands and smaller outlets
  • A large number of publishers, especially in Indian languages do not use ISBNs
  • The pricing model is squeezed in every direction from big increases in property prices and rentals as well as staff salaries, but importantly a challenging supply chain and distribution system which often sees high discounts and extended credit coupled with low levels of pricing and minimal increase in book prices. As a result it’s easier to make sales than make profitable sales, and to be paid promptly
  • Piracy and photocopying is common place

Moving on to what I feel is an incredibly exciting feature about India which needs to be showcased – and that is Online retail. India is in a rare situation of having what The Hindu Business Line called in a recent headline  “A two Horse Race In India – Flipkart Vs Amazon”.

First to the ecommerce market was Flipkart which began its life in 2007, founded by 2 ex-employees of Amazon with venture capital funding. Starting out with books, and addressing the nascent ecommerce market by introducing a cash on delivery model that is still used today, it’s been a turbulent journey for Flipkart, including a phase of when they faded out of the bookselling picture especially with Amazon entering the market. It has however managed to attract investment from Microsoft, Tencent and Ebay. Ten years on from it’s launch, in August 2017, Japanese internet giant SoftBank invested over $2.5 billion in Flipkart to become one of its largest shareholders, with rumours that Walmart could be its next significant investor.

Looking at the ebook market – this remains a small percentage of sales, hovering at around the 5% mark. Flipkart launched its ebook store in November 2012, however the ebooks catalogue was bought by Rakuten (Kobo) in 2015 and customers were transferred to the Kobo platform in recognition of the overwhelmingly dominant nature of the physical book market and Flipkart’s decision to focus on this strategic direction.

Amazon took its first step in the Indian market 5 years after Flipkart in 2012 when it launched Junglee.com, a site which allowed customers to compare prices online but not purchase items directly. At that time, Amazon was not allowed to stock and sell its own products due to Indian regulations preventing multi-brand retailers from selling directly to consumers online.

In June 2013 Amazon launched its marketplace selling books and video content – the model which is still in operation today. And in 2016 it made its move into publishing and purchased Westland (which was a major distributor but started publishing in 2007 and fast became one of the top five English language trade publishers in the country.

The two ecommerce giants now compete fiercely, not only in books, but notably in the mobile phone market. With a fast-growing market of smart phone users, the online market place in India is one which is amongst the fastest growing in the world – so we watch this race with keen interest.

The Book Culture in India

I take a quote from the publication I mentioned at the beginning from -Thomas Abraham, MD, Hachette India who says “There is a need to develop a book culture first and then the retail culture”.

Certainly here in India, the book culture is changing and growing. Firstly with a boom in bookstores across the country including major chains Crossword and Oxford Bookstores as well as fantastic independent bookstores. More recently however is the rise in popularity of literary festivals and book fairs. Anyone who has visited the Delhi World Book Fair or the Jaipur Literature Festival will have seen the hunger for and love of books that is being fostered here in India.

The National Book Trust of India also plays a major role in encouraging reading and literacy, and especially in the more remote places in the country and can be commended for their campaign “Har haath, ek kitab” (one book in every hand), which is a nationwide online books donation drive especially targeting underprivileged children, and aims to build a reading habit among them.

General view all these things really have helped foster the reading culture and there is always more to do.

Self-publishing is increasing in popularity in India  – Kindle Direct Publishing is now possible in a range of Indian languages as well as the emergence of a range of other self-publishing platforms.

Another issue which has been featured over the past few days is the matter of “Freedom to Publish”, a topic which is being hotly debated here in India. India which whilst being a fiercely democratic country has defamation laws, which make publishers, not just authors, subject to criminal prosecution. A section of India’s penal code criminalizes “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” Such acts, which the law says can be spoken or written, are punishable with up to three years imprisonment and fines.

This played out in a very public case in 2014 with a book by author Wendy Donniger The Hindus: An Alternative History, which was banned for its controversial content, following an extensive legal battle. This case and other similar cases have prompted huge concerns for Free Speech in India

Despite the challenges that the Indian publishing industry faces, there is much to be optimistic about. It’s certainly never a dull moment in this land of opportunity and I for one look forward to seeing how the market develops, how is continues to address the challenges and seize the vast opportunities to continue to build a book loving country that produces world leading content.

 

15 February 2018 

Scholastic Corporation Rings the Nasdaq Stock Market Opening Bell

On 14 February 2018 to coincide with the birthday of beloved children’s character Clifford, Scholastic Corporation Rang the Nasdaq Stock Market Opening Bell .

[Here is the text from the press release]

Scholastic Corporation (Nasdaq: SCHL), the global children’s publishing, education and media company, will visit the Nasdaq MarketSite in Times Square on Valentine’s Day in honor of Clifford The Big Red Dog’s birthday.

Dick Robinson, Chairman, President and CEO of Scholastic, will be joined by the beloved literary icon Clifford as well as Scholastic employees with their children to ring the Opening Bell. For more than 55 years, Clifford has added joy to the lives of millions of children and has grown from a bestselling book series by the late, great Norman Bridwell into an iconic global brand. Today, there are more than 130 million Clifford books in print – plus a Clifford television series (currently on Netflix and through iTunes and Google Play), toys, games, ebooks, and interactive products, so that children can interact with Clifford wherever and whenever they like.

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Scholastic India have a large presence locally too.

15 February 2018 

Richard Ford “Between Them”

I know he didn’t take pleasure in books — where he could’ve found what we all find if we don’t have faith: testimony that there is an alternate way to think about life, different from the ways we’re naturally equipped. Seeking imaginative alternatives would not have been his habit. 

Between Them by Pulitzer prize winning author Richard Ford is a warmly told elegy to his parents — Parker Ford and Edna Akins. The title “Between Them” can be misleading for it implies that Richard Ford was a disruption in his parent’s lives. Whereas the portraits he creates via the two essays written decades apart about his parents is of the warmth, love and laughter that existed in their home. His father was a salesman selling starch and had to be on the road every week, returning home for the weekend. His parents were very close to each other having fallen in love at a very young age, married soon thereaafter and always remained together. For years they travelled together on the road selling starch. Fifteen years later their son was born. With the birth of Richard his parents had to make a few adjustments to their lives particularly as his schooling began, the biggest change for the close couple was to live apart for five days of the week.

Yet as Richard Ford writes in this excerpt published in Granta:

As time went on, did I ever sense that something was wrong between them? No. It was my child’s outlook to think most things were right. And yet if life’s eternal drama is of events seeking a more perfect state, their life and mine was not that. My recalled feelings over that time – my little-boy life, in Jackson, on Congress, in my first years, in the forties and beginning fifties – are of a hectic, changing, provisional existence. They loved me, protected me. But the experience of life was of events, of things and people in motion, and of being often alone and to the side of things. Which did not make me sorry and does not now.

Richard Ford wrote the essay remembering his father fifty-five years after his death whereas the essay about his mother was written soon after she passed away in 1981. Yet he published the essays in 2017 arranging the later written essay about his father first and that about his mother second. A telling arrangement since his memories about his father come through as being crystal clear. It is a straightforward narrative about a young boy recollecting his relationship with a more or less absent father since he was on the road mostly and then to lose him entirely when Richard was merely sixteen. It helps the reader considerably to get a narrative about America of the 1930s and the undeniable achievement of Ford Sr. to hold a job through the Depression. The account of his mother with whom he seems to have had a  closer relationship is a bit fuzzier with the adult Richard Ford tweaking his boyhood memories vis-a-vis his mother.

These tenderly written essays are memorable for not only being a deeply personal account by Ford of his family but also for the meditative aspect — for making the reader too introspect on the idea of family, love, memories.

Richard Ford Between Them: Remembering my Parents Bloombsury Publishing, London, 2017. Hb. pp. 180 Rs. 499