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Avengers books for children

Avengers:Infinity War is breaking all records at the box office worldwide! With its opening weekend alone it had broken records in many countries. Given the huge success of the Avenger films made by Marvel Studios in association with Disney the licensing of the characters for books is a small step away. Some of the books available in India via Scholastic are:

 

 

 

All these books and more, including The Heroes’s Journey are available in Scholastic school book fairs and online retail.

2 May 2018 

 

 

Taslima Nasrin’s “Split: A Life”

…the director general [ of the Bangla Academy] raised his eyebrows and turned to me…’Despite being a woman why do you try and write like a man?….’

‘Why should I write like a man? I write what I feel,’ I countered immediately. 

This exchange between the Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin and the Bangla Academy director general Harunur Rashi takes place at a book fair where a procession had been organised by the Taslima Nasrin Suppression Committee, “to quash the nefarious ‘sex writer’ Taslima Nasrin”. This incident happened on 17 February 1992.

On 6 December 1992 after the destruction of the Babri Masjid there were communal clashes in India and Bangladesh. Taslima Nasrin was deeply disturbed by the riots and wrote Lajja ( Shame). It was a book which made her an international name even though it was banned in Bangladesh shortly thereafter.

Her memoir Dwikhondito ( 2003) now translated as Split: In Two by Maharghya Chakraborty met a similar fate when it was banned in West Bengal, India. It was banned by the West Bengal government for allegedly hurting sentiments of the Muslim community. The government lifted injunction after the ban was struck down by the Calcutta High Court in 2005. Yet in the English edition of the memoir published by Penguin Random House India there is a blank page with a note by the author.

Split is a memoir by an author who achieved fame fairly early on in her literary career. It is not very clear if the memoir was written at one go or over a period of time. There is no author’s note or a translator’s note in the book making it a little challenging to figure out the context. The memoir is presented as more or less a chronological narrative of a writer’s awakening, not necessarily an autobiographical account of Taslima Nasrin. Reading it from cover to cover a confident tenor to the writing is discernible particularly after Taslima Nasrin wins the Ananda Puraskar in early 1990s. It is a watershed moment in her literary career not least because she was the first writer from Bangladesh to have been awarded what is considered to be the Nobel Prize of Bengali literature. Writers senior to her in age and work had been ignored. The change in her writing style is apparent not only in the manner in which she asserts herself in company with other writers, shares her views on a variety of subjects and takes the social responsibility of an author seriously. She is at the same time grappling with the very serious threat to her life on the basis of her writing and despite her mother’s pleas Taslima Nasrin never tempers her tone.

A snippet from her acceptance speech of the Ananda Puraskar illustrates why her feminist views were not being tolerated in an increasingly conservative society.

Our scriptures and ther rules governing our society would like to reinforce one primary fact: that women cannot have independence. But a woman who is not physically and mentally independent cannot claim to be a complete human being either. Freedom is primary and a woman’s freedom has now been put under arrest by the state, with religion being the chief impediment to her natural growth. Because religion is there most women are still illiterate, deprived of property, more are married off when they are children and are victims of polygamy, talaq and widowhood. Because men wish to serve only their own ends, they have defined and valourized a woman’s feministy, chastity and maternal instincts. 

There are many sections in the book that are fascinating to read for the insight it offers in the evolution of a woman writer particuarly when Taslima Nasrin chooses to reflect. There is an almost meditative quality to her writing in those passages that haunt her writing. These are the better parts in Split as compared to the long sections about her relationships and her family which tend to meander. These instances are significant for her growth as an individual and as a writer since with each relationship she realises what exactly she desires, and it is not always male companionship. Unfortunately these sections are not as well written as those in which she comments upon literature, Bengali literary society in Bangladesh and West Bengal and reflects upon what interests her as a writer.

Split will probably be viewed in coming years as seminal as the writing by other women writers from the subcontinent such as Salma’s Hour Past Midnight and Bama’s Karukku. Taslima Nasrin’s Split‘s relevance to contemporary politics in the subcontinent and not just Bangladesh for the issues it raises about censorship, women’s rights, religious intolerance, freedom of speech, right to live and equality among men and women are critical particularly in this age of religious fundamentalism blowing across nations.

Spare some time and read it.

Taslima Nasrin Split: A Life ( translated by Maharghya Chakraborty) Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of Penguin Random House India, 2018. Hb. pp. 502. Rs. 599

19 March 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  

“The Boy, The Bird and The Coffin Maker” by

The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker    by Australian writer Matilda Woods is exquisite! It is as the title says about three unlikely companions — the boy, the bird and the coffin maker. It is a tale seeped in grief but also in so much beauty and hope. It is utterly magical. Unexpectedly the reader falls headlong into the story from the first line. It has been beautifully illustrated in two tones by Anuska Allepuz with details on every page, full page illustrations tipped in and the end covers are a dream. The art work complements the story fabulously without really constraining the imagination of the reader by attempting to illustrate every description in the story.  The book is a keeper. Matilda Woods next book will be orth looking out for.

Read it!

Matilda Woods The Boy, The Bird and the Coffin Maker Scholastic. 2017. Pb. 

11 February 2018 

 

 

Gurmehar Kaur’s “Small Acts of Freedom”

‘That is not how friendships work and that is not how you win people. You can’t win with authority or dictatorship. You don’t want to be feared; you want to be loved and being loved is so much more a happier feeling than fear.’

That day I learnt one of the most important lessons of my life: my father’s weapons may have been guns and ammunition, but my weapons had to be peace. Always. 

Gurmehar Kaur, an undergraduate student at University of Delhi, “shot to fame” when she started a protest against the ruling nationalist party Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) student wing, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), who had behaved violently and disrupted a seminar being held at Ramjas College [in February 2017]. She posted a picture of herself on a social media site holding up a placard that read: “I am a student of Delhi University. I am not afraid of the ABVP. I am not alone. Every student of India is with me.”’ ( #studentsagainstABVP ) Overnight this petite, poised and soft-spoken student became the face of the student protests. Being the daughter of an Army officer who had been killed in the Kargil war when she was a toddler and speaking of peace was completely unacceptable to the fundamentalists. It unleashed a series of horrific abuse directed at this young girl. She was threatened with rape, she was trolled, right wing sympathisers mocked her and she was even compared to the most wanted terrorist in India, Dawood Ibrahim. All this was completely uncalled for but was in keeping with the nationalist fervour espoused by the “nationalists”. ( Scroll, 7 Feb 2018, “The abuse of soldier’s daughter Gurmehar Kaur shows that Savarkarite nationalism is on the rise” )

Gurmehar Kaur dropped out of the Ramjas student protest campaign but her inherent belief in peace building measures is the best way forward in such adverse times, divided opinion. Many commended Gurmehar Kaur for speaking wisely while many others bayed for her blood. It did not deter her and she continues to promote free speech. So much so that in October 2017, TIME magazine featured her in their list of next generation of leaders 2017. She was called a “free speech warrior”. Probably given the worldwide sensation she had become Gurmehar Kaur was offered a book contract by Penguin Random House India to write her story.

Small Acts of Freedom was published recently. It is a slim memoir. Although in her introduction to the book she recounts her involvement in the Ramjas college protests but chooses not to mention it at all in later chapters. Instead she prefers to dwell upon the incidents preceding the incident. Her life as that of a two-year-old girl and a younger sister brought up by a widowed mother and a maternal grandmother. How desperately they miss their father/husband but their mother ensures his memory is kept alive. It is a well-written account by a young woman who has been catapulted into the limelight and has had to learn to mature rapidly as an adult. Yet the simple language used and at times the wide-eyed wonder about her memories such as that of her grandmother hiding the chocolates indicates how close she is still in years to her childhood. She grew up in Punjab, a state which had been worst affected by the violence of Partition in 1947, and whose repurcussions were being felt decades later. In the 1990s Punjab was terribly affected by the separatist Khalistan movement and it had disrupted civil society considerably. Violence was all around. It was in this atmosphere that Gurmehar spent her childhood, listening to vicious talk of the adults spewing hatred particularly towards Pakistan, when it was her father who had been martyred in the war against Pakistanis and he was the one who had inculcated in his daughter the love for peace.

Gurmehar Kaur lacks the perspective ( which comes with age and experience) and tools of academic discourse to dissect and analyse why she did what she did in February 2017 but her firm resolve to do what is best as her upbringing has taught her is what shines through in Small Acts of Freedom. The curious structure of the text with its shifting points of view is very smartly done. To capture these shifts in voices and different tenses is either a class act by a master craftsman or it is simply who she is, wanting to accommodate the important women in her life. The chapters too alternate between different decades — her mother’s childhood and marriage in ’70s and ’80s– to what Gurmehar remembers of her life in late ’90s. Laying down in words a narrative which is so complicated like this while allowing it to flow seamlessly is an astounding feat in one so young. At times it seems as if the story is moving chronologically when it is suddenly disrupted seemingly while the main narrative goes off at a tangent — much as if this tale is being narrated orally with tiny stories embedded within it.

All said and done it is a readable book highlighting what Gurmehar Kaur has learned at home as well as learned to overcome slights at her expense. It is a timely book since Gurmehar Kaur is perceived as the face of student protests in Delhi but she is also an icon for the youth, a messenger of peace and hope.

Read it.

Gurmehar Kaur Small Acts of Freedom Penguin Books, India, 2018. Pb. pp. 200 Rs. 299

7 February 2018 

“Season of Crimson Blossoms” by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

It occurred to her then that in the final analysis, dreams can be dainty and beautiful, like butterflies, and just as fragile. 

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s debut novel Season of Crimson Blossoms is about the love affair of  fifty-five-year-old grandmother and widow Binta Zubairu with a twenty-six-year-year-old local ganster Hassan Reza. They met when Binta stumbled upon Hassan robbing her home. The story is set in conservative Islamic Northern Nigeria where an affair such as this would be frowned upon, let alone the vast age difference between the two. It is complicated further as Hassan Reza reminds Binta of her son who passed away many years ago. Similarly Binta reminds Hassan Reza of his mother! For a while the two are able to keep their affair a secret until it is discovered — it has explosive repurcussions. Not only upon the immediate family but society too. The women at the local madarasa are unforgiving and hostile.

Season of Crimson Blossoms is an extremely powerful book for its sharp etching of Nigerian society. At the same time if plucked out of context these scenarios would probably not be unusual in any other country. It is not necessarily a story about the love affair of a far older women with a man young enough to be her son and the moral implications of it. Not at all! It can also be construed as a commentary upon the extreme conservatism that exists in various pockets of this world.  Within these spaces are to be found individuals with a fiesty spirit and a strong free will who are most often unable to express themselves sufficiently for the presence of the conscience keepers in their homes and communities. It is also fascinating to read how deftly the author creates the story offering different perspectives but the strongest that shines through is that of Binta and it is done ever so gently that it creates empathy for her character in the reader’s mind. The harsh judgement that the women folk at the madarasa pronounce upon Binta hurts and anger’s the reader as much as it does Binta. Life is certainly as fragile as butterflies!

It is no surprise then that this debut novel won the prestigious Nigerian prize for Literature worth $100,000. Abubakar Adam Ibrahim won the prize after defeating 173 other writers including Caine Prize winner Elnathan John for Born on a Tuesday  and past winner Chika Unigwe for  Night Dancer .

Season of Crimson Blossoms is extraordinary. Days after the book is over, one cannot help but think about it constantly.

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim Season of Crimson Blossoms Speaking Tiger, New Delhi, 2017. Pb. pp. 290. Rs. 499.

31 January 2018 

“A Time for Madness: Memoir of Partition” Salman Rashid

[ Desh Bhagat Yadgar]…A large property set in sprawling grounds shaded by beautiful spreading treews, the Yadgar comprises a couple of auditoriums, a hostel of some dozen rooms and a busy kitchen. 

The hall commemorates martys of the 1857 upheaval —Mutiny for the British and War of Independence for the people of the subcontinent. Black and white framed images, some of poor resolution, others better, of those heroes and heroines adorn the walls of a ground floor auditorium. There were also a few paintings, presumably of those whose camera image was not available. If I am not wrong, there would be upward of two hundred images in all. And unlike us in Pakistan where we sing only of Islam, the commemoration at Desh Bhagat rests on loyalty to the land. It has nothing to do with one’s creed. 

Mohinder Pratap Sehgal and Pundit Fakir Chand Sangar, my only two links with a part of my family I have never got to know, have gone into the great beyond. My real link with that past is severed. …I am grateful too to Mohinder Pratap for his heartfelt apology when we first met. We need more men like him on both sides of the border, men who have the moral courage to admit they or the generation before them perpetrated. We need also men, particularly in Pakistan, who can admit the errors of the past seven decades and begin to make amends. Only then will there be peace. Only then will we know that we are, after all, brothers.

A Time of Madness is a slim memoir by Pakistan’s leading travel writer. It is about his reverse journey to India to find out more about the place his family left in 1947 — at the time of the partitioning of the sub-continent. It may be a personal journey but it is equally relevant seventy years after Independence to remember that many lives were affected by the 1947 violence. Also there is no point in perpetuating senseless hatred and creating a hostile and vicious atmosphere. It is critical to recognise that ultimately all those living in the sub-continent were once upon a time one nation that was brutally carved up by the exiting colonial rulers as a form of appeasement to the politicians but it was also the culmination of their cruel 19C Divide and Rule Policy which was instituted to create a communal rift amongst Indians. Unfortunately it worked in favour of the local politicians in the 20C to continue with these communal colours that has resulted in the hardened stands of the nations in the 21C. It is all very unfortunate. So it is refreshing to read A Time of Madness that hopes there will be some softening of stands and amends made in the near future.

Not sure if it ever will be but one lives in hope!

Here are two good reviews of the book — The Hindu and The Wire .

Salman Rashid A Time for Madness: Memoir of Partition Aleph Book Company, Delhi, 2017. Pp. 130 pb. Rs 299 

30 January 2017 

Poetry in India

For some peculiar reason poetry is quoted and used extensively everywhere but rarely does it get a regular space in a publishing house. It is often said poetry is too complicated to publish and to sell. It is subjective. Also many customers prefer to read poetry at the store and put the book back on the shelf. For many poets in India, self-publishing their poems has been popular. For generations of poets the go-to place was Writers Workshop begun by the late P. Lal. Some of the poets published by Writers Workshop included Vikram Seth, Agha Shahid Ali, Adil Jussawalla, Arun Kolatkar, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Jayanta Mahapatra, Keki Daruwalla, Kamala Das, Meena Alexander, Nissim Ezekiel, and Ruskin Bond. Some of the other publishing houses published occasional volumes of poetry too.

Of late the practice has continued. Only the rare volume or two is published. Aleph Book Company has published some fine volumes of poetry which has included translations ( Mirabai and Tirukkal) and contemporary poets such as Jeet Thayil, Sridala Swami and Vikram Seth. Some years ago Harper Collins India published The HarperCollins Book Of English Poetry (ed. Sudeep Sen) and recently the excellent collection of poems by Tishani Doshi Girls are Coming Out of the Woods. Also that of  Sharanya Manivannan ‘s The Altar of the Only World which is considered as well to be a very good volume. Penguin Random House India has a reputation for publishing good volumes of poetry particularly of established poets such as 60 Indian Poets edited by Jeet Thayil. A volume to look forward to in 2018 will be Ranjit Hoskote’s Jonahwhale . The feminist publishing house Zubaan books published a fascinating experimental volume Andal: The Autobiography of a Goddess edited and translated by Priya Sarukkai Chhabra and Ravi Shankar.

Speaking Tiger Books has begun to actively publish poetry — at least far more frequently than the other firms. In the past few months alone some of their titles include Rohinton Daruwala’s The Sand Libraries of Timbuktu: Poems  ; Manohar Shetty’s Full Disclosure: New and Collected Poems (1981-2017) ;  C.P. Surendran’s Available Light: New and Collected Poems ; Guru T. Ladakhi’s Monk on a Hill: Poems ; Ralph Russell’s translations and edited by Marion Molteno A Thousand Yearnings: A Book of Urdu Poetry & Prose  ; Ruskin Bond’s I Was the Wind Last Night: New and Collected Poems ; Michael Creighton’s New Delhi Love Songs: PoemsLater this year the Sahitya Akademi is publishing what looks to be a promising collection of poetry by “younger Indians”, edited and selected by noted poet Sudeep Sen.

Having said that the self-publishing initiatives still continue. For instance a young poet and writer ( and journalist) Debyajyoti Sarma launched the i, write, imprint, press to publish poetry. Some of the poets published ( apart from him) include noted playwright Ramu Ramanathan, Uttaran Das Gupta, Sananta Tanty  and Paresh Tiwari. 

Now there are more opportunities for poets to publish in literary magazines as well. For instance well-known poet Sampurna Chattarji has been appointed the poetry editor of IQ magazine and is looking for submissions and hoping to be read as well! She writes about it on her blog. Another active space for poets is Poetry at Sangam which is edited by Priya Sarukkai Chhabra. It showcases poetry in English and translations as well as essays on poetics and news of new releases. Another vibrant space for poetry especially Urdu is the Jashn-e-Rekhta festival. 

There are plenty more initiatives in other local languages, meet ups, open mike sessions etc where poets can recite/perform their work. In the past decade there has been a noticeable increase in these events whether informal groups that meet at local parks or coffee shops to more formal settings as a curated evening.

Undoubtedly poets and their poetry is thriving, just more publishers are needed to publish the poets.

6 January 2018 

 

 

 

 

An interview with Manoj Pandey, curator of “StickLit”

Manoj Pandey, curator of #StickLit, Literature on Stickers, believes that literature needs to be made more public and the elitism needs to be removed from it. Hence he co-founded the movement #StickLit. There are stickers being posted worldwide on streets and in multiple languages.

Here are excerpts from an email interview with Manoj Pandey:

How did #StickLit come about?
In the same manner #MeToo did. It just surfaced. Because enough was enough. In this case it was the abuse of talent and passion. By institutions of art and literature.

Do you find that with the digital tools, literature has become accessible to many more people but at the same time, ironically elitist?
Yes, because digital has no reach or impact.

Who are the writers contributing snippets on the stickers? Are these new writers or established writers?
They have chosen to remain anonymous. It could be anyone, from household names to rising stars to nobody. They’re just people who’re thrilled by radical ideas such as Aristotle being read by a rickshaw puller. They feel that even this dialogue between two disparate minds, Aristotle and the rickshaw puller, deserves a chance. They feel that even a rickshaw puller deserves more than just a marginal experience. He too deserves once in a day to entertain a phrase such as: ‘To be or not to be.’ He too deserves the luxury of thought.

Who is selecting, rather curating, the information on the stickers?
We initiated it. But now the network and the movement has its own independent bases. Which no one has control over. The power is in the hands of the writers and the artists who feel for the cause and are doing their bit.

Who can print and paste the stickers? As the co-founder of the movement do you keep an eye on all the material using your platform or is it democratic in its use allowing anyone and everyone to use it? ( In this article on #JLF read what Sanjoy Roy has to say about making literature accessible to everyone. Sanjoy Roy’s favourite memory was the most heart-warming of them all; he narrated the story of how once an underprivileged man walking with his child was stopped by the security guard, because he “didn’t look like he belonged”. )
Like I said we initiated it. But now we have no control over it. And we don’t want to also. We wanted to question the institutions on why they’ve turned this dialogue between a writer and a reader merely into a function of money. We wanted to shake things a little before a book, too, turned into a bottle of cola. Or a candy. We wanted to bring back joy in the simple act of writing. That’s all.

Will these stickers be available in all languages or only Hindi and English to begin with?
It’ll be available in as many regional languages as possible.

Why are the authors not identified on the stickers? Does it not defeat the purpose of making literature available to everyone? Or is this a design restriction of being unable to accommodate the writer and translator?
Purpose comes before the person. This whole system of credit, brand name, following, etc., were created by marketers. Note: this is not a promotional platform for authors to sell their work.

2 January 2018 

 

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing Author Academy

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing Author Academy – Discover your journey into the world of self-publishing with Amazon KDP! – This Academy is geared towards budding writers to help them understand and learn from the experiences of established authors who have taken the route of self-publishing.

It has organised very successful events in Delhi and Kolkatta in the past to showcase the KDP programme. Now in 2017 two events will be organised in Delhi ( 10 Oct 2017) and Mumbai ( early Nov, tbc).

For details visit the link

The events are free. Registration is mandatory. Please email to confirm participation & city: jayabhattacharjirose1@gmail.com .

 

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose
International publishing consultant