Amandeep Sandhu Posts

Book Post 48: 22-28 Oct 2019

Book Post 48 includes some of the titles received in the past few weeks. Wherever available Amazon’s Kindle widget has been embedded in the blog post. It will allow you to browse through the book before you decide to buy it.

29 Oct 2019

Press Release, Literary event, Embassy of Ireland, India ( 16 Oct 2014)

Press Release, Literary event, Embassy of Ireland, India ( 16 Oct 2014)

Press Release

(L-R) Paro Anand, Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, Amandeep Sandhu, Samanth Subramanian and H.E. Ambassador Feilim McLaughlin

(L-R) Paro Anand, Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, Amandeep Sandhu, Samanth Subramanian and H.E. Ambassador Feilim McLaughlin

On Thursday, 16 Oct 2014, H.E. Ambassador Feilim McLaughlin of Ireland hosted a literary soiree at his residence. It was organized to commemorate the centenary of World War I.  The event consisted of an exhibition on the Irish poet W.B. Yeats and a panel discussion on “Conflict and Literature”. The panelists were three Indian authors/journalists—Paro Anand, Samanth Subramanian and Amandeep Sandhu and the discussion was moderated by Ambassador McLaughlin. Ambassador of Ireland Feilim McLaughlin said the event was intended to explore the role of the writer in portraying or interpreting conflict, drawing parallels between the experience in Ireland and South Asia. The evening was curated by Jaya Bhattacharji Rose.

Panel discussion on "Conflict and Literature", moderated by H.E. Ambassador Feilim McLaughlin

Panel discussion on “Conflict and Literature”, moderated by H.E. Ambassador Feilim McLaughlin

It was a one-of-a-kind evening with the lovely ambience and Irish music playing in the background. The three panelists were authors who had lived, worked with or interviewed persons in conflict zones in different parts of South Asia. Their personal stories and reading of relevant portions from their published works were straight from the heart. The invitees were handpicked. The three Indian authors who spoke were Paro Anand whose YA novel No Guns at My Son’s Funeral is being turned into a film; Amandeep Sandhu, author of the critically acclaimed testimonial fiction Roll of Honour and Samanth Subramanian who has recently published The Divided Island, reportage from Sri Lanka. The select audience were mesmerized silent by the readings and interaction ofAt the Irish Embassy, New Delhi. 16 Oct 2014 the authors. Several shed a tear or two. Most had a lump in their throat. The topics or narrated experiences hit a raw chord in many, especially those with a background or family from Partition, ’84 riots and communal conflicts. Author, Dr Kimberley Chawla says, “In this day and age, one tends to forget or ignore conflict past or present that may be occurring just a few hundred kilometres away, but it continues to be relevant. This literary event brought it right back home and reminded all present how lucky we were to have what we have and that we or our families managed to survive.” Many in the audience were seen congratulating the Irish embassy for pulling off such a topic which actually left the audience sentimental and empathic and there were no accusatory or aggressively political arguments or comparisons with other countries.  Remarkably there was pin drop silence throughout the event.

Keki Daruwalla, Novelist, Poet and Chairperson, DSC Literature Prize 2014: “I feel it was a very fine evening. The Ambassador Mr. Feilim McLaughlin had done his homework. (One normally doesn’t see Their Excellencies getting into the nitty-gritty of a cultural event). The mix was perfect with Paro Anand speaking of the handicapped children. It was very moving. Amandeep Sandhu spoke of 1984. Wish he had read more from his book.”

M. A. Sikandar, Director, NBT ( National Book Trust of India) “A wonderful evening with Authors who highlighted the flip side if real India. I amazed by the intense of reading by these authors who are from diverse background and culture. Credit goes to the Irish Ambassador and Jaya.”

Paro Anand : “Trying to make sense of a long ago war through today’s conflicts brought three writers together. IN the peace of Delhi’s Diplomatic Enclave, we wove words of wars and conflicts that do and don’t belong to us….each telling of our engagement with wars without as much as within. It was a journey that none of us would choose to make, but most of us have to.”

Amandeep Sandhu: “it was a brilliant evening curated by Jaya Bhattacharji Rose and hosted by the Irish Ambassador. I loved that I could meet and converse with a variety of writers, artists and people. I hope we have more such events in which we can discuss art and literature which is relevant to our times.”

Samanth Subramanian: “The event was a wonderful way to discuss the specificities of some conflicts, with the knowledge throughout that all conflicts have so much that in common. Even as we remember the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, we find its themes playing out in the world around us today.”

For more information, please contact:

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, jayabhattacharjirose@gmail.com

 *****

The featured panellists:

Paro Anand is one of India’s top writers. Best known for her writings for young adults, she has always pushed boundaries and challenged preconceived notions of the limits of writings for young people. She has been described as a fearless writer with a big heart. She works extensively for young people in difficult circumstances, especially with orphans of separatist violence in Kashmir. Using literature as a creative outlet, she provided a platform for the traumatized young to express their grief in ways that they had been unable to before. This release gave them the ability to move beyond and look into their future, instead of staying frozen in their very violent past. One of the over-riding feelings she came away with was the need to tell these stories to a wider audience and thus bring the alienated back into the mainstream consciousness.

Samanth Subramanian is a New Delhi-based writer and journalist. He has written op-eds and reportage for the New Yorker, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and book reviews and cultural criticism for the New Republic, the Guardian and Book forum. His first book, a collection of travel essays titled “Following Fish: Travels Around the Indian Coast,” was published in India in 2010 and in the United Kingdom in 2013. “Following Fish” won the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize in 2010 and was shortlisted for the Andre Simon Book Award in 2013. Subramanian received a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Pennsylvania State University and a Master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University. He has lived in the United Kingdom, India, Indonesia, the United States and Sri Lanka. “This Divided Island: Stories from the Sri Lankan War,” his second book, was published in July.

Amandeep Sandhu is currently a Fellow at Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart, Germany (2013-15) working on his third novel which deals with how art shapes the historiography of a land. His Master of Arts, English Literature (1994-96) was from the University of Hyderabad and Diploma in Journalism (1997-98) from the Asian School of Journalism. In the late 1990s he was a journalist with The Economic Times. He has been a Technical Writer with top Information Technology companies for more than a decade: Novell, Oracle and Cadence Design systems. Over the last few years he has been actively reviewing books for The Hindu, The Asian Age, The Indian Express, BusinessWorld and writing a column in Tehelka on issues related to Punjab.

21 Oct 2014

Literati – “Stories on Conflict”

Literati – “Stories on Conflict”

( My monthly column, Literati, in the Hindu Literary Review was published online ( 2 August 2014) and in print ( 3 August 2014). Here is the url http://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/stories-on-conflict/article6274928.ece . I am also c&p the text below. )

 Jaya Bhattacharji RoseOff late images of conflict dominate digital and print media– injured children, rubble, weeping people, vehicles blown apart, graphic photographs from war zones. We live in a culture of war, impossible to get away from. What is frightening is the daily engagement we have with this violence, to make it a backdrop and a “normal” part of our lives. The threshold of our receptivity to it is lowering; the “appetite” for violence seems to be increasing.

Take partition of the sub-continent in 1947.  Vishwajyoti Ghosh, curator of the brilliant anthology of graphic stories with contributions from three countries, This Side, That Side, remarks, “Partition is so much a part of the lives of South Asians.” It exists in living memory. Generations have been brought up on family lore, detailing experiences about Partition, the consequences and the struggle it took refugees to make a new life. For many years, there was silence. Then in India the communal riots of 1984 following the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi happened. For many people of the older generation who had experienced the break-up of British India it opened a Pandora box of memories; stories came tumbling out. It was with the pioneers of Partition studies–Ritu Menon, Kamla Bhasin and Urvashi Butalia–that this tumultuous time in history began to make its mark in literature.

Contemporary sub-continental literature comprises of storytellers who probably grew up listening to stories about conflict in their regions. It is evident in the variety, vibrancy and strength discernible in South Asian writing with distinct styles emerging from the nations. There is something in the flavour of writing; maybe linked to the socio-political evolution of the countries post-conflict—Partition or civil unrest. In India, there is the emergence of fiction and nonfiction writers who have a sharp perspective to offer, informed by their personal experiences, who are recording a historical (and painful) moment. Recent examples are Rahul Pandita’s Our Moon has Blood Clots, Amandeep Sandhu’s Roll of Honour, Chitrita Banerji’s Mirror City, Sujata Massey’sThe City of Palaces, Sudipto Das’s The Ekkos Clan,  Shahnaz Bashir’s The Half Mother and Samanth Subramanian’s The Divided Land , a travelogue about post-war Sri Lanka. In Sri Lankn literature conflict is a constant backdrop, places and names are not necessarily always revealed or easily identified, but the stories are written with care and sensitivity. Shyam Selvadurai in his introduction to the fascinating anthology of varied examples of Sri Lankan literature, Many Roads to Paradise writes “In a post-war situation, this anthology provides an opportunity to build bridges across the divided communities by allowing Sri Lankans access to the thoughts, experiences, history and cultural mores of their fellow countrymen, of which they have remained largely ignorant due to linguistic divides.” Contributors include Shehan Karunatilaka ( The Chinaman), Nayomi Munaweera (Island of a Thousand Mirrors) and Ashok Ferrey ( The Colpetty People and  The Professional). Bangladeshi writers writing in a similar vein are Shaheen Akhtar’s The Search ( translated by Ella Dutta), Mahmudul Haque’s Black Ice (translated by Mahmud Rahman), Tahmima Anam The  Good Muslim and Neamat Imam’s The Black Coat. Pakistani Nadeem Aslam’s last novel Blind Man’s Garden is a searing account of the war in Afghanistan and its devastating effect on the lives of ordinary people. In his interview with Claire Chambers for British Muslim Fictions, Nadeem Aslam said his “alphabet doesn’t only have 26 letters, but also the 32 of the Urdu alphabet, so I have a total of 58 letters at my disposal”.  Kamila Shamsie’s A God in Every Stone uses fiction (the story is set during the World Wars) to comment upon contemporary socio-political events (Peshawar). Earlier this year Romesh Gunaseekera told me while discussing his latest novel, Noontide Toll “All over the world, including in India, people are trying to grapple with the memory of conflicts, and trying to find a way in which language can help us understand history without being trapped in it.”

From Homer’s The Odyssey onwards, recording war through stories has been an important literary tradition in conveying information and other uses. Today, with conflict news coming in from every corner of the world and 2014 being the centenary year of World War I, publishers are focusing upon war-related literature, even for children. For instance, Duckbill Books new imprint, NOW series about children in conflict has been launched with the haunting Waiting Mor, set in Kabul and inspired by a true story. Paro Anand’s No Gun’s at my Son’s Funeral was one of the first stories written in India for young adults that dealt with war, children and Kashmir; it is soon to be made into a feature film. All though ninety years after the first book was published Richmal Crompton’s Just William series, about a mischievous 11-year-old boy set during WWI, continues to be a bestseller! The culture of war has been inextricably linked to literature and media. As the protagonist, Adolf Hitler says in Timur Vermes must-read debut novel Look Who’s Back “after only a handful of days in this modern epoch, I had gained access to the broadcast media, a vehicle for propaganda”.

2 August 2014 

Alice Munro and the short story, a comment

Alice Munro and the short story, a comment

MUNRO, from the NYT article, July 2013

‘I would really hope this would make people see the short story as an important art, not just something you played around with until you got a novel.’

‘A story is not like a road to follow … it’s more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows. And you, the visitor, the reader, are altered as well by being in this enclosed space, whether it is ample and easy or full of crooked turns, or sparsely or opulently furnished. You can go back again and again, and the house, the story, always contains more than you saw the last time. It also has a sturdy sense of itself of being built out of its own necessity, not just to shelter or beguile you.’                      

– Alice Munro

Today it was announced that Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Shortly thereafter, Amandeep Sandhu, a writer too, put a comment on his Facebook wall

The times They Are A-changin’: earlier this year short story writer Lydia Davis won the Man Booker and today short story writer Alice Munro wins the Nobel. I like it that the short story is getting its much deserved place in the sun. Congratulations! 

A few questions: does this spell something for the longer narrative? Is this a consequence of the shortening attention span in this digital world? Does this change something in publishing? Answer, but more than that this is just stuff to ponder upon, nothing is right or wrong.

And this is what I wrote in response:

There are always politics at play when such an eminent award is announced. Alice Munro is a deserving candidate. But maybe the Nobel Prize’s focus on short stories could have been foretold by Lydia Davis winning the Booker International Prize 2013. I cannot help but draw parallels with the number of beauty queens who were discovered in India, soon after liberalisation — the spotlight was on new and emerging markets. Here too, the focus is on short stories. For a while now the number of short stories writers have been increasing rapidly, the online platforms that are accepting short story submissions are multiplying fast and the growing demand for good, reliable and quickly produced stories that can be easily converted into other formats — audio books, television serials, animation and short films or even available for auction for long films has firmly put the spotlight on the short form of literature, texts for electronic platforms etc. This is important since the classic reply most publishers trot out is that it is difficult to sell short story collections by debut authors ( Prajwal Parajuly is probably one of the rare exceptions having been most recently nominated for the Dylan Thomas prize). Yet, publishers in their scramble to attract and discover new voices, encourage short fiction submissions for annual anthologies that they would like to consider publishing. So hearty congratulations to Alice Munro and good luck to the many other short story writers. Finally Amandeep, I do not think that this award will really spell the demise of the long form of narrative. This year, after a long time, I cannot help but look at the thick spines of the new novels that have been recently published — The Luminaries, The Signature of All Things and The Kills to name some.

10 Oct 2013 

Roll of Honour, AMandeep Sandhu

Orijit Sen’s mural on Punjab

Orijit Sen’s mural on Punjab

Orijit Sen's mural

Well known artist Orijit Sen’s mural of life in Punjab is awe-inspiring. The digital mural, arranged almost like a street-view map, spans across two walls. Every inch of it is covered with people, buildings, fields of rice and wheat, roads, shops, houses, trees, water bodies, even temples as he tries to capture the social fabric of the state.

The mural was originally made for the Virasat-e-Khalsa, a multi-media museum and cultural centre in Anandpur Sahib and took a few years to complete.

Through the mural, the artist wishes to capture the indomitable spirit of the Punjabis as they face and live through the changes that their lives have gone through over the years as dams were built over rivers, fields replaced forests and globalisation began to creep in.”

An article in the Hindu about it ( 19 April 2012):

And writer, Amandeep Sandhu’s reply to this post, when I put it up on my facebook page ( 29 May 2013)

“Thanks Jaya. I was at Anandpur Sahib last summer and had the opportunity to see Orijit and team’s work. The mural is excellent, its attention to detail is superb. It is an brilliant socio-anthropological work of art. Respect! My problem with the museum is a) the maintenance of Orijit’s work, b) that the sections of the museum which talk about the Sikh Gurus (after Orijit’s sections) posit that the real history of Punjab starts with the birth of Guru Nanak and pay only a brief lip service to the period of the Harrapan-Mohenjodaro Indus valley civilization, the Vedas, the 5000 year rich cultural history of the land. One can understand that the museum is Virasat-e-Khalsa, the culture of the Khalsa, but given how hundreds of visitors come to the museum each day it is an opportunity missed in providing a composite, holistic view of society.”

Orijit Sen replied to Amandeep Sandhu on 29 May 2013

“Amandeep, your comments are very perceptive. Its true that a splendid opportunity to celebrate the amazingly rich history of the region has been compromised for short sighted political reasons. I wish it could have been done differently.”

Uploaded on 29 May 2013, Orijit Sen’s comments added on 30 May 2013.

“Roll of Honour”, Amandeep Sandhu, a few comments

“Roll of Honour”, Amandeep Sandhu, a few comments

16 Sept 2012
Earlier in the year Amandeep wrote to me requesting me to read his manuscript. Now that the book has been published with his permission I am sharing some of the comments I made on the draft I read.

**********

First things first. Your novel, Roll of Honour, IMHO is going to break new ground for English-language fiction from India. It is a combination of YA, cross-over, a bildungsroman and a very disturbing account of adolescence. Is it also a part-memoir? If I may say so, you have achieved something that I have only seen in Chinese, Japanese and French literature. I am as yet to see it in Indian fiction. You said you wanted to attempt the grittiness to show, and it does. It is very readable and flows well.

You have worked hard at the research and I suspect, raking up old and buried (at times, painful) memories. It is not easy to write the kind of stuff that you have written. First in the present tense and then in the past continuous, reflecting upon what you did. It is as if you split yourself into two.

I am not sure if you know this, but when victims of any traumatic encounter, especially those of conflict zones have to recount the actual moment of horror, are never able to do so in the first person. It is always in the third person, as if that particular moment of impact is too dreadful to recall. The brain blocks it out and memory softens the blow. Whereas in your case, you have tortured yourself to write as is. Remarkable! Having said this, have you read Howard Zinn and Paul Fussell on conflict, especially WWII. Why I mention it is, you are talking about violence and horror that is very similar to what they have tried to document. Through the eyes of the common man and the inordinate pressures, and circumstances they have to face.

Roll of Honour is a very tough book. Yet it is extraordinary for you having highlighted the very common, everyday occurrence in a boarding school, especially a military school. The pressures of society. The pressures of living in the early 1980s in Punjab. Your novel brought back many memories for me of the 1980s, the violence that we saw and read in the papers, the horror of the 1984 riots, etc etc.

For me, Roll of Honour is a neat bildungsroman. Ever since I read it, it has been swirling in my head. You are doing something that is well documented in literature. It takes at least a generational gap for a major socio-political event to make its mark in literature. It takes time, primarily because immediately after the event, people who have witnessed it, prefer to block it in their minds. A generation later the questions begin to emerge, research develops and oral history begins to be recorded. It is time for 1984. It is time for Punjab.

For me this novel works well as for the YA genre. You have created Appu as a trapped teenager, who is confused by his school, the choices he has to make, the social changes etc. For a teenager, the raging hormones are a nightmare. To top it, the horror of the school, witnessing the crumbling of society as you know it and more importantly, the very foundations on which you have been brought up being challenged – the sacrosanct Golden Temple being stormed; the idea of fighting for the country, but having to experience military school; the dissonance in what is taught to what is expected of you. … (With this book) you are doing something very original.
*********

The Reader, my column in Books & More

The Reader, my column in Books & More

Reader

The sheer pleasure of immersing oneself in a book, flipping through its pages, dipping into it in parts, inhaling the heavenly smell of ink and freshly printed pages, stroking the cover to feel the design, are all part of the experience for me. It is fast becoming an equally thrilling adventure for my twenty-eight-month-old daughter, Sarah. She brings out her books and says, “Mummy padho.” What I find exhilarating is to see Sarah browse through the books that I owned as a child, to discover a fascinating new world. The spine of the book maybe falling apart, the pages have turned yellow and there are doodles done by me in pencil, years ago, but The Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh continues to enchant Sarah, representative of a new generation of readers. These are tangible objects that she can touch, feel, flip the pages, trace the images and letters with her fingers, and crumple the pages…the first step to reading, recognising alphabets, words and creating a language and becoming a reader herself.

The modern reader, however, is faced with an over-abundance of choice. Today the market is flooded with books. There is a variety that is available to suit all reading sensibilities. Publishers are willing to experiment and develop lists, especially in the category of mass market fiction after the phenomenal (commercial) success of Chetan Bhagat, Advaita Kala or of Penguin’s Metro Reads. There is an abundance of fiction dealing with years spent in college or school like Arjun Rao’s Third Best or Amandeep Sandhu’s forthcoming novel, Roll of Honour. There is a wonderful variety in crime fiction ranging from Steig Larsson, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Lee Child, Madhulika Liddle, Andrew Lane, and Jo Nesbo to name a few. For a niche genre like historical fiction, Indian fiction in English is spoilt for riches with Indu Sundaresan’s Taj Trilogy, Chitra Bannerjee Divakurni’s Victory Song, Greta Rana’s Rana Women of Nepal, Alex Rutherford’s Empire of the Mughal series and an old one (but a classic) of Kiran Nagarkar’s Cuckold.

There are finer distinctions like chick-lit and narrative non-fiction that are doing well, but it does beg to ask the question, what is the profile of the reader of [for?] this literature. Who is this person/s? Who is buying these books? In spite of experimentation, publishers are careful of their bottom line and do not necessarily publish all that comes their way. Yet the examples cited illustrate that professional editors still have a good sense of the kind of books that will sell.

The other solution is to reach out to readers, make them part of the process. The internet and the blogosphere provide a range of opinions and at times provide a platform for literary tastemakers [who] to inform and shape the discourse. It is especially important for publishers to continually create a new generation of readers. It happens by creating targeted marketing campaigns, fostering and nurturing literary spaces. Literary soirees and book-launch parties are fashionable, but an engagement with the readers is a long term relationship. These could start early (as is happening with Sarah) or via book clubs, literary societies in institutions, or even literary festivals. The presence of efficient online book retailers that ensure an order gets shipped anywhere, anytime and at a reasonable cost to a customer, will only strengthen the reading environment. Today, with books available in a variety of formats, makes the profile of a reader even more difficult to ascertain. Yet, it is an exciting challenge for publishers. Anil Menon, author of The Beast with Nine Billion Feet says “reading might (in future) be a social act. A print book enforces a solitary experience. But I’ve noticed that when I’m reading on the Kindle, I can access other people’s comments if I feel like it. The solitary reader may be a thing of the past. Books written to facilitate social reading might be different from books written for the solitary reader. Children’s books– very young children– are already designed to be read by parents and children together. I can imagine books for teens written to be enjoyed in a group.” All these factors can only add up to the growing significance of the reader, who forms the market.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an international publishing consultant.

(p.58, Books and More, June-July 2012)