Aranyaka is the first collaboration between mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik and writer-painter Amruta Patil. Amruta is also India’s first female graphic novelist. “Aranyaka” is a modern retelling of the Vedic concepts that are not always easy to communicate. The best medium to do so seemed to be using text and imagery for which the graphic novel is the ideal art form. More importantly it is the creative energy between the authors that has been the prime force in narrating this parable, a love story, a creation myth, yet weaving in the essential elements of learning which the over 3000-year-old Vedas emphasise. The beauty of any scripture is its ability to be retold in any age and in any form without losing its core idea. With “Aranyaka”, the two authors seem to have achieved this magnificently. It is impossible to tell who contributed to which part of the storytelling apart from the obvious ones of Amrut Patil’s artwork and Devdutt Pattanaik’s corporate speak — at times the latter makes its presence felt in the dialogue. Nevertheless there is a seamless unified quality to the story which gets straight to the point — of immersing the reader immediately and effectively into the story about the forest. It is not imperative to have read the original Vedas in order to appreciate this modern version. It reads smoothly. Not once does the collaboration seem clunky! This magical jodi of Devdutt Pattanaik and Amruta Patil is perhaps the ideal desi version of Neil Gaiman and late Terry Pratchett who are equally phenomenal in retelling the scriptures.
Indian Genre Fiction: Pasts and Present Futures (eds. Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay, Aakriti Mandhwani and Anwesha Maity) is a fascinating collection of essays. There are articles on popular fiction in late colonial Tamil Nadu, to novels of Urdu, 19th-century Bengali chapbooks, science fantasy of Leela Majumdar and Sukumar Ray, Hindi pulp literature, retelling of the Mahabharata in Krishna Udaysankar’s The Aryavarta Chronicles and Amruta Patil’s Adi Parva. But the essay that I read and re-read was Ira Pande’s tremendous “Hearts and homes: A perspective on women writers in Hindi”. Being the daughter of the very popular Hindi writer Shivani and a fluent speaker in English and Hindi, Ira Pande shares her fascinating perspective on inhabiting the Hindi literary world and what it means being bilingual.
With the permission of the publishers, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, here are two extracts from this brilliant essay. (pps. 94-95 and 96-97)
Allahabad in the ’60s was home to
some of the greatest writers of those times. Harivansh Rai Bachchan had left
Allahabad for Delhi by then, but there were other more famous chhayavad poets still around
(Sumitranandan Pant, Mahadevi Verma and Nirala), Firaq Gorakh-puri, Amrit and
Sripat Rai (Premchand’s sons, both writers and publishers), Ilachandra Joshi,
VDN Sahi and Usha Priyamvada, to name just a few. And of course, there was
Shivani. However, along with others of her tribe, such as Salma Siddiqi and
Mannu Bhandari, her kind of writing was passed off as romantic fluff or
domestic sagas that housewives ordered by mail as part of a gharelu (domestic) library scheme. The
very popularity of these women writers became a weapon to use against their
literary output. To the supercilious self-styled critics who pronounced
judgment on what was to be considered accept-able as literature, this space was
only meant for those who wrote for a different audience, one that had a
sophisticated palate developed on the ‘modern’ fare of European and
contemporary American fiction. Certain subjects were taboo in this high-minded
world: romance and bourgeois lives headed this list.
Somewhere by the ’70s, then, the
small town became an object of ridicule: it was valourised in romantic
literature and cinema but actually hated and mocked at in the real. Small
wonder then, that its inhabitants (who suffered from a crippling form of low
self-esteem since birth) ran into hiding and tried to ape the big-city culture by
writing, speaking and dressing like the metropolitan sophisticates they yearned
to become. When this happened, the country lost all those delightful rivulets
that fed the creative river of the Grand National Dream. The homogenisation of
culture took over: slogans replaced feelings. The joy went out of fun as its
definition changed into something wrought by high-minded nationalist agendas.
Political correctness has a lot to answer for.
Upon reflection, it appears to me that Shivani’s most prolific literary output and some of her most memorable and popular novels date to the years when Hindi magazines were avidly read across North India. Among these, Dharmyug (edited then by the formidable Dharmvir Bharati, a widely respected novelist and dramatist) occupied pride of place. Published by Bennett and Coleman (referred to henceforth as B&C), its owners (Sahu Jain and Rama Jain) promoted creative writing and later endowed the Gyanpeeth Award, the first privately endowed prestigious literary award for writers in various Indian languages. The Bennett and Coleman Group (later known as the Times of India group) also brought out a clutch of other magazines. Among these were Sarika (contemporary Hindi writing, edited by Kamleshwar) and Dinaman (a political and economic weekly, edited by Agyeya), both respected for their content and editorial gravitas. Filmfare, a film magazine, and the Illustrated Weekly of India were their popular English-language publications. The Hindustan Times group, owned by the Birlas, published Saptahik Hindustan (as a rival to Dharmyug), Kadambari (as an alternative to Sarika) and vied with each otherto publish serials by the most popular Hindi writers of those days. Throughout the ’50s and ’60s, there was not a single library or reader in North India that did not subscribe to these magazines.
Almost all of Shivani’s novels – certainly her most popular ones – were first published as serials in one or the other magazines mentioned above. Her most well-known novel, Krishnakali, published as a serial in Dharmyug in the ’60s, was later published as a novel by Gyanpeeth (the publishing house run by the B&C group). In addition to these magazines, two others (Navneet and Gyanoday) I can recall from then were modelled on the popular American publication, Reader’s Digest. Shivani’s travelogues, essays and memorial tributes were regularly published in these Hindi digests.
Naturally, the serialised novel
had its own effect on the writing it spawned. Fans wrote furious letters to
Shivani when she betrayed their hopes (such as by killing off a character) or
when she did not spend enough time on a particular strand of the narrative.
This close bond between writer and reader was perhaps what contributed to the
intimacy that readers developed over the years with their favourite writers. My
sister Mrinal Pande (who edited Saptahik
Hindustan in the ’90s) recalls how typists vied with each other to type out
Shivani’s (always) handwritten manuscript when she sent in a fresh instalment
so that he/she would be the first to read it! The circulation of magazines
jumped by as much as 55 per cent when her novels were being serialised and
siblings fought with each other to grab the magazine to read it first when it was
delivered to private homes. Often they tore the pages out so that they could
share it among themselves.
What gave this genre its enormous reach and popularity was that these stories were significant documentaries. I would say that that it was reality fiction based on real-life characters and episodes and invisible to the writers based in our up-and-coming metros who consciously distanced themselves from these provincial lives to become more acceptable to a wider, international literary world. This is a fact often overlooked when tracing the evolution of Hindi writing. As Vasudha Dalmia’s book on fiction and history reveals, novels located in Allahabad, Agra, Aligarh, Banaras or Lucknow give us an insight into the social landscapes that were shaping middle-class lives in the ’50s and ’60s.2 Beneath the romantic tales of young women and men were rich subplots that reveal the gradual breakup of orthodox joint families, the effect of education on the emancipation of women in provincial India and the effect of migration from small towns to industrial cities. The language of everyday conversation in middle-class homes and amongst families, the social terms of exchange between men and women, workers and employers are important markers of a world we seek today and cannot find because it no longer exists. What are often dismissed as kitchen tales and romantic fiction stood firm on a foundation because it was supported by religion and ritual, food and taboos, folk remedies and aphorisms that nourished clans and villages. In the tightly packed houses of our old shahars that were separated by narrow lanes, the smells and sounds that travelled across neighbours became rich lodes of narratives that had the authenticity of real lives. The bonds between Hindu and Muslim homes, or between upper- and lower-caste settlements were strong threads that wove the fabric of our social communities. A deep suspicion of the other community was balanced by an equally strong love for individual men and women. Look for these common narrative strains and you will find them in all writers who lived and thrived in little India.
(Thank you for the response to my inaugural newsletter. Please feel free to write: jayabhattacharjirose1 at gmail dot com )
The biggest news in terms of business deals has been the acquisition of TATA-owned publishers Westland by Amazon. (http://bit.ly/2fjVVCP) Earlier this year Amazon had a bought a significant minority stake in Westland but last week they bought the company for a purportedly Rs 39.8 crores or approximately $6.5 million. ( http://bit.ly/2fzdfrJ ) Westland has a history of over 50 years in retail, distribution and publishing. It is an amalgamation of two companies, Westland Books and EastWest Books (Madras). “Amazon’s roots are in books and we are excited to be part of that team in the next phase of our journey,” Westland CEO Gautam Padmanabhan said. The publishing list of Westland, its imprints Tranquebar and EastWest, and imprint extension Mikros, include bestselling authors Amish Tripathi, Ashwin Sanghi, Rashmi Bansal, Rujuta Diwekar, Preeti Shenoy, Devdutt Pattanaik, Anuja Chauhan and Ravi Subramanian, among others. This deal highlights the growing significance of India book markets — the third largest English language and with each regional language being of a substantial size too. It will also have an effect on how publishers realign themselves to create strategically good content which makes for good cultural capital but also astute business sense.
For more on the significance of such an acquisition read Bharat Anand’s analysis of AT&T & Time Warner merger in HBR. (http://bit.ly/2feLlOP ) It is a marriage between content and distribution, organizations and tech companies. “Content is an increasingly important complement for every one of the tech companies.” Bharat Anand is the Henry R. Byers Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, where he’s taught media and corporate strategy for 19 years. He is the author of the recently released The Content Trap: A Strategist’s Guide to Digital Change.
Publishing business strategies will be bolstered by the GOI announcement as part of the Digital India movement that “Handsets mandated to support Indian language keyboards July 1st 2017” All handsets being manufactured, stored, sold and distributed in India will have to support the inputting of text in English, Hindi and at least one more official Indian language (of 22), and support reading of text in all these languages. (http://bit.ly/2fGxrbb ) In Medianama’s analysis this will speed up the switch in India to smartphones (and featurephones), because they have that capability to use Indic languages using the operating system. ( http://bit.ly/2feSTRG ) In the long run, good news for publishers if their content is gold.
14 November is celebrated as Children’s Day in India. Nearly 50% of the 1.3 bn population in India is below the age of 25 years –a sizeable reading market. As the first-ever Kids & Family Reading Report, India edition by Scholastic India notes that 86% children read the books they select but points out that 71 per cent of kids were currently reading a book for fun. This is the way it should be to create a new generation of readers. (http://scholastic.co.in/readingreport )
Ann Patchett’s incredibly stunning novel of families and the writing experience Commonwealth(Bloomsbury)
Jonathan Eig’s fascinating account of The Birth of the Pill (Pan Books, Pan MacMillan India)
Translating Bharat Reading India edited by Neeta Gupta. A collection of essays discussing the art of translating and what constitutes a good translation. (Yatra Books)
Madeleine Thien’s extraordinary novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing ( My interview with the author: http://bit.ly/2eX5meG )
Lit fests: ILF Samanvay: The IHC Indian Languages Festival ( 5-7 Nov 2016)
Literary Prize: Haruki Murakami wins this year’s Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award ($74,000). The Hans Christian Andersen Literary Award is not to be confused with the Hans Christian Andersen Award (or medal)— often regarded as the “Little Nobel Prize”— instituted in 1956 to recognize lasting contributions in the field of children’s literature. (http://bit.ly/2eC70iI ) In his acceptance speech he warned against excluding outsiders (http://wapo.st/2fjZ31u )
World Literature Today, the award-winning magazine of international literature and culture, announced Marilyn Nelson as the winner of the 2017 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature. Awarded in alternating years with the prestigious Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the biennial NSK Prize ( $25,000) recognizes great achievements in the world of children’s and young-adult storytelling. ( http://bit.ly/2fdIQhX )
Jai Arjun Singh’s The World of Hrishikesh Mukherjee has been given the Book Award for Excellence in Writing on Cinema (English) at the Mumbai Film Festival.
Interesting book links:
A Phone Call from Paul , literary podcast for @LitHub done by Paul Holdengraber, NYPL is worth listening to. Here is the latest episode where Paul is in conversation with Junot Diaz. (http://bit.ly/2fxF1p8 )