Anita Roy Posts

Literature and inclusiveness

nari-bhav Nari Bhav, published by Niyogi Books, is a collection of essays exploring androgyny and female impersonation in India. These are fascinating insights by practitioners, interviews with actors and some academic papers discussing the concept of nari bhav is a deeply rooted cultural belief in the fluid interplay of the female and male symbolized for example as Ardhanariswara.  A truly exceptional essay is the one by translator, performer and playwright, Pritham Chakravarthy, on performing the Nirvanam. This is the name of the performance she gave to a bunch of monologues that emerged from her work exploring the myth of Aravan that hijras or eunuchs have adopted in South India, especially Tamil Nadu, to contest the many filthy names used for them by the general public. To this she wove in the stories narrated to her by a transgender, ‘Noorie’. The first performance was staged in 2000 and was only ten minutes long. Years later she continues to perform it and the presentation is now forty minutes long and could probably be expanded to sixty minutes. Pritham Chakravarty makes a very interesting comment in her essay: “I sit among the audience and come to the central performance area to emphasize the ‘everychapal-bhaduri day-ness’ of the narrative that will presently unfold before their eyes.” And yet when Chapal Bhaduri, a Bengali actor famous for female impersonations, performed an autobiographical piece at a seminar organized at a Kolkata university in March 2016 it seems that members of the audience were discomfited by the performance.

The concept was simple enough. The performance would be a companion piece to the 1999 documentary on him called Performing the Goddess [ made by Naveen Kishore, Seagull]. In the documentary, entirely shot in the modest ground-floor apartment in north Kolkata where he lives with his son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter of his sister Ketaki Dutta, Chapal Bhaduri gradually transforms himself from Chapal Bhaduri to Chapal Rani, from a man to a woman, from a human to a goddess, from the ordinary to the spectacular. At the seminar he would be doing the reverse. Her would appear before the audience as the Goddess Sitala, and then gradually divest himself of the divinity, the feminity, the spectacular, and end the piece by becoming what he is off-stage: human, male, ordinary. 

While discussing the book with a dear friend I discovered some very interesting facts about his family. This friend shikhandihas often told me how there has always been a space in the Indian society for all genders including for the currently fashionable term — “gender fluid” individuals. When I showed him a picture of Chapal Bhaduri, he told me about his grand-uncle whom everyone in the family called “Dada” and had remained a bachelor all his life. He died a few years ago. Interestingly Dada used to be an usher at some “talkies” in CP or Old Delhi but was always fascinated by dancing and dressing up as a woman. Apparently he was the go-to david-walliamsman in the family for advice on shringar, saris, buying gold jewellery etc. Dada was extremely fond of wearing beautiful Benarasi saris and spent a great part of his meagre salary to amass quite a collection.  While still a young man he began dressing up as a woman. It seems he used to give performances at private gathering. Apparently Dada was very informed about mudras and used to be a delight to watch. Also the family was completely at ease with his gender identity.  Apparently he was considered one of the respected elders of the family and his advice was sought on all important matters. He was also the matchmaker of the community. It probably also explains the comfort family members had with the eunuchs who used to wander in the colony.My friend has childhood memories of having the eunuchs over at home for tea and snacks. It was a regular affair and everyone was at ease with this practice. Another anecdote he recounts is of attending a wedding where where three uncles of the bride dressed up as women in saris and danced as part of the festivities.

And he is not alone in his observations. Anita Roy, publisher and author, wrote this wonderful article in 2006 “Dancing with God” to witness the kōla ceremony; a puja that honours the village deity. ( http://bit.ly/2enwIcW)

Each family in the village undertakes to host this ritual every year.  The presiding bhuta of Adve is Jhumadi (or Dhumavati in the local language, Tulu). A protector of the village and its inhabitants, human, animal and plant, Jhumadi is gendered female and believed to be one of the manifestations of the Goddess Shakti. But like Shiva’s incarnation as Ardhanariswara, she mixes both male and female attributes. Unlike the Puranic gods, who are worshipped in temples, officiated by Brahmin priests and receive offerings as silent spectators, bhutas are more localized spirits who directly influence the lives of their devotees with whom they have a much more intimate, almost neighbourly, relationship.

GeorgeAt the Myrin International Children’s Festival, Reykjavík, well-known author and translator, Lawrence Schimel lawrence-schimel-oct-2016-icelandwhose picture book for children, Amigos Y Vecinos, includes a gay family said that it’s extremely important to include LGBT+ characters in children’s books so they reflect the world that children already live in. (LILJA KATRÍN GUNNARSDÓTTIR, 6 Oct 2016 “LGBT lives just as important as heterosexual ones” http://bit.ly/2fgwEJE ) David Walliam’s first book for children The Boy in the Dress, Alex Gino’s incredibly powerful novel for young adults —George and Richa Jha’s picture book The Unboy Boy are examples of contemporary literature being inclusive by accepting and respecting “unconventional” characters for who they are. Vivek Tejuja, book critic, wrote a poignant article last year entitled “Being gay: how books and reading saved richa-jha-the-unboy-boymy life”. ( Scroll, 21 March 2015, http://bit.ly/2e1gb05)

Reading provided the much needed solace. Reading was a balm to all my aches. Books transported me, took me away from reality. I did not know want to face reality. Why should I? I thought to myself, when I could be lost in the lands of Oz and travel with Gulliver and be miserable with Jane Eyre. Nothing was of consequence, but the authors and the books I read. . . . Reading books was sufficient then. They did not discriminate against me. 

Vivek Tejuja’s forthcoming book meant for young adults will be addressing some of these issues. Siddharth Dube’s precisely told memoir No One Else and A. Revathi’s gripping account of her life as an activist in A Life in Trans Activism are recent contributions to Indian literature discussing sexuality and the grey areas it inhabits —these exist in Nature. revathiThe biggest challenge lies in making this reality visible for now the hypocritic notion that heterosexuality is the norm and everything else is unacceptable on any moral compass reigns supreme. And yet as mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik confirms in Shikhandi and other tales they don’t tell you which is a collection of stories celebrating life “narrated by our ancestors that are rarely retold publicly as they seem to challenge popular notions of normality”. In Oct 2016, Parmesh Shahani, Head – Godrej India Culture Lab, said at the India Economic Summit, New Delhi that parmesh-shahani“inclusion is for everyone and not just the LGBT community”. He bolstered it with evidence that if businesses & institutions are inclusive then it will have a positive impact on productivity, growth and development. ( “India Economic Summit: Breaking Down Diversity Barriers”, 6 Oct 2016. http://bit.ly/2enrUoa )

( Note: All the images are off the internet. If you own the copyright please let me know and I will acknowledge it. )

2 November 2016 

 

 

 

 

Good Books Guide for children, NBT and PAG-E

Good Books Guide for children, NBT and PAG-E

The Good Books Guide, 1Ever so often I am asked by parents, educators and schools to recommend books that are age-appropriate for children. Every time I put together a list based upon the sensibilities of the people asking. It has been a long time since I began working in publishing and engaging with children’s literature. For many years I guest-edited a special issue of The Book Review on children’s and young adult literature. Last year I was on the jury for the Crossword Book Awards for children’s literature. But in all these years of working in the publishing industry I have rarely come across catalogues of children’s literature that could be easily recommended. Apart from compilations of titles available in English and other Indian languages, it is also crucial to understand how to select a book for a child. Introduction to literature after all is part of the nurturing and grooming process of a child into a independent, informed and literate individual. From the basic picture books, hardboard books for toddlers to picture books, chapter books and novels and non-fiction for older kids, it is not always easy to come by information. Having said that, in the last one year, there have been three titles published in India — 101 Indian Children’s Books We Love ( Young Zubaan), Children’s Books 2014 ( NBT) and The Good Books Guide: How to select a good book for children ( NBT and PAG-E) that are a beginning. They introduce titles from English, in translation and available in other Indian languages. Children’s Books 2014  was launched during the New Delhi World Book Fair 2014 as the theme was Kathasagar- Celebrating Children’s Literature. This catalogue includes details of around 800 titles from all Indian languages and National Book Trust has decided to make it an annual 20140226_122508publication. Fortunately a list of publishers with all their contact details have been included in the book. Next year, I hope ebooks will be included in the selection as well. Zubaan

The Good Books Guide: How to select a good book for children is a slim manual that was created by Subir Shukla, after a national consultation between National Book Trust and PAG-E ( Publishers’ Action Group) held at Sonapani, Nainital from 26-29 September 2012. It focuses primarily on the criteria necessary for selecting a book. Details such as illustrations match the text; do the theme and contents have any bias; is the plot weak or illogical?; is the language used appropriate for children; is the typescript and type-size inappropriate; are the illustrations and design unsuitable or of poor quality?; how to identify ‘desirable’ books; does it stimulate curiosity and engagement?; if it is a non-fiction title is it correct and factual? and so on. There is a table given towards the end that helps in classifying books according to classes and ages. This manual is a beginning. It will open a debate but at least such a publication has come into existence!

101 Indian Children’s Books We Love! is a collection of short reviews of children’s and young adult titles that have been published in India recently. The books were selected by Anita Roy and Samina Mishra; then authors, reviewers and publishing professionals were asked to contribute short notes on the titles. It gives a sense of gravitas since as a reader you are assured that the titles have been assessed by experts. Years ago, the Puffin Good Reading Guide for Children was published, with a preface by Ruskin Bond; it focused on English-language books from India and rest of the world. All these books are useful in their own way, but for the first time with the NBT publication we have now access to titles from other Indian languages as well!

Report draft by Subir Shukla; Editorial co-ordinators – Manas Ranjan Mahapatra and Dwijendra Kumar The Good Books Guide: How to select a good book for children National Book Trust, India, 2014. Pb. pp. 40 Rs. 130

Ed. Rubin D’Cruz; Editorial team – Meenakshi Behl, Ritu Krishna Children’s Books 2014: An annotated catalogue of select children’s books in India National Book Trust, India, 2014. Pb. pp. 290 Rs. 100

Eds. Anita Roy and Samina Mishra 101 Indian Children’s Books We Love! Young Zubaan, Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp. 168. Rs. 195

Ruskin Bond Puffin Good Reading Guide for Children Penguin Books India, Delhi, 2006. Pb. pp. 260. Rs. 250

26 Feb 2014

Puffin

My review in “Tehelka” of Zubaan’s “Of Mothers and Others” ( 11 April 2013)

My review in “Tehelka” of Zubaan’s “Of Mothers and Others” ( 11 April 2013)

My review of a new Zubaan title, published in Tehelka earlier today. The url is given below.

http://tehelka.com/mommie-dearest/ ( published online 11 April 2013)

This is a collection of essays, fiction and poetry published in support of Save the Children. The contributors are all women except for one — Jai Arjun Singh on the mother in cinema. Various aspects of motherhood are discussed — pregnancy, crankiness about mothering, time taken away from professional space and intellectual sustenance, adopting children, bereavement, becoming mothers to special children and on being motherless out of choice. Or being grandmothers, loving your grandchildren, smothering them with affection as the delightful Bulbul Sharma does to her brood of five. But when her grandchildren complain, “Why must you travel so much? All nanis should stay at home,” Bulbul argues that “the new generation of grandmothers work, travel and play golf. They attend board meetings and fight cases… but they are still grandmothers at heart.”

Being a mother never quite ends, even when children become adults. When they are babies, children consider their mothers as extensions of themselves. As Shashi Deshpande writes, “What really overwhelmed me was the way my entire life had been taken away from me by the baby and his needs. There was no space left for anything else.” Children can take over every minute of your life, but as Maya Angelou pointed out in a conversation with the BBC about her memoir, Mom & Me & Mom, mothering means learning to be patient with one’s offspring. Mothers are their children’s safety nets; they teach, nurture and love. This is not necessarily an inherent or ‘natural’ trait that women are born with. It is not inevitable that a maternal instinct is kindled the moment a mother sees her children, biological or adopted. The essay ‘Contests and Critiques in Surrogacy’ raises the pros and cons of the commercialisation of surrogacy, with its most immediate impact being on the family of the surrogate mother. She may opt to rent her womb as an economic necessity, but its emotional and social repercussions are still uncharted territory.

The most powerful essay has to be Manju Kapur’s, grieving for the loss of her 21- year-old daughter in a car accident 20 years ago. She had been helped by many to walk the “long, long road ah ead” till she experienced the “light again, a different light from the one they thought they would live in earlier, but light nonetheless”. Juxtapose this with Tishani Doshi’s poem, ‘The Day After the Death of My Imaginary Child’ and the pain experienced by Kapur is even more searing.

As always, Urvashi Butalia, when she writes, is very readable. Her essay on being childless (which has been widely shared on the Internet) dwells upon not having had a biological daughter. She comments upon the relationships other mother-daughter duos have, including that of her friend, Mona Ahmed, a hijra, and her adopted daughter, Ayesha. Once Ayesha and Urvashi talked “about her life, a young girl, brought up in a hijra household, the father (Mona) actually her mother, the grandmother (Chaman) referred to as ‘he’ by everyone but Dadi, grandmother, to Ayesha. ‘Can you imagine what it was like?’ she asks me. They gave me so much love, but a young girl growing up, she needs some things, she has questions to ask about herself, her body, who was I to ask? There was no other female, only these men/ women, these people of indeterminate sexuality. I was so alone. Perhaps motherhood can’t be learnt after all.”

This book has been making its presence felt, given its release at the Jaipur Literature Festival in January by Shabana Azmi. At the Delhi launch, actress Nandita Das released it while holding her son on her hip. After closing this book (which I read in one sitting), I thought that the contributors raised some very valid questions on the “naturalness” of motherhood and other popular social canards. What concerned me was that, except for Anita Roy, no one commented on the importance of nutrition and, by extension, the importance of the mother’s self-preservation. I say this advisedly, since late last year Zubaan co-published a book with Cequin, a Delhi-based NGO that, among its other efforts to aid the marginalised, runs nutrition camps to teach urban poor women to balance their diets within budget. Maybe a short comment could have been included from Cequin on the kinds of mothering that exist in the space they inhabit? Having said that, Of Mothers and Others is a fine, worthy read.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an international publishing consultant and columnist

Of Mothers and Others:Stories, Essays and Poems, Ed by Jaishree Misra Zubaan. 285 pp; Rs 495

Crossword Award decides not to give any award to children’s literature this year!

Crossword Award decides not to give any award to children’s literature this year!

(L-R): Ashwin Sanghi, Patrick French, Anita Roy, Gurcharan Das, Sidin Vadukut

The Crossword Book Award judges have decided not to award a children’s book award this year, citing the following reason: “Writing for children demands the best and the freshest of a writer’s imagination, backed by a high degree of editorial skill. The listed books are good reads and tackle a variety of themes, but in the meld of originality, ideas, and narrative skill, they fall short. We looked for empathy rather than discrimination, fun rather than instruction, audacity rather than political correctness, wonder rather than world-weary ennui – and came away disappointed. We didn’t find the quality of timelessness that so distinguishes award-winning material. We have listed five books for honorable mention. There is no award this year.”

Here is the list:

Raja and the giant donut
Mumbai rollercoaster
The mystry of mind net
Mayil will not be quiet
Beyond the blue river

Thoughts?