Anushka Ravishankar Posts

“Alice in Wonderland” continues to inspire readers across the world

( My article on Alice in Wonderland has been published in Hindustan Times popular and widely circulated Sunday 20151018_065049supplement Brunch on 18 October 2015. It is a generous two-page spread in print20151018_065100 with the title “Curiouser And Curiouser”. I am c&p the text from the digital version here. The original url can be viewed at: http://www.hindustantimes.com/brunch/alice-in-wonderland-continues-to-inspire-readers-across-the-world/story-NKnM2TiOACiTMXQXtUI51M.html )

Scottish writer George MacDonald persuaded Carroll to self-publish Alice. It had been tested out on the MacDonald children by their mother – and the family loved it. (Above, Carroll with Mrs MacDonald and her children.) (Getty Images/Science Source)

Who’d have thought a self-published story written for the daughters of a friend would become a world classic, eagerly bought, borrowed and downloaded even now, 150 years later?

 Alice in Wonderland was written in 1865 by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a mathematics professor at Oxford, better known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll. He wrote it for Lorina, Alice and Edith, the three daughters of his friend, Reverend Henry Liddell.

Start of many things

Alice in Wonderland is about a girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole in pursuit of the White Rabbit and discovers a nonsensically delightful world with colourful characters like the Red Queen, the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and the March Hare. More writers, artists and creators all over the world have credited Alice as an inspiration than any other book, thanks to its imaginative world filled with fantastic linguistic acrobatics in rhyme and prose.

That the book should have emerged in the staid Victorian era of verbose and righteous prose says much for the power of creativity. Carroll was persuaded to publish Alice with his own illustrations, by Scottish author and poet, George MacDonald.

The story had been tested out on the MacDonald children by their mother. The family thoroughly enjoyed the tale, and Carroll self-published it. Then, it was edited and published by Alexander Macmillan.

Alice, coverLewis Carroll requested the well-known artist of Punch, Sir John Tenniel to create the illustrations, many of which were ultimately based on the original drawings made by the author. To commemorate the 150th year of its publication, Macmillan, the original publisher, has produced a scrumptious edition of The Complete Alice, with the original Tenniel illustrations in full colour. It is unusual for a publisher to be celebrating 150 years of a text, but Alice in Wonderland is perceived to be “a world text”.

Alice in Wonderland is about a girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole in pursuit of the White Rabbit. On the left is an illustration of the character by Carroll himself, and next to it (right) by Tenniel. (Photos: Stapleton Collection/Corbis, The Print Collector/Corbis)

“It’s one of those texts that IS, like Shakespeare,” says graphic novelist Samit Basu. “Its constant reinterpretations in everything, from zombie comics to action-fantasy novels, have kept the original text alive, and that’s the greatest thing that can happen to any book.”

This is evident by the text’s vast influence across creative platforms and genres – storytelling, play on words, visual arts, filmmakers, still photography and translations.

According to filmmaker and author Devashish Makhija, a lot of motifs from Alice have been uncannily replicated across the world. “Tweedledum and Tweedledee seem to have inspired Herge’s Thompson and Thomson in Tintin,” he says. “Batman’s Joker seems to have shades of the Mad Hatter, at least in his inexplicable (but profound) reliance on creating some sort of chaos in anything he communicates.”

And there’s more. When Alice fell down a rabbit hole to discover a topsy-turvy world, Makhija argues, she opened a clear story-telling device for creators of the future. “The ‘hole’ – although in existence before this book – was used pointedly for the first time as a portal connecting two dimensions through which a character ‘travels’.

It has since been used in versions in almost ALL of fantasy writing: the wardrobe in CS Lewis’s Narnia series, the square drawn with chalk in Pan’s Labyrinth, platform 93/4 inHarry Potter, the bridge of Terabithia, HG Wells’s time machine and even the bathtub in Anurag Kashyap’s No Smoking.”

Follow that rabbit

“Every reader will leave with a different reading,” says Anil Menon, author of speculative fiction. “Fortunately, Alice in Wonderland has remained what it was intended to be: an invitation to play.”

Let loose in the imaginative world of Alice’s Wonderland, children often find their own wonderlands when they become adults, says photographer and musician Ed Valfre. “Several years ago, I wrote two children’s books about a boy in the backseat of a car who creates stories from all that he sees on the road. As Alice decides to go down the rabbit hole to discover the fantastical world of Wonderland, my hero goes down a similar path but it is inside his own head. The rabbit I follow is some ordinary thing we see every day. The rabbit hole is our imagination and we simply have to pay attention to discover it.”

Jeff VanderMeer, who won the Nebula 2014 for his novel, Annihilation, says that Alice “was such an influence. I Jeff Vandermeer, Southern Reach Trilogy, Rabbit Totem, illustrated by Jeremy Zerfossstarted a far-future novel when I was 13 in which a human-sized bio-engineered white rabbit is found murdered at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. What appealed to me was the surreal aspect of Carroll’s book, even more so than the kind of mathematical logic and the humour. I couldn’t escape Alice even if I tried. It’s one of those constants, or compass points, that for some odd reason draws out originality despite being riffed off again and again.”

There are no white rabbits in filmmaker Paromita Vohra’s work, Unlimited Girls, but Vohra says it is deeply influenced by Alice in Wonderland. In the film, a young woman is drawn into an Internet chat room – kind of like a rabbit hole – and then proceeds on a journey through the world of feminism where she meets all kinds of characters and undergoes all kinds of transformations.

“I think Alice is (like a good Bollywood film, almost) one of those works that gives you permission to make a work out of what you see, what you feel as one,” says Vohra.

In many ways, Alice is a nonsense book. Not in the sense that it is the product of a muddled mind, but because of its willingness to see more in the world than a single outward façade. That’s the aspect that influenced children’s author, known especially for nonsense writing, Anushka Ravishankar the most.

“I remember reading Alice as a child and being fascinated, but also really disturbed because of the strange creatures and the weird, unworldly goings-on,” she says. “It was only much later that I began to appreciate the other elements – the nonsense, the logical games and the clever theories which the nonsense hid. I studied mathematics, so I do believe that Carroll’s mathematical mind came up with things that seem nonsensical but are actually possible given a different mathematical frame.”

It is extraordinary that a story spun to entertain a six-year-old girl on a boating trip has continued to brighten the lives of generations spanning more than a century.

And so just like the way it began in the beginning, Alice in Wonderland remains what it is – a story to delight children.

“My greatest joy,” says Samit Basu, “was the completely context-free sizzle that went through my brain when I first read it as a child, and there’s nothing that can either truly explain or analyse that.”

**

Looking back through translations

On 4 October, 1866, Lewis Carroll wrote to his publisher Macmillan, stating, “Friends here [in Oxford] seem to think that the book is untranslatable.” But his friends were wrong as the editors of Alice in a World of Wonderlands: The Translations of Lewis Carroll’s Masterpiece, would tell Carroll if they could.

Alice in a World of Wonderlands: The Translations of Lewis Carroll’s Masterpiece documents the classic’s translations in 174 languages and over 9,000 editions and reprints. (Pictured in it is Alice Liddell, the little girl the book was written for)

This book, edited by Jon A Lindseth and Alan Tannenbaum, documents translations in 174 languages and over 9,000 editions and reprints of Alice in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass.

“There are nine translations of Alice into Tamil, plus an unpublished draft, a short story, a serialised story, and a graphic version,” says Dr Rajamanickam Azhagarasan, contributor to the book. “It was popular among those involved in the movement for children’s literature from the ’40s through the ’70s. Each translation was unique, depending on which aspect the translators wished to highlight.”

Alice has been translated in Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Konkani, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Nepali and Sinhala. Here (left to right) are translations in Malayalam (2000), Urdu (1981) and Oriya (2002).

Much like the way storytellers have always found new stories to weave out of the Indian epics, Alice’s translators in India have created different Wonderlands – for instance, by weaving mythological elements into the story.

“The Telugu translation of Alice was available as early as the mid-1950s,” says Suresh Kosaraju, trustee, Manchi Pustakam, Secunderabad.

Editor Sushama Sonak says, “Mugdhachi Rangit Goshta (The Many Coloured World of Mugdha) written in Marathi by short story writer GA Kulkarni was heavily influenced by Alice.”

In Malayalam, the first translation was published by Balan Publications. Lewis Carroll certainly influenced the well-known children’s nonsense writer in Bengali, Sukumar Ray, as well as Hemendra Kumar Roy, who wrote wonderful detective stories in Bangla and translated Alice in Wonderland: it is called Ajab Deshe Amala.

Even Vladimir Nabokov, the author of Lolita, translated Alice into Russian. According to translator Sergei Task, “By and large, [Nabokov] translated the text as is, except for Russifying the names (Alice/Anya, Mabel/Asya, and the Rabbit got a last name – Trusikov) and introducing pre-revolutionary forms of address such as barin (master) and vashe blagorodiye (your honour). Of course, with the playful verses, he had to take liberties – again, trying to adapt them for Russian readers.”

18 October 2015 

Literati – Kids and reading ( 1 February 2015)

Jaya Bhattacharji RoseMy monthly column, Literati, in the Hindu Literary Review was published online ( 31 January 2015) and will be in print ( 1 February 2015). Here is the url http://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/literati-a-look-at-the-world-of-books-publishing-and-writers/article6842119.ece. I am also c&p the text below. )

One day a mother asked me how she could get her sons to read. I wondered if the children were off picture and pop-up books too. The mother said, “They are too old for pop-up books! They are in kindergarten.”

In January, Scholastic Inc. published Kids & Family Reading Report (Fifth edition) based on a survey conducted in the US.., but some of the results are valid worldwide. Reading out aloud to children regularly kindles an interest in books, unleashes their imagination, makes them curious and introduces them to a variety of cultural indicators. Children aged six and above began to show signs of easing away from reading for pleasure. A possible reason is that adults want the children to be “independent readers” and so stop reading out aloud. Eighty-three per cent of children across age groups say they love(d) or like(d) being read to a lot — the main reason being it was a special time with parents. With an older age group of children (ages 12-17) who are frequent readers, it was noticed that they read a book of choice independently in school, relied upon e-reading experiences, had access to a large home library, were aware of their reading level and had parents involved in their reading habits.

Ninety-one percent of children aged 6-17 say, “my favourite books are the ones that I have picked out myself.” The majority of kids aged 6-17 (70 per cent) say they want books that “make me laugh.” Kids also want books that “let me use my imagination” (54 per cent), “tell a made-up story” (48 per cent), “have characters I wish I could be like because they’re smart, strong or brave” (43 per cent), “teach me something new” (43 per cent) and “have a mystery or a problem to solve” (41 per cent). While the percentage of children who have read an e-book has increased across all age groups since 2010 (25 vs. 61 per cent), the majority of children who have read an e-book say most of the books they read are in print (77 per cent). Nearly two-thirds of children (65 per cent) — up from 2012 (60 per cent) — agree that they’ll always want to read books in print even though there are e-books available. Heartening news for publishers!

At Digital Book World Conference 2015 (January 13-15, 2015), New York, Linda Zecher, CEO, Houghton Mifflin, said, “You can’t serve content to children, you have to curate.” Mixing a variety of books for younger readers is important — picture books, pop-up books or even explosive pop-up books and poetry. Sudeshna Shome Ghosh, Editorial Director, Red Turtle, says, “With simple words that may have repetitions or rhymes and pictures, these books are easy to reread and even remember by heart. Even as a child grows older, trickier concepts are easier introduced through picture books (where do babies come from, how people/things are same and different, concepts of diversity, human emotions etc.)”. Imprints that specialise in graded reading are Puffin India, Hole Books/Duckbill Books, Read it yourself with Ladybird, Banana Storybooks/Egmont Publishing, Usborne Young reading, Let’s read!/Macmillan, I Can Read!/Harper, Step into Reading/Random House, and Scholastic Reader.

In India, children are fortunate to be exposed to a multi-lingual environment. It is not always easy to locate a single publishing list that will whet all appetites. Instead it has to be “curated” from the moment infants are given cloth and board books and flash cards. Some books for all ages that “work” splendidly are the late Bindia Thapar’s Ka Se Kapade Kaise (Tulika Books); Anushka Ravishankar, Sirish Rao and Durga Bai’s One, Two, Three! (Tara Books), Devdutt Pattanaik’s Pashu: Animal Tales from the Hindu Mythology, Puffin Books; H.S. Raza’s Bindu with Ritu Khoda and Vanita Pai (Scholastic India); What a song! A Bundelkhandi Folk Tale (Eklavya Publication); Rabindranath Tagore’s Clouds and Waves (Katha); Ruskin Bond’s Tigers for Dinner: Tall Tales (Red Turtle) and Nury Vittachi’s The Day it Rained Letters (Hachette India).

As adults we like books that have “pictures”. Few like to admit to the truth. So we disguise it with our preference for heavily illustrated books, photo books, coffee table books and to some extent graphic novels. So why is it with our children we are in a hurry for them to read books that border on the “educational”?

31 January 2015

Jumpstart, 28-29 Aug 2013

Jumpstart, 28-29 Aug 2013

Logo

 

Alok Rai, Manisha Choudhury, Subir Shukla, Jumpstart 2013Jumpstart this year was focused on talking, discussing, tackling issues in children’s literature in a range of languages. The discussions were not necessarily confined to the domain of English-language publishing. The presentations, panel discussions and conversations on the side were representative of the enthusiasm, involvement and engagement that the various stakeholders in children’s literature hold. For Subir Shukla, the definition of children’s literature, was inclusive of textbooks that were being created for children in all languages across all states. It was not necessarily confined to the domain of trade literature ( picture books, chapter books, fiction and non-fiction) but that which was being created and used on a daily basis in classrooms across states. According to Subir Shukla textbooks such as the ones he was discussing had phenomenal print runs of 700,000 + as opposed to 5,000+ of trade literature, so it was a definition hard to dispute. Though there will always be quibbles about what constitutes “children’s literature”.

Anita Roy, Sampurna Chattarji and Anushka Ravishankar, Jumpstart 2013

Anita Roy, Sampurna Chattarji and Anushka Ravishankar, Jumpstart 2013

 

The first day sessions were attended very well. There were an estimated 175 people who had registered, apart from the invitees, speakers, panelists etc. But there was even better constructive engagement to be experienced on the sidelines, during the coffee and lunch breaks, the reception ( by invitation only) in the evening etc. The second day was quieter with a hum of activity in the various sessions. These were primarily masterclasses focussed on writing and illustrating, followed by the book souk — a form of B2B speed-dating between authors and publishers. Audience, Jumpstart 2013

Jumpstart 2013

Jumpstart 2013

This is the fourth edition of Jumpstart. Every year there has been something new on offer. In terms of content, formats and organisation. For instance, this year participants could register on separate days, depending upon what sessions were of interest to them rather than sign up for the two-day conference. It made a marked difference to the level of engagement between the audience and speakers. There were (mostly) focussed questions from the floor instead of too many rambling observations. The proposed format of inviting speakers to make presentations like the TED lectures was a good idea, since these are highly experienced professionals, but without a rehearsal the day before there was palpable nervousness amongst the speakers. So very soon the TED-like talks fizzled out into simple presentations from the podium followed by a panel discussion.

This time it was evident that the first day of the conference was meant for intensive networking. People were obviously engaged in serious conversations, business cards were being exchanged and the immense (business) possibilities of bringing so many stakeholders in children’s literature together was apparent. If only it were possible to know beforehand who were all the registered participants at Jumpstart, maybe the networking could have been more effective, since there is a limit to how many conversations one can have in a few hours. Energies do get spent. Maybe upon registering Jumpstart visitors could visit a restricted access section of the official website and view the names of expected people and their email ids, reach out to them, fix appointments, and do a bit of homework before attending the conference so the interactions could be far more constructive. Otherwise too much time was being spent in exchanging pleasantries, especially for Jumpstart virgins. Veterans, of course, knew how to mingle and move swiftly from one huddle to the next, glean information, exchange cards and initiate conversations, many to be completed days later. Over the years, I hear, many business engagements have emerged from  or facilitated by Jumpstart. This year one of the immediate ones was award-winning illustrator Julia Kaergel’s visit to Kumaon University, facilitated by Arundhati Desothali.

(C) Julia Kaergel

(C) Julia Kaergel

 

 

 

Masterclass, Jumpstart 2013The “practical” aspect of the conference – the masterclasses and the Book Souk  – are  feature that continue to enchant a number of participants. Illustrators and writers have the opportunity have face-to-face interactions with publishing professionals, experts and of course authors can meet editors of publishing firms to show them their manuscripts.  Maybe next year a session on learning how to cost one’s labour and/or the costs involved in producing children’s literature could also be factored in. It would certainly help many of the conversations to be a tad sharper and focused. People have dreams and it is up to the publishers to make them come alive through a partnership, but many of those dreams need to be realistic, only possible if economics and money are discussed.

 

Translation panel, Jumpstart 2013

Translation panel, Jumpstart 2013

Rohini Chowdhury, translator and writer, says it well about children’s literature, something that German Book Office is constantly working at and facilitating through such platforms like Jumpstart  – “Children are demanding readers, they absorb and observe, criticize and comment with a great deal more engagement and involvement than do most adults. They are also our future, and therefore, whether it is an original novel or story, or a translated work, children deserve the best that I can give.” (http://bit.ly/18OytEa )

11 Sept 2013

 

hOle Books, Duckbill Books

hOle Books, Duckbill Books

hOle books, off Facebook page

In April 2013, Duckbill Books launched a new chapter book series in India called hOle books. ( Duckbill books was launched in 2012. It has been established by Anushka Ravishankar and Sayoni Basu. Two names that are very well known in children and YA literature in India and worldwide.) There are four inaugural titles, with one seasoned author, Asha Nehemiah, and three new authors. Each book has a balance between text and illustration. Short chapters, with text laid out well enough for a new reader to understand the text. These books work well for reading out aloud or for a little child to trace their fingers on the text and read slowly and clearly. At the same time, without being tied down to too many technicalities, the stories do have a zany imaginative aspect to them. My particular favourite is Asha Nehemiah’s Trouble with Magic. It has magic, imagination, taking off from an extremely ordinary situation at home. Plus a lot of colourful descriptions in the text. I read out some of the stories to my three-year-old daughter, Sarah. She loved them. The black and white illustrations are simple with bold strokes. Easy to match with the text. In 99% of the cases it works well, except for p.36 of Meera Nair’s Maya Saves the Day. I would not have noticed the discrepancy in the illustration, if it were not for the fuss being made in the story about Maya throwing a tantrum and her mother remarking upon the cost of the t-shirt that she was wearing. In the illustration though she is wearing a frock. Minor detail, but literal minded tiddlers can get quite annoying with their questions about these lapses.

The branding of hOle Books is delightful with a big fat hole punched straight through the top right hand corner of every book. The moment Sarah spotted it, she was ecstatic. She immediately poked her finger through it and danced around the house singing, “its mine, its mine”. Hmm! Not sure if that is what meant to be done to books, but if it helps inculcate a love for books, for reading, beginning with the tactile sense, then I am all for it!

hOle Books, published by Duckbill Books, India. Distributed by Westland books. Here is their Facebook page. http://www.facebook.com/hOlebooks?fref=ts

Deadly Royal Recipe, Ranjit Lal ( Duckbill and Westland)

Deadly Royal Recipe, Ranjit Lal ( Duckbill and Westland)

When you put together an editor-cum-author (Anushka Ravishankar) and an author (Ranjit Lal) team together–who between them have nearly 50 books published–you get a crackling good story for YA. Read Deadly Royal Recipe. A modern day princess story, full of spunk, adventure and laughter. Warning: Keep a bowl of munchies near you, or by the time you finish reading this book, you will be ravenous!

Read more about the book and an interview with Ranjit Lal at the Duckbill website: http://theduckbillblog.wordpress.com/category/ranjit-lal/