Assa Doron Posts

An anthology of writings on the Ganga: Goddess and River in History, Culture and Society

20150526_131129At a time when a law is expected to punish the polluters of river Ganga, an anthology of writings about the river is timely. An Anthology of Writings on the Ganga edited by Australians, Assa Doron, Richard Barz and Barbara Nelson is a collection of extracts from the epics — Mahabharata and the Ramayana; poetry and the Will and Testament of the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru; extracts giving a historical perspective such as by Jean Baptiste Tavernier, Iranian traveller Ahmad Behbahani to contemporary travel writers like Eric Newby, Raghubir Singh, Vijay Singh. The editors have even managed to make an eclectic selection giving a bird’s-eye view of how the river has caught the imagination of Indian fiction writers such as Manik Bandopadhyaya, Raja Rao, Amitav Ghosh, Vikram Seth and interestingly enough translation of a scene from a Raj Kapoor’s Bollywood film – Ram Teri Ganga Maili. The collection concludes with a handful of specially commissioned academic essays on the Ganga on topics as varied as culture, religion, Hinduism and the river economy.

The Central Government of India has established the National Water Mission for the “conservation of water, minimizing wastage and ensuring its more equitable distribution both across and within States through integrated water resources development and management”. ( http://wrmin.nic.in/forms/list.aspx?lid=267) Apart from this there are two projects for river Ganga — Namami Gange project and National Mission for Clean Ganga.  According to a newspaper article published on 19 May 2015 (http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/draft-law-to-curb-ganga-pollution-in-final-stages/article7219922.ece ) “the Rs. 20,000 crore Namami Gange project is spread over five years and covers 41 tributaries of Ganga. The National Mission for Clean Ganga that has been assigned the task of cleaning the river, is focussed on abatement of pollution and has designed its interventions around this. However, it is seeking partnerships and is tailoring its projects so that state governments, local municipalities and panchayats have a stake and take ownership of the projects for sustainability. To speed up the process of cleaning the river, the Mission has sought the participation of institutions, donors, overseas Indians, business and corporate houses to donate their might and money for projects or sponsoring projects to clean up the river . Already pilot projects have been launched in eight cities. The challenge is to set up a drainage system in thickly populated cities. The urgent need is to bring down lean season BOD levels in the river to 10 mg/litre/day, the Total Suspended Solid levels to 10 mg/litre/day and Total Faecal Coliform to 100 mg/litre/day. These levels run into over lakhs at present.

The Indo-Gangetic plain created by many years of sedimentation is the most fertile agricultural land in the subcontinent. The flat plains Gangastretch for miles till the horizon and are mostly covered in fields. So apart from the cultural and religious associations with the river the economic considerations are equally important for its preservation since India continues to be heavily dependent upon an agrarian economy — it is estimated to contribute at least fifty percent to the national economy. Given this scenario, it is handy to have an intelligently devised anthology tracing the history, cultural significance and contemporary views plus challenges on the maintenance of this river crucial to the socio-economic and cultural capital of India. The only quibble I have with this anthology is that when we have plenty of photographs of the river, including some iconic ones taken by Raghubir Singh, why was the book cover design inspired by Australian aboriginal art work?

Even so, read it.

Assa Doron, Richard Barz and Barbara Nelson An anthology of writings on the Ganga: Goddess and River in History, Culture, and Society Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2015. Hb. pp. 380 Rs 895

 

On cellphones and publishing, for the future — “Hear this story”

On cellphones and publishing, for the future — “Hear this story”

My column, “PubSpeak” in BusinessWorld online, May 2013. The link is here: http://www.businessworld.in/en/storypage/-/bw/hear-this-story/881657.0/page/0

In September 2011 at the PubNext conference, I heard of a bouquet of books being offered in Tamil at a very reasonable price, but on a data card. This is strategic marketing since this highlights the potential for the phone and tablet market. It also coincides with the growth in 3G or mobile broadband connections in India.

Nearly a decade ago, a friend from the phone industry and I experimented with the conversion of a short story into an audio file. We hired a recording studio and voice actors for the dramatisation. After some trial and error we generated a short audio clip, designed to suit the needs of the telephone industry (landline as well as mobile). Listeners could pause the story at any point and resume listening at a later time, an especially convenient feature for women. The business model was good but the experiment was a little before its time. One issue in particular was the general scarcity of good content. Now the time is right. The technology has been available for a while and consumers are able to use these multiple platforms with increased sensitivity and understanding.

With the audio publishing industry growing at a fast pace and the equally rapid increase in the mobile phone broadband user base, there is a lot of potential for the dissemination of content via mobile platforms. And here “content” is defined specifically as the transference of text from the printed matter to the digital platform or conversion to audio files.


In their recently published book, Cellphone Nation, Robin Jeffrey and Assa Doron discuss at length (albeit anecdotally) the impact mobile telephony has had on India since it was introduced in 1993. The statistics they rattle off about cellular phones are fascinating. In India there are more than 900 million telephone subscribers, of whom 600 million subscriptions are active, implying there is a phone for every two Indians, from infants to the aged. The authors go on to discuss the different aspects of Indian society, across genders and professions that mobile telephony has brought about changes, often for the better. Their insightful analysis of the effect texting has had on the evolution of languages and script is relevant to the publishing industry’s concerns with digital formats and the need to increase readership. Their evidence shows that rapidity with which languages and scripts are evolving today is the fastest seen since the Bible was translated. This phenomenon can be linked directly to the ease with which people have adopted text messages as a mode of communication. The adaptation to this medium was faster in those languages that used the Roman script. In order to access other language markets like those in India that operated in different non-Roman scripts, cellphone manufacturers and service providers quickly released the Panini Keypad. It enabled people to download software to write in all languages of India on the phone, fast and easily.

According to Shiv Putcha, Principal Analyst, Consumer Services, OVUM Telecom, the number of mobile connections in 2017 is projected to be about 1.35 billion, number of mobile broadband connections to be 351 million and the number of smartphones to be 163 million. These numbers indicate the potential of the technology to get across directly to readers. A small first step has been made in this direction by the announcement made by Harlequin UK in March 2013. They will be using the biNu app on phones (including feature phones) and tablets to deliver 8,700 titles from their stable, especially to the developing markets like Asia, Africa and South America. Tim Cooper, commercial director for Harlequin UK in the publishing industry business magazine, the Bookseller says “We’ve already established our Mills & Boon imprint in India, but it is our aim to make our content available to women across the world.”

biNu is a startup that was launched in early 2012 and is backed by Google chairman Eric Schmidt’s TomorrowVentures. The app’s interface is functional. It is not exciting or sophisticated but the potential to disseminate book-publishing content is easily discernible. According to Mark Shoebridge, VP Marketing, biNU, the app is available in English, Hindi and nearly 40 other languages, and supports over 200 fonts. Currently, news on biNu is available in Bengali, Kannada Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu. The app is available through Google Play for Android. It is designed specifically to work on the standard phones (feature phones and low-end Androids) that are used by more than 90 per cent of Indians. This infrastructure is a short step away from making audio books on phones a reality. Jayashree, Co-founder and Director TALK audiobooks says that “audiobooks attract VAT which at 5.5 per cent is not very high. (Books do not attract any tax in India.) If the audiobooks were to be made available for downloads on the phone they will probably attract service tax which is 12.5 per cent. But content on mobile will be the future.”

It will probably take a little more time for this particular market segment in publishing to mature but the indications are there it will happen. Some of the hurdles that will need to be addressed will be getting the copyright permission for using the content, accurate reporting of the usage of content (text and audio) by the telephone and internet service providers, plus working out the ideal price points given that books, especially in the Indian languages are very reasonably priced.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an international publishing consultant and columnist