Bangalore Posts

Agni Sreedhar’s “The Gangster’s Gita”

The Gangster’s Gita by Agni Sreedhar is a slim book. It is a conversation between a hit man and his victim. They are waiting for the appointed time of the killing which will be indicated by the hit man’s boss. While biding their time the two men start conversing. The “victim” is a hit man too. So call this conversation a kind of swapping professional notes or just sharing thoughts as the end draws near. Even so the calm and composed manner in which it is narrated, even by making allowances for the written word, the last few pages come as a jolt. At times it feels as if it is two men merely chatting across the lawns of the farmhouse where the hostage has been spirited away and not that the victim is standing on the balcony of a locked room looking down upon the hit man who is sweating it out doing his daily routine of exercises. For inexplicable reasons they start conversing, knowing full well that their breaking their profession’s codes of conduct. It is not advisable to become too familiar with each other in this nasty business.

Set in the Bangalore underworld of the ‘90s, The Gangster’s Gita—published in Kannada as Edegarike is set to become an instant cult classic in English. The writer is an ex-gangster, Agni Sreedhar, who also won the Sahitya Akademi award for his memoir — My Days in the Underworld: Rise of the Bangalore Mafia. His column in a Kannada paper was called “Editorial from Behind Bars” which he wrote while incarcerated in Bellary jail. Apparently in the literary circles of Karnataka it was well known that before Agni Sreedhar strayed into a world of crime, he was a voracious reader and deeply influenced by Albert Camus and Carlos Castaneda. Once he famously asked a friend to get him Camus’ The Outsider to re-read in jail.

It is impossible to share the gist of the freewheeling conversation between the two men except to say that this book is worth reading. Also it is hard to distinguish how much of this is fiction and how much the truth. An extraordinary book. It is a book that will travel well overseas too as a fine example of World Literature. It exists. Read it. Mull over it. You will not regret it.

9 Dec 2019

Jaya’s newsletter 3 – 11 November 2016

( Please feel free to write with suggestions and comments: jayabhattacharjirose1 at gmail dot com )

Hello!

On 8 September 2016, the demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 was announced by the government of India. Newly designed currency, freshly minted with embedded chips will be brought into circulation. It is a move to counter black money in the country but it would be interesting to know how this impacts many of the publishers and booksellers in India, many of whom deal predominantly in cash. For now it is impossible to tell.

New Arrivals

  • Jorge Carrion Bookshops (MacLehose Press)
  • Cecilia Ahern Lyrebird ( HarperCollins India)
  • Jeff Kinney Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down ( Puffin, PRH India)
  • Twinkle Khanna The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad ( Juggernaut)
  • Bina Shah A Season for Martyrs ( Speaking Tiger)
  • Ritu Menon Loitering with Intent ( Speaking Tiger)
  • T.J.S. George Askew ( Aleph)
  • Anthony Horowitz Magpie Murders ( Hachette)
  • Jeffrey Archer This was a Man ( Pan MacMillan India )

Jaya Recommends:

  • Rajelakshmy, a physicist by training who published these extraordinary “feminist” stories in the weeklyimg_20161111_102225 Mathrubhumi and monthly Mangalodayam. She committed suicide in 1965 but the stories and the incomplete novel have been compiled together for the first time as A Path and Many Shadows& Twelve Stories  (Translated from Malayalam by R.K. Jayasree, Orient Black Swan)
  • oddny-eirOddny Eir’s incredibly stunning Land of Love and Ruins.  It is a semi-autobiographical reflection on nature, literature, philosophy and commerce. Oddny Eir has also written songs for Bjork.  (Translated from the Icelandic by Philip Roughton, Restless Books)
  • Seirai Yuichi’s magnificent Ground Zero, Nagasaki : Short Stories . These22329531 chilling stories set in contemporary Nagasaki are about the  minority community of Japanese practising Catholicism and trying to survive the endless trauma of the atomic bomb. (Translated by Paul Warham. Columbia University Press)
  • Raina Telgemeier’s absorbingly brilliant graphic novel Ghosts. It is about ghostslittle Catrina who has cystic fibrosis and celebration of Dia de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead. It is to be released at the Comic Con, Bangalore. (Scholastic India)

Book Events

11 Nov: Sahitya Akademi symposium on Rajelakshmy at 5:30pm

11-13 Nov: Kathakar, Children’s Literature Festival, IGNCA New Delhi followed by 14 November at the IGNCA Bengaluru and on 17 November at the CSMVS, Mumbai

12-13 Nov: Comic Con, Bangalore

14 Nov: Simon & Schuster India will be celebrating 5 years in India (By invitation only)

15 Nov: Shauna Singh Baldwin will be in conversation with Amrita Bhalla to discuss the diasporic writings about shaunas-conversationSouth Asian life and culture and will also talk about and read from her latest book “Reluctant Rebellions”.

People & Jobs 

Rahul Dixit has been appointed Sales Director, HarperCollins India. He was earlier with PRH India.

gillon-aitken-and-v-s-naipaul

Gillon Aitken with V.S. Naipaul, Amer Fort, Jaipur. (C) Patrick French

A few days ago legendary literary agent, Gillon Aitken, passed away. Patrick French posted a short tribute on his Facebook page along with some marvellous photographs. Republished with permission.

A one-year vacancy of the books editor at The Caravan Magazine has been announced.

Prizes

  • The Order of the Rising Sun – Gold & Silver Ray, the highest civilian award by Imperial manorama-jaffa-2-japan-award manorama-jaffaMajesty of Japan, was conferred on Manorama Jaffa in recognition of her contribution to children’s writing in India. After Prof. Brij Tankha, Mrs. Jaffa is the second Indian to have been honoured.
  • SPARROW Literary Award 2016: The SPARROW panel of judges (N Sukumaran, Kannan Sundaram and Ambai) for SPARROW-R Thyagarajan Literary Award decided to choose the category of translation for award this year. Translations from one Indian language to another and direct translation from a foreign language (other than English) to Tamil were taken for consideration. The SPARROW-R Thyagarajan Literary Award 2016 will go to Kulachal S M Yoosuf for his translations from Malayalam to Tamil, Gowri Kirubanandan, for her translations from Telugu to Tamil and Sridharan Madhusudhanan for his translations from Chinese to Tamil.
  • French-Moroccan writer Leïla Slimani won the Goncourt, France’s top literary prize. The former journalist is only the seventh woman to have won the Goncourt in its 112-year history. The novel has been a best seller — more than 76,000 copies have been purchased so far.
  • Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing won the Giller Prize ( $100,000)
  • Lynne Kutsukake’s The Translation of Loves won the 2016 Canada-Japan Literary Award (English category). And Genevieve Blouin’s Hanaken: Le Sang des Samourais won in the French category.
  • orhan-pamukOrhan Pamuk won the 1million rouble (US$15,715) Russian Yasnaya Polyana Literary Prize, based at Leo Tolstoy’s estate. Pamuk’s novel A Strangeness in My Mind  translated into Russian in 2016, won in the “Foreign literature” nomination of the award, which aims to support both the traditions of classical literature and new trends in contemporary writing. ( http://bit.ly/2fnbDxT ) The Russian translator of Pamuk’s novel, Apollinaria Avrutina, receives a prize of 200,000 rubles (US$3,143). The Yasnaya Polyana Literary Prize was founded in 2003 by Samsung Electronics and the museum and estate of Leo Tolstoy in Tula. According to the jury chairman Vladimir Tolstoy, Leo Tolstoy’s great grandson and cultural advisor to the Russian president, the award is meant to help readers find their way in the world of Russia’s literature and international contemporary books—a universal reply to the question “What to read?”

Meanwhile PEN America has released a revised version of its modified contract for literary translations . It is worth looking at.

Miscellaneous

walking-bookfairsBookshops: In Lucknow the iconic Ram Advani’s bookshop closed down on Sunday, 6 November 2016 as there was no one left to run it after his death. But there was good news with the resurrection of Walking Bookfairs, Bhubaneswar, Odisha. After the book shack was demolished the founders Satabdi Mishra and Bahibala Akshaya built a new bookstore saying “Bookstores around the world are closing down. And we are opening a new one. Because we are madly in love with books and bookstores. Long live bookstores!”

reemLondon-based publisher, Reem Makhoul, of Ossass gave a tremendous interview to Marcia Lynx Qualey, ArabLit on children’s literature where Reem says they wanted to give the children what they are familiar with, so began creating beautiful books in colloquial Arabic.  Amazon too seeing the potential of a reading habit has launched an app for children – Amazon Rapids Recently the Financial Times listed a series of smartphone reading apps or a mobile library such as The Pigeonhole, Alexi and Oolipo.

11 Nov 2016 

Guest post: Nabina Das on poetry in 2014

Nabina Das( I asked a few friends to write about the books they had read and wished to recommend. Here is the first post. It is by Nabina Das, a poet and a writer. Nabina Das, a 2012 Charles Wallace Fellow, University of Stirling, UK, and a 2012 Sangam House Fiction Fellow, has a recent poetry collection Into the Migrant City and a short fiction collection The House of Twining Roses: Stories of the Mapped and the Unmapped. Her debut poetry collection Blue Vessel was listed as one of best of 2012 and her first novel Footprints in the Bajra, was long-listed in the 2011 Vodafone-Crossword prize. A 2011 Rutgers University MFA, a 2007 Joan Jakobson (Wesleyan University) and a Julio Lobo fiction scholar (Lesley University), and a mediaperson for about 10 years, Nabina teaches Creative Writing in classrooms and workshops.

Poetry listing 2014—NABINA DAS

If writing poetry is a compulsion then reading the same becomes an obsession. And there’s almost no day or night I don’t read a poetry book or at least a single poem or even the fragment of a poem. At times, I read one or two lines and shut the poem or the magazine or the online site just to ponder what I read. Now that the year 2014 is rushing past like a busy moth, its silk turning to wintry woolen weaves, busy against the bright light of events and incidents and festivals that loom in our hearts and fates, I’ve been reading poetry each day and night to keep myself alive on a very metaphysical level. Below is a glimpse of my endeavor. Not all of this poetry is published in 2014. I tend to live by old and new, poetry found and retraced, given and sent away.

Reading Keki N Daruwalla is retracing poetry in Indian English writing. His work is an arc of the beginning and what is now shaping up. Reading lines like

Does the world need maps, where sign and symbol,
standing as proxies, get worked into scrolls? (Map-Maker)

I know the world still remains stratified in layers of time and space, and we grapple with its manifold schemes. Daruwalla’s prayer-like voice rings true for me as I read:

Though there were no words,
fear had a voice with many echoes.
Worship was quieter, adoration
spoke only through the eyes or knees. (Before the Word)

For those that have not yet read Keki N Daruwalla, do pick up his Collected Poems (1970-2005) for a wholesome treat.

Uddipana Goswami’s book Green Tin Trunk (Authorspress, 2014) was a good read this year. The poems crackle like coal fire on winter nights. I could relate to several, being from Assam. There’re a few others I’m still mulling over. Lines such as these bring my Guwahati back to me:

did not know I had to love you then, Guwahati,
When I lived, walked, danced, played, breathed/
In your streets. (Guwahati)

The crisis of identity is mine too, but we know in Goswami’s verse how the poet deals with it:

On the other shore
I am shorn of my identity
I stand half naked
‘You eat human flesh don’t you?’
Nowadays I do not protest
Quietly I pay the price of being
What they are not. (Exile I)
Vijay Sheshadri made news as his 3 Sections: Poems (2013) won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. I’ve been reading bits and pieces of Sheshadri even earlier. Although I hunted for this book in India and couldn’t find it right after he became much celebrated in India too, I recently found this Indian edition of 3 Sections: Poems (http://www.amazon.in/Sections-Pulitzer-Letters-Poetry-Winner/dp/155597662X) folks might like to buy. Having ordered it, I went back to reading this below. Mainly because the poet whose book eluded me this long, Sheshadri represented himself in these lines:

I’ve been excited about him as an individual.

I’ve met him as a person, emerging from his own shadow.

Indeed it is remarkable. (Life of a Savage)

 

And of course, his translation of Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib’s No, I wasn’t meant to love and be loved (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/185277) had captured my attention because of my love for Ghalib in the Devnagri script; Ghalib, a poet I thought I saw close to my poetics.

Famous poets, prize winning poets, and commended poets abound easily. What does not abound easily is a lucid poet’s gift of her own book that comes as a promise of freshness in voice and tenor. Daya Bhat of Bangalore, in her A Maiden of 29 (Writers Workshop, 2009), effortlessly mixes the high voice of sarcasm with the low intensity cheekiness of an observer of a folly:

I no more care for I am no more me,
Call me by any name; it hardly matters.
It’s your call; it’s your fantasy! (Custom-made)

Bhat’s style is a good application of the vocative case I barely get to see in Indian English writing. It makes her poetry an apt purveyor of both satire and depth.

Elaine Terranova has been my mentor at Rutgers University, Camden, NJ, from 2010-2011. Usually, one reads one’s teacher sparingly. At least I did in high school and college. Much of the student-ness was about smirking and thinking – oh she’s telling me to write the way she does. But I have to confess, Terranova’s poetry and teaching were two different ballgames for me. They overlap as well as go right past themselves. In her Damages (Copper Canyon Press, 1995), a book she gave me as I left for home, I revisited her concern about the body, childhood experiences, and the turmoil of the ‘interior’ – things I thought were unavoidable especially when I saw my daughter growing up to a toddler:

 

I pass easily where he
is not allowed. Like her, I’m chilled
in my thin gown. There is
a fineness, a definiteness
to her face. This beauty
is her own decision. A TV screen
plays a loop of film, women circling
their breasts with their fingertips,
women staring into a mirror. (Self-examination)

Nilim Kumar is an Assamese poet who has been translated into English by various people, ace poets themselves or novices. The first time I came across his poetry was in The Dhauli Review. Kumar charts a territory in language that is hard reality. Not harsh, rather, lyrical and down to earth:

Whoever has prepared lunch washing and rubbing the blood smeared hands this midday
That meal would’ve been the just match with the dirtiest hunger in the earth
But
The irony is
Hunger is on someone’s stomach (A Poem, tr. Bibekanand Chaudhury)

But the fragrance of a soil and light that his work conveyed to me – not because again, he is from Assam – fascinated me with their juxtaposition with the romantic and the political, particularly, in Five Poems:

Her heart
A tall hill
I caress her
in the form of clouds.
Sometimes
I collide
on her stony bosom
And come down
drenching the trees, foliages,
fields and houses
People say
it is raining (Rain)

I hope to grab a copy of his original collection/s soon.

Having myself been published by Writers Workshop, Calcutta, in 2014, I’m aware how I share space with veteran poets. My own publication prompted me to pick up a 2010 WW volume by Hoshang Merchant, my mentor poet from Hyderabad. Titled Hyderabad Quartet, this is a special volume of Merchant’s collected works. Also special because, this volume acknowledges the demise of P Lal, the main intellectual driver of WW, in 2010. Merchant is fierce and coy both, a quality not very well known in modern Indian English poetry:

Walking down the street of banglesellers
Pleases the woman in me (Holi in Hyderabad)

Reading Merchant is a fresh-mint feeling on the tongue, although I’m not sure he’d approve of the analogy. His urbane chagrin made me wonder why I don’t get to read more lines like this:

Each one has his own dream over coffee
The chef dreams America
The waiter dreams custom
I dream about the waiter (Coffee 6/8/91)

In 2014, one of the loveliest events that happened is that I was privy to a book launch of and poetry reading in honor of Wang Ping, creative writing professor at Macalester, in Hyderabad. Ping’s latest book in its Indian edition was brought to us poets by young Linda Ashok of Raedleafpoetry India. Ten Thousand Waves felt good in my hands. Although as a principle I read new poetry books only after the launch and hype passes away, I took a look inside and didn’t seem to give up reading. Ping’s poetry made me comfortable as someone who mixes registers and images. China or America, hovering spirits or the living, water or its dream, identity or its duct-taping and re-duct-taping – all of that seemed close to what I’ve been doing so far.

And here we are, in the waist-deep sludge
A sac of mud – a tail of greed
Leaching in our stove. (A Hakka Man Farms Rare Earth in South China)

Her metaphors cling to dirt and dust, the imagery dances like coal fire, and the themes of the book read to me like prayers for rice and potato and all that sustains. In prose, dialogues, chorus and verse, this book stunned me at every page:

We know the tolls: twenty-three—Rockaway, NY, fifty-
eight—Dover, England, eighteen—Shenzhen, twenty-
five—South Korea and many more

We know we may end up in the same boat (Lin Zhi Fang, Yu Hui: Ten Thousand Waves)

Almost throughout the second part of 2014, I’ve been reading new writing by Seb Doubinsky, professor in Aarhus University, Denmark. But guess where I read most of his new work: it was on Facebook! My reading happened surreptitiously, as though I didn’t want to let anyone know I was reading these little verses – a series – on the social media. Not a bias, just a curious registering of the fact that Doubinsky’s new work was blooming with feedback and quips from his acquaintances on Facebook, an exercise not many poets would undertake and face the rigor of. Consider these:

this poem doesn’t believe
in poetry anymore
it thinks it is vain
pointless and limited
this poem, like Rimbaud in Aden,
wants to stop being written
***

this poem is 100% artificial
absolutely no natural images,
sugar or color added
***

(for Matthew Lippman)

this poem thinks it’s Jewish
but isn’t sure – it might be
Muslim, gypsy or gay
it might even be a woman or
a nine year old working in a textile factory
this poem could be anything
with a sad story to tell
but it sure has a big nose

The good news I got just now is that Doubinsky’s “this poem” bunch would be published by Leaky boot Press in early 2015. I guess from my side, that’s a big “like”!

Even before I‘d met Kazim Ali, who teaches in Oberlin University, at Hyderabad Literary Festival 2012 (HLF), I’ve been reading his poetry here and there. The same continued in 2014. Especially in the light of several  global crises – change of governments, such as the deeply rightwing power sweep in India, fundamentalist religious forces like the IS wreaking havoc in the Middle East, women’s and gay issues continuing to receive bashing at home and abroad – Ali’s poetry lifted me up to a zone of light this year. I read from his old and new.  Far Mosque (Alice James Books, 2005) and The Fortieth Day (BOA Editions, 2008). Reading Ramadan made my atheist self genuflect again to the cardinal values in human. Compassion for and reflection on life wasn’t ever more meaningful to me:

If the ground-water is too scarce one can stretch nets

into the air and harvest the fog.

 

Hunger opens you to illiteracy,

thirst makes clear the starving pattern,

 

the thick night is so quiet, the spinning spider pauses,

the angel stops whispering for a moment—

Kazim Ali will be publishing his new collection All One’s Blue: New and Selected Poems in India soon.

Another poet friend I’d met for the first time in HLF 2012 and shared the stage with, is Robert Bohm. I was familiar with his name but had never read his work earlier. While at the fest we exchanged notes and ideas and I brought back a couple of chapbooks by Bohm – especially, the much acclaimed Uz Um War Moan Ode – in 2014 I merely kept contemplating reading him but never thoroughly did barring a glimpse now and then. All this while, I kept writing to him and his wonderful wife Suman asking about their health and another possible India visit. He even contributed a blurb for my latest poetry collection. It’s only when recently Bohm sent me his latest book Closing the Hotel Kitchen (West End Press, 2011) that I found myself going through this scintillating collection. Bohm said in his Afterword that the poems here had grown out of his experiences with a complex smorgasbord of life: Beat life, army service, Indian connection by marriage, US hypocrisy in war and conflict mongering, Buddhism, brush with life in rural India, death and the façade of divinity.

Don’t ask me the color of the peach blossoms here.
when they fall, they flutter, pale and weightless
like thoughts in a sedated man’s mind,
toward whatever’s below. (Dear Mommy in your Grave at Nassau Knolls)

I’m glad I read Bohm finally – closely, intimately – to feel in my guts the words he had uttered at HLF 2012, during our meeting. The tragic in his voice is stridently upright, seeking a justice in this world:

“Where the fuck is my Bayonet?”
Brown once asked somewhere else.
Can’t think about that now.
Yesterday morning the Guptas saw me in the bus station.
“Are you wanting a place to rest for the night?” the husband asked.
She looked away. (Hospitality)

I’m a frugal and slow reader by disposition. In between all this, in 2014, I also re-read Sudeep Sen’s translation Aria and Billy Collins’ 180 More. Not to forget the timeless modern classic Madhushala. There’s so much to read. The list would get even longer and especially in poetry, one word leads to another, one metaphor leads to a new revelation, and that one poem will only prod me to think for days how language and realization come together to form a brilliant combination we all can cherish and share. Hope you had your own great poetry time in 2014!

(C) Nabina Das

29 December 2014

 

“Idris” by Anita Nair, book review ( 6 December 2014, The Hindu)

Idris( My review of Anita Nair’s Idris was published in the online edition of the Hindu Literary Review on 6 December 2014. Here is the url: http://www.thehindu.com/features/lit-for-life/journeys-galore/article6667608.ece . It will be published in the print edition on 7 December 2014. This novel has been shortlisted for the Hindu Lit Awards 2014 as well. The winner will be announced in January 2015.)

He knew the folly of having friends. Friendship was a responsibility; it demanded making an effort to nurture relations and never asking why. It meant expectations and subsequent disappointments. A lone traveller needed no friends; what he needed to cultivate were acquaintances. (p.21)

Idris Maymoon Samataar Guleed is from Dikhil, a small place between Abyssinia and Somalia. He is a middleman who facilitates trade in anything — textiles, camels, spices, pearls, diamonds — but draws the line at the lucrative business of slaves. He arrives in Kozhikode, on the Malabar Coast, on the persuasion of a Yemeni merchant to attend the biggest cattle fair in the world—Vaniamkulam chanda. He gets separated from the Yemeni group and decides to wait the night out by a pond in a home. As it happens, it belongs to a Nair. He meets Kuttimalu, mother of his son, Vattoli Kandavar Menavan. When the boy is born, the midwife reminds the family the infant is the image of Kuttimalu’s grandfather. Otherwise Kandavar — who was as black as the night like his father — and his mother are in danger of losing their caste and being excommunicated.

Ten years later, in 1659, Idris returns to Kozhikode to witness the Mamangam festival at Thirunavaya. At the Mamangam, the Chaver Pada or Suicide Squad wants to ambush the bodyguards of Aswathi Thirunal, the new Zamorin. Unknown to the Chavers, Kandavar is following them since he wants to join them since he is eager to participate like his older cousin, Kesavan, a Chaver and trained at Kalari. Idris spots the boy hiding behind a tree and prevents him from proceeding further. He realises that Kandavar is his son andwhisks him away from the place, but not before they witness Kesavan (Kandavar’s cousin) being dismembered. Discovering he has a son Idris readily accepts Chandu Nair’s offer to be their guest and show Kandavar “how to think of other things, rather than grooming himself for certain death 12years from now”.

Idris takes his son under his wing. At Nair’s behest, Idris enrolls Kandavar in a different Chaver to the one the family traditionally went to—to prevent his head from being filled with “stuffed with nonsense like honour and pride in death”. But Idris gets restless and wants to proceed with his voyage. Persuaded by the Nair clan, he takes his son along too. They travel to Serendippo, contemplate trading in silk since the Dutch pay a good price for it, go pearl diving at Tharangambadi, but the ultimate aim is to reach Golconda diamond mines. Idris is curious about the “stones that turned men into hyenas…ready to lie and betray; worse, to kill and plunder”. It takes them over a year to travel and explore before returning home to Kozhikode.

In Keeper of the Light, the first of a trilogy, the recurring themes of Anita Nair’s fiction —gender and caste — are explored once more with competence. The rigid caste structures are challenged by the existence of the “family” of Idris, Kuttimalu and Kandavar. The objectification and identity of a woman in relation to the presence of a man in their life, even in Kerala’s matriarchal society, are challenged in the story, leave a powerful impression. The four women —Kuttimalu, Margarida (a child prostitute), Madinat al-Yasmin (a widow) and Thilothamma (a wealthy farmer) — are all seen briefly, usually as Idris’s lovers, yet they are strong and independent women. As Thilothama says “Women should be like trees. Growing towards the light, shaped by the wind…” Even Kuttimalu’s Brahmin teacher “… didn’t think education was to be decided by gender; it was the mind that he sought to fill.” A sentiment that echoes Anita Nair’s firm belief in promoting literacy irrespective of gender, as exemplified in her officiating as a guru at a Vidyarambham ceremony at Bangalore on Vijayadasami day.

Literary fiction can be challenging to read. Its complexity comes from the sophisticated, layered, and nuanced writing. In Idris, the reader’s patience is tested as one has to grapple with a bewildering storyline in the opening pages, not made any easier by the liberal sprinkling of Malayalam words. Also some issues such as the rivalry between the Zamorin and Chavers is never explained. Yet Idris is a pleasure to read.

Anita Nair Idris: Keeper of the Light Fourth Estate, HarperCollins, Hb. Rs. 599.

6 December 2014

Sumeet Shetty, Literati, SAP Labs book club

Sumeet Shetty, Literati, SAP Labs book club

Print

 

Literati is the book-club at SAP Labs India, and India’s largest corporate book-club.

Headquartered in Walldorf, Germany, with locations in more than 130 countries, SAP is the world leader in enterprise software and software-related services. SAP logo

 

Literati aims to bring together books, readers and writers. Here’s a list of authors who have spoken at Literati:

  • Amit Chaudhuri
  • Alex Rutherford
  • Alice Albinia
  • Amish Tripathi
  • Amitabha Bagchi
  • Amitava Kumar
  • Anand Giridharadas
  • Anjum Hasan
  • Anita Nair
  • Anuja Chauhan
  • Anuradha Roy
  • Arun Shourie
  • Ashok Ferrey
  • C P Surendran
  • Chetan Bhagat
  • Geeta Anand
  • Harsha Bhogle
  • James Astill
  • Kiran Nagarkar
  • Manil Suri
  • Mark Tully
  • M J Akbar
  • Mita Kapur
  • Mridula Koshy
  • Mukul Kesavan
  • Musharraf Ali Farooqi
  • Namita Devidayal
  • Navtej Sarna
  • Omair Ahmad
  • Pallavi Aiyar
  • Pankaj Mishra
  • Partha Basu
  • Pavan K Varma
  • Peter James
  • Poile Sengupta
  • Raghunathan V
  • Rana Dasgupta
  • Sam Miller
  • Samantha Shannon
  • Samit Basu
  • Samhita Arni
  • Sarnath Banerjee
  • Shashi Deshpande
  • Shashi Tharoor
  • Shehan Karunatilaka
  • Shobhaa Dé
  • Sudha Murthy
  • Suhel Seth
  • Sunil Gupta
  • Sudhir Kakar
  • Tabish Khair
  • Tarun J Tejpal
  • Tishani Doshi
  • Vikas Swarup
  • Vinod Mehta
  • Vikram Chandra
  • William Dalrymple
  • Yasmeen Premji
  • Zac O’Yeah 

Contact: Sumeet Shetty (sumeet.shetty@sap.com)

Sumeet Shetty is a Development Manager at SAP Labs India, and is the President of Literati, India’s largest

corporate book-club.

 

Literary festivals in India, Brunch, Hindustan Times, 12 Jan 2014

Literary festivals in India, Brunch, Hindustan Times, 12 Jan 2014

Today my article on literary festivals of India has been published in the Brunch, Hindustan TimesThe title in print is called “Booked & Hooked” and online it is ” Your guide to litfests this season”Here is the link to the online version: http://www.hindustantimes.com/brunch/brunch-stories/your-guide-to-litfests-this-season/article1-1171368.aspx. Meanwhile I am c&p the longer version of the article published.) 

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose

“I attend literary festivals to meet authors, to see another dimension to their life, listen to the heated conversations, introduce my four-year-old twin sons to famous people, and inculcate a sense of reading culture in them,” says Umesh Dubey, first-generation entrepreneur who takes his family to attend the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) for the entire week.

A literary festival can be defined as a space where writers and readers meet, usually an annual event in a city or as “literature in performance”. Must-have elements include panel discussions with a healthy mix of new and seasoned writers, Q&As with the audience, author signing sessions, workshops related to writing and publishing, book launches, bookstores, a food court, and entertainment in the evenings. And – hopefully also – intellectually stimulating conversations, a relaxed ambience, picturesque setting, good weather (no dry days!), and networking possibilities.

In India, literary festivals came into vogue with the astounding success of Jaipur Literature Festival, which began in 2006 . The timing was right, soon after the Christmas holidays/ winter break, in January, when Rajasthan is a favourite tourist destination. To organise a festival in the Diggi Palace Grounds, chatting with authors most readers have only admired from afar while sipping the hot Diggi chai in earthen cups, basking in the warm winter sun, listening to crackling good conversations and at times heated debates, and as darkness descends, preparing to hear the musicians who will perform… it made for quite a heady experience. And if at any point you get weary of the crowds and the conversations, it is easy to step out for a jaunt as a tourist and explore Jaipur. This basic template has begun to be emulated across the country.

jaiput-lit-festAccording to the Jaipur Litfest producer, Sanjoy Roy, the intention is to create “a democratic access system of first-come-first-seated where we treat everyone as our guests and do not make a fuss over VIPs. The colour and design create a sense of an Indian mela.” Of course prior to JLF, India did have a fair share of literary “festivals” like Ajeet Caur’s SAARC Literature Festivals, or those that were organised at the Sanskriti Anandgram in Delhi or even the early editions of the Katha festivals, but admittedly none were on a fabulous scale, nor were they open to the public. According to Maina Bhagat, director, Apeejay Kolkata Festival, “The city is the biggest player in the festival”.

So what explains the runaway success of today’s literature festivals? Says poet K. Satchidanadan, “There is a whole urban and semi-urban middle class youth eager to meet authors and listen to them in a festive atmosphere. The publishers are interested in releasing their books there and having their authors on the platform. The authors are interested in meeting other authors and also readers. Cities also get to be on the literary map of India with such celebrations.” Ananth Padmanabhan, senior vice-president, sales, Penguin India, says, “With social media dominating mind space, festivals are a great place to sit back and connect readers to writers; such an engagement opportunity was lacking.” In fact, festival-hopping has resulted in a modern-day phenomenon of the festival junkie: People who move from festival to festival.

Of late the Indian economy may have been in the doldrums but there is no denying that post-liberalisation, more and more people have disposable income, they do want to invest in culture and what better way than to make it a family outing? It is a democratic patronage of the arts. It is also a reflection of how much India is becoming a writing culture rather than a reading culture.

Arshia Sattar, who through Sangam House organises Lekhana Literary Weekend  (an extension of the Sangam House international writers’ residency programme that is run outside Bangalore) and is also jury member, DSC Award for Literature 2014, says, “My concern is that we are moving further away from ‘literature’ and closer to writing. I think if we had fewer ‘festivals’ and if they had  a focus rather than being all things to all people (which is probably what their sponsors want in terms of ‘footfalls’) . . .we might see people stepping out to literary events with dedication.”

Thomas Abraham, CEO, Hachette India, says, “There is not a single real benefit any festival brings to a publisher. And there are a number of cons – it costs a lot to get your author up there for almost no returns on investment, and zero promotional benefit. Yes, if you switch off the business aspect, for the audience it’s a great platform to see your favourite authors, and for authors a great platform to cross-commune with other writers. For editors it’s a good networking and ideas engagement opportunity. But in terms of sales or author brand building, go back to every single festival and put down the authors and their titles and see the impact of either media coverage or sales, and you’ll see not one has moved beyond their earlier levels. Some very successful (read great stage performances) sessions do result in immediate brisker sales at the venue bookshop, but even those are minimal – anything between 30 copies to 100 copies.” Adds Diya Kar Hazra, publisher, trade, Bloomsbury, “There are so many literary festivals these days – sometimes two or three in one city. The writer is expected to do more than just write these days – they blog, they tweet, they have pages on FB. They appear at festivals and events reading from their books and having conversations with fellow writers. The reader–writer relationship has changed, as a result. Authors are much more accessible than they ever were.”

Author Shovon Chowdhury who released his debut novel, The Competent Authority, earlier this year says that attending literary festivals “feels good. You feel special. I’m not jaded yet, so I enjoy it. I also love meeting lots of interesting people, including some super-intelligent ones. It gives me a dose of much needed perspective and humility. Plus there’s free meals.”

An attractive feature of a literary festival is the free entry. This requires the festival management to scour for private sponsors, funds and collaborations that will help in putting together the extravaganza and these could be either in money or in kind. In many case, corporate house are willing to assist with sponsorship for the brand visibility and media coverage. Recently tourism departments and state governments have partnered with festivals which is understandable given the positive impact festivals can have on the local economy. For instance, in a dipstick survey the JLF management did last year, it was estimated that approximately Rs 20 crores of additional spend could be attributed to JLF in Jaipur on account of accommodation, restaurant and shopping. Even this is set to change. The inaugural edition of the Pune International Literature Festival had ticketed entry. Comic Con too proposes to sell tickets in 2014.

Much of the success of the festivals depends on the programme created, parallel sessions, selection of the moderators and if necessary, themes selected. It is also heavily dependent upon the curation, storyboard to the chemistry between the panelists.  Altaf Tyrewala, Director, Chandigarh Literature Festival, says “The organizers and I were struggling to think of how CLF could be different from other literary festivals. We realized that in the circus, we often lose sight of the book, the very foundation of literature! So we decided that CLF would showcase the book, and nothing but the book. We decided to let active literary critics nominate that one book that had stayed with them over the past decade. There was a general agreement on what constituted a good book. Naturally, the discussion between the author and the nominating critic was focused entirely on the book in question. It made every session riveting, and more importantly the invitees realized that their presence was crucial to the festival’s format.” It helps to do some thinking in advance to avoid embarrassing incidents as happened at a recently concluded festival. The moderator was informed just before stepping on to the stage that the authors lined up were commercial-fiction authors. The response, the moderator shuddered and said, “I would never read such authors!”

The buzz around festivals is tremendous. But the bubble may soon burst as has happened with book launches. People will weary of them if they happen too often. They will lose their charm for various reasons. As writer Ravi Subramanian points out, “The divisions between the literary and commercial authors are becoming apparent at these festivals.” Second, most of the festivals are conducted predominantly in English, though slowly this too is changing, to reflect and represent the local languages and the international participants. There are writers who have begun to feel bored and disillusioned  with these festivals that often sustain and strengthen the hierarchies among writers, dividing them into “stars” and ordinary writers. Even the most ordinary Indian English writers acquire “stardom” while the best of language writers are often time-fillers invited most often to show that they too are represented.

Over the years the festivals have come to align themselves before and after the December/Christmas holidays, making it easier for authors to mark their presence at more than one event. The length and dates of the festivals are also determined by collaborating partners. In fact Surya Rao, director, Hyderabad Literary Festival, says, “We avoid a clash of dates with other major lit festivals because we check the dates of other fests. The Jaipur fest happens to be the closest to us.”

Maybe Indian festival organisers will collaborate with each other as happens in other countries like Australia.

A possible “classification” of literary festivals. 

There are so many literary festivals being organised in India that one has to create some sort of “classification”. For instance, festivals that have stood the test of time of a minimum period of three years, grown in popularity (as measured by the increasing audience participation), established a brand in their name and proven to be sustainable in terms of the sponsorship would probably be at the top of the list. These would be the major milestones in the festival calendar – Jaipur ( Jaipur Literature Festival), Calcutta (Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival and Kolkata Literary Meet) , Chennai (Hindu Lit for Life), Mumbai (Kalaghoda, Times of India festival), Hyderabad Literary Festival and the Sahitya Akademi’s Festival of Letters.

Then there is what could be termed as a “sub-genre” – that is, equally strong brands, dealing with genres of literature which are not necessarily given sufficient space for intense engagement, such as Bookaroo (children’s literature) organised in Delhi and in Pune (in collaboration with Sakaal Times), ComicCon (comics and graphic novels), Samanvay (Indian languages) in collaboration with the India Habitat Centre,, Cultures of Peace: Festival of the Northeast (Women and Human Rights) organised by Zubaan, Poetry with Prakriti (poems), Mussoorie Writers Festival (mountain and travel writing) organised by Stephen Alter and Lekhana (a long literary weekend).

Finally there are the relatively new festivals that are as yet to establish themselves, but people are already familiar with them – Bangalore, Kasauli, Shillong, Agra, Lucknow, Benaras, Patna, Bhubhaneshwar, Chandigarh, Pune, and Kovalam. And there are still more being organised.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose