Bangla Posts

Volga “The Liberation of Sita”

‘Till you take decisions for Rama’s sake and not yours, it will continue to pursue you, Sita. Look at yourself. You are enduring great pain. You think you are enduring for the sake of someone else. You think that you have performed your duty for the sake of someone else. Your courage, your self-confidence …you have surrendered everything to others. What have you saved for yourself?’

‘What is “I”, sister? Who am I?’

Ahalya smiled. 

‘The greatest of sages and philosophers have spent their lifetimes in search of an answer to this question. You means you, nothing else. You are not just the wife of Rama. There is something more in you, something that is your own. No one counsels women to find out what that something more is. If men’s pride is in wealth, or valour, or education, or caste-sect, for women it lies in fidelity, motherhood. No one advises women to transcend that pride. Most often, women don’t realize that they are part of the wider world. They limit themselves to an individual, to a household, to a family’s honour. Conquering the ego becomes the goal of spirituality for men. For women, to nourish that ego and to burn themselves to ashes in it becomes the goal. Sita, try to understand who you are, what the goal of your life is. It is not easy at all. But don’t give up. You will discover truth in the end. You have that ability. You haev saved Sri Ramachandra, can’t you save yourself? Don’t grieve over what has already happened. It is all for your own good, and is part of the process of self-realization. Be happy. Observe their lives. You belong to this whole world, not just to Rama.’ 

( Ahalya in conversation with Sita. p 40-41)

Volga’s Vimukta or The Liberation of Sita is a slim collection of five stories. It has been translated from Telugu by T. Vijay Kumar and C. Vijaysree. ‘Volga’ is the nom de plume for Popuri Lalitha Kumari.  These are five interlinked yet independent stories inspired by Valmiki’s Ramayana. In each of them Sita meets the minor characters of Valmiki’s epic — Surpanakha, Renuka, Urmila and Ahalya. With each interaction Sita learns a little more about herself and more importantly about what it means to be a woman, have her own identity rather than it being defined by the presence of a man in her life. As the translators say in their note: “The title story signals Sita’s emergence as the liberated one while the final story, ‘The Shackled’, shows Rama imprisoned in the bondage of Arya Dharma.” According to them Volga’s stories belong to a literary tradition of feminist revisionist myth-making but she takes it further and makes it her own.

Volga does not use re-visioning merely as a strategy to subvert patriarchal structures embedded in mythical texts but also as a means to forge a vision of life in which liberation is total, autonomous and complete. She also creates a community of women by re-presenting myths from alternative points of view, and by networking women across ages and generations. She achieves this through different narrative strategies: giving voice to women characters marginalized in the ‘master narrative’, extending the story of a character beyond its conventional closure; forging female bonds and creating a female collective; and redefining many conventional epistemes including liberation.

In fact reinvention of myths has figured prominently in Indian women’s writing. For instance, Mahashweta Devi’s ‘Dopdi’ and ‘Stanadayani’ ( Bangla), Yashodhara Mishra’s ‘Purana Katha’ ( Odiya), Muppala Ranganayakamma’s Ramayana Visha Vrikham ( Telugu), Sara Joseph’s Ramayana Kathakal ( Malayalam) and Chitra Bannerjee Divakurni’s magnificent Palace of Illusions. Now Volga’s brilliant 2015 Sahitya Akademi award-winning The Liberation of Sita can be added to the list.

Volga was an active member of the Communist Party of India ( ML) but quit it in 1980, frustrated by the party’s pink ladypatriarchal attitude towards women, she quit left politics and devoted herself to propagate feminism among Telugu readers through her activism and writing. Her favourite genre of writing are the short story and criticism. She has written over fifty books. For many years Volga was at the helm of the brilliant women’s organisation Asmita which is based in Hyderabad. Asmita were in fact responsible for creating the iconic “pink poster” which I fell in love with while curating Zubaan’s “Poster Women” — a visual mapping of the women’s movement in India.

It is commendable that HarperCollins India chose to print the name of the translators on the book cover rather than on the back cover or only inside. Translators names need to be displayed prominently too. A practice that has as yet not been widely adopted by publishers.

The Liberation of Sita is truly Volga at her feminist best. (For once I have to agree with the book blurb! )

Volga The Liberation of Sita ( Translated from the Telugu by T. Vijay Kumar and C. Vijayasree)  Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, Noida, India. Pb. pp. 130 Rs. 199 

31 August 2016 

 

Literati: Happy readers ( 2 Nov 2014)

Literati: Happy readers ( 2 Nov 2014)

Jaya Bhattacharji RoseMy monthly column in the Hindu Literary Review was published online on 1 November 2014 and in print on 2 November 2014. Here is the url  http://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/literati-happy-readers/article6555142.ece . I am also c&p the text below. 

A recent article, “The Percy Jackson problem”, argued that Rick Riordan’s rewriting of Greek myths for a contemporary audience is unacceptable since it lures young readers away from the “classics”. The journalist also did not subscribe to the view that kids should be allowed to read whatever they are reading as long as they are reading! Apparently the huge crowds of youngsters (outnumbering the adults) filling synagogues, theatres, and basketball stadiums to attend the interactions with Riordan, a former middle-school English and history teacher — who is currently on a tour to promote the last book in the Olympians series, The Blood of Olympus — was insufficient evidence that children were happy reading. A publishing colleague sent me a furious response to the article saying that it was mean spirited and unfair given that Riordan has touched thousands of kids’ lives in a positive way and reached many reluctant readers.

New generations of readers are crucial for the survival of publishing. While delivering his acceptance speech at the PEN/Pinter Prize 2014, Salman Rushdie said, “I always believed that the book is completed by the reader that out of the intimacy of strangers created by the act of reading emerges the book as it exists for that reader; and that out of that private act of union comes love, the love of literature, of reading, of that particular book …”

The powerful impact an author can have on a reader, even in a large group, was demonstrated at a literary evening that I curated at the Embassy of Ireland. To commemorate the centenary of World War I, three Indian authors were invited to a panel discussion on “Conflict and Literature”, moderated by the ambassador H.E. Feilim McLaughlin. The authors spoke powerfully of their engagement with conflict and how it has influenced their writing. The audience sat in pin-drop silence. Some wept. Most had lumps in their throat. The topics or narrated experiences touched a raw nerve in many, especially those with direct links with Partition, the 1984 riots and communal conflicts.

Of late there has been a growing debate on how the Internet is cutting into the time of readers. It is estimated that, by 2018, 3.9 billion people will be online; many on smartphones. It is not surprising to discover that Adobe has been collecting data about its customers’ reading pattern. Last week, Nielsen announced that it was expanding its ratings to include all kinds of digital content. The writer-reader relationship is evolving rapidly with the growth of technology. People are operating these devices not just to communicate with each other but also to read articles and books online. Consequently word-of-mouth recommendations will only grow. The relatively new ReadMyStori.com “is a platform that helps authors get readers to read, appreciate and popularise their work”. Authors say that at least 40 per cent of downloads are converted into book sales.

As Tim Parks points out in an NYRB article (June 10, 2014), “The conditions in which we read today are not those of 50 or even 30 years ago, and the big question is how contemporary fiction will adapt to these changes, because in the end adapt it will. No art form exists independently of the conditions in which it is enjoyed.”

An excellent example of such a response to the changing reading environment is Samanvay: IHC Indian Languages’ Festival (November 6-11, 2014), comprising 90 speakers and performers in 20 languages and dialects. The theme is “Translations Transnations” with focus on Indian languages that have a transnational presence like Bangla, Bhojpuri, Chhattisgarhi, English, Hindi, Konkani, Malayalam, Punjabi and Sanskrit.

The effect of storytelling sessions and stress on reading books other than textbooks is also evident in the crowds of happy children that attend Bookaroo: Festival of Children’s Literature (IGNCA, New Delhi, November 29-30, 2014). The youngsters can be seen mobbing authors and illustrators, seeking autographs, asking a zillion questions, offering authors manuscripts to read, listening in rapt attention to the writers, participating in workshops and buying piles of book at the temporary bookstore.

This year, 83 speakers such as Jamila Gavin, Natasha Sharma, The Storywallahs, Vivek Menon, Rui Sousa and Prayag Shukla will participate.

These children are accessing e-books and books in print, but it does not matter as long as they are reading!

2 November 2014

 

Jumpstart, “Speaking in Tongues”, 29-30 Aug 2013, New Delhi

Jumpstart, “Speaking in Tongues”, 29-30 Aug 2013, New Delhi

Logo

Jumpstart is an annual platform provided in India by the German Book Office (GBO) that is targeted specifically at professionals within the children’s book industry, bringing together authors, publishers, illustrators, designers, booksellers and retailers, teachers and librarians. It began in 2009 with a small workshop for professionals. But over the years it has blossomed into a two-day event that is clearly demarcated by open sessions that include panel discussions and workshops/master classes. Each event revolves around a theme that is encapsulated well in three words — “Join the Dots” (2010); “Out of the Box” ( 2011); “Off the Page” (2012) and this year it is “Speaking in Tongues”. The event is scheduled to be held on 29-30 August 2013, the India International Centre, New Delhi. Since last year the Book Souk, matchmaking between publishers and authors, has become a key aspect of the festival too. Key publishers such as Scholastic India, National Book Trust, HarperCollins, Hachette, Young Zubaan, Tulika, Tara, Karadi Tales, Pratham, Eklavya and others have participated in past Jumpstart festivals with direct, positive outcomes. For instance Pratham Books has recently acquired the publishing rights to five books by the French artist Herve Tullet who participated in 2012.

Herve Tullet, signing a book for my daughter, Sarah Rose. Aug 2012

According to Prashasti Rastogi, Director, German Book Office, Delhi “This year we will focus on language. The festival is organised by the German Book Office New and Frankfurt Academy with support from the Federal Foreign Office, Germany. Our partners are Pratham Books as are our Knowledge Partners along with India International Centre and CMYK Book Store. Pratham Books is partnering for a session with language teachers and librarians.”gbo-white

The focus on publishing children’s literature in different languages, the challenges and the thrill of doing so are what are to be discussed at the end of August. One of the panel discussions during the open session will be “Translation is tricky. Dialogue is difficult.” Some of the questions being raised are “How can we know that a book that works in one language will work in another? Which stories travel? Which ones ‘stick’? Why are there so few children’s books translated from one Indian language to another? Are illustrations just as culture-bound as words? ” The other Open Sessions that sound fascinating are “Art as language, designer as author” where award-winning illustrators Julia Kaergel, Emily Gravett will be co-panelists with publisher Arundhati Deosthali and Dorling Kindersley Design Director Stuart Jackman; “What is your bhasha? What is your language?” A workshop for teachers and librarians where panel of speakers who have experiences to share about the teaching and learning of different languages and its impact on learning as a whole. Authors will share experiences on why they choose to write in a particular language and their own experiments with it. To the right is a photograph that I took last year from the open session when Herve Tullet was on stage. 20120823_104202

Such an event is important given that of 1.1 billion people in India, only 2 per cent are able to read and write English. The number of young people below the age of thirty is 550 million who are not only literate in English, but prefer to communicate in the language . The per capita number of book titles published in India is around 8 per 1,00,000 population. This number is much lower in comparison to those of the countries like the United Kingdom, the United States of America, France, and Germany. According to Rubin D’Cruz, Asst Editor, Malayalam, NBT, in terms of languages, the per capita number of titles published per 1,00,000 persons is 6.3 in Bengali, 6.2 in Gujarati, 5 in Hindi, 4.8 in Kannada, 4.2 in Telugu, 3.9 in Urdu, and 7.7 in Assamese (the highest). The publishing industry in Tamil and Malayalam are extremely active and although the Assamese speaking population is relatively low, the publishing industry in Assamese is a lot more active than it is in Marathi, Bengali, Telugu, Gujarati or Kannada. Some of the statistics from 2012 are:

• Hindi (422 million)
• Bangla (83 million)
• Telugu (74 million)
• Marathi (74 million)
• Tamil (60 million)
• Urdu (51 million)
• Gujarati (46 million)
• Kannada (38 million)
• Malayalam (33 million)
• Oriya (33 million)
• Punjabi (29 million)
• Assamiya (13 million)

From the National Youth Readership Survey, National Book Trust, 2010:
1. Of 1.1 billion people in India, only 2 per cent are able to read and write English.
2. 42% of India’s book-buyers are habitual readers; per capita consumption is Rs 80
3. Literate youth=333 m (2009) = 27.4% of total Indian pop or 73% of total youth pop. Signif: Rural (62%; 206.6m) and Urban (126.1m)
4. Pop of literate youth (2001-9) has grown 2.49% higher than the overall pop growth (2.08%)
5. Growth more rapid in Urban (3.15% p.a) than Rural (2.11% p.a.) areas.
6. Hindi is the principal medium of instruction, however as the youth go for higher education the proportion of Hindi as the medium of instruction declines.
7. Approx 25% literate youth read books for pleasure, relaxation and knowledge enhancement; more females read (27%) for leisure than males.
8. Schools are imp for readership development. 59% developed a reading habit in schools. Peer influence is also an important factor.

Actually publishing in India is exciting. As long as you understand the peculiarities of India like the multi-lingual character of the territory, the reverence Indian readers have for the written word. There exists a thriving middle class; increasing amounts of disposable income coupled with a disposition to read for pleasure rather than to clear an examination (a noticeable shift in recent years). Earlier the inclination was to buy books for children, but slowly between the ages of 8+ till graduation from university the casual reader disappeared, so there were no books available for this segment too. Today there is still a considerable vacuum in this age-group, but the market is slowly being transformed as is evident by the appearance of at least three new imprints for young adults in the past year – Inked (Penguin India), Red Turtle (Rupa Publications) and Scholastic Nova (Scholastic India).

As the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, also patron of Sahitya Akademi, said in a speech he delivered extempore in 1962. “…to think that a language is crushed or suppressed by another language, is not quite correct. It is enriched by another language. So also our languages will be enriched the more they get into touch with each other … .” (p.319-320 Best of Indian Literature 1957-2007, Vol 1 Book 1, Sahitya Akademi. Eds, Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee and A. J. Thomas.)

If the previous editions of Jumpstart are anything to go by, Jumpstart 2013 sounds very promising. I am definitely going to attend this year too!

Jumpstart: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FpK_38mScEg
Website and registeration: http://www.jumpstartfest.com/home

18 Aug 2013

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an international publishing consultant. She has a monthly column on the business of publishing called “PubSpeak” in BusinessWorld online. 

Twitter: @JBhattacharji