( This is an email invitation I received from Namita Gokhale, Co-Director, Jaipur Literature Festival. I am circulating the invitation with permission.)
1 August 2014
( This is an email invitation I received from Namita Gokhale, Co-Director, Jaipur Literature Festival. I am circulating the invitation with permission.)
1 August 2014
Travel writing has always had a special place in literature. Readers have been fascinated by stories of other places, cultures, people. In the past it was understandable when there were text-heavy descriptions of people, dresses, cities, architecture, food, vegetation and terrain. But today? To read modern-day travelogues when it is the “image age”, the most popular news feeds on social media platforms are photographs. It is akin to being immersed in a National Geographic-like environment 24×7. There are websites such as Flickr, Pinterest, Mashable, Tumblr, and YouTube, wonderful repositories of images and movie clips uploaded by institutions, media firms and individuals. So to read three books — Pallavi Aiyar’s Punjabi Parmesan: Dispatches from Europe in Crisis, Rana Dasgupta’s Capital: A Portrait of Twenty-First Century Delhi and Sam Miller’s A Strange Kind of Paradise: India Through Foreign Eyes — was an intriguing experience. Except for Sam Miller’s book that is peppered with black and white images laid within the text, the other two books are straightforward narratives. I would deem them as travelogues written in the “classical tradition” of relying solely upon the narrator/author taking the reader along a personal journey through a country/city different to the land of their birth. They make for a sharp perspective, intelligent analysis and just a sufficient mish-mash of history with a commentary on current social, political and economic developments, without really becoming dry anthropological studies. The writing style in all three books is lucid and easy.
Pallavi Aiyar’s Punjabi Parmesan is a fascinating account of her travels through Europe from 2009 onward–at a time of economic gloom. It is part-memoir, part-journalism and part-analysis ( mostly economic) of what plagues Europe. It has anecdotes, plenty of statistics and footnotes, accounts of the meetings, conferences she was able to attend as journalist and have conversations with influential policy makers and politicians. After spending a few years in Beijing she moved to Brussels, so is able to draw astute observations about the decline in Europe. Having been a foreign correspondent for over a decade, reporting from China, Europe and South East Asia, mostly on business stories from the “frontline” of action, she has an insightful understanding of the depressing scenario in Europe. It is a book worth reading.
Rana Dasgupta’s Capital is about Delhi, the capital of India. Delhi has been settled for centuries, but became the capital of British India in 1911. The first wave of migrants who formed the character of modern Delhi came soon after the country became Independent in 1947. Over the years Delhi grew but at a moderately slow pace. Twenty years after post-liberalisation ( 1991), Delhi transformed so rapidly that the old world, old rhythms and culture became quietly invisible. Delhi continued to be a melting pot of immigrants. It became a city synonymous with wealth, material goods, luxury and uncivil behaviour, bordering on crassness. It is a city of networking and networked individuals. Rana Dasgupta’s book is a meander through the city. He meets a lot of people — the nouveau riche, the first wave of migrant settlers post-1947, members of the old city families who bemoan the decline of tehzeeb in the city. Capital is a commentary on Delhi of the twenty-first century, a city that is unrecognisable to the many who have been born and brought up here. Rana Dasgupta moved to the city recently — over a decade ago–but this brings a clarity to his narrative that a Delhiwallah may or may not agree with. It certainly is a narrative that will resonate with many across the globe since this is the version many want to hear — the new vibrant India, Shining India, the India where the good days ( “acche din”) are apparent. There is “prosperity”, clean broad streets, everything and anything can be had at the right price here. It is a perspective. Unfortunately the complexity of Delhi, the layers it has, the co-existence of poor and rich, the stories that the middle classes have to share are impossible to encapsulate in a book of 400-odd pages. It is a readable book that captures a moment in the city’s long history. It will be remembered, discussed, critiqued, and will remain for a long time to come in the literature associated with Delhi. (The cover design by Aditya Pande is stupendous! )
A Strange Kind of Paradise by Sam Miller is a gentle walk through the history of India, mostly written as a memoir. William Dalrymple’s blurb for the book is apt —a “love letter to India”. When India was celebrating its fiftieth year of Independence there was a deluge of books and anthologies reflecting, discussing the history of India. To read Sam Miller’s book is to get a delightful and idiosyncratic understanding of this large landmass known as India, a puzzle few have been able to fathom. The author is not perturbed by doing a history of the things he truly likes about the country or that he has been intrigued by conversations he probably had. To his credit he has done the legwork as expected of a professional journalist and discovered people, regions, histories, spaces, cities for himself. For instance he states he is an “aficionado of cemetries and of tombs”, but discovered “many Indian are scared of cemetries — except when they house the tombs of ancient emperors and their consorts. They often find my desire to visit graveyards a little strange, as if I were a necrophile or had a perverse desire to disturb the ghosts of the dead.”( p.232) A fascinating observation since it is true — cemeteries are strangely peaceful oasis of calm. If you say that out aloud in India, people will look at you in a strange manner.
Modern-day travelogues are many, available in print and digital. Two recent examples stand out. Anjan Sundaram’s Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey into Congo about his time in the African country. Fabulous stuff! Very reminiscent of Joseph Conrad’s writing ( especially his diaries) written in Africa. And the other is a recent essay that physicist and well-known speculative fiction writer, Vandana Singh wrote on her blog, “Alternate Visions: Some Musings on Diversity in SF” ( http://vandanasingh.wordpress.
6 July 2014
Pallavi Aiyar Punjabi Parmesan: Dispatches from a Europe in Crisis Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of Penguin Books, New Delhi, 2013. Hb. pp. 320 Rs. 599
Rana Dasgupta Capital: A Portrait of Twenty-First Century Delhi Fourth Estate, an imprint of HarperCollins, New Delhi, 2014. Hb. pp. 460 Rs. 799
Sam Miller A Strange Kind of Paradise: India Through Foreign Eyes Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of Penguin Books, New Delhi, 2014. Hb. pp. 430 Rs. 599
In Nov 2003, Paro Anand and I were invited by the French Government to attend the salon de livre jeunesse. It was a wonderful trip. While there Paro was invited to tell stories in a French bookstore. I was fortunate to attend the session with Paro. It is nearly a decade ago and I have some wonderful pictures from that particular evening, including one of a child sitting under a table listening to Paro with his mouth open. Subsequently Paro has narrated stories on various platforms, to multi-lingual audiences. In the post below she shares some of these experiences.
I decided to ask Paro Anand to write this note after realising that Jumpstart 2013 would focus on “Speaking in Tongues”.( http://www.jumpstartfest.com/home) It is a platform meant to discuss children’s literature across languages and address the idea of bibliodiversity. What better way to do it than hear from a practitioner of the trade, who has done exactly this…told stories in multiple languages to various audiences around the world. Unfortunately Paro Anand will not be attending Jumpstart this year.
Storytelling is all about language, about words – right? I thought so too. And if someone told me that it was possible to tell stories to an audience who did not understand a word of what you were saying, well, that would be absurd. I thought so too.
Except that I have been put into this situation on several occasions – four times, in fact. The first time was early in my storytelling career where I was faced with an audience of Telugu-speaking children to whom i was a ‘firangi’. I flung my body into service and mimed and acted out every word. They got it. Well, most of it.
The next time was in a bookstore in Paris. I had a few animal stories prepared, but the young, French-speaking audience was totally unfamiliar with English. So i told the story in Hindi – and Punjabi. I peppered it with a handful of French words and the kids were singing Punjabi songs by the end of the session! Armed with that success, I repeated the experiment in Geneva, Switzerland, this time along with an Indian storyteller who also spoke German and French. I performed in Hindi and Punjabi and she answered my questions in German and French. It’s not as if the kids only understood half the session. They had a grip on the story as a whole and many said they’d enjoyed hearing a story in another language. I asked which part they liked best and they said the lion’s part. Not the French part, just the lion’s part!
But the crowning glory in multi-language crown was doing a session with a Zulu South African performance teller called Gcina. We met for the first time on stage with the audience already assembled. I had no idea which stories she was going to tell, I did not know her work and she did not know mine. But the kids were Hindi speaking so she needed a ‘go-between’. We were both game, though and that’s all that mattered. She launched into her story using English with a bit of Swahili where it would be apparent what the words were and I mirrored her action for action, word for word. It was magical, for me most of all. By the end, the audience was shouting out the Zulu words and Gcina was answering in Hindi!
Which only goes to show that it’s the heart and soul of a story that we absorb, the words are only a vehicle. I have personally enjoyed hitching a ride on an unknown vehicle and discovering where that journey will land me.
27 Aug 2013
(C) Paro Anand
Arundhati Deosthale, co-founder A&A Book Trust, writes about her experience in translating the Mimi series into Hindi and her collaboration with award-winning German illustrator Julia Kaergel.
A & A Book Trust feels privileged to have had this opportunity to introduce two extraordinarily talented women in children’s literature. In 2009, I met Doris Dorrie in Munich. All those who know German cinema know her as a maker of off-beat film maker, a novelist and a teacher in film institute. It was a pleasure to discover that she writes books for children too. She presented me copies of her Mimi picture books series illustrated by Julia Kaergel, and the rest is history. I had till then seen Julia’s work in children’s libraries and had heard about the various prizes she had been honoured with…
Mimi series just couldn’t have gone to any other illustrator other than Julia, her insights into child-psychology, her uncanny skills to go beyond the text, and sense of fun have contributed brilliantly to the success of the series in Germany, Switzerland and also in India. Mimi came in to Hindi directly from German, as a part of the ‘Girl- child’ special picture books project and went on straight to the villages through Room to Read libraries in 8 Indian states, including Uttaranchal. The acceptance of Mimi across the cultures; especially the interiors of India, among the first generation to see the picture books speaks of the vividness and universal appeal of Julia’s art. We did have to make two minor changes though, namely deleting the two references to pork and beef, when Mimi shops with her mother. But Julia accepted these willingly, appreciating the sensitivities of two communities in India. Chirag, an NGO working for education and rural development, runs a primary school in Shitala, a cluster of villages in the Nainital district of Uttaranchal. The Chirag school kids picked up Mimi for play-acting. It was such a pleasure watching the children draw and make paper pyjamas and a la Mimi to wear these upside down on their heads. They raised some really interesting questions for Julia and Doris, the makers of this series like Mimi who keeps things from parents for quite some time, is that OK?
How come that her parents don’t seem to be minding her being such a menace?
Is she a ‘good’ girl or a ‘naughty’ one?
These were the questions which made the teachers and parents think aloud on the difference in parenting and schooling between our two respective cultures. One could say that the children were a bit envious of Mimi whose imagination runs amok in both the books, and parents surely did some learning playfully. And this surely is an amazing response to a picture book!!
Arundhati Deosthale and Julia Kaergel will be in conversation on 29 August 2013 @ Jumpstart. Julia Kaergel will also be conducting an illustrator’s masterclass on 30 Aug 2013. Details available at http://www.jumpstartfest.com/home
(C) Arundhati Deosthale
23 Aug 2013
In February 2013, Charles Assisi, Executive Editor, Forbes India published an article about Ankit Fadia. Please read. http://http://forbesindia.com/article/beyond-business/ankit-fadia-revealed/34793/0
“For a very long time, I’ve despised you as a charlatan. There used to be a time when I thought you a script kiddie, or a skiddie if you will. You know what comprises those types—plagiarists who pass off software programs developed by others as their own. That is why on every forum that matters, I’ve rubbished your credentials as a hacker of any merit. I’ve openly accused you of shameless self promotion. And each time you appeared on television shows or in print as one of the most prominent experts on computing and security in the world, I’ve laughed my backside off. I told everybody who cared to listen you’re nothing but a bag of gas, whose reputation was built by shoddy journalists that eagerly lapped up the tall stories you doled out.
Like I told you the other day, I thought it impossible how the books you’ve authored until now could possibly have managed to sell 25 million copies. I thought it completely ridiculous on your part to claim you were contacted by American “intelligence agencies” for help to decipher an encrypted email sent by Al Qaida operatives post 9/11.
But after an email interview and five hours of talking the other day, all I have to say is mea culpa. You are perhaps one of the smartest 27-year-olds I’ve met in all my years in journalism. And I’m willing to bet every rupee I have you’ll go a very long way because you’re twice as smart as CEOs I know who are twice your age—and that you are exponentially smarter than I am.”
I posted the link on my Facebook wall. And here follows the conversation between Ankit Fadia’s first publisher, Joseph Mathai and Charles Assisi of Forbes. Pranesh Prakash, Centre for Internet and Society also responds on plagiarism. This is a conversation that took place on my Facebook wall on 28 Feb 2013. I am copy-pasting the conversation thread on to my blog as well with the permission of Charles Assisi, Joseph Mathai and Pranesh Prakash.
Joseph Mathai: I published Ankit’s first book when I was in Macmillan India. Yes it was written when he was 13, he turned 14 by the time we got around to publishing it, after getting it thoroughly reviewed. That was the “Unofficial Guide to Ethical Hacking.” In 2001 I sold the international publishing rights of the book to a company later taken over by Thomson Learning (now Cengage Learning), one of the few technical books sold abroad by an Indian publishing entity. It has been selling for about fifteen years now.
28 February at 12:34
Jaya Bhattacharji Rose: Joseph Mathai So the 25 million figure as the sales figure for his books holds true?
28 February at 12:48
Joseph Mathai: I don’t think so, but if you think of the number of titles and the number of years the actual figures would be impressive. In fact when people have asked me for sales figures I have told them in the absence of any independently verifiable figure it would be against my own interest to be honest. That was not the purpose of my comment, I wanted to share some facts which I think are in themselves impressive.
28 February at 12:58
Charles Assisi: The problem with that book though Joseph was that it was heavily plagiarized. All the pointers to that have been out in the open for a very long time now. For instance, http://attrition.org/errata/charlatan/ankit_fadia/unofficial.html
a summary of ankit fadia events demonstrating charlatan status
28 February at 13:04
Joseph Mathai: Yeah, those were the days when we did not have the Internet tools to pick up plagiarism at this level. But 32% plagiarism, that too from a variety of sources, in what was, even in its first edition, a fat book; is that such a big crime to place on the shoulders of a 13-year old. I have witnessed worse from adults, and people who continue to hold teaching jobs in government funded colleges and universities.
28 February at 13:24
Charles Assisi: Yes, it is. A crime is a crime and it cannot be condoned by people. If a child were to copy from another students paper in something as routine as a school exam, they are made examples of and penalized heavily. That is because you want them to grow up into individuals who place a premium on integrity. Condoning a crime simply convinces the perpetrators to believe they can get away with it. In the long run, it’s a lose lose for everybody. The perpetrator included.
28 February at 13:37
Joseph Mathai: “ ‘I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury,’ said cunning old Fury: ‘I’ll try the whole cause, and condemn you to death.’ ” When we refuse to take a more discerning view of the nature and scope of a “crime”, we do a great disservice. I merely wanted to add colour, shade and texture to a story that came across a little too monochromatic.
28 February at 14:23
Charles Assisi: Oh no Joseph. Not at all. Declining to take a discerning view would have meant not giving him a chance to defend the charges. But after corresponding over email, recorded conversations that lasted hours, and all facts double checked, then a story deserves to go into print. Monochromatic? If that’s what it comes across as to you, I’ll have to accept your verdict and respect it.
28 February at 14:42
Jaya Bhattacharji Rose: Joseph Mathai I have to agree with Charles Assisi. Plagiarism is a crime. It is the stealing of original content/ IPR created by an author without due acknowledgement. It does not matter whether the plagiarist is a 13 year old or an adult. It remains a crime. Using the lack of internet tools at the time of publication to gauge the extent of plagiariam done by Ankit or to say he notched up impressive sales of his book as some sort of justification, does not take away from the crime that it is. In any case in the days before (and now) Internet tools the onus lies upon the editor, publishing house and the expert readers to whom the manuscript is sent to spot the extent of plagiarism. Ask the copyright experts — Raghavender Gudibande R, Shamnad Basheer and Pranesh Prakash.
28 February at 15:24
Joseph Mathai: I am not denying that plagiarism is a crime. Even after assuming that the analysis is true I say that 32% in a 608 page is not a big crime. Collating information from different sources and bringing them together in one flow that appeals to readers is an achievement. If in around a third of the material this has been done wrongly then that is the measure of the crime. A crime is not a crime — it has its specificities, it has its context. The piece emerges as monochromatic because it does not explain the continuing success of Ankit Fadia. Or are you of the opinion that most of the people can be fooled all of the time.
28 February at 16:15
Charles Assisi: Surely, you’re kidding me Joseph! But I guess to each his own. Good luck!
28 February at 16:22
Charles Assisi: And please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not trying to change your opinion on what I wrote. That’s a view and I have to accept it. Just responding to the plagiarism bit because I’ve not hesitated in the past to sack people who’ve even attempted it. But like I said earlier, to each his own.
28 February at 16:25
Joseph Mathai: As a publisher of books we deal with authors to whom writing is at best a part-time pre-occupation. Plagiarism is a vexing problem that is faced in the textbook publishing industry, as textbooks are a synthesis of views already expressed in published books. For me the ideal textbook is Sumit Sarkar’s Modern India (published by Macmillan India when Tejeswar Singh was there). It sketched out the state-of-the-art on the subject, and the meticulously kept extensive bibliography worked liked innumerable labelled doors that allowed readers to explore particular aspects in greater depth if they wanted. The tragedy is that many textbook writers do not go to research based publications, but just synthesize three or four other textbooks to prepare a new one. This started happening in the days when IT could not be used to detect such practices easily. It had its advantages because the authors would compile the textbook in line with syllabi considerations and in tune with the way in which questions were asked in the university. Plagiarism was caught out only when authors recognized their content in books not written by them. Once publishers became familiar with plagiarism detection tools available on the Internet, we could see significant instances of 70-100% plagiarism. Which is why I consider 32% plagiarism a “minor crime”. Even in these situations we needed to deal with the situation. In some cases we could not afford to “sack” authors whose content showed plagiarism. This context calls for a more discerning view of plagiarism. I recognize that in a newspaper/magazine situation where a higher degree of professionalism is called for from your writers who you pay on a time-rate basis, you might need to have a binary approach to plagiarism.
28 February at 17:44
Pranesh Prakash: Joseph: The problem is not about having 32% of “non-original” stuff in a 608 page book. It’s about hiding the fact that it is non-original. And Jaya, I’d rather keep copyright infringement issues separate from those of plagiarism. Copyright infringement can exist even if you acknowledge your sources; plagiarism is about not acknowledging your sources. And while saying that, I’ll leave you with one of my favourite essays: “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism” by Jonathan Lethem: http://goo.gl/2X0Vl
28 February at 18:53
Jaya Bhattacharji Rose: Thank you Pranesh Prakash especially for differentiating between plagiarism and copyright infringement. It is a fine distinction but an important one.
28 February at 18:59
Charles Assisi: Succintly put Pranesh. Have to share the piece. Thanks for the pointer
28 February at 20:46
Joseph Mathai: Pranesh I was talking about it from a plagiarism perspective itself, and the act of hiding the original source. In a situation where rampant plagiarism is seen I feel there is a need to look at percentages.
I liked the article, my own views reflect those of the postman in “Il Postino” when he is accused by Neruda of using Neruda’s poetry to court the love of his life. The postman dismisses the charge as being irrelevant saying: “Poetry belongs to those who need it.”
1 March at 07:35
Charles Assisi: Disagree with you Joseph on percentages. But love Neruda
1 March at 07:41
On 27 March 2013, Penguin Books invited Ankit Fadia to participate in Spring Fever 2013, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi.