Every Monday I post some of the books I have received in the previous week. Embedded in the book covers and post will also be links to buy the books on Amazon India. This post will be in addition to my regular blog posts and newsletter.
In today’s Book Post 21 included are some of the titles I received in the past few weeks and are worth mentioning and not necessarily confined to parcels received last week.
2017. A landmark year for HarperCollins worldwide. The publishing firm is celebrating its bicentennary and the Indian office is marking 25 years of its operations locally. Stories from HarperCollins Publishers ( 1817 – 2017) a succintly produced edition chronicling the firm’s history. There are fascinating nuggets in it.
HarperCollins Publishers began as J. & J. Harper, a small family printing shop run by brothers James and John Harper in New York City in March 1817. In 1825 the company posted an advertisement in the United States Literary Gazette announcing five forthcoming titles. Scotsman Thomas Nelson ( born Neilson) opened a secondhand bookshop in Edinburgh in 1798, eventually publishing inexpensive editions of noncopyrighted religious texts and popular fiction. Collins also started out as a small family-run printer and publisher. Chalmers and Collins, established by millworker and seminarian William Collins and Charles Chalmers ( brother of evangelical preacher Thomas), published its first work in 1819. It began by publishing only the writings of the Reverend Dr. Thomas Chalmers, but soon published other authors, eventually forming William Collins and Sons.
In 1962 what was then known as Harper & Brothers merged with textbook publisher Row, Peterson & Company, forming Harper & Row. HarperCollins as a brand came into existence in 1989 after News Corporation purchased Harper & Row ( 1987) and Collins ( 1989). Today HarperCollins global brand publishes approximately 10,000 new titles every year in 17 languages and has a print and digital catalogue of more than 200,000 titles. Along the way it has acquired other well-established businesses with robust identities of their own such as 4th Estate, Angus & Robertson, Amistad Press, Avon Books, Caedmon Audio, Ecco Press, Funk & Wagnalls, Granada, Harlequin, J.B. Lippincott, the John Day Company, Thomas Y. Cromwell Co., Thorson’s, Unwin Hyman, William Morror and Company, Zondervan, HarperCollins Christian Publishing and others. Many of these remain as imprints of HarperCollins.
Over the years it established credibility as being an author’s publisher for it protected rights and fought against piracy. In the 1800s Harper brothers ensured that they were fair in paying royalties to their authors, particularly those who were overseas. Their fiercest competitor was Mathew Carey’s publishing house of Philadelphia. A cease-fire between the rivalry happened in 1830s and “The Harper Rule” agreement was reached. According to Stories from HarperCollins Publishers “in [this] a publisher would cease printing when a competitor purchased advance proofs and announced forthcoming titles, or had previously published a British author.” This enabled the Harper brothers to invest more in finding and developing relationships with authors. They also began to explore other markets in the 1800s such as Canada, Australia and India. Interestingly they broke into new markets with texts such as prayer books, geography, gospels, dictionaries, schoolbooks, readers and primers.
Poet Gulzar and veteran Bollywood actress-turned-politician Hema Malini cutting the HarperCollins 25th anniversary cake, New Delhi, July 2017.
The stable of authors associated with HarperCollins is extraordinary. The firm published the American edition of Walter Scott’s Peveril of the Peak ( 1823), Edward Lytton Bulwer’s The Coming Race ( 1871), and H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds ( 1898) and The Invisible Man ( 1898). These were deemed as “scientific romance”. Later with the acquisition of Unwin Hyman by Collins the firm discovered the winning formula of fantasy worlds furnished with maps and illustrations as has been proved with the success of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit ( 1937) and The Lord of the Rings trilogy ( 1954 – 55). Other writers include ( listed in no specific order) C. S. Lewis, Paulo Coelho, Deepak Chopra, Erle Stanley Gardner, Aldous Huxley, Herman Melville, Harper Lee, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, John Gray’s Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, George R. R. Martin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Agatha Christie, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Sylvia Plath, Pearl Buck, Doris Lessing, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Martin Luther King Jr., Maurice Sendak, Shel Silverstein, E. B. White, Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear, Judith Kerr, Armistead Maupin, Alan Cummings, Caitlin Moran and Roxane Gay.
In the 1800s the publisher made exploratory trips to India too and witnessed an explosion in fiction writing in the 1890s due to high population density coupled with growing literacy. In 1992 HarperCollins establish a base in India when it entered into a partnership with the Indian firm, Rupa Publications. After a few years a new collaboration was forged with the India Today group. Finally HarperCollins became an independent entity of its own and its headquartered in Delhi NCR. The CEO is Ananth Padmanabhan.
To celebrate 25 years of its impressive presence in India, HarperCollins India ( HCI) has launched a campaign that consists of special editions of 25 of its iconic books and short films promoting storytelling and books. This list includes writers such as Anuja Chauhan, Anita Nair, Kiran Nagarkar, Rana Dasgupta, Siddharth Mukherjee, Satyajit Ray, Akshaya Mukul, Vivek Shanbhag, B. K. S. Iyengar, Arun Shourie etc. HCI has also launched a scrumptious list consisting of 25 facsimile editions of Agatha Christie novels.
I was invited by Kunskapsskolan Gurgaon to curate their book week. They have nearly 1200 students. The book week had to be created for all grades from pre-Nursery to Form 10. Since it has been recently established in India the classes are bottom-heavy with a larger number of students in primary school. Also the teaching staff is young, energetic and eager to learn new ways of learning particularly using technology.
Kunskapsskolan has been established in India via a joint venture partnership between Sweden and India. The schools follow the KED programme whose motto is: “Personalize each student’s education according to their individual needs and abilities. All resources in the school are carefully designed and organized around the student in a complete and coherent system.” Another characteristic of Kunskapsskolan schools is to align themselves with the educational system approved by the government of the country they are establishing schools in. So in India they are recognised by the CBSE board. Having said that they implement the curriculum using theme-based learning and from grades 3-8 it is primarily using digital resources. A unique aspect of Kunskapsskolan is its inclusive policy to have students with behavioural and learning challenges. There is a department that has skilled educators and councillors who are instrumental in the integration of these special children with rest of the school community.
Given the interesting mix of students with varying capabilities and incorporating the simple mandate of the school management — “By making a qualitative difference to the school community by immersing everyone in a world of books. It is also to introduce children to the love of reading via various methodologies and a well-curated book exhibition.” It was decided to hold the book week along with Scholastic India. With ninety-five years experience of publishing for children worldwide, of those twenty in India, Scholastic India is equipped to meet the requirements of the school. For instance putting together a theme-based book fair, introduction to audiobooks, ebooks and levelled readers for students such as Book Flix ( primary) and LitPro ( middle and secondary).
Teacher’s workshop led by Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, 29 April 2017
The book week began with a workshop for the school teachers on the “promotion of reading and digital resources”. I led two workshops. First for early years and primary school teachers. The second one was for middle and secondary school teachers. The emphasis was on importance of reading as a lifelong skill to acquire and not just to complete school curriculum. Given that this is the information age where its imperative to know how to read and glean
Anu Singh Chowdhary
knowledge, reading as an activity has to be enjoyable. It has to inculcate a love for reading without making it a chore. Today there are multiple formats by which children can access books for pleasure and information. According to Kids & Family Reading Report 2016 (KFRR ) children prefer reading for fun and helps develop a fondness for the activity. Parents too agreed that reading is important.
86% of kids interviewed said their favourite books – the ones they were likely to finish – were the ones they pick out themselves. This is close to the USA average of 93%.
Across all ages, an overwhelming majority of children (87%) say they would read more if they could find more books that they like.
Children and parents prefer curated selections as it is easier to discover books. The top sources of books are the school book fairs, book clubs and word-of-mouth recommendations. Libraries and bookshops are a close second.
A primary school teacher’s feedback on the sessions and book fair, 5 May 2017
The teachers were introduced to online digital resources ( free and subscription based) that were age-appropriate and supported their curriculum. The workshops had been customised to align with KED methodology. So though the focuse was on resources available online many scrumptious examples of print books were also shared to gasps of astonished delight. A teacher who works primarily with children who have learning disabilities wrote in later to say “I simply loved the session!”
Something similar was witnessed at the Kunskapsskolan Book Week.
A student’s enthusiastic response to the book fair.
On the first day two little tiddlers hurtled down the stairs breathless with excitement, ” This book fair is awesome! The collection is so good!”
Paro Anand reading out aloud “Wingless”
Every single day there were sessions with authors, illustrators, storytellers, dramatists, cartoonists and editors. The idea being to introduce children to different aspects of books and reading. There were even sessions planned around audio books and animations based on popular stories as with Book Flix. Unfortunately due to privacy issues I am unable to upload some of the magnificent pictures taken during the events. Children, irrespective of whether they were toddlers or young adults, were mesmerised by the sessions. I have pictures of children who were trooped into the sessions and sat very quietly not knowing what to expect. Within minutes of the resource people beginning we had children absorbed listening to the stories in wide-eyed wonder, small or big the students were sprawled across the carpets, some were sitting under classroom desks and peering out, others were clapping their hands in glee and yet others body language was a delight to watch. Inevitably within minutes the students would surround the resource person and it was absolutely marvellous to watch the adult engulfed in a sea of blue with loud chirrups of happiness from the children.
Simi Srivastava, storyteller
Simi Srivastava told a deliciously onomatopoeic tale about a bear. It was narrated accompanied to music. It went down very well with the toddlers. After the session a little boy came and gave her a tight hug while planting a slurpy wet kiss of appreciation on her cheek. Another girl came up politely and said “It was nice” but her twinkling eyes noted her deep appreciation of the storytelling performance.
Paro Anand, an exceptional storyteller, read out aloud her brilliant fable Wingless to a mesmerised audience of 9 and 10 year olds. ( According to KFRR, across all ages, the overwhelming majority of kids (85%) say they love(d) being read books aloud.) When she said she had written 27 books for children, a tiny little hand went up and a solemn little child said, “It means you are ‘experienced'” much to Paro’s delight.
Later Paro Anand had a session with the senior children around her recently launched graphic novel 2. It is the first Indo-Swedish collaborative book and it was apt that the first school event was held at an Indo-Swedish school. Paro Anand has written this book with Swedish writer, Örjan Persson. Her session was converted into a writing workshop too. The children were broken up into teams of two and given the task of writing stories together, aping the collaboration between the authors of 2. They were given two days to work on the stories. Three winning teams were awarded prizes along with notes of appreciation by Paro Anand.
There were sessions planned with renowned storytellers like Anupa Lal, Anu
(L-R) Anu Singh Chowdhury, Anupa Lal and Blossom D’Souza
Singh Chowdhury conducted a session in Hindi introducing children to Gulzar’s poetry and stories, seasoned publisher-cum-author Arthy Muthana led a workshop on editing and book production wherein the children looked astonished upon hearing of the “small pile” of manuscripts waiting to be read on her desk, dramatist Vanessa Ohri had the children spellbound, and cartoonist Ajit Narayan’s infectious enthusiasm for drawing characters was palpable as children quickly sketched in their art books while he demonstrated. He was provocative with his remarks like “I still have not found the right picture” but it only spurred the children on to improve. They drew furiously and clucked around him for appreciation.
While the book week was on a team of student volunteers had banded together to form a temporary editorial team. These four senior school students were entrusted with the task of creating “books” documenting the book week. They could choose any form of narrative as long as it contained highlights of the sessions and brought in different perspectives. For this they interviewed the resource people, students and teachers to get their views too. The students chose to illustrate with line drawings and soon took photographs to accompany the text. The books are to be placed in the school library. The exercise helped give an insight into the team effort, creativity and patience required to put a book together.
By the last day I too had students smiling and greeting me. The primary school students would give a broad smile or a hug. The senior school students were a little more reserved but it did not prevent them from lurking behind pillars and popping out unexpectedly to waylay me for a chat. It was a tremendous experience and I look forward to many more such occasions.
8 May 2017
*All the pictures except for the one of the school entrance have been taken by me and posted with permission of the school management.
( My article on the preview for JLF 2017 was published on Bookwitty.com on 30 December 2016.)
The first time I attended the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) at Diggi Palace Grounds, Jaipur it was small enough so that once could drive the car straight up to the main steps of the building. Today, the parking is a fair distance from the palace and the only way to reach the venue is through multiple barricades and a screening counter. Once inside though, there is a wonderful, festive air with an explosion of colours in the décor, the happy buzz of excited people milling about and conversations streaming through various marquees. Termed one of the greatest literary events, it is also a free one. Since it began, the JLF has welcomed 846,000 visitors, 1874 speakers, conducted 1272 sessions and partnered with more than 1400 organisations.
The JLF is also crucial because it is situated in a geographical space that is at the heart of a significant book market. It is planned soon after the Christmas break and a few months after the Frankfurt Book Fair (FBF) so publishing professionals flying in from around the world can follow up on their FBF conversations and combine them with a holiday in India.
In January 2017, it will be the 10th anniversary of the Jaipur Literature Festival. The three directors since its inception are Sanjoy Roy, Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple. The festival has evolved over the years to include different elements such as Jaipur BookMark – a B2B platform for publishers, a children’s section and a cultural event every evening. The Festival has expanded internationally to host annual events at London’s Southbank Centre (2014 onwards) and Boulder, Colorado (2015 onwards). In 2017 the Jaipur BookMark will launch a new scheme to support emerging writers and budding authors are invited to apply for a New Writers’ Mentorship Programme: The First Book Club.
The Festival has celebrated and hosted writers from across the globe, ranging from Nobel Laureates and Man Booker Prize winners to debut writers, including Amish Tripathi, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Eleanor Catton, Hanif Kureishi, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Ian McEwan, JM Coetzee, Margaret Atwood, Mohammed Hanif, Oprah Winfrey, Orhan Pamuk, Pico Iyer, Salman Rushdie, Stephen Fry, Thomas Piketty, Vikram Seth and Wole Soyinka, as well as renowned Indian language writers such as Girish Karnad, Gulzar, Javed Akhtar, MT Vasudevan Nair, Uday Prakash, the late Mahasweta Devi and U.R. Ananthamurthy.
This January, the Jaipur Literature Festival expects to welcome over 250 authors, thinkers, politicians, journalists, and popular culture icons to Jaipur. Sanjoy Roy said “Our prime focus is on history of the world, given that it was the 70 years of India’s Independence [in 2016]. In a new collaboration with the British Library they have loaned us a version of the 1215 AD Magna Carta which will be on view at Diggi Palace. A series of sessions on freedom to dream will look at inspiration for the future. We have a new partnership with The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) that will look at sessions on art and migration.”
Namita Gokhale added that at the JLF “We are always trying to listen in as many languages as possible. This time there will be speakers from all over Europe and more than 20 Indian regional languages will be showcased.”
Controversies and the JLF also seem to go hand in hand. In 2012 Hari Kunzru, Ruchir Joshi, Amitava Kumar and Jeet Thayil read out passages from Salman Rushdie’s banned book The Satanic Verses and had to leave Jaipur hurriedly before the police arrived to arrest them. Another time the Shell oil company was one of the sponsors, which created a stir since, among other things, it is infamously associated with the tragic execution of Nigerian writer Ken Saro-Wiwa. At the time, the JLF administration said they do not look at the color of money. This year too, there is disappointment already being expressed at representatives of the Hindu fundamentalist group RSS being invited to speak at JLF but as the organizers point out they stand for diversity.
Be that as it may, the 2017 edition of JLF promises to be as exciting as ever. The magnificent line-up of authors includes Paul Beatty, Alan Hollinghurst, Valmik Thapar, Amruta Patil, AN Wilson, Alice Walker, Mark Haddon, Ajay Navaria, Mrinal Pande, Richard Flanagan, Arshia Sattar, Arefa Tehsin, Eka Kurniawan, Tahmima Anam, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Marcos Giralt Torrente, Kyoko Yoshida, David Hare, Margo Jefferson, Deborah Smith, Jeremy Paxman, Hyeonseo Lee, Francesca Orsini, John Keay, Jon Wilson, Kate Tempest, Mihir S. Sharma, Neil MacGregor, Rishi Kapoor, Sholeh Wolpé, Sunil Khilnani, and Vivek Shanbhag. Sessions have been planned on translations, revisiting history, conflict, politics, memoirs, biographies, nature, poetry, spirituality, mythmaking, women writing, travel writing, freedom of expression, children’s literature and book releases.
Some of the prominent sessions are:
Writing the Self: The Art of Memoir: Bee Rowlatt, Brigid Keenan Emma Sky and Hyeonseo Lee in conversation with Samanth Subramanian
Lost in Translation: Francesca Orsini, Deborah Smith, Paulo Lemos Horta and Sholeh Wolpé in conversation with Adam Thirlwell
Migrations: Lila Azam Zanganeh, NoViolet Bulawayo, Sholeh Wolpé and Valzhyna Mort in conversation with Tishani Doshi
The Tamil Story: Imayam Annamalai and Subhashree Krishnaswamy in conversation with Sudha Sadhanand
In Search of a Muse: On Writing Poetry: Anne Waldman, Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir, Ishion Hutchinson, Kate Tempest, Tishani Doshi and Vladimir Lucien in conversation with Ruth Padel
Lost Kingdoms: The Hindu and Buddhist Golden Age in South East Asia: John Guy introduced by Kavita Singh
Before We Visit the Goddess: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni in conversation with Shrabani Basu
Kohinoor: Anita Anand and William Dalrymple introduced by Swapan Dasgupta
The Dishonourable Company: How the East India Company Took Over India: Giles Milton, John Keay, Jon Wilson, Linda Colley and Shashi Tharoor in conversation with William Dalrymple
Brexit: A.N. Wilson, Andrew Roberts,, Linda Colley, Surjit Bhalla and Timothy Garton Ash in conversation with Jonathan Shainin
Rewriting History: The Art of Historical Fiction: Adam Thirlwell, Alan Hollinghurst and Shazia Omar in conversation with Raghu Karnad
Civil Wars: From Antiquity to ISIS: David Armitage introduced by Raghu Karnad
The Biographer’s Ball: A.N. Wilson, Andrew Roberts, David Cannadine, Lucinda Hawksley, Roy Foster and Suzannah Lipscomb in conversation with Anita Anand
Ardor: On the Vedas: Roberto Calasso in conversation with Devdutt Pattanaik
Things to Leave Behind: Namita Gokhale in conversation with Mrinal Pande and Sunil Sethi
That Which Cannot be Said: Hyeonseo Lee, Kanak Dixit, Sadaf Saaz and Timothy Garton Ash and in conversation with Salil Tripathi
The Art of the Novel: On Writing Fiction: Adam Thirlwell, Alan Hollinghurst, NoViolet Bulawayo and Richard Flanagan in conversation with Manu Joseph
Footloose: The Travel Session: Aarathi Prasad, Bee Rowlatt, Brigid Keenan, Nidhi Dugar and Simon Winchester in conversation with William Dalrymple
(My monthly column, Literati, in the Hindu Literary Review was published online ( 17 October 2015) and will be in print ( 18 October 2015). Here is the http://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/jaya-bhattacharji-rose-on-india-coping-with-book-bans/article7770216.ece. I am also c&p the text below. )
It remains to be seen how India, despite its business potential, copes with cultural policing, muzzling of free speech, and book bans
According to Nielsen’s The India Book Market Report 2015, released at Frankfurt Book Fair on October 14, the print book market in India is worth Rs. 261bn (£2.5bn), making it the sixth largest in the world, and the second largest of the English language markets. U.K. publishers’ revenues, including e-books, home and exports, are worth £3.3bn. India is the second most populous country in the world, with 1.28 billion people. The literacy rate is rising rapidly, from 65 per cent in 2001 to 74 per cent in 2011; it is predicted to reach 90 per cent in 2020. One quarter of young people define themselves as book readers, comprising by themselves a larger group than the population of the U.K. which is 65 million.
It explains why, for some time now, publishers worldwide are keen to explore strategic partnerships with their Indian counterparts in English and regional languages. According to a 2010-12 report Rebalancing the Economy from the House of Commons, Parliament of Great Britain, “40 per cent of U.K. publishing revenues are derived from exports”. Though the statistic is three years old, it will hold validity in 2015 since the links between British publishers and India are amongst the oldest given the colonial past.
But what happens when a market like India with huge business potential mutates into a territory synonymous with cultural policing, muzzling of free speech, book bans and intolerance of ideas? Does it still remain an attractive market to invest in? Increasing number of writers from various Indian languages are returning their Sahitya Akademi awards and Punjabi writer Dalip Kaur Tiwana returned her Padma Shri in protest against the assassination of rationalist scholars like Kalburgi. For some writers, this form of intellectual censorship is linked to the horrific lynching incident in Dadri. Noted Hindi writer, 90-year-old Krishna Sobti, said while returning her award that India did not need any more “Dadri or Babri”.
I have contributed an article on the theme of Independence in Indian Children’s Literature for the inaugural issue of The Read Quarterly. It is a journal on children’s literature, founded by Sarah Odedina and Kate Manning; the Kickstarter campaign has been endorsed by Neil Gaiman. Some of the other contributors include Nury Vittachi, Eoin Colfer, Gita Wolf (Tara Books) and Daniel Hahn. My article maps the literary inheritance of independence/partition of subcontinent. Much of it is inadvertently focused on hagiographies written to suit a specific ideological position, reinforcing communal points of view that took root in British India. Fortunately, there are noticeable positive shifts in contemporary fiction, but as Romila Thapar, the eminent historian, wrote to me, “The goal of the national movement was such that communities came together for a cause and set aside what separated them. It is these moments that need to be remembered in the present times.”
Cultural pluralism, democracy and secularism, the defining traits of India, are now under severe threat. Two collections of short stories published this past month address the complexities of Indian culture and ethos being intimidated by communal forces. Deeply disturbing but essential reading is the Pigeons of the Domes: Stories on Communalism edited by Rakhshanda Jalil (Niyogi Books). It was put together with the sole intention of “tracing the secular thread in the fabric of modern India, a thread that goes back many centuries.” It consists of stories by Gulzar, Ajeet Caur, Asghar Wajahat, Deepak Budki and Keki Daruwalla.
‘They Eat Meat!’ is the opening story in Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar, 2015 winner, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s new short story collection The Adivasi Will Not Dance. In ‘They Eat Meat!’ Panmuni and Biram Soren go to live in Gujarat, and are surprised to learn that they would have to stop eating non-vegetarian food to be accepted as citizens. According to the author, “The impetus behind the short story was the experience a Santhal family had in Vadodara during 2000-02. …the things I have mentioned are all as they were told to me by this family. I just changed the names. I wasn’t there in Gujarat in 2002 when the riots happened, but I was curious to know what happened, the insider-outsider equation, the pure-impure thing, the veg-non-veg thing, and so I wanted to write this story….This story first appeared in the literary magazine from Kathmandu, La.Lit. Prawin Adhkari and Rabi Thapa, the editors, published it in August 2014 with the title, ‘DON’T MIX WITH THEM, THEY EAT MEAT!’…It read more like an eyewitness report (in the third person) than a fiction based on facts. For the Speaking Tiger version, my editors and I took the report-like feel out and turned it into more story-like. … In the La.Lit version, imagination was minimum; in the Speaking Tiger version, there is more imagination.”
This fine line between fact and fiction is well summed up in the astounding debut novel, Tram 83 by performance artist and poet, Fiston Mwanza Mujila, translated from the French by Roland Glasser, published by Deep Vellum Publishing. Lucien, the protagonist, while reflecting upon his work, asks: “Is there a limit to the imagination of a writer who takes real facts and uses them to construct a world where truth and fiction coexist?” It is not surprising that Indian writers are protesting intellectual censorship by returning state awards.
( I invited Rohini Chowdhury to talk about her experience in translating Bosky’s Panchatantra for Red Turtle. She translated Gulzar’s verse rendition of Panchatantra.
She is a widely published children’s writer, and an established literary translator. As a children’s writer, she has more than twenty books and several short stories to her credit. Her published writing is in Hindi and English, and covers a wide spectrum of literary genres including translations, novels, short fiction, comics, and non-fiction.
Rohini’s primary languages as a literary translator are pre-modern (Braj Bhasha and Avadhi) and modern (Khari Boli) Hindi, and English. She has translated the seventeenth century Braj Bhasha text Ardhakathanak, into modern Hindi and into English; both translations were published by Penguin India. Ardhakathanak is the autobiography of the poet, merchant and philosopher, Banarasidas; written in 1641, it is widely regarded as the first autobiography in an Indian language. Her translations include the Hindi novel Tyagpatra [The Resignation] by Jainendra, one of the leading Hindi novelists of the modern period, into English, also published by Penguin India.
Rohini was born and educated in India, and was a management professional before moving to London in 1997. She is widely travelled and brings in the nuances of the cultures of Asia, Africa and the West in her writings.
Gulzar Bosky’s Panchatantra Translated by Rohini Chowdhury, illustrated by Rajiv Eipe. Rupa Publications (2013) Pb. Rs. 195
When I was first asked to translate Gulzar’s verse renditions of stories from the Panchatantra, I was both excited and curious. Excited because I would be translating Gulzar, and curious because these were familiar tales, that I had grown up listening to; also, I had earlier translated several of these stories from the original Sanskrit Panchatantram. Moreover, these stories had been told and retold a hundred times before, in varying forms and formats, by writers and translators of all colours, and I wondered what new twist or angle Gulzar could possibly have given them. The excitement and curiosity were soon replaced by apprehension: Would I be able to do justice to the tales, or would my own familiarity with them stand in the way of my translation? And then, it was Gulzar that I was translating, and translating the work of a living poet of his stature brought its own demands— the quality of my translation had to match the greatness of his reputation, and please the poet as well! As if these doubts were not enough, the tales were meant for children, and children, as anyone who has had anything to do with them will tell you, are far more demanding and discerning than adults. So there I was, faced with a trio of unprecedented challenges— an overly familiar subject, the text written by a famous and much-revered poet, and meant for children!
But I need not have worried, not about the ‘overly familiar’ at least! As I worked through the tales, I was drawn into their magic once more, and this time the magic came with the added sparkle of Gulzar’s wit and lively humour. Gulzar’s gentle imagination had fleshed out the original tales with dialogue and descriptions, and added events and happenings the way one does when telling a well-loved story to a child several times. The humour and the detail made these stories uniquely Gulzar’s, familiar yes, but new as well!
Gulzar Sahib approved my translation of the first story, and I breathed a sigh of relief. So the second worry was gone too! I could now focus on what, in any case, is any translator’s primary concern— to transmit the original in as accurate and as interesting a manner as possible to her audience, which, in my case, would be made up mainly of children.
Gulzar’s Panchatantra stories are in Hindustani, that inimitable mix of Hindi and Urdu that is so rarely heard these days, the tales related as he would have related them to his daughter, Bosky, when she was little. My main challenge now became to transmit the tones and nuances of his sparkling, softly flowing, idiomatic Hindustani into the much staider, crisper English.
Each language brings with it its own context, social, historical, cultural, so that when we move from one language into another, we also move worlds. Translation therefore becomes a negotiation between languages and cultures, and the translator, as mediator, must address the issues that arise in such a negotiation: How accurately must the translation follow the original? Which words may be kept, which must be discarded? How best may an idea that is intrinsic to the original culture but alien to the other be transmitted? Can it be transmitted at all? I, too, asked these questions as I sat down to translate Gulzar’s stories.
Gulzar’s use of idiom makes the stories easy to read, but difficult to translate without taking some liberties with the original. Take, for example, the Hindi phrase, ‘jhoot ke pair nahin hote’ which translates literally into ‘falsehood has no feet’. In Hindi the phrase makes perfect sense, in English, not so much, not without further explanation of some sort. We finally settled upon ‘A lie never goes very far/For it has no feet at all’.
Certain cultural and social norms which are easily conveyed in Hindi, are almost impossible to convey in English, and compromises are inevitable. Consider the Hindu practice whereby a woman may not address her husband by name. This is conveyed perfectly in Hindi but in English translation, the cultural context is by and large lost. Take the tale of Manram Swaroop, the Brahmin. Though he had a wonderful name, no one ever used it: the entire village called him ‘Panditji’, and his wife, of course, would never address him by name:
His wife would call him
‘Do you hear me?’
That’s how she would address him…
Though technically correct and adequate for the purpose of telling the story, the translation does not and cannot in itself capture the social and cultural implications that are implicit in this tradition, unless it be accompanied by further explanation, either in the main text itself or in footnotes. But any such explanation would have made the text heavier, and given that my translation was not a scholarly exercise but aimed at young readers, I decided to skip the explanation.
Puns and double meanings are ever the translator’s bane and Gulzar’s gentle and clever play on words throughout the text presented another challenge in translation. Unfortunately, in some instances, this was inevitably lost in translation, though sometimes English actually enhanced the humour of the original. In the tale of the singing donkey, for example, English gave me the facility of playing with two words ‘donkey’ and ‘ass’ to convey the two meanings (the animal, and a fool) of the single Hindi word ‘gadha’.
Gulzar’s stories are in free verse, and therefore, to stay as close to the spirit of the original as possible, I wanted my translation to be in free verse as well. Translating into verse constrains the translator even further for verse demands economy in the use of words, so that the translator must use words not only effectively, but both efficiently as well. I found myself writing and rewriting, cutting and pruning and editing, till the lines fell into place just so. An arduous exercise, but worth the effort.
Of course, as I worked, every decision I made— the words I used, the phrases I chose to explain or leave to the readers’ understanding, the ideas I chose to convey or glossed over briefly – was influenced by the fact that this work was meant for children.
One might ask, and I asked myself this: why should a translation aimed at children require more care from the translator than a translation aimed at adults? The answer, I realized, lay in the responsibility I feel when writing for children. Children are demanding readers, they absorb and observe, criticize and comment with a great deal more engagement and involvement than do most adults. They are also our future, and therefore, whether it is an original novel or story, or a translated work, children deserve the best that I can give.
The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry
Edited by Sudeep Sen
HarperCollins Publishers, India, 2012. Pb. Pp.540. Rs. 599.
Panchali’s Pledge Subramania Bharti
Translated by Usha Rajagopalan
Everyman Classics, Hachette India, 2012. Pb. Pp. 274 Rs. 350
Dom Moraes: Selected Poems
Edited with an introduction by Ranjit Hoskote. Penguin Books India, 2012, Pb. Pp.282. Rs 499.
The River Speaks: The Vaiyai Poems from the Paripatal
Translated by V. N. Muthukumar and Elizabeth Rani Segran
Penguin Classics, Penguin Books India, 2012. Pb. Pp. 176. Rs. 250
These my Words: The Penguin Book of Indian Poetry
Edited by Eunice de Souza and Melanie Silgardo
Penguin Books, India, 2012. Pb. Pp. 450 Rs. 499
In the company of a poet: Gulzar in conversation with Nasreen Munni Kabir
Rainlight, Rupa Publications, Delhi, 2012. Hb. Pp. 206. Rs 499
2012 was a delicious year for poetry from and being published in India. There were plenty of books to choose from — anthologies, collections, translations and some even for children. The anthology edited by Eunice de Souza and Melanie Silgardo (p.xxi) “comprises almost thirty languages and dialects, all translated into the English except of course those poems written in English. It includes poems, folk songs, and oral narratives that have now been transcribed. We have sought for a collection which tries to represent the breadth and diversity of Indian poetry – we wanted poems that surprised and delighted, poems that illuminated, and inspired further reading—a book for readers, not scholars and academics. We chose poems that worked in translation, those which crossed the boundary of language, which faithfulness to the original combined with adaptation to produced work that existed on its own merit.” It gives a good bird’s-eye view of what was written over the centuries, the various traditions that spawned poems and the transformation to the form over time. While reading it, you get a sense of the variety of poetry, the forms, the reasons why poetry is written and what can actually travel in translation. It is extremely difficult for me to even give a snippet of what is in the anthology since every poem is perfect. It forces you to engage with the content, takes you to a different world and time, and yet encourages you to move on to read the next poem. In no way is it dull to read such a volume.
In fact the editors achieve very well what Gulzar says in the absolutely delicious book In the company of a poet: Gulzar in conversation with Nasreen Munni Kabir that poetry is about “direct communication” and “What a poem says on the surface is not all that it means. You have to unpick the lines and see the shadows of words. That what makes it poetry, otherwise it would be prose. You usually have to be less ambiguous in prose, which is often an elaboration of thoughts: whereas in poetry, thoughts are usually compressed. A poem has an element of mystery. You have to unravel that mystery. Of course it depends on every poet—how much they reveal, and how much they choose not to.” He adds, “when you understand a poem’s meaning, you can never forget it. You find yourself reciting it at some occasion and it is appreciated. The idea of writing poetry appealed to me because reciting poetry is so pleasurable and the appreciation I got made me happy.”
I wish though that Eunice de Souza and Melanie Silgardo had a longer note about the translation process. Or at least got a few of the translators to speak and then carry a transcript of it as an afterword on their experience at translating poetry. Obviously it takes a while for a satisfactory conclusion to be achieved. An insight into this is given by Sudeep Sen in his Aria introduction on translating poetry “Sculpting language, altering tongues, intoning arias” (p.4), “In almost all instances — whether it be Hebrew, Danish, Korean, Macedonian, Polish, Persian, Spanish or Portuguese — I have worked closely with poets of the source languages themselves. They would do literal translations of the original poems in very raw prose. Once I got down the contents in an accurate version, I would then enter the process more proactively and often singularly to sculpt and revise the jagged prose texts to give them a poetic shape in English. After every revision and draft, I would ask the poet to read aloud the poems in their original tongue, so that I got down the rhythm, rhyme, and the cadence correctly — getting them as close to the original as is possible. Once both the poet in the original language and I as a translator were happy with the versions we came up with — which happened through several working sessions over extended periods of time — we would let go of the poems in their new avatar, in a new language.” Maybe knowing this he chose to consciously create a useful anthology of English poetry by Indians (based in the country and from the diaspora). It was fifteen years in the making, but it is time well spent. Unfortunately that is not the case with Usha Rajagoplan’s translations of Subramania Bharti’s Panchali’s Pledge. I cannot read the poems in the source language but I realize that the translations are missing something from the original.
Of the recent set of publications on poetry my favourites are the translations of Lal Ded’s poetry by Ranjit Hoskote (I, Lalla) and his selection of Dom Moraes poems. Even if you have never read poetry or been hesitant about taking a dip in it, start with Ranjit Hoskote’s introductions. His selection, translations and arrangement of the poems introduces you to the poets, their techiniques, form and evolution very well.
And if you have children. Then some of the anthologies that I absolutely enjoy reading out aloud to my daughter are The Rattle Bag edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes; The Puffin Book of Nonsense Verse selected and illustrated by Quentin Blake; The Puffin Book of Modern Children’s Verse edited by Brian Patten, illustrated by Michael Foreman (revised and updated); The Macmillan Treasury of Poetry for Children with a foreword by Charles Causley and A first poetry book selected by Pie Corbett and Gaby Morgan (published by Macmillan). As Charles Causley who used to be a school teacher till one day he discovered the joys of reading poetry to his students says, “A poet, of course, is not obliged to make a poem, whatever its form, entirely accessible at a first reading. A poem, by its nature, may hold certain qualities in reserve. It may not burn itself out, so to speak, in one brilliant flash of light. A poem is a living organism, capable of continuous development and the most subtle of changes. It may contain both a revelation and a mystery. We need to be aware not only of what is said, but of what the poet most carefully has left unsaid.” Pie Corbett says it aptly “Let the poems become shafts of sunlight to brighten up the day.”