Hachette India Posts

Sarah Waters, “The Paying Guests”

Sarah Waters, “The Paying Guests”

Sarah Waters, The Paying Guests“…men never do want women to do the things they want to do themselves, have you noticed?” 

( p.80)

The Paying Guests is Sarah Water’s sixth novel. It is about a middle class family, the Wrays — a mother and daughter, Frances— who have fallen upon hard times and are forced to taken in lodgers or as they would prefer to call them “paying guests”. Mrs Wray is pained when her daughter refers to themselves now as landladies. The story is set in the inter-war years, so the Wray household like many others around them have lost their two sons in the Great War, and soon after the war, Mr Wray passed away, leaving a mountain of bad debts. Mrs Wray continues to manage her life, a pale semblance of what she was used to but her young twenty-six-year old daughter has no qualms behaving like a char woman, if required, to maintain the house and manage expenses. All though Frances had begun to recognise “the look very well–she was bored to death with it, in fact–because she had seen it many times before: on the faces of neighbours, of tradesmen, and of her mother’s friends, all of whom had got themselves through the worst war in human history yet seemed unable for some reason to cope with the sight of a well-bred woman doing the work of a char.” ( p.25) The young couple who arrive are Lilian and Leonard Barber are obviously from a different social class ( “Len said you’d think them common”), but have the means to pay the weekly rent ( “fifty-eight shillings for two weeks”). Mr Barber is described as having a “clerkly neatness of him”. Mrs Barber on the other hand is “all warm colour and curve. How well she filled her own skin! She might have been poured generously into it, like treacle.”

The story moves at a leisurely trot. There is a very slow build up to the crux of the plot– the love affair between Lilian and Frances. But once there the novelist focuses upon these two character, shutting out all other interactions and references to the outside world, save for the occasional visits by the butcher boy, fishmonger, milkman and news headlines from The Times. Then suddenly the outside world is very present in the story, with a murder, police investigation, media reports, a courtroom drama as the story develops into a murder investigation with many unexpected twists and turns.

The Paying Guests is a wandering and an exploration of women’s lives, what it means to be a lesbian in 1922 when it was barely discussed or even acknowledged openly. The empowerment of women was happening in small ways, the Suffragete movement had happened, at the Wray house such as “Nelly, Mabel, or any other live-in servant since the munitions factory had finally lured them away in 1916”, Frances’s friend Christine was living in a building run by a society offering flats to working women — all very revolutionary for a society that was emerging from the prudish and conservative shadows of Victorian England and the socio-economic devastation wreaked by World War I. In a recent interview with The Independent, Sarah Waters acknowledges paying attention to women’s secret lives and history. ( The Independent, 6 September, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/sarah-waters-interview-i-pay-attention-to-womens-secret-history-and-lives-9715463.html ) In the same interview, Sarah Waters admits that writing about a lesbian relationship was a conscious decision since she “missed writing about love”.  This novel is a good example of historical fiction meticulously researched, another fact the author acknowledges. As the news about her new book filters through social media platforms, conversations are erupting on various platforms focused upon the well-written sex scenes that Sarah Waters is known for writing. In The Paying Guests she has apparently surpassed herself for creating scenes “electric with passion”. ( I use the word “apparently” advisedly, since this is the first book of Sarah Waters I have read.)

For period fiction written by contemporary authors to focus upon lesbian relationships, a murder mystery and engagement with the law is not new at all. Most notably Emma Donaghue’s novels especially Frog Music released earlier this year tackle similar issues raised in The Paying Guests. Ultimately it is the treatment of the story, the atmosphere created, the plot development and an understanding of the period where the writer’s strengths lie. While comparing these two novels — The Paying Guests and Frog Music — it is evident that the pace of storytelling and settings are very different, but The Paying Guests requires huge dollops of patience to read and appreciate.

Sarah Waters The Paying Guests Virago Press, London, 2014. (Distributed by Hachette India) Pb. pp. 580. Rs. 599

Karen Jay Fowler, ” We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves”

Karen Jay Fowler, ” We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves”

WAACBOLanguage is such an imprecise vehicle I sometimes wonder why we bother with it. 

( p.85, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves)

Karen Jay Fowler’s award-winning novel, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves , is about the Cooke family. It consists of the parents who are research psychologists and their three children — Lowell, Rosemary and Fern. A normal family except for a minor difference, Fern is a chimpanzee who has been brought up with Rosemary from infancy as twins. It is an experiment the parents conduct, funded by their university and it entailed having a “village” of grad students living with them at home to help. For the first five years of the girls lives, all is well. Then Rosemary is sent off to her grandparents, when she returns she discovers her sister is nowhere to be seen, her parents have moved into a new home, with no extra bedrooms and no grad students. Her brother too vanishes only to send postcards periodically and one brief visit, many years later. Rosemary begins telling this story when she is a college student and completes it when she is a kindergarten teacher for some years. The story spans over thirty years. As the narrator, Rosemary Cooke, says:

My brother and my sister have led extraordinary lives, but I wasn’t there, and I can’t tell you that part. I’ve stuck here to the part I can tell, the part that’s mine, and still everything I’ve said is all about them, a chalk outline around the space where they should have been. Three children, one story. (p. 304)

It is not surprising to discover that this novel has been shortlisted for the ManBooker Prize 2014. The story is a sensitive understanding of sibling relationships, loneliness of a woman and the ethics of scientific experiments–anthropomorphize a chimp and what are the human complications/repercussions of conducting such an experiment.  This is a story based primarily on Winthrop Kellogg’s work at Indiana University, but also of many others; most notably Jane Goodall’s work with the Gombe chimpanzees. Jane Godall, 1965In an interview with the Book Slut ( Oct 2013), the author says “I did hear from a daughter in the Kellogg family, I didn’t realize that there was another child. She was born about the time the experiment ended, so she has no memory of it herself, nor would her brother, who was only nineteen months old when the experiment ended. But she feels strongly that it completely deformed her family, that experiment that was so much briefer than the one I put in my book. She emailed me and said she realized I must have based this on her father’s work. One of the things she said that had happened to them, something I did not think about in my book and did not anticipate, was that they got hate mail and death threats from fundamentalists. …She wished to tell me how horrible it was to be part of the experiment, and what it did to her brother, what it did to her family. Although it’s not clear to me — to go back to my daughter’s original question — whether the damage to the family was done by the experiment itself or by having the kind of father who would do an experiment like this and who, therefore, was the kind of father who did other things as well; clearly, not a great father. It was a shock too, because I knew that the boy, Donald, who was involved in the experiment, had died quite some time ago. And I did not know there was another child. So I wrote about this family and it did not occur to me that any of them would be reading it.”

Karen Jay Fowler also refers to Keith and Catherine Hayes experiment at raising Viki ( a chimp) in the same manner as a human infant. “…Mr. Hayes said that the significant, the critical finding of their study, the finding everyone was choosing to ignore, was this: that language was the only way in which Viki differed much from a normal human child.” ( p.288) Karen Jay Fowler is known for her science fiction writing, her strong sense of storytelling. She has brought to the fore in We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by telling an extraordinarily beautiful story, but also making one think ( as good scifi should do!) about experiments conducted on animals in the name of research and what does it mean for animal rights. Coincidentally, the August 2014 issue of the National Geographic has an essay where Jane Goodall celebrating her 80th year reflects on her career of getting to know unforgettable chimps. ( http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2014/08/gombe-chimpanzees/shah-rogers-photography ).

Read this book. Just as all good science fiction blurs the lines between reality and experimentation and continue to be influential such as Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451  and Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics, so will We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves — it will dominate conversations about literature, science, animal rights, literary fiction for many years to come.

Miscellaneous

An interview with Karen Jay Fowler, Book Slut, October 2013 ( http://www.bookslut.com/features/2013_10_020334.php )

Is your process for writing a novel dramatically different from writing a short story?

Yes, it is dramatically different. When I write a story I can keep the whole thing in my head. I usually pop backward from the climax so I know what I want the climax to be, how I want it to work, what I want the effect on the reader to be. It’s just a much more conscious kind of creation where I’m very aware of the reader, I’m very aware of what I think the readers experience is going to be and try to make it what I want. And then, of course, readers are obstreperous and go and have all kinds of experience that I did not intend, but I like that too.

With novels, I’m much more muddled, muddling my way through them. What I do like about novels is being able to spend that extended period of time with the characters. I get to know those characters in a much more deep and attached way. I’ve never missed one of the characters of my short stories when I finished the short story — I wish I were still thinking about her, I wish I were still making her up. But I do have that experience with a novel. I am very sad to say goodbye to Rosemary and Fern. I liked them both a lot.

In conversation with Karen Jay Fowler, The American Reader ( http://theamericanreader.com/an-interview-with-karen-joy-fowler/ )

Carmen Maria Machado: Your fiction tends to move between (for lack of a better word) genres. What do you find so compelling about the borderlands between fantasy, realism, historical fiction, and science fiction?

Karen Joy Fowler: I think I like places where the rules are still visible, but need not apply. I get a lot of energy from having conventions I can push against.

And I’ve long felt that reality is so strange that realism really isn’t up to the task of adequately presenting it. The world is a whole lot more horrible than I imagined as a child. But it is also considerably funnier. I try to make do with that.

I always say that I write history as it might have been reported in the National Enquirer. And I guess I’m more interested in the fact that someone believes he’s been abducted by aliens than I am in exploring actual alien plots and connivings. An interest in the abductees as opposed to the aliens seems to me to be a borderland concern.

Karen Jay Fowler We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves Serpent’s Tail, London, 2014. ( Distributed in India by Hachette India.) Pb. pp. 340. Rs. 499  

Shibram Chakraborty

Shibram Chakraborty

Shibram ChakrabortyThe Merry Adventures of Harshabardhan and Gobardhan is a delightful collection of stories about two brothers — Harshabardhan and Gobardhan. They are well-meaning but bumbling chaps. The stories are gently told but the brothers can get into some silly scrapes. With every story you want to read more and more. For once the book blurb encapsulates the stories well — “Mildly dishonest timber merchants, foolhardy adventure buffs, reckless explorers, blundering do-gooders, occasional philosophers and gullible blokes, the endearing duo creates the most hilarious misunderstandings, commits the silliest mistakes and falls into the weirdest traps.” I read the book in one go. Loved it!

According to the delightful author blurb in the book, Shibram Chakraborty ( 1902-1980) wrote extensively for both children and adults, using his trademark humour and wordplay to tell stories about the peculiarities of human beings. Chakraborty was a free spirit who ran away from home as a boy, took part in the freedom movement and went to jail as a teenager — he never finished school — and lived alone in a boarding house in Calcutta most of his adult life. His stories are about eccentric people in absurd situations, and brim over with fun and puns.

Arunava Sinha is an experienced translator. By now I have lost count of the number of books he has translated from Bengali into English. Many of his translations have been sold abroad as foreign editions in English and other languages. Here is the link to an interview  I did with him in 2011:  http://www.jayabhattacharjirose.com/jaya/2013/08/22/arunava-sinha-on-translating-buddhadeva-boses-classic-tithodore-and-the-future-of-translations/ His translation of this particular book is as competent as the others I have read by him. This translation made me giggle and chuckle. Then I was left wondering. Did he have to intervene in the text to transmit and convey some of the original puns from Bengali into English? Is translating humour difficult? How do you translate wit? Did he have to worry about losing some of the original material or did he manage to retain much of it? And this is what he said ( quoted with permission):

Sometimes I think this book is really for adults, not kids. At least, the wordplay is not for children. The policy I followed was to always have a pun in the translation whenever there was a pun in the original. And yes, it was not possible to retain both the meaning and the pun in most cases, so it was pun first. In that sense there was a replacement of material, but none of it changed the story. The puns don’t really take the story forward, they are effects. I did some readings to kids in schools, and they seemed to enjoy the stories. 

I would happily recommend this book for confident readers of 11+ and above. But I suspect this book will go down very well with adults too. The stories would travel well to foreign shores too since they are not too complicated in cultural details. The illustrations by Shreya Sen Handley complement the stories well.

Shibram Chakraborty The Merry Adventures of Harshabardhan and Gobardhan. Translated by Arunava Sinha. Hachette India, New Delhi, 2014. Pb. pp. 150 Rs. 250

28 June 2014

 

Hybrid books

Hybrid books

Hachette Indiapedia

School textbook market is the bread and butter of many publishing businesses. If a book get adopted by a school board or a bunch of schools, then the title has an assured market for many years to come. It is a market that is not easily broken into. It has a cycle of publishing that is very different to trade publishing–it is a specialist market. Most importantly, the content being created needs to be vetted or written by specialists. Yet of late trade publishers, at least in India, have been making attempts to step into the school textbook market by creating books I would like to term as “hybrid books” — books that somewhat fit on the lists of a trade publisher but with the hope of being adopted by the school market.

The three examples of recently published books that I wish to discuss are — Indiapedia: The All India FactfinderHachette: School Handbook, and India:A to Z. These are a cross between easy reference books for school students and encyclopaedic in their content, with a bit of trivia thrown in, suitable for young quizzers. Save for India:A to Z written by Veena Seshadri and Vidya Mani, the other two books seem to have been put together by a content creator or a team.  For instance Indiapedialists Christmas as one of the top 10 festivals in India ( all though it does not include Christianity as one of the religions in India). The entry on p.187 is:

The celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ is carried out with great pomp and fervour in India. Christians and non-Christians alike attend Mass in churches and partake of Christmas cake. Midnight Mass at St. Paul’s Church in Kolkata is a favourite spot for tourists to attend at this time. Christmas trees are decorated and hymns are sung–this is perhaps one of the most favourable reminders of the British Rule in India. 

It is a rewriting of history. It is not  a legacy of British Rule in India. For the record, Christianity has been practised in India for as long as the religion has been around — 2000 years.Hachette School Handbook

India A To Z, An Alphabetical Tour Of Incredible IndiaEven in India:A to Z the reference on p.43 to the “Fab things freedom fighters did!”, to only focus on the events of 1857, referring to it as a “revolt” or mentioning Veer Savarkar’s book terming the “The Indian War of Independence” needs to be reviewed. Historians prefer to refer to it as “Uprising”, taking into account all perspectives.

This is careless writing and irresponsible publishing. All three books mentioned here need to be vetted by educationists and academics for the information that they include. If these hybrid books get the stamp of approval from specialists, the chances of these books being adopted by schools and selling well, will increase substantially. A point to be considered rather than releasing mediocre books that in all likelihood will sink.

 

 

 

Hachette School Handbook Hachette India, Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp. 250 Rs. 195

Veena Seshadri and Vidya Mani India: A to Z An Alphabetical Tour of Incredible India Puffin Books, New Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp. 160. Rs. 325

Hachette Indiapedia: The All-India Factfinder Hachette India, New Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp. 250. Rs. 175

 

 

On business books

On business books

Malcolm GladwellBusiness books are useful, at least those meant for the lay reader. These spell out complicated business methodologies and strategies simply, usually anecdotal. For instance, Malcolm Gladwell’s basic premise that it is the attitude that matters on how you tackle a problem. He uses the Biblical analogy of David & Goliath but the examples he cites to illustrate his point are of ordinary people in ordinary settings, who later went on to make a change. It could be in their personal lives or impacting others.

Subroto Bagchi, Inked, MBA at 16Subroto Bagchi’s premise in The Elephant Catchers is much the same. To net the big clients for business, a lot of it depends upon your strategy, confidence and attitude. Some of the ideas that he hopes to inculcate in the students he interacts with in MBA at 16. Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Timble are a little technical and create models to explain the different stages of a business evolving. Theories that are useful to know and understand.

 

Dave TrottBut it is Dave Trott, advertising guru, uses plenty of stories to explain different, but pertinent, aspects of promoting a service/product. Yet reading his book, Predatory Thinking, along with the others on how to be effective in business, one realises that the best way to learn and grow a business is to be confident, honest about your deliverables to the client, passionate about your work, build your brand image slowly and steadily, word-of-mouth publicity is still the strongest mode of promotion, and always be sharp, creative, think out-of-the box and never get dull. Learn, learn and learn. Beyond the Idea

 

 

Malcolm Gladwell David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books, London, 2013. Hb. pp. 310.

Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Timble Beyond the Idea: Simple, powerful rules for successful innovation St Martin’s Press, Macmillan, London, 2013. Hb. pp. 178

Dave Trott Predatory Thinking: A Masterclass in out-thinking the competition Macmillan, London, 2013. Hb. pp. 270

Subroto Bagchi The Elephant Catchers: Key Lessons for Breakthrough Growth Hachette India, New Delhi, 2013. Hb. pp. 240.

Subroto Bagchi MBA at 16: A Teenagers Guide to the World of Business Inked, the Young Adult imprint of Penguin Books India, New Delhi, 2012. Pb.

 

Guest post: Arunava Sinha on translating for children and adults

Guest post: Arunava Sinha on translating for children and adults

 

When I heard that Arunava Sinha would be attending JumpStart as a panelist. I wrote him immediately. I was curious to know if he changed his methodology when translating for different kinds of readers or did the story remain a story for him.  So he sent me this short note about his experiences at translating for children/YA as opposed to translating for adults.

Arunava has published with many publishers. He has also translated stories from Bengali for children ( Puffin) and written an introduction to a translation (Hachette India). Arunava Sinha, the Rhythm of Riddles

This is what Arunava had to say:

arunava-sinha-photo-300x225

I do not translate children’s or young adult’s literature differently from adult literature. As a translator, my mission is still to be true to the original text and uphold the intention of the writer (at least, my perception of the intent). I trust the writer to have taken care of the factors involved in writing for children – directness, choice of words and phrases, subject, voice, and so on. I do not tailor the text in any way for the readership. If the writer makes certain demands of the young reader, or has certain assumptions about what they know already, so do I. I do not intervene to make things more easily digestible for the reader of the translation because she or he happens to be young.

Reading children’s literature in translation is, arguably, no different from reading adult literature in translation. Unfortunately, not enough literature for children or even young adults seems to be available in translation. As readers in two, maybe three, Indian languages, most of us are deprived of the variety of writing for children in India and elsewhere in the world. And so are our children. Logo

Arunava Sinha will be on the panel discussion “Speaking in Tongues”, 29 Aug 2013 @ 16:30 pm. The other panellists will be Urvashi Butalia, Rubin D’Cruz, Sampurna Chattarji and Shobha Vishwanath. Some of the issues that they will be addressing: “Translation is tricky. Dialogue is difficult. 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?”

For more information about Jumpstart, registeration details etc: http://www.jumpstartfest.com/home

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose  is an international publishing consultant and columnist.

Twitter: @JBhattacharji

22 Aug 2013

Of women travellers and writing

Of women travellers and writing

All the Roads are Open

In recent weeks I have read three books. All the Roads are Open: the Afghan journey by Annermarie Schwarzenbach (translated by Isabel Fargo Cole); The Nanologues: 10,000 kms across India in the world’s cheapest car by Vanessa Able and Almost Intrepid by Anjaly Thomas. Except for All the Roads are Open, the other two are contemporary accounts by women travellers — Vanessa’s account of travelling in a Nano across India and Anjaly Thomas backpacking across the world. As for Annermarie Schwarzenbach, she travelled in a new Ford across Afghanistan with Ella Maillart from 1939-1940. The translated text contains snippets of her writings and dispatches to various newspapers describing the country, the exquisite gardens, the reception that they received etc. A comment made “In the garden of the beautiful girls of Qaiser” is about the “young King Ammanullah, upon returning from a trip to Europe, had instituted hasty reforms in Afghanistan, attempting to follow Turkey’s example in particular. He had moved too quickly. More than anything else he was reproached for emancipating women. For a few weeks the chador had fallen in the capital of Kabul; then the revolution broke out,women returned to the harem, to their strictly cloistered domestic life and from then on they could not show themselves on the street without a veil.”

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For Vanessa Able travelling in her Nano, whom she affectionately refers to as “Abhilasha”, winding her way through India, its crowds, is a frank account of her drive through India. It is a challenge to be a driver on the roads of India, but to be a woman and a foreigner at that, can be a challenge indeed! Vanessa Able braves it well, making some good friends along the way, but also getting a firsthand experience of they way men view/treat women. For instance, the young men loitering on the streets or the cab drivers misbehaving. At times she would worry about the fast roads and the sanitised lodgings were killing the spirit of the journey, but then the images of the Ambassadors and the over-zealous chaperones would remind her of the reasons for being on this trip. When Ratan Tata met her, he remarked that it was very enterprising of her to have driven the Nano through India. But Nanologues is a mixed bag of a traveller’s account with plenty of anecdotes, all though it could have done with a few photographs. Though she did blog regularly – http://www.nanodiaries.com/ and http://www.vanessaable.com/

Almost Intrepid
Anjaly Thomas’s comes across a feisty young woman, who is game for any sort of adventure. All her trips have been impulsive decisions. She has travelled through Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, Indonesia, and India. Her account is of the kind that would be useful for women to use as a checklist, also take a leaf or two from her book of being fiercely independent, determined and focused about her goals. The common fears/questions that would prey upon any woman traveller’s mind came to her often. Such as afraid of being robbed/mugged/raped? did she have her parents approval? did she sleep alone in the hotels? how did she cope with female issues of dealing with her periods to washing underwear? where did she get her money from? did she ever get any help? was she scared of being labelled? She comes to the conclusion that these questions, including that of danger lurking, can even happen to a woman comfortably ensconced at home. It really depends upon the individual and the circumstances. To her surprise and relief she actually found a lot of help on the road. A few lessons she learned from travelling solo were confidence, self-dependence, patience, responsibility, love and compassion, prioritizing, letting go, and dreaming.

Women travelling alone is not a new feat. It has been done umpteen times before. Many wrote about it too. Lady Mary Whortley Montague and Alexandra David-Neel come immediately to mind, but there were many more. Yet the fascination that travellers hold, definitely when they are women, always make for captivating accounts.

19 July 2013

Annermarie Schwarzenbach All the Roads are Open: the Afghan journey Translated by Isabel Fargo Cole. Seagull Books, Calcutta, 2011. Hb. pg. 140.

Vanessa Able The Nanologues: 10,000 kms across India in the world’s cheapest car Hachette India, Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp. 324. Rs. 399

Anjaly Thomas Almost Intrepid Konark Publishers, New Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp.220 Rs. 299

The Casual Vacancy, Rowling

The Casual Vacancy, Rowling

The more I read of The Casual Vacancy the more I am amazed at the power of Rowling’s storytelling. How can she make the most mundane, incredibly dull and at times narrow and very class-conscious English life that too in the countryside so fascinating? Why would anyone want to read every single word that graphically describes a run down Council housing estate? Why would anyone be interested in knowing about the silly political wranglings for a silly, inconsequential Parish council seat? Well, it is not inconsequential to the locals.

Rowling for mastery in telling a good story and etching each character with incredible detail and force. Like Hardy before her she has created her own fictional landscape called Pagford. (A combination of Pagnell and Chagford/Forest of Dean.) Her experience in writing the Harry Potter series and writing for young adults has obviously stood her in good stead. The shades of characterisation, the nuances come through remarkably well. While reading the novel you can practically hear the voices, the dialects that so clearly demarcate the people, and immediately discern their attitudes towards each other. She obviously plots her stories well since the characters are well connected and if they ever come in contact with each other (however briefly) there is a transformation that helps in moving the story forward.

The novel is in the good old tradition of an English novel (particularly in the second half) the reader begins to yearn for a good bit of editing. Of course the novel lends itself to be adapted for ( or rights to be sold) the stage, television, radio and cinema. There is scope for serialisation too. Novels like this written by Dickens would be acceptable since they were first published in serial form and then compiled into a book, so the length was accounted for. Whereas in this case to have so many little details, conversations and minor plots intertwined can begin to get tedious. In India 80,000 copies of this novel were printed by Hachette India. Apparently it is the highest run for an (expensive) adult hardback (and its not a thriller or mass market genre). But the story (coming from Rowling) was probably unexpected since her fans wanted more of Potter. This is diametrically opposite. A tragi-comedy set in a nondescript and typical English village.

PrintWeek India did a photo-essay on the printing of these copies. Here is the link by the group editor, Ramu Ramunathan. http://www.printweek.in/Feature/318531,manipal-technologies-first-print-firm-in-asia-to-print-a-j-k-rowling-bestseller.aspx

12 Oct 2012

“Fractured Times: Culture and Society in the Twentieth Century” Eric Hobsbawm

“Fractured Times: Culture and Society in the Twentieth Century” Eric Hobsbawm

Fractured Times

Fractured Times is a series of lectures delivered by Eric Hobsbawm at the annual Salzburg Festival. Those published in this book, were written between 1964-2012. (He died on 1 Oct 2012.) This is a book of reflections, thoughts and comments about what happened to culture and society, especially after 1914, a society and a time that was never to return. These lectures document the tectonic shifts that occurred in the cultural fabric of society. The devastating impact that the two world wars had on society was fundamental. Hobsbawm’s basic premise is that the art and cultural fabric of a society are inextricably linked to politics. It is impossible to dissociate one from the other. ( “For enjoyment of art is not purely a private experience, but a social one, sometimes even a political one, especially in the case of planned public performances i purpose-built settings and theatres.”) So post-1914 the society (at least in Europe and UK) was transformed in that the women’s movements flourished ( ironically a country that had two powerful women on its throne, did not give its women citizen’s even the basic rights. The suffragettes had to demand it), the publishing of books developed into an industry with the establishment of some of the biggest trade publishers such as Allen Lane’s Penguin Books, the first oral history societies were founded in the late 1960s ( “Studies of historical memory are essentially not about the past, but about the retrospect to it of some subsequent present.”) and education. His views on the publishing industry are fascinating — “The book, revolutionised in the 1930s by Penguin and Gollancz, was almost certainly the most effective form of intellectual diffusion: not to the mass of the manual working class for whom the word ‘book’ still meant ‘magazine’, but to the old educated and the rapidly growing body of the aspiring and politically conscious self-educated.”. Or earlier in the book, he says “Even a good deal of literature, especially the classics, remains in print, and much good new writing is published that would never pass the profit threshold set by the accountants, because of non-market decisions.”

There are plenty of nuggets of wisdom that have been distilled and delivered in these lectures. Here is a man who thought, analysed and presented with confidence. Every single book of his is a treasure trove. The ease with which he presents history, complex ideas without their seeming to be so, and his analysis is always a delight to read. For instance his reflection upon how the fashion industry more or less predicts the trends for the following season accurately, but the book trade bumbles its way through. And yet both are heavily dependent upon markets that formed by subjectivity and at times irrational sensibilities. So why does one industry get it right over and over again and not the other? Hobsbawm’s comments on the relationship between the market and culture are sharp and precise. “From the point of view of the market, the only interesting culture is the product or service that makes money.” In his opinion, post-1970s the wealth available for nurturing the arts has grown explosively, all though it does come with a lot of provisos. But he also cautions the rapid transformation that the cyber-age has wrought. It is “so fast, so dramatic, and so unforseeable”. The chapter on “Why hold festivals in the twenty-first century?” has to be read. Hobsbawm is convinced that festivals are multiplying like rabbits. According to him, “festivals have become a firm component of the economically ever more important complex of the entertainment industry, and particularly of cultural tourism, which is rapidly expanding, at least in the prosperous societies of the so-called ‘developed’ world…there is a great deal of money to be made these days in the culture business.” For him “the genealogy of today’s festivals begins with the discovery of the stage as the cultural-political and social expression of a new elite that is self-assured and bourgeois, or rather recruited according to education and ability instead of birth.”

In a similar fashion “in the post-industrial age of information, the school — that is, secondary an tertiary education and beyond — is more decisive than every before, and forms, both nationally and worldwide, a unifying element, not only in technology, but also in the formation of classes….What is needed is a usable educational programme aimed at the community of educable youth, not only within a country or a cultural circle, but also worldwide. This guarantees, at least within a particular area of intellectual cultures, a certain universalism both of information and of cultural values, a sort of basic stock of things that an ‘educated person’ should know.”

Eric Hobsbawm was a thinker. As Julia Hobsbawm says about her father in the FT — “Food he could do without; ideas not.” ( Financial Times, April 2013. http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/0dbd14de-a7c0-11e2-9fbe-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2VL2W2xf6 ) A man like him will be sorely missed. Fractured Times, his last book to be published is like the others before it, worth reading over and over again. Every time there is something new to be discovered in the lectures.

Eric Hobsbawm Fractured Times: Culture and Society in the Twentieth Century Little, Brown, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, Hachette India, 2013. Hb. pg 320. Rs. 699

Aryavarta Chronicles 1:Govinda, Krishna Udayasankar, interviewed on 9 Aug 2012, Delhi

Aryavarta Chronicles 1:Govinda, Krishna Udayasankar, interviewed on 9 Aug 2012, Delhi

Krishna Udayasankar The Aryavarta Chronicles, Book 1: Govinda
Hachette India, 2012. Pb, Rs. 350. pp. 458

Early in August I met Krishna Udayasankar in Delhi. She was here for the launch of her debut novel, Govinda. Krishna is a lawyer and based in Singapore, living with her husband and two huskies. She writes although she has a day job as a lecturer at Nanyang Business School. She has a PhD in Business (Strategic Management). According to her, “I write whenever I can – i.e. any available moment. My typical ‘work’ day starts around noon (unless I have classes or meetings in the morning) after a round at the gym, and it goes on past midnight. Of this day, whatever time is not spent on teaching, prep and other university-related duties I try to write, or do research and other things book-related. But lest I sound too hard-working, let me confess that I spend a lot of this time online on FB or mail, passing it off as ‘work’, I do however try to write every day, even for just a few minutes, as a matter of discipline.”

Govinda is the first in the Aryavarta Chronicles, a new version of the Mahabharata. The difference being that in her story, Krishna’s characters come across as ordinary mortals who have to face extraordinary challenges. Plus the women characters are far more strongly etched than ever before. She admits that there are “no passive characters” in her book. (No surprises there, especially a) the canon of contemporary literature that relies heavily upon the epics like Chitra Bannerjee Divakurni’s The Palace of Illusions did set a trend and b) meeting Krishna, who is a feisty and strong personality herself.) In her introduction the author is quick to affirm that these chronicles “are neither reinterpretation or retelling”. She would prefer to term her book as mytho-history. This is an excerpt from an email exchange where we discussed the terminology:

The most oft-quoted definitions of mytho-history trace back to Prof. Mohammed Arkoun (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohammed_Arkoun ), who is credited with having developed a theory of mytho-history and mytho-ideology. Of course, while the processes that we define as mytho-history are age-old ones, in modern times Prof. Arkoun is credited with giving it theoretical definition, as well as practical application.

It is a more sociological or anthropological sense to describe the process or body of myths that have become part of the collective history of a people and their culture — particularly origin-stories or tales that explain why or how the world around them is the way it is — prevailing norms and cultures. For example, in India, many people believe — irrespective of historical evidence or otherwise — that the characters of the Mahabharata did exist, though with powers and abilities that would today be considered super-normal, such as extended lifespans. By rationalizing what may be abnormal (it was another Yuga, evil has since diminished humanity, etc.) there is an attempt to preserve a logical engagement, which becomes less necessary when we talk of ‘pure myth’.

What I try to capture when I use the word is not just the phenomenon, the attempt at logic that distinguished the narrative from pure myth, but also the rationale. I do so by asking why are the certain stories that become mytho-histories while others remain pure myth. Again, to illustrate by example, we do we never quite ‘believe’ that some of the events described in the Vedas happened the way they did, choosing instead to interpret them as spiritual verse or even mystical metaphor?; possibly because the parts of the Vedas are not historical accounts, but a collection of scientific Arcanum, carefully disguised as metaphor in a bid to protect knowledge (or the keepers thereof). The Mahabharata, on the other, contains the categorical assertion as part of its text that it is history – or was history contemporaneous to its composition.

So, what I mean by myth-history, though perhaps an anthropologist may take exception: Mytho-history is that body of narrative that may well have had enough historical evidence in support of it in the past, to find an enduring place in culture, but today lacks sufficient evidence to be presented as historical fact – even though its half-sister, mythology, is able to recollect the finer details.

Govinda is an example of commercial fiction with a decent print run. Based upon the initial reports from the market, it seems that Krishna’s fast paced story is selling well (and deservedly so!). I met a bookseller two days ago who had displayed the book prominently at his shop and was hoping the sequel would arrive soon. If that is the case, then the author has achieved her intention of getting the reader to engage with the novel even if it is to disagree.

28 August 2012