The Deepalaya Community Library Project which is managed by Mridula Koshy and Michael Creighton has been doing some phenomenally good work at promoting reading in Delhi. They have collected books in their library by buying, crowdsourcing, donations etc. Last night on Facebook they posted the fantastic news that 17,508 books had been issued in the last one year! Of these the most popular books and titles were according to Mridula Koshy, “Pratham Books, Tulika Publishers, Katha India, CBT, NBT, Eklavya, Amar Chitra katha, Campfire Graphic Novels, A and A books, Tintin in Hindi from Om Books, Usborne Reading series from HarperCollins India, tons of non fiction titles from Doring Kindersley, and because we have adult members as well, we stock just about everything from Rupa’s new Chetan Bhagat title to Itihaas se Ajnabee by Aaatish Taseer. Our most popular type of book is the picture book. About 650 to 800 (depending on how you count it) active members use the library from the 1400 we have signed up over 2 years. Somewhere between 900 and 1000 books leave the library each weeks these days. Most are picture books.” Michael Creighton adds “”It took 14 months from Nov 2014 to Jan 2015 to reach our first 10k. Counting from Jan 2016 to Jan 2017 we issued 17, 508 books. And more than half of this year’s 17K have come in the last 4 months only!””
Another such community library for children has been set up recently in Delhi by Sudhanva Deshpande et al at Studio Safdar, May Day Cafe & Bookstore.
This awful book, and it is awful, especially the spelling, will have a very bad influence on young minds. It will give children lots and lots of ideas about how to be even naughtier than they already are, and some of them are already EXTREMELY naughty. It is an outrage and I for one will be calling this book to be banned. Mr Wallybottom ( or whatever his stupid made-up name is) should be ashamed of himself.
( Introduction by Raj, a newsagent)
David Walliam’s The World’s Worst Children is hilarious! It is a collection of ten short stories about ten ghastly children. Brats who pick their noses like Peter Picker, Gruby Gertrude who has a gruby room, Miss Petula Perpetual-Motion who cannot sit still, Dribbling Drew who drools far too much or like Brian Wong, who was never ever wrong. But let me allow my six-year-old daughter comment upon it. She was ecstatic upon seeing the book and after reading a bit shot of a tiny ( and her first book review) to her grandmother via WhatsApp. Here it is:
Do you have the book called the world’s worst children? It’s very funny. If you have it read it. Nani. You will see a girl she fart’s a lot! She carries a trumpet with her but she doesn’t blow it with her mouth. Instead she does it with her bums because she doesn’t like to use her mouth. It’s easy to use her bum. And smell like potty comes out from her bums.
Sarah is thrilled this book has wacky illustrations such as of kids licking bowls of ice cream. “Just like me!” she squeals in excitement. Here is a snippet of a conversation I had with her:
“This book is for six”
“I am six!” I can read it!
Then suddenly sad.
“But when I grow up I want to read it again. Can I?”
And here is an audio clip of Sarah reading the book and cracking up with laughter.
The World’s Worst Children is a truly special book. A fantastic cross born of the literary lineage of Lewis Carroll, Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake. The layouts are superb. The zany play of fonts and colour with each page designed meticulously. The full-of-light watercolour illustrations by Tony Ross support the text marvellously. It looks like a mad riot of colours and words but is very technically sophisticated. For the pure joy it creates in a young reader is unimaginable. David Walliams is a stand-up comedian but to get the tenor right for children by using words such as “stupid” easily in the text is marvellously liberating! Sarah gurgling with laughter said, “Mummy, ‘stupid’ is a bad word is it not?” and then lapsed into a fit of giggles. I watched my daughter read the lines slowly and blend the words hesitantly to graduate rapidly to reading at a comfortable pace.
The World’s Worst Children I would recommend heartily for everyone. It can easily work for leisure reading to being adopted by schools as supplementary readers.
David Walliams The World’s Worst Children ( Illustrated by Tony Ross) HarperCollins Children’s Books , London, 2016. Pb. pp.270 Rs 599
( I wrote an article for the amazing literary website Bookwitty.com on “Penguin on Wheels”. An initiative of Walking BookFairs and Penguin Books India. It was published on 28 June 2016. Here is the original url: https://www.bookwitty.com/text/penguin-on-wheels-walking-bookfairs-and-penguin-b/57725752acd0d076db037bf7 . I am also c&p the text below. )
Literature does not occur in a vacuum. It cannot be a monologue. It has to be a conversation, and new people, new readers, need to be brought into the conversation too.”
-Neil Gaiman, Introduction, The View from the Cheap Seats ( 2016)
On the 16th of May 2016, Penguin Random House India circulated a press release about Penguin Books India’s one-year collaboration with Walking BookFairs (WBF) to launch “Penguin on Wheels”, a bookmobile that will travel through the eastern Indian state of Odisha promoting reading and writing.
This is not the first time Walking BookFairs has collaborated with a publishing house to promote reading. Their earlier “Read More, India” campaign saw Walking BookFairs supported by HarperCollins India, Pan MacMillan India, and Parragon Books India. Apart from these three publishers, WBF stocked books from various other publishers, including Tara Books, Speaking Tiger Books, Penguin, Duckbill, Karadi Tales, and Scholastic. “We got books delivered by our publishers on the road wherever we were displaying books.”
The concept of bookmobiles is not unusual in India, for some decades the state-funded publishing firm, National Book Trust, has maintained its own book vans. Yet it is the duo of Satabdi Mishra and Akshaya Rautaray that has captured the public imagination.
Walking BookFairs was established two years ago while Satabdi Mishra was on a break from her job and Akshaya Rautaray quit his publishing job to set up an independent “simple bookstore” in Bhubaneshwar. The shop, which they prefer to think of as a “book shack”, runs on solar power. It is a simple space with the bare necessities and a garden. They allow readers to browse through the bookshelves, offering a 20-30% discount on every purchase throughout the year.
WBF also doubles as a free library. They introduced the bookmobile in 2014, as part of an outreach programme that would see them travelling to promote reading in the state. Speaking to me by email, Satabdi said,
“There are no bookshops or libraries in many parts of India. There are thousands of people who have no access to books. We started WBF in 2014 because we wanted to take books to more people everywhere. We have been travelling inside our home state Odisha for the last two years with books. We found that most people do not consider reading books beyond textbooks important in India. We wanted people to understand that reading story books is more important than reading textbooks. We wanted to reach out to more people with books. We also wanted to inspire and encourage more people across the country to read books and come together to open more community libraries and bookshops.”
India is well known for stressing the importance of reading for academic purposes rather than reading for pleasure. In a country of 1.3 billion people, where 40% are below the age of 25 years old, and the publishing industry is estimated to be of $2.2 billion, there is potential for growth. Indeed,there has been healthy growth across genres, quite unlike most book markets in the world.
The WBF team has been keen to promote reading since it is an empowering activity. They began in the tribal district of Koraput, Odisha, where they carried books in backpacks and walked around villages. They displayed books in public spaces like bus stops and railways stations or spreading them out on pavements or under trees, whatever was convenient and accessible. “That works because people in smaller towns feel intimidated by big shops,” they say.
Apart from public book displays, they also visit schools, colleges, offices, educational institutions, and residential neighbourhoods. They soon discovered that children and adults were not familiar with books. Bookstores too seem only to be found in urban and semi-urban areas and are lacking in rural areas, but once easy access to books is created there is a demand. As Neil Gaiman says in the essay “Four Bookshops”, these bookshops “made me who I am”, but the travelling bookshop that came to his day boarding school was “the best, the most wonderful, the most magical because it was the most insubstantial”. (The View from the Cheap Seats)
Speaking again via email, Satabdi says that they’ve found, “Children’s books are always the most sought after. We have many interesting children’s storybooks and picture books with us. We found that in many places, not just children but also adults and young people enthusiastically pick up children’s books, browse through and read them. Beyond a couple of urban centres in India, big cities, there are no bookshops. Most bookshops that one comes across are shops selling textbooks, guide books or essay books. Many people were actually looking at real books for the first time at WBF.”
In India the year-on-year growth rate for children’s literature is estimated to be 100%. Satabdi Mishra and Akshaya Rautaray stock 90% fiction. Rautaray says, “We believe in stories. I think, if you need to understand the world around you, if you need to understand science and history and sociology, you need to understand stories. I believe in a good book, a good story.”
The categories include literary fiction, classics, non-fiction, biographies, books on poetry, cinema, politics, history, economics, art visual imagery, young adult, picture books, children’s books, and regional literature from Odia and Hindi. The emphasis is on diversity, but they do not necessarily stock bestsellers or popular books like romance, textbooks, or academic books. That said, the Penguin on Wheels programme will dovetail beautifully with, “Read with Ravinder” another of the publisher’s reading promotion campaigns, spearheaded by successful commercial fiction author Ravinder Singh.
In December 2015, Satabdi and Akshay launched their “Read More, India” campaign (#ReadMoreIndia), which saw them take their custom-built book van, loaded with more than 4000 books across India. They covered 10,000kms, 20 states, in three months (from 15th Dec 2015 to 8th March 2016).
Over the course of the journey, they sold forty books a day, met thousands of people, and had a number of interesting experiences. One anecdote that gives an insight into the passion and trust that the young couple displays is of that of an elderly gentleman in Besant Road Beach road, Chennai. The older man was out for his daily jog and stopped to look at the books. He wanted to buy some books, but had left his wallet behind.
“We asked him to take the books and pay us later via cheque or bank transfer. He seemed surprised that we were letting him take the books without paying. He took the books and sent the money later with his driver. We want people to read more books. And if people cannot buy books, we want them to read books for free for as long as they want. People pay us in cash, in kind, sometimes they take books pay later, pay through credit/debit cards.”
The Penguin on Wheels campaign was launched because Penguin Books India had been following WBF’s activities and reached out to them. Earlier, they had collaborated for an author event in Odisha, but this new move is a focussed effort that will see the bookmobile travel within Odisha.
The books are curated by Akshay as Penguin Books India said graciously that “they [WBF] know best what their readers like more”. It will consist of approximately 1000 titles from the Penguin Random House stable. The collection will have books by celebrated authors, including Jhumpa Lahiri, John Green, Orhan Pamuk, Amitav Ghosh, Devdutt Pattanaik, Salman Rushdie, Ravinder Singh, Twinkle Khanna, Hussain Zaidi, Khushwant Singh, Roald Dahl, Ruskin Bond, and Emraan Hashmi.
Contests and author interactions will also be organised with the support or Penguin Random House. It will start with Ravinder Singh’s visit to Bhubaneshwar for the promotion of his newly launched book, Love that Feels Right. Satabdi Mishra adds, “We are happy to partner with PRH through the WBF ‘Penguin on Wheels’ that will spread the joy of reading around.”
On 23 April 2016 Vivek Shanbhag and I were invited by Namita Gokhale, co-director, Jaipur Literature Festival to be in conversation at the Apeejay Languages Festival 2016, Oxford Bookstore, Connaught Place, New Delhi. We were to discuss his recently translated novel from Kannada to English, Ghachar Ghochar, as part of the topic, “Kannada, Konkani, English: Memories, Texts and Distances”. Before we began the discussion I read out a note contextualising the conversation. I realised that Vivek Shanbhag and I had spent a while chatting a few days earlier and would happily fall into a chat easily. Hence the note which was passed by Vivek Shanbhag too. With his permission I am publishing it here.
Kannada, Konkani, English: Memories, Texts and Distances
Vivek Shanbhag is a noted writer, editor and translator. For seven years while holding a busy day job he edited a literary journal of Kannada writing called Desh Kala. It was phenomenal in the impact it had in discovering new writers. It is probably the only contemporary journal in an Indian regional language that continues to be talked about in English and now edited excerpts of it are to be published.
Although he has been a name in Kannada and other literary circles for a while, few probably know his mother tongue is Konkani. A language that can be written in five different scripts –Devanagari, Roman, Kannada, Malayalam, and Persian. (Now it is the Devnagari script that is accepted officially by state governments. )Yet Vivek Shanbhag chooses to write in Kannada. And he is not alone in this comfortable oscillation between mother tongue and the language of professional writing. I gather from him it is common practice among the Kannada, Marathi, Telugu writers. For instance, one of the finest Marathi short story writers G. A. Kulkarni was a Kannadiga; Girish Karnad’s mother tongue is Konkani but he writes in Kannada and the list goes on.
Earlier this year the English translation of Vivek’s fine novella Ghachar Ghochar was published by HarperCollins India. It has been translated by Srinath Perur. It was the only translated text from an Indian regional language included in the special edition of Granta on India ( 2015) edited by Ian Jack. “Ghachar Ghochar” is a nonsensical phrase yet the story is an impressively crafted vignette of a middle class family in Karnataka. Peppered with sufficient local characteristics for it to be representative of a Kannadiga family with universal issues such as socio-eco mobility & status of women. It is no wonder that this novella has caught the English readers by storm.
When you read Ghachar Ghochar it reads like the finest example of world literature. By world literature I mean translations of literary fiction from various cultures. It reads smoothly in the destination language of English but translation purists tell me exasperatedly that it does not retain the “flavour” of the original Kannada text.
One last point. I believe that “cultures” are not necessarily defined by political boundaries but geo-political formations. Under the British this region fell under the Bombay and Madras presidencies. Today it is bordered by the Arabian Sea, Goa, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Kannada is the official language of Karnataka and spoken by about 66.26% of the people as of 2001. Other linguistic minorities in the state are Urdu (10.54%), Telugu (7.03%), Tamil (3.57%), Marathi (3.6%), Tulu (3.0%), Hindi (2.56%), Konkani (1.46%), Malayalam (1.33%) and Kodava Takk (0.3%).
With this note Vivek and I launched into our conversation. It touched upon various aspects of translation, Kannada literature, how is Kannada literature defined, the significance of literary awards, the process of translation, etc.
I am truly excited about this forthcoming book – The Writer’s Eye. True, the photographs taken by William Dalrymple are exquisite. Even more astounding when you realise these were mostly taken with his Samsung phone. But what I like the most about this publishing arrangement is the coming together of three very talented photographers — William Dalrymple, Ananth Padmanabhan and Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi. The historical sense that informs the superb compositions of William Dalrymple, combined with the sharp publishing potential and commissioning sensibility of veteran publisher Ananth Padmanabhan and the fine aesthetic and curation abilities of Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi can only make a stupendous book. I wait eagerly to see what is published in March 2016.
HarperCollins India to publish William Dalrymple
HarperCollins India are delighted to announce the publication of renowned writer, traveller and historian William Dalrymple’s first book of photographs, The Writer’s Eye, this March.
In a suite of black and white photographs, shot over two years, William Dalrymple brings elegance, inquiry and grace to the photographic form. Powerful and precise, the pictures in The Writer’s Eye are documents of landscape, conveying potent solitude and brooding strokes. The beloved author of acclaimed books returns to a visual medium he first worked with in collegiate days, armed now with over two decades of writerly composure and brilliance.
William Dalrymple said, “I am completely thrilled that HarperCollins India are publishing my photographs – the realisation of a long held dream.”
Ananth, CEO, HarperCollins India said, ‘We are incredibly excited – it’s a rare moment when a celebrated writer chooses another medium of art. William’s first book of photographs and we are delighted he chose to publish with us’
Curated by bestselling writer and Sensorium Festival co-founder, Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi The Writer’s Eye opens at Sunaparanta : Goa Centre for the Arts, 18th of March, in Goa; Vadehra Art Gallery, 29th of March, in Delhi; and the Grosvenor Gallery, June 2016, London. This show is proudly supported by arts patrons Dattaraj, Dipti Salgaocar and Isheta Salgaocar, gallerists Roshini Vadehra, and Conor Macklin, The Writer’s Eye marks the public debut of a gifted visual artist.
Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi had this to say on his Facebook wall ( 1 March 2016). (I am posting it with his permission. ) One winter evening at the Goa home of Dattaraj Salgaocar, the writer and historian William Dalrymple showed me photographs he’d made on his phone. I was struck by their jazz quality, nocturnal and solitary. I asked if I might show them. He agreed. Two years later, we have a handsome body of work, The Writer’s Eye, which debuts this spring March 18th at Sunaparanta Art Centre. My friend, the wonderful Roshini Vadehra Kapoor and I teamed to show it in Delhi, at Vadhera Art Gallery, which opens March 29th. And in partnership with family friends Dattaraj and Dipti Salgaocar’s Sunaparanta and Vadehra, the show moves to London, opening at the Grosvenor Gallery on June 23rd. I was equally keen to take the gallery catalog, a somewhat of a vanity document seen by an elite few, and grow it into something that might be enjoyed by many. I turned to my friend Ananth Padmanabhan, CEO of HarperCollins, himself a writer and photographer, and he gamely came on to support the show by bringing out a splendid book of the photographs (with essays by William and myself). The Writer’s Eye is launched in Delhi, on the day the show opens. As Sensorium draws to a close this month, we are already preparing walls for the next show. Please come if in Goa, Delhi or London to celebrate William, his work, and his 50th birthday this March, for which this is a small celebration. With gracious support from Arianna Huffington, Anindita Ghose and all at VOGUE, Shruti Kapur at Platform, and David Godwin.
I am posting some of the photographs that William Dalrymple has clicked with his Samsung. These are a personal selection I made from the press release, newspaper reports and from William Dalrymple’s Facebook page. These are being posted on my blog with his permission.
All photos: William Dalrymple (c) 2016
William Dalrymple is a writer, traveller and historian and one of the co-directors and founders of the annual Jaipur Literature Festival. He is the author of several bestselling books, including Return of a King, White Mughals and Nine Lives.
Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi‘s debut novel, The Last Song of Dusk, won the Betty Trask Award in the UK, the Premio Grinzane Cavour in Italy, and was nominated for the IMPAC Prize. The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay, his subsequent bestselling novel, was nominated for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2008.
The Revenant ( 2001) written by Michael Punke is tipped to win a few Oscars tonight ( 2016). It has been nominated for 12 Academy Award nominations across all categories including the Best Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio — probably his first in twenty years of being in the movie business. ( http://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/feb/26/leonardo-dicaprio-the-revenant-oscars-academy-award ). I have not seen the film but the book is brutally magnificent and mesmerising with its focus on one man’s quest for revenge. It is powerful. Set in the American wilderness in the early 1800s, frontiersman Hugh Glass is badly mauled by a grizzly and abandoned by his fellow trappers ( intensely described in the stomach churning opening pages of the novel). Barely surviving his wounds, Glass is driven by thoughts of his family and a desire for revenge as he endures the frigid winter and pursues the men who left him for dead.
The author, Michael Punke, is a serving international trade expert and diplomat. He serves as the US Ambassador to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva, Switzerland. The Quartz profiled him: http://qz.com/626726/the-author-behind-the-revenant-is-an-international-trade-expert-and-diplomat/. This is what they say, “Despite the press frenzy ahead of Sunday’s Academy awards, Michael Punke can’t give interviews about his book or make promotional appearances due to his government position. He skipped the film’s December premiere to negotiate a $1.3 trillion trade deal in Nairobi. He can’t even sign copies of his 2002 novel.”
According to Wikipedia, the word revenant is derived from the Latin word reveniens, “returning” (see also the related French verb revenir, meaning “to come back”). A revenant is a visible ghost or animated corpse that is believed to have returned from the grave to terrorize the living. Revenants share some similarities with zombies in modern fiction. This is a result of contemporary depictions of zombies having evolved from vampire fiction. The original folklore about zombies had less in common with revenant legends. Similarities are also obvious with the aptrgangr (literally ‘again-walker’, meaning one who walks after death) of Norse mythology, although the aptrgangr, or draugr, is usually far more powerful, possessing magical abilities and most notably is not confined to a deathlike sleep during the day – although it does usually stay in its burial mound during the daylight hours – and will resist intruders, which renders the destruction of its body a dangerous affair to be undertaken by individual heroes. Consequently, stories involving the aptrgangr often involve direct confrontations with the creature, in which it often reveals to be immune to conventional weapons. Such elements are absent from the revenant lore, where the body is engaged in its inert state in daylight, and rendered harmless. Also references of revenant-like beings come from the Caribbean and are often referred to as ‘The soucouyant’ or ‘soucriant’ in Dominica, Trinidadian and Guadeloupean folklore (also known as Ole-Higue or Loogaroo elsewhere in the Caribbean).
The last time a film based on a book written by a serving diplomat won many Oscars was Slumdog Millionaire (2008), based on Vikas Swarup’s Q&A ( 2005). He is now the official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India (2016).
Michael Punke, The Revenant HarperCollins India, 2016. Pb.