internet Posts

Dr Christian’s “Guide to Dealing with the Tricky Questions”

A brilliant book for children, adolescents, parents and educators on initiating conversations about tricky stuff. It is by Dr Christian Jessen, a British physician, television presenter and writer.

Watch this IGTV video posted on Instagram for more information:

17 June 2019

Interview with journalist Snigdha Poonam on her award-winning book “Dreamers”

Snigdha Poonam is a journalist with The Hindustan Times (HT) in Delhi. Her work has appeared in Scroll, The Caravan, The Times of India, The New York Times, The Guardian, Granta and The Financial Times.  Her article ‘Lady Singham’s Mission Against Love‘ was runner-up in the Bodley Head / Financial Times Essay Prize, 2015. She won the 2017 Journalist of Change award of Bournemouth University for an investigation of student suicides that appeared on Huffington Post ( 1 June 2016). Dreamers is her first book. It won 2018’s Crossword Book Award (Jury) for nonfiction and was listed by various publications, including Financial Times and Hindu, as one of the best books of the year. It was also longlisted for the 2019 PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction ($10,000) announced by PEN America. ( Read an extract published in the literary magazine, Granta: “The Fixer”, 9 Feb 2015).

Dreamers is a collection of essays of reporting from India’s small towns. The people profiled in it are young and ambitious — representative of nearly 50% of India’s 1.3b population born after 1991. They are confident and want to make their dreams happen as soon as possible and not while away their entire lives boxed in by social indicators such as gender, caste, socio-eco class etc. For many of the individuals profiled in Dreamers these are mere notional barriers meant to be broken. They think for themselves rather than be intimidated by traditional rules of social engagement. As Snigdha says the same themes are repeated of “aspiration, self-improvement and anxiety about their place in the world”. The profiles range from that of a young milkman who became a teacher of conversational English and established a coaching centre to that of a young girl who decided to become a feisty student politician, making history with her election to the Allahabad University student council. These extraordinary profiles were written by Snigdha Poonam after shadowing her subjects over some years.

Snigdha Poonam’s trademark is longform reportage which mostly focuses on investigative stories of issues concerning young India. Stories that hurtle you into the heart of the issue, forever creating a sharply etched mental image for the reader of the places and people Snigdha visits and meets, respectively. Stories that she selects would in all likelihood be missed even when they make front page news like that of the little boy murdered in a school. The slightly different peg chosen by her is to follow the story of the bus conductor wrongly accused of the boy’s murder. A story that not only creates empathy for the impoverished family of the bus conductor but also offers an alternative way of looking at the horrific story that many were chattering about. She seeks stories that should be the hallmark of all journalists but only the brave engage in. Some of her astonishing stories that are available online are written hot on the trail of the predominantly young, aggressive, male Hindu pilgrims called Kanwariyas ( HT, 24 July 2017);  on the women journalists of Khabar Lahariya, rural India’s first feminist newspaper who speak up for women in a notoriously patriarchal belt  ( The Guardian, 30 March 2015), “How the fake-jobs industry scams Indians” ( co-authored with Samarth Bansal, HT, 21 Aug 2017), or on the horrendous clashes that take place over electricity and water in urban pockets ( HT, 30 May 2018).

Here are excerpts of an interview with Snigdha Poonam:

JBR: What prompted this book? Has it been translated?

SP: Starting in 2009-10, I had been writing a series of stories looking at non-urban young Indians’ efforts to adapt to a rapidly changing world. I wrote, for example, about commercial Hindi and Hinglish fiction (OPEN magazine, “The New Heroes of MBA Lit”, 17 Oct 2014), personality development classes ( New York Times, “Developing India’s Personality”, 5 July 2013), and online dating ( Caravan, “Casting the Net”, 1 March 2012). I found the same themes repeating: aspiration, self-improvement and anxiety about their place in the world. In 2014 this led to the idea for a book that would follow the lives of a set of people in small towns: what they want, how they are trying to get there, and what that means for their future and ours.

Dreamers hasn’t yet been translated. It’s out in the US and UK and awaiting publication in China.

JBR: How do you find your stories/subjects?

SP: Other than reading a range of newspapers — Hindi and English, regional and national– I keep an eye out for unusual things everywhere, from SMS spam to wall posters to advertisements nailed to trees.  I travel widely across the country for work and let people tell me stories outside of the reporting framework. I also spend a lot of time digging into the lives of strangers on the internet: on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok.

JBR: How many stories did you write/ follow in order to publish the few mentioned in Dreamers?

SP: I wrote at least ten profiles. Among those that didn’t make it to the final draft were the stories of an FM star in Ranchi, a crime reporter in Lucknow, and a wedding planner in Ahmedabad. I wanted to prioritise stories that showed the effect of time on the people and their actions, so only those made it into the book.

JBR: Has your writing style evolved after having published this book?

SP: Yes. I am far more receptive to details. I try more consistently to draw out the nuances in people’s characters, politics, and actions. I play much more with the material until I have the right narrative structure for a story.

JBR: What do you think are the qualities of a listener? I find it remarkable how you channel the stories with minimal judgement but then offer an opinion/perspective.

SP: I have no other real interest in life than other people, so I can listen to anyone who is telling me anything, and if you listen to people at such length, you are forced to acknowledge that they are more than just good or bad. People are genuinely complicated, with so many intersecting forces driving their views and actions, and the most interesting stories you can tell about them are in the space between the extremes.

JBR: How do you record your interviews?

SP: I no longer record interviews unless it’s more than one person talking to me. Taking notes keeps me more grounded in the moment.  I have a decent shorthand, and I flesh out the whole interaction – from what people said to what I observed – before that day is over.

JBR: Do you in any way feel or become responsible for the people you interview or does everyone move on?

SP: I am more attached to the people in Dreamers than those I meet for regular stories. I talk to them about all kinds of things going on in their lives, from wedding plans to job changes. They, too, ask me about what’s going on with me, my work and my family.  

As a journalist, it’s often not people you keep track of but the issue you wrote about. For example, because I wrote an investigative story about job scams, people write to me from across India about having paid someone money for a job they didn’t get. Every once in a while, I have to chase the police in their respective areas to take action.

JBR: Have you ever followed up on these stories?

SP: Not deliberately. I feel exhausted with the issues of young men and want to engage more with women in the upcoming projects.

JBR: Who is your ideal reader? Have any of your subjects in this book read Dreamers?

SP: My ideal reader is curious and patient.

Some of the people featured in Dreamers have read it. One of them presented a copy to a leading politician, another keeps up with its sale at his local bookshop.

24 February 2019

“Maps of Delhi” Pilar Maria Guerrieri

Maps of Delhi is a rich collection of historical maps after 1803 till the Master Plan of Delhi 2021. Pilar Maria Guerrieri as a doctoral student of architecture started scouring the National Archives of India and institutions for maps. Studying maps helped her understand the evolution of Delhi as a city while making it possible to “consider the link between empty spaces and built areas as well as the association between agricultural and non-agricultural land.  They distinguish public buildings, the disposition of plots, the types of housing, and the density of the urban fabric in addition to interpreting the structures innervating the territory, like watercourses, canals, routes, railroads, and roads, as also the order or constellation of the countryside and the correlation between villages and cities. Effectively and particularly in the illustration of Delhi, these maps delineate, more so demarcate and define, the spread of several urban settlements, planned or organically organised, and provide a pragmatic synopsis of how they are juxtaposed, concurrent or interlaced, with each other”.

In his Foreword to the book, well-known architect, A. G. Krishna Menon says the geneaology of Pilar Maria Guerrieri’s methodology can find its roots in the Italian acdemic tradition of understanding a city by studying its maps and drawings or the so-called “Italian school of planning typology’ which developed theoretical approaches based on analysing ancient cartography of cities as a foundation and core of their design interventions. “These pioneering initiatives established the Italian academic culture of physical planning, which becomes evident in the manner Guerrieri studied Delhi.”

Cartography is an exacting technique through which areas of territory are represented. Maps have always been extremely useful to governments, military commanders, engineers and increasingly civilians. Earlier they were largely representative but with increased knowledge and advanced measurement tools it became possible to create more and more accurate maps.

In the Indian sub-continent for centuries people have relied on the patwaris or the lowest level of state functionary in the revenue collection system to record land use. These individuals are to be found whereever there is habitation and in the older settlements the records stretch back decades, sometimes even centuries. Maps are a repository of a lot of sensitive information as well.

Today maps are used increasingly in real time particularly on digital devices using a complex network of satellites, an extensive network of cables and Internet connectivity. Fewer individuals rely on printed maps, less and less of which are being published too. It may be a convenient tool to access a map on a smartphone but over a period of time it will become evident that a significant way of recording history and land use will be lost forever. For now it is not very clear who is storing this information since there are multiple agencies and individuals recording it. In the future researchers like Guerrieri may find it challenging to seek the information they desire since data will be non-existent or available in formats that newer technologies may be unable to access. At least printed maps such as those included in Maps of Delhi remain available over time. While we are on maps of Delhi here is an interesting one commissioned by Raghu Karnad as editor, Time Out — Literary Map. It was designed by Akila Seshayee. 

Interestingly enough even to reproduce the few images for this article required new permission from the National Archives of India. Some of the maps though published in the book cannot be reproduced anywhere else for their sensitive nature and only one-time use has been granted for the book.

Maps of Delhi is a heavily illustrated book in four colour. A scrumptious production worth possessing for the lay reader or the specialist. It makes a wonderful companion to Mapping India also published by Niyogi Books.

 

 

 

 

The following images from the book are used with permission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pilar Maria Guerrieri Maps of Delhi ( Foreword by A.G. Krishna Menon)  Niyogi Books, New Delhi, India, 2017. Hb. Rs. 4500 / £65 /$85 

18 June 2017 

 

 

An Interview with Publisher Michael Bhaskar on the Power of Curation

My interview with Michael Bhaskar, co-founder, Canelo was published in literary website Bookwitty on 24 January 2017. I am c&p the text below. ) 

Michael Bhaskar, co-founder and publishing director at Canelo, is known for being at the cutting edge of digital and traditional forms. Very active on Twitter with his perceptive comments on publishing, Bhaskar’s first book was the prize-winning monograph, The Content Machine. In his second book, Curation, he puts forth forceful arguments about the merits of curating content, especially to add value to businesses. His research focuses on the way digital technology is transforming the business and cultural context for publishing and other industries.

Bhaskar has been a British Council Young Creative Entrepreneur, a Frankfurt Book Fair Fellow and is currently a Visiting Researcher at the Oxford Brookes International Centre for Publishing.

Following are edited excerpts of an interview with Bhaskar:

Is there only one definition of “curation” as borrowed from art circles or after your research would you have a modern definition for the term?

Curation is interesting as the word, in English at least, has evolved. It came from the Latin ‘curare’ which meant to be take care of but eventually morphed into putting on and looking after museum and art gallery exhibitions. Then something interesting happened: about twenty years ago, with the web starting to become mainstream, the word curation suddenly started being applied to all kinds of things. Now we use it all over the place. The definition I use, and the definition I think most people intuitively understand, is that curation means ‘selecting and arranging to add value’. That, for me, is the modern understanding of the term.

How does curation, primarily a social skill, convert into financial capital?

I wouldn’t say curation is a social skill… for me it’s also about expertise, understanding, talent. The reason it’s so valuable today is that we are overloaded in so many contexts. Supply more just doesn’t work as a strategy. For example, just releasing another song or a book won’t work without some curation to make sure it finds its audience. Whenever you have a saturated market then, curation becomes invaluable to making sure it carries on functioning.

It is said content is the oil of the 21st century. How do you monetize curatorial abilities? The evidence in your book shows how companies, particularly Netflix, have benefitted tremendously but how can individuals?

There is no easy answer to this. I like to say that curation itself isn’t a business model but is baked into a business model. So Netflix wouldn’t work without curation, but it doesn’t get paid for it; it gets paid or providing people with the things to watch. The curation is kind of folded into the business model. The same is true if, for example, you run a shop. You get paid when people buy something, but the better curated your shop the more likely that is.

How is curation applicable to publishing? Are curatorial skills and the ability to discover dependent on the medium like digital or print matter?

We have far too many books in the world – one million new English language titles released every year. So publishers should be (and are) defined by what they say no to, by the choices that they make, by the careful, considered and highly curated nature of their lists. To me it’s this curatorial element that is central to publishing of all kinds and is only becoming more important.

With human behavioural patterns on the Internet changing rapidly and in the process transforming various social media platforms, the arguments about big data vs small data are gaining momentum. In this scenario how can the concept of curation be still important?

I actually think curation spans big and small data, human selections and automated systems: curation for me is broad and diffuse rather than narrow. So if you look at any of the systems and arguments you mention, they tend to come down to ways of selecting and arranging information, media and even people in various ways. Curation is at the heart of it! Almost every decision and project in digital media has the concept of curation at the heart of it – just look for example at the discussion of Facebook and the US election.

Is human touch / intervention important for curation or can it be left to machines and algorithms?

The truth is we need both. There is this tendency in the tech world to think technology will just take over. It won’t. We value that personal, idiosyncratic touch. We want to know about things precisely because they come from an individual. Yet in the age of big data this isn’t enough – to sift through millions of songs or newspaper articles, you need an algorithm. So the future isn’t about one or another but blends of both.

If curation adds value to a business why don’t we see more posts in firms for such a role?

A few reasons: one, because as I mentioned, it’s baked into the business model. So a buyer, or an editor, or a merchandiser, or an information architect, or a holiday planner, or a DJ: all of these roles are curators but we don’t call them that. Secondly I think we are seeing more such roles being created every day – all the big tech companies have been on a hiring binge for people in these roles over the past year.

Isn’t the ability to curate or access curated material exclusively a middle class phenomenon?

Partly. It’s true to say that it impacts on more affluent people more than less. But that doesn’t mean it’s not spreading because it is. Anyone with access to the Internet is experiencing these trends. Yes, there are a lot of people in the world without access – but fewer with every passing year. So while much of this curation is relevant only to the better off, the direct of travel is that is becoming more significant everywhere.

Doesn’t curation of information have inbuilt biases that may in the long term perpetuate prejudices?

It can do, which is why we need a strong distinction between good and bad curation. Good curation is that which breaks us out of prejudices and goes beyond filter bubbles, bad curation just confirms it. We need to become literate about the kinds of curation going on out there and watch for it closely.

You are at the cutting edge of curatorial abilities in publishing. What do you think lies ahead in publishing? Will business models transform?

I’d like to think the work we are doing at Canelo, the digital publisher I co-founded, indicates the direction of travel. We are a digital publisher, but carefully curated; we take the best of the old world of publishing but combine it with an embrace of new technology and methods; we have a completely redrawn contracts for authors, which we think are much fairer. We believe in digital but we also believe in writers and words. It’s this kind of mixing of the old and the new, the tried and tested with the innovative that I think is the future of publishing.

Michael Bhaskar Curation Piatkus, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, Hachette, 2016. Pb. pp. 354. Rs 499 

24 January 2017 

2016: Reading Order ( Asian Age, 3 January 2016)

books_32016 is an exciting year for books in India. Aravind Adiga, William Dalrymple, Aman Sethi and Romila Thapar will return in 2016 with new offerings, along with some exciting biographies and memoirs, including by Pranab Mukherjee, Karan Johar, Bhimsen Joshi. By Jaya Bhattacharji Rose ( The url for this story is available at: http://www.asianage.com/books/2016-reading-order-009 and it was published in print on Sunday, 3 January 2016)

The 2016 reading list is a wonderful balance between print, digital and self-published books. 2015 saw the launch of two publishing houses — Speaking Tiger and Juggernaut Books, with the latter focusing primarily on phonebooks. 2015 also saw the launch of new imprints like Aleph spotlight which features short books by India’s greatest writers and thinkers on current issues in the country; Harper Black focuses on criminal fiction; Seagull Books announced its Arab List; Juggernaut Books is the digital partner for some of Tulika Books children’s titles and Mapin has a Rethinking Conservation Series in association with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

According to the Nielsen Book Market Report on India 2015 trade publishing by genre is divided by 30 per cent adult fiction; 45 per cent adult non-fiction and 25 per cent children and young adults. Readers’ preferences are contemporary fiction, children’s fiction, crime, thriller and adventure, fiction. The 2016 highlights represent these categories.

Non-fiction
There is a very strong collection of non-fiction titles. Two unusual collections focus on an India not heard of regularly: Landscapes of Unequal India, edited by Jyotsna Singh and Akshay Deshmane where Indian journalists write medium form essays of original reportage about contemporary India and First Hand: Graphic Non-Fiction from India (edited by Orijit Sen) is an anthology of non-fiction comics, featuring works by reporters, activists, artists, anthropologists and oral historians based in India. The authors use the medium of comics to reflect upon experiences of displacement, consumption, activism, legal history and more. India in 50 Lives by Sunil Khilnani published to accompany his BBC series explores the lives of 50 Indians from Buddha to Dhirubhai Ambani. Noted journalist and Hindi writer Mrinal Pande’s Dhvanion ke Alok Main Stree by is about the vast contribution of professional women musicians (largely tawaifs till the mid-20th century) to Hindustani classical and semi-classical music in post-1857 India. Red Light Dispatches: Survivor Stories from India Brothels edited By Anuradha Joshi; The Gender of Caste by Charu Gupta; Beyond Caste by Sumit Guha, India’s Polity in the Age of Akbar by Iqtidar Alam Khan and The Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court by Audrey Truschke which documents the fascinating exchange between the Persian-speaking Islamic elite of the early Mughal empire and traditional Sanskrit scholars. Paper Jewels: Postcards from the Raj by Omar Khan is the story of some of the most beautiful and popular postcards during the Raj and it talks about the first postcard publishers between 1892 and 1947.
Curation by Michael Bhaskar is on the art of selecting useful information to form meaningful collections.
With so much digital immersion happening, Cyberpsyched: the impact of human technology on Human Behaviour by Mary Aiken has to be read just as Prabir Purkayastha on net neutrality and the Internet. Some other must reads include Michael Denning’s Noise Uprising: The Audio Politics of a World Musical Revolution with an introduction by Naresh Fernandes; Kohinoor by William Dalrymple; Bad News by journalist Anjan Sundaram is an account of the battle for free speech in modern Rwanda. In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri is about a writer’s passion for another language, in this case, Italian. Invisible Libraries by Lawrence Liang, Monica James and Danish Sheikh where the authors explore various aspects of bibliophilia, especially in the way it manifests itself via our love affair with libraries.

Biography/Memoir
Biographies always enthral readers. They are also a time capsule captured in the account of a personality’s life consisting mostly of politicians, film idols and successful businesspeople. Look out for Gandhi: An illustrated Biography by Pramod Kapoor, The Turbulent Years (1980-96) by Pranab Mukherjee, Vol. 2; memoirs by Margaret Alva, P. Chidambaram and Teesta Setalvad; Turnaround by Tarun Gogoi, Ebrahim Alkazi: Directing Art, edited by Dr Parul Dave-Mukherjee; The Biography on Sunil Dutt by Priya Dutt; The Unsuitable Boy by filmmaker Karan Johar; Emraan Hashmi Memoirs by Emraan Hashmi with Bilal Siddiqi; Memoirs of a Singer’s Son: Bhimsen Joshi, My Father by Raghavendra Bhimsen Joshi (Translated by Shirish Chindhade); Shashi Kapoor: A Biography by Aseem Chhabra, Rishi Kapoor: Autobiography and Leonard by William Shatner and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw: Biography by Seema Singh, Anand Kumar: The Man Behind Super 30 by Anand Kumar, First and Last Loves: An Autobiography by Ruskin Bond, Pallavi Iyer’s Motherhood Memoir and an unusual biography of the mango — Mangifera Indica.

Politics
Politics is a subject of enduring interest in India. AAP and Kejriwal: The Promise and Pitfalls by Venkitesh Ramakrishnan explores what this party and its leadership means to India. Modi and His Challenges by Rajiv Kumar explores the efficacy of the Prime Minister’s approach to structural reforms and governance. Rana Ayyub’s self-published investigation of the expose of the Gujarat fake encounters will be the one to watch out for. And then there is Prashant Kishor, a key strategist in the landslide victories of Mr Modi and Nitish Kumar. Kishor dissects what influences Indian voters today, their aspirations and what they now demand of their leaders. Aman Sethi’s The Making of Riot, Violence Studies edited by Kalpana Kannabiran and Tabish Khair’s The New Xenophobia will be good additions too.

Business/Academics
Politics is closely intertwined with the world of business. So noted economist Kaushik Basu’s An Economist in the Real World: The Art of Policymaking in India, Ruchir Joshi’s The Rise and Fall of Nations and business journalist Pravin Palande’s The Fundamentalists: Czars of India’s Financial Markets should be interesting.
Academic publications that can easily crossover into layman’s reading would be the fabulous The Historian and her craft: Romila Thapar (4 vols) which provides her complete trajectory as a scholar. and historian. Other titles in this strain are Literary Activism: A Collection of Essays edited by Amit Chaudhuri and Intimate Class Act: Friendship and Desire in Indian and Pakistani Women’s Fiction in English by Maryam Mirza, An Uncivil Woman: Critical Readings of Ismat Chughtai by Rakhshanda Jalil, Modern Indian by Giles Tillotson, 100 Design Classics by Jahnvi Dameron Nandan and The Oxford Readings in Indian Art edited by B.N. Goswamy.

Translations
Translations are rapidly acquiring a niche that sells well. Translating Bharat by Yatra Books in collaboration with Oxford Bookstore is a collection of essays that focuses on the specifics of translation. Some other titles to look out for are Love in Chakiwara and Other Misadventures by Muhammad Khalid Akhtar (translated by Bilal Tanweer). Dilli Tha Jiska Naam by Intizar Husain is an evocative tale about Delhi translated for the first time into English (Ghazala Jamil) and Hindi (Shubham Mishra) simultaneously. Tamas translated by Daisy Rockwell commemorates the centenary celebrations of Bhisham Sahni. Then there is Pyre (Tamil) by Perumal Murugan, translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan; The Fire of Aoling by Anurag Mahanta, translated by Manjeet Baruah; Death Anniversary by K.P. Ramanunni, translated by Yaseen Ashraf; Indira Goswami’s Three Novellas: Breaking the Begging Bowl, The Blood of Devipeeth and Delhi: 5 November 1991 translated by Dibjyoti Sarma.
Narratives of Healing: Partition Memories from the Two Punjabs translated by Jasbir Jain and Tripti Jain; Bara: Drought (translated by Chandan Gowda) and Hindutva or Hind Svaraj by U.R. Ananthamurthy, Shahenshah by N. S. Inamdar, Zindaginama by Krishna Sobti, Shah Muhammad’s Tonga by Ali Akbar Natiq and The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction, Vol 3, edited by Rakesh Khanna. A&A have some wonderful titles translated from Norwegian like Wafflehearts by Maria Parr as Meri Best Friend Aur Main and the Pim & Pom stories by Mies Bouhuis, illustrated by Fiep Westendorp.

Children’s Books
Children’s literature is growing by leaps and bounds. Tara Books continues to publish titles that make handicrafts a relevant art for children such as The Cloth of the Mother Goddess. Red Turtle’s Exploring India series by Subhadra Sen Gupta, illustrated by Tapas Guha, will interest readers who want to know more about various facets of India.
The Ray Collection translated by Arunava Sinha et al is a collection of the best stories by the Ray family writers: Upendra Kishore, Sukumar Ray and Satyajit Ray and The Fox’s Wedding by Harindranath Chattopadhyay is illustrated by Atanu Roy. They are also publishing Monkey Trouble and Other Stories: The Ruskin Bond Comics Book 1.

Duckbill will publish for children Invisible People: Stories of Courage from India’s Streets by Harsh Mander. Excavating History by Devika Cariappa for children delves into stories about archaeological sites. Duckbill will publish Special Agent Nanju by Zainab Suliaman, an unusual and action-packed book set in an integrated school for children with special needs. Scholastic will continue with its diverse fare but particularly exciting are the travelogues for children written by Jerry Pinto and Parineeta Shetty and Malgudi-style stories of growing up by Lalita Iyer called When Appa Bought a Buffalo and Other Stories. HarperCollins India is launching its Beebop series of graded reading and publishing Wattpad star Estelle Maskame’s Did I mention I Need You? And Did I mention I Miss You? Tota Books and Mango Books have a delicious collection of picture books lined up for 2016.

Fiction
Fiction, as always, is overflowing with choices. Debut writers Kanishk Tharoor, Shubha Mudgal and Sunny Leone will publish short story collections. Other well-known authors who will return with new books are Mridula Koshy, Aravind Adiga, China Mieville, Don Delillo, Helen Oyeyemi, Maha Khan Philips, Tahmima Anam, Meg Rosoff, Graham Swift, Samantha Shannon, Lucia Berlin and Chitra Bannerjee Divakurni. Hindu mythology is being retold: The Story of Hanuman by Mala Dayal, illustrated by Taposhi Ghoshal, Arshia Sattar’s Hanuman, a beautifully illustrated edition of the Mahabharata by Devdutt Pattanaik, The Oxford Mahabharatha Series: Women (Vol. 1) by Nrishina Bhaduri.

6 Jan 2016

A way ahead for words: Juggernaut

 

Chiki

(I interviewed Chiki Sarkar and Durga Raghunath, co-founders of Juggernaut. As Chiki put it across so well, “Durga is part of the change and I am part of the continuity. The combo of us would be magic. She is the creative mind of business and I am the business side of creativity.” This interview was conducted with a face-to-face meeting with Chiki Sarkar at her office and with Durga, over the phone. It was published in the Hindu Sunday Magazine digitally on 3 Oct 2015 and in print on 4 Oct 2015. Here is the url to the link: http://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/chiki-sarkar-and-durga-raghunath-talk-about-juggernaut-with-jaya-bhattacharji-rose/article7720019.ece?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication )Durga

The recently launched publishing firm, Juggernaut, hopes to take on the big players in the field. Its co-founders Chiki Sarkar and Durga Raghunath talk about what’s in store.

The key investors in Juggernaut are Nandan Nilekani, William Bissell and Neeraj Aggarwal. Chiki Sarkar, previously publisher of Penguin India and founder-publisher of Random House India, has worked with every major writer in the country. Durga Raghunath, previously CEO, Network 18 Digital, led three news websites, a fin-tech site and mobile. She is also the founder of India’s first exclusively digital newsroom, Firstpost. Excerpts from an interview.

What is the focus of Juggernaut? What are the genres it will be publishing?

Chiki Sarkar: Our behaviour is the same as that of any great publisher but asking bold questions on the digital side.

Durga Raghunath: The good thing about mobile content is you cannot ignore your consumer. It has to be both short story and all genres that keep people coming back for, such as crime fiction and romance. These have to be very compelling reads. A beginner list will have a variety and also new authors to attract the committed book lover and the new reader — a young mobile user.

Who are the authors you will be publishing? 

CS&DR: We cannot say. It will be announced early next year.

What kind of manuscripts are you seeking?

CS: The ebooks we publish will be between 20,000 and 40,000 words.

DR: The length is overrated in book publishing. In non-fiction there are enough opportunities for things to be much shorter, so you will see different lengths — 5,000 to 15,000 words.

According to media reports, Juggernaut will explore phone book publishing. For what generation of phones will these be created?

DR: We will be catering to the Android and iOS platforms and targeting the top 10-12 devices. The smartphone devices market in India is approximately 159 million; we will target 10-12 million users in India. It will initially be in English moving to the vernacular in a few months. About 25 million people read news in India. Apparently 120 million have 3G on their phones. It implies you have to own a decent smartphone to be able to access it.

The user experience will be very unique. We will retain the consumer delight, but offer a lot more aided by technology. There are a lot of ways in which the internet can considerably reduce the gap between author and reader. It will be a confluence of various things. About 100 million people who transact on their mobile phones have given their credit and debit card details. People will not pay for news but will pay for books — a combination of information and knowledge. Also, Indian behaviour for digital consumption shows they are ready to pay and buy online as long as the price point is correct.

Who is Juggernaut’s customer? 

SivapriyaDR: In India we have an overwritten book market. The big thrill is to change the market. Big publishers are not to be feared. We will publish in the vernacular too. Some of the rich textured literature exists in the local languages. Hence, Sivapriya is a critical part of the team. We have three to four editors taking vernacular publishing. It will be big play for us. It will be about democratisation of publishing. It cannot be the privy of five big houses anymore, and to enable that we must have vernacular publishing. The idea is to launch a new language list every year.

How many books do you hope to publish in one year? Will all the paper books have a digital life? If so, will this also be true of all the ebooks published?

CS: Every book will have a digital life.

DR: The super set will be mobile and phone book publishing. The subset will be physical with an initial list of 50 titles per year. A lot of surprises will be in the app, available also on the web.

What is the technology and product strategy at Juggernaut? 

DR: The central mantra at Juggernaut is to give an author the best digital and physical platform, while inspiring the consumer to read and write. Given this is India, we will be extremely price sensitive. How can I get new users? How can I make it worth their while? The retention plan will always make the customer feel that Juggernaut has given them five times more than what they had expected. The relationship between the publisher and the author will be clearly redefined.

What is the publishing expertise and services that authors and readers can expect from Juggernaut which make it stand apart from traditional publishers?

DR: We will create custom formats similar to what Amazon did with Kindle. We will create .jug files. You cannot do these things cheaply, hence the focused funding exercise. There will be absolutely no shortcuts to anything.

CS&DR: The information will be super secure. We are investing in a secure DRM.

Book start-up markets are brutal. Many appear to fulfil an immediate need, usually work as a catalyst and then disappear. Even well-funded business have folded up as markets are saturated, margins wafer thin and consumption intense. What are the challenges that Juggernaut sees in the Indian market? 

DR: The Internet has created a certain behaviour. We are at that point, at the cusp, when people will give Juggernaut a shot by saying, “I will sample it.”

There will be many challenges in the future but we have been unable to focus on any since we have more solutions than problems right now.

3 October 2015

Literati – “Opportunities in Publishing” ( 1 March 2015)

 Jaya Bhattacharji RoseMy monthly column, Literati, in the Hindu Literary Review was published in print ( 1 March 2015).  I am c&p the text below. 

Opportunities in Publishing

In 2003 when mobile phones were new, we conducted an experiment at the publishing firm I was part of. We converted a print story into an audio file, dramatized it using voice actors, recording at a studio. A phone company offered to make it available on landlines and mobile phones. The only cost to be incurred was the origination cost. After that, the consumer would pay a nominal fee to hear the story. We knew we had a new income generation stream with a revenue-sharing model. It seemed to be a win-win situation, except for a tiny hiccup – insufficient good content. It had to be easily available, origination cost at an affordable price point, transparency on copyright, with preferably multi-lingual options to cater to target audiences in different regions. Naturally, it remained an experiment in convergence that was ahead of its times.

Ironically in 2015, publishing engagements held to coincide with the World Book Fair, New Delhi were dominated by conversations regarding content, opportunities for publishing where mostly telecommunications company representatives spoke or IT experts expounded on the significance of mobile reading. Impressive statistics were reeled out. For instance, 4.5 b people have access to bathrooms, but 6 billion have access to phones. There are only 7 billion people on earth.

The close relationship between publishers, content and technology is discussed well in an article, “No profit left behind”, published in POLITICO Pro (10 Feb 2015, http://www.politico.com/story/2015/02/pearson-education-115026.html ). It is argued that Pearson wields enormous influence over American education and “makes money even when its results don’t measure up”. On 20 Feb 2015, an Indian newspaper report said, “Pearson Education is eyeing a larger share of the Indian education market through digital offerings. Chalking out its growth chart for the coming years, the learning and publishing company has identified India among the four biggest markets, the others being China, Brazil and South Africa.” (http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/services/education/pearson-education-eyes-big-share-of-indian-education-market/articleshow/46297541.cms ) All though riddled with challenges such smart classes and modern libraries with Wi-Fi are not unheard of in India where the contracted vendor provides the hardware, software, content and even helps get broadband access to the institution.  Hence it is not surprising to have heard telecom representatives requesting for a Digital India Programme – creation of digital infrastructure, delivering services digitally and advocating digital literacy. In theory a splendid idea since it gets to many. But when rumours about local broadband service providers seeking differential pricing for customers begin to become real, it is a worrying trend. These internet service providers are flouting the basic premise of net neutrality where all data exchanged on the net should be treated equally. With broadband connectivity expected to grow rapidly with 450 million users in 2017 putting India amongst the top two data markets globally and maximum internet growth is expected to happen with 69% of the population who have affordable smartphones, feature phones and low-cost feature phones operating on 2G and 3G spectrums, with another 9.8% of the population being able to afford higher end phones and tablets using wi-fi too, this is a lucrative business to be in.

Other conversations of note were an insistence on targeted marketing by leveraging technology; creating a classification of readers – casual, avid, niche, topical, educational and lapsed; taxation issues;  exploring new business models such as  Direct – to – Consumers (D2C) and opportunities to sync audio to text – bundle of e-book and audiobook with seamless switching; the conversion of passive online consumers to active “prosumers” [Producer-Consumers] driven by convergence; analysing targetted audience interactions like browsing / buying behavior, and impact of augmented reality in book promotions as it simulates to some extent the real world not necessarily recreating it exactly in detail. Significantly there was an interest to explore translations in Indian languages but the more animated conversations took place at the Food Court at Pragati Maidan than at Rights Table conclave. The increasing presence of overcrowded remaindered bookstalls presented a paradox with their low-priced books –a bane for publishers, a boon for readers. Finally the stress on how digital publishing was a great opportunity for the Indian publishing sector and must be explored for content creation, distribution and consumption dominated.

The reality is digital penetration is still at a nascent stage in the sub-continent, definitely in a sector estimated to be valued at $2.2 billion. It will require active participation of all stakeholders to ensure the delivery of quality material, at the right price point (for e-readers, ISP, price of content), plus taking into account multi-lingual, gendered and cultural characteristics of consumers.

1 March 2015

Andrew Hodges, “Alan Turing: The Enigma”

Alan Turing, The EnigmaNowadays it is perhaps taken rather for granted that computers can replace other machines, whether for record-keeping, photography, graphic design, printing, mail, telephony, or music, by virtue of appropriate software being written and executed. No one seems surprised that industrialised China can use the same computer as does America. Yet that such universality is possible is far from obvious, and it was obvious to no one in the 1930s. That the technology is digital is not enough: to be all-purpose computers must allow for the storage and decoding of a program. That needs a certain irreducible degree of logical complexity, which can only be made to be of practical value if implemented in very fast and reliable electronics. That logic, first worked out by Alan Turing in 1936 implemented electronically in the 1940s, and nowadays embodied in microchips, is the mathematical idea of the universal machine. 

In the 1930s only a very small club of mathematical logicians could appreciate Turing’s ideas. But amongst these, only Turing himself had the practical urge as well, capable of turning his hand from the 1936 purity of definition to the software engineering of 1946: ‘every known process has got to be translated into instruction table form…’ ( p.409). Donald Davies, one of Turing called programs) for ‘packet switching’ and these grew into the Internet protocols. Giants of the computer industry did not see the Internet coming, but they were saved by Turing’s universality: the computers of the 1980s did not need to be reinvented to handle these new tasks. They needed new software and peripheral devices, they needed greater speed and storage, but the fundamental principle remained. That principle might be described as the law of information technology: all mechanical processes, however ridiculous, evil, petty, wasteful or pointless, can be put on a computer. As such, it goes back to Alan Turing in 1936. 

( Preface, p.xvi-xvii)

Alan Turing: The Enigma a biography of the eminent mathematician by another mathematician, Andrew Hodges was first published in 1983. As with good biographies, it balances the personal, plotting the professional landmarks, with a balanced socio-historical perspective, giving excellent insight in the period Alan Turing lived. Whether it is the history of physics branching off into this particular field of mathematics, Alan Turing’s significant contribution to it, becoming a part of the team at Bletchley Park as a code breaker, and of course his personal life — the bullying he experienced at school, his homosexuality, the friends he made and his relationship with his family, especially his mother.

This biography is so much in the style of biographies written in the 1960s to 1980s — packed with detail. This is the major difference from the twenty-first biographies which are more in the style of bio-fiction than biographies. Yet it is fascinating to see how Alan Turing in a sense has been “resurrected” by twenty-first century concerns such as importance of the Internet, computers available 24×7 and of course his homosexuality, his struggles and his suicide. Then there is Turing’s genius. His gift for fiddling with maths and science. Decoding the Nazi messages. A great deal of credit goes to Andrew Hodges for keeping Turing’s memory alive and updating the information regularly especially at a time when bio-fic is fashionable. This is an old-fashioned biography where details about the life of the person with dates, snippets of correspondence, plenty of research ( constantly updating it as official files were declassified), minutely recording events and visits to places that may have relevance to the book. The book is fascinating for its detailed history of the evolution of mathematics as an independent discipline, the differences between science and maths and explaining how Turing broke away from the shackles of eighteenth and nineteenth century thought where maths was considered to be an integral part of the sciences. Turing’s biggest achievement was the original applications in maths relying upon the principles he learned in physics, especially experiments in quantum mechanics. The book  has footnotes and a preface that has been updated for this special film tie-in edition, to coincide with the release of the Oscar-winning film, The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. This biography has been in print for more than 30 years. It was last revised in 1992, but this special paperback edition has been reprinted with a new preface by Andrew Hodges, updated in 2014. In fact Newsweek carried an excerpt from it: ( Andrew Hodges, “The Private Anguish of Alan Turing”, 13 Dec 2014 http://www.newsweek.com/private-anguish-alan-turing-291653 ). Graham Moore who adapted the book for the film won an Oscar for his efforts, but as this post from Melville House makes it clear, this script was always meant to win awards. ( http://www.mhpbooks.com/the-imitation-game-and-the-complicated-byproducts-of-adaptation/ ) L. V. Anderson of Slate points out that that the biopic is riddled with inaccuracies. “I read the masterful biography that the screenplay is based on, Andrew Hodges’ Alan Turing: The Enigma, to find out. I discovered that The Imitation Game takes major liberties with its source material, injecting conflict where none existed, inventing entirely fictional characters, rearranging the chronology of events, and misrepresenting the very nature of Turing’s work at Bletchley Park. At the same time, the film might paint Turing as being more unlovable than he actually was. ( L. V. Anderson, “How  accurate is The Imitation Game?”. 3 dec 2014. http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/12/03/the_imitation_game_fact_vs_fiction_how_true_the_new_movie_is_to_alan_turing.html )

Richard Holmes in an article published in the NYRB, “A Quest for the Real Coleridge”, ( 18 Dec 2014, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/dec/18/quest-real-coleridge/?pagination=false )  explained the two principles that govern the methodology for the biographies he writes. According to him these are –the footsteps principle ( “the serious biographer must physically pursue his subject through the past. Mere archives were not enough. He must go to all the places where the subject had ever lived or worked, or traveled or dreamed. Not just the birthplace, or the blue-plaque place, but the temporary places, the passing places, the lost places, the dream places.”) and the two-sided notebook concept ( “It seemed to me that a serious research notebook must always have a form of “double accounting.” There should be a distinct, conscious divide between the objective and the subjective sides of the project. This meant keeping a double-entry record of all research as it progressed (or as frequently, digressed). Put schematically, there must be a right-hand side and a left-hand side to every notebook page spread.”).  Richard Holmes adds, “He [the biographer] must examine them as intelligently as possible, looking for clues, for the visible and the invisible, for the history, the geography, and the atmosphere. He must feel how they once were; must imagine what impact they might once have had. He must be alert to “unknown modes of being.” He must step back, step down, step inside.” This is exactly what Andrew Hodges achieves in this stupendous biography of Alan Turing. Sure there are moments when the technical descriptions about mathematics become difficult to comprehend, yet it is a readable account. The author bio in the book says “Andrew Hodges is Tutor in Mathematics at Wadham College, Oxford University. His classic text of 1983 since translated into several languages, created a new kind of biography, with mathematics, science, computing, war history, philosophy and gay liberation woven into a single personal narrative. Since 1983 his main work has been in the mathematics of fundamental physics, as a colleague of Roger Penrose. But he has continued to involve himself with Alan Turing’s story, through dramatisation, television documentaries and scholarly articles. Since 1995 he has maintained a website at www.turing.org.uk to enhance and support his original work.”

It takes a while to read this nearly 700 page biography, but it is time well spent. Certainly at a time when issues such as net neutrality are extremely important. In fact, yesterday the Federal Communications Commission ( FCC) in USA “voted on Thursday to regulate broadband Internet service as a public utility, a milestone in regulating high-speed Internet service into American homes. …The new rules, approved 3 to 2 along party lines, are intended to ensure that no content is blocked and that the Internet is not divided into pay-to-play fast lanes for Internet and media companies that can afford it and slow lanes for everyone else. Those prohibitions are hallmarks of the net neutrality concept.” This ruling will have repercussions worldwide.  (“F.C.C. Approves Net Neutrality Rules, Classifying Broadband Internet Service as a Utility”, 26 Feb 2015.  http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/02/27/technology/net-neutrality-fcc-vote-internet-utility.html?_r=0 )

Alan Turing and his contribution to modern day technology continues to be relevant even 60+ years after his death.

Andrew Hodges Alan Turing: The Enigma Vintage Books, London, 1983, rev 1992, with rev preface, 2014. Pb. pp.750. £ 8.99

27 February 2015

An update on my column on cellphones and publishing industry, 23 May 2013

An update on my column on cellphones and publishing industry, 23 May 2013

Earlier in month, I had filed my monthly column “PubSpeak” on the rising significance of mobile phones, particularly for the world of publishing. (http://www.jayabhattacharjirose.com/jaya/2013/05/07/on-cellphones-and-publishing-for-the-future-hear-this-story/) Subsequently a few stories emerged that are worth mentioning here:

a) The strong rumour that prevailed a few days ago — Microsoft’s bid to buy Nook for 1b$ to enter the tablet business. It may have been for now squashed as a rumour, but the fact that it even took off in the first place cannot be ignored. It is the new area to contemplate growth for the company. http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeremygreenfield/2013/05/09/commentary-microsoft-to-buy-nook-what-it-could-mean/?et_mid=617062&rid=155561251 and http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2013/report-microsoft-to-make-bid-for-nook/?et_mid=617062&rid=155561251
b) Spreading literature via cellphone in Africa. http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/2013/0509/A-novel-idea-for-spreading-literature-in-Africa-The-cellphone?nav=87-frontpage-entryNineItem&et_mid=617062&rid=155561251
c) Wiley has stopped publishing business books in Canada, according to Ellen Roseman. http://www.thestar.com/business/2013/05/22/wiley_stops_publishing_canadian_business_books_roseman.html Canada’s book publishing market is shrinking. It’s facing competition from online retailers and electronic books that you can read on phones, tablets and dedicated e-readers.

And today, 23 May 2013, the Economic Times has a couple of articles pertinent to India.
a) Tablets will continue to attract higher import duty (12%) while mobiles will have the concessional rate of 6%. ( http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/policy/higher-import-duties-on-tablets-to-continue-finance-ministry/articleshow/20216216.cms )
b) An article that says “3G Widens Footprint”

Half of Indian smartphone users have migrated to 3G and their data uptake is steadily rising, says a Nokia Siemens Networks study. Here’s more on 3G usage:

How mobile 3G data use is rising
Average monthly data consumed by a 3G user is 434 MB ( Dec 2012) and 397 MB (June 2012)
Average monthly data consumed by a 2G user is 115 MB ( Dec 2012) and 95 MB (June 2012)

Rs 10 increase in data Arpu (average revenue per user) in Dec 2012 ( up from Rs 45 in June 2012)
25 Petabytes is India’s total data consumption as of Dec 2012. Of this, one-third is consumed over 3G networks. ( 1petabyte equals 1024 tetrabytes)

142% growth in active 3G connections in 2012 over 2011
42% Of total 3G data traffic is consumed by Category A circle users – higher than 35% in metros
92% rise recorded in total data traffic between Dec 2011 and Dec 2012
196% rise recorded by 3G data traffic between Dec 2011 and Dec 2012, bolstered by tariff cut in mid-2012. 2G data traffic increased by 66%