Jaipur literature festival Posts

Bolbosh

Bolbosh

( This is an email invitation I received from Namita Gokhale, Co-Director, Jaipur Literature Festival. I am circulating the invitation with permission.)

Balbosh

Dear All,
Join us for the launch of a special website at the Oxford Book Store, New Delhi– N 81 Connaught Place, New Delhi on Tuesday, the 5th of August, 6:30 pm onward. 
 
Bolbosh in Kashmiri means communication in a very endearing way, such as that of birds and children. 
Created by Asiya Zahoor, the website, Bolbosh is an archive of aesthetically rich and culturally significant literature from the Baramulla region written in languages such as Balti, Pahari, Ladakhi, Shina and Dorgi, Gujri and Kashmiri. Apart from this, it also contains an online Kashmiri dictionary, which has been compiled with the diligent efforts of various scholars and students from Kashmir University and Baramulla Degree College.
 
Warm regards,
Namita Gokhale

1 August 2014 

Some links from JLF 2013 and 2014, worth revisiting

Some links from JLF 2013 and 2014, worth revisiting

JLF logoHere are some links from the Jaipur Literature Festival 2013 and 2014 available on YouTube that I have enjoyed watching. Enjoy! 

17 June 2014

The Interpreter of Stories ( Jhumpa Lahiri) : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4EMURLpvgwU
The Global Novel ( Jim Crace, Franzen, Chandrahas Choudhary, Jhumpa Lahiri, Xiao Lau, Tayie Selasi etc) : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_BqqA0xnpI
The age of wonder/ The Victorians : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7sMKfN0gyXs 
 
 
 
 
Jesus the Man, Jesus the Politician : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bb5Zoy-HV58 
 
Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4tgMx9R4yU 
 
Love and War: Literature, Danger and Passion in the WWII : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2mrHmn4NN20 
 
 
The traveller’s tree: Patrick Leigh Fermor : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EutBDe-8cHE 
 
Storytelling around the world : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVzF1QJXko0 
 
JLF 2013 
 
 
Who will rule the world? : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rI-rTEFMdR4 
 
Restless Women : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcXsvlRdeoM  (women trekkers) 
 
 
Granta 125 and 126

Granta 125 and 126

Granta, After the WarGranta 125: After the War and Granta 126: Do you Remember are two issues that you read, put away, mull over, revisit, make parts of it your own and then it becomes a part of you. After the War ( http://www.granta.com/Archive/125 ) has contributions by Romesh Gunesekera, Justin Jin,  Herta Muller, Aminatta Forna, Hari Kunzru, Paul Auster and Patrick French. Every essay is an account of a conflict area that is familiar to the writer. It could be Sri Lanka for Romesh Gunesekera or being in Iran at the time of the American hostage crisis for Aminatta Forna or being a Jew in America for Paul Auster or as Patrick French does in his part-reportage, part-memoir, grapple with the expectations of and coming to terms with having a war hero for an uncle. Every single essay or short story in the magazine is distinct in its style, in what it documents and what the writer chooses to dwell upon, at times even complimented by the sentence structures. Paul Auster’s essay, “You Remember the Planes”, forces you to read it, grapple with it since the paragraphs are sometimes over a page or two in length. You cannot pause to reflect but have to read on and on.

Earlier this year, I met Romesh Gunesekera at the Jaipur Literature Festival. We were chatting about his new book, Noontide Toll, when the conversation veered towards war and craft of writing. Later in an email he wrote “I would say that one has to attend to the craft. If the sentences don’t work, then whatever is being written will not last long enough to matter.”  ( This was in response to an interview I did for the Hindu Literary Supplement. It is as yet to be published.)

Aminatta Forna essay, “1979”, is about the events in Iran, the American diplomats who were taken hostage. Aminatta Forna was fourteen years old and had moved to Teheran with her family, since her stepfather had been posted to the city by the United Nations. She witnesses and recounts her experience of being in Iran in the 1970s. She refers to the “curfew parties”, which under ordinary circumstances would be considered “bizarre”, but when read in context of the events, seem like perfectly natural and ornate spaces created for socialising and sharing of experiences, shutting out the dark reality. In fact, Aminatta Forna offers a course in Witness Literature where fiction is used to express and document events. Here is a short film made by a student of hers discussing it:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PELSk5JkaZI These events of 1979 were recently documented in Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning film Argo. I am unable to locate the link for now, but Aminatta Forna’s mother wrote a very powerful article in a UK-based newspaper presenting her side of the story and how much of Ben Affleck’s film was pure fiction.

Patrick French’s title essay “After the War” is about his great-uncle Maurice Dease who fought in the Battle of Mons and was the first recipient of the Victoria Cross. I suspect an essay like this, expanded into a book form will work brilliantly—part anecdotal, part personal, part historical and with a strong perspective. Narrative non-fiction at its best, connecting to the past, yet firmly fixed in the present.

Granta, Do you remember 126Of all the essays in Do you Remember  ( http://www.granta.com/Archive/126 ) two have remained with me — David Gates, ” A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me” and Johnny Steinberg’s “The Defeated”. David Gates’s essay is about his friendship with Paul Thompson, a singer, who when he is dying, opts to stay on Gates’s farm. It is a moving account of reading about Gates admiring the Thompson from afar, to becoming a good friend and then a tender caregiver. Johnny Steinberg’s essay is a little more complicated. It may seem like reportage about the events KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa and the clashes between the farmers and tenants. But there are layers and layers to the stories he recounts — his own experience of collecting the facts, the stories the tenants recount and the farmers. Of many generations before and of the rapid change taking place since Apartheid was abolished in early 1990s. It leaves you wondering about the various ways in which one event can be remembered.

Both the books are worth reading.

1 May 2014 

 

Siddharth Mukherjee, 27 April 2014

Siddharth Mukherjee, 27 April 2014

Siddharth Mukherjee, 27 April 2014Last night I attended a public lecture at the India International Centre, New Delhi. It was delivered by Siddharth Mukherjee entitled “First they came for Rushdie: Scientific Ambitions in an Age of Censorship”. It was organised by Penguin Books India to celebrate the occasion of Siddharth Mukherjee having received the Padma Shri.  He is a physician, scientist and writer. His book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize. He is currently an assistant professor medicine at Columbia University in New York. Chiki Sarkar, Publisher, Penguin Random House India, announced that her firm would be publishing his forthcoming book–on genes. Penguin invite

The lecture consisted of three distinct sections. He read out two papers. An essay, “The Perfect Last Days of Mr Sengupta”, published in Granta 124: Travel (http://www.granta.com/Archive/124/The-Perfect-Last-Days-of-Mr-Sengupta). It is about his visit to the Cancer centre of All India Institute of Medical Sciences ( AIIMS) based in New Delhi, where he meets a terminally ill patient Mr Sengupta. A precisely written, sensitive and thought-provoking essay about mortality, disease, care giving, and death.

( L-R) Chiki Sarkar, Siddharth Mukherjee, Nirmala George and Jaya Bhattacharji RoseHe followed it up by reading an extract from an unpublished essay. ( I suspect it is from his forthcoming book.) It was about science, scientific thought and research, especially genetics, in Nazi Germany. In a measured manner, calmly Siddharth Mukherjee read out his paper. Not once did his voice waver while he patiently retold the well-known facts of medicine as practiced in Germany.  He talked about Berlin in 1931 and the close link between science and literature. He spoke of the Nazi scientists such as eugenicist Alfred Ploetz who coined the term Rassenhygiene or racial hygiene, Josef Mengel or the Angel of Death who was responsible for the gas chambers in the Auschwitz concentration camps, physicist and Nobel Prize winner ( 1905) Philipp Eduard Anton von Lenard who advocated “Deutsche Physik” as opposed to the ideas of “Jewish physics”, by which he meant chiefly the theories of Albert Einstein, including “the Jewish fraud” of relativity. He spoke of the influence many of these scientists had upon Hitler, even when he was in prison and he wrote of his admiration of them in Mein Kampf. He commented upon the close relationship between the legal wheels that were constantly turning to justify and legitimize these absurdly illogical “scientific” theories, resulting in the enactment of the anti-Jewish statutes called the Nuremberg Race Laws ( 5 Sept 1935) institutionalizing many of the racial theories prevalent in Nazi ideaology. He mentioned the establishment of the Aktion T4 or the euthanasia programme that led to the establishment of  extermination centres where inmates were gassed in carbon monoxide chambers. He cited examples and read out extracts of contemporary accounts by scientists and men of letters such as Christopher Isherwood, of how slowly German society was being slowly and steadily cleansed, sloughing of genetic detritus. He argued that there was sufficient evidence of how this young science propped up a totalitarian regime and the cycle was completed by producing junk science. He  documented the muzzling of free expression, books, media, radio, cabaret were slowly brought under Nazi doctrine. Music such as jazz and swing or the “negro noise” were stopped. There was a slow and methodical decimation of intellectual and cultural freedom. Audience at the Siddharth Mukherjee public lecture

The concluding part of the lecture, Siddharth Mukherjee cited the example of Salman Rushdie not being permitted to attend or even speak via satellite link at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2012. He received death threats. At the time three writers — Hari Kunzro, Ruchir Joshi and Jeet Thayil — tried reading out extracts from the banned text The Satanic Verses but were not permitted to do so. Instead they were advised to leave Jaipur immediately. At the time this episode was met by a “galacial silence” by the powers that be. It was as “all realism without magic”. Since then this kind of literary censorship, a capitulation to bullying, according to Siddharth Mukherjee has become a predictable pattern in Indian society. Wendy Doniger  is the latest victim of literary censorship. For Siddharth Mukherjee there is a symbiotic relationship between science and literature since they co-exist in the same ecosystem. “Science happens in the same fragile place where books happen and plays are enacted. You spoil the ecology of one, you tarnish the soil of the other.”

28 April 2014 

PubSpeak, “Rules Of Publishing: Be On The Move”There has to be serendipity in publishing. It is the smarter way of keeping the ecosystem alive,

PubSpeak, “Rules Of Publishing: Be On The Move”There has to be serendipity in publishing. It is the smarter way of keeping the ecosystem alive,

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose ( The latest edition of my column, PubSpeak, has been uploaded on BusinessWorld online today. The link is http://www.businessworld.in/news/economy/rules-of-publishing-be-on-the-move/1246485/page-1.html. I am also c&p the text below. )

Bloomberg journalist Brad Stone’s ‘The Everything Store’ is about Jeff Bezos and his baby, Amazon. After the book was published, Bezos distanced himself from the book. Significantly his wife, MacKenzie Bezos, gave the book a one-star rating on Amazon saying it contains “numerous factual inaccuracies” and is “full of techniques which stretch the boundaries of non-fiction”. The book is based on a number of interviews that Stone conducted with Bezos, his staff and ex-colleagues to get a sense of the firm. What is very clear after reading the book is that Amazon is significant because it has the advantage of being a first mover, it is a game-changer, certainly for publishing.

There are three points worth considering:

1. Bezos was the first to exploit the potential of the internet and collaborate with start ups with new ideas. For instance, his acquisition of a firm that specialised in digital books, with the .mobi format, resulted in his insistence on making the files uploaded on Kindle to be DRM protected.

2. He knew that sales ranks would be like a drug to authors, so he insisted that it change whenever a new order came in: thus influencing the gradual shift in publishing houses laying more emphasis on marketing and promotional activities than on editing and commissioning. (Whereas it cannot be an either/or situation, it has to be a combination.)

3. Finally Bezos’s famous analogy of comparison that publishing firms are like gazelles and Amazon is a cheetah. This belief was integral to his strategy in agency pricing. He had to persuade publishers to give him the digital files to the books they published. (It required time since many publishers discovered that they did not have the rights to the digital formats from the authors.) He was convinced marking the books at such a low price was rational since there were no printing and warehousing costs involved — a misconception that has come to be associated with the entire system of publishing. But Amazon is able to achieve much of this due to the ‘technological moat’ it has dug for itself, that is, of low margins. It ensures that with the creative vision Bezos and his team have they are able to expand their business into uncharted domains, effectively keeping competition out.

At BookMark, the B2B space for publishing professionals at the Jaipur Literature Festival there were a number of fascinating conversations about the business. Most significantly the resistance in original publishing to digital and the disruption it would cause in the publishing ecosystem was no longer making news. The presence of technology to facilitate, produce and disseminate books is now an accepted norm. It is here to stay. It was interesting to see how the industry was responding to the rapid changes taking place in the environment, necessitating a rapid pace of evolution by adapting and adopting new methods.

Take Penguin Random House CEO John Makinson’s comment at the event, for instance. The coming together of Penguin and Random House was a “strategically delivered merger” since it was the only combination that changed the game, said Makinson. He was confident that the industry would consolidate itself in a bit of time. At a time when the global industry is reeling from the massive presence of Amazon, the formation of Penguin Random House catapults it to the first position with 25 per cent share of the global market. In October 2013, Jüergen Boos, Director, Frankfurt Book Fair, at the opening of the fair, warned that companies like Amazon, Apple and Google were “logistics magicians but are not publishers”. It stands to reason since online recommendations are purchase based and not behavioural. It does not tell you what people want to read since much of the online purchases are for gifts.

There has to be serendipity in publishing. It is the smarter way of keeping the ecosystem alive, creating newer readers and shifting away slightly from being only a writer’s space.

The overwhelming presence of Amazon, Google, and the iBook store of Apple and closer to home, Flipkart, has resulted in the “disturbing dominance of content” as John Makinson put it. It is inevitable that online retail platforms will require large volumes to remain sustainable. They are not discerning and curate content as booksellers are known to do with their stocks. So, it is fairly common to find on these websites second hand, and out-of-print books, or those titles that belong to backlists but are not readily available. In fact, Paul Yamazaki of City Light Booksellers and this year jury member, DSC South Asian Literature prize  is clear that he will retain titles on his shelves that are worth recommending, not necessary that it is the latest title creating waves in the media. City Light Books, is a landmark independent bookstore and publisher that specialises in world literature, the arts, and progressive politics. It was established by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin and synonymous with the ‘beatniks’.

Of late, publishers have been a worried lot since their traditional forms of publishing are not giving them the benefits they have been used to; in addition the sales of ebooks have plateaued, falling far short of the forecasts. The reliance on frontlists is making publishers an anxious lot since author brands only work for a limited time and within a given framework. For instance, commercial fiction authors are a brand unto themselves, a specific market who only read the specific author, but do not guarantee sales with every title. Ever since publishing houses were established they relied on a formula of 80:20 where 20 per cent was reserved for experimentation or the mid-lists, to discover and nurture new writers, which sometimes became the bedrock of the future for the firm. This is now happening less and less. Instead it is easier to offer authors a contract once they have proven themselves in the market. Many new voices are being discovered via the self-publishing route and traditional firms recognising the business potential of this are offering self-publishing services. This is in trade publishing. But even in academic publishing, technological advances and the presence of agents such as Apple, Google and Amazon have had an impact. For instance, material in a digital form for classroom and assisted teaching, teacher resource material and even the rent-a-textbook model, like Coursemart, have proved to be successful.

Among some of the other responses to the changing environment were that established businesses know the only way forward is to recognise that their expertise is limited; collaborations with new ideas or new startups is the only way to keep the business afloat; exploring a subscription service to deliver books/content to users/customers as indicated by the tie-up between Scribd and HarperCollins; looking to create a market beyond English-language readers (since it is a limited market), moving beyond viewing English as a functional, operational and legal language, translating content and creating a base of readers in the mother tongues to increase readership. The fact is that when markets are volatile and competing forces are at play and with 40 per cent of the population online it is not easy to forecast what will happen in the near future, save that a certain amount of realignments will happen through mergers and acquisitions, new systems will evolve and it will be survival of the fittest — big or small, who knows for now!

6 Feb 2014 

“Of war and peace”. Interview with Romesh Gunasekera, The Hindu, 2 Feb 2014

“Of war and peace”. Interview with Romesh Gunasekera, The Hindu, 2 Feb 2014

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose with Romesh Gunasekera, JLF, 2014(My interview with Romesh Gunasekera was uploaded on the Hindu Literary Review website on 1 Feb 2014 and published in the print edition on 2 Feb 2014. Here is the url to it: http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-literaryreview/of-war-and-peace/article5643819.ece I am c&p the entire text below. The review of the book, Noontide Toll, will be published in the first week of March 2014.  

I met Romesh Gunasekera at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2014. The photograph was taken at the Penguin Random House reception on 17 Jan 2014. But this interview was conducted via email.) 

Romesh Gunaseekera, interview

Born in 1954, Romesh Gunesekera grew up in Sri Lanka and the Philippines before moving to England in 1972. His first novel, Reef , was shortlisted for both the Guardian Fiction Prize and the Booker Prize. In India recently to launch his latest collection of short stories Noontide Toll, Gunasekera took time out for an interview.

 1.    What was the gestation time for this book and how long did it take to write it? There is a reference to the killing of LTTE founder, Prabhakaran, so it seems to have been finished recently.  

I started thinking about this book in 2009 but didn’t start writing it until 2010 after I had travelled around Sri Lanka and visited some of the places in the north that had been difficult to get to during the war. Most of it was written in 2012 but I only finished the final draft towards the end of last year. So the gestation was about 4 years and the actual writing and rewriting 2 years.

2.    Why do you have a driver as a narrator?  

Vasantha, the van driver, was a natural choice when I realized the story was going to involve journeys around the island. The appropriateness of the character grew as the metaphor of the road grew. A passenger on a road journey is in the hands of a driver; a reader embarking on a book is in the hands of a narrator. Vasantha is both.

3. Why did you call the book Noontide Toll?

The title has particular resonances at this point in time and also has some links in meaning and sound with the titles of my first two books: Monkfish Moonand Reef. As this book like those two has a strong Sri Lankan connection it seemed to be the right choice.

4. The mode of a journey as the spine of a narrative are as old as the epics. Why did you choose this mode for Noontide Toll?

The story of this book is the story of a journey from the past to the future. It is the journey the narrator Vasantha makes but it also the journey we all make as human beings. A journey through time. A story of being on the road seemed a natural way to tell the story of these times. Vasantha is trying to understand how we should live in a world that is fast-changing and has a difficult past. Whether we live in Sri Lanka, or Malaysia, or India, or Britain or America we face similar issues of understanding the road we are on, remembering the past that has made us and seeing the future we want.

But in this book there is also a more specific reason. Vasantha is travelling to parts of his country that he has been unable to visit before because of the war that had been going on for nearly thirty years. So the journey was the way he would balance the north and south of his world.

5. Can you talk about issues of war, memory, and language in relation to the book?

The book is all about how we deal with memory. Vasantha is in a country that has seen a very long and bloody war. He wants to move on from that past and is trying to find the best way to do it. He doesn’t know how much of the past can be left behind and how much is a part of him. Language is the means by which we negotiate our relationship with time. For Vasantha language is a means of communication, of touching someone, and of remembering. All over the world, including in India, people are trying to grapple with the memory of conflicts, and trying to find a way in which language can help us understand history without being trapped in it.

6. For a book that deals with war, “>Noontide Toll is surprisingly very calm and structured in its sentences. Is this how you composed it in the first draft or was it “refined” later?

I believe if a sentence is to retain its strength over time it needs to be carefully made. In fiction the structure of sentences matter. In this book I have tried to make sure the narrative flows as naturally as possible, but that doesn’t just happen. It has to be made to happen.

7. Is there a South Asian Literary identity?

I have just been to a literary festival in Kolkata where there was an hour long discussion with a panel of writers on this subject. From that discussion it seemed as though there wasn’t a clear identity. Obviously there are ways in which you could identify some commonalities between South Asian writers but the problems begin from the moment you try to identify and define the terms e.g. who are South Asian writers? Those born in south Asia? Those who live in South Asia? Those who write about South Asia? Or those who are all three? The language used by the writer is perhaps the more important factor. People who study a wide range of writers would be in a better position to decide whether a geographical term is the best way to describe an identity. I think the idea of a specific geographic literary identity might be too restrictive and constraining to be helpful. I would like to think that South Asian literature (in whatever way it is defined) is as varied and surprising as any other kind of interesting literature.

8. You  have been teaching creative writing for many years in Great Britain. Recently you have begun to collaborate on workshops in India as well. What would be your critical assessment of the writing pool/talent in India/South Asia?

I’ve only run one workshop in India and that was in Kolkata last year. We had an excellent group in the workshop and although they were mostly from India we did have some international participants too. I couldn’t generalise from one course, but as far as I can tell there are plenty of aspiring writers and the ones I have come across have similar talents and ambitions as workshop participants I have worked with in many other countries around the world. The prospects for writing in India, and indeed in the region, are good. But then, surely, we all know that.

2 Feb 2014

Jaipur Literature Festival programme 2014

Jaipur Literature Festival programme 2014

150px-Logo_of_the_jaipur_literature_festival( Here is the full programme for Jaipur Literature Festival, 17-21 Jan 2014. This list was uploaded by Arunava Sinha, translator and journalist, on his facebook page earlier this evening.) 

The Jaipur Literature Festival 2014 programme. You’re welcome.

JANUARY 17, FRIDAY

FRONT LAWNS

10:00AM-11:00AM: Keynote Address – Amartya Sen

11:15AM-12:15PM: Antar Dhwani: Writing India, Speaking Bharat – Ganesh Devy, Shekhar Pathak in conversation with Malashri Lal

12:30PM-1:30PM: Face to Face – Ved Mehta in conversation with Samanth Subramanian

1:30PM-2:15PM: Book Launch – File Room by Dayanita Singh to be released by Geoff Dyer

2:15PM-3:15PM: Choices and Freedoms – Amartya Sen in conversation with John Makinson

3:30PM-4:30PM: Restless Women – Cheryl Strayed and Robyn Davidson moderated by Gaiutra Bahadur

4:30PM-5:00PM: Book Launch – Nazar Photography Monographs 02 – When Abba was Ill by Adil Hasan

5:00PM-6:00PM: Aakrosh – Neerav Patel, Hariram Meena and Irrfan Khan in conversation with Mahmood Farooqui

MUGHAL TENT

11:15AM-12:15PM: Habib Tanvir: A Life in Theater – Mahmood Farooqui and Piyush Daiya in conversation with Geetanjali Shree

12:30PM-1:30PM: Plantation – Emma Rothschild and Gaiutra Bahadur in conversation with William Dalrymple

2:15PM-3:15PM: Naman: Homage to a story teller – C P Deval, Mahmood Farooqui, Arjun Deo Charan, Prahlad Shekhawat and Irrfan Khan in conversation with Malashri Lal

3:30PM-4:30PM: Litcrit – Carsten Jensen, Geoff Dyer, Chandrahas Choudhury, Philip Hensher and Rana Dasgupta, moderated by Homi Bhabha

5:00PM-6:00PM: Crime and Punishment – Homi Bhabha, Martin Puchner introduced by Namita Gokhale. Dramatic enactment by Suhel Seth

BAITHAK

11:15AM-12:15PM: Cook on the Wild Side – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in conversation with Jack Turner

12:30PM-1:30PM: Words Without Borders – Ananda Devi in conversation with Urvashi Butalia

2:15PM-3:15PM: Story of a Death Foretold – Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, introduced by Nicholas Shakespeare

3:30PM-4:30PM: Mahasamar – Narendra Kohli in conversation with Vartika Nanda

5:00PM-6:00PM: Leaving Iran – Fariba Hachtroudi, Sahar Delijani, Reza Aslan in conversation with Michael Axworthy

DURBAR HALL

11:15AM-12:15PM: The Bangla Whodunnit – Gautam Chakrabarti in conversation with Rupleena Bose, introduced by Homi Bhabha

12:30PM-1:30PM: Textures in Translation – Readings: Benyamin ,Joseph Koyippally, Anand, Chetna Satchidanandan introduced by Rahul Soni

2:15PM-3:15PM: Serendip – Readings – Nayomi Munaweera, Ru Freeman, and Romesh Gunasekera, introduced by Supriya Nair

3:30PM-4:30PM: The price you pay: How not to make money – Somnath Batabyal, Raj Kundra, Arghya Lehri, introduced by Kishwar Desai

5:00PM-6:00PM: Rebellions and Revolutions – Readings — Vaidehi, Kaajal Oza Vaidya, introduced by Rahul Soni

CHAR BAGH

11:15AM-12:15PM: Jonathan Franzen in conversation with Chandrahas Choudhury

12:30PM-1:30PM: The Essential Gloria Steinem – Gloria Steinem in conversation with Ruchira Gupta

2:15PM-3:15PM: White Tribes of Africa – Peter Godwin and Justin Cartwright in conversation with Maaza Mengiste

3:30PM-4:30PM: Citizen Elites: the Dominance of the Priviliged – Dipankar Gupta, Manvendra Singh, Lily Wangchhuk, in conversation with Mukulika Banerjee

5:00PM-6:00PM: The experiences of global war 1937- 1945 – Antony Beevor introduced by Rana Chhina

JANUARY 18, SATURDAY

FRONT LAWN

10:00AM-11:00AM: The Global Novel – Jhumpa Lahiri, Jonathan Franzen, Jim Crace, Maaza Mengiste, Xioaolu Guo, moderated by Chandrahas Chaudhry

11:15AM-12:15PM: Burdens of Identity – Zeruya Shalev, Salma, in conversation with Namita Gokhale

12:30PM-1:30PM: The Art of Biography – A N Wilson, Ray Monk, Richard Holmes and Andrew Graham-Dixion, moderated by Peter Godwin

1:30PM-2:15PM: Book release – Gone with the Vindaloo: Vikram Nair, Book release by Suhel Seth

2:15PM-3:15PM: The Interpreter of Stories – Jhumpa Lahiri in conversation with Rupleena Bose

3:30PM-4:30PM: The Non-fiction Renaissance – Antony Beevor, Katherine Boo, Geoff Dyer, Rana Dasgupta and Reza Aslan, moderated by William Dalrymple

4:30PM-5:00PM: Book Launch – Travails with Chachi by Louise Khurshid, released by Shashi Tharoor

5:00PM-6:00PM: Symmetry – Marcus du Sautoy, introduced by Jim al Khalili

6:00PM-7:00PM: Award Ceremony for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2014

MUGHAL TENT

10:00AM-11:00AM: The Way of the Knife – Mark Mazzeti, Barnett Rubin, Adrian Levy and Ben Anderson, moderated by Jason Burke

11:15AM-12:15PM: M T : Chronicles of a Culture – M T Vasudevan Nair and Gita Krishnankutty in conversation with Ravi DC, introduced by Shashi Tharoor

12:30PM-1:30PM: Three Women, Three Africas – Maaza Mengiste, Nadifa Mohamad and Taiye Selasi, who will also introduce the session.

1:30PM-2:15PM: Book Launch – Peoples Linguistic Survey of India – Rajasthan ki Bhashayaen.

2:15PM-3:15PM: 1914:Remembering the 1st World War – Peter Stanley, Geoff Dyer, Maya Jasanoff, moderated by Rana Chhina

3:30PM-4:30PM: How to Write a Screenplay – Sabrina Dhawan in conversation with Nicholas Shakespeare

5:00PM-6:00PM: India at the crossroads – Louise Tillin, Sunil Khilnani, John Elliott, moderated by Meghnad Desai

6:00PM-7:00PM: Wittgenstein – Ray Monk. Introduced by John Ralston Saul

DURBAR HALL

10:00AM-11:00AM: Caravaggio – Andrew Graham Dixion, introduced by Partha Mitter

11:15AM-12:15PM: The Hunting Dogs – Jørn Lier Horst, in conversation with Kishwar Desai

12:30PM-1:30PM: Bibliomania – Nadeem Aslam, Cyrus Mistry, Carsten Jenson, introduced by Mita Kapur

2:15PM-3:15PM: Harvest/The Northern Clemency – Readings — Jim Crace and Philip Hensher, introduced by Supriya Nair

3:30PM-4:30PM: Shabd Sansar – Nand Chaturvedi in conversation with Madhav Hada, introduced by Nand Bhardwaj

5:00PM-6:00PM: Seasons of Flight – Farah GhuznaviManjushree Thapa, introduced by Ritu Menon

6:00PM-7:00PM: Portraits – Readings: Ivan Vladislavic and Rukmini Bhaya Nair introduced by Rahul Soni

BAITHAK

10:00AM-11:00AM: Writing, Meri Jaan – Jerry Pinto in conversation with Mita Kapur

11:15AM-12:15PM: Behind the Veil: Women Writers of the Islamic World – Nadifa Mohamad, Bejan Matur, Sahar Delijani, Shireen el Feki and Fariba Hachtroudi, in conversation with Urvashi Bhutalia

12:30PM-1:30PM: Why India Votes – Mukulika Banerjee, Manvendra Singh in conversation

2:15PM-3:15PM: How can the sacred be sensous? – Vidya Dehejia in conversation with George Michell, Kavita Singh and Naman Ahuja. Moderated by William Dalrymple

3:30PM-4:30PM: Vanishing Voices: The great Andamanese Languages – Anvita Abbi in conversation with Arshia Sattar

5:00PM-6:00PM: The Forgotten Ally: The Making of Modern China – Rana Mitter, introduced by Carlos Rojas

6:00PM-7:00PM: Dharohar: The Legacy of Rajasthani Culture – Sundeep Bhutoria, Sarpanch Rajawat, K.C. Maloo, in conversation with Rima Hooja

CHAR BAGH

10:00AM-11:00AM: Magnificent Delusions – Husain Haqqani , Robert Blackwill in conversation with Shyam Saran

11:15AM-12:15PM: Who Will Rule the World? – Amartya Sen, Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, Xiaolu Guo and Rana Mitter, moderated by Dipankar Gupta.

12:30PM-1:30PM: Bollywood Nation – Vamsee Juluri, Meghnad Desai, Irrfan Khan, moderated by Rupleena Bose

2:15PM-3:15PM: Bhasha Paribhasha – Vaidehi, Sachin Kundalkar, C.P. Deval, moderated by Navtej Sarna

3:30PM-4:30PM: The Paradoxes of Growth and Development – Shashi Tharoor, Mukulika Banerjee, Ravi Venkatesan, in conversation with Dipankar Gupta

5:00PM-6:00PM: Storytelling Around the Globe – Kavita Singh, Taiye Selasi, Xiaolu Guo, led by Kiku Adatto

6:00PM-7:00PM: The Bone Season – Samantha Shanon in conversation with Supriya Nair

JANUARY 19, SUNDAY

FRONT LAWNS

10:00AM-11:00AM: Writing the Self: On Memoir and the Autobiographical Novel – Ru Freeman, Ved Mehta, Joseph O’Neill, and Philip Hensher, moderated by William Suttcliffe

11:15AM-12:15PM: Raj aur Samaj: Democracy and the People – Kalyani Shankar, Navin Chawla and Pavan Varma in conversation with Ravish Kumar

12:30PM-1:30PM: The Rasa of Language: On Art, Pleasure and Technology – Vikram Chandra in conversation with Vidya Dehejia

1:30PM-2:15PM: Book Launch – In the open: Sculptures of KS Radhakrishnan, by Johny ML

2:15PM-3:15PM: Casualties of Love and Sex: The New Gender Fluidity –Margaret Mascarenhas, Mahesh Dattani, Sachin Kundalkar, in conversation with Bachi Karkaria

3:30PM-4:30PM: Jesus the Man, Jesus the Politician – Reza Aslan in conversation with A.N Wilson

4:30PM-5:00PM: Launch of the Australia India Institute Foreign Policy Series

MUGHAL TENT

10:00AM-11:00AM: History Strikes back and the Collapse of Globalism – Hubert Vedrine, John Ralston Saul, in conversation with Shashi Tharoor

11:15AM-12:15PM: The Immortals – Amish Tripathi in conversation withMeru Gokhale

12:30PM-1:30PM: The Cricket Novel – Joseph O’Neill, Shashi Tharoor, moderated by Samanth Subramanian

1:30PM-2:15PM: Vikas Khanna – Urdu Mein Hindustan

2:15PM-3:15PM: Javed Akhtar introduced by Ashok Vajpeyi.

3:30PM-4:30PM: Confronting the Classics – Mary Beard, Robin Cormack, Alex Watson in conversation with Vidya Dehejia and Naman Ahuja.

5:00PM-6:00PM: Freedom, Opinion and Expression – John Ralston Saul, Peter Godwin, Jerry Pinto, moderated by Madhu Trehan

DURBAR HALL

10:00AM-11:00AM; At the sea side – Readings: Alison Mac Leod and Lara Feigel, introduced by Geoff Dyer

11:15AM-12:15PM: Rajasthan ki Vachik Parampara: Oral Scriptings – Kavita Singh, Piyush Daiya in conversation with Malashri Lal

12:30PM-1:30PM: Prisons of the Mind – Rani Shankar Dass, Margaret Mascarenhas, Preeta Bhargava and Vartika Nanda in conversation

2:15PM-3:15PM: Rajasthali – Bharat Ola, Mangat Badal, Manisha Kulshreshtha and Nand Bhardwaj introduced by Durga Prasad Agarwal

3:30PM-4:30PM: The roof beneath their feet – Readings: Geetanjali Shree, Buket Uzuner, introduced by Mita Kapur

5:00PM-6:00PM: Atmospheric Disturbances/ The Wall – Readings: Rivka Galchen and William Sutcliffe, introduced by Supriya Nair

BAITHAK

10:00AM-11:00AM: Beauty and Fidelity: Texts in Translation – Sachin Kundalkar, Geetanjali Shree, Carlos Rojas, Rahul Soni, moderated by Jerry Pinto

11:15AM-12:15PM: Liberty’s Exiles – Maya Jasanoff, introduced by David Cannadine

12:30PM-1:30PM: Savage Harvest – Navtej Sarna in conversation with Urvashi Butalia

2:15PM-3:15PM: Much Maligned Monsters – Partha Mitter, introduced by Vidya Dehejia

3:30PM-4:30PM: Chronicles of Conflict and Change – Anuradha Sharma Pujari, Esther Syiem, K Anis Ahmed, in conversation with Somnath Batabyal

5:00PM-6:00PM: The Shia Axis – Vali Nasr, Barnett Rubin, Barnaby Rogerson, Michael Axworthy, Jason Burke, moderated by Reza Aslan

CHAR BAGH

10:00AM-11:00AM: The Art and Politics of Science – Dr Harold Varmus in conversation with Madhu Trehan

11:15AM-12:15PM: Dispensable Nation: Afghanistan after the US Withdrawal – Vali Nasr, Barnett Rubin, Ben Anderson, Mark Mazzetti, and William Dalrymple, moderated by Barkha Dutt

12:30PM-1:30PM: I, Me and My Plays – Mahesh Dattani in conversation withSanjoy Roy. Book Launch of I, Me and My Plays and Odiya edition of Dance like a man translated by Manu Dash

2:15PM-3:15PM: The Literature of War and Revolution – Antony Beevor, Artemis Cooper, Maaza Mengiste, Otto De Kat, Lara Figel, moderated by Rana Dasgupta

3:30PM-4:30PM: Raag Pahadi: Losing Himalayan Languages – Prasoon Joshi and Shekhar Pathak in conversation with Manjushree Thapa

5:00PM-6:00PM: Justice: What’s the right thing to do? – Michael Sandel, introduced by Homi Bhabha

JANUARY 20, MONDAY

FRONT LAWNS

10:00AM-11:00AM: Has Globalism Failed? Markets, Morals, and the Dictatorship of Reason – A dialogue between Michael Sandel and John Ralston Saul, chaired by Sunil Khilnani

11:15AM-12:15PM: Parde Ke Peeche: The Scriptwriters Story – Sachin Kundalkar, Mahesh Dattani, in conversation with Rupleena Bose

12:30PM-1:30PM: Capital – Rana Dasgupta in conversation with William Dalrymple

1:30PM-2:15PM: Book Launch – Through a Feudal Window by Indrajit Singh Rathore

2:15PM-3:15PM: Conquering the Chaos : Empowering the Future – Yashwant Sinha, Ravi Venkatesan, Anand Kumar and Kumar Galhotra in conversation with Paranjoy Guha Thakurta

3:30PM-4:30PM: Black Holes, Worm Holes and Time Machines – Jim al Khalili, moderated by Marcus du Sautoy

4:30PM-5:00PM: Book Launch – Jaipur: Gem in India by Dr D K Taknet

5:00PM-6:00PM: Each Other’s Stories – Ekta Kapoor in conversation with Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi

MUGHAL TENT

10:00AM-11:00AM; Bright Young Things Of the Jazz Age – Lara Feigel, Sarah Churchwell and Nicholas Shakespeare in conversation

11:15AM-12:15PM: The Blue God: Conversations on Krishna – Kaajal Oza Vaidya with Meghnad Desai in conversation with Pavan Varma

12:30PM-1:30PM: Elephants in the Room: India and its Neighbours – Manjushree Thapa, K Anis Ahmed, Ahmad Rafay Alam, Lily Wangchhuk in conversation with Neelam Deo

1:30PM-2:15PM: Launch of Crime Writers Association of South Asia

2:15PM-3:15PM: Pompeii: The Life of Roman Times – Mary Beard, introduced by Barnaby Rogerson

3:30PM-4:30PM: The Political Imagination – Ritu Menon, Kalyani Shankar, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay and Rani Shankar Dass in conversation

5:00PM-6:00PM: Sex and the Citadel – Shireen el Feki, moderated by Sahar Delijani

DURBAR HALL

10:00AM-11:00AM: The age of wonder/The Victorians – Readings: Richard Holmes and A.N Wilson introduced by Jonathan Shainin

11:15AM-12:15PM: Ek Vachan, Bahu Vachan – Manisha Kulshreshtha, Piyush Daiya introduced by Vartika Nanda

12:30PM-1:30PM: Sacred Games/ Blind Man’s Garden – Vikram Chandra, Nadeem Aslam, introduced by Supriya Nair

2:15PM-3:15PM: Death in a cold climate – John Lier Horst, Bina Ramani, Bhaichand Patel in conversation with Somnath Batabyal

3:30PM-4:30PM: Two Typewriters – Readings: John Ralston Saul and Adrienne Clarkson in conversation with Jonathan Shainin

5:00PM-6:00PM: The world’s in our hand – K Anis Ahmed, Esther Syiem, introduced by Meru Gokhale

BAITHAK

10:00AM-11:00AM: Nine Faces of Being – Anita Nair in conversation with Somnath Batabyal- Book Launch of Idris – Keeper of the Light

11:15AM-12:15PM: The Living Goddess – Isabella Tree introduced by Vidya Dehejia

12:30PM-1:30PM: A Fish Caught in Time- The Search for the Coelacanth – Samantha Weinberg introduced by Samanth Subramanian

2:15PM-3:15PM: The Language of Laughter – Indrajit HazraShovon Chowdhury, moderated by Bachi Karkaria

3:30PM-4:30PM: Vijaynagar: The City of Victory – George Michell on Vijaynagar. Introduced by William Dalrymple

5:00PM-6:00PM: Poetry Wallahs – Rukmini Bhaya Nair, Margaret Mascarenhas, Salma, and Bejan Matur moderated by Rahul Soni

CHAR BAGH

10:00AM-11:00AM: Blue Planet, Green Earth – Shekhar Pathank, Suman Sahai in conversation with Ahmad Rafay Alam

11:15AM-12:15PM: The Seige – Adrian Levy moderated by Barkha Dutt

12:30PM-1:30PM: Khalnayak – Javed Akhtar, introduced by Kishwar Desai

2:15PM-3:15PM: Footloose – Nicholas Shakespeare, Isabella Tree, Robyn Davidson, Cheryl Strayed, moderated by William Dalrymple

3:30PM-4:30PM: Ogres and Others – Anita Nair, Anand Neelakantan, Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, in conversation with Arshia Sattar

5:00PM-6:00PM: The Great Gatsby – Sarah Churchwell in conversation with Chiki Sarkar

JANUARY 21, TUESDAY

FRONT LAWNS

10:00AM-11:00AM: The Coup – Samantha Weinberg and Michael Axworthy, moderated by Oscar Guardiola-Rivera

11:15AM-12:15PM: Pulling her Punches – Mary Kom

12:30PM-1:30PM: Coleridge and the Ancient Mariner – Richard Holmes, moderated by Rupleena Bose

1:30PM-2:15PM Book Launch – Nav matdata – Ek Rajnaitik Prayog Ki Anubhav Yatra, by Jyoti Kiran

2:15PM-3:15PM: We the Drowned: Writing the Sea – Carsten Jensen, Samantha Weinberg, and Nayomi Munaweera, moderated by Samanth Subramanium

3:30PM-4:30PM: On the post colonial couch – Nadifa Mohamad, Tash Aw, Romesh Gunesekara, Maaza Mengiste, moderated by Rana Dasgupta

5:00PM-6:00PM: Debate – Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the rest

MUGHAL TENT

10:00AM-11:00AM: Reimaging Partition – Vishwajyoti Ghosh, Ahmad Rafay Alam, Urvashi Butalia, in conversation with Indrajit Hazra

11:15AM-12:15PM: Ornamentalism: How the British saw their Empire – David Cannadine in conversation with Maya Jasanoff

12:30PM-1:30PM: Geographies of Reading: Contexting the Indian Reader – Vivek Tejuja, Aditi Maheshwari, R Sivapriya, in conversation with Mita Kapoor

1:30PM-2:15PM: Book Launch – Traveling in, Traveling out: Namita Gokhale, Urvashi Butalia, Ipsita Roy Chakraverti

2:15PM-3:15PM: Spice : History of a temptation – Jack Turner introduced by Mary Beard

DURBAAR HALL

10:00AM-11:00AM: Colours of Longing – Readings: K R Meera, Anuradha Sharma Pujari, introduced by Aditi Maheshwari

11:15AM-12:15PM: Pointing from beyond the grave – Samantha Weinberg introduced by Jonathan Shainin

12:30PM-1:30PM: Red blooms in the forest – Readings: Nilima Sinha, Ipsita Roy Chakraverti introduced by Vamsee Juluri

2:15PM-3:15PM: Rogerson’s Book of Numbers – Readings: Barnaby Rogerson introduced by Marcus Du Sautoy

3:30PM-4:30PM: The Mythologists – Readings: Anand Neelakantan and Vamsee K Juluri introduced by Aditi Maheshwari

BAITHAK

10:00AM-11:00AM: Harvest – Jim Crace in conversation with Chandrahas Choudhury

11:15AM-12:15PM: Navras – Yatindra Mishra, T S Luthra, Arjun Deo Charan, Sawai Singh Shekhawat, Kaajal Oza Vaidya and Neerav Patel. Moderated by Vartika Nanda

12:30PM-1:30PM: The Traveller’s Tree: The Travel Writing of Patrick Leigh Fermor – Artemis Cooper, introduced by William Dalrymple

2:15PM-3:15PM: Jaipur Gharana – Ashok Vajpeyi, Prerna Shrimali and Dr Madhu Bhatt Telang, in conversation with Yatindra Mishra and Vibhas Book Launch

3:30PM-4:30PM: The Art of the Short Story – William Suttcliffe, Vikram Chandra, Joseph O’Neill, Rivka Galchen moderated by Philip Hensher

CHAR BAGH

11:15AM-12:15PM: Imagining the Past – The Art of the Historical Novel – Jim Crace, Otto De Kat, Alison Macleod, Tash Aw, and Justin Cartwright in conversation with Philip Hensher

12:30PM-1:30PM: The Mirror of Beauty – S.R. Faruqi, Mehr Farooqi in conversation with Chandrahas Choudhury. Readings by Sahil Farooqi

2:15PM-3:15PM: The Writer’s Life – Artemis Cooper, Lara Feigel, A.N Wilson, Nicholas Shakespeare moderated by Sarah Churchwell

3:30PM-4:30PM: Is There an Indian Way of Thinking – John Elliott, Geetanjali Shree , Pavan Varma in conversation with Ashok Vajpeyi

Interviewing authors

Interviewing authors

John Freeman, How to read a novelistRead. Read. Read. Read.

The mantra that most writers suggest is the best way to hone one’s craft. The same holds true for reviewers, publishing professionals and anyone else in this profession of letters. In order to improve the skill one seeks to excel at, it is best to read as much as possible. Yet there is always more to learn about an author. Usually a good interviewer creates a portrait of the author that is deftly written and sharp in its analysis of their writing. ( It is fascinating to observe the interviewer being influenced by the writer, evident in the style of writing, the form the interview takes shape and at times even in the vocabulary.) With the internet becoming a repository of information about authors, their lives and anything else of remote interest to them and being at times to connect with contemporary authors in real time via social media platforms, the need to publish a book of author interviews seems to be futile. Having said that I have thoroughly enjoyed reading How to Read a Novelist by John Freeman and British Muslim Fictions by Claire Chambers. Two exquisite collections of excellent interviewers engaging with authors. In a matter of few pages they are able to introduce the author, give a bit of personal history (if required and relevant to the interview), a perspective on their oeuvre and highlight at least one essential aspect of the author that makes their writing unique. When John Freeman interviews Sarajevo-born, now settled in Chicago, Aleksandar Hemon, Freeman observes: ‘Hemon has been widely praised for the unexpected images this style creates, but it was not, he says, the hallmark of a deliberate, honed, and in some cases mapped out. “I wanted to write with intense sensory detail, to bring a heightened state.” He is a sentence writer who counts beats as a poet does syllables.’ (p.134) Or what he has to say of Michael Ondaatje — “Genres bleed between books in Ondaatje’s work.” Or about E. L. Doctorow that “his novels don’t read like researched books but restored originals, recently rediscovered.” Similarly Claire Chambers too has wonderful insights about the authors she meets whether it is Nadeem Aslam, Kamila Shamsie, Aamer Hussein or Mohsin Hamid to name some of them. The hard work that both John Freeman and Claire Chambers put into familiarize themselves with the authors is masked so well that each interview seems to effortlessly done. Yet it is obvious that considerable thought has gone into the preparation for every interview. They seem to be acutely aware of not being “over-prepared”, instead focusing on having “an actual conversation with all the unpredictability and freshness of a good one”. British Muslim Fictions

The beauty of each interview is that there is something for every reader to glean—it could be a person discovering an author for the first time or of a reader familiar with the author being interviewed. There is a restraint and a respect that each interviewer has for their author that shines through every profile. It also helps achieve the fine balance of the professional and personal dimensions of an author being presented without it seeming to be voyeuristic. Just enough of the authors personal lives, descriptions of their homes or even of their peculiar habits, such as Kazuo Ishiguro never likes to discuss what he is writing till he is done with it. These are two books worth buying, treasuring, reading for pleasure, to ponder over and if a student of creative writing, essential reading.

Women writingWhile reading these books, there were two other books from India that I recalled — Just Between Us: Women speak about their writing and The Big Bookshelf . Books published a long time ago, but continue to be relevant since they too consist of author interviews. The Big Bookshelf is based upon the years of experience Sunil Sethi had as host of NDTV’s Just Books. (http://profit.ndtv.com/videos/watch-just-books)  It ran for many years to finally end in summer of 2013. All though in October 2013, the state television channel, Doordarshan, launched a books programme called Kitabnama:Books and More. ( Link to episode 2:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPCp8QyqAD4 ) It is a weekly programme, designed and curated by author Namita Gokhale. ( She is also one of the directors of the Jaipur Literature Festival.) Sunil Sethi

 

“Of mothers and others” edited by Jaishree Misra

“Of mothers and others” edited by Jaishree Misra

of mothers and others: stories, essays and poems

This is a collection of essays, some fiction and some poetry published in support of Save the Children. All by women except for one, which is by Jai Arjun Singh on the mother in cinema. Even the editors of Zubaan, Urvashi and Anita have contributed essays. The other contributors include Kishwar Desai, Shashi Deshpande, Tishani Doshi, Namita Gokhale, Sarita Madanna, Smriti Lamech, Shinie Antony etc. All the women discuss their experiences of motherhood — expecting, crankiness about mothering, time taken away from professional space and intellectual sustenance, adopting children, bereavement, becoming mothers to differently-abled children and on being motherless out of choice. Or being grandmothers, loving your grandchildren, smothering them with affection without having to be responsible for their upbringing and all that comes with the every second to second engagement of rearing a kid as the delightful Bulbul Sharma is to her brood of five grandchildren. But when her descendants complain, “why must you travel so much? All nanis should stay at home.” Bulbul Sharma agrees that at one time the nanis and dadis did stay at home. But now “the new generation of grandmothers work, travel and play golf. They attend board meetings and fight cases. …but they are still grandmothers at heart.”

The other day I met an old college friend after years. She lives abroad and visits India infrequently. She has a daughter who is 13 months older to Sarah. Naturally we were watching our daughters wander through the park, chase butterflies and watch the gorgeous flowers blooming and chatting, you know the conversation which skirts or suddenly revs into top gear with both women talking rapidly at the same time, exchanging information and surprisingly assimilating it too, all the time multi-tasking too. Suddenly my friend says, you know it is incredible what a sense of freedom you get when the kid learns how to clean herself. It is a moment of sheer independence –maybe more for the mother than the kid. As Shashi Deshpande says “what really overwhelmed me was the way my entire life had been taken away from me by the baby and his needs. There was no space left for anything else.” It’s so true!!! Some things never change.

This collection of essays and poems is worth reading. The most powerful essay has to be Manju Kapur grieving for the loss of her 21-year-old daughter in a tragic car accident, twenty years ago. Some of the others are Sarita Madanna’s short story, “the gardener’s daughter” and Shalini Sinha’s essay about the relationship between her mother/nani with her son/grandson who had been born with Down’s syndrome. As always Urvashi Butalia when she writes is very readable. Her essay on being childless dwells upon not having had a biological daughter (and comments upon the relationships other mother-daughter duos have) but she does not mention how as a professional she has/is been a mentor to many, nurtured fledglings much like a mother would do with her offspring.

This book has been making its presence felt given the high profile launch at Jaipur Literature Festival 2013 when well known film actress Shabana Azmi released it. At the Delhi launch of the book, Bollywood actress Nandita Das while holding her son on her hip, released it in Delhi. In today’s day and age having celebrities being associated with a book does wonders for it. But after closing this book (which may I add I read in one sitting) I thought that the contributors raised some very valid questions on the “naturalness” of motherhood and other popular social canards, what left me very concerned was that except for Anita Roy, no one commented upon the importance of nutrition and by extension, the importance of self-preservation of the mom. I say this advisedly since late last year Zubaan co-published a book of essays with a Delhi-based NGO, Cequin. (Cequin amongst many of its activities runs nutrition camps for the urban poor women. A very good initiative since it teaches them how to create a balanced diet within their budgets.) What I found most alarming was that the women were being taught how to stretch a small portion of milk (given its spiraling price )to give maximum nutrition to their families. Maybe a short comment could have been included from the Cequin team too?

Of Mothers and Others: Stories, Essays and Poems (ed. Jaishree Misra). Foreword by Shabana Azmi. (Zubaan, New Delhi, 2013). Hb. pp.286. Rs. 495.

<strong>Mind your words: Who decides what we should read?</strong>

Mind your words: Who decides what we should read?

Mind your words: Who decides what we should read?

The Jaipur Literature Festival 2012 did not slink by unnoticed. It is a literary extravaganza which reaches out to the masses, rather than being reserved for the upper echelons of society or the intelligentsia. Everybody is welcome to mingle and rub shoulders with the glitterati of literature. It is easy to spot Gulzar, along with Tom Stoppard or as this year proved, even Oprah! The one event that overshadowed the entire festival and its rumbles continue to be heard even now, was the controversy surrounding Salman Rushdie’s presence — will he, won’t he come was the question on everyone’s lips. What were the legal repercussions for the four writers—Amitava Kumar, Jeet Thayil, Hari Kunzro and Ruchir Joshi — who attempted to read out passages from Satanic Verses? When it was finally announced that Rushdie will not attend in person, but will address the gathering via a video conference, it was little consolation. But then that too was scuttled, leaving a fuming Rushdie having to address a television audience later that evening, via a link up with NDTV.

Curiously the ban on Satanic Verses is a customs ban that does not allow the book to be imported into the country. The larger question then left for everyone to tussle with – was this a form of censorship? Are we not at a liberty to read what we like? Do we have the freedom to read what we like? Or shall there be those who sit in judgment upon what we can or should not read? Questions that are not always easy to answer. It has spawned various forms of protests, signing of online petitions to most notably “flash reads” which included reading passages from works on 14 Feb – the day, 23 years ago, when the fatwa against Rushdie was announced. Plus a day in that has in recent times become synonymous with the harassment inflicted upon young lovers by vigilantes, based upon the absurd argument that Valentine’s Day is a Western intrusion upon Indian culture. According to Salil Tripathi, one of the participants of flash reads, it was organized “at different locations in five cities, Bangalore, Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi, about a hundred people—readers, writers, artists, engineers, lawyers, professionals, students, and consultants—came with sheets filled with words and ideas that someone somewhere wanted suppressed. We were at Lodhi Gardens, on the bridge overlooking the duck pond, in the shadow of the ruins of another era, where writers who defied the state and those in power often met a ghastly end.”

But bear in mind the reception to a book in different countries. In Germany, more than sixty years after World War II is over, Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf is a banned text. It is not available in bookstores. If anyone wishes to read it, it can only be accessed by special permission, providing a valid reason, from a library. Unlike in India, where for many years it is a bestseller. It is always amongst the most popular titles in pirated editions, and only recently has begun to be visible in bookstores. It is available in English and other regional languages.
Today, India is the largest democracy in the world, but it is also considered to be a large book market, with a voracious appetite in print and electronic formats and in any language, not just English. Controversies like those surrounding Satanic Verses open larger debates like pertaining to censorship, how far can one go without hurting the religious sentiments of another group, the impact of such an action on institutions and of course being responsible for the consequences of one’s action — is it to be those who are the catalysts of such change or the festival that inadvertently provided a platform for these readings? With the Internet, many of these bans become counter-productive as exemplified by Oscar-nominated director Ashvin Kumar who uploaded his latest film, Inshallah, Kashmir: Living Terror, on 26 Jan 2012, within 24 hours, he struck 50,000 views. In Dec 2011, it was estimated that India is the third largest Internet user population in the world, with over 120 million users. So it is ironical there is such a hullaballo around Satanic Verses being read in public, since the entire text is available online.

(This article was first published in Books & More, April-May 2012, p.58

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an international publishing and literary consultant. She may be contacted at jayabhattacharjirose@gmail.com Her twitter handle is @JBhattacharji