Juggernaut Books Posts

Book Post 52: 25 Nov – 17 Dec 2019

Book Post 52 includes some of the titles received in the past few weeks.

17 Dec 2019

Times Lit Fest, Delhi, panels on “Cultivating the passion of reading in children” and “What India Reads”

The Times LitFest Delhi ( 1-2 Dec 2018) was organised at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. I moderated two sessions with the both panel discussions focussed on reading.  The first panel was on how do cultivate the love of reading amongst children.

TOI, 2 Dec 2018

My co-panelists were Saktibrata Sen, Programme Director, Room to Read India Trust; Manisha Chaudhry, co-founder Manan Books; Sonya Philips, Founder, Learning Matters Foundation and is a reading specialist and Shailendra Sharma, Principal Advisor (Hon) to the Director Education, Government of NCT Delhi, India. The freewheeling conversation was on ways to promote reading. Every panelist spoke about their strengths and initiatives. From being a part of the government as is Mr Sharma and realising that it is critical to have a reading corner in every class and every section. So much so that the Delhi government has now allocated a handsome budget of Rs 10,000 / section to buy books.

L-R: Manisha Chaudhry, Shailendra Sharma, Sonya Philips, Saktibrata Sen and Jaya Bhattacharji Rose

Fact is that even today few families can afford to buy newspapers, magazines, let alone books. So the first time many children particularly in the government primary schools hold a book is their school textbook. Few have any role models in the adults and older children in their immediate environment and as Principal Advisor to the government, Mr Sharma’s job is to introduce the love of reading. Both Mr Sharma and Mr Sen were of the view that reading is a lifeskill that is critical and needs to be learned beyond just being able to identify your name in whatever written script the individual is familiar with. Mr Sen, representing Room to Read, is involved in setting up partnerships with the governments to set up libraries. In India the Room to Read India Trust is working with 11 state governments. Ms Philips stressed on how till Grade 2 a child learns “how to read” but after that the emphasis is on “learning to read”. Ms Chaudhury with her many years of experience in publishing, looking at multilingual publishing and the critical need for children to have books in their own languages rather than only in English is what spurs her on to create new material every single day. She has recently launched two new magazines in Hindi called Mithvan and Chahak, the latter is meant for the early grade reader.

Everyone was of the agreement that it is important to create the joy of reading and align it as closely as possible to the child’s lived experience rather than alienate him/her from using complicated language in the written word. This was illustrated beautifully by an anecdote Mr Sharma shared about the complicated language used in a Hindi textbook to describe food which was a far cry from what is commonly used at home on a daily basis. Manisha Chaudhry spoke of her earlier initiatives to publish in tribal languages.

Alas we ran short of time otherwise it was promising to become a wonderful conversation on how to cultivate the joy of reading in children.

Join Sonya Philip, Manisha Chaudhury, Shailendra Sharma and Jaya Bhattacharji Rose in conversation with Saktibrata Sen – brought to you by Room to Read in the session, 'Cultivating the Habit of Reading in Children' at #TLFDelhi

Posted by Times Lit Fest – Delhi on Saturday, December 1, 2018

L-R: Ranjana Sengupta, Parth Mehrotra, Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, Udayan Mitra and Himanjali Sankar.

The second panel discussion was on “What is India reading?”. The panelists consisted of commissioning editors of four prominent publishing houses — Himanjali Sankar, Simon & Schuster India; Ranjana Sengupta, Penguin Random House India; Parth Mehrotra, Juggernaut and Udayan Mitra, HarperCollins India. Once again a freewheeling, adda-like, conversation about trying to figure out what India reads. The role of a commissioning editor has changed quite a lot in recent years. Traditionally commissioning editors were responsible for forming reading tastes but as Udayan Mitra pointed out that at times now the editor has to commission based on events and trends too. It is a kind of commissioning that did not exist earlier.

Today readers are accessing books through multiple platforms and in various formats — ebooks and audio books. It becomes increasingly difficult to ascertain how and what anyone is reading, let along a sub-continent like India where so many languages abound and there is rich regional literature too. Measuring reading tastes as Juggernaut is doing with their app and also because they are able to control their production pipeline while platform is something few are able to do even now. Most editors and publishing houses rely on print products that once released into the market are impossible to track. Some may be sold through brick-and-mortar stores, others through online spaces and yet other copies get sold as remaindered copies and secondhand books.

Listen to the conversation. So much was said. Many important bases within the Indian publishing landscape were touched upon. So much to think about.

What is India Reading? watch the conversation live at #TLFDelhi with Udayan Mitra, Himanjali Sankar, Ranjana Sengupta and Parth Mehrotra talking to Jaya Bhattacharji Rose.

Posted by Times Lit Fest – Delhi on Saturday, December 1, 2018

All in all two fantastic conversations that I was glad to be a part of.

2 December 2018 

On Perumal Murugan’s “Poonachi” and “The Goat Thief”

Noted Tamil writer Perumal Murugan published two books Poonachi ( published by Westland/ Amazon) and The Goat Thief ( Juggernaut Books ) earlier this year both of which have been translated by N. Kalyan Raman. Poonachi is a fable about a goat by the same name. It is the comeback novel of Perumal Murugan who had sworn never to write again once he had been persecuted by right wing forces. On the face of it is a simple tale about an elderly couple who take in a tiny goat kid with bleak chances of survival. Yet, the old woman nurses Poonachi back to health who goes on to prosper and be quite a boon for the couple. The story has its twists and turns but it is the dark and sinister side of the authoritarian society that comes to the fore when the couple take the goat to be tagged.  Similarly the collection of short stories written by Perumal Murugan over the years deals with similar themes of social injustice and inequality experienced particularly by the poor but this time it is an exploration through relationships and not necessarily exploring a broader canvas of society/community or a village as many of his novels tend to explore. Even though Perumal Murugan’s novels are far more expansive and exploratory than his short stories ( judging by whatever little is available as translations in English) his explanation for wading into short fiction mentioned in his introduction to The Goat Thief is worth reading:

Writing a new short story within the universe of the Tamil short story, which has thrived and flourished since the 1930s, can be challenging. More than any other form, it’s the short story that modern Tamil literature has brought off its greatest accomplishments. The number of short stories written in Tamil probably runs into hundreds of thousands; of them, at least several thousand pass muster. Among those, several hundred stand the test of time and endure. If a writer wants to write a short story that will take its place among those hundreds, an independent mind, a unique perspective on life and well-honed writing skills are essential. 

When I started writing short stories, I didn’t have any such awareness. As I wrote and read more and more over the years, I became conscious of these requirements. Taking them into consideration, I set aside the problem of form and started paying attention to the theme of the story. I realized all stories fall into one of two categories. The first category focuses on the problems of living according to the rules of society, while the second concentrates on exceptions to these rules. Both strategies have their advantages and disadvantages. 

Perumal Murgan of course has become an international ambassador for Indian Literature with his works being sold in various book markets including translations. He has begun to travel extensively on literary programmes. All of which is extremely happy news given that a few years ago he had vowed never to return to writing or have anything to do with literature. So the recent turnaround of events in his favour is very welcoming. His stories are easily read in English for they are smoothly translated.

Both the books are worth reading!

Poonachi ( Print and Kindle

The Goat Thief ( Print

28 July 2018 

On Dalit literature – recent publications

Sujatha Gidla’s memoir Ants Among Elephants and Baburao Bagul’s When I Hid My Caste are some of the recent publications of Dalit literature published.  Interestingly the writers come from different parts of India and different religions but because they share the same “caste” of being a Dalit, their experiences of life and anguish at the shocking social injustice they have witnessed is similar.

Sujatha Gidla’s memoir was launched in USA in 2017 to  great critical acclaim for being an unusual piece of writing documenting the horrors of Indian society even in contemporary India. Although Sujatha Gidla has been living in New York for many years and yet the searing pain at the injustices faced at being an “untouchable” or a Dalit in India are unforgettable. Her memoir about her family who despite being Christians faced social ostracism. Once she left for America she was eager to know more about her origins and began to record the testimonies of her family particularly her uncle Satyam. There is an extremely powerful moment in the book when she quotes her uncle, Satyam, remembering an incident soon after Indian Independence was achieved. ‘A short, chubby dark boy …had a strange question for Satyam, one that Satyam had no answer to: “Do you think this independence is for people like you and me?” It is a question that remains to be answered many decades after Independence was achieved. ( Read an extract published in the Literary Hub)

When I Hid My Caste by Baburao Bagul (translated by Jerry Pinto) is a collection of short stories that were previously published in the Marathi literary magazine Navyug. The editor of Navyug Shirish Pai “confesses in her introduction to the Marathi edition of the book that she used to experience joy mixed with fear in anticipation of a Bagul story. The joy came from knowing it would be a good piece of fiction; the fear came from not knowing what the content would be.” This collection of very powerful and unnerving short stories are disturbing to read in English that one cannot help but wonder how powerful must they be in Marathi where possibly even the dialects used are evident. Four stories stand out  — “Prisoner of Darkness”, “Streetwalker”, “Revolt” and “When I Hid My Caste” —- that hopefully will be anthologised in other volumes focused on Indian literature.

Sujatha Gidla’s memoir attracted worldwide acclaim quickly becoming of those “must read” books featuring on many reading lists. Undoubtedly it raises some very sharp issues that continue to plague Indian society where casteism unfortunately still prevails yet Ant Among Elephants is not half as gracefully written as some other notable Dalit memoirs. For instance  Y. B. Satyanarayana’s My Father Baliah, Bama’s Karukku or even  Daya Pawar’s Baluta. But of the books discussed so far the recently released When I Hid My Caste stands out for the grittiness of storytelling evident even in the English translation where interestingly the sub-castes of Dalits are mentioned. There are graphic details of the violence and the horror that the Dalits continue to experience. It is hard to distinguish reality from fiction for many of the stories included in the volume seem to resonate the news published regularly in the media about regular atrocities against Dalits.

These are books that are valuable additions to the landscape of Dalit literature that is fortunately becoming richer and richer with every passing year as newer translations or original writings in English are being made available for a larger audience.

Do read!

Buy Ants Among Elephants ( Print and Kindle

When I Hid My Caste ( Print and Kindle

My Father Baliah ( Print and Kindle

Karukku ( Print

Baluta ( Print and Kindle

Books on religious stories for children and adults

Books on religion will always find readers across a broad spectrum of general readers to believers. It makes good business sense to invest in such books as there will be generations of readers interested in learning these stories while being alive to the times they are written in. So whether it is Yashodhara which is a novel with a strong woman protagonist. Shyam is a beautiful retelling of the Bhagavata Purana or the story of Krishna. Or even a collection of religious stories retold for children.

Yashodhara: A Novel about the Buddha’s Wife by Vanessa Sasson tries to recreate the times Yashodhara lived in. As professor of Religious Studies in the Liberal and Creative Arts and Humanities Department at Marianopolis College, Quebec, Vanessa Sasson is clear that she has written “hagiographical fiction” and not “historical fiction” as “scholars have yet to determine any material certainty when the Buddha lived (if, that is, he lived at all) and how much of his story might be true”. Also whatever the time period may have been 5 BCE is nearly impossible to recreate as few sources exist narrating what life may have been like at the time. She continus:

The earliest Buddhist writings that we do not possess come later, beginning around the first century CE (more or less). The stories I have spent my academic life reading are based on the memories of a world five hundred years younger than the one the Buddha and Yashodhara probably knew. I cannot begin to imagine all the changes that took place during the time period we lost. 

The story I have told here is, therefore, a story inspired by later hagiographies. It is not historical fiction, but perhaps what can be more appropriately labelled ‘hagiographical fiction’ ( if such a label existed). …some of the material in this book is based on early Buddhist literature. Some of it is based on what we know as early Hindu literature. Some of it may be historical, but most of it is not. And some of it has come out of the playfulness of my mind. 

Yashodhara begins smartly. There is a crisp pace to the narrative. Some of the descriptions are lovely such as that of the fabrics, the palace, garden landscapes and even that of the monks gathered. Even the conversations are entertaining. As the story unfurls it is obvious there are 21C elements such as the strong women portrayed and grooming of the young Yashodhara by her mother. Then midway the novel the pace became sluggish probably for no fault of the author entirely except that she seems to be torn into two between being too familiar with Buddhism as an academic and that of wanting to a great storyteller. It does not necessarily make the text clunky but it does make it a trifle dull for the lay reader. For Buddhists this novel would be fascinating in its attempt to tell Yashodhara’s story of whom little is known. Yashodhara definitely has the potential to be adapted for television drama.

Shyama is an illustrated retelling of the Bhagavata Purana or the stories of Krishna as narrated by Devdutt Pattanaik. He has also illustrated the book. The stories are short and neat and told in a manner that only an expert mythographer could convey. For these are stories deeply embedded in an oral tradition of storytelling so over the centuries have morphed and have different versions in existence. But in Devdutt Pattanaik’s deft handling the stories acquire a linear narrative that is easy to comprehend and can be embellished further if required in the telling/a performance. For instance take the story of Shyam and Draupadi which is about the friendship between the two but told ever so beautifully and simply stressing that friendships between opposite sexes were known, acceptable and permissible even in the scriptures.

… Shyam and Draupadi shared a special bond. She was not his beloved like Radha. She was not his wife as Rukmini and Satyabhama were. She was not his sister as Subhadra was. She was not the haughty princess of Panchala who had snubbed Karna at the archery contest. She was his friend. 

It is put forth directly and in a straightforward manner with no room for different perspectives. This is the author’s many years of experience in storytelling at public gatherings and in writing. It has undoubtedly help distill the stories making them easily understood to a contemporary audience.

Every story told in the book is followed by related information placed in a box. For this particular story of the points shared one is particularly interesting. Devdutt Pattanaik says:

Draupadi identifies  Krishna as sakha, or friend. Traditionally, men have male friends or sakhas, and women have female friends or sakhis. The relationship between Krishna, a man, and Draupadi, a woman and another man’s wife, is unique. 

With the sumptuous Shyama Devdutt Pattanaik has surpassed himself as a storyteller. The layouts are becoming more intricate with the line drawings remaining seemingly simple yet the details are far more elaborate than in his previously published books.

Arshia Sattar has another magnificent book out for children with Juggernaut Books called Garuda and the Serpents. ( Her previous book was the scrumptious Ramayana for Children. ) The well-known stories are told simply but with all the details in place so that if ever a child wanted to narrate these stories orally, it could easily be done. The sequence of events and the action have sufficient details. For the collection she has selected the most popular stories such as Vishnu’s churning of the ocean, Garuda and the serpents, Kamdhendu the magical cow, Vali and Sugriva etc.

A secular outlook is instilled in adults when exposed too all religions in their childhood. The best way of doing so is by sharing with children some of the best stories ever told that have withstood the test of time and these are mostly to be found in different faiths. Some of the recent titles published for children by Hachette India, Scholastic India and Penguin India are still available. Titles such as Eid Stories by Scholastic India, The Greatest Stories Ever Told by Penguin India, and Celebrate! Your Fun Festival Handbook by Hachette India are absolutely worth getting for a child’s personal collection or a school library. These books though published a long time ago are still available. 

These books are a small step in making those bridges of peace and understanding otherwise willful misinterpretation of religions can lead to the establishment of hostile civil society from which recovery may not be easily done for most people are willing to accept anything as the gospel truth as long as it is in the name of religion. Exposure to other religious beliefs and practices is a way of understanding the “other” rather than perpetuating prejudices and hostile acts of violence. It is the only way forward to have a richly diverse and multi-cultural society co-existing in communal harmony.

Amazon India links to books discussed in the article are embedded in the book cover images and titles given below:

Devdutt Pattnaik Shyam: An illustrated Retelling of the Bhagavata  ( Illustrations by the author) Penguin Books, PRH India, 2018. Pb. pp. 280 ( Kindle )

Vanessa R. Sasson Yashodhara: A Novel About Buddha’s Wife Speaking Tiger Publishing, New Delhi, 2018. Pb. pp. 310 Rs 399 ( Kindle  )

Arshia Sattar Garuda and the Serpents: Stories of Friends and Foes from Hindu Mythology ( Illustrated by Ishan Trivedi) Juggernaut Books, Delhi, 2018. Pb. pp. 224 Rs 350

Eid Stories (Various authors) Scholastic India, Gurgaon, India, 2010, rpt. 2018. Pb. pp. 114 Rs 195

Celebrate! Your Fun Festival Handbook (HoliEidRakhi, Diwali, and Christmas) Hachette India, Gurgaon, 2012. Pb. Rs 195

Sampurna Chattarji The Greatest Stories Ever Told Penguin India, Gurgaon, India, 2004. Pb. pp 360. 

24 July 2018 

 

Manu Pillai’s “Rebel Sultans: The Deccan from Khilji to Shivaji”

Award-winning writer Manu Pillai’s Rebel Sultans: The Deccan from Khilji to Shivaji makes the history of Deccan very accessible. It is a region of India that has been ruled by many dynasties from the north and south. It is also a a region that is strategically important and many vie for it such as the Vijayanagar kingdom and the Mughals. In Rebel Sultans, Manu Pillai narrates the story of the Deccan from the close of the thirteenth century to the dawn of the eighteenth; the Bahmanis, the Mughals and the Marathas including Shivaji. There are interesting titbits of information such as this one of Firoz Shah or of Ibrahim Adil Shah II or “habshi” Malik Ambar, an African slave who rose to power.

In an Economic Times article he wrote to coincide with the publication of his book, Manu Pillai says of Firoz Shah that he came to power because of a coup but was an interesting person. He was a polyglot who spoke everything from Turkish to Marathi, reading the Hebrew Bible and composing Persian poetry. Later in 1406, after war with Vijayanagar’s emperor, a princess of the Sangama dynasty was also given to Firoz Shah as a bride. But for her dowry, the sultan demanded not only the usual mountains of gold, gems and silver, but also as many as 2,000 cultural professionals from southern India. Scholars, musicians, dancers, and other persons of talent from a different cultural universe, arrived in the Bahmani Sultanate, combining with Persian poets and immigrant Sufis to exalt (and transform) its own notions of taste, art and culture. These were different worlds from which they emerged but together in a common space, they also found points of convergence.

Rebel Sultans is packed with information in this narrative history of the Deccan. As Manu Pillai told William Dalrymple in an interview that little narrative history about India exists as what is often lacking is a method to communicate that to a wider audience. Fortunately this is changing slowly.  Manu Pillai adds, “My own effort has been to bridge that gap — to use the best of research, rigorously studied, and to convey it in a style and language that can appeal to a diverse readership. I think narrative history is here to stay, and if people can marry good research with elegant writing, we could really enrich ourselves.”

Offering a new perspective on the past is a critical component of nation building processes as well. This is not a new concept. It was first seen practiced in medieval European communities evident in its literature and historical narratives they created such as Malory’s Morte d’Arthur. ( A story that adapted many of the Romance cycle stories to tell the story of a renowned king who created England as a nation.) In fact a question often discussed in recent times is whether a nation can have many versions of history. Increasingly connections between geographical regions, the environment and history are now beginning to be made. Eminent historian Romila Thapar says in The Past as Present “Historical perspectives are frequently perceived from the standpoint of the present.” It is particularly true when revisiting histories which are a representation of the past based on information put together by colonial scholarship. While unpacking the past as many historians do, they discover “that the past registers changes that could alter its representation. The past does not remain static.” In an interesting observation about the significance of regional history she says:

The interest in regional history  grew by degrees, assisted to some extent by the creation of linguistic states from the late 1950s, superseding the more arbitrary boundaries of the erstwhile provinces of British India. The newly created states came to be treated by historians as sub-national territorial units, but present-day boundaries do not necessarily hold for earlier times. Boundaries are an unstable index in historical studies. Ecologically defined frontier zones are more stable. The perspective of sub-continental history, conventionally viewed from the Ganga plain, has had to change with the evidence now coming from regional history. For example, the history of south India is much more prominent in histories of the subcontinent than it was fifty years ago. Regional histories form patterns that sometimes differ from each other and the variations have a historical base. Differences are not just diversities in regional styles. They are expressions of multiple cultural norms that cut across monolithic, uniform identities. This requires a reassessment of what went into making the identities that existed in the past. 

In his fascinating account of the Deccan, Manu Pillai unpacks a lot of history to understand the regional history of  an area that has always been strategically significant and continues to be in modern times. Combining storytelling with historical evidence is always a good idea for it keeps history alive in people’s consciousness but it is a fine line to tread between getting carried away in telling a juicy story and presenting facts as is. Nevertheless Rebel Sultans will be an important book for it straddles academia and popular writing. A crucial space to inhabit when there is an explosion of information available; but how to ensure its authenticity will always be tricky.

Rebel Sultans will be accessible to the lay reader as well as to the professional historian for a long time to come.

Manu S. Pillai Rebel Sultans: The Deccan from Khilji to Shivaji Juggernaut Books, Delhi, 2018. Hb. pp. 320 Rs. 599

17 June 2018 

 

Nazia Erum’s “Mothering a Muslim”

The azan was an alarm clock for parents, a curfew to get back home for us kids, a segue into night after a cluttered day filled with school, friends and random visits from relatives — it was a lot of things to a lot of people — but never a war cry or an announcement of faith. 

****

Nazia Erum’s Mothering a Muslim was published a few weeks ago and within a few days sold out its first edition. It is based upon the fear that gripped her when she became a mother in 2014. It suddenly dawned upon her that mothers are the bridges between a child’s inner and outer world. Over the years there has been a tectonic shift in India with the country being divided along religious fault lines. How was she going to decode the world for her infant daughter particularly a world that was increasingly prejudiced towards certain communities. Nazia Erum’s distress began from when as a new parent she had to give her daughter a name, she fretted whether it was too “Muslim-sounding name”. Mothering a Muslim is about the journey she decided to embark upon to understand if a Muslim mother’s worry was in any way similar to that of her Hindu, Christian or Sikh counterparts.

Mothering a Muslim is based upon the innumerable interviews she conducted with adults and children to understand what constitutes a Muslim identity. How does it affect social relationships? What has been the transformation over the years? What has been extraordinary is the chilling discovery the bigotry towards Muslims is very deeply embedded in the Indian psyche. Unfortunately the indoctrination begins in childhood as she illustrates with children being bullied within schools — most of which are prominent middle class private schools.

The morphing of the secular fabric of the Indian democracy rapidly into a communal society is very unsettling. Ravish Kumar in his The Free Voice: On Democracy, Culture and the Nation refers to the “socialization of fear” which to his mind it “to be afraid is to be civilized in this democracy”. Nazia Erum’s Mothering a Muslim illustrates  this well. What is truly mindboggling is that this unfortunate transformation of Indian society has happened in living memory. If truth be told this in itself is unsurprising given that more than 40% of the Indian population is less than 25 years old. So this young Indian population has absolutely no recollection of the violent events of 1984/riots, the rath yatra, the Mandal commission riots, fall of Babri Masjid, the maha artis in Mumbai and the subsequent events, leading to 2002 / Godhra/ Gujarat pogrom and more…bringing us to present day where a panel is constituted by the Centre’s Cultural Ministry to rewrite 12,000 years of the Indian subcontinent history proving that Hindus descended from the earliest inhabitants of India.

It is a book meant to be read, to understand and to hope that the complete breakdown and deterioration of this country that we are hurtling towards does not happen.

We live in hope!

Nazia Erum Mothering a Muslim: The Dark Secrets in Our Schools and Playgrounds Juggernaut Books, Delhi, 2017. Hb. pp. 220 Rs 399

11 March 2018 

“When I Hit You” by Meena Kandaswamy

When I Hit You by Meena Kandaswamy is primarily a memoir about her four months as a married woman. At one level it is an account of the horrific marriage she found herself in. She walked into it knowingly having met her husband online while involved in an activism campaign. Her parents and this man shared similar ideological positions which probably coloured her decision to marry. At another level it is as if Meena Kandaswamy puts herself under the scanner and analyses her life using all the feminist theory she has read and practised over the years. Putting the book at this curious intersection is incisive while making the acute conflict of the desi social expectations of a young girl to “settle down” and that of a professional writer/poet. In fact before her marriage Meena Kandaswamy was used to travelling whereever and whenever she desired. She terms herself as a “nomad” in the book. After marriage there was a gargantuan difference. She was suddenly confined to the small house in Mangalore.

After walking out of her marriage Meena Kandawamy wrote an article in the first person for Outlook magazine. ( “I Singe the Body Electric”, 19 March 2012). It was the first time she spoke of the domestic violence. Interestingly she chose the first person mode to write of the traumatic experience. Her book published recently by Juggernaut Books is an expanded version of the essay. In the introduction she reasons that before her mother’s narrative of the disastrous marriage became a fable Meena wanted to assert her authorship. So she does.

A quote by nobel winner Elfriede Jelinek in The Piano Teacher used by Meena Kandaswamy aptly sums up what she is trying to do in When I Hit You:

Sometimes, of course, art create the 

suffering in the first place. 

It is quite remarkable that Meena Kandaswamy has been able to turn this experience into an art form within such a short span of time. Without negating any of Meena’s experience it has been documented extensively that women who experience trauma like this are unable to articulate it. If they ever do then they slip into the third person. Yet most of the time When I Hit You is written in the first person. There are only rare instances when it slips into the third person.

When I Hit You is by a fiesty feminist. It is a first person account about domestic violence, a perspective that is usually shared orally but is rarely written and published. This is a significant book for it introduces a critical way of seeing oneself — appreciate one’s self-worth* and focus upon self-preservation. Capitulating to patriarchal structures is not advisable. For instance when she began to tell her parents within days of her wedding about the violence she was experiencing, both her parents advised her to stay on as these things happen and usually within a year or when the children arrive most of the troubles settle down. Here are two articles about the book worth reading: The Wire and Financial Times . Sonia Faleiro refers to it as a “memoiristic narrative” since it does slip and slide between the truth and the art Meena wishes to create. Although honestly speaking all memoirs are a bit of the truth and fiction blended well.

When I Hit You is bound to become a modern classic.

 

Meena Kandaswamy When I Hit You Juggernaut Books, New Delhi, 2017. Hb. Pp. 250 Rs. 499 

5 July 2017 

*Here is a lovely essay by Joan Didion “On Self-Respect” in Vogue, 1961

Update: This blog post was revised on  5 July 2017 to include a link to the tweet Meena Kandaswamy posted.

Sami Ahmad Khan, Sci-Fi writer from India

I first came across Sami Ahmad Khan a few years ago when he reached out regarding a manuscript he had written and wanted it evaluated professionally. It was one of the few science fiction novels I had read set in contemporary India. I did read and made a few constructive suggestions. Then I did not hear from him for a while as he was busy finishing his thesis unsurprisingly on contemporary Indian science fiction writers. Now his novel is to be published more or less simulataneously by two publishers — Juggernaut Books ( digital) and Niyogi Books ( print). Meanwhile he has published two articles exploring Indian science fiction.

Daily O article “What if aliens one day land in India? A sci-fi writer asks” ( 8 June 2017)

Huffington Post India article “Aliens In Allahabad, Zombies In Zamrudpur: Discovering Indian Science Fiction” ( 10 June 2017)

Sami and I had a brief and intense exchange over email about his interest in science fiction and the publiction of Aliens in Delhi.  Here is an extract:

  1. Who were the authors you featured in your thesis?

I worked on select (SF) novels/short stories of Anil Menon, Amitav Ghosh, Ruchir Joshi, Shovon Chowdhury, Rimi Chatterjee, Priya Sarukkai Chabria, Manjula Padmanabhan, Vandana Singh, Ashok Banker, Mainak Dhar, Suraj Clark Prasad, and Jugal Mody.

  1. Who were your PhD guides?

Prof. GJV Prasad and Prof. Saugata Bhaduri at JNU

  1. Why did you start writing sci fi stories?

I couldn’t resist! I could see eventualities concretizing in my brain, working out and extrapolating from the current material realities…I love doing that. The question of ‘What if?’ really interests me. And SF I think gives me the best mode of narration to express myself. Not to say that writing and thinking about SF gives me a massive kick!

  1. How did the deal with two publishers happen?

I got two simultaneous offers, within ten days of each other. The first (contract) wanted paperback rights, and the other digital. I opted for both.

  1. Two Books, Two editors

I sent almost the same MS to both these publishers, and editors from respective houses worked on the MS simultaneously. It’s still the same book, but there are minor differences, such as a different sentence here, a different one there, not to mention different copy-editing. But the essence and general narrative is the same.

  1. Due dates of publication

Paperback, brought out by Niyogi, already out.

Digital version by Juggernaut in July 2017

  1. If you had to translate this novel into any other language which version would you use?

Both would do!

  1. How many years did it take to write this novel?

Almost four and a half years. The first draft was written in October-December 2012. Then I let the novel stew in my brain for some time. Then endless drafts and revisions. I kept reworking it till 2015, when I was finally satisfied with it.

  1. Who are the SF writers you admire?

Douglas Adams, Isaac Asimov, Shovon Chowdhury, Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who

  1. Why did you start writing sci fi stories?

I could see eventualities concretizing in my brain, working out and extrapolating from the current material realities…and SF I think gives me the best mode of narration to express myself. Not to say that writing and thinking about SF gives me a kick!

  1. What is that you wish to explore the most in your SF writing?

Space (interplanetary exploration), time (alternate realities/time travel) and ET life (preferably hostile to humans). I love exploring these themes through pulp.

11 June 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