Leftword Posts

Fostering a reading culture / Happy Mother’s Day!

(C) Sudhanva Deshpande

(An extended version of this article was published on Bibliobibuli, my blog on Times of India, on Saturday 12 May 2018. Bibliobibuli focuses on publishing and literature.) 

Every Labour Day, the May Day Bookstore & Café holds a big book sale. It consists mostly of second-hand books being sold at reasonable prices and customers flock to the store. This year was no different. Later Sudhanva Deshpande, Managing Editor, LeftWord Books, posted a picture on social media platforms he had taken of a mother holding a tiny pile of books while her daughter stood by watching expectantly. It is a very powerful picture as it works at multiple levels. It is obvious the mother is in charge of her daughter’s education and is keen she learns further. She is the primary force. She is determined to buy the books for her child even though she can ill-afford the small number of books in her hand. The mother had only Rs 10 to pay for the books. She was short of money and unable to pay the billed amount. The unfortunate seemingly admonishing finger in the picture is not really doing what it seems to be doing according to the photographer. The bookshop attendants were telling the mother to take the books away and pay later, whenever she could!

(C) Mayank Austen Soofi

Books are respected all over the world but in India they are revered. Few can afford them and those who can, treasure what they possess. This picture by The Delhi Walla, epitomises it splendidly where the few books owned by the security guard are placed on the same shelf as the portrait of the god. It is understandable that the mother in the picture wishes her daughter to be literate as with it comes respect. For her to be in a bookstore is a path breaking moment. It symbolises the crumbling of a notional barrier of what is traditionally perceived as a popular middle class cultural space — the bookstore. Brick and mortar stores by their very definition tend to be exclusive even if some owners do not desire it to be so. Whereas the reality is that footfalls are restricted to those who are comfortable in these elitist spaces.

This is a sad truth because a thriving reading culture is critical for the well-being of a community and by extension the society. The Scholastic India Kids and Family Reading Report ( KFRR) found that “Parents and children agree by a wide margin that

John Travolta’s house with the airplane parked in it. (Image taken off the internet)

strong reading skills are among the most important skills children should have.” Undoubtedly reading opens a world of possibilities. When Hollywood actor John Travolta gave an interview to magazine editor Priya Kumari Rana ( Outlook Splurge, November 2015, Vol 6) he recalled reading Gordon’s Jet Flight (1961) as a child. It was about a little boy who took his first flight on a 707. At the time the 707 was the last word in aviation. It triggered an ambition and a dream. Today, Travolta not only is a trained pilot but owns a 707!

Buying books continues to be a dream for many individuals and families across the globe. American country singer Dolly Parton likes to give away books with her Imagination Library. In Feb 2018 she crossed the 100 millionth book. Writer Jojo Myes has pledged to save UK Charity Quick Reads ( Reading Agency ) from closure by funding its adult literacy programme for the next three years. Outreach community programmes are critical for fostering a reading culture particularly if access to existing cultural spaces are restricted.

Recently HarperCollins India organised an innovative book launch for children’s author Deepa Agarwal’s Sacked:Folktales You Can Carry Around. It involved a reading for children with hearing loss. So  while the author spoke there was a person standing next to her using sign language to translate what was being said. Recognising this need to foster reading, the nearly 100-year-old firm Scholastic  ran a very successful Twitter campaign in India (Sept 2017) where every retweet ensured a book donation to a community library. The publishing firm donated approximately 2000 books. Now they are running a similar campaign for Mother’s Day 2018 (Sunday, 13 May 2018) where a picture uploaded of a mother and a child reading will get one lucky family a book hamper.

Reading is a social activity. New readers need role models and encouragement. This is captured beautifully in feminist Kamla Bhasin’s nursery rhyme ( available in Hindi and English).

It’s Sunday, it’s Sunday

Holiday and fun day.

 

No mad rush to get to school

No timetable, no strict rule.

Mother’s home and so is father

All of us are here together.

 

Father’s like a busy bee

Making us hot cups of tea.

Mother sits and reads the news

Now and then she gives her views.

 

It’s Sunday, it’s Sunday

Holiday and fun day.

Kamla Bhasin, “It’s Sunday”

Noted Karnatik vocalist T. M Krishna in his book Reshaping Art makes an important point where he argues art has to break its casteist, classist and gender barriers and be welcoming to all particularly if cultural landscape has to expand. He asks for the inner workings of the art form to be infused with social and aesthetic sensitivity.

T. M. Krishna practices what he preaches. In December 2017 he sang a Tamil sufi song of Nagoor Hanifa which T.M. Krishna performed in a British-era Afghan Church in Colaba, Mumbai. He ended his performance with an invocation to allah in the church. Since then he has done other such performances.

Breaking cultural barriers and making books readily accessible and contributing to the growth of readers is exactly what the publishing ecosystem has to strive for. And as Kamla Bhasin rightly says the personal is political. There is nothing purely private or public. Every personal act of ours affects society. The act of reading and encouraging their children to read by mothers is not always welcomed in households, even today. Literacy empowers women with ideas, the ability to think and question for themselves, an act that is most often seen as defiance especially within very strongly patriarchal families. This act was captured beautifully in a wordless poster designed many years ago by a Hyderabad-based NGO, Asmita. It shows a woman with her feet up, reading a book, a television set in front of her and the floor littered with open books. Majority of women who see the poster laugh with happiness at the image for the peace it radiates but also at the impossibility of ever having such a situation at home.

So mothers like the one in the photograph are excellent role models and must be celebrated!

Happy Mother’s Day!

11 May 2018 

“The Communist Manifesto” and its publishing history

While browsing through the fine collection of titles of Penguin Little Black Classics I was interested to note that title 20 was The Communist Manifesto ( 1948). Of the entire collection which is a magnificent sweep of literature through the ages and different nations it is curious to see the manifesto included. It was probably included for its impact globally as it is amongst the most widely read and disseminated texts worldwide even a 170 years after it was first published. In fact Leftword Books published a collection of essays on the manifesto called A World To Win  (1999). One of the essays is on the publishing history of the manifesto in India ( available at this link  for free download with the publisher’s permission). It is a fascinating account of how the manifesto was first published in British India. The first Indian translator of the Manifesto had an interesting career. Soumyendranath was the grand nephew of Rabindranath Tagore. It is fitting that the Manifesto got published first in Bengali, Urdu, Marathi, and Tamil, as it is in the centres where these languages predominate that the Communist movement first struck roots. The early Communist groups were based in Calcutta, Bombay, Lahore and Madras. Later it was translated into Malayalam, Gujarati, Oriya, Hindi and Punjabi. In the fifties and later, the Manifesto was published regularly in different Indian languages by Progress Publishers, Moscow.

 

No wonder Penguin Random House included The Communist Manifesto in its Little Black Classics series.

27 February 2017 

 

 

Saadat Hasan Manto, 11 May

11 May is Saadat Hasan Manto’s birthday. He is remembered for his short fiction, his commentaries, his Manto, Penguin Indiajournalistic pieces including those on filmmakers and much more. He is one of the few writers who is associated with subcontinent writing about the social, cultural and political milieu. There is no doubt he was a deeply political writer who had a fraught relationship with the Progressive Writer’s Association. Decades after his death he continues to be read, translated and discussed with passion. It has something to do with the crisp, clear, straight-from-the-heart manner of writing. Apparently he wrote furiously and in large quantities.

 

Lallantop, MantoIn recent years much of his body of work has been made available inManto and Ravish English — jottings on cinema and actors, on Bombay, short fiction etc. Take for instance the Hindi website, thelallantop.com, celebrating a month of  Manto (  http://www.thelallantop.com/tehkhana/saadat-hasan-manto-best-stories-in-hindi-thanda-gosht/ ) and Rajkamal Prakashan Group, a highly respected Hindi publishing firm has collaborated with an FM radio channel and has RJ Sayema reading out stories Manto 3every Friday night. Leftword recently brought out an incredible collection of Manto’s essays — Saadat Hasan Manto: The Armchair Revolutionary and Other Sketches which has an introduction by Nandita Das. ( http://bit.ly/23H6IsQ ). Penguin Random House, India has for some time been publishing a lot of Manto books. Some of these are:

PRH 1PRH 4
PRH 3

PRH 2

11 May 2016

World Theatre Day, 27 March 2016

It was World Theatre Day yesterday— 27 March 2016. I missed it. Nevertheless I am posting a short note about a couple of books published recently about theatre in India that are worth noting.

  1. A. Mangai Acting Up: Gender and theatre in India, 1979 onwards Leftword, New Delhi, 2015. Hb. pp. 278 MangaiRs.495 : It is an astounding book written by a feminist who has been closely associated with Indian theatre for more than thirty years. It is an astonishing book not just for the breadth and variety of theatre that exists in India but also for the fine analysis. It is by a woman practitioner who understands the nuances as well as the academic discourses, the historical and political context of theatre in post-Independent India and the influence of women’s movements in performance and how more recent performances have challenged heteronormative, patriarchal structures. For this book Mangai interviewed many women theatre artistes. She has also included accounts of performances, plays, troupes and fascinating bits of information such as reference to Neera Adarkar’s work on highlighting little-known aspects of women in theatre history. “For instance, Adarkar refers to an all-female theatre company called Belgaonkar Stree Sangeet Mandali founded by a prostitute called Ekamba, which performed a social play called Dandadhari: a pro-Tilak play that cautiously addressed the issue of widow remarriage. It even featured Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Gopal Krishna Gokhale as characters. But this did not hold back the critics: the women who played these famous men were viewed as ‘ugly, cheap, and abnormal’!” ( p.138)  It is a path-breaking book for its encyclopaedic knowledge about theatre in India. Every time you read it you discover something more.
  2. The Scenes We Made: An Oral History of Experimental Theatre in Mumbai (Edited by Shanta Gokhale) Speaking Tiger, New Delhi, 2016. Hb. pp. 210 Rs. 599: Mumbai theatre has been and continues to be with theShanta Gokhale establishment of Prithvi Theatre an influential space in India. This particular book focuses upon three spaces — Bhulabhai Desai Memorial Institute, Walchand Terrace and Chhabildas School Hall. But the structure of the book is interesting since these are oral history accounts of noted theatre personalities like Ebrahim Alkazi, Vijaya Mehta, Satayadev Dubey, Sulabha Deshpande, Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah. It is an incredible book for it plunges you straightaway into Mumbai of 1950s and brings it to the present. What comes across is the very close knit community the theatre artists formed and continue to do so. Shockingly the brilliant introduction by Girish Karnad is not mentioned on the cover or in the list of contents. It contextualises the theatre movement with a superb overview of the Indian playwrights inheritance from the West and their attempts at experimenting with the folk form in a modern play. Girish Karnad says “Could one, we kept asking, write a contemporary play, sensitive to modern concerns, using the conventions of medieval theatre, such as masks, mime, monologues and songs, without becoming regressive in content?” ( p.xv) It is a book I treasure.

But the book I truly am waiting for is noted theatre person and publisher, Sudhanva Deshpande, writing about theatre. Some years ago as he sat by his father’s sickbed, the noted Marathi playwright, G. P. Deshpande, Sudhanva wrote a series of long Facebook posts interweaving GPD’s significant contribution to Indian theatre with an incredible account of the theatre movement. If published albeit slightly expanded this firsthand experience of being part of Indian theatre would be an invaluable contribution to theatre.

28 March 2016

DU-Photocopying case (ongoing), Sept 2012

DU-Photocopying case (ongoing), Sept 2012

A few days ago some publishers (OUP, CUP and Taylor and Francis) filed a case in the Delhi High Court against a photocopying unit on the Delhi University campus. It has generated a fierce debate, particularly on how to define “fair use”. Over the next few days I will be posting some links/articles explaining this debate.

To start with, I am reproducing Sudhanva Deshpande’s original article on the debate. It is a perspective and an entry point. A version of this was published in the Hindu ( http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article3911970.ece ) on 19 Sept 2012.

Whose Copy, Whose Right?
Sudhanva Deshpande

Aakar Patel, in his diatribe against the students and faculty members of Delhi University on the photocopy issue (‘Pages Apart’, Sept. 11 http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article3882460.ece), makes a number of erroneous assumptions. I address here some of the most important.

1. That students indulge in ‘copyright theft’ by photocopying course material. Not true. Laws are not absolute, and there exist exceptions and limitations to virtually every law. The Indian Copyright Act has two explicit provisions that allow for educational exceptions. Copyright lawyer Lawrence Liang shows that ‘Sec. 52(1)(i) allows for “the reproduction of any work by a teacher or a pupil in the course of instruction” or as a part of questions or answers to questions. Further, Sec. 52(1)(a) allows for a fair dealing with any work (except computer programs) for the purposes of private or personal use, including research.’ Legally, students and teachers are on firm ground. In fact, by claiming huge damages, it is the publishers who are trying to subvert the educational exceptions that are available in law. This is typical of corporations – use shock and awe tactics to illegalize in public perception a perfectly legal practice. All for private profit.

2. That the photocopies being done are always and only from books. Amazingly, Patel does not mention journals even once. Journals, especially in the sciences and law, are often prohibitively expensive. Libraries are being forced to cut down on journal subscriptions. Libraries typically get single copies of journals that they do subscribe to. How is a class of even 50 expected to read from a single copy in the library? And what about books that are simply not available in the market, at whatever price?

3. That it is always entire books that are photocopied. Not true. In most cases, it is only a small part of a particular book that the student is asked to read. Take the M.A. Sociology syllabus from the Delhi School of Economics, where the shop under litigation is located. Students are recommended 544 readings. Of these, not counting journal articles, we have been able to ascertain the prices of 296 books. Patel cites the Indian prices of 13 books, which cost, cumulatively, Rs 9,042 (ave. Rs 695 per book). At that average, 296 books should cost Rs 205,720.

But what do the books cost in fact? Taking the lowest prices (even when the book is not available at that price), the total comes to Rs 577,902. Even after taking out all books that cost over Rs 2,500, the student will have to spend Rs 277,956. Not exactly small change.

Note, too, that the prices of science and law books are significantly higher.

Also, publishers bring out new books in hardcover format, which are significantly more expensive than paperbacks. No publisher expects individual students to buy these, but targets institutions and libraries. Only after a book recovers all its investment is it brought out in a cheaper format, which, for academic books, can take a few years. If the hardcover does not earn enough revenue, a paperback is not issued at all. I know. I am a publisher.

Some of the discussion of this issue (on the blogosphere etc.) has centred around whether there should be a legally permissible limit to how much of a book a student might photocopy. The Indian Copyright Act is clear on this. There is no upper limit prescribed. In other words, legally, in certain circumstances, a student can photocopy an entire book, if it is ‘in the course of instruction’.

The publishers claim that they would withdraw the case if the university agrees to let collecting societies keep track of what is photocopied and pay accordingly, on a per-page basis, which revenue would then be distributed to publishers and authors. This is a model in force in several western countries which have more maximalist copyright regimes than ours. In India, however, as we have seen, the law allows for the educational exception, so what the publishers are demanding is already subverting the law. In addition, there is the question of economic and social realities. An additional payment for reading material (for which the student is already paying photocopy charges) would, contrary to the publishers’ claim, pinch students from economically disadvantaged sections.

The publishers’ claim, if implemented, would result in reducing the ‘gene pool’ from which academics, researchers and the intelligentsia are drawn. So it is not the students who are killing the goose that lays the golden egg, as Mr Patel claims. On the contrary, it is the publishers who are doing so.

4. That the publishers are responsible for ‘commissioning and publishing’ studies. Well, yes. But only after universities pay academics salaries and provide facilities to carry out research in the first place. And at least a part of the university budget comes from students’ fees (not to mention taxpayers’ money). OUP and CUP, ironically, should know this better than anyone else. They would be nothing without the universities whose names they derive so much prestige from.

5. That students are selfish, violent, immature. Well, maybe some are. But then so are many corporations. And their Directors. And lawyers. And CEOs. And Heads of States.

6. That open access publishing is not a realistic option. Not true. In the sciences, there already exist a large number of open access, peer-reviewed journals of the highest standards. And books? Readers might want to download a free pdf of a LeftWord title here: http://ddkosambi.blogspot.in/2011/12/many-careers-of-dd-kosambi-pdf-version.html. We have also published many of our titles under a Creative Commons license.

Alternatives to copyright and the rule of monopolies exist. Assuming, of course, that we see knowledge as a right of all humankind, not merely as a means for profit-making.

(Sudhanva Deshpande is Managing Editor, LeftWord Books, and an actor and director with Jana Natya Manch, Delhi. He can be reached at sudhanva@leftword.com.)