Books like The Bookby Keith Houton will never go out of fashion. It is an informative history about the book. It is very American in its perspective especially when it comes to the history of printing presses and mass prodcution of books/newspapers. The Book needs to be read in conjunction with other histories of the book, printing, publishing and creation of readers/markets especially in the nineteenth century. A fabulous account of mass production of literature and its impact on the reading public during the Victorian Age is by the historian Eric Hobsbawm. Also, William St. Clair on the reading nation during the Romantic Period. To get a lucid account of the book in the sub-continent it is worth reading The Book in India by B S Kesavan ( NBT India) . Similarly, there may be other specific book histories in different nations/regions. It may be worth putting together a list.
Neverthless, The Book by Keith Houston is a fundamental text for the simple, fascinating and information-packed narrative. Excellent stuff!
In the June 2021 issue of Vogue ( British edition), Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai has been interviewed. It is a good interview as it puts the spotlight on a young twenty-three-year-old who is at the crossroads of her life, figuring out the eternal question — “what next?” Many questions are asked and a lively conversaion ensues until the silly question of relationships is posed by the interviewer. Malala’s response to it has resulted in a significant amount of trolling on social media platforms.
She isn’t sure if she’ll ever marry herself. “I still don’t understand why people have to get married. If you want to have a person in your life, why do you have to sign marriage papers, why can’t it just be a partnership?” Her mother – like most mothers – disagrees. “My mum is like,” Malala laughs, “‘Don’t you dare say anything like that! You have to get married, marriage is beautiful.’” Meanwhile, Malala’s father occasionally receives emails from prospective suitors in Pakistan. “The boy says that he has many acres of land and many houses and would love to marry me,” she says, amused.
Pakistani author, Bina Shah, wrote a fabulous post on her blog The Feminstani about this interview. Here is an extract:
Well, shit. Pakistani social media alighted upon this quote as if they were kites in the sky who had spotted a particularly tasty scrap of meat. If they were looking for something with which to bludgeon her to death, they found it: in the musings of a young woman who’s still trying to figure things out, things that confound the best and brightest of us, and the stupidest of us. “Should I get married or not, and why does there have to be marriage in the first place” is a question we’ve all asked ourselves, if we’ve got a single ounce of intelligence in our brains. (at 48, I know I ask myself the same question, and up to date neither have I found an appropriate answer nor a suitable candidate. And yet I still hope to get married some day.)
I don’t want to go into the nasty comments, the Z-list actresses who came out with statements against Malala, or the taunts of “un-Islamic” and “Zionist agent” that were showered upon Pakistan’s only Nobel Peace Prize laureate, one of its few Oxford graduates, and possibly the only girl in Pakistan to have been shot in the head and survived. They called her ugly, and that of course she wants a partnership because she’s too ugly to have a husband (in her interview, Malala said that men propose marriage in e-mails to her father all the time). The usual round of accusations and bizarre conspiracy theories — it’s a drama, she wanted a foreign passport, she was chosen by Jewish overlords to become Prime Minister of Pakistan — came out. In short, we’ve been on this rodeo before.
Also useless is to point out to the Pakistanis howling that Malala’s remarks on marriage are unIslamic that the concept of marriage in Islam, while strong and emphasized as part of Sunnah, has been fairly flexible over the centuries. A valid marriage contract written down on paper is not actually required; just a verbal agreement with witnesses will do (if we want to be very literal about it). In its early years, Islam also allowed sexual relationships with women you are not married to, but are “those whom your right hand posesses” — ie female prisoners of war, and concubines (for men only, not for women who own male slaves). A practice of temporary marriage, i.e mutah, was allowed at one point, which would then be dissolved after an agreed-upon amount of time had elapsed.
Some of these practices were established for reasons of practicality, and some of them have been abused rather than treated as the exceptions or temporary situations meant to give rights to children born out of the traditional marriage scenario. Some of these practices have been abolished, or outlawed in the modern nations where Islam is practiced. Many of these practices continue in secret. The evolution of a written marriage contract is a modern invention made in order to safeguard certain legal rights of the participants, as well as to be able to register marriages in records and databases. But there was once a time when nothing more was required for a binding partnership than two people saying in front of two witnesses that they wanted to be together as spouses.
Marriage is in short not the solid brick house that Pakistanis want to build and entrap two people in forever, regardless of their feelings, their needs, wants and desires. It is exactly what Malala expresses a little clumsily in her interview: a partnership with a door that either partner can open to leave any time she or he wants, with good reason. The Quran is clear that spouses are meant to be a comfort to one another, to have affection for one another, and to guard each others’ privacy and secrets. But it forces no one to marry against their will. If Malala is not ready to marry, and if she is never ready to marry, then she is within her rights not to do so.
In response, I wrote an email to Bina. Here is an extract from it:
It will be interesting to observe how Malala breaks her childhood shackles and really comes into her own. She is 23. So young and yet has achieved so much. For now the Vogue article has highlighted the struggle that a desi girl of her age has to face. The problem in this particular case is that Malala is a role model for girls across faiths and countries. She is a feminist icon. Whether it is the Pakistani male or any other Muslim man or any other man for that matter, they simply cannot handle such a confident young girl like Malala. Offering to marry her because the suitor owns immense property is a sham. The man is eyeing the Nobel Laureate as a trophy to forever house in his home and probably improve his social worth. Most desi men, across our fractured borders, have the same conservative mindset.
If Malala had to truly break shackles and live her life according to her terms, then it is no one’s business to question her sexuality, her choice in partnerships or the kind of arrangements she opts for. Alas, she is caught between two worlds — the public image and the conservative Pakistani Muslim community. She has to straddle these worlds.
The Vogue question about relationships was unfortunate but it holds true for any celebrity. Journalists cannot resist asking women celebrities about their sexual life and their marital status. It is what makes the papers sell. So for me, this interview with Malala, is more than her being representative of a Pakistani Muslim girl, but being an icon/representative of this new generation of girls. They have been exposed to so much more information about being empowered, what it takes to be an empowered girl, facing the violence, making choices and being articulate. This is what defines these young girls. Unfortunately, the desi girls who belong to this generation are also weighed down by other baggage such as the expectations of their families and wider circle of “settling down”.
I remember when my Dadi would go on and on about it, I always felt as if being married was like being evicted from Paradise and like Satan as described by Milton in Paradise Lost, plummeting through a neverending blackness. It is as if achieving married status was the be all and end all of life. Whereas in my reckoning, I was just beginning my life and did not need to be burdened by such questions. It really mucked up many years of my life. When I finally chose, I chose on my own terms, no one else’s. Even so, it was a late marriage by everyone’s reckoning.
You are so right about the backlash Malala has faced for her response. This is the first of many she is going to face. This silly statement of her’s will haunt her for years to come, it will be dissected in polite and not-so-polite circles as how could this seemingly polite, young girl, who (as you point out) covers her head with a dupatta, can have such strong ideas. Well, of course she can. You and I know from firsthand experience that we may dress in our desi clothes but hell, no one can ever mentally shackle us or presume to do so in any other way. It bothers folks. We don’t necessarily strut about wearing the latest Western fashions but we do have some of the most modern ideas of living. I bet you have come across many desi girls who wear the latest hip-hop clothes, but heavens, they spout the most conservative attitudes towards women.
Malala has to negotiate this space on her own but I sincerely hope that she has some good guidance regarding gender. She needs to engage in conversation and figure this out for herself. It was an unfair and loaded question. She should not have been asked it as it seems as if the interviewer was seeing only a young girl of marriageable age. Sad. The kid has won a Nobel Prize, for heaven’s sake. Give her her due. She has survived a bullet wound to the head and has managed to recover sufficiently to attend classes. How many people are fortunate to be able to do that after a head injury?
Perhaps this is what was needed. A furious questioning of these attitudes, the desire to let the younger generation express themselves freely without being burdened by “traditional” customs and this is beyond the borders of Pakistan. It is a universal truth. In many, many ways, times have changed considerably, especially for girls and women. This is a debate that will rage for some time given that a celebrity like Malala Yousafzai has expressed her opinions about it. But for now, this is accompanied by hashtags such as “Shame on Malala” trending on Twitter.
Instead of shaming the young girl, the journalists posing these prying questions about the celebrity’s relationship status should be shamed.
If there is only one book you can read in 2020 then make it this superb translation from Swedish by art and culture journalist, Patrik Svensson called The Gospel of the Eels. It is part-memoir of Svensson and part-history of eels. It is at one level an exquisitely meditative reflection upon the mysteries of life, why we do certain things in the manner we do — whether it is man or the very mysterious eel. Like man, who has distinct stages on his life, the eel too has been documented of having four very distinct stages of development. It’s transformation from the glass eel to brown to the sexually mature grey/black eel is a stunning form of evolution that no scientist has ever been able to document in detail. It is as mystifying as the vast amounts of water the eels traverse. From the salty water of open seas to going upstream in search of fresh water of inland rivers. These patterns of movement happen at distinct moments in an eel’s life but why they happen no man knows. It is as puzzling as how do these creatures remember their places of birth in Sargasso Sea and return to it for spawning. Svensson’s fascination for the creatures began when his father would take seven-year-old Patrik eel hunting in the local stream. The author himself was never fond of eating the creatures but he developed a lifelong fascination for the mysteries surrounding eels. While seemingly recalling his warmly affectionate relationship with his father and sharing his family history, Patrik Svensson is able to dwell upon how eels have a history in literature dating as far back as Aristotle, who thought eels bred in mud. Pliny the Elder had an equally fascinating theory which stated that eels were born by rubbing two stones together. Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered scarophagi containing eels. Freud’s first academic paper was on the sexuality of eels after he spent a month living in a tiny fishing town dissecting over four hundred eels. Decades later the eel’s sexuality is still not fully understood. It is a fish whose life cycle has not been documented as yet. This despite efforts to tag fish returning to Sargasso Sea or observing them in tanks but nothing has worked. This fish cannot be artificially reproduced. Now it is in danger of becoming extinct for various reasons, many of them can be attributed to man.
The Gospel of the Eels is a book not to be missed. It raises many questions about life, mortality, man’s excessive need to know, what are the limits man should set for himself as an individual and a race and in his interaction with nature, how much knowledge is necessary and how much pursuit of gaining that knowledge is essential. Like his father who was content with living his life and not particularly keen to investigate into his past or that of his beloved mother, similarly, it may not be a bad idea if we let God’s creatures live in peace and if man learned to live in harmony with them and each other. None of this is really spelled out so explicitly by the avowed atheist Patrik Svensson but it is implied and graciously acknowledged. In fact these are some of the questions that are pertinent more so now during the pandemic. If theories are to be believed, the Covid19 is a health crisis created by crossing or rather violating these very same sacrosanct boundaries between Man and Nature. Of course this book was written much before the pandemic happened but its publication is very timely.
It is a stunning book that has been beautifully translated by Agnes Broome. Well worth buying a copy or even gifting generously.
In The Book are a children’s book publisher, established in 2017 in Hertfordshire. They are passionate about reading, and getting people excited about books. They believe that novels provide a fantastic way for children to safely explore their imagination, develop their confidence and improve their understanding of different cultures and societies.
In The Book created this Literary Tube Map of London to get people to engage with novels, because they believe that good pieces of literature have a way of painting places like nothing else can. The books featured on this map have been hand-picked because they have an incredible ability of transporting a person to their London settings.
This map shows where your favourite characters made a name for themselves. From the legendary Harry Potter boarding his train to Hogwarts at Kings Cross, to Mary Poppins flying into the Banks’ family home just off the Central Line. You can vividly picture Ebenezer Scrooge skulking home after work through the streets near Monument station, and Sherlock storming out of his address at Baker Street to solve another case – closely followed by faithful Watson.
Thank you very much for the invitation to speak here today. The Jaipur Literature Festival is a festival of cultures, language, ideas and literature, and I feel very privileged to have the chance over the next few days to listen to so many Indian authors and personalities from around the world and to converse with them.
At this confluence of cultures, I’m pleased to address
the friends from the trade at Jaipur Bookmark today.
After all, that is the fundamental principle of any
literature festival: creating an environment for interactions that promote the
free exchange of ideas and opinions.
The free exchange of ideas and opinions – never has
that been easier than today, in the 21st century.
And never has it been so threatened.
Over the past 20 years, communications technology has
taken an evolutionary leap, one that surpasses anything the most far-sighted
science-fiction writers of the 19th and 20th centuries could have imagined.
In Stanley Kubrick’s film “2001: A Space Odyssey” from
the year 1968, Dr Heywood Floyd, an astronaut, has a “videophone call” with his
daughter while at the space station.
Fifty years later, in the summer of 2018, the German
astronaut Alexander Gerst used his mobile phone to take fascinating photos of
his time at the International Space Station, images which were transmitted
around the world.
Videophones, computer tablets, artificial
intelligence, voice control – many of the things that Kubrick envisaged 50
years ago have become reality.
According to the 2018 Global Digital Report, of the four billion people
around the world who have access to the Internet, more than three billion use
social media every month. Nine out of
ten users log on to their chosen platforms using mobile devices.
The number of people who use the most popular
platforms in their respective country has grown over the last 12 months by
almost one million new users each day.
What I find remarkable here is that not only has
communications technology made a quantum leap, the devices that allow the
world’s population to participate in the global conversation have also become
so inexpensive that almost everyone can afford one.
That is giving rise to a previously unknown
participatory process, one that has the power to change democracy’s traditional
Everyone today is in a position to publish whatever
they want – using blogs, podcasts and self-publishing platforms, as well as
traditional publishing houses. News is transmitted around the globe in the
fraction of a second, and social networks allow us to reach more readers and
viewers than ever before.
In just a minute I will talk about the challenges and
consequences that are resulting for the publishing industry.
First, however, let’s look at the darker side of these
In the 21st century, a few select businesses have
become private superpowers. They can do more than most countries to promote or
prevent a free exchange of opinions.
Via social networks, phenomena like the viral spread
of fake news, hate speech and slander now have a global impact.
Professional trolls strategically destabilise
political discourse online, fuelling populist, nationalist and anti-democratic
tendencies throughout Europe and around the globe.
One observes that, here in India, free speech is facing a threat sprouting from religious motivations, political biases and social judgments. Attempts in the recent past to silence journalists, writers, film-makers and publishers reflect the rise of identity politics and apathy on the part of the state. Two journalists of international repute – Gauri Lankesh and Shujaat Bukhari – were shot dead within a span of nine months. Publisher friends like DC Books, Kalachuvadu Publications and their authors have witnessed attacks by fanatics who may have never even read the books in question.
When I look at the hysteria, hatred and hostility that
characterise the discussion in social media, the permanent state of turmoil
that societies around the world find themselves in, then I begin to doubt
whether we are actually capable of using the communications technologies whose
development we are so proud of.
To paraphrase Goethe: “The spirits I called / I now cannot
In social media, language is used as a destructive weapon
day in and day out, and it’s become clear how disastrous this can be for those
individuals targeted by the bullying. It can even lead to murder.
In his 2016 book Free
Speech, which you undoubtedly know, the British historian Timothy Garton
Ash examines the question of how free speech should take place.
He asks which social, journalistic, educational,
artistic and other possibilities can be realised to ensure that free speech proves
beneficial by facilitating creative provocation without destroying lives and
He comes to the conclusion that the less we want to
have laid out by law, the more we have to do ourselves.
After all, Ash explains, there is no law that can draw
a line between freedom and anarchy – every individual must look within before expressing
himself or herself and must take responsible decisions.
I would like to talk with you about this “how” in the
coming days and hear your opinions.
Personally, I feel that the participatory process I
mentioned before requires us – our industry, but also each of us as individuals
– to take a stance. Expressing an opinion of this type was long reserved for
politicians or the media. Today, in the 21st century, we all have the
possibility of making our voices heard.
And we should not do that in keeping with the motto “overnewsed
but uninformed,” but in a carefully considered manner.
I believe that this permanent state of turmoil is
troubling, this hysteria which does not stop at speech, but which now
increasingly leads to violence.
Personally, I’m alarmed at how the language we use is
becoming increasingly coarse and, following from that, the way we interact with
The problem about this state of turmoil is that it
usually results in the exclusion of others and, consequently, causes even
deeper trenches to be dug.
Yet how can we deal with the challenges of our time –
and find solutions to them – if not in dialogue with each other?
That leads to the question: what responsibility do
publishers bear, does our industry bear, today, in the post-Gutenberg era?
How can publishing houses and their products remain
relevant in an age in which fake news can be disseminated faster than
In which rumours, supposition and conjecture are more
quickly viewed, liked and shared than texts capable of explaining complex
As my friends Kristenn Einarsson and José Borghino have
pointed out on many occasions, “If we are to create and maintain free, healthy
societies, then publishers must have the will and the ability to challenge
established thinking, preserve the history of our cultures, and make room for
new knowledge, critical opposition and challenging artistic expression”.
Publishers in the 21st century are in a privileged
position: the industry looks back on a long tradition, on the one hand, and has
built a reputation. Publishers are gatekeepers – they filter and assess
content, they curate before they publish.
They consider it part of their job to publish content
that is well-researched, documented, checked and carefully assembled as way of
contributing to the range of opinions present in society.
On the other hand, they now have the possibility of
reaching their readers through various channels, offering their expertise, their
content and their opinion exactly where their target group is found.
Publishers and authors in many parts of the world risk
their lives by writing or bringing out books that criticise regimes, uncover
injustices and shed light on political failures.
On 15 November 2018, the Day of the Imprisoned Writer,
Arundhati Roy wrote the following in a letter to the Bangladeshi writer,
photographer and human rights activist Shahidul Alam: “How your work, your
photographs and your words, has, over decades, inscribed a vivid map of
humankind in our part of the world – its pain, its joy, its violence, its
sorrow and desolation, its stupidity, its cruelty, its sheer, crazy
complicatedness – onto our consciousness. Your work is lit up, made luminous,
as much by love as it is by a probing, questioning anger born of witnessing at
first hand the things that you have witnessed. Those who have imprisoned you
have not remotely understood what it is that you do. We can only hope, for
their sake, that someday they will.”
As you know, Shahidul Alam was taken into custody in
July of last year after he criticised the government of Bangladesh in an
interview with Al Jazeera and in various Facebook posts. Fortunately he has since
been freed, but the charges against him remain.
Without wanting to turn these very personal remarks by
Arundhati Roy into a generalisation, I would just like to say that she has put
it in a nutshell when she writes that, through their work, writers, authors, journalists
and artists draw a vivid map of humankind in our part of the world.
Journalists and other authors write despite
intimidation and threats. Like Shahidul Alam, they are driven by a mixture of love
and anger. For that, they deserve our highest esteem and respect.
Writers and journalists are being intimidated and
forced into silence all around the world because of their political and social
engagement, something we condemn in the strongest possible terms.
As discoverers and disseminators of ideas and free
thought, we, as a community, have a greater responsibility to uphold freedom of
expression. At the same time, we cannot withhold our criticism of its misuse.
I hope to have the chance to speak with many of you
about these issues in the coming days.
The story of billionaire Ma Huateng and the company he co-founded, Tencent, reads like a modern fairy tale. It’s tag line on the homepage of the company’s website is “Connecting People for a Greater Future”. LID Publishing that specialises in business books has published a biography of the 14th richest man in the world ( according to Forbes) in collaboration with China Translation and Publishing House.
It is a mesmerising tale of a young middle class computer programmer who driven by ambition, focused hard work and bold strategy realised the potential of the Internet in the 1990s. He also astutely recognised that the pager company he was employed in was a sunset industry but the future lay in instant communication using technology and the internet. Innovation was required in localising existing programmes as most of the population in China was monolingual whereas new apps and programmes being released in the global market were dependant on English as the mode of communication.
Through his grit and determination, astute strategy and long term vision, Ma Huateng was able to build a business empire that within years has grown into a billion dollar enterprise recognised worldwide. Its rise and influence in the global economy is unparalleled. He copies and innovates existing ideas to make his existing customers satisfied. His vast user base is what has enabled him to experiment and be bold in his strategies while also attracting investors who know there is no other player in Tencent in China who has such deep penetration and impressive impact in the country.
Ma Huateng & Tencent is a fascinating account of the man behind the firm who built his fortune on enabling instant messaging for Chinese users to creating a global brand integrating its PC and mobile gateways. Now Tencent is also known for its pan-entertainment services by offering a range of services from online games, books/publishing, reading websites to transforming the more successful works into movie projects. In its early days when word spread about Tencent and its instant messaging, it was registering an average of over 370,000 new users every day!
There is plenty to glean from this book about how to develop businesses, innovate and remain relevant to changing tastes and expectations of customers. Although it is a rivetting read there is plenty not said too about Tencent’s engagement with the Chinese government which as anyone who attempts do business in China is a must. Thus making this book a hagiography rather than a sharply told biography of a successful businessman.
Katherine Rundell’s The Exploreris about four children who crashed in the Amazon jungle. They do their best to figure out the jungle and how to survive till they come across a cranky explorer. He is as surprised as they are about each other’s existence in the jungle. Nevertheless he takes charge and rather gruffly guides them on what to eat and what not to eat in the jungle. It is he who ultimately helps the children leave the jungle and return home for which they are eternally grateful.
The Explorer as with the novels Katherine Rundell writes is inspired by a historical fact. It becomes the basis of her fiction for young adults. For this particular novel it was the British geographer and explorer Peter Fawcett who was an artillery officer “with an astonishingly tough constitution and enough moustache for three men.”
He spent much of his life in search of what he called the City of Z, a city he imagined as richly sophisticated and peppered with gold.
In 1925, shortly after crossing the Upper Xingu, a south-eastern tributary river of the Amazon, he and his two companions disappeared. He was never heard from again.
Katherine Rundell has an eye for incredible detail in the storytelling making the action and landscape come alive on every page while at the same time the scrumptious illustrations are a bonus. In The Explorer it is the tiny details of jungle life, the behaviour of sloths, what kind of beans are appropriate to eat or not, descriptions of the river bank and the foliage — all ring true and understandably so, given the amount of research Katherine Rundell puts in for every book.
There was so much to look at; so much that was strange; so much that was new and vast and so very palpably alive.
The trees dipped down their branches, laden with leaves broad enough to sew into trousers. He passed a tree with a vast termite nest, as big as a bathtub, growing around it. He gave it a wide berth.
The greenness, which had seemed such a forbidding wall of colour, was not, up close, green at all, Fred thought. It was a thousand different colours; lime and emerald and moss and jade and a deep dark almost black green that made him think of sunken ships.
Fred breathed in the smell. He’d been wrong to think it was thick, he thought; it was detailed. It was a tapestry of air.
The story itself about the children coming together on this adventure is so beautifully done wherein the individual personalities remain distinct but ever so slightly as the story progresses they also bond as a team. It is a triumph in storytelling for young adults — they who are at the cusp of adulthood but not too far from childhood and love imaginative storytelling. Hence it is absolutely wonderful that The Explorer won the Costa Book Awards 2017.
Katherine Rundell The Explorer ( Illustrated by Hannah Horn) Bloomsbury, London, 2017. Pb. pp.
Manoj Pandey, curator of #StickLit, Literature on Stickers, believes that literature needs to be made more public and the elitism needs to be removed from it. Hence he co-founded the movement #StickLit. There are stickers being posted worldwide on streets and in multiple languages.
Here are excerpts from an email interview with Manoj Pandey:
How did #StickLit come about?
In the same manner #MeToo did. It just surfaced. Because enough was enough. In this case it was the abuse of talent and passion. By institutions of art and literature.
Do you find that with the digital tools, literature has become accessible to many more people but at the same time, ironically elitist?
Yes, because digital has no reach or impact.
Who are the writers contributing snippets on the stickers? Are these new writers or established writers?
They have chosen to remain anonymous. It could be anyone, from household names to rising stars to nobody. They’re just people who’re thrilled by radical ideas such as Aristotle being read by a rickshaw puller. They feel that even this dialogue between two disparate minds, Aristotle and the rickshaw puller, deserves a chance. They feel that even a rickshaw puller deserves more than just a marginal experience. He too deserves once in a day to entertain a phrase such as: ‘To be or not to be.’ He too deserves the luxury of thought.
Who is selecting, rather curating, the information on the stickers?
We initiated it. But now the network and the movement has its own independent bases. Which no one has control over. The power is in the hands of the writers and the artists who feel for the cause and are doing their bit.
Who can print and paste the stickers? As the co-founder of the movement do you keep an eye on all the material using your platform or is it democratic in its use allowing anyone and everyone to use it? ( In this article on #JLF read what Sanjoy Roy has to say about making literature accessible to everyone. Sanjoy Roy’s favourite memory was the most heart-warming of them all; he narrated the story of how once an underprivileged man walking with his child was stopped by the security guard, because he “didn’t look like he belonged”. )
Like I said we initiated it. But now we have no control over it. And we don’t want to also. We wanted to question the institutions on why they’ve turned this dialogue between a writer and a reader merely into a function of money. We wanted to shake things a little before a book, too, turned into a bottle of cola. Or a candy. We wanted to bring back joy in the simple act of writing. That’s all.
Will these stickers be available in all languages or only Hindi and English to begin with?
It’ll be available in as many regional languages as possible.
Why are the authors not identified on the stickers? Does it not defeat the purpose of making literature available to everyone? Or is this a design restriction of being unable to accommodate the writer and translator?
Purpose comes before the person. This whole system of credit, brand name, following, etc., were created by marketers. Note: this is not a promotional platform for authors to sell their work.
DK India has published an incredibly sumptious edition of the classic epic Mahabharata. It was put together by a large in-house team working along with well-known mythologists and Mahabharata experts. It has resulted in this extraordinarily beautiful edition, impressive design, detailed page layouts where the text and illustrations complement each other well and incredible layers of information. In a sense the publishers have achieved practically the impossible of transfering the layered and embellished narrative style of oral storytelling into the fixed printed form.
The story is told through the 18 parvas as is in the familiar arrangement of the oral epic. As far as possible the structure of the oral narrative tradition has been adhered to in this print version. Every page a small portion of the story is narrated in simple English making it accessible to other cultures too. To accompany the text every page has been specially designed with different elements relevant to that particular context. These could vary from boxes on cultural details, mythology and folklore associated with the particular story, prayers and rituals passed through the ages, references to the versions of the epic/characters in art and literature, photographs of modern-day dance and theatre interpretations of the stories and a liberal sprinkling of historical artefacts and monuments that may help illustrate the text.
I interviewed Alka Ranjan, Managing Editor, Local Publishing, DK India who led the team which put together this book. Here follow edited excerpts of an interview published by Scroll.in on 20 August 2017:
1. Which version of the epic did you refer to?
We were keen to tell the entire story of the Mahabharata, including the Harivamsa, and, wherever possible, dip into the regional versions as well. To be true to the classical version, we referred to Bibek Debroy’s ten volumes of the Mahabharata, from where came some of the details of the stories and also the quotes. Ultimately for DK India it was the visual rendering of the epic which was more important, something that was not attempted before, and something that makes our book unique, setting it apart from the other books available in the market.
2. How long did this project take to execute from start to finish?
It took us almost 8 months to put together this book. To this we could also add 3 months of production. The entire team, including the technical members, reached 15, in some stages of the book.
3. Does DK have other religious texts illustrated in a similar fashion? Was there anything unique as a publishing experiment in this book?
DK has brought out the Illustrated Bible in the past. This book is in the same series style. Unlike our other reference books which work mostly like non-fiction with their dry, neutral tone, our version of the Mahabharata is yet another retelling of the epic. It was a challenge for the editorial team to adapt their skills to storytelling, to ensure the text flowed like a tale, weave in dialogues wherever needed, and inject drama to create impact. 4. It seems to be meant for the general market but the stories are easily told that a child too can read them. If that is the case then how did you manage such a gentle and easy style?
Our aim was to keep the stories accessible for a large readership, and in a lot of ways that is DK style. While we segregate our books in adult and children categories, depending on subject matter, comprehension level, interests, so on and so forth, the text for the adult ones is almost always aimed at ages 14 and above.
5. If you could have a section on “Mahabharata in art” why not have a section on the history of texts through the publication of this epic through the ages?
We could have done so many things with our book, but because it was going to be a visual retelling we decided to focus on art, showcasing the pervasive reach of the epic in our daily lives, and which made more sense, although a lot of our “boxes” talk about the different versions of the epic, including drawing parallels with Greek mythos.
6. This epic has been translated in other languages. Why not have images of those texts at well?
It was not always possible to get all images that we wanted, but we have used a couple of book covers to make the point about translations or different takes on the epic – mostly for latter. I can think of a book on Yudhishthira and Draupadi by Pavan K Varma which we used to discuss their relationship. We also used Mrityunjaya’s cover (Shivaji Sawant’s much celebrated book on Karna) on Karna’s profile. The choice of other retellings of Mahabharata invariably depended on the context of the stories we wanted to tell and the point we wanted to make and not the other way around. Some of the other books that find mention in ours are:
Kalidasa’s Abhijnana Shakuntalam
Tagore’s Chitrangada (with cover image)
Pavan K Varama’s Yudhisthira and Draupadi (with cover image)
Krushnaji Prabhakar Khadilkar’s play Kichaka-Vadha
Dinkar’s Kurukshetra and Rashmirathi
Shivaji Sawant’s Mrityunjaya (with cover image)
Bhasa’s play performance by Japanese students – Urubhangam
7. It would have been fascinating if a chapter on myth-making in this epic had been included as a standalone chapter rather than inserting boxes in various chapters. Why not address myth-making?
I take your point, and it would have been certainly interesting to have such a chapter now that you point it out. However, when we conceptualized the book, we were sure that we wanted the focus of the book to be on retelling the epic and layering them by adding side stories in boxes. We also wanted to have a few chapters/spreads on Hindu gods and goddesses, and philosophies, mainly to facilitate the understanding of the non-Indian readers, people not familiar with our cultural ethos.
8. How did you standardise the spelling of the names? What’s the back story to it?
We wanted us to use the more common spellings of the popular characters (Draupadi instead of Droupadi), although we did finally add the vowel sound at the end of some names, for instance “Arjuna” instead of “Arjun”, “Bhima” instead of “Bhim”, which takes the names closer to their Sanskrit pronunciation, but stuck to “Sanjay” not “Sanjaya” because it was a more common spelling.
9. Does the text of the books mentioned conform to the original text or have some creative license liberties been taken to retell it for the modern reader?
While most of our stories came from the original, classical text, we also dipped into the regional versions to borrow a few. For instance, Iravan’s story (A Human Sacrifice) came from the Tamil Mahabharata. Few other stories borrowed from regional versions are : Pururava’s Obsession
Draupadi’s Secret, Gaya Beheaded, Divine Vessel, News of Home, The Talking Head
10. Would you be creating special pocket book editions of relevant chapters? For instance I see potential in the section on women. If you had to resize it to a pocket edition with an introduction +original shlokas, the sales would be phenomenal.
Thank you so much for the suggestions. The book does lend itself to several spinoffs, and we have thought of a few. However, we wanted the current book to run its course before bringing out another one.
( At the London Book Fair/British Council/Publishers Association reception held at the British Council, New Delhi held on 11 January 2017, Jacks Thomas announced the LBF 2017 edition will see a special Spotlight on India. Here is the full text of her speech reproduced with her permission. )
Jacks Thomas, Director, London Book Fair
Thank you Alan, and indeed the British Council team who with Gill Caldicott have made this evening possible. Thank you also for attending our reception, held jointly with our strategic partners, the Publishers Association of the UK and British Council.
Last year, a year long-programme to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Indian independence and UK cultural ties was announced by our Prime Ministers during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the UK. Less significantly — but importantly — and said perhaps with a hefty dose of British irony — 2016 was also the year that I first visited India. Not just once, but twice.
My visits were all part of very much wanting to meet the Indian book community and to extend my knowledge of your interesting and talented industry. Imagine my delight therefore on discovering the plans for The Year of Culture which will see an exciting festival of events celebrating the vibrant cultural history and present of the 2 countries. As part of these celebrations, 2017 will now also see a special Spotlight on India at The London Book Fair 2017.
Working with Capexil, there will be an exhibiting presence over three pavilions with many Indian publishers already
At the reception, 11 Jan 2017
having confirmed their participation. The Spotlight will feature an author programme to showcase selected authors from India, an especially curated Rights catalogue of Indian writing co-created by FICCI and LBF, a professional programme of trade seminars organised with the UK Publishers Association on the Department of International Trade Export Theatre, product demonstrations of Indian publishing and printing technology and expertise as well as a celebration of the 60th anniversary of the National Book Trust of India. All activity underpinned, of course, through the support of FIP and API.
Books and literature are significant assets in our understanding of both a changing world and each other’s worlds. Getting the literature of one country into the hands of another’s is important.
I believe The Spotlight on India is important.
So, may I ask us simply to raise our glasses to our cross country literary collaboration.