Mumbai Posts

Of debut novels

2019 is proving to be a year of debut writing. Perhaps it is also an indication of the disruption that digital technology has made of print publishing. It is becoming more and more expensive to publish and if the advance against royalties is also included for publishing established names, then the unit cost of printing a book escalates. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why 2019 has been the year of debuts. Presumably publishers feel that the ROI on a debut author can be easily absorbed in their P/L sheets. Who knows?! Fact is, extraordinary amounts of literature across the globe by debut writers has been published in the past year. Some of it is stupendous. Three worth highlighting in this blog post are: Varun Thomas Mathew’s The Black Dwarves of the Good Little Bay , Nana Oforiatta Ayim’s The God Child and Rehana Munir’s Paper Moon. Three very distinct voices. Three distinct stories. All three debut writers who will shine in the future.

Varun Thomas Mathew is a lawyer by profession but has written a dystopic novel set in the near future where all humanity in India seems to be concentrated in a towering structure called Bombadrome. It is inhabited by people who have no memory and hence no sense of history. They have no recollection if this place was once called Bom Bahia or Bombay or Mumbai. It is a colony where there are specific functions allocated to each section. Occupiers of each section are identified by their uniform. Every task, evey person has a specific role that is designated by the powers that be and there seems to be no existence of free will. It is a “memoir” being written by a former bureaucrat called Convent Godse. The Black Dwarves are manual scavengers who resorted to splashing buckets of filth on to walls to create “arresting art”. Thus capturing the imagination of the media. But the black dwarves are like multiple versions of the real-life Banksy. Despite the Police Commissioner claiming to have arrested the Black Dwarves, a movement arose that could not be ignored. Like this there are many instances in the immediate past that Convent Godse has witnessed and finally opts to write them down. Another one is of the flautist who would stand at the Gateway of India playing tunes that “made passers-by of different religions fall in love” — love jihad. Convent Godse seems to retain a sense of perspective and sanity as he chooses to stay outside the boundary walls of Bombadrome. One of the people incarcerated in the medical quadrant who is a witness to the current chief minister’s past atrocities and the day the politician gains power, the witness “loses his mind” and is taken away. This is a sharply told tale that despite being set in the near future is horribly close to present realities. It is a powerful debut for sometimes fiction thinly masks the truth. Read it. Perhaps one day Man Booker Prize winner Paul Beatty and Varun Thomas Mathew can be encouraged to have a heart to heart talk about the literature they make and what propels them to write these extraordinary stories.

Nana Oforiatta Ayim is a Ghanaian writer, art historian and filmmaker whose debut novel is The God Child. It is about Ghanian expatriate Maya who is brought up in Germany and England. Later she is joined by her cousin from her mother’s side, Kojo. Maya’s mother belongs to a Ghanian royal family and is fairly regal in her ways. The children are close. So when Kojo is bullied, Maya is a witness and his confidante. Later as an adult she visits Kojo in Accra where he is trying to put together a museum that will revive their past royal glory. He is working very hard to put it together but tragedy strikes. Once again, Maya is a mute witness to a dream shattering. As with most debut novels, there is always a strong autobiographical element. The God Child is no different with Kojo’s drive to establish a museum in Accra is closely aligned to Ayim’s project of establishing an open-source encyclopedia of African history. Ayim’s fascination with art history resulted in her being the curator of the African pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale. As with the link to the lecture posted below, Ayim’s debut novel is preoccupied with the different ways of seeing. The protagonist of the novel is equally at ease in Germany, England and Ghana but Maya is constantly made to feel an outsider. The insidious racism that exists in society is horrendous. Kojo and she bear the brunt of it. Ayim has an unabashed critical filmmaker’s lens to talk about society across three lands — Germany, UK and Ghana. The clash of cultures and the insidious and deep seated racism which continues to persist in the poshest of places. Also the complete unacceptance of these so-called developed nations to accept the stories of children from Ghana, simply because they are black and speak of being descendants of kings and living in palaces. It is to the white world a myth that the blacks weave. The writer shares unpleasant truths which will not go down well in the polite world which speaks constantly of diversity and inclusivity but when it comes to practice what they preach is unable to truly accept wholeheartedly how difficult it is to embrace differences. I also like the surety with which the author writes in three languages — English, German and the African dialect, Twi, without necessarily explaining it immediately or contextualising it. It is much like the French used by Wodehouse in his novels. You either know it or don’t, so most readers learned to skip those passages and yet enjoyed the storytelling. Same here. As she says in this TED Talk that she has the power to define her own narrative — “We deserve to be in this place“. It shows a calm and confident writer who has been dissed in the early reviews for writing a “promising but uneven novel” — which it is not. Far from it. Read it for yourself. Unsurprisingly, Ayim has dedicated her novel to John Berger.

The last debut novel under discussion is Rehana Munir’s fabulous Paper Moon. It is about Fiza inheritance from her absent father stipulating that she run a bookstore. Well, she is left a lump sum of money to do whatever she likes but he would love it if she made his dream of running a bookshop come true. This is an idea that she too has been secretly nursing but once the possibilities exist she quickly swings into action. Practically overnight from a quiet, good college girl who listens to whatever her mother, an ex-Jazz singer has to say, Fiza becomes a businesswoman. She sets up a bookshop in a old Bandra mansion. It is named after the popular Jazz song, “It’s Only a Paper Moon“. It is an enterprise that is thrilling, allows for a variety of visitors to troop in, it is a peek into the bookselling trade and getting books on consignment from the distributors etc. More than that it gives her the opportunity to introspect her own life, her relationships with her ex-boyfriend, Dhruv and the mysterious stranger who frequents her store, to the wide network ( safety net) of well-wishers. Paper Moon is written in a beautifully restrained manner making it hard to believe that this is a debut voice. The characters are so well etched. The plot moves at a controlled pace. There seem to be no awkward edges in the storytelling or clunky pieces in the plot. What is truly refreshing is the confidence with which Rehana Munir presents life in Mumbai and Goa for what it is — with its diversity, the ease with which everyone is comfortable with each other’s beliefs and practices. There are no apologies or fear presented. It is normal life. This despite her belonging to a generation that may have not witnessed the World Wars or the horrific aftermath of Indian Independence — the communal riots which accompanied the partition of the subcontinent. But while “contemplating the post 9/11 world… . Babri Masjid happened, dividing Fiza’s city forever. Not there was the gore and gloom of Gujarat. Every generation thought of itself as unique. Of negotiating historical events without precedent or the possibility of recurrence. Yet, how was this rapid descent into madness any different from the countless ones that had previously occurred?” This is the undercurrent affecting everyone and yet life carries on. Surprisingly Rehana Munir’s narrative, albeit fiction, affirms that if we see around us, life is different to what is told to us in hegemonic discourses which are increasingly being controlled by politicians. Much like what Hans Rosling laid out in Factfulness. Both are equally hopeful books in an otherwise depressingly dystopic age. Rehana Munir’s Paper Moon is a story that deserves to be converted to film without compromising on the story at all in the screen adapatation. It must run as is. Paper Moon leaves such a happy space in one’s mind of hope and joy for the future. And it is not a book I would classify as Up lit. It is good old-fashioned storytelling. Share it widely. Give it the love it deserves. Gift it happily.

7 December 2019

An interview with Jayant Kaikini, winner DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2018

The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2018 was awarded to Jayant Kaikini along with his translator Tejaswini Niranjana for their book No Presents Please. The winner was announced by the DSC Prize jury chair Rudrangshu Mukherjee at the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet on 25th Jan, 2019, where eminent writer Ruskin Bond presented the trophy to the winning author and translator. Jayant Kaikini is a Kannada author and dramatist who has won the Karnataka Sahitya Akademi prize four times. He has also written regular newspaper columns, screenplays, dialogues and lyrics for Kannada films. Tejaswini Niranjana is a cultural theorist, translator and author. She is currently professor of cultural studies at Lingnan University, Hong Kong, Tejaswini Niranjana is a Sahitya Akademi prize-winning translator.

In the citation, jury Chair Rudrangshu Mukherjee, said, “The jury decided to award the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2018 to No Presents Please by Jayant Kaikini which has been translated by Tejaswini Niranjana and published by Harper Perennial. The jury was deeply impressed by the quiet voice of the author through which he presented vignettes of life in Mumbai and made the city the protagonist of a coherent narrative. The Mumbai that came across through the pen of Kaikini was the city of ordinary people who inhabit the bustling metropolis. It is a view from the margins and all the more poignant because of it. This is the first time that this award is being given to a translated work and the jury would like to recognize the outstanding contribution of Tejaswini Niranjana, the translator.”

The six shortlisted authors and books in contention for the DSC Prize this year were Jayant Kaikini: No Presents Please (Translated by Tejaswini Niranjana, Harper Perennial, HarperCollins India), Kamila Shamsie: Home Fire (Riverhead Books, USA and Bloomsbury, UK), Manu Joseph: Miss Laila Armed And Dangerous (Fourth Estate, HarperCollins, India), Mohsin Hamid: Exit West (Riverhead Books, USA and Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House, India), Neel Mukherjee: A State Of Freedom (Chatto & Windus, Vintage, UK and Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House, India) and Sujit Saraf: Harilal & Sons (Speaking Tiger, India)

No Presents Please: Mumbai Stories is not about what Mumbai is, but what it enables. Here is a city where two young people decide to elope and then start nursing dreams of different futures, where film posters start talking to each other, where epiphanies are found in keychains and thermos-flasks. From Irani cafes to chawls, old cinema houses to reform homes, Jayant Kaikini seeks out and illuminates moments of existential anxiety and of tenderness. In this book, cracks in the curtains of the ordinary open up to possibilities that might not have existed, but for this city where the surreal meets the everyday.

Jayant Kaikini, author of the DSC Prize-winning book No Presents Please, reading from the book in Kannada at the Award Ceremony, Kolkata, January 2019

Here are excerpts from an interview with Jayant Kaikini conducted via email.

JBR: There is a loveliness of everyday life in your stories which convey the variety of people who live in Mumbai and yet you manage to capture the quietness of each person. How do you manage this so beautifully? Do you revise your stories often?  

JK: I am deeply absorbed by the human world. May be there is a collective calm deep within, which binds us all and at the same time liberates us too. I don’t revise or chisel my stories. I write with a pen. I don’t type.

JBR: Are you a people watcher?  How do you build characters especially of the women?   

JK: We all are extensions of each other, like jigsaw puzzle pieces. We make sense only in the context of each other. Every individual is special. There is no deliberate attempt to build any character. I create an open space for them to evolve and grow on their own.

JBR: How do you develop plot in a short story? How do you manage to keep the tension in a storyline? 

JK: It’s not an essay or a feature writing or a film script. Yashwant Chittal, eminent Kannada writer (whose novel Shikari is available in English translation now), used to say ‘I don’t write what I know. I write to know’. I belong to that school.  You must get lost to find something new.

JBR: Why Mumbai? It is a massive melting pot of languages, cultures and dialects. I am guessing that the stories in Kannada probably preserved some of these inflections but English does not allow it. How do you come to terms with the flattening of the diction in English?

JK: Because Mumbai is Mumbai. The most liberating urban space where you feel free with a stranger. This city of plurality speaks in a ‘singular ‘ language of its own, like … “tereko, mereko”. I love it. Even the tone is distinctly homogeneous. So it is difficult to get it exactly in Kannada too.  In a way each story by itself is a new language of images and expression.

JBR: Is the English translation exactly like the Kannada text or were there modifications made to the text? 

JK: It’s exactly as the Kannada text, minimum deviation or modification. Maybe because Tejaswini Niranjana too is a ‘Mumbai chauvinist’ like me and a poet.  Translation is always safe in the hands of a poet. Since a poet is deeply tuned to ‘unsaid’ of the text.

JBR: Oral storytelling is a way of life in India. In your case too although you speak Konkani, you opted to write in Kannada and now are translated in to English. Do you think being multi-lingual and familiar with diverse ways of telling stories informs the literary structure of your printed short story? If so, how? 

JK: Multilingual sensibility is a precious virtue of our country.  More so in a big city. In Mumbai I speak in my mother tongue Konkani at home, in Hindi with fellow commuters in the local train, in English with colleagues at the workplace and in English with my senior colleagues and come back home and wrote in Kannada. Dagdu parab, Antariksha Kothari, Mogri, Mayee, Toofan, and Madhuvanti are not Kannada speakers but they come into my stories and talk in Kannada.  Isn’t it heartening?  As Tejaswini points out, these stories break the stereo type of perceiving individuals only with their linguistic identity. As I said earlier, story itself is a new language.

JBR: Does the form of a short story define your search for a subject? 

JK: I don’t search for subjects or stories. It is the other way. They are in search of me. Each story has its own body and soul. The shape of fish is hydro-dynamically designed for swimming. The shape of a bird is aerodynamically designed for flying. In the same way form and structure of a story is designed by its soul.

JBR: Do you think there are differences in the short story form of Kannada, Konkani and English? 

JK: Differences have to be there. Ongoing life is ‘ unstructured’ and ‘non-literary’. Through the window of a story we try to make sense out of it. So each window has to be different in its viewpoint and aperture.

JBR: What is the principle of selection of these stories as some date from the 1980s and some are as recent as a few years ago? And yet the English translation are not arranged chronologically. Why? 

JK: Though a bunch of stories, this book collectively works as a larger single fiction. Tejaswini and me impulsively picked 16 stories from my 5 anthologies, based on their variety and resonance. Order in which they are compiled, too was done jointly and impulsively.

JBR: What was the literature you were familiar with as a child and in your early days as a writer? 

JK: The reader and writer within me was born in 1970’s when Kannada modernist movement was at its best. My father Gourish Kaikini was a writer, scholar, thinker, journalist and staunch radical humanist. So there was an overdose of literature at home and as a child I was not amused then. I started reading and writing when I went away from home to another small town for my college education. If I look back, I think it was to combat homesickness and culture shock of switching over to English medium from Kannada medium in education. Reading, writing, extracurricular activities nurtured my self-esteem in an unfriendly new environment.

JBR: Who are the writers you admire and who have influenced your writing? 

JK: Yashwant Chittal, Shantinath Desai, A K Ramanujan, U. R. Ananthamurthy, P. Lankesh, Shivram Karanth, Kuvempu, Bendre, Thirumalesh . . . and many more have groomed and enriched my sensibilities and love for life and literature.

JBR: What has it been like winning the DSC Prize? 

JK: It was unexpected but it is a good news for Kannada, short story form and the talent of translation.  Any award is like a pat on the back of marathon runner from a cheering onlooker. You have to accept it with a smile and keep running. Pat is not the goal. 

1 June 2019

An interview with Roanna Gonsalves

Roanna Gonsalves is from India. She earned her PhD from the University of New South Wales. She teaches creative writing workshops within communities, schools, and universities. Her research focuses on the arts, social media, creativity studies and postcolonial literatures. She created a series of radio documentaries entitled, On the Tip of a Billion Tongues. She received the Prime Minister’s Australia Asia Endevour Award. She is the co-founder and co-editor of Southern Crossings. She is the author of The Permanent Resident, which won 2018 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, Multicultural NSW Award.

 

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Sunita De Souza goes to Sydney is a powerful set of stories that are atmospheric. Packed with detailed descriptions of Bombay/ Mumbai, Goa and Australia. “Home stays with you, in your stories” is a beautifully apt description of immigrant literature coined by by Norwegian resident, originally from Nagaland, and the Sahitya Akademi Bal Puraskar 2018 winner, Easterine Kiralu. The comment encapsulates Roanna Gonsalves short stories very well too.

It is not clear if the principle of arrangement of the stories is chronological but there is definitely a shift in the confident writing style and evolution of the women characters from the first “Full Face” to the last “The Permanent Resident”. There is a quiet determination evident in the stories to make literature out of the most ordinary experiences such as in the search for Sichuan peppercorns to prepare Kung pa khao chicken for lunch in “Easter 2016”. This is a devastatingly sharp story beginning with the title which is so apt with its double-edged reference to the resurrection of Christ and that of the woman narrator occurring on Easter Sunday. Roanna Gonsalves captures the relationship between her husband, Ronnie, and the narrator so well especially his insistence for Sichuan peppercorns No substitution with Indian peppercorn would suffice. His steely stubbornness that he wanted a change in the menu despite the fact the Easter Sunday lunch had already been cooked. The exhausted wife (not just physically but mentally and emotionally for being stuck in domestic drudgery and childcare, reminiscing about her life back in Bombay when she could also be a professional) agrees to look for the spice even though it is the long Easter weekend and in all likelihood all provision stores would be shut. The descriptions of the people walking on the streets as she goes by in her search is as if a bird has been let out of its cage and watches in numb wonderment. The narrator observes everyone so closely; as if the boundary lines between the narrator and author are blurred at this point. When she finally finds a store open, discovers a packet of the spice, nothing prepares the reader for her defiant act of tearing open the packet of pink peppercorns that are “pink as the sky at dusk over the backwaters of the Mandovi”, munching them and leaving the open packet on the shelf and walking out for a stroll reminiscing on how the fragrance reminds her of her grandmother while the flavour is that of a combination of lavender and Tiger Balm. The story works marvellously well at so many levels!

The dark twist of “Christmas 2012” is gut wrenching. “What you understand you can control” seems so innocuous a statement at first and then comes the story’s conclusion. I found myself holding my breath and was sickened to the core when I finished reading. It is a dark secret of many households even now if one keeps track of child sexual abuse stories. The horror of it is magnified by watching the news of the shocking rape of Dec 2012 but it seems to have no impact on the father.  I cannot get over the image of the bossy Martha, fussing over the linen and cutlery and carving of the turkey, being so precise about the Turkey sauce blemish on the white tablecloth; she knows exactly what home remedy to fix the stain but is clueless on how to “fix” the moral stain on her family. The poor woman stuck in a new land as an immigrant has no one really to speak to and cannot in any way jeopardise her situation or that of her husband by reporting Martin to the police otherwise they will in all likelihood lose their PR (Permanent Resident) status. Hell truly exists on earth and it is usually of man’s own making.

 

The stories are full of very distinct characters, particularly the women. Usually in a short story collection the danger always exists of the personality of the characters blending into each other and acquiring a monotonous tone. This is not the case for Sunita de Souza. With the women characters, the author explores situations and how far can women push their limits. It’s as if they have always had an urge to explore but were boxed in by social rules of conduct back home in India. Whereas being on one’s own in a new land provides an anonymity that pushes one to the brink to discover new spaces — physically and metaphorically too. Driven to extreme situations the women unexpectedly find their voices and take a stand. It is not as if they were weaklings in the first place, they just conform and conform. Then something clicks and they take flight in a good way. They take decisions that change their lives for the better. For instance, the protagonists of “(CIA) Australia”, “Full Face” and “Teller in the Tale” or even the “bold” mother in “Soccer Mum”. All the women try, some do take action and others contemplate it and in the process provide a role model to the readers.

The strongest stories in this collection to my mind are “The Dignity of Labour”, “Easter 2016” and “The Permanent Resident”. The themes of domestic violence, fragile male egos/ patriarchal sense of entitlement that the men exhibit and assertion of the individual’s identity are not new and never will be but come together ever so stunningly in these stories. These are horrendous stories for the violence highlighted. While reading these three stories I could not help but recall the commandment “Love thy neighbour as thyself”. The focus is inevitably on the first half of the commandment but increasingly I feel that women in particular should also learn to focus on the second half — self-preservation is equally critical. Don’t always give and give, but learn to maintain your dignity, self-respect, identity. The sleazy story “Up Sky Down Sky Middle Water” captures this commandment well. The girl was very sure she did not want to be a one-night stand but in that short ride she had done her calculation that having sex with the guy by the roadside would in all likelihood give her an advantage in negotiating her salary. It is a very unsettling story but in it lies quite a remarkable tale of self-preservation. She is near starvation with a very low bank balance and she has to do the quick calculation of whether using her body will give her an added advantage. It is tough to decide whether one passes moral judgement on the girl or appreciates her boldness, her quick thinking to be in some ways emotionally detached from the scene and think ahead of her future. The reader is put in quite a spot with this story.

The phrase “family friendly feminism” is fast becoming fashionable which is annoying for a variety of reasons but as your stories show there is so much work left to be done. Though the stories focus upon experiences of immigrants, specifically within the Goan/Bombay Catholic community, there is a universal truth embedded in every single story.

Fantastic collection!

 

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Here are excerpts of an interview with the author:

  • How long were these stories in the making?

I took about five years to write these stories, but they are standing on over two decades of writing experience.  My first job after graduating from St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai was as a reporter with Screen, in India, back in the days when it was a broadsheet. Since then I have written journalism, literary nonfiction, blogs, scholarly pieces in international peer-reviewed journals, radio documentaries, including Doosra: The Life and Times of an Indian Student in Australia  and On the tip of a Billion Tongues, a four part radio documentary series on contemporary multilingual Indian writing. I’ve written for the stage and had short fiction published in different journals, and anthologised in collections. I also wrote a novel (unpublished) which was longlisted for the Vogel Awards, back when I was under 35, which is the cut-off age for that award. As they say, you have to write millions of terrible words before you get to the good words. So all of this writing needed to be done, over two decades, before I could write my book. It took this long not because I’m a lazy or slow writer but because I’ve been a single parent and have had to work in many day jobs to support my family, while writing in my “spare time”.

  • Why begin writing short stories when most publishers shun this genre, especially from a first time author? How did you achieve this stroke of genius to be known as the debut author of a fantastic and now prize-winning collection?

Thank you so much for your warm and generous words, and your fantastic, considered questions. You’re right. It’s very hard to get published, particularly with a short story collection. I felt very honoured to be published by UWAP and Speaking Tiger. I wanted to write short stories because they call forth a respect for the limitations of time and space, and enable a focus on the particular, the intimate, and the fleeting. The short story form offers a set of sharp literary tools with which to sculpt complex experiences and render them economically on the page. This form of the short story felt most suited to writing about the complexities of the immigrant experience. It allowed me to explore different facets of that experience, from the point of view of different protagonists, something which would be harder to achieve with a novel.

  • Who are the short story writers you admire and why? Did their writing influence you in any way?

I’ve been heavily influenced by the work of all kinds of writers such as Eunice De Souza, Michelle De Kretser, Alice Munro, Jhumpa Lahiri, Ambai, Kiran Nagarkar, Jerry Pinto, Arundhati Subramaniam, A.K. Ramanujan, Chekhov, Arundhati Roy, Sampurna Chattarji, Arshia Sattar, Alexis Wright, Melissa Lucashenko, Tony Birch, Jeanine Leane, Ali Cobby Eckerman, Damodar Mauzo, bell hooks, and Elizabeth Bishop. I’ve had my fair share of Rushdie-itis, where I tried to magic-realise all my characters. That phase didn’t last thankfully. But yes, I owe a huge debt to Rushdie. So many writers have fed my work. As the Australian poet Andy Kissane says, “poems are cobbled together from other poems”. So too are stories cobbled together from other stories. I’m very aware of the debt I owe to the writers who have paved the way for people like me.

  • How did you start writing about the immigrant experience in Australia?

I started writing about this a long time ago, across various media.  My first piece of fiction, published in Eureka Street, ‘Curry Muncher’, was written as a response to the violence against Indian students in Australia. Having been an Indian student in Australia myself, I felt I needed to render the experience with nuance, and I felt fiction was the best vessel to hold this nuance and complexity. Exploring this topic further, I was also commissioned to write a radio documentary called Doosra, and was a co-writer on a national award-winning play ‘Yet to ascertain the nature of the crime’. All the links to my work can be found on my website.

  • Sometimes the turn in a story like that of the husband grinding the toes of his wife in “The Dignity of Labour” is too cruel a detail to be imaginative. It is as if you heard about it. Do these stories incorporate kernels of real incidents?

That is a lovely comment. However, I have to say that this particular incident is entirely made up. I’m sure this incident has happened to someone somewhere, but in this story it is an imagined detail. Some stories are based on things I’ve read in the media, but all the stories have been filtered through my imagination, and they are all fictional. I think fiction has the power to be truthful in a way that bare facts cannot.

I filtered some details of real stories. None of my stories are entirely based on true stories reported in the media. For example, in the first story, ‘Full Face’, the story of the hairdresser who is murdered by her husband is loosely based on the horrific murder of Parwinder Kaur here in Sydney, by her husband. But the main story itself is based on a different relationship. Yes of course, there is an important place for nonfiction. But the idea that fiction must be based on fact for it to be any good is not something I’m interested in. I believe in the power of fiction, the power of the imagination to help us glimpse our better selves. I’m not saying my fiction does this. But I believe that fiction as a whole has the power to do this.

  • Do you work or are associated with a shelter/organisation for Indian women immigrants?

No, I’m not, but I do know of many amazing Indian women here who work with survivors of family violence in the Indian communities.

JBR: Makes sense then. You have probably heard stories. it is not that I am insisting on looking for links but it is so clear that you are a kind and sensitive listener who has taken some stories to heart.

RG: Thank you.

  • I like the way you keep bringing in the Catholic Associations to support the immigrants, mostly provide them a communal and cultural base. The church communities do provide refuge for newcomers and immigrants. Was this a conscious detail to incorporate in your stories or is it a part and parcel of your own life as well?

Yes, it was completely deliberate to set my stories amongst the Indian catholic communities. One reason I did this was to counter in some small way the almost universal and inaccurate conflation of Indianness with Hinduism. As we all know, there is more to India than Hinduism, however rich and wonderful it may be. I wanted to gesture towards this multiplicity by deliberately focussing on a community I knew best. Yet, as you know, in my work, I do not shy away from critiquing Catholicism or the Catholic church. Yes, the church for Christians, the temples for Hindus, the mosques for Muslims, are all ports of anchor for new immigrants who find familiarity in old religions from the homeland when they arrive in a new country with an otherwise alien culture. I write about Konkani-speaking communities, Goan and Mangalorean and Bombay Catholics, just like Jhumpa Lahiri focusses on Bengalis, and Rohinton Mistry focusses on Parsis.

  • When you observe do you keep a notebook handy to scribble points or do these details come alive when you begin to write a story?

Yes, I keep a notebook, I also type up comments on my Notes app on my phone. I’ve gone back to these notes several times and they have provided rich material for my work. For me, the catalyst for each of my stories has been clusters of words that sound and look good to me. I begin with words that fit together in a way that is pleasing to me. I don’t begin with character or theme or plot. That comes after the words for me. So the notes and scribbles I make are primarily combinations of words that I’ve overheard or imagined suddenly when I’m waiting at the bus stop etc.

  • Your women characters come across as women who make difficult choices but would they be called feminists for making those decisions or just strong women?  How would you describe yourself as – a feminist or a writer of women-centric stories?

I am unapologetically a feminist. I owe everything to the struggles of the early feminists in India and across the world. Were it not for these brave women, I would still be stuck in the kitchen cooking rice and dal for my husband while nursing baby number nineteen. Our independence as women has been won through the struggles of many brave women, and I will never forget this debt. So yes, I call myself a feminist. All my female characters are feminists, in that they are strong women who make choices and are self-aware enough to deal with the consequences, however challenging or empowering those consequences may be.

  • Have you been trained in theatre?

I wish I could act like Shabhana Azmi and the late Smita Patil. However I have no talent and no training as a performer. But I have written for the stage and hope to continue to do so.

  • What are you writing next? 

I am writing a book of historical fiction, based on the imperial networks of the British and Portuguese empires. It’s about Governor Lachlan Macquarie and his Indian servant, set in the early nineteenth century in the south of India, the west of Scotland, and the east of Australia.

Roanna Gonsalves Sunita De Souza Goes to Sydney: And Other Stories Speaking Tiger Books, Delhi, 2018. Pb. pp. 296

3 July 2018 

 

An interview with Venita Coelho, “Boy No. 32”

Venita Coelho works with images, words and paint. She is a writer who has worked in film, television and literature. Her published work includes  Dead as a Dodo  which won the Hindu Award for the Best Fiction for Children 2016.  The Washer of the Dead  was long listed for the Frank O’Connor award. She is a screenwriter with films for Dharma Productions and Sanjay Leela Bhansali Productions to her credit. As an artist she works with charcoal and with acrylic paint on glass. She is about to set off on a great adventure – having converted a Tempo traveller into a caravan, she and her daughter are off to travel across India.

Venita Coelho’s recent young adult novel Boy No. 32 is an incredibly gripping book about Battees, an orphan named so after the number given to him — 32. ( In Hindi, the number 32 is called “battees”.) The story is about Battees winessing the presence of a dreaded terrorist, Kashmiri Lall, in his city, Mumbai, and he is now the only one who can help put him behind bars. It is a tremendously well-paced and tautly written book. Impossible to put down once you begin it. Also for the fact Venita Coelho never for an instant “talks down” to youngsters, nor is ever apologetic about the violence around us. Absolutely fantastic!

In this novel intermixing the orphans’ quest for locating Kashmiri Lall with encounters with the eunuchs, the Beggar King, and the horrific complicity of even the adults responsible for them such as Aunty and the cop, is done crisply. The “traditional” bad guys of literature like the eunuch are actually shown to be humane with a little more insight on how their community operates. Equally well-made are the cop and the “aunty” who are so incredibly corrupt, they would do anything for a few extra bucks. Venita Coelho is constantly challenging pre-conceived notions about characters. For instance, instead of giving the warden of the orphanage a name, she is referred to as “Aunty” — a big learning curve for Indian readers who are taught to practically revere an older woman, inevitably calling her “Aunty”, sort of seals this relationship.

Boy No. 32 is highly recommended!

Here are excerpts from an email interview:

I could not help wonder how you came upon this idea? Why?
It came out of the years I spent in Mumbai. The many times I caught the last train out of Churchgate and chatted with all the urchins in the compartment. It came out of all the stories they gave me and the adventures that the city gave.

How long did it take to write? How many revisions did it require?
I am a three draft writer. Knocked the first draft out across one November ” Nanowrimo”. That is ‘National Novel Writing Month’. You sign up at the website and for one month you get cheerleaders who push you along as you frantically write. People around the world are racing to finish their novels and the collect energy is quite astounding. The next two drafts took about eight months. But that was along side being a single mum, earning my living, and surviving Hindi films.

I can see it easily adapted for a school theatre performance — was that your intention?
It’s a movie! We don’t make children’s films in India. Every Hindi film with its songs and dances is essentially a children’s film. There is never a budget to make a ‘children’s film’. So I just put it in a book – Item number and all.

How did these characters come about? Which one struck you first?
Definitely Battees. He’s based on all the cocky little boys who sat down next to me at stations and launched into long stories. I so deeply admire the sheer courage and unputdownability these kids display, and I really wanted one of them to tell his story in his voice. And I have a very big soft spot for Item. Such courage. Such a diva!

Has your day job of writing scripts for the Indian film industry help craft young adult novels?
Not really. Hindi films have no idea of how to talk to young adults. All they ever offer them are mushy love stories. In fact to switch from writing films to books I normally have to do a couple of weeks ‘detox’ when I consciously switch from writing scenes and move to writing descriptions. Another level is moving from the superficial level of films to a deeper emotional level for books.

What has been the response of the kids who have read the book? Have you encountered them at your sessions in different cities?
We’ve had riotous sessions. The kids always love the elephant story – and it gets them thinking about real patriotism. And I always tell them that only one thing separates them from the kid on the street – sheer luck. They could have been born anywhere. And it is their duty to pass that luck on. It always makes for lively discussions.

Do you get different responses to your stories from boys and girls or does a gendered reading not matter?
I haven’t found that gender makes much difference to the response. Girls tend to ask more questions though.

Do you write with a specific reader/audience in mind?
Nope. Never do that. You can never tell how a story is going to turn out. An adult story might find it’s own way to be a children’s story. A writer can’t really predict how pitch and tone will finally tune itself. I let the story find it’s own audience. I try to write interestingly enough for anyone at all to be able to read the story.

Before publishing, do you “test” the story out or go with your instinct. I ask since I found the novel pitch perfect.
I did have three readers for the final round. It was a first for me. I got some good feedback and I will try it. again. But basically I have had so much damn writing practice doing television that it’s finally coming easy. When you do a daily soap you write 5 episodes a week. That’s ten hours of TV a month. That’s a heck of a lot of writing!

What is next on the cards?
I’m working on three different books. I tend to bounce between books. The one closest to my heart is a story based on my growing up in Kolkata. I grew up in a building that the Indian government had acquired to house the jews that it rehabilitated after the holocaust. I grew up hearing stories of the concentration camps. Now I’m finally ready to write them down.

Would you ever consider writing a series arc for young adults?
Of course. Just finished the first book of what is meant to be three books in total. I love the space that ‘Fault in our Stars’ occupies. Now that is really young adult space. So I have done a book that is for really young people, with a love story at the heart of it – but also the issues of terrorism, violence and ahimsa. Let’s see how it does!

Venita Coelho Boy No. 32 Scholastic India, Gurgaon, India, 2017. Pb. pp.186 Rs. 295 

Kiran Nagarkar, “Bedtime Story”

 
Bedtime Story coverDraupadi: You have all gone stark, raving mad. You’re going to share me just because Mummy said so? And you expect me to turn myself into a five-day roster to please you? I’m supposed to divide myself into five portions? Listen to me, Arjun, and listen well. If I stay here, I stay as your wife, not as the mistress of five brothers. Are you coming with me or aren’t you?  ( p. 38) 
 

Kiran Nagarkar’s Bedtime Story is a play in four acts. Each  of the acts is based on a well-known episode from the Mahabharata. These are of Eklavya cutting off his thumb for Dronacharya as guru dakshina; the swaymvara of Draupadi where every suitor had to try and shoot an arrow in the eye of a fish overhead that revolved from a high pole — not looking at the target directly but at its reflection in a cauldron of oil; the infamous dice game where the Pandavas lost their kingdom to the Kauravas and they attempted to disrobe Draupadi, if it were not for Krishna who miraculously restored her garments to save her from shame and finally, on the eve of the battle between Kaurava and Pandavas, when Lord Krishna preached the doctrine of dharma to Arjuna which is enshrined in the most famous of Hindu texts, the Bhagvad Gita. This last act also has a conversation between Gandhari, mother of the Kauravas and Krishna.

Bedtime Story was written soon after the Emergency ( 1975-77), but it has been published for the first time, thirty-seven years later in 2015. The first time there was an attempt to perform it was actor and theatre director Dr Shreeram Lagoo. As Kiran Nagarkar writes in the introduction:

He [ Dr Lagoo] realized that the play was provocative and controversial material. He invited all the experimental theatre groups in Bombay for a reading in 1978 because he wanted the whole amateur theatre movement behind the play. In the meantime, the play had been sent to the censor board for certification, as the law in Maharashtra demands. It came back with seventy-eight cuts, some of them a page long, so that barely the jacket-covers were left. Eminent academics, M.P. Rege, Pushpa Bhave, and a couple of others argued the case for Bedtime Story at a meeting of the censor board. Many of the excisions the board demanded were risible ( e.g. drop the names of the Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi), some questions did not make any sense (e.g. why are you distorting the original myths?). I must admit I was hoping that the board would have at least some members from the Marathi literary elite who would have understood the thrust of the play. But I soon realized that I was deluding myself. The board was convinced that the play was a stain on our culture and needed to be severely sanitized. …When the director of the play finally got a letter from the board, the cuts had been reduced to twenty-four. But by then almost all the actors had withdrawn from the rehearsals because fundamentalist Hindu parties and organizations in Bombay, as it was known then, threatened the director, producer, actors and me, and even the first rehearsal was not allowed to take place. It helped enormously that none of these vociferous guardians of our culture had read Bedtime Story. ( p 6-7) 

The play was finally staged in 1995 by Rekha Sabnis’s theatre group, Abhivyakti, directed by Achyut Deshingkar. But it ran for only twenty-five performances. “The actors had such fun with the firecracker dialogue and the energy within the play and the difficult questions it raised that they pooled their money and revived the play two years later, this time in Hindi, and it had a few more performances. Sometime later, Vasant Nath staged the play in Cambridge, UK, and at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh.” ( p.7) Noted journalist, Salil Tripathi wrote an excellent piece in The Mint about his first encounter with Bedtime Story. ( Salil Tripathi, “When Kiran Nagarkar said the unsayable” 28 February 2015, Live Mint, http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/2izXvQjOpQm0hFGPz0vdIK/When-Kiran-Nagarkar-said-the-unsayable.html)

I first came across Bedtime Story in 1982. The Emergency was still fresh in our minds, and the collapse of the Janata administration in 1979 and the triumphant return of Indira Gandhi in 1980 had chilled the mood, crumbling the illusion that the Janata years had represented, of being the harbinger of a cultural renaissance. Nagarkar’s play was drawn from the Mahabharata, “the living epic in the subcontinent”, as he describes it, because the epic became the “medium to drive home my point about the malaise from which most of us suffer: apathy.” The play shows how the good guys—the Pandavas—are weak and subject to human follies, and the bad guys—the Kauravas—are no better. The choice is between dark and darker. …. 

I saw the play in 1982—or heard it, that’s more like it—at a private reading at the home of Rekha Sabnis, the actor (her group Abhivyakti would later stage the play, directed by Achyut Deshingkar in 1995, and it would have a limited run of 25 shows). But that Sunday morning at Sabnis’ home, we were spellbound as she read the script, along with writer and artist Manjula Padmanabhan, researcher Tulsi Vatsal, and Nagarkar himself. I was young then, fresh out of college, but I realized what it must have felt like in Eastern Europe, where samizdat performances of cutting-edge, political plays took place just that way. I wrote about it a week later in the now-defunct Sunday Observer.

Even though it is the twenty-first century, it is commendable this play has finally been published, given as Romila Thapar points out that India is, “…a highly patriarchal society such as our present-day society”. ( Romila Thapar, “The Real Reasons for Hurt Sentiments”, 13 March 2015 http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-real-reasons-for-hurt-sentiments/article6987156.ece ) In the recent past there have been innumerable instances of attempts censor literary works that can only be attributed to plain bullying by fundamentalist groups and the muzzling of free speech by powers that be, actions that are unacceptable in a thriving democracy like India. 

A play like Bedtime Story must have been revolutionary in its ideas when it was first presented in the mid-1970s. All though in 1975 the first Committee on the Status of Women in India had brought out the path-breaking report on the condition of women in the country, Towards Equality: The Report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India, written by legendary feminist-activists such as Vina Mazumdar and Latika Sarkar.  Yet the notion of having women in the play like Draupadi and Gandhari questioning the men’s actions and asserting themselves, rather than meekly accepting decisions made on their behalf could not have gone down easily with many people in 1970s. All the women portrayed in the play come across as strong women, who are on an equal footing with the men. The men, whether they are princes, kings or even gods, are strong too, but have their fair share of faults too. Such ideas continue to generate a debate among men and women, but at least these ideas are no longer uncommon or unheard of. Plus, after the hugely commercial success of books such as Chitra Divakurni’s Palace of Illusions, a fabulous retelling of the Mahabharata from the point-of-view of Draupadi, a play like Bedtime Story will be more than acceptable to the reading public. All though the recent furore over the telecast and ultimately imposing a ban of Leslee Udwin’s documentary, “India’s Daughter” shows that these patriarchal notions  of how much space, identity and freedom can a woman be given are deeply entrenched in this society, it will be a long while before the idea of equality between men and women become reality in India.

Bedtime StoryIt is befitting then that the first launch of this book was by noted feminist-activist-publisher, Urvashi Butalia in New Delhi on 11 March 2015, three days after Women’s Day.

Buy this book now. Who knows, a few months or years down the line Bedtime Story will be banned again. We live in uncertain times. If it comes to pass that this play too is pulled off the shelves, it will not be the first time. Just as was done with Perumal Murugan’s novel, One Part Woman, which was withdrawn by the author after being intimidated by fundamentalists, nearly two years after the English translation and four years after it had been published in Tamil. And many other authors/texts in recent Indian publishing history.

Buy it also for the fantastic dust jacket. It is stupendous. The cover concept is Kiran Nagarkar’s and the cover design is by Prashant Godbole.

Kiran Nagarkar Bedtime Story and Black Tulip Fourth Estate, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, Noida, India. Hb, pp. 300. Rs. 695 

16 March 2015 

JaipurBookMark speakers profiles

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JaipurBookMark is a B2B conference organised at Narain Niwas, Jaipur. It runs parallel with the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival on the 21 – 22 January 2015. The programme and registration details are available at: http://bit.ly/1KxRcZx 

Aditi Maheshwari holds Masters degrees in English literature (Hansraj College, Delhi University) and Business Management (Strathclyde Business School, Scotland) and a pre-doctoral/ M.Phil. degree in Social Sciences (Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai). She also holds a diploma in Public Relations and Advertising. She heads the Department of Copyrights and Translation at Vani Prakashan and is the Managing Trustee at Vani Foundation.

Ajit Baral, an alumnus of the International Writing Program-2011, Iowa University. Ajit Baral is the author of Lazy Conman and Other stories (Penguin, India), Interviews Across Time and Space (FinePrint). He is the co-editor of New Nepal, New Voices (Rupa, India) and the editor of First Love (in Nepali). He has contributed articles, book reviews and short prose pieces to national and international magazines, journals and book forms. He used to coordinate the literary supplement of Nagarik, Akshyar, the first stand-alone literary supplement in Nepal. He runs an independent bookstore, Bookworm and is the co-founder of a Kathmandu-based publishing house, FinePrint and the director of Nepal’s first-ever international literature festival, Nepal Literature Festival.

Alberto Manguel is a Canadian writer, translator, editor and critic, born in Buenos Aires in 1948. He lives in a small village in France, surrounded by more than 40,000 volumes. He has published several novels, including News From a Foreign Country Came, and All Men Are Liars, and non-fiction, including A History of Reading, The Library at Night and (together with Gianni Guadalupi) The Dictionary of Imaginary Places. He has received numerous international awards, among others the Order of Arts & Letters from France, and is doctor honoris causa of the universities of Liège and Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge.

Amish Tripathi’s Shiva Trilogy — The Immortals of Meluha (2010), The Secret of the Nagas (2011) and The Oath of the Vayuputras (2013) — quickly became the fastest selling book series in Indian history. His books have been translated into 14 Indian and International languages. Included by Forbes India in their Celebrity 100, he has also received the Society Young Achievers Award for literature, Radio One’s Indian of the Year award and PRCI’s Communicator of the Year award in 2013. Amish is a graduate of IIM-Calcutta and worked for 14 years in the financial services industry before turning to full-time writing. He lives in Mumbai with his wife Preeti and son Neel.

Prof. Apoorvanand teaches at the Department of Hindi, University of Delhi. He is a literary and cultural critic. He also writes on contemporary issues. He has been associated with various committees on school and university education. Presently he is the editor of Aalochana, a journal of criticism.

Arpita Das is a Publisher-Editor based in New Delhi. She owns the indie publishing house YODA PRESS and has recently co-founded the self-publishing start-up AuthorsUpFront. She is a believer in book culture and writes in her free time.

Ashwin Sanghi ranks among India’s highest selling English fiction authors. He has written several bestsellers (The Rozabal Line, Chanakya’s Chant, The Krishna Key). He has also recently co-written an international thriller with James Patterson that hit the New York Times bestsellers list. Included by Forbes India in their Celebrity 100 and winner of the Crossword Popular Choice Award, Ashwin lives in Mumbai.

Atiya Zaidi holds a post graduate degree in English Literature. She has done a Publishing course from Yale University. She is the Publisher with the largest national publisher, Ratna Sagar. She has 26 years of experience in writing and preparing books for children, her specialization being ELT (English Language Teaching) Material. She also creates course material for social sciences, primary Maths and primary Science. Atiya Zaidi has presented papers at international conferences, on ELT and learning methodology. She is on the faculty of two major publishing courses. She is a founder member of the FICCI Publishing Cell.

Prof. Avadhesh Kumar Singh (Ph D), has been Vice Chancellor, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Open University, Ahmedabad. Thereafter, he was Convener, Knowledge Consortium of Gujarat, Government of Gujarat. He has been Director, School of Translation Studies & Training, IGNOU, New Delhi and Director (i/c) Indian Sign Language & Research Centre (ISLRTC), Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment at IGNOU. His areas of interest include literatures in Indian languages, comparative poetics, contemporary literary theory and criticism, translation and interdisciplinary studies. He has published papers in various anthologies, national and international journals. He has worked on various UPSC, UGC, DEC and NAAC Committees. Since 1994, he has been Editor, Critical Practice, a biannual journal of literary and critical studies.

Bharti Sinha has a Post Graduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Mysore University. She is the MD of Bharti’s Center of Learning & Development which has 26 weekend workshops designed as a curtain raiser to various career opportunities.

Bikash D. Niyogi, a Commerce Graduate with Diploma in Marketing Management, has a wide and varied experience in trade and commerce, particularly in the fields of Printing and Publishing. He started the Publishing House Niyogi Books in the year 2005 with associate offices. Today Niyogi Books has over 250 titles to its credit and has won numerous awards from Federation of Indian Publishers and other International forums. He is also a member of Indo German Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Indian Publishers, All India Federation of Master Printers and the India International Centre, Press Club of India, Delhi State Booksellers & Publishers Association and Capexil, among others.

David Ryding is the Director of the Melbourne’s UNESCO City of Literature Office. Melbourne was designated a UNESCO City of Literature in 2008 in recognition of the city’s rich literary culture and diverse offering. The Melbourne City of Literature Office is responsible for celebrating and promoting this designation and everything literary Melbourne has to offer.
Prior to this he was the Executive Director of the NSW Writers’ Centre, Director of the Emerging Writers’ Festival and the Artistic Director for South Australian Theatre Company Mainstreet Theatre Company, a company dedicated to new Australian writing about Regional Australia.

Dipali Khanna is a civil servant with a distinguished career. She is presently Member Secretary, Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA), which is a CEO position and she has been in this role since August 2012. This is a research centre established to collate and preserve the various forms of art in India. Dipali has demonstrated a strong track record in the revival and setting up of institutions. In her present role, she has been responsible for comprehensively revamping IGNCA from an organization with low visibility to one that is on track to becoming a hub for content, resources, research and interaction in the field of art and cultural heritage.

Henry Rosenbloom is Scribe’s founder, publisher, and CEO. A son of Holocaust survivors, he was born in Paris, France, in 1947, was educated at the University of Melbourne — where he became the first full-time editor of the student newspaper, Farrago — and later worked in the Whitlam Labor government for Dr Moss Cass. The author of Politics and the Media (1976), he has been a book printer, freelance journalist, book reviewer, and occasional newspaper op-ed and feature writer. In 2010 he was presented with a George Robertson award for service to the publishing industry.

Ivor Indyk is the founder of the award-winning independent literary publisher Giramondo Publishing, and Whitlam Professor in the Writing and Society Research Group at the University of Western Sydney. A critic, essayist and reviewer as well as a publisher, he has written a monograph on David Malouf for Oxford University Press, and essays on many aspects of Australian literature, art, architecture and literary publishing. Giramondo publishes poetry, fiction and non-fiction by Australian and overseas authors. Important Australian authors published by Giramondo include Alexis Wright (winner of the Miles Franklin Award), Brian Castro, Gerald Murnane, Nicholas Jose, Judith Beveridge, Jennifer Maiden, Robert Gray, Gig Ryan and Antigone Kefala.

Karthika V.K. is publisher and chief editor of HarperCollins Publishers India. She started her career in publishing at Penguin Books India in 1996 and moved to Harper in 2006 to head the publishing programme in India. She has published several major including Anita Nair, Anuja Chauhan, Manu Joseph, Hartosh Singh Bal, Rana Dasgupta, S Hussain Zaidi, Sarnath Banerjee, Amruta Patil, Vishwajyoti Ghosh, Karthika Nair and Booker-prize winner Aravind Adiga, among others. At HarperCollins she oversees a publishing programme that includes a vibrant poetry and graphic fiction (and non-fiction) list apart from a strong literary imprint in Fourth Estate and Harper Sport, the only imprint in India that’s dedicated to sport books.

Kate McCormack’s first position was with an Australian educational publishing company. From Australia she moved to London where she worked for Foyles Bookshop, then as an assistant agent with The Sayle Literary Agency and after that took a job in rights with Virgin Books. She then travelled to India where she did some work with Tara Books. She has been with the Penguin Australia rights department for close to eight years now and was recently promoted to Rights Manager.

M. A. Sikandar is presently the Director of the National Book Trust, India. He has varied managerial, teaching & research experience in various Government departments and the University of Delhi. He also serves as Member in the project advisory committee of National Translation Mission, Grant-in-Aid Committee of Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore, Advisory Committee for Central Hindi Directorate (Ministry of HRD), Advisory Committee Indian Literature Aborad, Sahitya Akademi, Advisory Board for Junior Science Section, TERI Publication. Dr Sikandar is also the Fair Director of the New Delhi World Book Fair. He has been conferred with the Award for Excellence – Production of Books globally by the Afro Asian Book Council (2014).

Manas Saikia has been with the Book Industry since he joined OUP as a 19 year old novice representative. He has handled every aspect of publishing, from editing to selling, from finance to distribution. Since 1985 he has been the face of Cambridge University Press in India. He was awarded an Honorary M.A. by The University of Cambridge. After an early retirement, Manas has started a distribution organization called “FEEL Books Pvt. Ltd.” who represent the distinguished German Publisher – De Gruyter among others. In 2014 he and another publishing veteran, Ravi Singh of Penguin fame, have joined hands to create a new Publisher – “Speaking Tiger”.

Manasi Subramaniam is Commissioning Editor and Rights Manager at HarperCollins Publishers India

Manisha Chaudhry is a writer, translator, editor and publisher. She started her career in publishing with Kali for Women, India’s first feminist publishing house. She has also worked in the development sector as a consultant on issues of gender and primary education. Her English translation of Ailan Gali Zinda Hai by Chandrakanta published by Zubaan as A Street in Srinagar was shortlisted for the DSC prize for South Asian Literature in 2012. She works with Pratham Books as the Editorial Head. She was Founder Trustee of Bookaroo Trust which runs a children’s literature festival and is advisor to the Kahani and Samanvay festivals of literature.

Meredith Curnow is the Knopf, Vintage publisher at Random House Australia. Writers published include Don Watson, Gail Jones, Frank Moorhouse, Deborah Forster, David Malouf, Tom Keneally, Nick Earls, Kate Forsyth, Philipp Meyer and Stephen Dando-Collins. Before that, she was the director of the Sydney Writers’ Festival, from the re-launch as a freestanding event in 1998 until 2002. She spent five years at the Australian Publishers Association working with the export development committee, the trade publishing committee and the small publishers committee. Meredith chairs the APA / Australia Council committee for the Residential Editorial Program and is on the Editorial Advisory Board, Writing and Society Research Centre, University of Western Sydney.

Mohua Mitra Senior Editor at Niyogi Books, Delhi, she has an inherent love for creative writing and translations. A former journalist, she worked with Business Standard and The Telegraph (ABP Group Publications, Kolkata) as feature writer and arts and music reviewer before moving on to creative & editorial consultancy and books & journals publishing as founder-partner of Inkpot in Kolkata (2003-2009), with a former journalist friend. She is happy grappling with the twists and turns of authors and manuscripts, particularly translations of indigenous writing from eastern and north-eastern India. Mohua lives in Delhi with her two children.

Naresh Khanna worked in the print industry in the U.S. and India till 1979, and since as a consultant to leading printers, publishers, and large international organizations in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Active in the movement to use computers for Indian language typesetting since 1976, he founded Indian Printer and Publisher a trade monthly in April 1979 and Packaging South Asia, another monthly in 2007. He started IppStar in 2001 and researched and wrote its Indian Print Industry Survey in 2004. IppStar began a country-wide survey of the Indian book publishing industry in January 2014. Author of Miracle of Democracy in India, 1977, Interprint Publications, New Delhi.
Nicholson Baker is the author of ten novels and five works of nonfiction, including The Mezzanine, Vox, Human Smoke, and The Anthologist. He has received a National Book Critics Circle award, a Herman Hesse Prize, and the Katherine Anne Porter Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives with his family in Maine.

Nicolas Idier is the Head of the Book Office at the Institut Français en Inde since September 2014, after having held the same position in Beijing at the Embassy of France in China during the last four years. A specialist in history and a Doctor of the Université Paris-Sorbonne, Nicolas Idier is also a fiction and non-fiction author.

Niyam Bhushan is an independent media, publishing, and IT professional, as well as one of India’s leading designers. He has worked as a consultant with Adobe of Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, PageMaker, Xerox and Acrobat. Niyam has consulted with DK India, as also with Living Media for Scientific American as well as Prevention magazine. He is currently exploring how to adapt Pratham Books titles into digital formats including eBooks. He has been a Contributing Editor to Hindustan Times, Mint newspaper, Former Editor of PCWorld magazine, Editor-in-Chief and CEO of Chip magazine, and Contributing Editor to LinuxForYou magazine. He comes from a family background in publishing and writing.

Oliver Møystad is Senior Adviser in NORLA (Norwegian Literature Abroad), working with translation support and the promotion of Norwegian literature abroad. Before joining NORLA in 2008, Møystad has worked for many years in Norwegian publishing as an editor and as a literary agent. He also translates from English, German and Spanish. He has a degree in Business Administration and a BA in Humanities.

Prasoon Joshi is a National Award winning Indian songwriter, screenwriter and advertising copywriter. He has built mega brands, won the prestigious National Award twice, garnered glory at international awards, and has been Chairman of the Jury at Cannes as well as on the jury of the Dadasaheb Phalke award. His work– be it mainstream brands like Coca Cola or socially relevant campaigns like Malnutrition or writing for feature films like Taare Zameen Par, Rang De Basanti or the recent Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (for which he has written the story, screenplay, dialogue as well as lyrics)– finds a deep social and mass connect.

Rajiv Mehta is Amazon’s Country Manager of Kindle in India and is responsible for all aspects of the Kindle business across India. Prior to joining Amazon.com in November 2014, Rajiv Mehta was Senior Vice President of Samsung America where he was responsible for the entire pre- and post-sales Operations. Before joining Samsung, Rajiv Mehta worked as Vice President, B2B Sales and Business Development at Sears Home Services and held several positions at Motorola where he was last regional Director and Business Development for EMEA and Asia Pacific. Rajiv Mehta is a graduate of University of Florida – Warrington College of Business.

Ralph Möllers In 1986, Ralph became an editor for computer book publisher Markt & Technik in Munich. In 1988, he teamed up with Iris Bellinghausen to found Systhema Verlag, one of Germany’s first multimedia publishers. Möllers left the company and took over as head of the multimedia publisher Navigo. In 1997, he founded his third publishing house Terzio, which publishes innovative children’s media. Book2look is an online marketing tool that Möllers & Bellinghausen has developed in a joint venture with the Mumbai based WITS Interactive Pvt. Ltd. and that is now internationally distributed by Nielsen Book Data.

Renu Kaul Verma is the founder director of Vitasta Publishing Private Limited and specializes both in fiction and non-fiction. A former journalist, she has worked with major Indian dailies such as the Indian Express and the Hindustan Time. She also publishes a monthly newspaper focused on Indian publishing industry, called BOOK LINK and is associated with a literary e-journal called Earthen Lamp Journal. She has published best-sellers such as Narendra Modi The GameChanger, Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi: An inside job, Café Latte, Four Aleys, India’s Biggest Cover-up, No Secrets, Flight of Hilsa, From the streets of Kathmandu, No Country for Women, Brahmacharya Gandhi & His Women Associates, My God is a Woman, A Naxal Story, Shakti, Line of Control and Constitutional Controversies.

Renuka Chatterjee started out as a journalist with the Times of India in the late ‘80s, and helped launch The Saturday Times, the country’s first colour magazine weekend supplement. She switched to publishing in 1992 as Associate Editor with Penguin Books. After Penguin, she has been editor-in-chief of HarperCollins India and subsequently, Roli Books and Westland Ltd. In 2013 she started her own literary agency, The Boxwallah, for promoting quality fiction and non-fiction. She is currently Consulting Editor with Speaking Tiger.

Rick Simonson has worked at The Elliott Bay Book Company, an internationally recognized Seattle bookshop, since 1976. He is senior book buyer there and founded an author reading series that presents writers from around the world in 1984. He is on governing or advisory boards with Copper Canyon Press, the University of Washington Press, and Seagull Books. He has been a jury member for the DSC South Asian Literature Prize and the US’s National Book Award. He has spoken on bookselling and publishing at festivals and conferences in the U.S., Beijing, Sharjah, and Jaipur – which he has been attending since 2010.

Sandip Sen Writer, journalist Sandip Sen is the author of Neta Babu, Subsidy : Roundup 2000 to 2014 a book that charts the journey of the Indian economy during the last decade leading to the sharp fall of the Indian Rupee during the summer of 2013. He is currently an Editor at the 35-year old publication The Indian Printer and Publisher. A business analyst and energy sector specialist, he has been writing freelance for The Economic Times, The Financial Express and The Hindu Business Line. He also writes a risk management blog at ET named What happens if? and an environment blog Ecothrust at Blogspot and is also known by his Twitter handle @ecothrust.

Satti Khanna is Associate Professor at Duke University, USA, where he teaches Indian Cinema and Modern Hindi Literature. He has a special interest in the aesthetic experience induced by works of art. He interprets the lives and works of contemporary Indian writers through a series of documentary films and translations, of which the most recent is his translation of Vinod Kumar Shukla’s Khilega to Dekhenge (Once It Flowers, HarperCollins, 2014).

Dr Shantanu Ganguly, has served several reputed organizations in and around Delhi such as University of Delhi (DU), Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI), and National Productivity Council (NPC), Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Lucknow and TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute). He served as Academic Counselors to several institutions such as IGNOU, VMOU to develop their course modules. He also served as Associate Editors for several reputed national journals and newsletters. He is the Organising Secretary of the most prestigious International Conference on Digital Libraries (ICDL). He is also recipient of most prestigious awards – Bonnie Hilditch International Librarian Award for Science and Technology – 2010, conferred by Special Library Association, USA and Roll of Honour, and conferred by TERI for his outstanding contribution in the profession.

Shona Martyn has been the Publishing Director of HarperCollins Australia and New Zealand for 15 years. She previously worked for Random House and Transworld Publishers. Shona started her working life as a newspaper journalist and was the winner of the Journalist of the Year award in her native New Zealand before working in the UK and Australia. She was subsequently the Arts Editor of Vogue Australia, the editor of Good Weekend and the founding editor of HQ magazine before her move to book publishing. In her role at HarperCollins, she oversees all adult fiction and non-fiction publishing.

Sirish Rao is a writer, festival producer and publishing professional. He is the Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the annual Indian Summer Festival in Vancouver, an omnivorous festival of arts, culture and ideas. Sirish has authored twenty books, from commentaries on popular culture to children’s books, to retellings of Greek plays for the Paul Getty Museum. His books have been translated into seventeen languages and won several international awards. Sirish is the former Director of the award-winning Tara Books and is currently an Adjunct Professor in the Publishing Department at Simon Fraser University where he teaches a course in international publishing.

Shubhada Rao is the Chief Economist at YES BANK. Shubhada brings with her over 25 years of experience in academia and industry wherein she has pioneered research design geared to facilitate business decisions. Shubhada has also worked with Kotak Institutional Equities, Bank of Baroda, CRISIL Advisory Services and Times Bank. Shubhada is an active member of the Economics Committees of Industry Associations and is a member of CII National Economic Policy Council, New Delhi, Co-Chair of Economics Committee at ASSOCHAM and a member of the Monetary Policy Group – Indian Banks’ Association (IBA). She had also served as Chairman of Economics Committee of Bombay Chamber of Commerce & Industry between 2009-11

Terri-Ann White has spent her working life around books and ideas: as a bookseller, writer, teacher and workshop presenter, editor, festival organizer and now publisher. The one driving constant is her passion for the unique voice in writing, and the preparedness to be evangelical in its promotion. She is currently Director of UWA Publishing in Perth, Western Australia.

Urvashi Butalia is the founder and CEO at Zubaan books. She co-founded Kali for Women in 1984 and Zubaan in 2003. Along with over 35 years of experience in feminist and independent publishing, she also has several works to her credit, key among which is her path-breaking study of Partition, The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India which won several awards. She has also taught publishing for over 20 years and is on the advisory boards of a number of national and international organisations. She has received awards such as the Pandora award for women’s publishing, the French Chevalier des Artes et des Lettres, the Nikkei Asia Award for Culture and the Padma Shree, the highest civilian honour awarded by the Indian government.

Ute Reimer-Boehner has been working at the Goethe-Institut across the globe since 17 years. Currently she is the director of Information and Library Services South Asia at the Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan. Goethe-Institut organises and promotes a wide spectrum of cultural events with the aim of presenting German culture. The department of library and information services cooperates with institutions, publishing houses and libraries in India and fosters the translation of German literature as well as the professional exchange with Germany.

Dr Venu Vasudevan is currently serving as the Director General of National Museum and Vice Chancellor of National Museum Institute, under the Ministry of Culture. Till recently, he was also Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Culture. In his brief tenure in the National Museum, Dr Venu, has been instrumental in reviving the Museum. Under his leadership, galleries have reopened, displays have improved and facilities upgraded. He has also played a key role in designing and rolling out the ‘Incredible India’ campaign. He played a key role in organising the Kochi Biennale, an international art event. He is active in theatre, and performs with his group ‘ Abhinaya’.

Vera Michalski-Hoffmann Born in Basel, Switzerland, in a family with Swiss, Russian and Austrian roots, Vera spent her childhood in France, studied in Spain and has a degree in Political science from the Graduate institute of International Studies in Geneva. She established the Jan Michalski (named after her late husband) foundation for Literature and Writing to actively support literary activities in different countries. She is now the publisher of the Libella group that comprises the following imprints: In France : Buchet/Chastel, Phébus, Le temps apprivoisé, les Cahiers dessinés, Libretto. In Switzerland : Noir sur Blanc, with a new line called Notabilia, Editions Favre. And in Poland: Oficyna Literacka Noir sur Blanc.

Vishal Anand is Chief Product Officer at NewsHunt. His career spans between US, Japan and India where he has led product & engineering teams that have shipped large-scale consumer software products. He currently heads NewsHunt, and derives happiness in bringing never before available Indian literature in hands Indian mobile users.

Wendy Were After running three successful writers’ festivals at the Perth International Arts Festival, Wendy was the Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Sydney Writers’ Festival. She has also been a Business Advisor with the Creative Industries Innovation Centre and the CEO at the iconic West Australian Music (WAM. The Sydney Morning Herald listed Wendy in the top 100 of the most influential people in Sydney in 2008. In 2009 she was listed in Artshub’s top 15 arts power players in Australia. Wendy is a member of the WA regional arts panel for the Churchill Fellowship; a Council Member of Voiceless, the animal protection institute; and a patron of the Fairbridge Folk Festival.

Guest post: Historicizing Myths, Mythologizing History, Sami Ahmad Khan

Guest post: Historicizing Myths, Mythologizing History, Sami Ahmad Khan

Sami Ahmad Khan( On 21 February 2014, during the World Book Fair, New Delhi, Sami Ahmad Khan was in conversation with thriller writer Aroon Raman and Sangeeta Bahadur. Aroon Raman had just released his latest novel, a historical thriller – The Treasure of Kafoor and Sangeeta Bahadur had published Jaal.  Both the authors are published by PanMacmillan India. Here is an account of the event sent by Sami Khan. ) 

Historicizing Myths, Mythologizing History

We’re a nation built around myths. Or maybe we’re just a myth built around a nation. Whatever the case may be, can we ascribe historicity to myths and study such mythologies as running parallel to certain socio-historical processes spawned by the material realities of their times? More importantly, where does mythology end and where does history begin?Aroon Raman

Similar questions raged in my mind as I strode towards the Authors’ Corner at Hall 10-11 of Pragati Maidan on February 21, 2014. The Delhi World Book Fair 2014 was in full swing and I was moderating a session scheduled to begin at 2.30 pm. Wading past Siren-esque stalls (that featured books on sale) and Charybdian crowds (replete with delightfully engrossed bookworms), I odysseyed to my destination to converse with two brilliant minds and wonderful writers – Sangeeta Bahadur and Aroon Raman.

I knew Aroon Raman from before, having read him earlier with much gusto. Raman had obtained his masters degree from JNU, Delhi, an MBA from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and was now an entrepreneur based out of Bengaluru. The Shadow Throne was Aroon Raman’s debut – an electrifying thriller involving the R&AW, ISI and an India-Pakistan nuclear standoff. The Treasure of Kafur, his second published novel, was incidentally written first. A fast-paced, historical thriller set in Mughal India, the novel fictionalized the treasure of Malik Kafur being sought after by contemporary figures such as Akbar, Rana Pratap, and (quasi-historical?) characters such as Asaf Baig (of Khandesh) to wage war for the control of Hindustan.

Sangeeta BahadurOn the other hand, it was the first time I was going to meet Sangeeta Bahadur, writer of Jaal and Vikraal. I was told she had graduated from Sophia College (Mumbai), an institution I admire a lot. Bahadur is an Indian Foreign Service officer who is currently posted as the Director of the Nehru Centre, London.  If Raman writes about politics, coming-of-age, and action, Bahadur too weaves a deep, engrossing web of inner conflict – this one around mythological fiction. She utilizes Indian spirituality and metaphysics, fuses them with the world created by her own mind, and comes up with a whole new mythos. Bahadur’s Jaal is the first of a trilogy – set in a syncretic, eclectic past where a young boy must train himself to become the ultimate fighting machine to combat the forces of Maya, the novel is a more spiritual version of LOTR set in a land that resembles India. A sequel called Vikraal will be out soon.

How do we comprehend, decode, and analyze mythological and historical fiction written by people from such varied backgrounds and visions? As Bruce Lincoln defines myth as “ideology in narrative form,” one of the first questions I asked Bahadur and Raman was how mythology and history interacted in their minds and in their texts – and if they chose their respective genres to enable them to fuse their narrative styles with the content, i.e. what (and how) they wanted to say.

Their answers were complementary to each other (an aspect that continued throughout the duration of the conversation) – both made me realize something I had so criminally overlooked – writers make genres, genres do not make writers. Both regarded writing as an act of unbridled creation – unfettered by the limitations of any genre. Yes, they wrote about mythology and history, but as fiction writers, they perceived both as two sides of the same coin. Both clarified that rather than being true to the narrative conventions of any genre, culture or style, they rather wanted to be true to the reader and to themselves. The end-result, for both Bahadur and Raman, was to use any template close to them that could give the readers a fast-paced, layered and interesting narrative for the reader.

I then raised the question of spirituality – both Bahadur and Raman draw upon Indian classical traditions. While Bahadur’s primary lens to synthesize different mythologies and traditions and further the plot is primarily aastik in its outlook, advaita-vedanta in particular (which becomes explicit at times), Raman has his implicit groundings in the naastik traditions of Buddhism. Both Jaal and Kafur have a dense spiritual/philosophical subtext that not only drives the plot further but also seeks to define why characters do what they do. It is their belief in fixed ideological structures that make these characters come alive – and shapes their behavioral patterns.

For individual questions, I asked Aroon Raman why his second book was markedly different from his first, and why he chose to jump across genres despite the commercial success of his debut venture. The Shadow Throne is a contemporary military/political thriller, whereas The Treasure of Kafur is historical fiction. Apart from reiterating that genres do not matter for a creator, and that thoughts and ideas rarely come to writers filtered and censored via the sieve of pre-existing notions and genres, Raman made me realize that the end-goal was to write a book that was fun to read, and that a writer should concern himself with creating without worrying about genre pigeonholing – and that the two books weren’t that different after all. Both his books have a central character caught in hostile surroundings and his constant striving to prevent evil from triumphing – the temporal dislocation does little to blunt this action-oriented narrative.

I then asked Bahadur that while Raman may write about ISI and RAW, she, as a serving government officer, cannot. So was this mythological fiction, replete with betrayals, realpolitik, machtpolitik, coups, warring kingdoms and political federations, actually a political allegory meant for the contemporary times? In response, while Bahadur graciously acknowledged that although historicity did shape some parts of Jaal, the novel was in no way a political allegory. She was not merely utilizing an already established ideological narrative, but creating a whole new ideating philosophy, politics, sociology and world in her head.

The two also talked about how, as writers, both were aware of the social implications of the outlooks of their characters. Raman talked about spending time in Tihar as a student-activist (and a member of the JNU Students’ Union) almost 30 years ago – but then accepted that now he was a capitalist entrepreneur, though that did not render him politically unconscious or reactionary. His characters, to prove a point, are strongly feminist, anti-casteist, pro-hoi polloi, progressive, and anti-parochial – people who speak up for the masses. Bahadur also has some similar characters who seek unity in diversity (rather than differences), and raise their voices against injustices and hegemony. This forms the basis for a layered characterization by both the writers.

The session concluded with both Sangeeta Bahadur and Aroon Raman giving the audience some tips about writing fiction. They urged budding writers to break free from the shackles of form and classification – and just go write a good story that was fun to read and did not spoon feed the reader what the writer thought.

It was great talking to these two thinkers – they just proved that to write one sentence, one must think an hour at least! Lastly, all this is based on my understanding on what the writers said and meant, not to mention a failing short-term memory – it may not wholly coincide with what they actually meant, but I hope I’ve been able to be true to their ideas.

I look forward to more such opportunities.

 Sami Ahmad Khan read Literature at Hindu College, Delhi University, completed his master’s in English at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and then went to the University of Iowa, USA, on a Fulbright grant. Currently, Sami teaches at IIT-Delhi, apart from being a Doctoral Candidate at JNU, where he is working on Techno-culture Studies. He has engaged in theater, writing, and teaching. His debut thriller Red Jihad won the “Muse India Young Writer (Runner-Up) Award” at the Hyderabad Literary Festival 2013 and Ministry of Human Resource Development/NBT’s “National Debut Youth Fiction Award – Excellence in Youth Fiction Writing” at the Delhi World Book Fair 2013. He is now working on a SF sequel to Red Jihad. He can be reached at sakhan1607@gmail.com

( On Sunday, 24 August 2014, Sheila Kumar wrote a lovely review of the novel in the Hindu Literary Review –  http://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/more-than-just-a-treasure-hunt/article6344815.ece . On 26 August 2014, Aroon Raman will be in conversation with Sumeet Shetty at Literati, SAP Labs Book Club, Bangalore. http://bit.ly/1pazgf4 )

26 August 2014

Mahesh Dattani, “Me and my plays”

Mahesh Dattani, “Me and my plays”

Mahesh DattaniI didn’t have an audience, because I didn’t have a language. The kind of text-based theatre I wanted to do could not be possible without a language. …The relationship between a playwright and an actor is a complex one. Both rely on one another for their artistic fulfilment….

Mahesh Dattani’s introduction/essay in Me and My Plays is worth reading. It is a reflection and a comment about the evolution of contemporary theatre in India, especially of original English-language plays. He talks about how he fell in love with theatre, his attempts at acting, and discovering his talent for writing plays, his observations on theatre and acting. This is a slim volume consisting of two recent plays — “Why did I leave my Purdah?” and The Big Fat City” that are powerful to read even in print. I wonder what it would be like to watch the performances.

Last week on Facebook, another noted theatrewallah, Sudhanva Deshpande wrote about Ben Rivers talk on Playback Theatre. Playback Theatre is an interactive theatre approach used in over 60 countries as a tool for community building, trauma response and cultural activism. In a Playback event, audience members share personal stories, and watch as a team of actors and musicians transform these accounts into improvised theatre pieces. Playback Theatre responds to the fundamental human need to share one’s story and have it heard and honored. Ben Rivers is a British-Australian writer, educator and drama therapist specializing in the use of applied theatre for community mobilization and cultural activism.

I could not help but mull over the “playback theatre” technique that Mahesh Dattani has applied to these two plays. Theatre performances tend to be cathartic experiences if the audience is willing. The stories about Partition or about life in Bombay/Mumbai may be scripted for a certain cast of characters but they will rake up personal stories and thoughts by those witnessing a performance. It would be fascinating to hear a live conversation on theatre between Mahesh Dattani, Sudhanva Deshpande and Ben Rivers, much along the lines of this televised conversation of Peter O’Toole, Orson Welles, Huw Wheldon (the host) and veteran actor Ernest Milton discussing Hamlet http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smMa38CZCSU. One topic, renowned practitioners of the craft and much becomes evident through a good conversation.

Read Me and My Plays .

Mahesh Dattani Me and My Plays Penguin Books, Delhi, 2014. Pb. pp. 248. Rs. 246.

“The Siege: The Attack on the Taj”

“The Siege: The Attack on the Taj”

The Siege

When 26/11 happened it was unnerving to see the drama that was being shown live on televisions. During the attacks I was with a colleague at a national security agency to discuss an academic journal. Before beginning the meeting, we spent a few minutes watching the drama being shown on the television. It was a little disconcerting to get a running commentary from the security experts on the tactics, the guns being used by the armed forces etc. They were analysing the situation and figuring out what to do next. They had been trained to assess and act under such situations. But what happens when many ordinary citizens are ambushed by armed gunmen? You get a glimpse of it in The Siege. The panic and chaos exists, but also how well individuals can behave under extraordinary pressure.

Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark have written a “non-fiction thriller” called The Siege. It is a reconstruction of the events of 26 November 2008 (or 26/11 as it is popularly referred to) attacks in Mumbai. This is a book based upon innumerable interviews, reports, conversations, audio files, mobile phone text messages etc. They even obtained “audio files and transcripts from the wiretaps placed on the gunmen’s phones from India, US and British security sources, the most complete to be assembled, which includes matter never published before.” (p.297) Later they add — “Inevitably, some of these reconstructed events will jar with individual memories that placed a person somewhere else, at a different time, as might some of the dialogue, although we have tried to show some accuracy. A few quotations have been compared to or directly extracted from interview survivors gave at the time to cable news channels and newspapers, so as to capture the authenticity of that moment – the thoughts that they had back then, rather than with the benefit of hindsight.” (p.299)

In an interview to the Outlook ( http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?288414 ) they say “It would be wrong to rewrite the truth but one thing is clear that a whole lot more of the threat was known than anyone let on. Incredible details were provided because, as we now know, the US intelligence community, was all over Lashkar-e-Toiba. Hotels, especially wonderful historic hotels, like the Taj, are theatres. They need to balance the desire for spectacle, being the House of Magic, with the safety of their guests. In this case, the hotel, the upper echelons of the police, and the intelligence services fought each other, and undermined the value of the early warnings they received. That is undeniable….A truth that emerges here is the police on the ground did what they could with the resources they were allocated. But in reality there were insufficient — shoes, bullets, helmets, guns jackets and patrol boats — to protect this one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the world, where private money builds sky scrapers and is not ploughed back into the municipality — that teeters.”

The Siege is not easy to read. The writing in the first few pages is stodgy, but after a while it is forgotten, and it is easier to read. For a lay reader it is a fascinating document that reconstructs the events of 26/11. Of the many recent attempts (including accounts in newspapers and magazines) are retelling or attempting to fathom what happened in the terrorist attacks of 26/11, this is a book that will often be referred to since it marshals together evidence in one place. A technique that the authors are familiar with, having applied it in their previous book, The Meadow which was on the kidnapping of the ten western journalists in Kashmir. But The Siege needs to be read/reviewed by security experts for their comments.

Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark The Siege: The Attack on the Taj Penguin Books India, New Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp. 320 Rs. 499

On self-publishing, Oct 2013

On self-publishing, Oct 2013

PubSpeak, Jaya

I am looking to speak to and interact with authors who have self-published in any genre or field. It could be fiction, non-fiction, children’s literature, cooking, photography, wildlife, memoirs, travelogues, poetry, medicine, academic, religion, mythology, short stories etc. They could have published printed books or ebooks or used any of online platforms like Kindle Direct Publishing ( KDP), Smashwords, Lulu, Author Solutions, Partridge Publishing etc. It could also be in any language but my impression is that these services are predominantly being offered in English only.

I would like to connect with authors who have only self published or even hybrid authors so as to understand this form of publishing. Please email me jayabhattacharjirose dot gmail dot com . Please mark the subject line as “Self-publishing”.

Also if anybody is interested in attending two events about self-publishing, to be organised in Delhi or Mumbai, please message me. It is only by invitation.

 

27 Sept 2013