Penguin Books India Posts

Siddharth Mukherjee, 27 April 2014

Siddharth Mukherjee, 27 April 2014

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

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

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Sarkar, Siddharth Mukherjee, Nirmala George and Jaya Bhattacharji RoseHe followed it up by reading an extract from an unpublished essay.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

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

28 April 2014 

“Junior Premier League”, Joy Bhattacharjya

“Junior Premier League”, Joy Bhattacharjya

Junior Premier LeagueA slim novel for ten-year-olds. Written by Joy Bhattacharjya and his twelve-year-old son, Vivek. The story is about Sachin, Neel and a bunch of boys who are competing to join the Delhi team of the Junior Premier League. The story is from the time they are selected, trained and compete in the championship. I enjoyed reading the book. It is very clear from the story, irrespective of the format of the game being played, cricket is like any other sport — it is gruelling in the training and discipline that is required.

While reading the story, I kept getting the feeling that the story was reading well, since there were details about organising a cricket tournament, preparing the players for it — in terms of practice, nourishment, mental strength etc. Details about time management, slowly changing the players from thinking only about themselves to behaving like a team player, while retaining their individual traits and strengths.  In an email conversation with Joy Bhattacharjya, he said that the series arc will develop slowly. For now he  is trying to establish and build the JPL universe and follow Sachin, Neel and a couple of the other characters as  the league goes into another year. The frequency of the books will be twice a year, with the next one due to be published in November and Book 3 to coincide with the next IPL.

My only quibble with the story is that the brutal competitiveness that children and young adults are capable of is lacking in this story. The focus is on cricket but the characters are comparatively tame. Contemporary young adult literature can be at times horrifyingly honest and sharp in the violence and harsh world it depicts. Young adults are still on the cusp of adulthood, so have not completely lost that clarity of behaviour that exists in childhood, of being who they are, seeing the world in black and white. Even though Joy Bhattacharjya had taken the help of his son to get into the mind of a twelve-year-old and they have worked on the plot together, I felt that they fell a little short. Maybe once Joy and his son settle into the skin of the characters, they will be able to express themselves more confidently.

Writing about sports and literature is never easy. IPL or the Junior Premier League which is the focus of the novel is a new Here and Now, 2008- 2011version of an old sport. Tailor-made for the speed age, part-entertainment, part-sports, but a business that involves huge amounts of money. So creating a story that is trying to yoke together the IPL version of cricket and create a good story for young readers is a tough balancing act. There is a lovely portion in the correspondence between Paul Auster and J. M. Coetzee published in Here and Now: Letters ( 2008 – 2011) about sports. Coetzee says in his letter of 11 May 2009, “What strikes me is how difficult it is to invent and launch a thoroughly new sport ( not just a variant of an old one), or perhaps I should say launch a new game ( sports being selected out of the repertoire of games).” To which Paul Auster replies, “…essentially you are right. Nothing new has been made to impact for generations. When you think about how quickly various technologies have altered daily life ( trains, cars, airplanes, movies, radios, televisions, computers), the intractability of sports is at first glance mystifying. There has to be a reason for it…So much is at stake now in professional sports, so much money is involved , there is so much profit to be gained by fielding a successful team that the men who control soccer, basketball, and all other major sports are as powerful as the heads of the largest corporations, the heads of governments. There is simply no room to introduce a new game. The market is saturated, and the games that already exist have become monopolies that will do everything possible to crush any upstart competitor. That doesn’t mean that people don’t invent new games ( children do it every day), but children don’t have the wherewithal to launch multi-million-dollar commercial enterprises.” ( p.65, p.68-69)

For Joy Bhattacharjya, who is associated with Kolkota Knight Riders, it is such an integral part of his professional life, he is able to infuse the story with details about the team, give the children like Sachin and Neel  dreams to be like their heroes, all of which ring true and important for accurate  storytelling but it needs to soar higher than the particulars of the game. While providing insightful tidbits about the game and championship, the story at the same time has to be in step with good children’s literature that will continue to be read and sell beyond the current IPL season; well after heroes like Sunil Narine have quit professional cricket. For now much of reading pleasure stems from the familiarity with the media buzz about the game.

There is promise in the first book. Hence the expectations. I have no doubt the series will live up to these expectations.

Joy Bhattacharjya The First XI Junior Premier League Penguin Books India, New Delhi, 2014. Pb. pp. 176. Rs. 199.

PubSpeak: Total Recall

PubSpeak: Total Recall

My column, “PubSpeak”, in BusinessWorld online focuses on the Wendy Doniger book controversy. Here is the url to it:   http://businessworld.in/news/economy/total-recall/1266222/page-1.html   . ) 

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose On 11 February, Penguin Books India reached a compromise drawn up in a Delhi Court that insisted it cease the publication and sale of American Indologist, Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History in India within six months. Dina Nath Batra of Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samitri had filed a civil suit against the publishers to withdraw from circulation all copies. Given that Batra had filed the case four years ago and it was still subjudice, the news of this compromise spread like wildfire. Later that day, Doniger issued a press statement “I was, of course, angry and disappointed to see this happen, and I am deeply troubled by what it foretells for free speech in India in the present, and steadily worsening, political climate. And as a publisher’s daughter, I particularly wince at the knowledge that the existing books (unless they are bought out quickly by people intrigued by all the brouhaha) will be pulped. But I do not blame Penguin Books, India. Other publishers have just quietly withdrawn other books without making the effort that Penguin made to save this book. Penguin, India, took this book on knowing that it would stir anger in the Hindutva ranks, and they defended it in the courts for four years, both as a civil and as a criminal suit. They were finally defeated by the true villain of this piece — the Indian law that makes it a criminal rather than civil offense to publish a book that offends any Hindu, a law that jeopardises the physical safety of any publisher, no matter how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book.”Wendy Doniger

PBI logoPenguin Books India released a statement on 14 February stating “a publishing company has the same obligation as any other organisation to respect the laws of the land in which it operates, however intolerant and restrictive those laws may be. We also have a moral responsibility to protect our employees against threats and harassment where we can…. The settlement reached this week brings to a close a four year legal process in which Penguin has defended the publication of the Indian edition of The Hindus by Wendy Doniger. We have published, in succession, hardcover, paperback and e-book editions of the title. International editions of the book remain available physically and digitally to Indian readers who still wish to purchase it.”

What followed the announcement perhaps was only a natural outcome given the speed at which social media helps communicate information. There was public outrage at this development— newspapers, print, digital, and, of course, social media forums. A number of commentators, journalists, and even Penguin authors wrote passionately against Penguin Book India’s decision to destroy the book. Arundhati Roy in an open letter spoke of her distress and said “You owe us, your writers an explanation at the very least”. Nilanjana Roy, author and member of PEN Delhi wrote on censorship and how to remain free; Jakob de Roover in an outstanding essay “Untangling the Knot” discussed the complexities of governance, judiciary and free speech; journalist Salil Tripathi commented perceptively on the issue on many platforms ; Stephen Alter wrote, “Both as a writer and as a reader, I am deeply offended that anyone should dictate what I may read or write”; Penguin author and essayist, Amit Chaudhuri reiterated that “It’s important that the law protect all texts”; and Antara Dev Sen, Editor, The Little Magazine, wrote that the Indian Penal Code “Section 295A targets ‘deliberate and malicious acts (which include speech, writings or signs) intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs’. In an age of identity politics and hurt sentiments, this has been used frequently by politically motivated people to stifle free speech. But back in 1957, the Supreme Court had ruled that only when there is a ‘deliberate and malicious intention of outraging religious feelings’ is it an offence under this law. Higher courts in India have consistently ruled in favour of freedom of speech and have protected books and people hauled to court under this law.”

In fact, two Penguin authors, Siddharth Varadarajan and Jyotirmaya Sharma, asked for their contracts to be terminated. Another Penguin author, Arshia Sattar (who has translated Valmiki’s Ramayana and the Kathasaritsagara from Sanskrit to English) expressed her dismay at the “complete capitulation” of the firm and how her “pride and that faith has been shaken…of being with a publishing house that protected its people and the books they wrote”.

A counter legal initiative perhaps was expected. According to the website, Legally India, advocate Lawrence Liang, part of the Bangalore-based Alternative Law Forum, has issued a 30-paragraph legal notice to Penguin India, claiming that the publisher has violated freedom of speech laws and readers’ rights by agreeing to destroy all copies of Wendy Doniger’s book ‘The Hindus’. The notice sent on behalf of Liang’s clients, Shuddhabrata Sengupta and Aarthi Sethi, argues that because Penguin has agreed to withdraw the book from India and destroy all copies, after a legal dispute with a religious group, it has “effectively acknowledged that it is no longer interested in exercising” its ownership in the work and should surrender its copyright to the Indian public. Sengupta is a Delhi-based artist and writer, while Sethi is an anthropologist with a “deep interest in Hindu philosophy”, according to the legal notice. Both are “avid bibliophiles” and were apparently “delighted” when Penguin published Doniger’s book, “and as people who have closely followed the scholarly contributions of the said author they regard this book to be a significant contribution to the study of Hinduism. They consider Ms Doniger’s translations of Indian classical texts and her work on various facets of Hinduism from morality in the Mahabharata to the erotic history of Hinduism as an inspiration for their own intellectual pursuits.”

At the recent Globalocal event (German Book Office, New Delhi’s annual B2B conference on publishing), a regional language publisher wondered if it was possible for any other publisher to option this book and publish it, after all it has not been legally banned in this territory. Echoing this sentiment, Shamnad Basheer, IPR lawyer, writing in Spicy IP, reflected upon the pros and cons of compulsory licensing, and whether it was possible if a publisher decides to stop publication, one could apply for a compulsory license.

Globally Penguin has been in the news related to their peripheral businesses and their merger with Random House. In 2012, Pearson PLC (of which Penguin Books India is a part of) acquired the self-publishing firm, Author Solutions, for $116 million. But in 2013, this deal soured as a number of disgruntled authors filed lawsuits against Author Solutions for its poor service. In the landmark case pertaining to ebooks and agency pricing, in April 2012, the US Department of Justice sued Apple and five publishers, including Penguin, for conspiring to raise prices and restrain competition. This was done after Amazon filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. In 2013, Penguin was obliged to pay $75 million. George Packer observes in the New Yorker, “an enormous sum in a business that has always struggled to maintain respectable profit margins”. On 1 July 2013, the global merger between Penguin Books and Random House was announced. It was a strategic alliance, forged as a response to the growing presence of Amazon in the publishing industry. The formation of Penguin Random House (PRH) has created a group that has 25 per cent of the market share. A merger comes at a cost of resources that have to be taken into account for the new firm to begin work on a strong footing.

In Oct 2013, Penguin Random House announced the completion of its purchase of Ananda Publishers Private Limited’s minority stake in Penguin Books India. It plans to invest Rs 55 crore or $8.6 million for this stake buy. As banker-turned-author Ravi Subramanian, with whom in June 2013 Penguin Books India signed a two-book deal worth an estimated Rs 1.25 crore (approx $210,700) wrote on his blog with respect to Doniger’s case, “publishing is a business”. For any firm, particularly in publishing, this is a lot of money being moved around its balance sheets.  Naturally the ripple effect of these financial adjustments will be felt even in the local markets—it is like conducting business in a global village where in the context of a globally contacted world, the minimum consumption that people desire is also influenced by what is going on elsewhere.

Similarly, with the Doniger case, Penguin Books India has probably taken an informed business decision, based upon a global strategy when it signed this deal on 11 February, in order to preserve a healthy English-language publishing market in India.

Chiki Sarkar, Publisher, Penguin Books India, in a guest blog post in 2012 during the Banned Books week, had this to say: “Injunctions make things costly, time consuming, and take our energies away from the work we are really meant to do. And so we try and avoid them as much as possible. Apart from the fact that we don’t fight hard enough for them, I wonder whether it means we impose a kind of self-censorship on ourselves.”

Ironically this latest controversy broke exactly twenty-five years after the fatwa was issued against Salman Rushdie for his ‘Satanic Verses’ published by Penguin. At the time, his publishers stood by him and did not pulp the book. The fact is publishing is a business that is built upon the creative energies and emotions of people. India is also a functioning democracy. Freedom of speech is the right of every citizen. With the General Elections less than a hundred days away, the need for openness, frank conversations without any inhibitions, and certainly not a capitulation to any ideological position is imperative.

Scholar-journalist and historian Mukul Kesavan points out that that selling books is not like selling any other commodity. Publishers have moral responsibility and a publisher voluntarily agreeing to withdraw a book has previously been challenged with the case of James Laine’s book on Shivaji in 2007. Oxford University Press voluntarily agreed to withdraw the book. An FIR was issued against the publisher and printer of the book in Pune (one charge, under Section 153 A, was ‘inciting class hatred’) and the printer was actually arrested. When the case (‘Manzar Sayeed Khan vs State Of Maharashtra, 2007’) came up before the Supreme Court, however, the government of Maharashtra’s case against the author and the publisher of the book was found to be wanting. So, there is a precedent by the Supreme Court to rule in favour of free speech.

Nevertheless, the Wendy Doniger book controversy raises a bunch of issues pertaining to the publishing industry. Questions about legislation and the freedom of speech, what are the ethics involved in publishing, do readers and authors have a right that they can exercise, what does it mean for licensing, do possibilities exist in a mixed environment of digital and print publishing such as do readers have a choice?

Finally does this self-censorship by a publishing firm mean an inadvertent promotion for self-publishing, encouraging authors to be responsible for their books completely? Interestingly in a space of less than six weeks I have heard John Makinson, CEO, Penguin Random House and Jon Fine, Director, Author & Publishing Relations, Amazon talk about their publishing businesses and both have stressed upon the importance of discoverability of an author. This controversy could not have come at a better time for Doniger and even Penguin. They have achieved the Streisand effect whereby in an attempt to censor a piece of information, it has had the unintended consequence of publicising the information more widely. It has achieved what no PR could have—a boost in sales.

21 Feb 2014 

PENGUIN BOOKS INDIA – STATEMENT ON THE HINDUS BY WENDY DONIGER

PENGUIN BOOKS INDIA – STATEMENT ON THE HINDUS BY WENDY DONIGER

PBI logoThis is the press release issued by Penguin Books India on 14 Feb 2014. It is pertaining to their decision to pulp the remaining copies of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus)

Penguin Books India believes, and has always believed, in every individual’s right to freedom of thought and expression, a right explicitly codified in the Indian Constitution. This commitment informs Penguin’s approach to publishing in every territory of the world, and we have never been shy about testing that commitment in court when appropriate. At the same time, a publishing company has the same obligation as any other organisation to respect the laws of the land in which it operates, however intolerant and restrictive those laws may be. We also have a moral responsibility to protect our employees against threats and harassment where we can.

The settlement reached this week brings to a close a four year legal process in which Penguin has defended the publication of the Indian edition of The Hindus by Wendy Doniger. We have published, in succession, hardcover, paperback and e-book editions of the title. International editions of the book remain available physically and digitally to Indian readers who still wish to purchase it.

We stand by our original decision to publish The Hindus, just as we stand by the decision to publish other books that we know may cause offence to some segments of our readership. We believe, however, that the Indian Penal Code, and in particular section 295A of that code, will make it increasingly difficult for any Indian publisher to uphold international standards of free expression without deliberately placing itself outside the law.

This is, we believe, an issue of great significance not just for the protection of creative freedoms in India but also for the defence of fundamental human rights.

 

 

 

Penguin Books Ltd is registered in England and Wales with company number 861590. The registered office is 80 Strand, London. WC2R 0RL. A Penguin Random House company.

Wendy Doniger’s statement

Wendy Doniger’s statement

( Statement issued by Wendy Doniger, author of The Hindus, published by Penguin Books India. This press release was issued on 11 Feb 2014 by Wendy Doniger upon hearing that her publishers had struck an out-of-court-settlement with Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samitri, including pulping all remaining copies of the book that are in stock. The case had been in court for four years but no legal decision was taken. It has not been banned in India.)

Wendy Doniger“Dear friends, I have had literally hundreds of requests for interviews, in various media, and I can’t do them all. So here is a statement that you may use. I hope it’s enough; it’s the best I can do right now. I intend to write a longer article for
publication in a couple of weeks. Yours with gratitude for your courage and compassion, wendy.

I was thrilled and moved by the great number of messages of support that I received, not merely from friends and colleagues but from people in India that I have never met, who had read and loved The Hindus, and by news and media
people, all of whom expressed their outrage and sadness and their wish to help me in any way they could.

I was, of course, angry and disappointed to see this happen, and I am deeply troubled by what it foretells for free speech in India in the present, and steadily worsening, political climate. And as a publisher’s daughter, I particularly wince at the knowledge that the existing books (unless they are bought out quickly by people intrigued by all the brouhaha) will be
pulped.

But I do not blame Penguin Books, India. Other publishers have just quietly withdrawn other books without making the effort that Penguin made to save this book. Penguin, India, took this book on knowing that it would stir anger in the Hindutva ranks, and they defended it in the courts for four years, both as a civil and as a criminal suit.

They were finally defeated by the true villain of this piece—the Indian law that makes it a criminal rather than civil offense to publish a book that offends any Hindu, a law that jeopardizes the physical safety of any publisher, no matter
how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book.

An example at random, from the lawsuit in question:
‘That YOU NOTICEE has hurt the religious feelings of millions of Hindus by declaring that Ramayana is a fiction. “Placing the Ramayan in its historical contexts demonstrates that it is a work of fiction, created by human authors, who
lived at various times……….” (P.662) This breaches section 295A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).’

Finally, I am glad that, in the age of the Internet, it is no longer possible to suppress a book. The Hindus is available on Kindle; and if legal means of publication fail, the Internet has other ways of keeping books in circulation.

People in India will always be able to read books of all sorts, including some that may offend some Hindus.”

Of diaries and YA literature

Of diaries and YA literature

Tales from the Secret Annexe, Anne Frank, Hachette IndiaOne of the most famous diaries to have been kept by a teenager has to be thirteen-year-old Anne Frank’s Diary, maintained during World War II. Years later it continues to be powerful. ( In fact her lesser known writings were published last year – Tales from the Secret Annexe, a collection of short stories, fables, personal reminiscences, and an unfinished novel, Cady’s Life. )

Recently the diary form has caught the imagination of many writers. An influential factor on this genre has been Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid series. The story began online but was soon published as  a diary, with scribbles and illustrations taking nearly 50% of the space in the book. Earlier this month, the latest volume, Hard Luck, was published. According to the publishers, Penguin Books India, it immediately zipped to the top and is No. 1. Wimpy KidIt is understandable. Frank  conversations, angst about “losing” a friend to a girl friend, bullying etc. It is fun to read. In fact the moment a mother saw the book in my hand, she pushed off to the bookstore to buy her daughter a copy!

Diary of a Soccer Star

According to the promotional poster for the book this is a book that has done exceedingly well. Yet there are other titles in this genre for young adults. Some of the recent ones are: Shamini Flint’s diaries of sports “men” ( Diary of a Soccer StarDiary of a Cricket God, and Diary of a Taekwondo Star); Paro Anand’s The Secret Diary of the World’s Worst Genius and a favourite of mine – Mayil will not be quiet ( by Niveditha Subramanian and Soumya Rajendran). The latter was shortlisted for the Crossword Book Award for children’s literature but never won. (Actually no one won that year!) It is a sensitively told book, touching upon various issues dear to a teenager, whose hormones are already out of control but is a sharp and perceptive observer of the world around them. Some of the challenges that can bewilder anyone, especially a teenager, are of sexual attraction, recognition of domestic violence victims but how to address it, privacy and basic social arrangements. It is very well told, sensitively too, without being patronising and can easily be accepted especially in the Indian milieu.

Oh! And how can I forget the Hank Zipser series, which follows the “everyday adventures of a bright  boy with learning challenges”. ( http://www.hankzipzer.com/ ) Written and based upon Henry Winkler’s dyslexia, these books have been on the New York Time’s bestseller list as well. Stories worth reading. ( FYI: Henry Winkler played the role of Fonz in the long-running and hugely popular TV series, Happy Days.) In fact in September 2013, CBBC announced that a new show, “Hank Zipser”, has been commissioned. It will feature Henry Winkler in it. ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2013/hank-zipzer-announced.html )

Paro Anand, The Secret Diary of the World's Worst Genius

Mayil will not be quiet, Tulika

“Mirrored Mind” Vikram Chandra

“Mirrored Mind” Vikram Chandra

Vikram Chandra, Mirrored Minds

Sometimes the sheer vastness of what I want to put into fiction terrifies me. I survive by not thinking about the whole. I write my 400 words this day, and then another 400 words the next. I find my way by feeling, by intuition, by the sounds of the words, by the characters’ passions, by trekking on to the next day, the next horizon, and then the next. I pay attention to the track of narratives I leave behind, and I look for openings ahead. I make shapes and I find shapes. I retrace my steps, go over draft after draft, trying to find something, I am not sure what until I begin to see it. I am trying to make an object, a model, a receptacle. What I am making will not be complete until I let go of it.  (p.197)

It must be lonely being a writer,’ people have said to me. But I like being alone, at least for a goodly sized portion of every day. And working by myself on other things — programming for instance — is never painful. There is something else altogether that is peculiar to the process of fiction writing, a grinding discomfort that emerges from the act itself: it feels, to me, like a split in the self, a fracture that leaves raw edges exposed.  ( p. 213)

It is always a pleasure to read/hear writers talk about their craft. Programmer and successful author like Vikram Chandra spends a couple of chapters — “Learning to Write” and ” The Language of Literature” — in his latest book, Mirrored Mind: My Life in Letters and Code. dwelling upon he found his way into writing fiction. He mulls over the similarities and complexities of language, a skill that is inherent to both professions and how one informs the other, while being so different as well. Two essays worth reading especially by new authors curious about the craft of writing.

Vikram Chandra Mirrored Mind: My Life in Letters and Code Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books India, New Delhi, 2013. Hb. pp. 260 Rs. 499

 

On business books

On business books

Malcolm GladwellBusiness books are useful, at least those meant for the lay reader. These spell out complicated business methodologies and strategies simply, usually anecdotal. For instance, Malcolm Gladwell’s basic premise that it is the attitude that matters on how you tackle a problem. He uses the Biblical analogy of David & Goliath but the examples he cites to illustrate his point are of ordinary people in ordinary settings, who later went on to make a change. It could be in their personal lives or impacting others.

Subroto Bagchi, Inked, MBA at 16Subroto Bagchi’s premise in The Elephant Catchers is much the same. To net the big clients for business, a lot of it depends upon your strategy, confidence and attitude. Some of the ideas that he hopes to inculcate in the students he interacts with in MBA at 16. Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Timble are a little technical and create models to explain the different stages of a business evolving. Theories that are useful to know and understand.

 

Dave TrottBut it is Dave Trott, advertising guru, uses plenty of stories to explain different, but pertinent, aspects of promoting a service/product. Yet reading his book, Predatory Thinking, along with the others on how to be effective in business, one realises that the best way to learn and grow a business is to be confident, honest about your deliverables to the client, passionate about your work, build your brand image slowly and steadily, word-of-mouth publicity is still the strongest mode of promotion, and always be sharp, creative, think out-of-the box and never get dull. Learn, learn and learn. Beyond the Idea

 

 

Malcolm Gladwell David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books, London, 2013. Hb. pp. 310.

Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Timble Beyond the Idea: Simple, powerful rules for successful innovation St Martin’s Press, Macmillan, London, 2013. Hb. pp. 178

Dave Trott Predatory Thinking: A Masterclass in out-thinking the competition Macmillan, London, 2013. Hb. pp. 270

Subroto Bagchi The Elephant Catchers: Key Lessons for Breakthrough Growth Hachette India, New Delhi, 2013. Hb. pp. 240.

Subroto Bagchi MBA at 16: A Teenagers Guide to the World of Business Inked, the Young Adult imprint of Penguin Books India, New Delhi, 2012. Pb.

 

“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

The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2014 – longlist

The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2014 – longlist

DSC Prize for Literature logo15 BOOKS MAKE IT TO THE DSC PRIZE 2014 LONGLIST

New Delhi, October 21, 2013: The longlist for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2014 was announced at the Goethe-Institut, Max Mueller Bhavan today, by noted Indian editor, writer and literary critic, Antara Dev Sen, who is chairing the jury panel for the prize. The final list of 15 chosen titles includes 3 works translated from Indian languages and comprises 4 debut novels along with the works of established writers. The longlist reflects a rich and healthy diversity of publishers across geographies including representation from the UK, US and Canada. With several acclaimed novels on the longlist, choosing the final winner for the 2014 edition of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature would be an interesting and challenging task for the jury panel.

There were over 65 entries for the coveted US $50,000 prize this year, from which the jury has compiled the longlist of 15 books that they feel best represents the eclectic and vibrant voice of the South Asian region. The jury panel comprises international luminaries from the world of literature and books- Antara Dev Sen, editor, writer and literary critic and chair of the DSC Prize jury, Arshia Sattar, an eminent Indian translator, writer and a teacher, Ameena Saiyid, the MD of Oxford University Press in Pakistan, Rosie Boycott, acclaimed British journalist and editor and Paul Yamazaki, a veteran bookseller and one of the most respected names in the book trade in the US.

The longlisted entries contending for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2014 are:

  1. Anand: Book of Destruction (Translated by Chetana Sachidanandan; Penguin, India)
  2. Benyamin: Goat Days   (Translated by Joseph Koyippalli; Penguin, India)
  3. Cyrus Mistry: Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer (Aleph Book Company, India) 
  4. Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya: The Watch (Hogarth/ Random House, UK)   
  5. Manu Joseph: The Illicit Happiness of other people (John Murray, UK & Harper Collins India)
  6. Mohsin Hamid: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, India)
  7. Nadeem Aslam: The Blind Man’s Garden (Random House, India)  
  8. Nayomi Munaweera: Island of a Thousand Mirrors (Perera Hussein Publishing, Sri Lanka & Hachette India)
  9. Nilanjana Roy: The Wildings (Aleph Book Company, India)
  10. Philip Hensher: Scenes from Early Life (Faber & Faber, USA)  
  11. Ru Freeman: On Sal Mal Lane (Graywolf Press, USA)
  12. Sachin Kundalkar: Cobalt Blue (Translated by Jerry Pinto; Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, India)
  13. Shyam Selvadurai: The Hungry Ghosts (Double Day Publishing, Canada)
  14. Sonora Jha: Foreign (Vintage Books/Random House, India)
  15. Uzma Aslam Khan: Thinner Than Skin (Clockroot Books/Interlink Publishing, USA)

Speaking on the occasion, Antara Dev Sen, Chair of the jury commented “We are delighted to present the longlist for the DSC Prize 2014, which offers a wonderful variety of experiences from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and reflects much of the exhilarating and bewildering diversity that is the hallmark of South Asian fiction. The list includes celebrated, award-winning authors as well as powerful new voices, and I am particularly happy that it includes novels in translation from other Indian languages.

The novels range from the conventional to the experimental, from amazing tales sprawling across continents and generations to stories brilliantly detailed in a small, almost claustrophobic canvas. Several of these books are about violence – many about war, terrorism, conflict – underscoring what the contemporary South Asian experience is inescapably defined by. Many examine otherness – due to migration, caste or sexual identity, terror, alienation. Through extraordinary storytelling and sensitivity, these novels offer us a sense of history, a sense of loss and the invincibility of hope.” she added.

The jury will now deliberate on the longlist over the next month and the shortlist for the DSC Prize will be announced on Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at The London School of Economics in London. The winner will be subsequently declared at the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival in January 2014.