Permanent Black Posts

Tuesday Reads (Vol 2): 18 June 2019

Dear Reader,

Today’s “Tuesday Reads” consists of three books published by indie publishers. The selection by indie publishers is a pure coincidence! The first is a translation of a novel from Hindi into English by Permanent Black; the second is speculative fiction by Blaft Publications and the third is a novel set in a refugee camp by The Indigo Press.

The Girl with Questioning Eyes: A Novel by Neelesh Raghuwanshi is in Hindi ( Ek Kasbe ke Notes) and has been translated by Deepa Jain Singh. It is set in a small town of central India, in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Babli, the narrator, is sixth in a line of nine siblings. The last sibling is the only son. Her father runs a wayside dhaba, a kiosk, selling tea and meals. Her mother stays at home looking after the children. One day while delivering dried cow pats to be used as fuel by her father Babli is waylaid by a well-dressed college teacher to enquire whether the bindi on her forehead is centred correctly or not. This brief encounter on the street leaves a big impact on Babli who is determined to be educated. If she has to dream it is against all odds as given the limited resources of her father as well the virtually nil expectations of a girl child except to get married and have a family of her own, Babli has to be quietly persuasive especially with her father to get permission to study further. Simple luxuries that many children in the urban areas take for granted is really a privilege for girls like Babli in small town India. Meanwhile the position of her father’s dhaba by the main street enables him and thus the reader to witness the hustle-bustle of the town. The local economy is closely interlinked to that of the agricultural cycle. So there are about three months in the year where the town is super busy with the agricultural fair and farmers coming into buy and sell grains, cattle and agricultural equipment.

The Girl with Questioning Eyes: A Novel is about Babli’s family, a microcosm of small-town India — it is a beautiful portrait. The story begins slowly but is soon addictive — it is like watching a soap opera, you want to know what happens next and next although it is about the mundane routine of daily life in a small town in Madhya Pradesh. If you travel in this part of India most people’s lives are closely linked to the agrarian cycle. Also they are not exactly receptive to new ideas. So when Babli after watching her older sisters married off in quick succession, she is determined to improve her prospects by education and not be married of as the only solution to her existence. What emerges is the remarkable Babli who gets a job in the city and thus her financial independence. Admirably she does not distance herself from her simple parents living in the small town as she grows successful in the city. The Girl with Questioning Eyes: A Novel is an absorbing novel.

Portalpettai by Avakkai and Chukka is an illustrated mini-book published by Blaft Publications and it gorgeous! For once it is hard to improve upon the book blurb. So here goes:

Portalpettai is an illustrated mini-book about an interdimensional portal which opens at a women’s college in Uthiramerur, Tamil Nadu. It’s narrated by a former lecturer at the college who has been transformed into a floating jellyfish-like creature with a see-through head.

Portalpettai is a portrait of a diverse South Indian community and its resilience in the face of an alien life force intrusion. It also touches on the subjects of non-baryonic matter, old Tamil film music, and the arcane secrets of mushrooms.

Here is a page from this delightful minibook.

Sulaiman Addonia’s second novel Silence is My Mother Tongue is an extremely moving story set in a refugee camp. It is about Saba and her mute brother Hagos, new arrivals in the camp. They learn to negotiate daily life in the camp despite the constant surveillance from the other refugees, the violence of the British intervention and UN Aid programmes. It is also about the manner in which the siblings negotiate sexuality, sexual violence / predators, rape and homosexuality. More so when their culture denies women their sexuality and rejects homosexuality. Refugee camps are fragile and tenuous reconstructions of society as was known to exist on the “outside” the walls of the camp. But the structure of the novel belies the very structure of this finely crafted society by the refugees that rapidly crumbles with new rules of engagement being established.

Sulaiman Addonia fled Eritrea as a refugee in childhood. He spent his early life in a refugee camp in Sudan following the Om Hajar massacre in 1976, and in his early teens he lived and studied in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He arrived in London as an underage unaccompanied refugee without a word of English and went on to earn an MA in Development Studies from SOAS and a BSc in Economics from UCL. His first novel The Consequences of Love was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and translated into more than twenty languages. Silence is My Mother Tongue has been longlisted for the 2019 Political Fiction Orwell Prize. Sulaiman Addonia currently lives in Brussels where he has launched a creative writing academy for refugees and asylum seekers. There is a moving profile of his in the Guardian which says:

Addonia has not been back to Eritrea, where his mother now lives, since 2005; the country enforces indefinite and compulsory national service, regardless of British citizenship. But this distance may have benefited them both. When The Consequences of Love was published, family friends called his mother and accused him of attacking Islam; she would call him to cry and beg: “Why do you write this? Don’t you want to see me?”

This, he says, is why there has been a decade between his books. “Looking back, I could only call myself a writer when I was ready to lose myself, my family and my friends,” he says. “My mother became a source of censorship and I needed to free myself from her. I wrote this book, but I was also rewritten by it,” he smiles. “And I am completely free.”

Read one or read them all. Time well spent!

JAYA

18 June 2019

Zafar Futehally ” The Song of the Magpie Robin – a memoir”

Zafar FutehallyZafar Futehally was a well-known birder, naturalist and writer. He was one of the pioneers of the conservation movement in India and was instrumental in making it an important middle class concern. For instance getting an advertisement for WWF in a popular magazine of those days.

We had no scruples in ‘using’ any of our friends to advance our work; Khushwant Singh was the editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India in those days, and he promised Shama a full-page advertisement for the WWF in the Weekly if she wrote a completely original article on sparrows. Shama wrote it, and we got our first big advertisement for the Indian appeal. It was designed by Alyque Padamsee, and showed a tiger with the caption ‘Born Free, Sentenced to Death’. ( p.138)

Zafar Futehally’s fascination for bird watching began when accompanied Salim Ali on his expeditions. There are some fabulous memories he recalls of those expeditions. This book was written in collaboration with Shanthi Chandola and Ashish Chandola. They persuaded Zafar Futehally to email them short articles/notes recalling his life, especially related to conservation. All though charmingly written and a little uneven, it is a valuable addition to the history of conservation in India. As George B. Schaller says in his foreword:

Wildlife was little studied or appreciated in India during the 1960s, other than along the sight of a gun. But Zafar already had a vision, as he expressed in 1969 in a keynote speech at the General Assembly of the International Union for Conservation of Nature ( IUCN) held in Delhi, an event I also attended. ‘What I came to do is to reflect the concern of the ordinary citizen about our deteriorating environment.’ And he turned this thought superbly into action. With tenacity and tact, he built bridges between organizations, nurturing their conservation efforts, whether it was promoting green areas in Bangalore ( now Bengaluru), establishing the Karnala Bird Sanctuary or other initiatives that revealed his deep concern and respect for the natural world. He knew that unrestricted development would deprive India of a healthy environment and a secure future, a message he delivered persistently and with the quiet authority of someone who was a high-ranking member of every major conservation organization in the country and a Founder of World Wildlife Fund ( WWF)-India. He,  more than anyone in India, helped forge awareness that the environment, with all its species of animals and plants, must be protected. That is his lasting legacy. ( p.xiii)

Zafar Futehally’s wife, Laeeq Futehally, was a notable writer about nature herself. She wrote many books, including co-authoring some with Salim Ali. But A Sahib’s Manual for the Mali of articles edited by her is an all-time favourite of mine. ( http://permanent-black.blogspot.in/2008/08/cricket-music-gardening-new-paperbacks.html )

Zafar Futehally The Song of the Magpie Robin: A Memoir Rainlight, Rupa, New Delhi, 2014. Hb. p.200 Rs. 500

Some of the other books and essays related to Nature that I came across in 2014 were:

1. George Schaller Deki, the Adventures of  a Dog and a Boy in Tibet A lovely, moving and brilliant story about a boy and his dog also an Dekiintroduction to the environment. It is scrumptiously illustrated by an artist from the Tibetan art collective, Gyurmey Dorjee. According to the publisher, Permanent Black, on their blog,

DEKI is a magical book that will have you instantly under its spell. It is a blend of great story-telling and acute observation of nature and animals. As you read it you travel the stark, barren plateau of Tibet and discover its animals, monasteries, birds, nomads. Thrilling chases and cliff-hanger moments decide the battle between good and evil as the book explores the question: freedom or security, which do you choose? ( http://permanent-black.blogspot.in/2014/05/the-story-of-book.html )

I agree. I read it slowly. Savoured it.

It has been jointly published by Black Kite and Hachette India.

Indian Mammals_bookcover_website2. Vivek Menon Indian Mammals: A Field Guide It is described a reference and exceptionally usable guide to the mammals of India. It is four-colour with more than 400 species of both land and water mammals.

3. George Monbiot’s essay “Back to Nature”. The first article in BBC Earth’s ‘A World of View’ series of essays by leading environmental authors. ( http://www.bbc.com/earth/bespoke/story/20141203-back-to-nature/index.html )wild_wisdom_quiz_book

4. The Wild Wisdom Quiz Book published by Puffin India and WWF India. It consists of questions, trivia and illustrations compiled from India’s only national level quiz on wildlife.

29 Dec 2014 

Mukul Kesavan, “Homeless on Google Earth”

Mukul Kesavan, “Homeless on Google Earth”

Homeless on Google Earth

( My review of Mukul Kesavan’s book Homeless on Google Earth was published in the Hindu Literary Supplement today, 5 Jan 2014. The online version is available at:  http://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/lucid-yet-forceful/article5538031.eceThe review is c&p below as well.) 

Mukul Kesavan Homeless on Google Earth Permanent Black, Ranikhet Cantt., India, 2013. Hb. Pp. 315. Rs. 595

 In India we bank on time and forgetfulness to paper over the great rents in our history. They help but can’t do the job by themselves.  (p.252)

As a consumer of news, you could be forgiven for thinking the Indian elections are ideology-free. Pundits in the press and on the television news channels are always saying that votes are bought, coalitions are constructed out of caste fractions, politicians defect, political parties swtich sides with frictionless ease, and the policies contained in party manifestos are irrelevant to the democractic process because they are never seriously discussed. Add up these defects and what India seems to have by way of elections is the mechanism of representative government without the large ideological contestation that is, or ought to be, a democracy’s reason for being. (p. 237)

“The electoral impact of the controversy over the reinstatement of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code might be small, but the political significance of the positions that parties have taken on the decriminalization of homosexuality is considerable.” The opening lines of Mukul Kesavan’s latest column—“A political prism – What the different parties’ positions on 377 reveal”. In one sentence, clearly and sharply, scholar-journalist and historian, Mukul Kesavan, has encapsulated the furore that has dominated recent news but also pithily analysed it, forecasting the impact it will have politically; powerful words, especially on the eve of General Elections in India and after the four state election results were announced. Hence it is not surprising to discover that the web link to this article has been shared, reposted and discussed furiously in social media platforms. In fact, during the last elections, he was often spotted on television channels as a panellist, offering his independent, strong, thought-provoking and well-articulated opinion.

Homeless on Google Earth is a collection of 58 essays, most of which seem to have been written recently, judging by their subject. Mukul Kesavan teaches history at Jamia Milia Islamia, a university in New Delhi. In these opinion pieces, he covers a range of topics—his identity in “No place like home”, book launches, literary festivals, travelling to Kruger National Park with Amitav Ghosh, Bollywood, technology, gender issues, travelogues, education and political commentaries that cover topics like Israel, Gaza, Ceylon/Sri Lanka, Tibet, Kashmir, naxalism, the pogroms in India of 1984, 1992 and 2002, communal violence, elections and terrorism. The essays in the book are well arranged. They start from the easy-to-read, light and sometimes hilarious essays like “Consuming wildness in Kruger”, to the grim, sober and chilling commentaries on police encounters at Jamia Milia Islamia (“Presumed Innocent”); on naxalites (“Operation Green Hunt”); and communal hatred (“Vox Pop and Varun Gandhi” and “Accounting for the Dead”). He is a genuine historian who marshals his evidence to bolster his arguments in tautly structured essays manifesting his splendid  command of English. Without undermining the intelligence of his readers, his arguments are is lucidly and simply expressed.

Homeless on Google Earth is about important events in contemporary political, social events in  India and aspects of society that usually go unnoticed, like the women taxi drivers or the peculiar social space of society that in which MSM exists in. But read at a sitting, the essays can become very tedious. They are a collection of writings published at various times, originally meant to be read one at a time. When collected as a book, their rhythm and organization can seem to have a dull sameness. But unless one has followed Mukul Kesavan’s columns and other writings, one will not know that the essays were written at different times as there are no dates for them in this book, an unexpected oversight from a historian.

At a time when mainstream papers are slowly going out of business or moving actively and aggressively to online spaces, the vaccuum steadily being replaced by citizen journalists, online and at times armchair activism,  voices of opinion makers like Mukul Kesavan are valuable.  He is rational and sound. He does not seem to be swayed by majority sentiments, and is acutely aware of his academic discipline which he brings to bear on the issues dealt with here. One may not agree with his point of view but it is presented forcefully yet courteously and without shrillness.  It is important for such voices to be heard more often. They reach out to a range of people and ideological groups. The historian E.J.Hobsbawm said in his public lecture in Delhi 2004, that earlier society used to change at a pace that allowed people at least a generation to respond and adapt to it. But recently change has been so rapid that we are having to do this adjusting and adapting in the space of a decade or less. At this speed it becomes imperative to have rational thinkers to actively participate in civil society, as Mukul Kesavan has done in these essays.

PrintWeek India Books Special 2013

PrintWeek India Books Special 2013

The cover of the PrintWeek India Book Special 2013 and the first page of my editorial.

The cover of the PrintWeek India Book Special 2013 and the first page of my editorial.

 

 

The Books Special 2013 is out! I have collaborated with PrintWeek India for the past eight months on this project. It consists of over 25 interviews with the senior management of the Indian publishing industry. In this 116-page publication, there are interviews, viewpoints, profiles and analysis. It provides a snapshot of the publishing industry, discusses the challenges facing publishing professionals in this ecosystem and most importantly delineates the the manner in which publishers are coping with the major changes that are sweeping through the publishing landscape. Ultimately the Books Special celebrates the future of books in India.

There are only printed copies available for now.

The list of contents is:

Introduction – Jaya Bhattacharji Rose

Perspective 

National Book Trust, India – M A Sikandar

Viewpoint – Urvashi Butalia, Zubaan

PK Ghosh – Homage by Rukun Advani, Permanent Black

Ramdas Bhatkal – Profile by Asmita Mohite

Motilal Banarsidas – Chronicle

In Memoriam – Navajivan & Jitendra Desai

Spotlight – Book printers of India

Trade publishing 

Westland – Gautam Padmanabhan

Random House India – Gaurav Shrinagesh

Seagull Books – Naveen Kishore

Aleph & Rupa – David Davidar & Kapish Mehra

HarperCollins Publishers India – PM Sukumar

Hachette Book Publishing India – Thomas Abraham

DC Books – Ravi Deecee

Pan Macmillan India – Rajdeep Mukherjee

Penguin Books India – Andrew Philips

Harlequin India – Manish Singh

Diamond Books – Narendra Verma

Kalachuvadu Publications – SR Sundaram

Bloomsbury Publishing India – Rajiv Beri

Simon & Schuster India – Rahul Srivastava

Children’s Books Publishing 

ACK Media – Vijay Sampath

Scholastic India – Neeraj Jain

Education, Academic and Reference Publishing 

Sage Publications – Vivek Mehra

S Chand Group – Himanshu Gupta

Cambridge University Press India – Manas Saikia

Wiley India – Vikas Gupta

Sterling Publishers – SK Ghai

Springer India –  Sanjiv Goswami

Tulika Books – Indira Chandrashekhar

Manupatra – Deepak Kapoor

Orient Blackswan – R Krishna Mohan

Publishing Process 

Pearson Education India – Subhasis Ganguli

Palaniappa Chellapan – Palaniappa Brothers

Sheth Publishers – Deepak Sheth

Hachette Book Publishing India – Priya Singh

Mapin Publishing – Bipin Shah

Prakash Books – Gaurav Sabharwal

7 Sept 2013 

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an international publishing consultant and columnist. Her monthly column on the business of publishing, PubSpeak, appears in BusinessWorld online.

@JBhattacharji