Publishing Posts

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 Other publishers have just quietly withdrawn other books without making the effort that Penguin made to save this book.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 

Amazon for Authors, KDP in Delhi, 16 Feb 2014

Amazon for Authors, KDP in Delhi, 16 Feb 2014

I am assisting Amazon to put together a 2-hour event in Delhi. It is to introduce and discuss their self-publishing programme– Kindle Direct Publishing or KDP. Jon P. Fine, Director of Author & Publishing Relations, Amazon.com will be present. Anyone who is interested in selfpublishing their book online is welcome to attend. It could be a book or a manual ranging from fiction, non-fiction, self-help, first aid manuals, medicine, science, gardening, cooking, collection of recipes, gardening, automobiles, finance, memoir, children’s literature, textbooks, science articles, on nature, poetry, translations, drama, interviews, essays, travel, religion, hospitality, etc. Any form of text that is to be made available as an ebook using Amazon’s Kindle programme.

This event is free, but registration before 13 Feb 2014 is a must. Please email me to confirm participation:  jayabhattacharjirose@gmail.com . Details of the event are given below.

kdp-amazon

Jon P. Fine

Director of Author & Publishing Relations, Amazon.com

 cordially invites you for a session on

 Amazon for Authors:

Navigating the Road to Self-Publishing Success

Hear how Indian authors have used Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) to build and reach audiences across a variety of genres

Guest Speakers:

  • Ajay Jain, KDP author and founder of Kunzum Travel café
  • Rasana Atreya, KDP author of Tell A Thousand Lies
  • Sri Vishwanath, KDP author of books like Give Up Your Excess Baggage and The Secret of Getting Things Done

Event details:

  • Date: Sunday, February 16, 2014
  • Time: High Tea,  4:00 PM – 6:00 PM,
  • Venue: Diwan-i-Khas, Taj Mansingh

RSVP

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose

International Publishing Consultant

jayabhattacharjirose@gmail.com

Andre Schiffrin, “Publishing is transforming”

Andre Schiffrin, “Publishing is transforming”

( It is a sad day indeed. Andre Schriffin, a publishing legend has passed away. I interviewed Andre Schriffin in 2011 when he came to India. At the time I interviewed him for BusinessWorld online. Here is the link: http://www.businessworld.in/news/economy/%18publishing-is-transforming%19/359818/page-1.html, published 11 Nov 2011. I am c&p the interview below as well. ) 

Andre SchriffinParis-based publishing luminary Andre Schiffrin is renowned not necessarily for the writers he has published (Chomsky, Foucault, Hobsbawm, etc.), but also for his successful business models in publishing. Jaya Bhattacharji Rose caught up with him to discuss the present, past and future of books. Excerpts:

You have been in publishing for over 60 years now. How have things changed?
The role of the reader has always been important, but never as much as now, with the arrival of digital publishing and big chains. The challenges are mostly negative, especially for independent publishers. Google and Amazon are creating a monopoly, destroying the bookstore and the paperback. (E-books are as cheap as paperbacks.) With Amazon venturing into direct publishing, the future looks bleak for maintaining the publi-shing models of the past, where there was a stress on quality, and on nurturing new writers and thinkers. A good modern-day example worth emulating is what MIT is doing with its curriculum. It is an important model where the output is available for free.

Can you elaborate on the challenges, especially for independent publishing? 
Publishing is a macrocosm of society. Publishers need to take a risk and experi-ment with ideas and authors. Unfortunately, more than ever before, there exists a market censorship. Big publishers are being selective and, at times, conservative about what they publish. Secondly, the political decision is paramount in helping independent publishers. For instance, in Germany fixed pricing of books or resale price maintenance is important as it keeps independent bookstores alive. Publi-shers and importers of books in German have to fix a price for each book published or imported. Fixed price means all retailers will initially offer a book for sale at the same price, in whatever period of the year.

A third challenge is distribution networks. A good distribution network is the key for their survival. For example, in France, over a thou-sand independent stores have come together to share information and help each other. This network works well. So, you can order a title at any bookshop and within 24 hours it is delive-red. Finally, the role of the author in suppor-ting the independent publisher is significant.

How do you look at social media and the spaces it allows?
I am not against technology, but social media spaces are limited. It is not always easy to locate and discover, and engage with opinion makers there. It is important to be printed, published and disseminated in the traditional manner. A recent example is Time For Outrage, written by 93-year-old Stephane Hessel. Published by a small French publisher in Montpellier, and priced at a mere e3 — it has sold over 3.5 million copies so far.

How have troubles in the US and the Eurozone impacted publishing? 
Publishing in these territories is under-going a transformation. The growth of publishing firms is mainly due to M&As. But the most significant impact for Indian publi-shing is in the growth of printing. Publishers from these territories seek ways of being cost-effective, by outsourcing printing to India— and they have been doing so for a while now.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 21-11-2011)

“Jeeves and the Wedding Bells” Sebastian Faulks

“Jeeves and the Wedding Bells” Sebastian Faulks

Sebastian Faulks, Jeeves and the Wedding BellsSebastian Faulks has written a homage to P. G. Wodehouse, a novel, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells. It is meant to be a new addition to the Wodehouse collection of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves novels. It was announced with a great deal of fanfare earlier in the year and released in November 2013. Unfortunately it does not meet one’s expectations at all. It is stiff and difficult to read. It misses the humour of Wodehouse.

Resurrecting beloved characters that have endured and continued to charm generations of readers is a trend that is going viral among publishers. In the hope of keeping markets alive, publishers are introducing new and young readers to characters that they may not be familiar with. Popular contemporary novelists are entrusted with the task of scripting new stories. For instance, Anthony Horowitz wrote a new Sherlock Holmes mystery, The House of Silk ( 2012); William Boyd wrote a new James Bond novel, Solo (2013); and next year Sophie Hannah will be writing a new Hercule Poirot mystery. ( If the buzz at Frankfurt Book Fair 2013 is to be believed this is a novel to watch out for.) Keeping with this trend, Sebastian Faulks was asked by Random House to create a new novel with Bertie Wooster and Jeeves. These editorial decisions of matchmaking between popular contemporary novelists with old favourites are actually very sharp. If these new novels are written well ( as House of Silk is) everyone stands to gain—the readers have a new novel, the author and the publishers have a new market to tap. More importantly, most of these characters are either out of the copyright domain or are about to become available. By introducing new versions of the characters, estates of the authors can consider arguing legally “having that single book under copyright means that the entire character is covered by copyright”. ( Read. Conan Doyle Estate Is Horrified That The Public Domain Might Create ‘Multiple Personalities’ Of Sherlock Holmes http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130915/00291924523/conan-doyle-estate-doesnt-understand-public-domain-freaks-out-harms-it-might-cause-to-sherlock-holmes.shtml ) Thus keeping a tight control on the royalties earned by the new lease of life these characters are given. Significantly at a time when multiple formats are splintering and expanding the market, creating alternative revenue streams, it is important for publishers to explore ways of making inroads, testing markets and this can be done at least cost with old characters that are favourites, out-of-copyright or require minimal license fees to be paid, and new business models are explored. House of Silk, Anthony Horowitz

In Faulks on Fiction, Sebastian Faulks has an essay on Jeeves, ‘The Mood will Pass, Sir”. His opening line is “one of the odd things about Jeeves is how seldom he appears in the stories that immortalised him. While P. G. Wodehouse never used anything as vulgar as formula, there is an elegant pattern to Jeeves exits and his entrances.” ( p.239) Well if Faulks was interested in exploring the Jeeves angle in The Wedding Bells, he failed. He misses the point of Wodehouse’s fiction. Probably because Faulks is unable to get rid of his awe for Wodehouse. He remains nervous, hesitant following ( writing?) in the footsteps of Wodehouse and seems to be only keen to explore a perspective he feels is missing from the established Wodehouse canon.

Sebastian Faulks Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, Hutchinson, London, 2013. Pb. pp. 258 Price not mentioned.

Naveen Kishore, Publisher, Seagull’s acceptance speech for the Goethe Medal, Weimar, 28 Aug 2013

Naveen Kishore, Publisher, Seagull’s acceptance speech for the Goethe Medal, Weimar, 28 Aug 2013

4_GM2013_Kishore_Foto_Schuck (1)( From the Goethe Institute website. In an outstanding way and at the highest level, Naveen Kishore represents dialogue and cultural cooperation between India and Germany, according to the statement by the Goethe Medal commission.

He is the founder and director of Seagull Books in Kolkata, which, with branches in London and Chicago, is established internationally like no other Indian publishing house. The house owns the worldwide English-language publishing rights for authors such as Paul Celan, Ingeborg Bachmann, Jean-Paul Sartre, Thomas Bernhard, Imre Kertész, Yves Bonnefoy, Mo Yan, Mahasweta Devi, Peter Handke and Hans Magnus Enzensberger. Naveen Kishore is led not by the market, but by personal convictions and passions. By launching the German List book series, a collaboration with the Goethe-Institut, he lastingly altered prevailing circumstances for the reception of German-language literature in the English language not only in India, but worldwide. Over the past five years Seagull has acquired the publishing rights to over 60 books from German publishers. Seagull Books is the first to publish German authors such as Brigitte Reimann and Ralf Rothmann in the English language, in carefully edited and excellently translated editions. I am reproducing this speech with Naveen Kishore’s permission. )

Medaille

I found the words that had escaped.
Rounded them up at gunpoint.
Marched them into the compound ringed by barbed wire.
Knocked them senseless with the butt of my gun.
Watched them collapse into a heap of meaninglessness.
Lit a match.
Flicked it on to the heap.

It took several lifetimes.
But at last I succeeded.

To set the words on fire.

The rising smoke drew across the sky
the meaning of my life.

To write is to delve. To hope. To write is to set off on a journey. There’s no arriving. There’s no ‘getting there’. Just the tramping. The walking. The dust tracks as signs of life. Someone has walked this way before. The reassurance. The comfort of friends. And of course the words. Words as solace. Words as recollection. Incomplete words seeking salvation. Broken words in limbo. Premature ones spewed into the gutter even as they are born. Words without moorings. Or roots. Homeless words seeking shelter from the storm. Good. Bad. Indifferent. Words that act like an opiate. Words that sing a lullaby. Unashamed words. Naked and stripped of veils. Harsh and therefore often truthful words. Words of the people. Words that refuse to die. Or be buried. Fighting words. Words with a cause. Borderline words strutting to a neutral tune. Neither-here-nor-there words. Our words. Their words. Words of attrition. Those that feast on anger and prejudice. Words of war. And those that want nothing but a happy ending.

The freedom of language as we used to know it is under a cloud. The very clouds that we grew up turning into sentences are now under suspicion. Trusting words to mean what they say is no longer an option. Sure, we hear them. Often, we even ‘see’ them as they sway down the ramp of language. Stony eyed and anorexic in their transparent gowns. Unblinking in the harshness of the flashing lights. A dull salute to conformity. Or words in the grip of fear. Wrap your tongue round such a word and you see it thrashing and struggling to slip away. The desire to spit out words is unadvisable. Surreptitious tip-toeing after a cautious glance to the left. The right. Then scurrying across the road to safety That’s the way, today’s way, with words.

I have a disease, I see language. I was reincarnated as a publisher in my eleventh birth. In my tenth, I was born in the land of frostbite in upper Alaska and my mother taught me how to chisel the frost off my words as swiftly as the cold north wind froze them once again. In my seventh, I was a lighting designer, learning to backlight words that other people wrote and spoke. Sometimes, I simply lit the silence and waited, with the empty stage, for the entry of a new sentence.

How do you find your way without a compass or a map? Especially when you have set out to grasp that which is intangible? I say to you what others have said to me:
Let intuition be your compass.
Look for a credible (or incredible) way to slip out of the confines of your head, your brain, your training—to unlearn all that you have learnt.

Why does this magazine page or catalogue or book cover look the way it does? Is the designer in me expected to come up with an answer that will make you gasp with admiration at its insight, its erudition, its grasp of designer theory? YES! I’m afraid so. When you ask me ‘Why?’ I’m often tempted, even compelled, to say things like ‘I was attempting to render through a visual metaphor the metaphysical doctrine of XYZ . . .’ or ‘The poststructuralist theories of something-something ‘. Anything.
The sad thing is that I would never have the guts to simply look you in the eye and say: ‘The air above my head and yours is full of lots of somethings. I’ve just learnt to pull out the odd one and spread it evenly across a page. Like butter. Or jam’.
I would love even more to say: ‘Because . . .‘

I am often asked about ‘sustainability’ and ‘structure’, about ‘vision’ and the ‘ability to reinvent’. I never have convincing answers simply because I have no scientific or rational methods to explain my life’s work and the choices that have come with it. I live hand in hand or hand in glove, and therefore complicitly, with ‘the uncertain’ and ‘the intangible’. With the opposite of ‘structure’. I am aware that I also live in a time that does not lend credence to that feeling at the pit of your belly often referred to as the ‘gut’. Instinct is frowned upon, even in the arts.
Each new engagement brings with it a new insight, both in its execution and with its response. Over the years, this style of working has developed into a strategy that:
a) responds flexibly and immediately to a perceived need, be it that of an individual or a group;
b) cuts through the bureaucracy of thought that usually strangles such a dialogue and acts quickly and decisively to meet it; and, more importantly,
c) refuses to get jaded. Nothing is static. Everything has a dynamic plasticity about it.
This award recognizes my life’s work. My life. And, like life, the work is ever evolving, changing, coping, dying, renewing, responding, sustaining, nurturing . . . The closest I can come to describe the Seagull vision is to say: ‘Think of animation’—not a frozen piece of text nor a well-articulated, expertly crafted, neatly phrased all-encompassing legend that can be engraved on a brass plaque. The Seagull way of life is a mercurial, flexible, broad-minded, tolerant and philosophical practice. We respond, therefore we practice. The urge to keep doing, to keep working away at something that enhances things cultural in some form or the other; that benefits those that practice ‘things cultural’ and helps take them further, from Point A to Point D— that’s what drives us at Seagull. Every day.

Ours is therefore a practice that will always remain vulnerable. Not the vulnerability of the weak but of those receptive to new impressions. Our vulnerability to ideas makes us receptive to all that is new and untried. Especially in these dark times when culture is slowly but surely being hijacked by forces that are anything but benign. I do feel watched in a way I never have before. And I am afraid that a technology that I do not understand is both spying on me and entertaining me. I am under surveillance even as I am seduced by It. The all pervasive It of our lives. The It as State. As a state of mind. As a powerful presence that will have its way. It as Corporation. It as newspapers. As television. As theatre and cinema. It as Media with a capital ‘M’. It as power that knows no boundaries. It without conscience. Yes. It is like listening to music that is both hypnotic and evil. That attracts. That refuses to let go of my attention.
I listen to the songs but I do not understand the words.
The space for our songs is not as free as it used to be.

I have a flaw. I want to do everything. Don’t you wish that you could do everything? Or, at least, a lot of things? I want to experience. I want to be part of a process that has no apparent game plan. I want to be part of something that does. I hate the thought of being restricted. Allow us this day our daily attempts—at anything and everything. Why not?

Underlining all of this is an urge to survive and to do things. Not just any thing but ‘something in the arts’. And this is precisely what we have been doing for the last 40 years or so. ‘Survival’ carries with it a sense of the precarious, a kind of ‘just about keeping your head above water’. This is true but it need not necessarily make you unhappy! As long as you manage to take care of what you define as your daily necessities—the urge to produce a certain kind of book that few wish to buy; or organize an experimental performance because you feel it needs to be seen; or exhibit an artist’s work that needs to see the light of day—the rest will fall into place.

One day I will write something where each word is made up of a million waves and each wave sings its own story and each story sheds its own tears and the tears do what they must to carry on they smile and smiles come bearing the strings that make music and strings quickly learn to caress the bark of the finest violins which in turn play melodies that weave a magic spell over the hearts that beat and throb and every throb breathes new life into words words that bear echoes echoes that sound like the bells that adorn churches bells crafted out of the finest metal safeguarded over centuries for its ability to turn word into sound sounds that are pregnant with words words that bear the seed of silence silence that accompanies stillness stillness as we know is the mother of echo echo that every word carries within it of a life before the birth of language language that was once sensed rather than heard like the morning breeze celebrating a birth the birth of poetry

I am a man of words.
To me, the words matter most of all.

Naveen Kishore
Weimar, August 2013

Guest post: Paro Anand, storytelling in multiple tongues to children

Guest post: Paro Anand, storytelling in multiple tongues to children

 

In Nov 2003, Paro Anand and I were invited by the French Government to attend the salon de livre jeunesse. It was a wonderful trip. While there Paro was invited to tell stories in a French bookstore. I was fortunate to attend the session with Paro. It is nearly a decade ago and I have some wonderful pictures from that particular evening, including one of a child sitting under a table listening to Paro with his mouth open. Subsequently Paro has narrated stories on various platforms, to multi-lingual audiences. In the post below she shares some of these experiences.

Logo I decided to ask Paro Anand to write this note after realising that Jumpstart 2013 would focus on “Speaking in Tongues”.( http://www.jumpstartfest.com/home) It is a platform meant to discuss children’s literature across languages and address the idea of bibliodiversity. What better way to do it than hear from a practitioner of the trade, who has done exactly this…told stories in multiple languages to various audiences around the world. Unfortunately Paro Anand will not be attending Jumpstart this year.

 

Paro Anand telling stories in English, Hindi and Punjabi to a French-speaking audience in a Parisian Bookstore, Nov 2003.

Paro Anand telling stories in English, Hindi and Punjabi to a French-speaking audience in a Parisian Bookstore, Nov 2003.

Storytelling is all about language, about words – right? I thought so too. And if someone told me that it was possible to tell stories to an audience who did not understand a word of what you were saying, well, that would be absurd. I thought so too.

Except that I have been put into this situation on several occasions – four times, in fact. The first time was early in my storytelling career where I was faced with an audience of Telugu-speaking children to whom i was a ‘firangi’. I flung my body into service and mimed and acted out every word. They got it. Well, most of it.

The next time was in a bookstore in Paris. I had a few animal stories prepared, but the young, French-speaking audience was totally unfamiliar with English. So i told the story in Hindi – and Punjabi. I peppered it with a handful of French words and the kids were singing Punjabi songs by the end of the session! Armed with that success, I repeated the experiment in Geneva, Switzerland, this time along with an Indian storyteller who also spoke German and French. I performed in Hindi and Punjabi and she answered my questions in German and French. It’s not as if the kids only understood half the session. They had a grip on the story as a whole and many said they’d enjoyed hearing a story in another language. I asked which part they liked best and they said the lion’s part. Not the French part, just the lion’s part!

But the crowning glory in multi-language crown was doing a session with a Zulu South African performance teller called Gcina. We met for the first time on stage with the audience already assembled. I had no idea which stories she was going to tell, I did not know her work and she did not know mine. But the kids were Hindi speaking so she needed a ‘go-between’. We were both game, though and that’s all that mattered. She launched into her story using English with a bit of Swahili where it would be apparent what the words were and I mirrored her action for action, word for word. It was magical, for me most of all. By the end, the audience was shouting out the Zulu words and Gcina was answering in Hindi!

Which only goes to show that it’s the heart and soul of a story that we absorb, the words are only a vehicle. I have personally enjoyed hitching a ride on an unknown vehicle and discovering where that journey will land me.

27 Aug 2013

(C) Paro Anand

Guest post: Arundhati Deosthale writes about her collaboration with Julia Kaergel

Guest post: Arundhati Deosthale writes about her collaboration with Julia Kaergel

Arundhati Deosthale, co-founder A&A Book Trust, writes about her experience in translating the Mimi series into Hindi and her collaboration with award-winning German illustrator Julia Kaergel. 

 

aa-book-trust-logoA & A Book Trust feels privileged to have had this opportunity to introduce two extraordinarily talented women in children’s literature. In 2009, I met Doris Dorrie in Munich. All those who know German cinema know her as a maker of off-beat film maker, a novelist and a teacher in film institute. It was a pleasure to discover that she writes books for children too. She presented me copies of her Mimi picture books series illustrated by Julia Kaergel, and the rest is history. I had till then seen Julia’s work in children’s libraries and had heard about the various prizes she had been honoured with… Mimmi

Mimi series just couldn’t have gone to any other illustrator other than Julia, her insights into child-psychology, her uncanny skills to go beyond the text, and sense of fun have contributed brilliantly to the success of the series in Germany, Switzerland and also in India. Mimi came in to Hindi directly from German, as a part of the ‘Girl- child’ special picture books project and went on straight to the villages through Room to Read libraries in 8 Indian states, including Uttaranchal. The acceptance of Mimi across the cultures; especially the interiors of India, among the first generation to see the picture books speaks of the vividness and universal appeal of Julia’s art. We did have to make two minor changes though, namely deleting the two references to pork and beef, when Mimi shops with her mother. But Julia accepted these willingly, appreciating the sensitivities of two communities in India. Chirag, an NGO working for education and rural development, runs a primary school in Shitala, a cluster of villages in the Nainital district of Uttaranchal. The Chirag school kids picked up Mimi for play-acting. It was such a pleasure watching the children draw and make paper pyjamas and a la Mimi to wear these upside down on their heads. They raised some really interesting questions for Julia and Doris, the makers of this series like Mimi who keeps things from parents for quite some time, is that OK?

How come that her parents don’t seem to be minding her being such a menace?

And

Is she a ‘good’ girl or a ‘naughty’ one?

These were the questions which made the teachers and parents think aloud on the difference in parenting and schooling between our two respective cultures. One could say that the children were a bit envious of Mimi whose imagination runs amok in both the books, and parents surely did some learning playfully. And this surely is an amazing response to a picture book!!

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Arundhati Deosthale and Julia Kaergel will be in conversation on 29 August 2013 @ Jumpstart. Julia Kaergel will also be conducting an illustrator’s masterclass on 30 Aug 2013. Details available at http://www.jumpstartfest.com/home

(C) Arundhati Deosthale 

23 Aug 2013

Good Lit Versus Saleable Lit, PubSpeak, June 2013

Good Lit Versus Saleable Lit, PubSpeak, June 2013

PubSpeak, Jaya
( My column, “PubSpeak”, for June 2013 is on What constitutes good literature? It is published in BusinessWorld online. The link is: http://www.businessworld.in/en/storypage/-/bw/good-lit-versus-saleable-lit/r964342.37528/page/0 . It was uploaded on 29 June 2013. )

Good Lit Versus Saleable Lit

What is good literature? The fine, complex and well-crafted story that will survive over a period of time or is it literature that sells phenomenally well? The debate is on…

Some of my happiest childhood memories are sitting curled up in a chair and reading. I read and read. I bought books, I was gifted books, I inherited books. My brother and I browsed through encyclopaedias, books on art and museums, read fiction, non-fiction, and anything else in between. Call it by any name, but the pleasure of holding and reading a book was tremendous. In fact one of the canvases I painted was of my brother reading a Leslie Charteris “Saint” novel, borrowed from the library its red jacket visible while he lies on the bed absorbed in reading. We read voraciously. We read whatever came our way. I don’t recall anyone telling us that books were strictly by age or category. We liked a good story. Period.

Today it is different. In June 2013 award-winning German writer, translator and Publisher at Carl Hanser Verlag, Michael Krüger, said in Publishing Perspectives, the daily e-newsletter on publishing, “I only know there are good and interesting books, and bad ones. …Since book publishing became a mass-market business, the quality level is constantly sinking. But there are still very good books around, in every country! The problem is that people can’t get them because they are hiding.” Publishers are increasingly more careful about commissioning titles and work a great deal on the packaging and promotion of the books. Always with an eye on the market, reaching out to the regular customers and trying to connect with new readers. For instance titles for children are being classified according to age, to make it easier for customers to find authors.

New imprints are being launched especially for young adult literature (it is a booming market segment) – Inked (Penguin Books India), Red Turtle (Rupa Publications), Duckbill (Westland) and Scholastic Nova. The idea is to always have a pulse on the market. Some of the genres that are popular are commercial fiction, children’s literature, non-fiction, self-help, business and then there are new lists appearing – young adult/ tweens, cross-over titles, and speculative fiction.

Jaspreet Gill, a marketing executive who wandered into the industry a year ago, (and the publishing bug has bitten him) says “It is not an industry for the most part driven by Editorial (I thought it was), or the quality of content. The whole trade is driven by sales. The worth of a book is judged by how well it can be sold, or how much the author can spend and how well he can be utilised for marketing. This is also, with all due respect to them. They are smart salesmen, but that is all that they are, selling commodities, not presenting ideas, ideologies, and good literature. I sincerely believe that the reason for success of the authors of commercial fiction is not the quality of their content, but the price of the book, and visibility they are able to get at the retail stores. They are also clever marketers, and know how to sell their products to people.”

Somak Ghoshal, former literary fiction commissioning editor with Penguin Books, acquired some fine literature (Chitra Bannerji Divakurni, Anjan Sundaram, Neamat Imam and Shazaf Fatima Haider) says, “Commercial fiction sells. The print runs are staggering. The success of these titles allows the firm to acquire literature that in turn develops the brand of the firm. It is a symbiotic relationship.”

It raises the (eternal) question of what is good literature? What sells? And why? Does good literature equal saleable literature? Naveen Kishore, Publisher, Seagull Books, Kolkata (with offices in New York and London), offers an explanation “Like everything else, we need to question the ‘market’. After all, it cannot exist in a vacuum. To put it another way: without content — largely implying the labour of the author, the effort of the publisher and all the other players including the vital function that a translator plays — where would the market be? What would it ‘showcase’? What would it sell? And let us make no bones about the fact that ‘content’ is not simply and only about a certain swiftly ‘saleable’ kind of book. It is also about the arts and literature and culture and philosophy and thought that go into making us human. Again if we persist with our interpretation of what the market wants we will end up by not publishing 90 per cent of these subjects. What kind of a future will that be? It is in this context that the market has a responsibility and a proactive role to play. ‘It’ (the market) cannot be lazy about this and merely sit back and expect only the books that make the grade according to ‘its’ standards be accepted! The market has to learn to cater, feed, nurture tastes for literature that do not necessarily extend to the millions . . . always remembering that the first Kafka text only sold 800 copies! If the market had behaved as it does now we would never have had a Franz Kafka! It is in this context that I suggest that the market needs to find you.” Sterling Lord, literary agent to Jack Kerouac, Ken Casey, Gloria Steinem, and Berenstains reports in his memoir Lord of Publishing of Ted Geisel, editor, Random House who published the Berenstain bear stories that he insisted on the story being a page-turner. But it “wasn’t only the story that Ted focused on; he cared about the title page, the type, the paper, every phrase, every word, every rhyme, and every drawing.” The intervention of the editor created a book that would sell and launched a new author into the market. By March 2009, nearly fifty years after publication, The Berenstain Bears Go to School had sold 3,520,554 copies in North America alone.

Of course the notion of what constitutes “good” literature is subjective but it is obviously a challenge that plagues the industry worldwide. Is it literature that is fine, complex, well-crafted and tells a good story that will survive over a period of time or is it literature that sells phenomenally well and caters to the mass market? Can literary tastes even be defined? Eric Hobsbawm says it well in Fractured Times: Culture and Society in the Twentieth Century, “… much good new writing is published that would never pass the profit threshold set by the accountants, because of non-market decisions.” No one really knows. Is it the author that creates a market with their storytelling or does the market create an author? Publishing continues. New authors are discovered. New readers emerge. The cycle continues.

As I file this column, it is announced that Penguin Books India has signed a two-book deal worth an estimated Rs 1.25 crore (approx $210,700) with Ravi Subramanian, popularly referred to as the John Grisham of banking. This follows close on the heels of Amish Tripathi, of the Shiva trilogy fame, who has inked a deal worth Rs 5 crore (approx $843,000) with Westland for his next series.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an international publishing consultant and columnist.

“Fractured Times: Culture and Society in the Twentieth Century” Eric Hobsbawm

“Fractured Times: Culture and Society in the Twentieth Century” Eric Hobsbawm

Fractured Times

Fractured Times is a series of lectures delivered by Eric Hobsbawm at the annual Salzburg Festival. Those published in this book, were written between 1964-2012. (He died on 1 Oct 2012.) This is a book of reflections, thoughts and comments about what happened to culture and society, especially after 1914, a society and a time that was never to return. These lectures document the tectonic shifts that occurred in the cultural fabric of society. The devastating impact that the two world wars had on society was fundamental. Hobsbawm’s basic premise is that the art and cultural fabric of a society are inextricably linked to politics. It is impossible to dissociate one from the other. ( “For enjoyment of art is not purely a private experience, but a social one, sometimes even a political one, especially in the case of planned public performances i purpose-built settings and theatres.”) So post-1914 the society (at least in Europe and UK) was transformed in that the women’s movements flourished ( ironically a country that had two powerful women on its throne, did not give its women citizen’s even the basic rights. The suffragettes had to demand it), the publishing of books developed into an industry with the establishment of some of the biggest trade publishers such as Allen Lane’s Penguin Books, the first oral history societies were founded in the late 1960s ( “Studies of historical memory are essentially not about the past, but about the retrospect to it of some subsequent present.”) and education. His views on the publishing industry are fascinating — “The book, revolutionised in the 1930s by Penguin and Gollancz, was almost certainly the most effective form of intellectual diffusion: not to the mass of the manual working class for whom the word ‘book’ still meant ‘magazine’, but to the old educated and the rapidly growing body of the aspiring and politically conscious self-educated.”. Or earlier in the book, he says “Even a good deal of literature, especially the classics, remains in print, and much good new writing is published that would never pass the profit threshold set by the accountants, because of non-market decisions.”

There are plenty of nuggets of wisdom that have been distilled and delivered in these lectures. Here is a man who thought, analysed and presented with confidence. Every single book of his is a treasure trove. The ease with which he presents history, complex ideas without their seeming to be so, and his analysis is always a delight to read. For instance his reflection upon how the fashion industry more or less predicts the trends for the following season accurately, but the book trade bumbles its way through. And yet both are heavily dependent upon markets that formed by subjectivity and at times irrational sensibilities. So why does one industry get it right over and over again and not the other? Hobsbawm’s comments on the relationship between the market and culture are sharp and precise. “From the point of view of the market, the only interesting culture is the product or service that makes money.” In his opinion, post-1970s the wealth available for nurturing the arts has grown explosively, all though it does come with a lot of provisos. But he also cautions the rapid transformation that the cyber-age has wrought. It is “so fast, so dramatic, and so unforseeable”. The chapter on “Why hold festivals in the twenty-first century?” has to be read. Hobsbawm is convinced that festivals are multiplying like rabbits. According to him, “festivals have become a firm component of the economically ever more important complex of the entertainment industry, and particularly of cultural tourism, which is rapidly expanding, at least in the prosperous societies of the so-called ‘developed’ world…there is a great deal of money to be made these days in the culture business.” For him “the genealogy of today’s festivals begins with the discovery of the stage as the cultural-political and social expression of a new elite that is self-assured and bourgeois, or rather recruited according to education and ability instead of birth.”

In a similar fashion “in the post-industrial age of information, the school — that is, secondary an tertiary education and beyond — is more decisive than every before, and forms, both nationally and worldwide, a unifying element, not only in technology, but also in the formation of classes….What is needed is a usable educational programme aimed at the community of educable youth, not only within a country or a cultural circle, but also worldwide. This guarantees, at least within a particular area of intellectual cultures, a certain universalism both of information and of cultural values, a sort of basic stock of things that an ‘educated person’ should know.”

Eric Hobsbawm was a thinker. As Julia Hobsbawm says about her father in the FT — “Food he could do without; ideas not.” ( Financial Times, April 2013. http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/0dbd14de-a7c0-11e2-9fbe-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2VL2W2xf6 ) A man like him will be sorely missed. Fractured Times, his last book to be published is like the others before it, worth reading over and over again. Every time there is something new to be discovered in the lectures.

Eric Hobsbawm Fractured Times: Culture and Society in the Twentieth Century Little, Brown, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, Hachette India, 2013. Hb. pg 320. Rs. 699

Khushwant Singh. Two books. Two publishing houses – Penguin and Aleph

Khushwant Singh. Two books. Two publishing houses – Penguin and Aleph


Khushwant Singh. Two books published in quick succession by two publishing houses. Both books have been written when, “according to traditional Hindu belief, in the fourth and final stage of life, sanyaas. …At ninety-eight, I count myself lucky that I still enjoy my single malt whiskey at seven every evening. I relish tasty food, and look forward to hearing the latest gossip and scandal. I tell people who drop in to see me, ‘If you have nothing nice to say about anyone, come and sit beside me.’ I retain my curiosity about the world around me; I enjoy the company of beautiful women; I take joy in poetry and literature, and in watching nature… I have slowed down considerably in the past year. I tire more easily, and have grown quite deaf. These days I often remove my hearing aid…and I find myself relishing the silence that deafness brings. As I sit enveloped in silence, I often look on my life, thinking about what has enriched it…My life has had its ups and downs, but I’ve lived it fully, and I think I have learnt its lessons.”

Khushwantnama is a collection of reflections. Honest, Straightforward. Crisp. Acerbic. Tongue-in-cheek. Ruthless. The essays range from being a “Dilliwala”, the importance of Gandhi, what religion means to Khushwant Singh ( ” It is not God who created us, but we who created God. I am an agnostic. However, one does not have to believe in God to concede that prayer has power.”), on writing, on watching nature, on poetry especially Urdu poetry and Ghalib. The essays I have read over and over again have to be on the business of writing, what it takes to be a writer and dealing with death.

In his reflections upon writing and dealing with publishers, Khushwant Singh does not mince any words. Having written many books, his experience was that he never had any trouble finding a good publisher. But now “the whole business resembles a whorehouse. Publishers can be compared to brothel keepers; literary agents to bharooahs (pimps) who find eligible girls and fix rates of payment; writers can be likened to women in the profession. Newcomers are naya maal ( virgins) who draw the biggest fees for being deflowered. Advance royalties being these days run up to Rs 50 lakh, sometimes even before a word of the projected work has been written. Advances offered to authors in India are often higher than those offered in America or England or in any other European country. But they are offered only for works in English, not for works in our regional languages.”

And his advice on what it takes to be a writer. “Along with hard work, read whatever you can– whether it’s the classics or fairy tales or even nonsense verse. Reading will make you capable of distinguishing between bad and good writing. There is no substitute for reading. This is also the only thing that expands your vocabulary.”

This has to be read along with The Freethinker’s Prayer Book a collection of quotes that he gathered from his reading and many visitors. He maintained many notebooks. The best of these have been published in this beautiful volume. Quite literally from the cover onwards with its Sanjhi artwork of the tree of life to the text within. It is a book that you will want to dip in often.

In Swahili there is a saying that when a person dies it is equivalent to the loss of a library. These books exemplify that it certainly holds true for Khushwant Singh. I have enjoyed reading these books and keep them on my writing desk. Buy these books as companion volumes.

Khushwant Singh Khushwantnama: The Lessons of my Life Viking, Penguin, New Delhi, 2013. Hb. pp. 190 Rs. 399

Khushwant Singh The Freethinker’s Prayer Book and some words to live by Aleph, New Delhi, 2013. Hb. pp. 190. Rs. 495