Raghu Karnad Posts

Tuesday Reads ( Vol 3), 25 June 2019

Dear Reader,

I have just finished reading Amitav Ghosh’s magnificent novel Gun Island. It is about Dinanath Datta, a rare books seller whose life gets entangled with an ancient legend about the goddess of snakes, Manasa Devi. It is a fascinating story that begins in the Sunderbans to New York to Venice. Gun Island has a fantastic cast of characters but it is also a story very relevant to our times for its focus on the situation of migrants and climate change.

At the New Delhi book launch held on 13 June 2019, India Habitat Centre, Amitav Ghosh was in conversation with Raghu Karnad. It was a very special evening as it occurred two days after the untimely demise of the playwright, Girish Karnad. So the book launch morphed into this public memorial for Girish Karnad too. It began with the new Jnanpith winner Amitav Ghosh’s tribute to another Jnanpith winner Girish Karnad. The conversation began with Raghu Karnad, son of Girish Karnad, saying, “My father was a chronicler of Karnataka and of this country, I consider you to be a chronicler of this planet. Interconnecting the countless parts we are in the midst of but miss. They are forces of language, war, or even eco-system.” These opening remarks triggered off a fascinating conversation about “unlikely coincidences” and “meaningful resonances” that exist between space and time. Also what does it mean to try and rationalise events that defy rationalist thinking but at times it is impossible to do so. A significant proportion of Gun Island dwells upon the global migrant crisis. During the conversation Amitav Ghosh commented that “the central literary question is how do you talk about the slow violence that eats itself into peoples lives and never finds its way into newspapers? In the papers every day there are so many reports about violence but this slow violence does not get attention. We have learned to turn our eyes away from it. The issue is how do we find ourselves back to recognise the violence unfolding around us. Poetry is better able to respond to the catastrophe and cataclysm we see around us. Poetry does not have that commitment. Poetry has always responded to every natural event. You see it in Byron and in pre-modern Indian poetry which is not poetry for the sake of poetry — it is devotional. We have to find ourselves back to that…back to being able to talk about other things apart from us.”

Gun Island is an unputdownable book. It will sell well but more so because of the old fashioned word-of-mouth recommendations. At the book launch there were whispers overheard of Amitav Ghosh probably being a contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature in the coming years. Who knows?! But for now it would be interesting to see if this book makes it to the shortlist of the more prominent literary prizes around the world like The Booker Prize. It is certainly a book that cannot be ignored!

Of all the books I read in the past week Gun Island was exceptional.

More anon,

JAYA

25 June 2019

“Maps of Delhi” Pilar Maria Guerrieri

Maps of Delhi is a rich collection of historical maps after 1803 till the Master Plan of Delhi 2021. Pilar Maria Guerrieri as a doctoral student of architecture started scouring the National Archives of India and institutions for maps. Studying maps helped her understand the evolution of Delhi as a city while making it possible to “consider the link between empty spaces and built areas as well as the association between agricultural and non-agricultural land.  They distinguish public buildings, the disposition of plots, the types of housing, and the density of the urban fabric in addition to interpreting the structures innervating the territory, like watercourses, canals, routes, railroads, and roads, as also the order or constellation of the countryside and the correlation between villages and cities. Effectively and particularly in the illustration of Delhi, these maps delineate, more so demarcate and define, the spread of several urban settlements, planned or organically organised, and provide a pragmatic synopsis of how they are juxtaposed, concurrent or interlaced, with each other”.

In his Foreword to the book, well-known architect, A. G. Krishna Menon says the geneaology of Pilar Maria Guerrieri’s methodology can find its roots in the Italian acdemic tradition of understanding a city by studying its maps and drawings or the so-called “Italian school of planning typology’ which developed theoretical approaches based on analysing ancient cartography of cities as a foundation and core of their design interventions. “These pioneering initiatives established the Italian academic culture of physical planning, which becomes evident in the manner Guerrieri studied Delhi.”

Cartography is an exacting technique through which areas of territory are represented. Maps have always been extremely useful to governments, military commanders, engineers and increasingly civilians. Earlier they were largely representative but with increased knowledge and advanced measurement tools it became possible to create more and more accurate maps.

In the Indian sub-continent for centuries people have relied on the patwaris or the lowest level of state functionary in the revenue collection system to record land use. These individuals are to be found whereever there is habitation and in the older settlements the records stretch back decades, sometimes even centuries. Maps are a repository of a lot of sensitive information as well.

Today maps are used increasingly in real time particularly on digital devices using a complex network of satellites, an extensive network of cables and Internet connectivity. Fewer individuals rely on printed maps, less and less of which are being published too. It may be a convenient tool to access a map on a smartphone but over a period of time it will become evident that a significant way of recording history and land use will be lost forever. For now it is not very clear who is storing this information since there are multiple agencies and individuals recording it. In the future researchers like Guerrieri may find it challenging to seek the information they desire since data will be non-existent or available in formats that newer technologies may be unable to access. At least printed maps such as those included in Maps of Delhi remain available over time. While we are on maps of Delhi here is an interesting one commissioned by Raghu Karnad as editor, Time Out — Literary Map. It was designed by Akila Seshayee. 

Interestingly enough even to reproduce the few images for this article required new permission from the National Archives of India. Some of the maps though published in the book cannot be reproduced anywhere else for their sensitive nature and only one-time use has been granted for the book.

Maps of Delhi is a heavily illustrated book in four colour. A scrumptious production worth possessing for the lay reader or the specialist. It makes a wonderful companion to Mapping India also published by Niyogi Books.

 

 

 

 

The following images from the book are used with permission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pilar Maria Guerrieri Maps of Delhi ( Foreword by A.G. Krishna Menon)  Niyogi Books, New Delhi, India, 2017. Hb. Rs. 4500 / £65 /$85 

18 June 2017 

 

 

Palestine in India: A Writers’ Colloquium, Organised by Women Unlimited (Delhi, March 11-13, 2016)

Women Unlimited logo(Ritu Menon, founder, Women Unlimited is organising this fantastic literary festival in New Delhi. It is delicious programming. I was so looking forward to attending it but alas, I cannot. Thanks to the traffic diversions set up by the Delhi Police to allow the Art of Living three-day cultural festival to take place without a hitch on the Yamuna river bed. I am most disappointed. So those who can attend, must!) 

 

Palestine in India: A Writers’ Colloquium

 

March 11-13, 2016

Main Auditorium

                     India International Centre

           Programme

 

 

Friday, March 11, 2016, 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.

Main Auditorium, IIC

 

Film Screening: The Time That Remains

(109 min; 2009; DVD; English subtitles)

Director: Elia Suleiman

 

Recipient of the Jury Grand Prize, Asia Pacific Screen Awards 2009; Audience Award & Silver Alhambra, Grenada Film Festival Cine del Sur 2010; ACCA Jury Prize & Award for Best Director, Mar del Plata Film Festival 2009

 

Elia Suleiman’s memoir of his family under Israeli occupation continues the mood of his earlier Divine Intervention (2002).

 

Friday, March 11, 2016, 6:30 p.m.

Main Auditorium, IIC

 

Memory & Imagination: A discussion on writing and resistance; on home and exile; on seeking, finding… with Mourid Barghouti and Sharif Elmusa.

 

Moderated by Ahdaf Soueif & Ritu Menon

 

 Saturday, March 12, 2016, 3:00 – 4:30 p.m.

Main Auditorium, IIC

 

Counterfacts on the Ground: A discussion on living under occupation in Gaza and the West Bank, and on writing back to subvert suppression.

 

Laila El-Haddad and Adania Shibli talk to Raghu Karnad, and read from their work

 

Saturday, March 12, 2016, 4:30 – 5:30 p.m.

Main Auditorium, IIC

 

Palestine in Publishing: A discussion on the challenge of publishing and selling Palestinian writing in, and outside, Palestine.

 

Michel Moushabeck, Interlink, USA; Mahmoud Muna, Educational Bookshop, Jerusalem; Sudhanva Deshpande, Leftword Books, New Delhi & Ritu Menon, Women Unlimited, New Delhi exchange experiences and views, talk about difficulties and how they overcome them, intelligently!

 

Saturday, March 12, 2016, 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.

Main Auditorium, IIC

 

“The Blue Between Sky and Water”

 

Susan Abulhawa reads from her new book and discusses it with Githa Hariharan

 

Sunday, March 13, 2016, 2:30 – 4:00 p.m.

Main Auditorium, IIC

 

Poetry Reading: “My Country: Distant as My Heart from Me”

 

Mourid Barghouti and Tamim Albarghouti read their poetry in a mesmerising jugalbandhi

 

Sunday, March 13, 2016, 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.

Main Auditorium, IIC

 

“Stuck in Historical Amber?”: Susan Abulhawa and Sharif Elmusa speak about what it means to be “out of time, out of place”, to be never at home, and much else besides.

 

A free-wheeling conversation with well-known book critic, Sunil Sethi

 

Sunday, March 13, 2016, 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.

Main Auditorium, IIC

 

Double Bill!!

 

“Palestine: Nothing Makes Sense, Why Should I?”

Suad Amiry performs the tragi-comedy of her situation as a Palestinian under Occupation in the West Bank.

 

Book launch: My Damascus. Suad Amiry takes the reader by the hand and walks her through the city of her childhood, interleaving Damascus in history from the 1860s to the 2000s, with family history, of roughly the same period.  A tour de force.

 

Ahdaf Soueif is the mistress of ceremonies.

11 March 2016

Literati – “Storytelling” ( 6 Dec 2014, The Hindu)


Jaya Bhattacharji Rose( My monthly column, Literati, in the Hindu Literary Review was published online ( 6 December 2014) and will be in print ( 7 December 2014). Here is the url http://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/literati-a-look-at-the-world-of-books-publishing-and-writers/article6667631.ece . I am also c&p the text below. )

Watching Ameen Haque of The Storywallahs perform at the Kahani Tree, Bookaroo, was a treat. He wove stories, poetry and music together and had the audience singing and laughing along with him. In the short interaction, the children were introduced to the radical idea that crying is perfectly normal for boys and grown men.

Telling tales

Even when adults communicate, it is inevitably through stories. We call it conversation. Break up the conversation and analyse it. It is anecdotal, replete with stories and vignettes. The impact of a well-told story is immeasurable. Similarly a book allows a quiet engagement between the author and a reader. Books make you see the world afresh. It works for all age groups.

This relationship between books and young readers was apparent at an event organised by SCWBI India in partnership with Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan and the Bookaroo Childrens’ Literature Festival. The topic was “LSD: Love, Sex and Darkness in Books for Children” and the participants were educationist Dr. Shalini Advani, author Samina Mishra, illustrator Priya Kuriyan, and publisher Sayoni Basu.

“Should children’s books only deal with happy things? What about death, violence and sexuality? What about darkness and ugliness?” These were some of the questions raised.

Dr. Advani pointed out that adults tend to be more uncomfortable than children. “For adults, our role is to drag these issues out into the clear light of day. To normalise them as a part of the circle of life so that children — who think about them anyway — learn healthy ways of talking about them and thinking about them. It’s not happy worlds that young people seek. So it is not about whether a book has death or perfidious adults or parental divorce or pain. But more about how it is done — young people don’t like to be lectured to or even gently educated.”

Some recently YA books — Talking of Muskaan by Himanjali Sankar about a teen who may be a lesbian;Smitten by Ranjit Lal about a teen who is molested by a family member and Jobless Clueless Reckless by Revathi Suresh about a pregnant teen — have tackled these tricky topics.

***

Fiction relies upon storytelling to represent experiences, although its impact depends on the author’s magic with words. At times the storytelling has visible weaknesses but the reader persists, usually out of curiosity about a new topic. For instance, Sonora Jha’s Foreign (farmer suicides in Vidarbha); Pia Padukone’s Where Earth Meets Water (9/11 and the 2004 tsumani), Gaiutra Bahadur’s Coolie Woman(indentured labourers on sugar plantations in British Guiana), Mira Jacob’s The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing (Syrian Christian family in New Mexico), and Robert Allison’s The Letter Bearer (WWII, amnesia).

Inclusive fiction

Exquisite storytelling and its impact is apparent by the recent online conversation between Amitav Ghosh and Raghu Karnad regarding Flanagan’s 2014 ManBooker Prize-winning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. The two Indian writers discussed the inclusive capacity of historical fiction and the “duty” of a novelist but also gave insightful comments about a moment in history that had been made accessible through contemporary fiction.

The legendary publisher Gordon Graham puts it prophetically in a 1980 essay reprinted in As I was Saying: Essays on the International Book Business, “Creative composition in the electronic age will not happen at the moment when the author and the publisher decide it is releasable.” It will happen with the active participation of the reader. A statement that holds true 35 years later.

Irrespective of age groups and formats, the importance of storytelling can never be negated since it is an important module of communication and transmission of information, requiring the active participation of all stakeholders.

Update ( 6 December 2014):

In the paragraph listing the debut writers I should have clarified that it is not only fiction, but also nonfiction by relies upon the art of storytelling. Hence I have included Gaiutra Bahadur. My original list was much longer than was finally published.

6 December 2014