In conversation with Sandeep Dutt, Kalinga Literary Festival
Here is the link to the recording:
20 March 2021
Here is the link to the recording:
20 March 2021
At Jaipur Literature Festival 2019, I moderated a discussion with two Indian women writers on their speculative fiction novels — Sadhna Shanker’s Ascendance and Priya Sarukkai Chabria’s Clone.
5 Feb 2019
This year has been marked by the publication of Rakhshanda Jalil’s thesis by OUP – A Literary History of the Progressive Writer’s Movement in Urdu and two translations of Angarey, first published in 1932 only to be banned. ( Here is a link to the introduction by Snehal Shangvi of the Penguin Books India edition, an extract published in Scroll.in on 15 June 2014: http://scroll.in/article/666833/why-fundamentalists-got-this-urdu-book-banned-when-it-appeared-in-1932/ ) The writers associated with this movement were people who wrote not necessarily for the joy of crafting great literature; they wrote because they saw, and were quick to seize, the great inescapable link between literature and socio-political change. Literature for them was a valuable tool in the cause of nation-building and social transformation. ( Jalil, p. xx) With the publication of Angarey the definition of forward-looking underwent a sea-change and the epithets of irreligious, godless, sacrilegious, even blasphemous, came to be used for a radical, new sort of writing. Many of these writers ( and their readers) were conversant with Western literary styles and English-language authors. It is also important to remember that the glory days of the PWM also spanned the most tumultous period of modern Indian history — Gandhi’s call to Satyagraha, India’s response to the rise of fascism, Nehru’s Muslim mass contact programme, Gandhi’s second civil disobedience movement, the Second World War and its impact on India, the Bengal famine, the rise of Telengana, tebhaga, and other movements, Independence, Partition, and the communal disturbances that scarred the nation. ( Jalil, p. xxviii) Some of the ideas that need to be mentioned regularly are that though Urdu literature was not being written by Muslims along, the great majority of nineteenth-century Urdu writers were indeed Muslims.
Here is a list of the major writers and poets associated with the Progressive Writers’ Movement ( as listed in Dr Jalil’s thesis, Annexure I)
Abdul Alim, Abdul Haq, Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, Ahmed Ali, Akhtar Husain Raipuri, Akhtarul Iman, Ale Ahmad Suroor, Ali Sardar Jafri, Asrarul Haq Majaz ( his nephew is the poet and lyricist, Javed Akhtar), Ehtesham Husain, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Fikr Taunsvi, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Hajra Begum, Hasrat Mohani, Hayatullah Ansari, Ibrahim Jalees, Ismat Chugtai, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Josh Maliabadi, K.M.Ashraf, Kaifi Azmi, Kanhaiyyalal Kapoor, Khawaja Ahmad Abbas, Krishan Chandar, Mahmuduzzafar Khan, Majnun Gorakhpuri, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Makhdoom Mohiuddin, Moin Ahsan Jazbi, Mulk Raj Anand, Mumtaz Husain, Mohammad Hasan, Niyaz Haider, Premchand, Qateel Shifai, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Rashid Jehan, Razia Sajjad Zaheer, Rifat Sarosh, Saadat Hasan Manto, Sagar Nizami, Sahir Ludhianvi, Sajjad Zaheer, Salam Machchlishahri, Sibte Hasan, Syed Muttalibi Faridabadi, Upnedranath Ashk, Wamiq Jaunpuri and Zaheer Kashmiri.
Both the translations published in April 2014 are readable. Fortunately these now exist and are readily available, a delightful bouquet of riches for readers. Yet there is a vast difference in the quality of translations, and would be of valuable to interest to translators and academics. The notes on translations by Snehal Shangvi, Khalid Alvi and Vibha S. Chauhan are worth reading.
These are books that will be treasured and should find a place in every library, institution and be read by many.
The only question that I wonder about is how much were these writers influenced by the Irish literary movement of the early twentieth century?
Rakhshanda Jalil A Literary History of the Progressive Writer’s Movement in Urdu Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2014. Hb. pp. 490. Rs. 1495
Angarey translated from the Urdu by Vibha S. Chauhan and Khalid Alvi. Rupa Publications, New Delhi, 2014. Pb. pp. 105. Rs. 195
Angaarey translated by Snehal Shangvi. Penguin Books India, New Delhi, 2014. Hb. pp. 170. Rs. 499
My monthly column, Literati, in the Hindu Literary Review was published online ( 31 May 2014) and in print ( 1 June 2014). Here is the url http://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/literati/article6069748.ece?textsize=small&test=2 . I am also c&p the text below.
I am reading a terrific cluster of books — Rakhshanda Jalil’s A Literary History of the Progressive Writer’s Movement in Urdu (OUP); A Rebel and her Cause: The life of Dr Rashid Jahan, (Women Unlimited); and two simultaneous publications of the English translation of Angaarey — nine stories and a play put together in Urdu by Sajjad Zahir in 1932 (Rupa Publications and Penguin Books). Angaarey includes contributions by PWM members such as Ahmed Ali, Rashid Jahan and Mahmuduzzafar. As Nadira Babbar, Sajjad Zahir’s daughter says in her introduction to the Rupa edition: “The young group of writers of Angaarey challenged not just social orthodoxy but also traditional literary narratives and techniques. In an attempt to represent the individual mind and its struggle, they ushered in the narrative technique known as the stream of consciousness which was then new to the contemporary literary scene and continues to be significant in literature even today. …they saw art as a means of social reform.” She says that her father did not consider the writing of Angaarey and the subsequent problems they faced as any kind of hardship or sacrifice; rather “it provided them with the opportunity of expressing truths simply felt and clearly articulated.” It is curious that at a time when publishers worry about the future of the industry, there are two translations of the same book from two different publishers.
Translations are a way to discover a new socio-cultural and literary landscape. Last month, the English translation of Joel Dicker’s debut novel The Harry Quebert Affair (MacLehose Press), which has created one of the biggest stirs in publishing, was released. A gripping thriller, originally in French, it has sold over two million copies in other languages. A look at some other notable translations published recently:
Mikhail Shashkin’s disturbing but very readable Maidenhair (Open Letter), translated from Russian by Marian Schwartz, about asylum-seekers in Switzerland.
Juan Pablo Villalobos’s Quesadillas (And Other Stories) translated from Spanish by Rosalind Harvey is about 1980s Mexico.
Roberto Bolano’s The Insufferable Gaucho (Picador), a collection of short stories, translated from Spanish by Chris Andrews.
There is a range of European writers to be discovered in English translation on the Seagull Books list, Indian regional language writers from Sahitya Akademi, NBT, Penguin Books India, OUP, HarperCollins, Zubaan, Hachette, Navayana, Stree Samya, and Yatra Books.
Oxford University Press’s Indian Writing programme and the Oxford Novellas series are broader in their scope including works translated from Dogri and Konkani and looking at scripts from Bhili and Tulu.
Translations allow writers of the original language to be comfortable in their own idiom, socio-political milieu without carrying the baggage of other literary discourses. Translated literature is of interest to scholars for its cultural and literary value and, as Mini Krishnan, Series Editor, Oxford Novellas, writes, “the distinctive way they carry the memories and histories of those who use them”. Making the rich content available is what takes precedence. Within this context, debates about the ethics of publishing a translation such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1926 prose translation of Beowulf (HarperCollins), 88 years later, seem to be largely ignored though Tolkein described it as being “hardly to my liking”.
Linguistic maps available at http://www.muturzikin.com/ show the vast number of languages that exist apart from English. In the seven states of northeast of India alone there are 42 documented languages. Reports such as http://w3techs.com/technologies/overview/content_language/ all indicate that content languages (all though with strong literary traditions) such as Hindi, Marathi, Sanskrit, Punjabi and even Irish are used by less than one per cent of websites. Google India estimates that the next 300 million users from India won’t use English. It isn’t surprising then to discover that Google announced the acquisition of Word Lens, an app which can translate a number of different languages in real time. For now users can translate between English and Portuguese, German, Italian, French, Russian, and Spanish. Indian languages may be underrepresented on the Internet but, with digital media support and the rapid acceptance of unicode, an encoding which supports Indic fonts, translations will become easier. Soon apps such as Word Lens may expand to include other languages, probably even circumventing the need of publishers to translate texts.
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
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
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
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.
I read Accidental India last year. I enjoyed it since it visited parts of Indian history, linking it to the present. A narrative that can be done over and over again, to be in step with contemporary issues. The chapters were easy to read and accessible. I particularly liked the chapter on Verghese Kurien, father of the White Revolution who set up Operation Flood. (He passed away last year. This was his last interview.) A gentleman whom I met some years ago, but this chapter brings out the unwavering support Kurien had despite the blocks set up by politicians ( and academics). Kurien managed to negotiate this minefield and made his project a success. When he began the Amul story, at the time in India it was impossible to get fresh milk, butter and baby food. Stories of having to eat rancid butter, better still making white butter at home was the norm. Today pasteurized milk and the milk trains are taken for granted. This is an extraordinary story. One of the biggest success stories of post-Independence India. It needs to be told over and over again.
Shankkar Aiyar was with the Indian Express when he broke the news in July 1991 that “crates of gold were being furtively unloaded from the dull grey vans of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) into the loading bays of a heavy-bellied cargo aircraft. The country had only enough foreign exchange to pay for seven days of imports and had therefore secretly pledged 47 tons of gold from its reserves to the Bank of England to borrow $400 million to pay its creditors.” This low point in the history of India, let to the then finance minister, Manmohan Singh announcing the New Economic Policy. The author’s premise in this book is that it is a concatenation of events that resulted in the big success stories of post-Independent India. Curiously his chapter titles are borrowed from books that have been bestsellers worldwide — Das Kapital (nationalisation of banks); The Hunger Games ( the Kamraj Plan and the Green Revolution); the Milky Way (Operation Flood); the Da Vinci Code ( RTI Act and Aruna Roy’s Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan movement) etc.
My only reservation is with the title. It left me a little uncomfortable. It has a negative ring to it. It remindes me of what I used to hear many years ago, “Oh India. It is not worth it. We can never achieve anything. Look at what those abroad are doing.” It was only when I began to read vast amounts of our history, engage in research, speak to people etc that I realized we were not exactly so bad as a nation. We did good. Despite the rampant corruption and mistakes made, we also have had amazing visionaries steering it through. Seriously, sometimes when I read the Constitution of India or read the policies instituted at the time of Independence, I am stunned at the immense vision of those who conceived these documents. When I mentioned this to the author in an e-mail exchange, this is what he wrote:”The title has ruffled quite a few feathers but its my informed thought that India cannot blunder along with over one billion hopes waiting for fruction. My quarrel with the political leadership is not about what India could not do but what it could do but did not do.” (Reproduced with permission.)
Here is an interview between the author and publisher, David Davidar, Aleph Book Company. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTTXgqeynM0&feature=player_embedded
It is a book that I liked dipping into. Maybe it should be pitched at schools for their libraries too.
5 June 2013
Shankkar Aiyar Accidental India Aleph Book Company, An independent publishing firm promoted by Rupa Publications India, New Delhi, 2012. Hb. pp. 360 Rs. 695
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