Rupa Posts

“The Journey Of Indian Publishing” by Jaya Bhattacharji Rose

I recently contributed to How to Get Published in India edited by Meghna Pant. The first half is a detailed handbook by Meghna Pant on how to get published but the second half includes essays by Jeffrey Archer, Twinkle Khanna, Ashwin Sanghi, Namita Gokhale, Arunava Sinha, Ravi Subramanian et al.

Here is the essay I wrote:

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AS LONG as I can recall I have wanted to be a publisher.  My first ‘publication’ was a short story in a newspaper when I was a child. Over the years I published book reviews and articles on the publishing industry, such as on the Nai Sarak book market in the heart of old Delhi.  These articles were print editions. Back then, owning a computer at home was still a rarity.

In the 1990s, I guest-edited special issues of  The Book Review on children’s and young adult literature at a time when this genre was not even considered a category worth taking note of. Putting together an issue meant using the landline phone preferably during office hours to call publishers/reviewers, or posting letters by snail mail to publishers within India and abroad, hoping some books would arrive in due course. For instance, the first Harry Potter novel came to me via a friend in Chicago who wrote, “Read this. It’s a book about a wizard that is selling very well.” The next couple of volumes were impossible to get, for at least a few months in India. By the fifth volume, Bloomsbury UK sent me a review copy before the release date, for it was not yet available in India. For the seventh volume a simultaneous release had been organised worldwide. I got my copy the same day from Penguin India, as it was released by Bloomsbury in London (at the time Bloomsbury was still being represented by Penguin India). Publication of this series transformed how the children’s literature market was viewed worldwide.

To add variety to these special issues of The Book Review I commissioned stories, translations from Indian regional languages (mostly short stories for children), solicited poems, and received lovely ones such as an original poem by Ruskin Bond. All contributions were written in longhand and sent by snail mail, which I would then transfer on to my mother’s 486 computer using Word Perfect software. These articles were printed on a dot matrix printer, backups were made on floppies, and then sent for production. Soon rumours began of a bunch of bright Stanford students who were launching Google. No one was clear what it meant. Meanwhile, the Indian government launched dial-up Internet (mostly unreliable connectivity); nevertheless, we subscribed, although there were few people to send emails to!

The Daryaganj  Sunday  Bazaar where second-hand books were sold was the place to get treasures and international editions. This was unlike today, where there’s instant gratification via online retail platforms, such as Amazon and Flipkart, fulfilled usually by local offices of multi-national publishing firms. Before 2000, and the digital boom, most of these did not exist as independent firms in India. Apart from Oxford University Press, some publishers had a presence in India via partnerships: TATA McGraw Hill, HarperCollins with Rupa, and Penguin India with Anand Bazaar Patrika.

From the 1980s, independent presses began to be established like Kali for Women, Tulika and KATHA. 1990s onwards, especially in the noughts, many more appeared— Leftword Books, Three Essays, TARA Books, A&A Trust, Karadi Tales, Navayana, Duckbill Books, Yoda Press, Women Unlimited, Zubaan etc. All this while, publishing houses established by families at the time of Independence or a little before, like Rajpal & Sons, Rajkamal Prakashan, Vani Prakashan etc continued to do their good work in Hindi publishing. Government organisations like the National Book Trust (NBT) and the Sahitya Akademi were doing sterling work in making literature available from other regional languages, while encouraging children’s literature. The NBT organised the bi-annual world book fair (WBF) in Delhi every January. The prominent visibility in the international English language markets of regional language writers, such as Tamil writers Perumal Murugan and Salma (published by Kalachuvadu), so evident today, was a rare phenomenon back then.

In 2000, I wrote the first book market report of India for Publisher’s Association UK. Since little data existed then, estimating values and size was challenging. So, I created the report based on innumerable conversations with industry veterans and some confidential documents. For years thereafter data from the report was being quoted, as little information on this growing market existed. (Now, of course, with Nielsen Book Scan mapping Indian publishing regularly, we know exact figures, such as: the industry is worth approximately $6 billion.) I was also relatively ‘new’ to publishing having recently joined feminist publisher Urvashi Butalia’s Zubaan. It was an exciting time to be in publishing. Email had arrived. Internet connectivity had sped up processes of communication and production. It was possible to reach out to readers and new markets with regular e-newsletters. Yet, print formats still ruled.

By now multinational publishing houses such as Penguin Random House India, Scholastic India, Pan Macmillan, HarperCollins  India, Hachette India, Simon & Schuster India had opened offices in India. These included academic firms like Wiley, Taylor & Francis, Springer, and Pearson too. E-books took a little longer to arrive but they did. Increasingly digital bundles of journal subscriptions began to be sold to institutions by academic publishers, with digital formats favoured over print editions.

Today, easy access to the Internet has exploded the ways of publishing. The Indian publishing industry is thriving with self-publishing estimated to be approximately 35% of all business. Genres such as translations, women’s writing and children’s literature, that were barely considered earlier, are now strong focus areas for publishers. Regional languages are vibrant markets and cross-pollination of translations is actively encouraged. Literary festivals and book launches are thriving. Literary agents have become staple features of the landscape. Book fairs in schools are regular features of school calendars. Titles released worldwide are simultaneously available in India. Online opportunities have made books available in 2 and 3-tier towns of India, which lack physical bookstores. These conveniences are helping bolster readership and fostering a core book market. Now the World Book Fair is held annually and has morphed into a trade fair, frequented by international delegations, with many constructive business transactions happening on the sidelines. In February 2018 the International Publishers Association Congress was held in India after a gap of 25 years! No wonder India is considered the third largest English language book market of the world! With many regional language markets, India consists of diverse markets within a market. It is set to grow. This hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2017, Livres Canada Books commissioned me to write a report on the Indian book market and the opportunities available for Canadian publishers. This is despite the fact that countries like Canada, whose literature consists mostly of books from France and New York, are typically least interested in other markets.

As an independent publishing consultant I often write on literature and the business of publishing on my blog … an opportunity that was unthinkable before the Internet boom. At the time of writing the visitor counter on my blog had crossed 5.5 million. The future of publishing is exciting particularly with neural computing transforming the translation landscape and making literature from different cultures rapidly available. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being experimented with to create short stories. Technological advancements such as print-on-demand are reducing warehousing costs, augmented reality  is adding a magical element to traditional forms of storytelling, smartphones with processing chips of 8GB RAM and storage capacities of 256GB seamlessly synchronised with emails and online cloud storage are adding to the heady mix of publishing. Content consumption is happening on electronic devices AND print. E-readers like Kindle are a new form of mechanised process, which are democratizing the publishing process in a manner seen first with Gutenberg and hand presses, and later with the Industrial Revolution and its steam operated printing presses. 

The future of publishing is crazily unpredictable and incredibly exciting! 

3 Feb 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 

Women and diets / healthy living

Women and diets / healthy living

The Diet Doctor, Ishi Khosla

Over the past few months I have read a bunch of newly published books on weight loss, healthy living, eating wisely and dieting. All the books seem to be targetted at women, all though men too would benefit hugely from reading these. Ishi Khosla gives practical advice on how to measure quantities of food (with the actual size of a cup printed), to eat regularly and healthy. More than going on a crash diet to lose weight, it is more about managing one’s time, health, food etc.

Kitchen Clinic

Charmaine D’Souza discusses the importance of understanding your ingredients and how a fair knowledge of kitchen herbs and spices ensures a healthy living. She explains the spices, their properties and then lists some common ailments that are easily prevented or treated at home. For novices the line drawings of the spices will also help in recognising the spices and herbs being discussed. Recently I had a long discussion on Skindalous Cuisine ( A Facebook group that discusses food and shares recipes) about recipes that use Kalonji or onion seeds. It is rarely used in cooking despite it being extraordinarily beneficial for the health. According to Charmaine D’Souza these seeds have been used medicinally for over 3,000 years. It is used to treat ailments including asthma, bronchitis, rheumatism and related inflammatory diseases. Also skin infections and cold symptoms too. But from the discussion group I discovered that it is rare to find recipes using this spice since it is usually offered as prasad to the gods. Hence it is used sparingly in Indian cuisine.

Get Size Wise

Sheela Nambiar writes for the Indian Woman. Her advise is to stop agonising about chasing the pipe-dream of achieving a Size Zero figure, instead concentrate on getting fit than just losing weight. She has packed her book with loads of tips on how to manage oneself. How to exercise while scrambling to finish the day’s chores. There are few illustrations but easy to understand.

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Reenita Malhotra Hora also advocates a healthy living but by relying upon Ayurveda.

All the books mentioned are useful to have and read. Also to practice. I would even go to the extent of saying how empowering these texts are in teaching a person, especially a woman, on how to manage her time, her diet, her health. It is well-known that women always compromise on their health and needs. For most of the time they are so focused on their family, children, careers etc that they do not think twice about neglecting their own needs. Little realising that self-preservation is very important. My only concern about these books is that they may be bought, they will inspire but to sustain these diets and routines is expensive. It will be an added expense to a family’s budget, it will be a strain on the women (who are inevitably in charge of the kitchens) to create a separate dish for themselves etc especially after all the needs, requirements and demands of the family are met. It is much easier for many women then to be accommodating and eat whatever is put on the table, rather than assert themselves. So the purpose that these books set out to achieve will be negated. Unless these authors instead of taking on only high-society clientele actually design and distribute meals suitable for a person on a diet. These could be according to the requirements (and budget) of the client. Thus ensuring that for a nominal fee, the dietician gets a new client and the client has a stress-free way of managing their diet. The food arrives at their door step, with the right size of portions. I am not sure how feasible it is to conduct such programmes in India given distances, weather conditions etc but I hear that these are being done in America and are actually working.

The Weight Loss Club

On a related note. Devapriya Roy has published a novel about the weight loss club in the Nancy Housing Cooperative. It sounds promising. (I have just begun to read it.)

“And what remains in the end: The memoirs of an unrepentant civil servant” Robin Gupta

“And what remains in the end: The memoirs of an unrepentant civil servant” Robin Gupta

Another memoir by an ex-civil servant. An account of thirty-six years of service in the Bengal and Punjab cadre, but mostly focused on events in Punjab. A memoir like this is useful to read since it records socio-historical and economic events that tend to be easily forgotten — at least in public memory. But to wade through this book you will have to ignore the “I, me. myself” tone that does get a tad annoying. In the introduction Robin Gupta says “I should confess at this stage that I have, in these memoirs, permitted myself an element of the writer’s licence to interpret and depict places, individuals and happenings.” Then he should have called it “bio-fic”, a term coined by David Lodge.

In his endorsement of the book, Khushwant Singh says, ” Robin Gupta …memoirs mirror the chiaroscuro of contemporary India as observed by a civil servant…[This book] is a literary milestone.” But in his recently published Khushwantanama says “it is tempting to write one’s life experiences. A first novel is very often autobiographical. However, non-fiction is a different ball game altogether. Memoirs of retired generals and civil servants rarely make for good reading. …What is permissible in a biography is not suitable for an autobiography.”

26 April 2013

Robin Gupta And what remains in the end: The memoirs of an unrepentant civil servant Rupa Publications India Pvt.Ltd. Pb. pp. 290. Rs. 350

On poetry — my thoughts ( 29 Jan 2013)

On poetry — my thoughts ( 29 Jan 2013)

The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry
Edited by Sudeep Sen
HarperCollins Publishers, India, 2012. Pb. Pp.540. Rs. 599.

Panchali’s Pledge Subramania Bharti
Translated by Usha Rajagopalan
Everyman Classics, Hachette India, 2012. Pb. Pp. 274 Rs. 350

Dom Moraes: Selected Poems
Edited with an introduction by Ranjit Hoskote. Penguin Books India, 2012, Pb. Pp.282. Rs 499.

The River Speaks: The Vaiyai Poems from the Paripatal
Translated by V. N. Muthukumar and Elizabeth Rani Segran
Penguin Classics, Penguin Books India, 2012. Pb. Pp. 176. Rs. 250

These my Words: The Penguin Book of Indian Poetry
Edited by Eunice de Souza and Melanie Silgardo
Penguin Books, India, 2012. Pb. Pp. 450 Rs. 499

In the company of a poet: Gulzar in conversation with Nasreen Munni Kabir
Rainlight, Rupa Publications, Delhi, 2012. Hb. Pp. 206. Rs 499

2012 was a delicious year for poetry from and being published in India. There were plenty of books to choose from — anthologies, collections, translations and some even for children. The anthology edited by Eunice de Souza and Melanie Silgardo (p.xxi) “comprises almost thirty languages and dialects, all translated into the English except of course those poems written in English. It includes poems, folk songs, and oral narratives that have now been transcribed. We have sought for a collection which tries to represent the breadth and diversity of Indian poetry – we wanted poems that surprised and delighted, poems that illuminated, and inspired further reading—a book for readers, not scholars and academics. We chose poems that worked in translation, those which crossed the boundary of language, which faithfulness to the original combined with adaptation to produced work that existed on its own merit.” It gives a good bird’s-eye view of what was written over the centuries, the various traditions that spawned poems and the transformation to the form over time. While reading it, you get a sense of the variety of poetry, the forms, the reasons why poetry is written and what can actually travel in translation. It is extremely difficult for me to even give a snippet of what is in the anthology since every poem is perfect. It forces you to engage with the content, takes you to a different world and time, and yet encourages you to move on to read the next poem. In no way is it dull to read such a volume.

In fact the editors achieve very well what Gulzar says in the absolutely delicious book In the company of a poet: Gulzar in conversation with Nasreen Munni Kabir that poetry is about “direct communication” and “What a poem says on the surface is not all that it means. You have to unpick the lines and see the shadows of words. That what makes it poetry, otherwise it would be prose. You usually have to be less ambiguous in prose, which is often an elaboration of thoughts: whereas in poetry, thoughts are usually compressed. A poem has an element of mystery. You have to unravel that mystery. Of course it depends on every poet—how much they reveal, and how much they choose not to.” He adds, “when you understand a poem’s meaning, you can never forget it. You find yourself reciting it at some occasion and it is appreciated. The idea of writing poetry appealed to me because reciting poetry is so pleasurable and the appreciation I got made me happy.”

I wish though that Eunice de Souza and Melanie Silgardo had a longer note about the translation process. Or at least got a few of the translators to speak and then carry a transcript of it as an afterword on their experience at translating poetry. Obviously it takes a while for a satisfactory conclusion to be achieved. An insight into this is given by Sudeep Sen in his Aria introduction on translating poetry “Sculpting language, altering tongues, intoning arias” (p.4), “In almost all instances — whether it be Hebrew, Danish, Korean, Macedonian, Polish, Persian, Spanish or Portuguese — I have worked closely with poets of the source languages themselves. They would do literal translations of the original poems in very raw prose. Once I got down the contents in an accurate version, I would then enter the process more proactively and often singularly to sculpt and revise the jagged prose texts to give them a poetic shape in English. After every revision and draft, I would ask the poet to read aloud the poems in their original tongue, so that I got down the rhythm, rhyme, and the cadence correctly — getting them as close to the original as is possible. Once both the poet in the original language and I as a translator were happy with the versions we came up with — which happened through several working sessions over extended periods of time — we would let go of the poems in their new avatar, in a new language.” Maybe knowing this he chose to consciously create a useful anthology of English poetry by Indians (based in the country and from the diaspora). It was fifteen years in the making, but it is time well spent. Unfortunately that is not the case with Usha Rajagoplan’s translations of Subramania Bharti’s Panchali’s Pledge. I cannot read the poems in the source language but I realize that the translations are missing something from the original.

Of the recent set of publications on poetry my favourites are the translations of Lal Ded’s poetry by Ranjit Hoskote (I, Lalla) and his selection of Dom Moraes poems. Even if you have never read poetry or been hesitant about taking a dip in it, start with Ranjit Hoskote’s introductions. His selection, translations and arrangement of the poems introduces you to the poets, their techiniques, form and evolution very well.

And if you have children. Then some of the anthologies that I absolutely enjoy reading out aloud to my daughter are The Rattle Bag edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes; The Puffin Book of Nonsense Verse selected and illustrated by Quentin Blake; The Puffin Book of Modern Children’s Verse edited by Brian Patten, illustrated by Michael Foreman (revised and updated); The Macmillan Treasury of Poetry for Children with a foreword by Charles Causley and A first poetry book selected by Pie Corbett and Gaby Morgan (published by Macmillan). As Charles Causley who used to be a school teacher till one day he discovered the joys of reading poetry to his students says, “A poet, of course, is not obliged to make a poem, whatever its form, entirely accessible at a first reading. A poem, by its nature, may hold certain qualities in reserve. It may not burn itself out, so to speak, in one brilliant flash of light. A poem is a living organism, capable of continuous development and the most subtle of changes. It may contain both a revelation and a mystery. We need to be aware not only of what is said, but of what the poet most carefully has left unsaid.” Pie Corbett says it aptly “Let the poems become shafts of sunlight to brighten up the day.”

Mixed Tape, Mantaray and Prabha Mallya

Mixed Tape, Mantaray and Prabha Mallya

Curious experiment with comics. A new bi-monthly experiment with comics of 3-8 pages long. Launched by Mantaray, an independent publishing firm based in Bangalore and started by Pratheek Thomas. It has an exciting bunch of illustrators and storytellers associated with it. http://mantaraycomics.tumblr.com/post/35200734659/mixtape-is-here

One of my favourite illustrators is part of the Mantaray team — Prabha Mallya. I met her first while she was still an undergraduate student at IIT, Kanpur. She met me at the World Book Fair, New Delhi to show me her notebook of drawing scribbles. Today I am so pleased to see her flourish. I love the confidence with which she draws and is willing to experiment. She has done the illustrations for Nilanjana Roy’s The Wildings, published by Aleph. Some of her illustrations are visible at . More recently she has illustrated Kipling’s Just So Stories . Truly scrumptious. (a href=”http://www.jayabhattacharjirose.com/jaya/files/2012/12/Just-So-Stories.jpg”>

“Roll of Honour”, Amandeep Sandhu, a few comments

“Roll of Honour”, Amandeep Sandhu, a few comments

16 Sept 2012
Earlier in the year Amandeep wrote to me requesting me to read his manuscript. Now that the book has been published with his permission I am sharing some of the comments I made on the draft I read.

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First things first. Your novel, Roll of Honour, IMHO is going to break new ground for English-language fiction from India. It is a combination of YA, cross-over, a bildungsroman and a very disturbing account of adolescence. Is it also a part-memoir? If I may say so, you have achieved something that I have only seen in Chinese, Japanese and French literature. I am as yet to see it in Indian fiction. You said you wanted to attempt the grittiness to show, and it does. It is very readable and flows well.

You have worked hard at the research and I suspect, raking up old and buried (at times, painful) memories. It is not easy to write the kind of stuff that you have written. First in the present tense and then in the past continuous, reflecting upon what you did. It is as if you split yourself into two.

I am not sure if you know this, but when victims of any traumatic encounter, especially those of conflict zones have to recount the actual moment of horror, are never able to do so in the first person. It is always in the third person, as if that particular moment of impact is too dreadful to recall. The brain blocks it out and memory softens the blow. Whereas in your case, you have tortured yourself to write as is. Remarkable! Having said this, have you read Howard Zinn and Paul Fussell on conflict, especially WWII. Why I mention it is, you are talking about violence and horror that is very similar to what they have tried to document. Through the eyes of the common man and the inordinate pressures, and circumstances they have to face.

Roll of Honour is a very tough book. Yet it is extraordinary for you having highlighted the very common, everyday occurrence in a boarding school, especially a military school. The pressures of society. The pressures of living in the early 1980s in Punjab. Your novel brought back many memories for me of the 1980s, the violence that we saw and read in the papers, the horror of the 1984 riots, etc etc.

For me, Roll of Honour is a neat bildungsroman. Ever since I read it, it has been swirling in my head. You are doing something that is well documented in literature. It takes at least a generational gap for a major socio-political event to make its mark in literature. It takes time, primarily because immediately after the event, people who have witnessed it, prefer to block it in their minds. A generation later the questions begin to emerge, research develops and oral history begins to be recorded. It is time for 1984. It is time for Punjab.

For me this novel works well as for the YA genre. You have created Appu as a trapped teenager, who is confused by his school, the choices he has to make, the social changes etc. For a teenager, the raging hormones are a nightmare. To top it, the horror of the school, witnessing the crumbling of society as you know it and more importantly, the very foundations on which you have been brought up being challenged – the sacrosanct Golden Temple being stormed; the idea of fighting for the country, but having to experience military school; the dissonance in what is taught to what is expected of you. … (With this book) you are doing something very original.
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