Salman Rushdie Posts

Literati: Diversity in books (6 September 2014)

Literati: Diversity in books (6 September 2014)

Jaya BhattacharjiMy monthly column, Literati, in the Hindu Literary Review was published online ( 6 September 2014) and in print ( 7 September 2014). Here is the url http://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/literati/article6386263.ece. I am also c&p the text below.  The post from Malorie Blackman’s Facebook wall has been used with her permission. 

The 10-book challenge

There is a 10-book challenge circulating on Facebook. The idea is to put together ten books that have stayed with you as a reader. Reading the lists circulating on posts is an interesting exercise. There were the expected names such as Enid Blyton, P. G. Wodehouse, Jane Austen, William Golding, Graham Greene, Sue Townsend, Gerald Durrell, Ogden Nash, Ayn Rand, Henry Miller, Mary Stewart, L. M. Montgomery, Coetzee, Julian Barnes, J D Salinger, Harper Lee, Toni Morrison, Charles Dickens, Seamus Heaney, Douglas Adams and Michael Ondaatje. Those from or of South Asian origin included familiar names such as  Vikram Seth, Arundhati Roy, Upmanyu Chatterjee , Rokeya S. Hossain, Rohinton Mistry, Khaled Hosseini, Mohsin Hamid, Khushwant Singh, Amitav Ghosh,  Salman Rushdie, Jamil Ahmed, Arun Kolatkar, Kiran Nagarkar and Qurrulatain Hyder. In translation there were a handful, many repeated often–Sukumar Ray, Saratchandra Chattopadhyay, Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Carlos Fuentes, Haruku Murakami, Franz Kafka, Umberto Eco, Marjane Satrapi, Nikos Kazantzakis, Fyodr Dostoevsky, Orhan Pamuk, Mario Vargas Llosa, Leo Tolstoy, and Roberto Calasso.  Surprisingly Shakespeare, Valmiki’s Ramayana, The Bible, Hermann Hesse, Khalil Gibran, C. S. Lewis, Roald Dahl, Agatha Christie, A. A. Milne, Hemingway, Neil Gaiman, Goscinny and Uderzo’s Asterix and Obelix series, Herge, Bill Watterson, J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, J. R. R. Tolkein, Henry James, Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll, Paulo Coelho and J. M. Barrie were not mentioned as often as I expected them to be.  ( The names have not been listed in any particular order.) These catalogues are useful since they remind us of what makes “classic” literature. Yet there are deafening silences. I scoured lists from different regions, hoping to discover authors and books popular in those cultures—these could be in translation or different categories, titles that are rarely heard of overseas; it was not to be. Majority of the titles mentioned were of internationally established household names.

These games have their uses. Many authors are discovered through conversations. At the same time vast amounts of literature are not easily recalled. For instance, literature in other languages apart from English was rarely acknowledged and women writers continued to be in a minority. Children’s literature too was not often referred to all though many lists consisted of books read as children. Hence it is not surprising that there has been a call by many international writers to discuss diversity in books–a campaign started in May ( http://weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com/ ). The hashtag –#WeNeedDiverseBooks and #diversityinbooks—on Twitter is worth reading for examples from around the world, across genres, languages and regions. An unfortunate fallout of this campaign was the racial abuse Malorie Blackman, Children’s Laureate ( 2013-15) faced in UK. As she wrote in a Facebook post “I talked about diversity in literature walking hand in hand with inclusion. I talked about the books for our children being more diverse so that we see more stories featuring children/YA with disabilities, travellers, LGBT, protagonists of colour, diverse religions, classes and cultures. Not once did the phrase in the banner headline pass my lips because I don’t think in those terms.” This was misrepresented in a banner headline as “Children’s books have ‘too many white faces’”. Since then the news corporation responsible for this story has apologized to her on Twitter.

Discovering authors

Nury Vittachi, author and keynote speaker at the recently concluded JumpStart pointed out that three out of four people are Asian or African.  So to find the young adult title The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is a bestseller, selling more than 5.7 million copies, is curious. In fact it contributed to the success of Penguin Random House worldwide generating revenues of €1.5bn (£1.2bn) in the six months to June 2014. Surely there are other titles that have been equally well-received by readers, but not so prominent?

Discovering an author is a riddle, paradoxically not easily resolved even in the age of information. Altaf Tyrewala writes “How miserable it must be to want only what one wants. I don’t remember people being so disinterested in the unfamiliar. Folks these days seem annoyed when they encounter something that they haven’t already cross-checked, as if the perpetually connected sizzle of their web-wired lives precludes the possibility of anything still remaining unknown.” (“New and Second-hand”, Engglishhh: Fictional Dispatches from a Hyperreal Nation)

Last week while speaking in a panel discussion to celebrate “Kitaabnama: Books and Beyond” completing one year of programming on Doordarshan television, it struck me this series addresses many of these challenges that affect publishers—diversity, discoverability, and accessing new markets. Kitaabnama’s format of having a conversation in the first half, followed by an author reading in the second half, and allowing it to be multilingual, immediately opens a new world of literature to the viewers.

Today it is possible to discover books in many ways. For instance, Martin Amis’s new novel—The Zone of Interest–a holocaust comedy, set in fictional Auschwitz, failed to interest his regular German and French publishers and it may struggle to find readers overseas. Yet the buzz about it on the internet suggests otherwise. So discoverability and diversity in books is possibly easily overcome with multiple formats to disseminate information about books and access authors.

6 September 2014

YouTube links with authors, worth watching.

YouTube links with authors, worth watching.

In the past week, I have seen a few clips that are worth sharing. I am posting them in one blog post. On diverse topics such as freedom of speech ( Salman Rushdie), feminism and women writers ( Rachel Holmes), on bullying and the magic of being different ( Neil Gaiman) and a conversation between two creative people — Art Spiegelman and Neil Gaiman. 

Published by Leigha Cohen Video Production. Here is the text printed with the YouTube film.

Salman-Rushdie_1507797c“Salman Rushdie speaks passionately about present Indian Elections and how the Indian Government is failing to protect free speech, religious freedom and personal safety in India.

The PEN World Voices is a week-long literary festival in New York City. The Festival was founded by Esther Allen and Michael Roberts under then PEN President for the last ten years Salman Rushdie who retired from his position at the event.

Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie is an Indian British novelist and essayist. His second novel, Midnight’s Children (1981), won the Booker Prize in 1981. Much of his fiction is set on the Indian subcontinent. He is said to combine magical realism with historical fiction; his work is concerned with the many connections, disruptions and migrations between East and West.
His fourth novel, The Satanic Verses (1988), was the center of a major controversy, provoking protests from Muslims in several countries. Death threats were made against him, including a fatwā issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, on 14 February 1989.

Filmed in The Great Hall, The Cooper Union 7 East 7th Street, New York, NY 10003 on April 28, 2014 at the 2014 PEN World Voices Festival. Some of the globe’s most prominent thinkers each, in turn, brought their enthusiasm for societal improvement to the stage for a short oration http://worldvoices.pen.org/event/2014/03/11/opening-night-edge”

Rachel Holmes at International Women’s Day, Niniti International Literature Festival, Kurdistan. 8 March 2014. Holmes is also the author of Eleanor MarxThe Hottentot Venus: The life and death of Saartjie Baartman (Bloomsbury) and The Secret Life of Dr James Barry (Viking & Tempus Books).

Neil Gaiman on bullying. “Different is Good”.

Neil Gaiman in conversation with Art Spiegelman

6 May 2014 

Siddharth Mukherjee, 27 April 2014

Siddharth Mukherjee, 27 April 2014

Siddharth Mukherjee, 27 April 2014Last night I attended a public lecture at the India International Centre, New Delhi. It was delivered by Siddharth Mukherjee entitled “First they came for Rushdie: Scientific Ambitions in an Age of Censorship”. It was organised by Penguin Books India to celebrate the occasion of Siddharth Mukherjee having received the Padma Shri.  He is a physician, scientist and writer. His book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize. He is currently an assistant professor medicine at Columbia University in New York. Chiki Sarkar, Publisher, Penguin Random House India, announced that her firm would be publishing his forthcoming book–on genes. Penguin invite

The lecture consisted of three distinct sections. He read out two papers. An essay, “The Perfect Last Days of Mr Sengupta”, published in Granta 124: Travel (http://www.granta.com/Archive/124/The-Perfect-Last-Days-of-Mr-Sengupta). It is about his visit to the Cancer centre of All India Institute of Medical Sciences ( AIIMS) based in New Delhi, where he meets a terminally ill patient Mr Sengupta. A precisely written, sensitive and thought-provoking essay about mortality, disease, care giving, and death.

( L-R) Chiki Sarkar, Siddharth Mukherjee, Nirmala George and Jaya Bhattacharji RoseHe followed it up by reading an extract from an unpublished essay. ( I suspect it is from his forthcoming book.) It was about science, scientific thought and research, especially genetics, in Nazi Germany. In a measured manner, calmly Siddharth Mukherjee read out his paper. Not once did his voice waver while he patiently retold the well-known facts of medicine as practiced in Germany.  He talked about Berlin in 1931 and the close link between science and literature. He spoke of the Nazi scientists such as eugenicist Alfred Ploetz who coined the term Rassenhygiene or racial hygiene, Josef Mengel or the Angel of Death who was responsible for the gas chambers in the Auschwitz concentration camps, physicist and Nobel Prize winner ( 1905) Philipp Eduard Anton von Lenard who advocated “Deutsche Physik” as opposed to the ideas of “Jewish physics”, by which he meant chiefly the theories of Albert Einstein, including “the Jewish fraud” of relativity. He spoke of the influence many of these scientists had upon Hitler, even when he was in prison and he wrote of his admiration of them in Mein Kampf. He commented upon the close relationship between the legal wheels that were constantly turning to justify and legitimize these absurdly illogical “scientific” theories, resulting in the enactment of the anti-Jewish statutes called the Nuremberg Race Laws ( 5 Sept 1935) institutionalizing many of the racial theories prevalent in Nazi ideaology. He mentioned the establishment of the Aktion T4 or the euthanasia programme that led to the establishment of  extermination centres where inmates were gassed in carbon monoxide chambers. He cited examples and read out extracts of contemporary accounts by scientists and men of letters such as Christopher Isherwood, of how slowly German society was being slowly and steadily cleansed, sloughing of genetic detritus. He argued that there was sufficient evidence of how this young science propped up a totalitarian regime and the cycle was completed by producing junk science. He  documented the muzzling of free expression, books, media, radio, cabaret were slowly brought under Nazi doctrine. Music such as jazz and swing or the “negro noise” were stopped. There was a slow and methodical decimation of intellectual and cultural freedom. Audience at the Siddharth Mukherjee public lecture

The concluding part of the lecture, Siddharth Mukherjee cited the example of Salman Rushdie not being permitted to attend or even speak via satellite link at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2012. He received death threats. At the time three writers — Hari Kunzro, Ruchir Joshi and Jeet Thayil — tried reading out extracts from the banned text The Satanic Verses but were not permitted to do so. Instead they were advised to leave Jaipur immediately. At the time this episode was met by a “galacial silence” by the powers that be. It was as “all realism without magic”. Since then this kind of literary censorship, a capitulation to bullying, according to Siddharth Mukherjee has become a predictable pattern in Indian society. Wendy Doniger  is the latest victim of literary censorship. For Siddharth Mukherjee there is a symbiotic relationship between science and literature since they co-exist in the same ecosystem. “Science happens in the same fragile place where books happen and plays are enacted. You spoil the ecology of one, you tarnish the soil of the other.”

28 April 2014 

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 

Guest Post: Aditi Maheshwari, publisher, and Tomoko Kikuchi, translator discuss “Neerav Sandhya Ka Shahar: Sakura Ka Desh”

Guest Post: Aditi Maheshwari, publisher, and Tomoko Kikuchi, translator discuss “Neerav Sandhya Ka Shahar: Sakura Ka Desh”

neerav sandhya ka shahar cover

Last month I heard about an interesting translation project — Neerav Sandhya Ka Shahar: Sakura Ka Desh. It was a Hindi translation (2013) of a Japanese publication (2004)– Yunagi No Machi Sakura no Kuni. It had won the Grand Prize for manga at the 2004 Japan Media Arts Festival and, is probably the only manga comic that deliberates upon continued suffering of the second and third generation victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings in the year 1945. It has been published by Vani Prakashan in India. Aditi Maheshwari, Publisher, Vani Prakashan and the translator, Tomoko Kikuchi, have shared their thoughts about this process. Aditi will be participating in the Book Souk, Jumpstart. ( http://www.jumpstartfest.com/home ) Logo

 

 

 

Aditi Maheshwari, Publisher, Vani Prakashan 

Three challenges entail a literary translation project undertaken by any publisher. The first and the most basic is staying true to the core and the essence of the original text under translation. The second is doing justice to the cultural idioms and paradigms as expressed in the original, while maintaining its relevance in the new audience. Third and most importantly, ensuring that the original text does not turn out to be anachronous for the new audience, who most likely do not share a similar history. The third challenge naturally applies to historical works from another culture, language or era or those dealing with long lasting impacts/influences of historical events.

Having worked extensively on translations in various world languages (including but not limited to English, Swedish, Norwegian, Polish, German, French and Japanese) and with world renowned literary stalwarts (such as Zwigniew Herbert, Wislawa Szymbroska, Tadeusz Rozewicz, Tomas Tranströmer, Herta Müller, Salman Rushdie, Tasleema Nasreen et al) in the past, one would assume Yunagi No Machi Sakura no Kuni would have been a fairly standard affair.

However, just like every translated work which is a product of extensive research, meticulous referencing and sheer volumes of literary acumen,Yunagi No Machi Sakura no Kuni proved no different. In fact, it unveiled a fourth and new challenge, hitherto not faced by us. This had to do with the art form that Manga comics are and the added visual dimension which they brought to the table. All of a sudden, ‘being true to the original’ developed a new meaning. With visuals being the ready reckoner window to the heart and souls of characters in the comic, the treatment of cultural idioms, anachronism had to be more accurate with very little scope for exercising literary liberties. Page

Yunagi No Machi Sakura no Kuni is a ‘slice of life’ account of the far reaching social, psychological and physical setbacks for the Japanese youth caused by the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 68 years ago. The culmination of journey from Yunagi No Machi Sakura no Kuni to Neerav Sandhya Ka Shahar: Sakura Ka Desh required meeting the aforementioned challenges. It was imperative to have a translator on board who had a deep understanding of the Japanese culture and also had exposure to the Indian cultural paradigms and Hindi language itself. The translator of the book, Tomoko Kikuchi, a young Japanese woman who studied Hindi at JNU and completed her Ph. D. in Hindi literature at Kendriya Hindi Sansthan, Agra was the steering force behind the project.

Even with the right translator on board who could translate sans use of a bridge language like English, we often found ourselves standing on the crossroads with the cultural idioms of Japan and India during the project. For example, the female protagonist in the first part of comics refers to her same-aged male friend with a Japanese pronoun that translates to ‘aap’ and not rather casual ‘tum’ in Hindi. Despite the awkwardness of the formality that the use of ‘aap’ would bring in, the translator chose it over ‘tum’ because according to her, it reflected the real dynamics of such friendships among young people in Japan fifty years ago. As the story continues in the second part, ‘Sakura ka Desh’, the new gen-Y Japanese girls are not shown referring to their male friends with an ‘aap’, exerting their equality by using their names or ‘tum’.

We discussed this and many similar issues at length with linguistic experts like Dr Rekha Sethi (Assistant Professor, Hindi, Delhi University). We finally concluded that although we were well intentioned in remaining honest to the original text and avoiding superimposition of indigenous reflections over it, the possibility of linguistic improvisation at few places, could not be overlooked. Translating a Manga comics in Hindi was a daunting yet fulfilling task for our editorial department. Publishing prose or poetry is always much easier than comics. We treat comics as an art form that involves synchronizing the editorial team towards exploring deeper layers of narration, conducting intensive research on the subject matter and above all, paying attention to what translator has to say. Neerav Sandhya Ka Shahar: Sakura Ka Desh is the result of this process.

Authored by Fumiyo Kono, Neerav Sandhya Ka Shahar: Sakura Ka Desh (2013) is originally published as Yunagi No Machi Sakura no Kuni (2004).

(C) Aditi Maheshwari 

Tomoko Kikuchi, Translator 

Tomoko Kikuchi, skv No2, GBSSS Gblock, GBSSS DDAFlat, 22 Aug 2013दो साल पहले मैंने सुप्रसिद्ध जापानी सचित्र पुस्तक “हिरोशिमा का दर्द”(NBT) का हिन्दी अनुवाद किया, जो छोटे बच्चों को परमाणु बम की त्रासदी को बताने के लिए सर्वोत्तम पुस्तक है । उसके बाद मैं सोचने लगी कि उसी संदेश को भारत के युवा पाठकों तक कैसे पहुंचाया जाए । अक्सर युवा पीढ़ी युद्ध या विश्वशान्ति के विषय से विमुख रहती है । उन दिनों मुझे संयोग से जापानी कॉमिक “नीरव संध्या का शहर, साकुरा का देश” का परिचय हुआ । 2004 में जापान में प्रकाशित उस कोमिक ने मुझे सहसा आकर्षित किया और मुझे लगा कि कॉमिक्स का रूप भारतीय जवानों को भी जरूर आकर्षित करेगा ।
अनुवाद की पुस्तक को प्रकाशित करने के लिए पहली शर्त है कि यहाँ के प्रकाशक को ढूंदना, जो बहुत मुश्किल काम है । इस पुस्तक के लिए मैंने कई प्रकाशकों के साथ बात की, आखिरकार वाणी प्रकाशन से मुलाक़ात हुई । माहेश्वरी जी ने मुझे सहसा यह जवाब दिया, “जापानी कोमिक्स का हिन्दी अनुवाद एक नई कोशिश है, बहुत दिलचस्पी है ।” यह सुनकर खुशी से ज्यादा मुझे हैरानी हुई, क्योंकि तब तक मैंने एक भी प्रकाशक से ऐसे सकारात्मक और स्नेही बात नहीं सुनी थी । इस प्रकार माहेश्वरी जी की कृपा से पहली शर्त पूरी हो गई । बाद में जापान फाउंडेशन की सहयोग योजना के तहत प्रकाशन के लिए कुछ आर्थिक सहायता भी मिल सकी ।
अनुवाद करते समय दो भाषाओं से संबंधित संस्कृति और इतिहास का पूरा ध्यान रखना होता है । पाठकों को अपरिचित संस्कृति से परिचित कराने के लिए अनुवादक को दोनों को जोड़ने वाले पुल की भूमिका निभानी होती है । सीमित जगह में पूरी सूचना डालना बहुत मुश्किल है । इतना ही नहीं, कोमिक्स में एक विशेष प्रकार का प्रयोग भी है, जिसमें आवाज और भावना को लिपिबद्ध किया जाता है।
मसलन, जब कुत्ता आवाज़ देता है तो हिन्दी में भौ भौ कहा जाता है, पर जापानी में वन वन । ऐसी आवाज भी है, जिसका जापानी भाषा में शब्द उपलब्ध है और हिन्दी में नहीं । जब कोई हैरान हो जाता है, तो जापानी में उस मनोभावना को “गान” उच्चारण से अभिव्यक्त कर चित्रों के साथ अंकित किया जाता है , परंतु हिन्दी में इस प्रकार का कोई प्रयोग नहीं है । जापानी कोमिक्स के अनुवाद में इस प्रकार की बहुत सारी समस्याओं का एक एक हल निकालना पड़ा, आपको भी पुस्तक देखने पर जिसका अंदाज होगा ।
अनुवाद में एक संकट यह भी था कि एक तरफ कोमिक्स का संवाद एकदम बोलचाल का होता है, परंतु दूसरी ओर मेरी भाषा एकदम पीएच. डी. की है । इस स्थिति में समन्वय लाने के लिए डॉ रेखा सेठी जी ने मेरी बहुत मद्द की । कभी उनके घर में, कभी आई. पी. कॉलेज में लंबे समय तक बैठकर हमने एक एक संवाद का सही रूप ढूंढ़ निकाला । उसी दौरान अनजाने में हमारे बीच भारतीय और जापानी संस्कृति का काफी आदानप्रदान हुआ होगा ।
(C) Tomoko Kikuchi 
28 Aug 2013 
Granta: Best of Young British Novelists 4

Granta: Best of Young British Novelists 4

02lr_granta_jpg_1539799e

( My review of the Granta: Best of Young British Novelists 4 was published in the Hindu Literary Review. Online 3 aug 2013 and in print 4 Aug 2013. Here is the url http://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/literature-for-the-facebook-generation/article4985464.ece )

…Qayyum listened to them and tried to imagine telling his mother she should be more like the women of Europe – she’d hit him about the ears with a shoe as if he were still a child.
Without warning, the air became driving rain, and Kalam’s words smeared across the page. Qayyum ducked his head and, as quickly as his fumbling hands could manage, threw the blanket over his head. The day his youngest sister put on a burqa for the first time she wore it backwards, no face mesh for sight or breath, and she had burst into tears until Qayyum lifted it off and put it on the right way round: she was still young enough to throw her arms around him and say, Lala, forget the army, stay here and defend us from our mistakes. …

Kamila Shamsie, “Vipers”, an excerpt from a forthcoming novel.

Best of Young British Novelists 4 is Granta’s once-in-a-decade attempt to identify writers with a promising future. Many of the writers discovered through earlier attempts have gone on to establish glittering literary careers. To name a few – Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro, Iain Banks, Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, HariKunzru, Monica Ali, Jeanette Winterson and Pat Barker. In this

Best of Young British Novelists 4 has a fantastic line-up of writers: Benjamin Markovits, Taiye Selasi, Kamila Shamsie, Nadifa Mohamed, TahmimaAnam, Sunjeev Sahota. Zadie Smith and Adam Thirlwell have the distinction of being in the previous decade’s list too. It is difficult to review a collection that consists of 20 fine literary contributions. Every work included here is distinct in terms of its landscape, atmosphere and plot. The range of stories deal with war in Afghanistan, Somalia, Bangladesh; floods in England; a mother dying of cancer; the realignment (or fluidity) of relationships; details of social networks like family, university friends, employer-employee that in the globalised world are crumbling or evolving (depending upon how you see it) across class, caste, economic, geo-political lines. Sensitive issues like immigration/asylum seekers, xenophobia and religion are tackled head on, yet tactfully.

At times there seems to be a very thin line between reality and fiction with powerful descriptions that lie in the rich complexity of detail. It is literature suitable for the literary palates of the Facebook-generation, netizens who are exposed to different cultures in daily conversations with friends and acquaintances flung around the globe. The young under-40, authors felicitated in Granta 123 are definitely ushering in a new era of writing. And “if they are good enough, novelists are dangerous individuals.” In his Introduction, John Freemanreveals that over 150 authors applied for this distinction. Twenty were selected — 12 women, eight men with women outnumbering the men for the first time. Funnily enough “despite not having discussed the need for diversity, gender balance or multiplicity of background, the selection revealed it to be so.”

The kind of fiction selected marks a tectonic shift in international fiction. These writers are global citizens, comfortable with any part of the world they reside in. Nothing distracts them from their sharp focus on their work. They are sensitively attuned to the cultural differences in every region. They use their command over words, especially in English, to write a form of fiction that is understood, accessed and appreciated by a wider audience; the “readerly” audience that James Freeman rues is fast disappearing. (“We live in unreaderly times.”) The flavour of such literature is that it has a universal appeal it is highly sophisticated and polished, with not a word out of place. It is excellent craftsmanship. It is infused with a great deal of experience at reading, literary interactions, professional conversations and presentations.

In his memoir, Joseph Anton, Salman Rushdie writes about the judging for the Best of Young British Novelists 2, 1993, “It was a passionate, serious debate … Then the list was published and the piranhas of the little pond of the London literary scene went after it….Welcome to English literature, boys and girls.”

Likewise with this volume the literary potential of the 20 anointed writers is discernible, but the maturity of many is as yet to be achieved. It will be honed in the stormy and choppy waters of literature.

Kurt Vonnegut and Salman Rushdie, on writing

Kurt Vonnegut and Salman Rushdie, on writing

Joseph Anton

‘Are you serious about this writing business?’ Vonnegut unexpectedly asked him as they sat drinking beers in the sunshine, and when he replied that he was, the author of Slaughterhouse-Five told him, ‘Then you should know that the day si going oto come when you won’t have book to write and you’re still going to have to write a book.’ (Joseph Anton p.62).

“‘Unsafe’ was a feeling he was familiar with.”

“‘Unsafe’ was a feeling he was familiar with.”

Joseph Anton

Salman Rushdie’s memoir Joseph Anton was released in 2012. Well before it was published it was being discussed–what will be said, what will not, will it live up to expectations etc. The title is borrowed from the names of two writers whom Rushdie admires, Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov. The nearly 600 pages are preoccupied with a decade of living under the fatwa, a death threat issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie having written Satanic Verses. From the announcement of the news on 14 February 1989 till the threat perception was reduced to level four by Scotland Yard, Rushdie documents his complete bewilderment, growing frustration, simmering rage and absolutely disgust at the reactions of many who did not support him. He meticulously records his growing isolation from family and friends; the desperation at wanting to socialise but never being able to, at least not without prior planning with the police officers deputed to protect him; and then his growing rage at the hijacking of freedom of expression especially at the altar of religious zealots. He does not mask his distaste for his colleagues in the creative industry who fail to support him, including the “big unfriendly giant Roald Dahl”.

Interestingly he uses the third person technique to write. As if he is a dispassionate observer of what Joseph Anton experiences, though at times “Salman” does intrude and speaks, introspects and reflects. It is curious that many of the reviews ( a few are reproduced below) comment upon the technique recognise it to be a unique way of writing, but do not understand the import of it. Whereas if you read any written account by a woman of a trauma that she has experienced, when the moment comes to describe the actual event, she inevitably switches to the third person narrative. ( It is rare indeed for it to be ever written in the first person. And if it is, then it is usually a draft that has been worked upon extensively till it is worked out of the system of the victim.) In Joseph Anton Rushdie describes a period of his life that must have been fraught with anxiety for every second of the day and night. So it is not surprising that even though he had his diaries to refer to he opts to use a technique that makes the memory of living with terror 24×7 easier to write about. It is fascinating to see him use a writing technique that is normally not associated with men.

Joseph Anton is a detailed account of what happened in that frightful decade of Rushdie’s life, but also consists of references to his family and friends. It is a delightful balance of the personal and professional aspects of a very public figure. Graham Greene was amused that Rushdie had got into more trouble than Greene himself ever had! Whereas Gabriel Garcia Marquez never asked him about the fatwa. They had a straightforward conversation about writing and books, much to the relief of Rushdie. And of course the famous literary spat that John le Carre and Rushdie had in 1997. It was finally called off in November 2012 ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/from-the-archive-blog/2012/nov/12/salman-rushdie-john-le-carre-archive-1997 and http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/nov/12/salman-rushdie-john-le-carre ). The ups and downs with the family, understanding his parents and their marriage and his utter and complete adoration for his two sons born eighteen years apart — Zafar and Milan– comes through very clearly. The passages on publishing, literary agents, sale of rights, publishing schedules makes one wonder whether the digital age revolution has really changed anything at all. The details, the arguments, the negotiations are the same, whether it was in the 1980s or now. There are moments when the editorial inputs should have been stronger since the text tends to get a little clunky and tedious, yet it reads well.

Years ago I recall attending a literary event where Salman Rushdie with Padma Lakshmi were also present. It was at the Oxford Bookstore, Statesman House, New Delhi. They were (I think) guests of William Dalrymple who was at the store to do a reading. For a long time I reflected upon that evening, but after reading Joseph Anton, a lot is explained especially the sheer joy of Rushdie at being able to live a normal life.

Whenever Rushdie writes non-fiction he does it extremely well. Those years of being “invisible” and yet not, being catapulted onto the front pages of the newspapers worldwide gave him the confidence to speak clearly and strongly. He says what he wants to say. One of the most recent examples being the speech he gave at the concluding dinner at the India Today Conclave, New Delhi held on 18 March 2012. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNzGgYvz92s). He insists that everyone should be allowed to speak without fear. He never really did, now he definitely does not, feel the need to mince words. I liked Joseph Anton.
30 May 2013

Salman Rushdie Joseph Anton: A Memoir Jonathan Cape, London, 2012. Hb. pp. 650 Rs 799

    Examples of reviews of the book, dwelling upon the third person technique

http://observer.com/2012/10/gone-underground-in-a-new-memoir-salman-rushdie-looks-bach-at-his-fatwa/ “The first thing readers will notice about this memoir is that the memoirist has written it in the third person. It is not a perspective often associated with self-awareness.”

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/09/18/11-revelations-from-salman-rushdie-s-memoir-joseph-anton.html “…the book is written in the third person, as if a ‘biography’ of Rushdie/Anton…”

Pankaj Mishra in the Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/sep/18/joseph-anton-salman-rushdie-review ) “In his memoir, where Rushdie bizarrely decides to write about himself, or “Joseph Anton”, his Conrad-and-Chekhov-inspired alias, in the third person, … .

On historical fiction ( My article published in HT’s Brunch, 9 March 2013)

On historical fiction ( My article published in HT’s Brunch, 9 March 2013)

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Brunch/Brunch-Stories/Once-Upon-A-Time-In-India/Article1-1023602.aspx

Once upon a time in India
Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, Hindustan Times
March 09, 2013
First Published: 12:11 IST(9/3/2013)
Last Updated: 19:27 IST(9/3/2013)

1860s London was agog with the Codrington case. It was a juicy story involving vice-admiral Codrington and his wife Helen, accused by her husband of having had an affair with Colonel Anderson, that was unfurling in the divorce courts. During the proceedings, front-page news at the time, the skewed slant of the legal system towards women became apparent. One of the key witnesses was Helen’s friend, Emily Faithfull or ‘Fido’, a leading member of the first wave of the British women’s emancipation movement and owner of The Victoria Press. Emma Donoghue’s The Sealed Letter recreates the events in her novel. She relies on contemporary accounts of the period, but for the sake of story, compresses the events spread over some years to a few months of 1864. She uses artistic licence to reveal the contents of the sealed letter that were used in the courtroom but never made public.

Madhulika Liddle
The author of The Englishman’s Cameo, set her detective, Muzaffar Jang, in 17th- century Delhi. “Commercial fiction dependent upon mythology is mistakenly clubbed with historical fiction,” she says. These are the joys of reading well-told historical fiction – a rollicking good story, but pinned in facts (hugely dependent on meticulous research) combined with attention to detail.

What is historical fiction?
A historical fiction society website says, “To be deemed historical, a novel must have been written at least 50 years after the events described, or have been written by someone who was not alive at the time of those events (who therefore approaches them only by research).” Writer Sheba Karim (whose forthcoming novel revolves around Razia Sultan) describes them as “novels set in a past time period, which feels different from our own in terms of aspects like technological advancement, scientific understanding, political systems and modes of transport so that the author must include rich, descriptive detail to give the reader a strong sense of time and place.”

The scene in India
In Britain, it is a hugely successful genre, spawning an association, awards and wide acclaim. Jenny Barden, author and organiser of the Historical Novel Society (HNS) conference held in London in September 2012, comments that of the 13 titles longlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2011, more than half were in some sense ‘historical’. Of the six titles recently shortlisted for the Orange Prize 2012, four were historical. Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall won the Man Booker Prize in 2009 and last year, the sequel, Bring Up The Bodies, won the prize again. Now, the historical fiction genre is doing well here too.


Diana Preston One half of the husband-wife team behind the Empire of the Moghul series says the conflicts of the Mughals’ lives caught their imagination. “And historical fiction offered the best scope for conveying that excitement.”

The Grand Mughals
Alex Rutherford’s Empire of the Moghul series has also been a big success in India. ‘Alex Rutherford’ is the pseudonym of husband-and-wife team, Diana and Michael Preston. “We chose to fictionalise the story of the Mughal emperors after reading the source material beginning with The Baburnama – the first biography in Islamic literature – through to the court chronicles of the later emperors,” wrote Diana in an email. “The conflicts of their lives caught our imagination and historical fiction seemed to offer the best scope for conveying the excitement of what happened, since the it offers greater freedom to create dialogue, explain motivation, interpret silences in the sources than non-fiction.” According to the Rutherfords, one of the great pleasures of historical fiction is delineating the characters. “What caught our attention particularly was how the Mughal dynasty, outwardly so opulent and successful, carried the seeds of its own destruction within it. Their tradition – brought with them from West Asia – was for familial rivalries expressed in their saying ‘taktya, takhta’, ‘throne or coffin’. The Mughals’ greatest enemies were not their external foes but each other. Exploring their jealousies and feuds was absorbing.”

Who was Mira Bai’s husband?

Kiran Nagarkar Nagarkar’s Cuckold is one of the best known in the genre. “The book has a narrative epic. At the same time it tends to be philosophical,” says the author.
Kiran Nagarkar’s brilliant Cuckold (a tale told from Mira Bai’s husband’s perspective) leads among local historical-fiction novels by being continuously in print since it was first published in 1997. “I do not see Cuckold as historical fiction but as a very modern book,’ Nagarkar says. “I wasn’t trying to write anything factual, but luckily it fell into place. The book has a narrative epic. At the same time it does something very underhand, it tends to be philosophical – personal ruminations, state craft, and the science of retreating.”

More tales from the past
Indu Sundaresan, author of the popular Taj Mahal trilogy (The Twentieth Wife, The Feast of Roses, The Shadow Princess) about Mehrunnisa aka Empress Nur Jahan, the most powerful woman in the Mughal empire, says she always daydreamed a lot. “My love for history, and storytelling, came from my father,” she explains. “Dad was a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force, and at every place he was posted, he’d take us to visit the forts and palaces and fill our heads with tales of the kings and queens who inhabited them. That’s why, I think, I write historical fiction.”
In her book The Englishman’s Cameo and The Eighth Guest & Other Muzaffar Jang Mysteries, Madhulika Liddle sets her detective hero loose in 17th-century Delhi. One reason it’s so popular is that it lets you time travel in the city you thought you knew.

The young-adult niche
Subhadra Sen Gupta, known for her historical fiction set in ancient and medieval India, says that recreating the time and life of people is the real challenge when it comes to hooking younger readers. “I also travel to historical places in search of locations because the descriptions of places are crucial.”

Subhadra Sen Gupta The author of Let’s Go Time Travelling likes to visit historical places. “Recreating a time and the life of people is the real challenge,” she says

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, the author of Neela: Victory Song, a young-adult novel set during the freedom movement, says there isn’t that much available for younger readers. “It is very important for young readers to understand history and their heritage,” she says. “It helps them make sense of the contemporary world. It teaches them about the link between cause and effect. Historical fiction, often full of action and excitement and suspense, draws young readers into that time and teaches them history in a fun way.” She rubbishes the theory that historical fiction is easier to write. “Much more research has to be done about the period. For Neela: Victory Song, I interviewed my mother, who was a young girl during that time.” The common factor binding these writers is not necessarily the genre, but their attention to detail and rigorous research. They are meticulous in getting their facts right about their protagonists and reading around the period including contemporary accounts but presenting it differently in a non-textbook fashion.

History or Mythology?
Unfortunately in India, mythology-driven fiction is often mistakenly clubbed with historical fiction. Some instances of this confusion are David Hair’s young-adult trilogy Return of Ravana (Pyre of Queens, The Ghost Bride and more); Ashok Banker’s The Forest of Stories, Krishna Udayasankar’s Govinda, and Ashwin Sanghi’s The Krishna Key.

But historical fiction is everywhere. Publishers are nurturing this genre and it has steady sales. Maybe the current outburst of publications on the Indian literary landscape such as Cyrus Mistry’s Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer; Irfan Master’s A Beautiful Lie; Biman Nath’s The Tattooed Fakir; Manreet Sodhi Someshwar’s The Taj Conspiracy and Amandeep Sandhu’s Roll of Honour bode well for those who like a good historically accurate yarn.

Prizes and readers
The market for the historical fiction genre is growing. Previously the Historical Writers’ Association (HWA) together with Goldsboro Books set up the £2,000 HWA-Goldsboro Crown for Debut Historical Fiction written by a previously unpublished-in-fiction author; now the HNS has founded the £5,000 Historical Novel Society International Award for an unpublished work of historical fiction written by any author (whether previously unpublished or not). Add these to the prizes already well-established for historical fiction, and there are now a good range of awards for any writer in the genre to aim for.

Alexandra Pringle, editor-in-chief at Bloomsbury, has a suprising slant on the genre, which may well account for its popularity: “Historical fiction probably has a more balanced audience in terms of gender than much other fiction: men as well as women enjoy historical fiction.”

The writer is an international publishing consultant and columnist

Reading up the past
Here is a list of historical fiction novels that you could go for

Elizabeth Goudge’s Green Dolphin Street
Robert Grave’s I, Claudius
Leon Uris’s Exodus
Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace
Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn
Michael Ondaatje’s English Patient
Kiran Nagarkar’s Cuckold
Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows
Emma Donoghue’s The Sealed Letter
Indu Sundaresan’s The Shadow Princess, The Twentieth Wife and The Feast of Roses.
Alex Rutherford’s The Empire of the Mughal series
Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five
Barabara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible
Subhadra Sengupta’s Kartik’s War; Kartik & the Lost Gold; Waiting for Tansen (adults); Sword of Dara Shikoh; History, Mystery, Dal, Biryani; A Clown for Tenali Rama; Give us Freedom; Bishnu the Dhobi Singer; Once Upon a Time in India plus many biographies – Akbar, Ashoka, Gandhi and fictionalised bios of Jahanara & Jodh Bai.
Madhulika Liddle’s The Englishman’s Cameo and The Eighth Guest & Other Muzaffar Jang Mysteries
Mukul Kesavan’s Looking Through Glass
Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy
Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children
Chitra Bannerjee Divakurni’s Victory Song
Arupa Kalita Patangia’s Dawn
Shauna Singh Baldwin’s The Tiger Claw and What the Body Remembers
Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies
Andrew Miller’s Pure
Esi Edugyan’s Half Blood Blues
Ruta Sepetys’s Between Shades of Gray
Cynthia Ozick’s Foreign Bodies

From HT Brunch, March 10

Children of a Dreadful Midnight, Ruchir Joshi (31 Jan 2013)

Children of a Dreadful Midnight, Ruchir Joshi (31 Jan 2013)

Original post on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/notes/ruchir-joshi/children-of-a-dreadful-midnight/10151468364809434

Dear Fellow-citizens,
Let’s be clear about this: yesterday, Calcutta finally completed its downfall from the cultural capital of all Asia to a narrow-minded, spirit-crippled, morally corrupt, goonda-governed provincial town. From being the great city where Rabindranath Tagore wrote ‘where the mind is without fear’ our urban concentration has now become the champion backwater place where the heart is squeezed by fear, paranoia and the over-riding greed for power. This hasn’t happened overnight, we have watched the slow-motion collapse of our culture and our sabhyata over the last fifty years, but the final implosion has been rapid, the final dive into crass, shameful mediocrity has been sharp. The last shredding of any remaining intellectual honour has been forced through at triple-speed over the last eighteen months.
Here are the facts of the last blow, the final hacking that felled all of Bengal’s and Calcutta’s pretensions to cultural superiority.
At this time last year, just after the events at the 2012 Jaipur Literary Festival, chief minister Mamata Banerjee had declared she would not let Salman Rushdie enter Calcutta. This was a bizarre statement, completely un-provoked, since Rushdie then had no plans to visit our city. The chief minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit, had made the opposite statement, that Rushdie was welcome in Delhi any time. But Dikshit then had to revoke the statement, clearly under pressure from her high command. Regardless, within a month of Dikshit’s flip-flop, various state elections now over, Rushdie came to Delhi for a conclave, had a normal, undisrupted and undisrupting time and left. The elections were done and dusted and so was the psuedo-issue that had been raked up in Jaipur to win votes, that of Rushdie and the novel he published in 1987, The Satanic Verses. This demonstrated that Delhi is bigger than Calcutta in more than just size, no one chief minister can hold it hostage.
Cut to this year. The film of Rushdie’s earlier novel, Midnight’s Children is being released in India. Rushdie, Deepa Mehta, the director of the film, and Rahul Bose, who’s acted in the movie, are touring India to promote the film. Mehta and Bose have also been invited to the Kolkata Literary Meet writers’ festival to discuss the adaptation of the book into a film. Rushdie’s name isn’t on the list, but on Tuesday it becomes clear that Rushdie was also planning to come to Calcutta to promote the film. As it is, the only officially announced engagement for the writer was a press conference at a hotel in the city. Late on Tuesday night it became clear that our police had intervened and stopped Rushdie from coming to Calcutta. The end result: a huge humiliation for a so-called city that still deludes itself that it is the home of vibrant culture and intellectual vigour and courage.
So much for the facts one can print.
Fellow citizens, I am a story-teller and also an inept, low-level, sudoku puzzle addict. Allow me to bring a different kind of narrative sudoku calculation to this page. Let’s look at the printed ‘numbers’ and embark on a small adventure of conjecture: Who finally delivered the coup de grace to Bengal’s long failing moral body? Who finally chopped through Calcutta’s ethical spine?
Question 1: was Rushdie only coming to promote the film at a press conference?
Now, if I was an organiser of a literary festival, and if I knew Salman Rushdie was going to be in town during my festival, it’s likely I would have been eager to have him make an appearance. Given how he’s done things in the past, it would have surprised no one had the panelists at the Midnight’s Children session at Kol Lit Meet announced in mid-discussion that they had a surprise guest, and had Rushdie been then led on to the stage. Had I been the organiser, I would have grabbed at this idea, but then, that’s only me.
Question 2: Regardless of whether Rushdie was coming to Calcutta to promote his film, make a theatrical entry at Kol-Lit or just have a quick snack at Bhojohari Manna, who actually pulled the plug on his visit?
a) The Kolkata Police? Fearing a law and order problem? Unlikely. As we know, this police force does not even clear snot from its nose without an okay from Writers’Building. It’s unimaginable that they could make a such a huge decision without serious goading from above.
b) If not the police then the state government? Who in the state government? And how? Not to mention why? Well, let’s keep these squares blank for a moment.
c) The Muslim groups? Maybe. But, wait a minute. In Jaipur last year, the protests against Rushdie attending began way before the JLF festival opened. This year, in Calcutta, we heard nothing till yesterday, and the ‘protests’ only took place on Wednesday morning – well after Rushdie had already cancelled his visit – as if to provide retro-substance to the notion that widespread protests were always going to take place.
So let’s lightly pencil in a tentative sequence. Remember what Mamata Banerjee said last year, unasked and unprovoked? So, could it be that an aide woke her up when he saw the announcement of Rushdie’s visit? ‘Didi, you had said you would not let him come to Calcutta. What should we do?’ Could it be that a phone call went from Writers’, or Kalighat, to Lal Bazar Police HQ? Could that phone call have set off other calls from some department of the police, say Special Branch, to the Muslim ‘leaders’ in the city? Perhaps a conversation like: ‘Maulvi-ji! Imam-sahab! Aren’t you planning to protest at Salman Rushdie’s visit to Calcutta?’ ‘Oh? Rushdie is coming? We didn’t know! When? Of course we will protest!’ Could this have then led to police officers landing up at the office of whoever had (unofficially) invited Rushdie? Could, say, three cops, (played in my imaginary movie by, say, Tapas Pal, Rahul Bose and Parambrata Chattopadhyay) have stood behind the person who’d ‘invited’ Rushdie, (person played by Nandita Das), and glowered at her computer screen till she sent off an email ‘disinviting’ the shaitan Rushdie?
But enough of this guessing game.
Yesterday, Mamata Banerjee, either through action or inaction, kept at least one of the promises she had made to Calcutta’s Muslim community. Of all the many promises she had made, this one was perhaps the most poisonous: Rushdie will not be allowed into Calcutta. What this ‘promise’ actually says is ‘I will use a psuedo-issue to stoke the egos of your leaders, in the gamble that we can shove under the carpet the fact that I have done nothing to improve the condition of Muslims here, which remains worse than the conditions of Muslims in Modi’s Gujarat.’ It’s a vile delivery that cuts two ways into the rotting ‘culture’ of Calcutta: it bolsters the osbcurantists and fundamentalists of all colours, not just Islamic, while snatching away yet more space of expression from that soft pocket of society we call artists.
There was a time when (what used to be) Kolkata understood what ‘freedom’ meant, what ‘free speech’ meant, what ‘imagination’ meant, what was meant by ‘art’. The movement for the stopping of sati started here (it offended the core ‘religious sentiments’ of lakhs of Hindus), the movement for a free India, where people of all faiths and belief and non-belief could live, also garnered huge charge from the thinking of Kolkatiaya minds and hearts. Central to each and everything that Calcutta and Kolkata gave to the yet-to-be-born Republic was the tenet ‘where the mind is without fear’, i.e that you can think and say what you want. What this latest assault on our freedom to think, read and see what we want does is plunge us into a darkenss of a kind we in this city have not yet known. Today, we Calcuttans have really become the children of a dreadful midnight.
Ruchir Joshi for 31st January, 2013

Web Analytics Made Easy -
StatCounter