South Africa Posts

Zainab Priya Dala’s “What Gandhi Didn’t See: Being Indian in South Africa”

Like a white net veil worn over a red saree, or an ivory satin gown sleeve that borders ornate paisley mehndi patterns, the people of Indian origin in South Africa evolved from holding tightly onto the shreds of Indian culture that they came with inside locked boxes and sewn into hemlines. But, like all migrants, or perhaps refugees the world over, evolution is the Holy Grail, the ability to blend into the current social strata. The result became the South African Indian. A mix of names formed and re-formed, and clothing worn and then not worn, and eventually as apartheid was abolished, an identity searched for and still to be found. 

South African writer Zainab Priya Dala’s What Gandhi Didn’t See: Being Indian in South Africa is a collection of essays that are a mix of memoir, sharing opinions on the changing political landscape and the growth of Dala as a writer. These essays are sharply written detailing the complicated histories South African citizens of Indian origin have to contend with on a daily basis. It informs their identity. Even details such as if their ancestors came as “indentured labourers” or as “passenger Indians” makes a world of difference to their sense of identity in a foreign land. Zainab Priya is of mixed parentage as her father is a Hindu and her mother a Muslim. Later she married in to a well-established Muslim business family who had come to South Africa relatively recently but she regularly encounters variations between the families in their habits and living styles.

What Gandhi Didn’t See: Being Indian in South Africa is a slim collection of powerfully written essays. These essays by a South African Indian reflecting upon multiple aspects of her existence is much like this book being the sum of many parts of her life — mother, wife, daughter, writer, activist, migrant, political awakening etc ( and not necessarily in the given order of importance). Fact is the moment you are aware of your personal histories the complexities of one’s ancestry become evident and it is no longer quite as simple to speak of genealogies in puritanical terms or of political action in black and white terms of “us and they”. Zainab Priya Dala is sharply articulate about these complex inheritances and is very aware of the fine negotiations it demands of her on a daily basis which is a given way of life. And it is precisely these day-to-day exercises in living that also sharply bring home to her details in society that Gandhi was blinded by. The South Africa in which he honed his political activism was primarily aimed at the racist modes of governance and not necessarily at recognising the microcosm of South African or South African Indian society and its distinct threads of identity. Curious that Gandhi who otherwise was so very sensitive missed these finer distinctions of identity especially since he and the author both have links to the Gujarati community. Yet for Gandhi it was apartheid of far more importance and it remained so till the 1990s when many of the South African social structures were realigned. In the new era it is not so much as race governing lines of social separation but money. With money becoming the defining factor of ancestries and communal make-up become even more acutely apparent. And as in the jungle, it is the survival of the fittest, same holds true for civil society. Those who survive in the new socio-economic terrain are also confident of their identity while aware of their historical, soci-political and genetic inheritances — a fact that Zainab Priya Dala is clear she will spell out for her children.

What Gandhi Didn’t See: Being Indian in South Africa  is a sharp commentary on contemporary South Africa. It must be read. The thought-provoking essays will resonate with many readers especially women, across nations. Also for how smartly it puts the reader under the scanner and forces them to question and understand their inherited narratives better.

Read an extract from the book used with permission from the publishers — Speaking Tiger Books.

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My father, a third generation non-resident Indian, whose grandfather had come from a village near Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, preferred not to talk much about his heritage. But, things changed when he reached sixty years of age. Why? I will never know. But what I do know is that everything about my heritage from my paternal side had been spoken of by others, including my father’s brothers and sisters, not him. Maybe, he suffered the affliction of a love marriage to a woman who was seen as superior to him, and he wanted to delete his inferiority in the eyes of his children. But, I am seeing now how I also do the similar thing to my children. My husband, like my mother,  comes from the big city of Durban, and his heritage is one of the Muslim business class that came to South Africa long after the indentured labourers** and anyway, let me just say it – he is considered higher class than I am, so we tend to appropriate this onto our children. Perhaps my father had done the same for many years.  And, perhaps he decided to speak openly about our mixed up heritage only after my sister and I were safely and happily stowed away into good marriages. Things are sometimes as ugly as that. But speak he did. It became a river that never stopped. One day a year ago we were at a fancy dinner party held by my cousin from my mother’s side of the family – a very rich and successful doctor amongst a family of doctors. He lived in an area we still call today a White Area, which means that before 1994, none of us would have ever dreamed of walking past a house there, let alone living in one. My father was quiet during this dinner, but perhaps a few glasses of expensive whiskey loosened his tongue, and he started talking about his childhood on the farm. My mother tried to quieten him, not because she was ashamed, but because she knew he was about to cry. The room went silent as if a spell had been cast by a mournful farm-accented voice ringing out among the posh “white” accents of my cousins and his friends. But, minutes into his monologue, my cousin’s husband blurted:“Oh really now, Babs, should we get you an audition for another ‘Coolie Odyssey’?” (‘The Coolie Odyssey’ was a play on the indentured labourers written, directed by,  and starring,  Rajesh Gopie, a South African Indian dramatist).

My father fell into silence, and my husband, who is sensitive to the point of extreme protection of my father at most times, ushered him outside. I was carrying my baby son, and looking at these two men, standing next to a Balinese-inspired swimming pool, sharing a cigarette and probably chatting about the price of fuel, it was not lost on me that I was carrying in my arms the actual reality of a class divide.  My son will always have to negotiate this divide and there is nothing I can do to protect him from it. Why would I need to protect him? Well, to put it as succinctly as I can, in South Africa, we let go of the caste system in the bowels of a ship in the 1800s, but we adopted a system that became very insidious. Fellow writers and historians, Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed in their detailed opus, Inside Indenture, A South African Story 1860 – 1914, describe these people who dropped their caste into the Indian Ocean as “twice-born.” Here, they refer to the fact that in the shiphold, there was no room for caste or class. An Indian inside there was an Indian who ate and slept alongside all others. But once they arrived at the port, and the documents of demographics were being created, a lower caste could easily take himself up a few notches. Today, in contemporary South Africa, caste is obsolete. We all know enough by now to question the Maharaja and Singh surname with a studied eye for actual refinement in behaviour, language and of course education. This does not mean there are no divisions. The divisions go deep. They are based on religion, economics, language and colour. Of course, I know that these divisions are changeable ones much like dropping your caste at a shipyard, now you can change your religion, think and grow rich, lighten your skin and perfect your English. This malleability scares the ones who wielded class like gold crowns. I admit, my maternal family and my husband’s family are those that did. They are forgiven because they didn’t know they were doing it.

In South Africa, the business class came to the shores of Natal mainly from the villages of Gujarat. My father-in-law describes it well when he tells me in thick Gujarati: “One side of the street is Muslim Desai family. Opposite side of street is Hindu Desai family. Both Desais understand each other and get along better than even Muslim Urdu speakers or Calcuttiah people.”

I don’t look at anything he is saying as derogatory. The reason is that he is not insulting anyone, he is simply stating facts. The Gujarati community aggregated together in a code of business and called  each other “Aapra-wallahs’. They still use this term today. An acquaintance, who is a great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi,  once came over to my house to collect items I wanted to donate to a family rendered homeless after a fire. I had known him for some years, and had interacted with him many times on charitable or literary correspondence. But, within minutes of the mutual spotting of an Aapra-wallah in the room, I ceased to exist in the conversation. My husband, a Muslim,  and my associate, a Hindu, both spoke Gujarati that went far above my head. I had learned the basics of the language, to communicate with my husband’s family who spoke only Gujarati. My mother’s family were too high class to speak any vernacular, and only the Queen’s English would do. My father’s family spoke a combination of Urdu, Hindi and Bhojpuri. My best friend spoke Afrikaans and the children I grew up playing with spoke Zulu. Add to this mix the terms that each of us reserved for each grouping, which are as derogatory as being called Coolies, and it is no wonder that I cannot sleep some nights.

Indians who left as indentured labourers from the port of Calcutta are called Calcuttiahs, and Indians who left as indentured labourers from the port of Madras are called Madrasis. The Muslim community have their own lines of division and I find that these lines are deeply hurtful. Muslims who arrived in South Africa as indentured labourers are thought to come from Hyderabad. Although many chroniclers say that the majority of the Muslim community in South Africa who are not business arrivals are actually converts to Islam. This is how the Muslim community divide their people – colour and language. It used to be money, but now everyone is keeping up with the Joneses and the famous Gujarati Trust Funds** are running on empty, having cossetted very large and extravagant families for two generations.

The Memon Muslim community is a very small one, but they wield a large economic clout.  They are known to have come from different areas around India, originally from Kathiawar, but finally settled as a community near Porbandar in Gujarat, from where a number of them migrated to South Africa as traders and businessmen. Another batch of Gujarati Muslims came from different villages in Gujarat, and left for South Africa from the port of Surat. They proudly refer to each other as Surtis and use the term “Hedroo,” to describe any other Muslim who is not Gujarati or Memoni. Hedroos, a terrible term, is used to speak of the class of Muslims whom the Surti community look upon as low class and  poor. Inter-marriages between Surtis and Hedroos are still frowned upon. I am reminded of my own wedding day, when my husband’s aunt told me that in the history of the Dala family, it was the first time they had accepted a “mixed” girl for any of their boys. Their bloodline had remained pure Gujarati till 2006, the year of my nikkah. I responded to the aunt by a small nod that day, and replied to her: “Hahn ji.”

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Footnotes

**Over 100,000 Indians arrived as slaves from the subcontinent in 1684 and lived in Cape Town.  The first Indian indentured labourers arrived on 16 November 1860.The passenger/ trader Indians began arriving around 1875 to meet the need for commercial trade in the community, Black and  Indian as well as  Coloured.

**Gujarati Trust Funds were set up from the mid 1870s by wealthy Gujarati families, to cater for all educational, medical and housing needs of their community. When Gandhi arrived in South Africa, the Gandhi Trust was set up to cater for legal needs and to publish a newspaper called The Indian Opinion.

Zainab Priya Dala What Gandhi Didn’t See: Being Indian in South Africa Speaking Tiger, New Delhi, 2018. Hb. pp. 150. Rs 499

27 November 2018 

 

Trevor Noah

Comedian and Daily Show talk  show host Trevor Noah’s autobiography Born a Crime is a moving, at times funny, at times brutal and hardhitting account of his childhood in South Africa. Born to Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah, a Xhosa, who chose to have Trevor out of wedlock with a Swiss man made Patricia a criminal. For her crime as a native female was to have “illicit carnal intercourse” with a European white male as stated by the Immorality Act, 1927. She made a fine mother and being a single parent had its share of ups and downs.

Born a Crime  is to be turned into a biopic with Lupita Nyong’o playing the role of Patricia.

Here is a powerful extract from Born a Crime when Trevor recounts how his mother taught him to read and be independent.

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My mom told me these things so that I’d never take for granted how we got to where we were, but none of it ever came from a place of self-pity. “Learn from your past and be better because of your past,” she would say, “but don’t cry about your past. Life is full of pain. Let the pain sharpen you, but don’t hold on to it. Don’t be bitter.” And she never was. The deprivations of her youth, the betrayals of her parents, she never complained about any of it.

Just as she let the past go, she was determined not to repeat it: my childhood would bear no resemblance to hers. She started with my name. The names Xhosa families give their children always have a meaning, and that meaning has a way of becoming self-fulfilling. …

When it was time to pick my name, she chose Trevor, a name with no meaning whatsoever in South Africa, no precedent in my family. It’s not even a Biblical name. It’s just a name. My mother wanted her child beholden to no fate. She wanted me to be free to go anywhere, do anything, be anyone.

She gave me the tools to do it as well. She taught me English as my first language. She read to me constantly. The first book I learned to read was the book. The Bible. Church was where we got most of our other books, too. My mom would bring home boxes that white people had donated — picture books, chapter books, any book she could get her hands on. Then she signed up for a subscription program where we got books in the mail. It was a series of how-to books. How to Be a Good FriendHow to Be Honest. She bought a set of encylopedias, too; it was fifteen years old and way out of date, but I would sit and pore through those.

My books were my prized possessions. I had a bookshelf where I put them, and I was so proud of it. I loved my books and kept them in pristine condition. I read them over and over, but I did not bend the pages or the spines. I treasured every single one. As I grew older I started buying my own books. I loved fantasy, loved to get lose in worlds that didn’t exist. I remember there was some book about white boys who solved mysteries or some shit. I had no time for that, Give me Roald Dahl. James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. That was my fix.

I had to fight to convince my mom to get the Narnia books for me. She didn’t like them.

“this lion,” she said, “he isa  false God — a false idol! You remember what happened when Moses came down from the mountain after he got the tablets . . .”

“Yes,, Mom,” I explained, “but the lion is a Christ Figure. Technically, he is Jesus. It’s a story to explain Jesus.”

She wasn’t comfortable with that. “No, no. No false idols, my friend.”

Eventually I wore her down. That was a big win.

If my mother had one goal, it was to free my mind. My mother spoke to me like an adult, which was unusual. In South Africa, kids play with kids and adults talk to adults. The adults supervise you, but they don’t get down on your level and talk to you. My mom did. All the time I was like her best friend. She was always telling me stories, giving me lessons, Bible lessons especially. She was big into Psalms. I had to read Psalms every day. She would quiz me on it. “What does that passage mean? What does it mean to you? How do you apply it to your life?” That was every day of my life. My mom did what school didn’t. She taught me how to think. (pp. 66-68)

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Hardback and Paperback 

Literati: A Spiderweb of Yarns ( 14 November 2015)

jaya_bhattacharji-300x300My monthly column, Literati, in the Hindu Literary Review was published online on 14 November 2015 and in print on 15 November 2015). Here is the http://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/a-spiderweb-of-yarns/article7872752.ece. I am also c&p the text below. )

The old lady chuckled. “Each story that sinks into the book becomes a part of an ancient spiderweb full of stories.”

“As more stories are added in, the spiderweb gets bigger and bigger and bigger until it forms an invisible blanket that covers every city and town, every village and every forest. And when someone who is walking by touches the web accidently, stories will flow into their head and from their head to their fingers and from their fingers on to paper…”

(Suraya’s Gift: The Story Catcher Children by Malavika Nataraj. A chapter book published by Puffin Books)

Suraya's GiftSuraya has been given an exquisitely designed blank notebook by her aunt. She scribbles stories in it for a while only to abandon it. Later, unable to locate it she encounters the Story Catcher who tells Suraya the book has been passed on to another child who has better use for it. Malavika Nataraj’s is a stunning debut.

Ranjit LalThe importance of stories can never be stressed enough. Ranjit Lal’s new novel Our Nana was a Nutcase (Red Turtle) is about Nana, who is bringing up his daughter’s four children. (Their parents are busy diplomats.) It is a super brilliant, sensitively told novel about the children witnessing their Nana’s gradual decline with Alzheimer’s, their coming to terms with it and slowly realising they have to be the caregivers for their Nana. A similar story about the heartwarming relationship between grandfather and grandson is found in the bittersweet David Walliam’s David Walliamsbestseller Grandpa’s Great Escape (HarperCollins).

Stephen AlterStephen Alter’s slim novella The Secret Sanctuary (Puffin Books) is a little beauty too. It introduces three school children to the magic within a forest they tumble into while walking to school. It is a secret sanctuary where they can be in close proximity to the animals without the beasts being aware of their existence. They discover nuggets of information from the naturalist, Dr. Mukherjee.

MananManan (HarperCollins) by Mohit Parikh is an “odd little tale” as he calls it. Manan attains puberty and is fascinated how reaching this milestone changes his perspective on life, transforming him in more ways than one. It is a first novel about an ordinary family in a small town.

MunnuMunnu: A Boy from Kashmir (HarperCollins), a graphic novel by Malik Sajad with autobiographical elements, is already causing a stir internationally. Sajad anthropomorphises the Hangul deer to tell the chilling account of being a young boy in Kashmir when it was torn apart by conflict. Munnu capitalises upon his excellent drawing skills to draw political cartoons.

Some other examples of well-told stories are: Scholastic India’s annual offering For Kids by Kids featuring short stories by young writers between the ages of 10 and 16. Paro Anand’s Like Smoke (Penguin Books), a revised edition of her young adult stories Wild Child; Parismita Singh’s stupendous graphic story retelling the Naga folktale Mara and the Clay Cows (Tulika); Karishma Attari’s debut novel I See You (Penguin Books), a chilling horror set in Mumbai, and the gorgeously produced retelling of the Baburnama called The Story of Babur by Parvati Sharma, illustrated by baburUrmimala Nag (co-published by Good Earth and Puffin Books). Scholastic’s Branches book series like Dragon MastersThe Notebook of Doom and Owl Diaries ( http://www.scholastic.com/branches/), and Simon and Schuster’s travelogue series Greetings from Somewhere ( http://www.simonandschuster.com/series/Greetings-from-Somewhere) with helpful illustrations, easy-to-read text and simple plot lines designed for newly independent readers, are strong on storytelling Wimpy Kidtoo. Then there is the astoundingly popular Jeff Kinney, whose Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School within a week of its release has already sold 100,000 copies in India. Timed with its release has been the launch of the Puffin Car that will be used to build excitement about books and the habit of reading among children.

For Kids By Kids 2015

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Stories have a way of working their way into becoming a part of one’s mental furniture and creating cultural landscapes that stay forever. A wonderful example to ensure stories continue to be shared is the “Libromat” in South Africa bringing together laundry and reading established by social entrepreneurs from Oxford University.  ( http://www.libromat.com/ )Inspired by a study that said dialogic book-sharing is an interactive form of shared reading (http://1.usa.gov/1MVTK7E), an early childhood development centre in Khayelitsha was outfitted with washers and dryers, and the women were trained to read with their children. libromat-inhabitots

( Note: Images used on this page are off the Internet. I do not own the copyright to them.)

15 November 2015 

Press Release: The Read Quarterly

The Read Quarterly  TRQ1-Pack-480x640

Neil Gaiman Kickstarter video and Eoin Colfer original fiction help launch The Read Quarterly.

The Read Quarterly (TRQ, www.thereadquarterly.com), the magazine launching in January 2016 to discuss the culture of children’s literature, has today revealed its first issue cover and has announced that the magazine will contain an original four-part Eoin Colfer story, Holy Mary, to be published through the first year. The Read Quarterly will be a forum in which global children’s literature can be discussed and debated. Created by children’s literature enthusiasts, each with a wealth of experience in the publishing industry, Sarah Odedina and Kate Manning, this quarterly magazine will provide an environment in which both writers and readers can share their enthusiasm, introduce new ideas and challenge old ones.

TRQ have also announced details of how to support the first issue of the magazine via Kickstarter and have revealed that Neil Gaiman has been instrumental in setting up that campaign, even recording a video for them to help push the crowd funding.

Sarah Odedina, one of the founders of the magazine, said “We have had such fantastic support since we announcedSarah Odedina The Read Quarterly.  We are excited by the Kickstarter campaign as we feel that its energy suits our magazine so perfectly. Support has already been flooding in from such luminaries as authors including Malorie Blackman and Neil Gaiman, publishers Neal Porter and Louis Baum and bookseller Melissa Cox. We look forward to growing our magazine to reflect the energy and drive that is so characteristic of the children’s literary scene around the world”.

To support the Kickstarter please go to www.kickstarter.com/projects/748565480/the-read-quarterly.  Pledges for the project start at £20 and you will receive not only Odedina and Manning’s undying gratitude and the joy of supporting the project from the start, but also exclusive prints, bags and original artwork.  From publication, the magazine will be stocked in bookshops and there is also a subscription service from issue two onwards.

Kate-ManningIf you are interested in stocking the magazine, please contact Kate Manning at kate@thereadquarterly.com.

An annual subscription costs £40. For more details please contact subscribe@thereadquarterly.com

For media enquires, please contact:

Kate Manning kate@thereadquarterly.com

 

List of some of the contents of Issue 1

So,we’re about to announce the details of how you can get behind issue 1 and it’s only fair we let you know what’s in the magazine we hope you want to support.

Here’s some of the content list for issue 1 of TRQ. We’re really excited about the wide range of articles and the amazing spread of contributors from around the world, and we hope you like them too. Admittedly, we get a sneak preview of what the articles are about, but hopefully the article titles are tantalising enough.

We have…

‘Hunting for the Birds: A Designer’s Memories of Childhood Reading’ by Stuart Bache, UK

‘Cinderella and a World Audience’ by Nury Vittachi, Hong Kong

‘The Last Taboo: What Interactive Prints Says About the Digital Revolution’ by Elizabeth Bird, USA

‘The Artisan Publisher: Tara Books, Chennai, India’ by Gita Wolf, India

‘A New Arabic Publishing Model’ by Kalimat Publishers, UAE

‘Children and the Magic of Bookshops’ by Jen Campbell, UK

From Institution to Market: Publishing for the African Child’ by Ainehi Edoro, Nigeria/USA

‘The Theme of Independence in Children’s Literature in India’ by Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, India

‘The New Internationalists: The Changing Scene of Illustrated Books Published in the UK’ by Martin Salisbury, UK

‘A Singaporean Interpretation of Classic Children’s Stories’ by Myra Garces-Bacsal, Singapore

‘American Nonsense and the Work of Carl Sandburg and Dave and Toph Eggers’ by Michael Heyman, USA

‘The Work of Beatrix Potter and the Loss of Innocence‘ by Eleanor Taylor, UK

‘A Look at Translation’ by Daniel Hahn, UK

And that’s not all, we also have…

Original fiction (well, the the first of four parts) by Eoin Colfer, illustrated by Adrienne Geoghegan, Ireland

Original poetry by Toni Stuart, South Africa

A comic strip explaining what Gary Northfield (UK) really hates drawing

An illustrator profile on Catarina Sobral (Portugal) who has illustrated our amazing first issue cover

AND

A Literary Crossword by Tristan Hanks, UK

9 October 2015 

 

A fistful of journalism: An interview with Deca collective

Deca( I interviewed some members of  the DECA collective. Founder-member, Sonia Faleiro facilitated the conversation via email. This was uploaded on the Hindu website on 11 April 2015 at: http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/a-fistful-of-journalism/article7088990.ece and a shorter version of it in print on 12 April 2015. I am also c&p the text below.) 

The members of Deca, a global journalism cooperative, share the reason for sharing it, and the future of web publishing. 

Deca is a global journalism cooperative that creates long-form stories about the world to read on mobile devices ( www.decastories.com and @decastories). It takes its cue from Magnum Photos, a member-owned cooperative that changed the rules of photojournalism in the 1950s. Magnum’s founders, including Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson, took advantage of the technological shifts of the time — portable 35mm cameras and fast, cheap film processing —to strike out on their own, covering the stories they felt were most important. With journalism entering an era of dramatic change with tablets and smartphones replacing print books and newspapers, established journalists can now bring their stories directly to readers. These shifts — and agencies like Magnum — are Deca’s inspiration.

Deca’s members have authored acclaimed books and articles in magazines like Harper’sThe Atlantic,The New YorkerTimeScienceRolling StoneGQNational GeographicOutsideBloomberg Businessweek, and The New York Times Magazine. The members — who are based in Rome, London, Shanghai, Barcelona, Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, Seattle, Washington DC, UAE, Lebanon, and South Africa — include winners and finalists of prestigious awards like Pulitzer Prize, National Magazine Award, PEN Literary Award, Livingston Award, Whiting Writers’ Award, and Los Angeles Book Prize. Since Deca’s launch in mid-2014, five stories have been published. Sonia Faleiro’s 13 Men was No. 1 on Amazon India and was selected as a ‘Kindle Select 25’ (one of 25 best books in the Amazon Kindle storefront across all markets).

Once a month, Deca publishes a non-fiction story about the world, somewhere between a long article and a short book. Each piece is written by one member, edited by another, and approved by the rest. The eight founding members are Sonia Faleiro, Stephan Faris, McKenzie Funk, Vanessa M. Gezari, Marc Herman, Mara Hvistendahl, Delphine Schrank, and Tom Zoellner. Recently, Elizabeth Dickinson, Rania Abouzeid, and Richard Poplak became members too. In a freewheeling interview, Deca’s members talk about why they started Deca and the future of publishing on the web. Excerpts:

What prompted the creation of Deca?

Our inspiration — and proposed response to any coming changes — are one and the same. New technologies may be gutting the market for print journalism but they have a silver-ish lining: If journalists want to write directly for their readers, it’s now cheap and easy to pull off. No longer do the two sides need a magazine in order to find one another. Note that we also found inspiration in newer photo cooperatives like Noor and VII, which came about after a more recent sea change in photography: digital cameras. We wanted to tell the important stories of our times, to do so in detail, and for as wide a readership as possible. But we also wanted to maintain the standards we’ve become used to working for great traditional media. We wanted to be sure we’d be well edited, copy edited, and beautifully published. Deca does all of this along with providing us the support and security of working with a group of similarly idealistic but also very hard-working people.

Once you publish the long-form stories, what next?

Photo cooperatives have long functioned as a way to keep archival photos by its members from disappearing in the dust bin. It’s likewise possible that Deca could package and put out anthologies of its members’ work — stories sitting in our individual archives that are newly relevant today.

What are the rules that you foresee changing of making content available on smartphones?

A shocking proportion of people now read their news and books on their smartphones. It helps that screens keep on getting bigger, which is true of Amazon’s phone as well as the new iPhone, apparently. Stories can now live independently of their publications.

How will crowdsourcing work for this collective?

Kickstarter’s been a smashing success so far. But it will go on in some fashion via our website and a campaign on the new crowdsourcing platform Tugboat. Many publications are now using a slow-drip version of the NPR model: “If you like us, please support us.”

How will the collective work add new authors?

New authors will be added subject to a unanimous vote. We’re obviously looking to work with great writers. But we are a co-op so we also want to be sure that whoever we bring on board understands that this is about shared effort, responsibility, wins and losses. They must also be pretty easy to work with.

What is the selection process?

We publish only members’ work and have no plans to do otherwise. We do have plans to eventually translate members’ stories to other languages, however.

Will you develop this into a subscription model or will it remain as an offering of digital singles on KDP?

Yes. Subscribers are signing up now via Kickstarter. Our app is up and running and so is our subscription service. So basically we now sell singles on Amazon. We sell singles and subs through our app that people can download to their smartphones or digital devices. Readers can subscribe to Deca for $14.99, which buys them 10 stories (http://www.decastories.com/store/subscribe/). Readers can also buy singles from our website to read online (http://www.decastories.com/13men/)

Why did you opt for a Digital Restrictions Management (DRM model) when models such as Creative Commons are becoming popular?

Perhaps mainly because we’re a bunch of writers, not techies or business people, and funding our work via the DRM is the model we could most easily wrap our heads around. Creative Commons is great, but we’ve yet to understand how, if readers don’t pay, we can’t fund reporting trips, let alone pay ourselves. So we’ve started with a pay-to-read model and are crossing our fingers. The money for research has to come from somewhere. Readers supporting journalists directly — outside the framework of a magazine or a large media organisation — is also a trend. Even so, our subscription for a full year costs about the same as a single night out at the movies, and directly expresses your support for the continued existence of this kind of journalism.

Will you ever consider anthologising these e-singles in print? (Guernica announced in summer of 2014 it will be publishing an annual print-anthology.)

Absolutely considering. We’re still fond of print, even if we’re enabled by digital. And there may already be cases when you see Deca’s work in print: When new Deca stories come out, we aim to partner with magazines and publish excerpts therein. In fact, Of Ice and Men was on the cover of The New York Times Magazine. They published a whopping 9k word excerpt.

12 April 2015

Literati – “Opportunities in Publishing” ( 1 March 2015)

 Jaya Bhattacharji RoseMy monthly column, Literati, in the Hindu Literary Review was published in print ( 1 March 2015).  I am c&p the text below. 

Opportunities in Publishing

In 2003 when mobile phones were new, we conducted an experiment at the publishing firm I was part of. We converted a print story into an audio file, dramatized it using voice actors, recording at a studio. A phone company offered to make it available on landlines and mobile phones. The only cost to be incurred was the origination cost. After that, the consumer would pay a nominal fee to hear the story. We knew we had a new income generation stream with a revenue-sharing model. It seemed to be a win-win situation, except for a tiny hiccup – insufficient good content. It had to be easily available, origination cost at an affordable price point, transparency on copyright, with preferably multi-lingual options to cater to target audiences in different regions. Naturally, it remained an experiment in convergence that was ahead of its times.

Ironically in 2015, publishing engagements held to coincide with the World Book Fair, New Delhi were dominated by conversations regarding content, opportunities for publishing where mostly telecommunications company representatives spoke or IT experts expounded on the significance of mobile reading. Impressive statistics were reeled out. For instance, 4.5 b people have access to bathrooms, but 6 billion have access to phones. There are only 7 billion people on earth.

The close relationship between publishers, content and technology is discussed well in an article, “No profit left behind”, published in POLITICO Pro (10 Feb 2015, http://www.politico.com/story/2015/02/pearson-education-115026.html ). It is argued that Pearson wields enormous influence over American education and “makes money even when its results don’t measure up”. On 20 Feb 2015, an Indian newspaper report said, “Pearson Education is eyeing a larger share of the Indian education market through digital offerings. Chalking out its growth chart for the coming years, the learning and publishing company has identified India among the four biggest markets, the others being China, Brazil and South Africa.” (http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/services/education/pearson-education-eyes-big-share-of-indian-education-market/articleshow/46297541.cms ) All though riddled with challenges such smart classes and modern libraries with Wi-Fi are not unheard of in India where the contracted vendor provides the hardware, software, content and even helps get broadband access to the institution.  Hence it is not surprising to have heard telecom representatives requesting for a Digital India Programme – creation of digital infrastructure, delivering services digitally and advocating digital literacy. In theory a splendid idea since it gets to many. But when rumours about local broadband service providers seeking differential pricing for customers begin to become real, it is a worrying trend. These internet service providers are flouting the basic premise of net neutrality where all data exchanged on the net should be treated equally. With broadband connectivity expected to grow rapidly with 450 million users in 2017 putting India amongst the top two data markets globally and maximum internet growth is expected to happen with 69% of the population who have affordable smartphones, feature phones and low-cost feature phones operating on 2G and 3G spectrums, with another 9.8% of the population being able to afford higher end phones and tablets using wi-fi too, this is a lucrative business to be in.

Other conversations of note were an insistence on targeted marketing by leveraging technology; creating a classification of readers – casual, avid, niche, topical, educational and lapsed; taxation issues;  exploring new business models such as  Direct – to – Consumers (D2C) and opportunities to sync audio to text – bundle of e-book and audiobook with seamless switching; the conversion of passive online consumers to active “prosumers” [Producer-Consumers] driven by convergence; analysing targetted audience interactions like browsing / buying behavior, and impact of augmented reality in book promotions as it simulates to some extent the real world not necessarily recreating it exactly in detail. Significantly there was an interest to explore translations in Indian languages but the more animated conversations took place at the Food Court at Pragati Maidan than at Rights Table conclave. The increasing presence of overcrowded remaindered bookstalls presented a paradox with their low-priced books –a bane for publishers, a boon for readers. Finally the stress on how digital publishing was a great opportunity for the Indian publishing sector and must be explored for content creation, distribution and consumption dominated.

The reality is digital penetration is still at a nascent stage in the sub-continent, definitely in a sector estimated to be valued at $2.2 billion. It will require active participation of all stakeholders to ensure the delivery of quality material, at the right price point (for e-readers, ISP, price of content), plus taking into account multi-lingual, gendered and cultural characteristics of consumers.

1 March 2015

Damon Galgut, “Arctic Summer”

Damon Galgut, “Arctic Summer”

Arctic Summer, AlephThe closer he came to those caves, the more he began to falter. He knew that something took place in the dark, a sexual attack across racial lines. The caves held that kind of power. But it wasn’t simply a question of the action; it was what the action arose from — what it meant. The problem was fundamental. No matter how he tried it, the words sat on top of the deed; they had no soil and no roots. There was something wrong with how he had imagined it, something essentially dishonest and out of balance, and as his narrative crept toward the threshold, the rock refused to open for him. ( p.142)

E. M. Forster is known for his novels Howards End and A Passage to India. He also left an unfinished novel Arctic Summer. He began writing it in 1909 but it was never published. More than a century later, South African writer, Damon Galgut has written a fictional biography of E. M. Forster. He says, “I have used actual dialogue recorded by Forster ( and others) in letters or diaries, I have sometimes altered the words a little, on the assumption that nobody recalls conversations, even their own, with complete certainty.”

Arctic Summer begins with a journey that Forster makes to India in October 1912. He was following a young Indian whom he had met in England — Syed Ross Masood, associated with the Aligarh Muslim University. The book is a well-researched account of E. M. Forster’s life, his search for love, living under the shadow of his mother even though he was beginning to be recognised as a successful author. Yet the novel is written so gently and with a great deal of sensitivity, it is also difficult to distinguish between the real and imagined worlds, a credit to Damon Galgut’s fine craftsmanship.

A bio-fic is one of the best ways to know a historical period, apart from getting to know the protagonist/figure intimately. It is probably one of the most demanding genres to be dabbling in. The author has to do extensive research to get the facts right, then creatively build a story, suitable for contemporary readers, bordering on historical fiction but focused upon one person ( in this case Forster) to carry the story forward. Prior to Arctic Summer the seminal biography of Forster was written by P. N. Furbank ( whom Damon Galgut met as well). Arctic Summer though accurate about many details of Forster’s life tends to make details public about his homosexual relationships than probably Forster would not want to acknowledge so openly; though many of his close friends knew of these liaisons.  Maybe Damon Galgut has the good fortune of being able to write Arctic Summer at a point of time when conversations about same-sex relationships are recognised and being discussed regularly in society, albeit some people continue to view such alliances with hostility, anger and outrage. So to take a respected author such as Forster, to discuss his sexual life as being an inextricable part of his career ( since for love he travelled to India the first time), Damon Galgut has taken on a bold aspect of Forster’s life — homosexuality— and created a fantastic story. It is also appropriate to publish Arctic Summer in 2014 when there is  a flood of literature on World War I; this will be top of that heap, probably even on the list of some literary awards. 

Damon Galgut Arctic Summer Aleph Book Company, New Delhi, 2014. Hb. pp. 360 Rs. 595

Granta 125 and 126

Granta 125 and 126

Granta, After the WarGranta 125: After the War and Granta 126: Do you Remember are two issues that you read, put away, mull over, revisit, make parts of it your own and then it becomes a part of you. After the War ( http://www.granta.com/Archive/125 ) has contributions by Romesh Gunesekera, Justin Jin,  Herta Muller, Aminatta Forna, Hari Kunzru, Paul Auster and Patrick French. Every essay is an account of a conflict area that is familiar to the writer. It could be Sri Lanka for Romesh Gunesekera or being in Iran at the time of the American hostage crisis for Aminatta Forna or being a Jew in America for Paul Auster or as Patrick French does in his part-reportage, part-memoir, grapple with the expectations of and coming to terms with having a war hero for an uncle. Every single essay or short story in the magazine is distinct in its style, in what it documents and what the writer chooses to dwell upon, at times even complimented by the sentence structures. Paul Auster’s essay, “You Remember the Planes”, forces you to read it, grapple with it since the paragraphs are sometimes over a page or two in length. You cannot pause to reflect but have to read on and on.

Earlier this year, I met Romesh Gunesekera at the Jaipur Literature Festival. We were chatting about his new book, Noontide Toll, when the conversation veered towards war and craft of writing. Later in an email he wrote “I would say that one has to attend to the craft. If the sentences don’t work, then whatever is being written will not last long enough to matter.”  ( This was in response to an interview I did for the Hindu Literary Supplement. It is as yet to be published.)

Aminatta Forna essay, “1979”, is about the events in Iran, the American diplomats who were taken hostage. Aminatta Forna was fourteen years old and had moved to Teheran with her family, since her stepfather had been posted to the city by the United Nations. She witnesses and recounts her experience of being in Iran in the 1970s. She refers to the “curfew parties”, which under ordinary circumstances would be considered “bizarre”, but when read in context of the events, seem like perfectly natural and ornate spaces created for socialising and sharing of experiences, shutting out the dark reality. In fact, Aminatta Forna offers a course in Witness Literature where fiction is used to express and document events. Here is a short film made by a student of hers discussing it:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PELSk5JkaZI These events of 1979 were recently documented in Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning film Argo. I am unable to locate the link for now, but Aminatta Forna’s mother wrote a very powerful article in a UK-based newspaper presenting her side of the story and how much of Ben Affleck’s film was pure fiction.

Patrick French’s title essay “After the War” is about his great-uncle Maurice Dease who fought in the Battle of Mons and was the first recipient of the Victoria Cross. I suspect an essay like this, expanded into a book form will work brilliantly—part anecdotal, part personal, part historical and with a strong perspective. Narrative non-fiction at its best, connecting to the past, yet firmly fixed in the present.

Granta, Do you remember 126Of all the essays in Do you Remember  ( http://www.granta.com/Archive/126 ) two have remained with me — David Gates, ” A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me” and Johnny Steinberg’s “The Defeated”. David Gates’s essay is about his friendship with Paul Thompson, a singer, who when he is dying, opts to stay on Gates’s farm. It is a moving account of reading about Gates admiring the Thompson from afar, to becoming a good friend and then a tender caregiver. Johnny Steinberg’s essay is a little more complicated. It may seem like reportage about the events KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa and the clashes between the farmers and tenants. But there are layers and layers to the stories he recounts — his own experience of collecting the facts, the stories the tenants recount and the farmers. Of many generations before and of the rapid change taking place since Apartheid was abolished in early 1990s. It leaves you wondering about the various ways in which one event can be remembered.

Both the books are worth reading.

1 May 2014 

 

“Eye on the tiger”, an interview with Valmik Thapar, The Hindu, 23 Nov 2013

“Eye on the tiger”, an interview with Valmik Thapar, The Hindu, 23 Nov 2013

Tiger Fire, Valmik Thapar, Aleph, Nov 2013Later this month Aleph will be releasing Tiger Fire by Valmik Thapar. It is a fantabulous book with rare pictures and documentation. It is worth buying. I interviewed the author for The Hindu. The interview has been published online on 23 Nov 2013 – http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/eye-on-the-tiger/article5383268.ece – and it will be available in print tomorrow, 24 Nov 2013. I am c&p the interview below.) 

Valmik Thapar, whose new book will be out on December 3, talks about how he got involved with the big cat.

Valmik Thapar has spent several decades serving the wild tigers of India. During this time, he has written more than 20 books and made or presented nearly a dozen films for the BBC and several other television networks on the tiger and Indian flora and fauna. He has also established the Ranthambhore Foundation, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to conserving wildlife. Despite having served on government panels and committees relating to nature conservation, he is today a fierce critic of government policy and continues to campaign and fight for new ways to save wild tigers and nature in India. This, he feels, requires partnerships with civil society in villages, towns and cities and a change in the mindset of governments. His latest book, Tiger Fire, brings together the best non-fiction writing, photography and art on the Indian tiger and is also the first time he writes on the tiger from a historical perspective. Excerpts from an interview:

How did you fall in love with tigers?

That is not easily explained, as the power of that emotion is beyond words. In 1976, I was probably open to such an experience but could never have imagined that my love for the tiger would have continued over my lifetime. Basically watching tigers, fighting for them, and looking at their history fills up my senses like nothing else… it has a power over me. This book has been a labour of love and just over three years in the making.

Tiger Fire details your experience in the Ranthambore Park. What unusual facts about tigers have you discovered in the many years of observing them?

In nearly 38 years of a life spent with tigers, I believe that the tigers of Ranthambore rewrote their natural history for the world to read, see and record. The first records of kin links among tigers were established here as were the first records of the male tiger in the role of a father and looking after cubs. This has also been established by Kim Sullivan’s recording of the baby sitter in Bandhavgarh and, more recently, Balendu Singh’s record of the male tiger bringing up cubs after the tigress died. Earlier most believed that the male killed the cubs. Ranthambore also gave us the first pictures of tigers killing in water, fighting crocodiles, eating pythons and porcupines, of a bear attacking a tiger, of the secret life of mother and cubs in the first six months of the cubs’ existence…

Towards the end of Tiger Fire,  you sound disappointed by the government’s efforts made to save the tiger. What are the current initiatives (nationally and globally) to help save the tiger?

So far as current initiatives are concerned, I find them pathetic and encouraging of lip service rather than of field action. I advocate that the bureaucracies of the world — especially in India where 50 per cent of the world’s population of tigers live — should share power and decision making with committed people in villages, towns, and cities, with scientists, NGOs and conservationists.

In Africa, countries like Kenya, South Africa and Botswana allow all kinds of models from local people managing the conserved area to resort hotels managing it to partnerships between resorts, locals and the government. As a result, large and new areas have been added to wildlifescapes. In the Masai Mara, the locals get more than $100 million a year from revenues generated from tourism. In some areas, only locals manage both the area and tourism.

In India, the government takes on this role and it is least talented. We need to reform our levels of governance, change our rules and accommodate the young and the talented in the effort to save the tiger.We need a landscape approach with innovative tourism models. (Landscape means all categories of land: government, private, revenue and includes local people who may choose to live within it.) Our government must also partner with locals in villages to create a mindset change if the tiger is to survive.

In saving the tiger, what are the other animals that are also being saved from extinction? 

With the tiger, you save leopards, bears, rhinos and elephants and all the deer and grass eaters right down to the birds and insects. If you fail, it strikes them all. There should be special schemes for snow leopards, wolves, brown bears, sharks, whales… all of which represent their ecosystems. This requires immense political will and action.

The section “Tiger in Time” brings together the finest writing on the tiger by a variety of writers from the 16th to the early 20th centuries.  But most are foreigners. Are there no accounts in Indian languages?

I could not find any with the kind of detail that the foreign travellers brought to the table. May be from the 16th to the 19th centuries, India’s forests were so thick and inaccessible that, till the British entered to plunder them, there were written records by locals who lived outside. It was the tribals who lived in the forests and I could not find their written narratives. I think there were two worlds in those times — the tame one outside the forest where the kings and emperors ruled and the wild forest where the tribals ruled. Very few ventured into each other’s worlds till the British came in. There is a lot of visual material on paper and stone and a rich folklore. I have given a short summary of it in the section “The Cult of the Tiger”. A book of the same name and The Tiger: Soul of India, both published earlier by Oxford University Press, also deal with that aspect.

After the Ranthambore National Park was created, it meant that villagers — whose ancestors had for centuries lived within the environs of the Park — had to lose their homes and all access to wood, water and traditional farming lands. An initiative to support these villagers was taken when the Ranthambore Foundation was created with the objective of acting as a catalyst in resettling the displaced communities. The Ranthambore Foundation was created to help resettle the villagers displaced when the Ranthambore National Park was created. Presumably this model helped the people to look for alternate sources of income and livelihood and thus help conserve the natural habitat of the tiger. Do you think such a model has been successful? Would you advocate it for other sanctuaries? 

Personally, I see the model as a failure because it did not do enough. In the 1990s, we had a rigid and uninterested forest bureaucracy who did not know how to partner and hold hands. Many believed that Ranthambore would have been in a mess without the creation of the foundation. There should be site-specific models in every tiger forest but the forest bureaucracy has to change their mindset and start working with locals first.

Excerpt from Tiger Fire —

“The Secret Life of the Tiger”

Strange as it may seem, it was on my last night that I had the encounter I always longed for. After dinner that night, I slipped into the jeep with the two trackers, Laddu and Badyaya, and the driver, Prahlad Singh. … The sky was pitch black with a brilliant array of stars. Our first job was to check two live baits that had been put out to attract the tiger …. The first bait that we went to check was tied to a large banyan tree at Singh Dwar. It had been killed. My heart missed a beat, but I could see nothing around the dead animal. As I flashed my torch around, I spotted a leopard curled up in the banyan tree watching the carcass.

Other than the crickets playing their orchestra, there were no other sounds. Suddenly, the booming alarm call of a sambar deer rent the air. I knew instinctively that a tiger had killed and the sound of our jeep had forced it to flee. … I waited for a while but the tiger was not coming. Our presence discouraged it. I did not realize it then but it would be years before the Ranthambhore tigers would lose their fear of man.

I quickly drove off to the second bait. Gone. Not a sign of it anywhere. I tried to search the area thoroughly but an old ruined wall hampered my visibility. I was sure the tiger feasted behind it. I was desperate to see it and the only person I could think of who might help was Fateh Singh Rathore. I raced out of the park to Sawai Madhopur where he lived. It was nearly 11 p.m. when I arrived at his house. On banging on the door, I found Fateh a little groggy but awake. When I explained the situation to him, I caught a glint in his eyes. He picked up his Stetson hat and jacket and we raced back into the park. With Fateh at the wheel, we reached the old wall at the edge of the lake close to midnight. He drove all around the wall, cramming the jeep into every crevice and corner. We directed our searchlights into every conceivable place we could think of. I was sure that the elusive tiger of Ranthambhore would have fled the scene because of all the pandemonium.

As I had suspected, we found nothing, but as Fateh reversed I saw the rear wheels of the jeep entering the water and soon the back of the vehicle was in danger of being submerged. I shouted to Fateh that we would soon be afloat and all he said was to keep the torch trained on the wall. And that is how I saw my first tiger in Ranthambhore— from a floating jeep while I flashed the searchlight around. There was a sudden sharp cough and snarl. Framed in front of me and watching the commotion with its huge head above the wall was the tiger. …

Excerpted with permission from Aleph Book Company

Tiger Fire; Valmik Thapar, Aleph Book Company, Rs.2995.

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

27 Aug 2013

(C) Paro Anand