The Hindu Posts

Amit Chaudhuri

Telling-TalesIn 2014 Amit Chaudhuri published two books – Telling Tales ( a collection of essays) and Odysseus Abroad ( a novel). Some of the other notable literary engagements were delivering the Infosys lecture “The Origins of Dislike” (http://www.infosys-science-foundation.com/amit-chaudhuri-lecture.asp) , Guest Director of The Times Cheltenham  Festivals Literature 14, co-organising the second edition of The University of East Anglia India Creative Writing course in Calcutta ( https://www.facebook.com/pages/UEA-launches-International-Creative-Writing-Course-in-India/473787526006225?fref=ts ), a symposium on literary activism ( Anjum Hasan, “On Recovering the Literary through Literary Activism”, December 26, 2014 http://www.caravanmagazine.in/vantage/recovering-literary-activism ), contributor to  Granta:130 focussing on India ( The first volume on India was Granta:57. Amit Chaudhuri is the only Indian author present in both issues, seventeen years apart). All these literary engagements are apart from his regular teaching assignments and musical performances.

Reading Telling Tales is a like the Casebook series of critical essays, popular in English Literature studies. The difference being the Casebook series consisted of a collection of essays by various critics, analysing a text or an author. Whereas in Telling Tales it is a melange of writing by Amit Chaudhuri. These were previously published as columns, introductory essays, commentaries, chapters from books etc. Pieces of writing that could not be accommodated elsewhere but are an integral part of Amit Chaudhuri’s development as a writer and critic. These essays are not necessarily meant to be read from cover-to-cover otherwise the monotonous of style will overwhelm the reader. It is preferable to dip into the essays and discover literature. Three related links: An interview Amit Chaudhuri gave to AuthorTV ( http://www.authortv.in/author/amit-chaudhuri ); a review in the New Statesman by Deborah Levy  where she says, “Chaudhuri’s intellectual project is not so much to cross academic boundaries as to remove the sign that says: “No playing on the grass”. Like Barthes (and Lacan), he sees merit in concentrating less on the meaningful and more on the apparently meaningless. For this reason I relished every tale and essay here, not least because Chaudhuri subtly politicises the ways in which both writing and writers are culturally placed, described and sanitised.” ( http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2013/08/telling-tales-amit-chaudhuri-principle-mode-our-epoch-isnt-business-business) Finally a review by Dilip D’Souza where he says “Amit Chaudhuri has grown from a writer with humour to one in love with excess words.” [“Baffling verbosity” Tehelka, I March 2014, Issue 9, Volume 11 (http://www.tehelka.com/baffling-verbosity/?singlepage=1)]

Odysseus AbroadOdysseus Abroad is in a class of its own. It is better appreciated if familiar with some of Amit Chaudhuri’s writing. The novel is experimental—his experiments in literature, fascination with language ( English and Bengali), playing with words and meaning, hidden jokes in structure and of course the “journey” of the protagonist. The novelist Amit Chaudhuri has access to a number of literary gatherings, student conferences and is the bridge between two cultures — English Literature and Indian Literature. By being at home in two distinct cultural and geographical locations — India and Great Britain, there is a sense in Odysseus Abroad that Amit Chaudhuri is attempting to make a “bridge” between the high culture of classical literature and the low culture of the mundane and dull lives of ordinary folks. In an interview he gave to he Hindu in Nov 2014 he said, “plot is an overrated device”. ( http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/i-am-drawn-to-the-quirky-by-vaishna-roy/article6555245.ece )

2014 has been a prolific year for Amit Chaudhuri. What will 2015 bring?

3 January 2015 

 

Press Release, Literary event, Embassy of Ireland, India ( 16 Oct 2014)

Press Release, Literary event, Embassy of Ireland, India ( 16 Oct 2014)

Press Release

(L-R) Paro Anand, Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, Amandeep Sandhu, Samanth Subramanian and H.E. Ambassador Feilim McLaughlin

(L-R) Paro Anand, Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, Amandeep Sandhu, Samanth Subramanian and H.E. Ambassador Feilim McLaughlin

On Thursday, 16 Oct 2014, H.E. Ambassador Feilim McLaughlin of Ireland hosted a literary soiree at his residence. It was organized to commemorate the centenary of World War I.  The event consisted of an exhibition on the Irish poet W.B. Yeats and a panel discussion on “Conflict and Literature”. The panelists were three Indian authors/journalists—Paro Anand, Samanth Subramanian and Amandeep Sandhu and the discussion was moderated by Ambassador McLaughlin. Ambassador of Ireland Feilim McLaughlin said the event was intended to explore the role of the writer in portraying or interpreting conflict, drawing parallels between the experience in Ireland and South Asia. The evening was curated by Jaya Bhattacharji Rose.

Panel discussion on "Conflict and Literature", moderated by H.E. Ambassador Feilim McLaughlin

Panel discussion on “Conflict and Literature”, moderated by H.E. Ambassador Feilim McLaughlin

It was a one-of-a-kind evening with the lovely ambience and Irish music playing in the background. The three panelists were authors who had lived, worked with or interviewed persons in conflict zones in different parts of South Asia. Their personal stories and reading of relevant portions from their published works were straight from the heart. The invitees were handpicked. The three Indian authors who spoke were Paro Anand whose YA novel No Guns at My Son’s Funeral is being turned into a film; Amandeep Sandhu, author of the critically acclaimed testimonial fiction Roll of Honour and Samanth Subramanian who has recently published The Divided Island, reportage from Sri Lanka. The select audience were mesmerized silent by the readings and interaction ofAt the Irish Embassy, New Delhi. 16 Oct 2014 the authors. Several shed a tear or two. Most had a lump in their throat. The topics or narrated experiences hit a raw chord in many, especially those with a background or family from Partition, ’84 riots and communal conflicts. Author, Dr Kimberley Chawla says, “In this day and age, one tends to forget or ignore conflict past or present that may be occurring just a few hundred kilometres away, but it continues to be relevant. This literary event brought it right back home and reminded all present how lucky we were to have what we have and that we or our families managed to survive.” Many in the audience were seen congratulating the Irish embassy for pulling off such a topic which actually left the audience sentimental and empathic and there were no accusatory or aggressively political arguments or comparisons with other countries.  Remarkably there was pin drop silence throughout the event.

Keki Daruwalla, Novelist, Poet and Chairperson, DSC Literature Prize 2014: “I feel it was a very fine evening. The Ambassador Mr. Feilim McLaughlin had done his homework. (One normally doesn’t see Their Excellencies getting into the nitty-gritty of a cultural event). The mix was perfect with Paro Anand speaking of the handicapped children. It was very moving. Amandeep Sandhu spoke of 1984. Wish he had read more from his book.”

M. A. Sikandar, Director, NBT ( National Book Trust of India) “A wonderful evening with Authors who highlighted the flip side if real India. I amazed by the intense of reading by these authors who are from diverse background and culture. Credit goes to the Irish Ambassador and Jaya.”

Paro Anand : “Trying to make sense of a long ago war through today’s conflicts brought three writers together. IN the peace of Delhi’s Diplomatic Enclave, we wove words of wars and conflicts that do and don’t belong to us….each telling of our engagement with wars without as much as within. It was a journey that none of us would choose to make, but most of us have to.”

Amandeep Sandhu: “it was a brilliant evening curated by Jaya Bhattacharji Rose and hosted by the Irish Ambassador. I loved that I could meet and converse with a variety of writers, artists and people. I hope we have more such events in which we can discuss art and literature which is relevant to our times.”

Samanth Subramanian: “The event was a wonderful way to discuss the specificities of some conflicts, with the knowledge throughout that all conflicts have so much that in common. Even as we remember the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, we find its themes playing out in the world around us today.”

For more information, please contact:

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, jayabhattacharjirose@gmail.com

 *****

The featured panellists:

Paro Anand is one of India’s top writers. Best known for her writings for young adults, she has always pushed boundaries and challenged preconceived notions of the limits of writings for young people. She has been described as a fearless writer with a big heart. She works extensively for young people in difficult circumstances, especially with orphans of separatist violence in Kashmir. Using literature as a creative outlet, she provided a platform for the traumatized young to express their grief in ways that they had been unable to before. This release gave them the ability to move beyond and look into their future, instead of staying frozen in their very violent past. One of the over-riding feelings she came away with was the need to tell these stories to a wider audience and thus bring the alienated back into the mainstream consciousness.

Samanth Subramanian is a New Delhi-based writer and journalist. He has written op-eds and reportage for the New Yorker, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and book reviews and cultural criticism for the New Republic, the Guardian and Book forum. His first book, a collection of travel essays titled “Following Fish: Travels Around the Indian Coast,” was published in India in 2010 and in the United Kingdom in 2013. “Following Fish” won the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize in 2010 and was shortlisted for the Andre Simon Book Award in 2013. Subramanian received a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Pennsylvania State University and a Master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University. He has lived in the United Kingdom, India, Indonesia, the United States and Sri Lanka. “This Divided Island: Stories from the Sri Lankan War,” his second book, was published in July.

Amandeep Sandhu is currently a Fellow at Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart, Germany (2013-15) working on his third novel which deals with how art shapes the historiography of a land. His Master of Arts, English Literature (1994-96) was from the University of Hyderabad and Diploma in Journalism (1997-98) from the Asian School of Journalism. In the late 1990s he was a journalist with The Economic Times. He has been a Technical Writer with top Information Technology companies for more than a decade: Novell, Oracle and Cadence Design systems. Over the last few years he has been actively reviewing books for The Hindu, The Asian Age, The Indian Express, BusinessWorld and writing a column in Tehelka on issues related to Punjab.

21 Oct 2014

Literati: Memoirs (5 October 2014)

Literati: Memoirs (5 October 2014)

Jaya Bhattacharji RoseMy monthly column in the Hindu Literary Review was published online on 4 October 2014 and in print on 5 October 2014. Here is the url  http://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/a-look-at-the-world-of-books-publishing-and-writers/article6471249.ece . I am also c&p the text below. 

Memoir is specifically an individual remembering their life as well as a period. It does not have a single narrative nor is it a teleological narrative as an epic is—it is episodic and a collection of personal anecdotes that the memoirist chooses to recall and share publicly. Ian Jack wrote in the Guardian ( 2003): “Writing one’s own personal history used to be called autobiography, Now, more and more, it is called memoir. The two words are often used interchangeably and the boundary between the two forms is fuzzy, but there are differences. An autobiography is usually a record of accomplishment. … The memoir’s ambition is to be interesting in itself, as a novel might be, about intimate, personal experience. It often aspires to be thought of as “literary”, and for that reason borrows many of literature’s tricks – the tricks of the novel, of fiction – because it wants to do more than record the past; it wants to re-create it. If a memoir is to succeed on those terms, on the grounds that all lives are interesting if well-enough realised, the writing has to be good.”

Some of the notable memoirs, each representative of a distinctive subject, in recent months have been Sanjaya Baru’s The Accidental Prime Minister, Damian Barr’s Maggie & Me, Joanna Rakoff’s My Salinger Year, Naseeruddin Shah’s And One Day, Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, Aleksander Hemon’s The Book of My Lives; Pamela Timms’s Korma, Kheer & Kismet: Five Seasons in Delhi, Malala Yousafzai with Patrick McCormackMalala, Indian Voices of the Great War: Soldier’s Letters, 1914-18, David Omissi (editor), Remember the Time: Protecting Michael Jackson in His Final Days, by the singer’s security guards, Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard, with Tanner Colby. The popularity of this genre has had an effect on contemporary writing in that they are in the oral form of storytelling and are dependent upon personal histories. For instance, journalist Marja Mills’s The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee is about the “story of Mill’s friendship with the Lee sisters”, but the author’s note states it is a “work of nonfiction”. A similar book is Veena Venugopal’s brilliant and disturbing The Mother-in-Law, it consists of experiences of daughters-in-law profiling their mothers-in-law to Veena over a series of interviews.

Many novels rely upon autobiographical experiences to create a story but as Akhil Sharma points out, “I think nonfiction requires an absolute commitment to the truth. In non-fiction I need to include things to present the situation and characters in a rounded way. I don’t know if I do that in my novel. Family Life is so completely a story that many boring but very important things were left out. All fiction draws on life but that does not mean all fiction should be viewed as managed non-fiction.”

The fact is memoirs sell at a brisk pace for traditional publishers and constitutes a large chunk of self-published books. On digital platforms too— Facebook status updates, longreads and blogs— posts that are read and discussed animatedly are those written from a personal point of view. For instance Sudhanva Deshpande’s moving tributes uploaded on to his Facebook wall as he watched his father, the noted Marathi playwright, G. P. Deshpande, lie in a coma or Vandana Singh’s blog post “Some musings on diversity in SF” about travel writing and scifi.  In fact, Andrew Stauffer of Book Traces (a crowd sourced web project to find drawings, marginalia, photos and anything else in copies of 19th and early 20th century books) says “It’s certainly true that readers used the margins of their books for a kind of journaling and memoir-writing, in the quasi-private, quasi-public space of the domestic book. I don’t know if that obviates the desire for long-form memoirs. You might think about our current digital culture of commenting and liking online, and how that incremental curation of a persona is a stand-in for autobiography.”

This raises the question of how do we classify biographies such as A.N. Wilson’s splendid Queen Victoria that draws heavily upon the Queen’s personal correspondence and diaries, making her at times speak in her own words—is it a memoir as well? But as Diana Athill, legendary editor who wrote an essay in the Guardian recently about death, while reflecting upon an incident from her childhood involving her mother says, “It was a shock to come up so suddenly against the fact that what to me was history, to her was just something from the day before yesterday.” For me this is the prime objective of a memoir—making the past accessible through a personal account.

6 October 2014

“Looking for Jesus, the man” ( An interview with Reza Aslan, the Hindu, 16 Nov 2013)

“Looking for Jesus, the man” ( An interview with Reza Aslan, the Hindu, 16 Nov 2013)

I was asked by the Hindu to interview Reza Aslan. Earlier this year he published Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. It was released in India by HarperCollins in Sept 2013. The interview that was conducted via email has been published online on 16 Nov 2013 and in the paper edition on 17 Nov 2013. Here is the url http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/looking-for-jesus-the-man/article5357812.ece?homepage=true . I am c&p the text below. ) 

Reza AslanDr. Reza Aslan on why he wrote his new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.

Dr. Reza Aslan, an internationally acclaimed writer and scholar of religions, is the author ofZealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, which was in the news a few months ago and also reached the number one slot on The New York Times Bestseller List.

He is the founder of AslanMedia.com, an online journal and co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of BoomGen Studios, an entertainment brand for creative content from and about the Greater Middle East. His first book No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, was translated into 13 languages. His other works include How to Win a Cosmic War(published in paperback as Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in a Globalized Age) and Tablet and Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East and Muslims and Jews in America: Commonalties, Contentions, and Complexities.

Excerpts from an interview:

How long did it take you to write this book?

I have been researching for more than two decades, ever since I began my academic work on the New Testament as an undergraduate at Santa Clara University in California. Of course the quest for the historical Jesus has been going on for 200 years. Countless scholars and academics have written about the Jesus of history. The methodology for that is more or less written in stone by this point. I have distilled these two centuries of debate and analysis and rendered it in an appealing and accessible way for a general audience.

What was the target audience you had in mind?

I wanted to give those who worship Jesus as God a different perspective of him as a man. Of course, Christians believe that Jesus was both God and man, yet they rarely understand the implications of that belief. If Jesus was also a man, it means he lived in a specific time and place, and that time and place shaped who he was. This book is an introduction to that time and place. But I also wanted to write to a non-Christian audience to help explain why, 2000 years later, this man and his teachings and actions are still so significant.

Has your upbringing influenced your thinking?

My upbringing taught me to take faith seriously, to respect it and not denigrate it, even when I am questioning some of the most fundamental tenets of that faith.

What was the most surprising thing that you discovered?

I suppose the most surprising thing about Jesus and his time was just how many other messiahs there were around the first century, many of whom were far more popular and far more successful in their lifetime than Jesus was.

What is the difference, if any, between the men who claimed to be messiahs in Jesus’ time and the many god men (across religions) today?

I suppose if you believe that all religious experience is a matter of the psyche, then there is not much of a difference.

In the “Author’s Note, you state that you “have chosen not to delve too deeply into the so-called Gnostic gospels… they do not shed much light on the historical Jesus himself”. But did not the Gnostic gospels actually reveal much more about the man we know as Christ, including that he probably belonged to the Essene sect? So would not a close reading have helped you “reclaim” the historical Jesus before he became synonymous with Christianity?

The Gnostic Gospels were written in the second and third centuries. While they shed light on the enormous diversity of Christianity in the years following the death of Jesus, they do not give us much information about the historical Jesus himself. Neither does the Gospel of John, which by the way was written between 100 and 120 A.D. These texts are simply too late to be of much use to those looking for the Jesus of history.

The Jews attached great importance to writing things down. Yet the testaments were written only some 70 years after Jesus’ death. Muhammad knew the importance of writing things down, yet the Quran ended up being a careful reconstruction of his words. In your opinion, why isn’t there a Book of Jesus?

Mostly because nobody could have written it. Jesus and his disciples were Galilean peasants. None of them could read or write.

Was your choice of Christ as a subject a natural result of being a scholar of religion or did it have something to do with the number of books on the topic, including Philip Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ and Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary?

I think Jesus has always been an interesting character and always will be. While some argue that there has been a sudden flood of books about Jesus recently, the truth is that such books have been appearing every few years for some time.

Do you think that the days when men could start major world religions are over?

On the contrary, take Mormonism, which is only 150 years old and already a major world religion. I think the same could be said about Scientology one day. Religions are born all the time. Who knows which one will be seen as “great” one day?

Reza Aslan Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth Harper Element, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers India, Delhi, 2013. Hb. pp. 300. Rs. 499

Ashim Choudhury’s “The Sergeant’s Son”, Review, publ in The Hindu Literary Supplement

Ashim Choudhury’s “The Sergeant’s Son”, Review, publ in The Hindu Literary Supplement

The Sergeant's Son, Ashim Choudhury( My review of Ashim Choudhury’s The Sergeant’s Son has been published in the print edition of the Hindu Literary Supplement today. Here is the link: http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-literaryreview/narrow-little-lives/article5080469.ece . The review is also given below.)

There came a time when the Biswas children were tired of living in Miltry Camp, particularly after Ashok and Nimmi moved out to another part of the camp, far away from where they lived. After that Major Xavier was posted out, taking with him Peter and Benny, the only officers’ children whom they played with. … By now they were among the oldest residents of the camp, but with so many newcomers they sometimes felt like strangers.

The Sergeant’s Son is exactly what the title suggests; the story of Kalu, Sergeant Samar Biswas’s son. Narrated by Kalu, the third of four brothers, the book details his life from his birth in Barrackpore till his departure to Kanpur to join the Air Force as a Radio Telephone Operator. The book, set between mid-1960s and 1977, is about an ordinary life in the Air Force. The children study in the nearest school; their mother, Basanti imposes a strict routine supervising their grooming, meal times, and homework every single day and insisting on prayers every Thursday evening. Their dour father is the disciplinarian whom they dread since he is not averse to beating the sons mercilessly, especially the renegade eldest Taposh or Borda, with a “shoe that was handy or a leather belt that been specially ordered for the purpose.”

The story documents the narrow little lives that the Biswases share with the other “migratory birds” of the Air Force station. A bunch of characters waft in and out of the book, never to appear again — many of the playmates at the station, other personnel like Corporal Dhar and his wife, Kakima, Mathew Uncle, the Vermas, the Anglo-Indian family called Sampios or the teachers like “Blanch teacher” and “Karachi teacher”, and the women who clean the bathrooms. Kalu even describes the few early sexual encounters with Bimla Devi, the maid who seduced him when he was alone at home and with his classmate Amit. Later the Std. IX geometry teacher, Mr. Shankar, assaults Kalu in a drunken stupor.

For someone who speaks and writes English well, a fact acknowledged even by his teachers, Kalu’s obsession with the language is trying. His discomfort presumably stems from the fact that his competence at the language masks his social class but his origins still make him insecure. In Bombay, Kalu and his siblings feel inferior to the five Sampio children even though they never went to school. Since they “spoke the Queen’s Language no one could think poorly of them.” In Allahabad, Kalu “was never truly part of the English-speaking gang. He hovered on its periphery — a low-caste pretending to be a Brahmin; or more appropriately, a soldier’s son trying to mix with officers’ children. The gang mostly consisted of defence officers’ children.” But he realises that his ability to speak fluent English “gave him a passport”, probably to improve his status in life.

A first novel tends to have autobiographical elements in it but the preoccupation with that seems to be the trademark of much Indian fiction in English, with the writer inevitably getting absorbed in minute details. The Sergeant’s Son is no different but it is a story told competently.

1 Sept 2013 

Shovon Chowdhury, “The Competent Authority” ( A review)

Shovon Chowdhury, “The Competent Authority” ( A review)

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( My review of The Competent Authority has been published in the Hindu Literary Review. 4 Aug 2013. Here is the url. http://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/a-satire-like-no-other/article4985460.ece )

The Competent Authority is the head of the Civil Services of India and operates from New New Delhi. He is ‘temporarily’ in charge of all systems while the country is being “reconstructed” after the last war that occurred a decade ago and wiped out large chunks of the nation and made Bengal a protectorate of the Chinese. “As a humble servant of the people, he was anonymous” and does not wish to be recognised by anyone, save for a handful of people with whom it is imperative he interact. It is a bizarre society that he is at the pinnacle of.

The haves (inevitably filthy rich, with oodles of political clout, and shamelessly corrupt) live in the Dead Circle. The less fortunate human beings were relegated to a ghetto called Shanti Nagar. It was rumoured that they were diseased and unhappy mutants. Ever so often the Bank of Bodies (‘we don’t just repair bodies, we enhance them’) emissaries — the Medical Military Commandos — would swoop down upon Shanti Nagar inhabitants (‘donors’) to harvest body parts; usually ‘when some rich bastard wanted an urgent replacement’. In the next step of evolution for the firm, the board of directors wanted to progress from imparting Medical Joy to Religious Joy, by co-opting their ‘logical ally… Dharti Pakar of the Art of Breathing’.

In this charming mix of despots and maniacs also exist Hemonto Chatterjee, a telepath tester; Pintoo who donated a hand to Pappu Verma, the sweet but spoilt brat of Sameer Verma; Ali of the Al Qaeda; and Pande, the policeman. The chorus consists of a potpourri of characters, ranging from the eunuch Shanti Bai (who founded Shanti Nagar); Banani Chatterjee, the English school teacher who accidentally becomes Pintoo’s local guardian; Taru da the true-blue politician; and Mehta, the Competent Authority’s aide; No. 2 at Bank of Bodies, and so on.

The Competent Authority is a satire like none other by contemporary Indian authors writing in English (except perhaps for Ruchir Joshi’s The Last Jet-Engine Laugh). It is packed with detail and the reader is expected to engage with the script to appreciate the full import of what is being described or alluded to. Having a fair knowledge of geo-politics of the Indian sub-continent certainly helps enhance the pleasure of reading this novel. For instance, the completely colourless CA could belong to any party or ideology. The fact that he exists is frightening. Some of the grim issues that the novel deals with are political puppetry, organ harvesting, communalism, the impact of conflicts, privatisation, eternal debates on capitalism vs communism, and an investigation into the notion of a Nation State. But the humorous manner in which the author weaves the tale ensures that it is not a tedious read.

Shovon Chowdhury is an ad man who has a way with words. He is able to tell a story competently, with a detached sense of cynicism and despair about the crumbling of a secular democracy. It is an enjoyable novel as long as details like the disappearance of Sameer Verma do not annoy one.

Orijit Sen’s mural on Punjab

Orijit Sen’s mural on Punjab

Orijit Sen's mural

Well known artist Orijit Sen’s mural of life in Punjab is awe-inspiring. The digital mural, arranged almost like a street-view map, spans across two walls. Every inch of it is covered with people, buildings, fields of rice and wheat, roads, shops, houses, trees, water bodies, even temples as he tries to capture the social fabric of the state.

The mural was originally made for the Virasat-e-Khalsa, a multi-media museum and cultural centre in Anandpur Sahib and took a few years to complete.

Through the mural, the artist wishes to capture the indomitable spirit of the Punjabis as they face and live through the changes that their lives have gone through over the years as dams were built over rivers, fields replaced forests and globalisation began to creep in.”

An article in the Hindu about it ( 19 April 2012):

And writer, Amandeep Sandhu’s reply to this post, when I put it up on my facebook page ( 29 May 2013)

“Thanks Jaya. I was at Anandpur Sahib last summer and had the opportunity to see Orijit and team’s work. The mural is excellent, its attention to detail is superb. It is an brilliant socio-anthropological work of art. Respect! My problem with the museum is a) the maintenance of Orijit’s work, b) that the sections of the museum which talk about the Sikh Gurus (after Orijit’s sections) posit that the real history of Punjab starts with the birth of Guru Nanak and pay only a brief lip service to the period of the Harrapan-Mohenjodaro Indus valley civilization, the Vedas, the 5000 year rich cultural history of the land. One can understand that the museum is Virasat-e-Khalsa, the culture of the Khalsa, but given how hundreds of visitors come to the museum each day it is an opportunity missed in providing a composite, holistic view of society.”

Orijit Sen replied to Amandeep Sandhu on 29 May 2013

“Amandeep, your comments are very perceptive. Its true that a splendid opportunity to celebrate the amazingly rich history of the region has been compromised for short sighted political reasons. I wish it could have been done differently.”

Uploaded on 29 May 2013, Orijit Sen’s comments added on 30 May 2013.

Of literary prizes – the Hindu Lit Prize, Folio Prize and Women’s Prize for Fiction

Of literary prizes – the Hindu Lit Prize, Folio Prize and Women’s Prize for Fiction

The Hindu Lit Prize 2013 announced its call for submissions a few days ago. Interestingly enough it is very clear in stating that self-published books do not qualify. This, at a time, when the Folio Prize was launched earlier this year, making it clear “The Folio Prize is open to all works of fiction written in English and published in the UK. All genres and all forms of fiction are eligible. The format of first publication may be print or digital.” It does not exclude self-published books. Hmmm. Anyway, these are two literary prizes worth watching. ( http://www.thefolioprize.com/the-prize)

And here is the link to the Women’s Prize for Fiction (earlier known as the Orange Prize) to a Google+ hangout they organised. It was a masterclass on how to get published. https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=CKANmjsX6jU

Walking with the Lions: Tales from a Diplomatic Past, K. Natwar Singh

Walking with the Lions: Tales from a Diplomatic Past, K. Natwar Singh

Yesterday the Hindu carried an extract from diplomat and retired politician K Natwar Singh’s latest publication on his meeting former UK prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. ( www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/thatcher-chandraswami-and-i/article4595546.ece ). It is a delight to read. Natwar Singh is a good storyteller. The book Walking with the Lions: Tales from a Diplomatic Past, has been published by HarperCollins India. I am looking forward to reading more from this book. (I hope it will live up to its expectation of being a good book.)

Natwar Singh has been writing for many years about his meetings with literary giants, in India and abroad. For instance this book ( Profiles and Letters by K. Natwar Singh; published by Sterling Publishers Private Limited, New Delhi, 1997) excerpt published in the Frontline in 1997 ( http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl1425/14250850.htm ) is about his having met E. M. Forster and R. K. Narayan. Natwar Singh has written often about his meetings with writers, publishers etc, many of whom he was fortunate to meet on his travels and postings. So I am pleased that publishers have begun to anthologise Mr Natwar Singh’s writings.

K. Natwar Singh Walking with the Lions: Tales from a diplomatic past HarperCollins India Original. Pb. pp. 224. Rs. 299

The Economics Of Electronic Content: If the e-content falters or is under-par, it will not translate into a sustainable business model

The Economics Of Electronic Content: If the e-content falters or is under-par, it will not translate into a sustainable business model


( “PubSpeak” My column on publishing in BusinessWorld online. 22 March 2013)

few weeks ago educational researcher and professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University, UK, Dr Sugata Mitra won the $1 million TED grant for his ‘Hole-In-The-Wall’ project. It basically promotes the concept of school in the cloud (web) relying on the premise that in the absence of supervision or formal teaching students will discover good content, share, discuss and teach others too. It is based on his experiments conducted in 1999 at Kalkaji, an urban slum in New Delhi. Mitra and his colleagues dug a hole in a wall bordering the slum, installed an internet-connected PC, and left it there (with a hidden camera filming the area). What they saw was kids from the slum playing around with the computer and in the process learning how to use it and how to go online, and then teaching each other. Such is the nature of technology that children relatively unexposed to the internet and computers were able to operate and learn to work with the technology.

The outcome of the experiment points towards one direction – the need for availability of reliable and relevant content. The importance and demand of good and reliable content in education is evident in the alacrity with which SmartClasses were adopted in India. The vendors, who were keen to sell computer hardware and claim they have “content for KG till 12 Std”, had a strong USP -– make the information electronically available would help their students in learning. According to a proposal letter from a Delhi-based vendor says they offer to set up SmartClasses and a Knowledge Centre and they have done so in over 10,000 schools across India. Recently there has been some information circulating that this large firm responsible for introducing smart classes is floundering since the veracity and quality of the content it offers is questionable. Schools are getting out of these alliances after 2-3 years of getting into the partnerships.

The ‘E’ Landscape
Sure, the market for e-content is growing. However, to get a definite figure for the size of the edu-content market is difficult. Perhaps these numbers and facts will help us imagine the landscape and possibilities in the ‘E’ economics. The literacy rate for the Indian population is 74.02 per cent (2011), up by 9 per cent from the previous decade. Of this 40 per cent of the population is below the age of 30, where 200 million children are under the age of 18 and 69 million of them reside in urban areas. The book market is estimated to be between Rs 10,000-12,000 crore in value with over 18,000 publishers doing business in the country. and you will perhaps even plan on setting up shop for e-content. Moreover, the publishing industry is growing at a rate of 30 per cent as per recent Ficci estimates.

Now, let’s go over the statistics on the electronic part of the content. The O’Reilly Global eBook Market’s (Feb 2013) says the ebook market in India is expected to be less than 1 per cent of the total book market, though this too is expected to grow by 20-25 per cent in the next 2-3 years.

Almost all of the online educational content and digital books are currently in English. According to PrintWeek India “In the last five years, digital printing industry has grown by approximately 21.6 per cent and over the next five years it is expected to expand by 23.6 per cent. There is a growth of 73 per cent in textbook printing in the last five years in India.”

The government of India is leading several initiatives to promote digital literacy and provide access to digital content at school and college levels. National-level missions such as the Rs 4612 crore ($859 million) National Mission on Education through ICT (NME-ICT) have been introduced. The NME-ICT is working in collaboration with other related missions and schemes—National Knowledge Network, Scheme of ICT in Schools, National Translation Mission, and the Vocational Education Mission. The idea behind the initiative, according to a report published in The Hindu (7 January 2009,http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/holnus/001200901021501.htm), is to work towards creating personalised and interactive knowledge module for students.

India’s education sector, moreover, is set to increase to Rs 602,410 crore ($109.84 billion) by FY15 due to the expected strong demand for quality education going by a recent report issued by India Ratings, a Fitch Group Company. Indian education sector’s market size in FY12 is estimated to be Rs 341,180 crore and the market for content forms a key chunk of this pie. The sector grew at a compounded annual growth rate of 16.5 per cent during FY05-FY12. The higher education (HE) segment was at 34.04 per cent ($17.02billion) of the total size in FY10 and grew by a CAGR of 18.13 per cent during FY04-FY10.

The Fitch report also said that it has a stable outlook on the Indian education sector which includes both school and higher education. Hence it is not surprising that content service providers and publishers future strategies are based on how to capitalise this sector. For instance, in Jan 2013 it was announced that HarperCollins India would be launching a new educational division in India. Collins India in a press note said the English-language schools textbook market in India currently stood at more that £150m, more than the market size in the UK, and is expected to grow further. Similarly Wiley India launched its Authorship Development Roadshow to get quality content in Bangalore and Chennai.

Now link all this to the demand from thousands of schools for e-content in India, and perhaps you will immediately think of registering a company and learning the ropes of the business to supply content. And competition already exists in the form of the education sector (K-12, higher education and academic) who were the early adopters of e-learning and e-content have company — the trade publishers too have joined the ‘E’ game.

But it’s not just competition that could prove a bugbear to your prospective firm. The vendor should find out if the content he is providing to schools is legitimate and importantly if it is suitable to the recipients.

With the tablet and smartphones boom in India, convergence is inevitable. However offering good content then becomes a prerequisite. As Thomas Abraham, managing director with Gurgaon-based Hachette India says, “Where trade (non academic books, literary fiction, self help, mind, body and spirit lists) books are concerned, 90 per cent of revenues come from the straight text flows of narrative fiction or non-fiction — the printed page moving on to the screen.”

Content Is Still King
One of the five publishing predictions for 2013 made at international publishing conferences at the start of the year is reiteration of the fact that content will be king. This is the future of publishing. If content falters or is under-par, it will not translate into a sustainable business model. It does not matter if the service provider is a trade publisher for fiction and non-fiction books or an education publisher for creating textbooks, everyone has to focus on creating good, reliable and authentic content.

Today there are slight shifts noticed in the nomenclature being used to offer content. Well-established publishing firms whose focus is education prefer to no longer be identified as publishers instead as educational service providers. Others will prefer to use terms like “content management” and “curriculum development”. Trade publishers, whose prime focus in their children’s list is to create fiction and non-fiction, recognising the need for offering reliable and branded content in educational institutions are now expanding their lists to include grammar books, elocution speeches and quiz books written by “branded” names or those who are willing to lend names. Everyone recognises the market and its potential, so it does make strategic sense to tweak existing lists and offer it in any format: print, digital or audio. Or as was said at the ‘If Book Then’ conference, Milan (19 March 2013) “data is the new oil of xxi century”.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an international publishing consultant and columnist