UPES is the university where I teach at the School of Modern Media. It has this incredible library that Prabhjot Kaur visited earlier this month. She made this Facebook post recently. As a librarian herself, her generous appreciation of another institutional library is very kind. On this magnificent floor that she has photographed, there is a special corner of books that is named after me. It consists of books and periodicals that I have either donated or recommended. The SOMM management surprised me by instituting the “Jaya Bhattacharji Rose” corner.
The section in my name was very kindly established by Dr Nalin Mehta, Dean and Dr Sanjeev Singh, Associate Dean, School of Modern Media, UPES. It was inaugurated in August 2022 in the presence of the Chief Information Commissioner, Uday Mahurkar and Karthika, Publisher, Westland, a division of Pratilipi.
Book Post 48 includes some of the titles received in the past few weeks. Wherever available Amazon’s Kindle widget has been embedded in the blog post. It will allow you to browse through the book before you decide to buy it.
The Jaipur Bookmark is a business conclave held during the Jaipur Literature Festival. In fact it begins a day before the litfest is inuagurated. It is a fantastic space for publishing professionals to congregate from around the world and discuss new trends and share ideas and experiences. On the third day of the conclave, Friday 25 Jan 2019, I moderated a session on “Indies vs Giants”. The scope of the discussion was: “Independent publishers with lower overheads are finding their niche position in the publishing industry around the world, even as publishing giants are consolidating their positions. This session talks about creative risk taking and the tools brave, new publishers adopt.” The panellists were publishers Vera Michalski-Hoffman (Libella group), Karthika VK ( Westland/Amazon), Jeremy Trevathan (Macmillan), and Anna Solding (Midnight Sun Publishing). Vera Michalski-Hoffman also delivered the keynote address and with her kind permission it is reproduced here.
Born in Basel, Switzerland, in a family with Swiss, Russian and Austrian roots, Vera Michalski-Hoffmann spent her childhood in France, studied in Spain and has a degree in Political Science from the Graduate institute of International Studies in Geneva. She established a foundation named after her late husband, The Jan Michalski Foundation for Literature and Writing to actively support literary activities in different countries. She is now the publisher of the Libella group that comprises the following imprints: In France: Buchet/Chastel, Phébus, Le temps apprivoisé, les Cahiers dessinés, Libretto. In Switzerland: Noir sur Blanc, with a new line called Notabilia, Editions Favre. And in Poland: Oficyna Literacka Noir sur Blanc. She also acquired The Polish Bookshop in Paris.
Vera Michalski’s tremendous
work in supporting literature with the establishment of Libella group and it’s acquisitions of fine independent
publishing firms have ultimately benefitted the fine stable of authors as is
noticeable with World Editions and it’s
recent expansion plans. “The group is unique in its total financial independence and the diversity of its editorial
production: French and foreign literature, travel stories, essays, documents,
music, ecology, illustrated books and creative hobbies. Priority is given to
quality, especially to the quality of writing.”
I thought that I
would focus my speech on the specificities of Libella, being neither a giant
nor obviously an Indie so that this case study of an untypical small publishing
house evolving into a publishing group publishing in 3 different languages
could form a sort of starting point for our discussion.
Let me tell you
the story of how this independent group came into existence by a succession of
launching new imprints and acquiring existing ones and what fields it covers now,
naturally mentioning the Indian or Jaipur connection when appropriate. Forgive
me for not respecting a strict chronology for it is a complicated story
unfolding in different territories.
The whole story
started in 1987 in Switzerland when my husband and I opened les éditions Noir sur Blanc, a niche publisher aiming at bringing mostly Polish and Russian authors
to the French-speaking market (France,
Belgium, Quebec, Switzerland) and covering both fiction and non-fiction. This
was before the fall of the Berlin Wall so not that obvious. Later we covered
other fields, like narrative history and published quite a few Jaipur regulars such
as William Dalrymple, Giles Milton, or Anthony Sattin. We now bring out as well
illustrated books mainly about drawing and photography. A total of over 400
We soon decided
that it was important to publish in Polish as well and opened a Polish branch
in 1989 where we started by introducing famous international authors into
Poland that were then still unpublished. Charles Bukowski, Henry Miller, Paul
Auster, to name just a few. We published Umberto Eco’s novels and brought out
detective stories with a travel angle. The likes of Donna Leon, Manuel Vázquez
Montalbán, and Andrea Camilleri were unknown then. We have published so far
well over 500 books in Polish.
Still in Poland
but later, in 2002, Wydawnictwo
Literackie, one of the most literary publishing houses founded in
1953 under communist rule and still
state owned, came up for sale in the frame of privatization. We stepped in.
That magnificent company’s list and backlist never cease to amaze me. Let’s
mention just a few names: Margaret Atwood, Jorge Luis Borges, Claudio Magris, Alice
Munro, and Orhan Pamuk. Not to mention the best of Polish literature with names
such as Olga Tokarczuk, recent winner of the Man booker International,Witold
Gombrowicz, or Szcepan Twardoch.
In the year 2000,
in Paris, we had acquired Buchet/Chastel, a literary publisher established in 1929, a well-regarded
publisher of fiction. This allowed us to touch French literature which we were
very keen to do, alongside some significant international authors. Buchet had
been the publisher of Malcolm Lowry, Lawrence Durrell, or Henry Miller to mention
just a few names. However, in 2000, Buchet /Chastel was well past its glory.
People called it “La belle endormie” in reference to the famous tale Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault, but
remembered the iconic bright orange covers.
It made for a real
challenge to bring it back to the forefront of literary life. We hired editors
for the different lines we wanted to exist: French literature, world
literature, non-fiction. We then took a good look at the impressive backlist
and decided what directions we wanted to keep. The founder of Buchet /Chastel,
Edmond Buchet was a keen musician and a rather good pianist. He had made
friends with a number of famous musicians among them Yehudi Menuhin. He
published quite a few books about music. We decided to maintain that line. We
opened new fields and started an environmental series. France was then not very
receptive to these topics, the field being covered mostly by very politicized
books on the verge of pamphlets, on marginal topics. Nobody was focusing on
important issues and providing objective material, food for thought so to
speak, which we aimed at doing. We decided as well to keep the famous orange
covers that people remembered modernizing them by using a different cover paper
and different typo. Because we all know that we should not throw out the baby with
the bath water! Sometimes there needs to be a sort of continuity. Over the
years, we published quite a few Indian writers, in fiction and non-fiction,
among them our biggest success was Tarun Tejpal, (The Alchemy of Desire). Our list boasts as well with Aravind Adiga
(The White Tiger), Suketu Mehta, Rana
Dasgupta, Gurcharan Das, Pankaj Mishra etc.
2000, we had acquired les éditions
Phébus, a house founded in 1978,
with an excellent reputation especially in foreign literature and stories of
great explorers, or rediscovered classics, as Alexandre Dumas’s Le Chevalier de Saint Hermine. Phébus
had created a paperback imprint a few years before under the name Libretto, now
a very important part of the Libella group.
In 2003 we opened
a brand new field, drawing, and started publishing big format soft cover beige
albums typeset in a classical elegant way and printed on quality paper under
the name Les Cahiers dessinés. The aim was to bring back drawing to its rightful
place as one of the important disciplines of art alongside painting or
sculpture. We now have more than 100 titles in our backlist and some books sold
quite well, like Alberto Giacometti’s Paris
represented in the Libella group by 2 imprints: Photosynthèses which was started from scratch in 2013 in Arles, in
the south of France, (the first book published in 2014 was Lou Reed’s Rhymes). Every
book is considered unique and different formats co-exist in the list. They are
printed with the utmost care. Libella acquired editions Robert Delpire, founded in 1951, when the founder chose to retire a few years ago. We
are gradually opening the list to new authors while remaining careful not to
alter the excellent image the house has enjoyed in the past with famous authors
such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Josef Koudelka, or Robert Franck. Under these
new circumstances, we reacted quickly when the gallery adjoining the Delpire
office became available. We relabeled it FOLIA, a name that seemed to reconcile
book and image, and produce now 5 exhibitions a year showing both our authors’ work
and others whose work fits into the concept. The aim is to show photography
with a literary angle.
Another line in
Libella needs to be mentioned, practical books under the imprint Le Temps apprivoisé, a part of
Buchet Chastel when we acquired it. We
decided to keep it in spite of a relative distance to the main part of the
catalogue and a sector fragilized by the competition with internet sites and
cheap books produced by the giants able to have huge print runs.
development is very important to me. In 2016, World Editions joined Libella and we now publish in English a small
list of 8 books a year under the motto Voices from around the globe. The office
is in Amsterdam. The idea is to help interesting books, often from peripheral
languages, to get access to translations and the world market in an age where
translations, expensive as they are, tend to stick to mainstream authors and
main languages leaving some authors alone.
In between, in
1991, we had intervened in order to prevent the closing of the Polish Bookstore
established in Paris since 1833.This very well located shop, then selling
mostly books in Polish or translated from Polish. It is now a very active
general bookstore. It welcomes any kind of literary event in a part of Paris
where books have sadly given way to clothes in spite of the fact that it was
home to most publishers until recent years saw a consolidation of the industry
bringing about the need for bigger office space that the old district of St.
Germain des Prés could not offer. This happened recently as a result of the
consolidation in the publishing industry, most small literary publishers had to
leave the area to move in with their respective groups often located outside
the historical centre of town. The bookstore and the gallery became an
important part of our publicity and ensure an improved visibility in Paris.
I believe I gave
you the general picture of Libella, a confederation of small almost niche mostly
literary publishers, publishing in 3 languages out of offices in Lausanne,
Paris, Arles, Warsaw, Krakow, Amsterdam and New York.
In spite of our relatively small size, we have a certain complexity, publish over 300 books a year. So where do we stand? Let our discussion clarify that point.
Every Monday I post some of the books I have received in the previous week. This post will be in addition to my regular blog posts and newsletter. Today’s Book Post 24 is after a gap of two weeks as January is an exceedingly busy month with the New Delhi World Book Fair and literary festivals such as the Jaipur Literature Festival.
In today’s Book Post 24 included are some of the titles I received in the past few weeks as well as bought at the book fair and are worth mentioning.
On 4 September 2017, a group of volunteers led by Harsh Mander travelled across eight states of India on a journey of shared suffering, atonement and love in the Karwan e Mohabbat, or Caravan of Love. It was a call to conscience, an attempt to seek out and support families whose loved ones had become victims of hate attacks in various parts of the country. Along the way they met families of victims who had been lynched as well as some of those who had managed to survive the lynching. The bus travelled through the states, meeting with people and listening to their testimonies. It is a searingly painful account of the terror inflicted in civil society that has seen a horrific escalation in recent months.
The book is clearly divided into sections consisting of an account of the journey based upon the daily updates Harsh Mander wrote every night. It is followed by a collection of essays by people who travelled in the bus. There is also a selection of testimonies recorded by journalist Natasha Badhwar of her fellow passengers. Many of whom joined only for a few days but were shattered by what they saw and heard.
Reconciliation is powerful and it is certainly not easy to read knowing full well that this is the violence we live with every day. The seemingly normalcy of activity we may witness in our daily lives is just a mirage for the visceral hatred and hostility that exists for “others”. It is a witnessing of the breakdown of the secular fabric of India and a polarisation along communal lines that is ( for want of a better word) depressing. Given below are a few lines from the introduction written by human rights activist Harsh Mander followed by an extract by Prabhir Vishnu Poruthiyil. Prabhir who was on the bus is an assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Management Tiruchirapalli (IIMT), India. The extract is being used with the permission of the publishers.
Everywhere, the Karwan found minorities living in endemic and lingering fear, and with hate and state violence, resigned to these as normalised elements of everyday living.
Our consistent finding was that families hit by hate violence were bereft of protection and justice from the state. In the case of almost all the fifty-odd families we met during our travel through eight states, the police had registered criminal charges gainst the victims, treating teh accused with kid gloves, leaving their bail applications unopposed, or erasing their crimes altogether.
. . .
More worrying by far was our finding that the police had increasingly taken on the work of lynch mobs. There were tens of instances of the police executing Muslim men, alleging that they were cattle smugglers or dangerous criminals, often claiming that they had fired at the police. Unlike mob lynching, murderous extrajudicial action has barely registered on the national conscience. It is as though marjoritarian public opinion first outsourced its hate violence to lynch mobs, and lynch mobs in BJP-ruled states like UP, Haryana and Rajasthan are now outsourcing it onwards to the police. ( Introduction, p.x-xi)
Prabhir Vishnu Poruthiyil is an assistant professor at theIndian Institute of Management Tiruchirapalli (IIMT), India. He teachesbusiness ethics and his research is focused on the influence of business oninequalities and the rise of religious fundamentalism.
Like many others, I grew up with the usual doseof religiosity and nationalism. But I was also enrolled in a Hindu school (Chinmaya Vidyalaya) that injected an additional dose of Hindu supremacy. Therewas a short phase in my life (jobless, in my mid-twenties) when I went aboutexploring and trying to understand and justify Hinduism. I am the kind of person who tends to immerse himself fully to understand and make sense of theworld. My exploration brought me in close contact with gurus in various ashrams and bhajan groups. I learned Vedic chanting, studied Hindu theology, and even dallied with the idea of becoming a monk. I interacted with groups and individuals committed to Hindutva and attempted to see the world from their perspective (many remain my friends). I could not put my finger on it then, butI was deeply uncomfortable with what I later realised was unadulterated hatred and a stifling resistance to questioning and reason.
Around this time, in 2004, I was admitted into a masters and then a PhD programme in the Netherlands. Lectures by my teachers and exposure to the lives of classmates and refugees with personal experiences of life in theocratic regimes accelerated my disgust with religious nationalism of all kinds. Exposure to liberal political philosophy and to Dutch society made me appreciate the benefits of living in a place run on democratic and rational principles. As my education both in and outside the classroom progressed, my fascination with extreme perspectives rapidly diminished andturned into concern and disgust. It was, however, a visit to Auschwitz in 2012 that made me realise how easy it was for a society to be sufficiently intoxicated by supremacist world views to justify the annihilation of those deemed inferior. That a human tragedy on this scale had happened in the same society that had made incredible contributions to art, philosophy and music was unthinkable.
Over time, I have lost what remains of my beliefin the supernatural and purged myself of superstitions. I would now call myself a rationalist or secular humanist. Ibelieve that the irrationality promoted by religion is a barrier to progress and that religion is unnecessary for morality, and not a guarantee of it.
When I returned to India in 2013 to join the IIM, I did not expect religious nationalism to influence my research in, andteaching of, business ethics. My focus was on inequality. With the BJP’s victory in 2014 and the support of the corporate sector for the party, it became impossible to disentangle business ethics from religious nationalism. Istarted research on a paper on how religious nationalism emerges and whatbusiness schools could do to resist its advance.
When the lynchings began, more than thepsychology of the vigilantes and their victims, my sociological interest waspiqued by the nonchalance and even the endorsement of cow-vigilantism by many people I cared for, particularly among my family, friends, colleagues andstudents. Their unwillingness to recognise bigotry for what it was and rejectpolitical leaders who create an atmosphere of hate resembled the attitudes prevalent in Germany during the Nazi era. It disturbed me deeply to see sectarianism slowly taking hold of persons I loved. I started to worry that the possibility of concentration camps being built in India was no longer a gross exaggeration.
In the meantime, I had initiated a conversation with Harsh Mander. I wished to invite him to give a lecture at the IIM inTrichy. When the Karwan e Mohabbat was announced, I felt it was important to take part. I wanted to see for myself and talk about it to my friends and family and to students in my classes. The experience of looking into the eyesof persons who had lost loved ones was emotionally tough. After each meeting, my mind was constantly wondering how human beings could allow such tragedies to happen. A quote by Gandhi kept ricocheting in my brain: ‘It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings.’
Looking back now, the memories and emotions of my visits to Auschwitz and of the victims of Hindutva are difficult to distinguish. The same helplessness, resentment and fear captured in the countless pictures of Jews subjected to the Holocaust seem to be reflected inthe eyes of the victims of cow-vigilantism. In contemporary India, I worry it may be unnecessary to build a standalone Auschwitz to implement a sectarian agenda. Terror has been decentralised and imposed through a variety of spaces. The entire country now risks being transformed into one large concentration camp.
How do we push back? Being a committed rationalist, my first instinct is to train citizens to use their reasoning and the language of liberalism and human rights to push back against bigotry andreligious nationalism. But the inroads made by Hindu nationalism into thepsyche can make it difficult for liberal vocabularies to reverse. The languageof ‘human rights’ and ‘freedom of speech’ can be branded as alien and hence ridiculed and dismissed. Furthermore, there are studies that show how groups tend to cling more firmly to their beliefs when threatened by outsiders.
Observant Hindus can be convinced more easily that sectarian hate and bigotry goes against the grain of Hinduism. The definition of Hinduism could be expanded to encompass empathy and compassion.This strategy would require formulating something like the liberation theologythat emerged in Latin America to challenge the interlocking interests of thebusiness elite and the top echelons of the Church that perpetuated inequality.
Excerpted with permission from RECONCILIATION:Karwan e Mohabbat’s Journey of Solidarity through a Wounded India, Harsh Mander, Natasha Badhwar and John Dayal, Context, Westland 2018.
Noted Tamil writer Perumal Murugan published two books Poonachi ( published by Westland/ Amazon) and The Goat Thief ( Juggernaut Books ) earlier this year both of which have been translated by N. Kalyan Raman. Poonachi is a fable about a goat by the same name. It is the comeback novel of Perumal Murugan who had sworn never to write again once he had been persecuted by right wing forces. On the face of it is a simple tale about an elderly couple who take in a tiny goat kid with bleak chances of survival. Yet, the old woman nurses Poonachi back to health who goes on to prosper and be quite a boon for the couple. The story has its twists and turns but it is the dark and sinister side of the authoritarian society that comes to the fore when the couple take the goat to be tagged. Similarly the collection of short stories written by Perumal Murugan over the years deals with similar themes of social injustice and inequality experienced particularly by the poor but this time it is an exploration through relationships and not necessarily exploring a broader canvas of society/community or a village as many of his novels tend to explore. Even though Perumal Murugan’s novels are far more expansive and exploratory than his short stories ( judging by whatever little is available as translations in English) his explanation for wading into short fiction mentioned in his introduction to The Goat Thief is worth reading:
Writing a new short story within the universe of the Tamil short story, which has thrived and flourished since the 1930s, can be challenging. More than any other form, it’s the short story that modern Tamil literature has brought off its greatest accomplishments. The number of short stories written in Tamil probably runs into hundreds of thousands; of them, at least several thousand pass muster. Among those, several hundred stand the test of time and endure. If a writer wants to write a short story that will take its place among those hundreds, an independent mind, a unique perspective on life and well-honed writing skills are essential.
When I started writing short stories, I didn’t have any such awareness. As I wrote and read more and more over the years, I became conscious of these requirements. Taking them into consideration, I set aside the problem of form and started paying attention to the theme of the story. I realized all stories fall into one of two categories. The first category focuses on the problems of living according to the rules of society, while the second concentrates on exceptions to these rules. Both strategies have their advantages and disadvantages.
Perumal Murgan of course has become an international ambassador for Indian Literature with his works being sold in various book markets including translations. He has begun to travel extensively on literary programmes. All of which is extremely happy news given that a few years ago he had vowed never to return to writing or have anything to do with literature. So the recent turnaround of events in his favour is very welcoming. His stories are easily read in English for they are smoothly translated.
Sujatha Gidla’s memoir Ants Among Elephants and Baburao Bagul’s When I Hid My Caste are some of the recent publications of Dalit literature published. Interestingly the writers come from different parts of India and different religions but because they share the same “caste” of being a Dalit, their experiences of life and anguish at the shocking social injustice they have witnessed is similar.
Sujatha Gidla’s memoir was launched in USA in 2017 to great critical acclaim for being an unusual piece of writing documenting the horrors of Indian society even in contemporary India. Although Sujatha Gidla has been living in New York for many years and yet the searing pain at the injustices faced at being an “untouchable” or a Dalit in India are unforgettable. Her memoir about her family who despite being Christians faced social ostracism. Once she left for America she was eager to know more about her origins and began to record the testimonies of her family particularly her uncle Satyam. There is an extremely powerful moment in the book when she quotes her uncle, Satyam, remembering an incident soon after Indian Independence was achieved. ‘A short, chubby dark boy …had a strange question for Satyam, one that Satyam had no answer to: “Do you think this independence is for people like you and me?” It is a question that remains to be answered many decades after Independence was achieved. ( Read an extract published in the Literary Hub)
When I Hid My Caste by Baburao Bagul (translated by Jerry Pinto) is a collection of short stories that were previously published in the Marathi literary magazine Navyug. The editor of Navyug Shirish Pai “confesses in her introduction to the Marathi edition of the book that she used to experience joy mixed with fear in anticipation of a Bagul story. The joy came from knowing it would be a good piece of fiction; the fear came from not knowing what the content would be.” This collection of very powerful and unnerving short stories are disturbing to read in English that one cannot help but wonder how powerful must they be in Marathi where possibly even the dialects used are evident. Four stories stand out — “Prisoner of Darkness”, “Streetwalker”, “Revolt” and “When I Hid My Caste” —- that hopefully will be anthologised in other volumes focused on Indian literature.
Sujatha Gidla’s memoir attracted worldwide acclaim quickly becoming of those “must read” books featuring on many reading lists. Undoubtedly it raises some very sharp issues that continue to plague Indian society where casteism unfortunately still prevails yet Ant Among Elephants is not half as gracefully written as some other notable Dalit memoirs. For instance Y. B. Satyanarayana’s My Father Baliah, Bama’s Karukku or even Daya Pawar’s Baluta. But of the books discussed so far the recently released When I Hid My Caste stands out for the grittiness of storytelling evident even in the English translation where interestingly the sub-castes of Dalits are mentioned. There are graphic details of the violence and the horror that the Dalits continue to experience. It is hard to distinguish reality from fiction for many of the stories included in the volume seem to resonate the news published regularly in the media about regular atrocities against Dalits.
These are books that are valuable additions to the landscape of Dalit literature that is fortunately becoming richer and richer with every passing year as newer translations or original writings in English are being made available for a larger audience.