Book Post 40 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.
6 July 2019
Book Post 40 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.
6 July 2019
I recently contributed to How to Get Published in India edited by Meghna Pant. The first half is a detailed handbook by Meghna Pant on how to get published but the second half includes essays by Jeffrey Archer, Twinkle Khanna, Ashwin Sanghi, Namita Gokhale, Arunava Sinha, Ravi Subramanian et al.
Here is the essay I wrote:
AS LONG as I can recall I have wanted to be a publisher. My first ‘publication’ was a short story in a newspaper when I was a child. Over the years I published book reviews and articles on the publishing industry, such as on the Nai Sarak book market in the heart of old Delhi. These articles were print editions. Back then, owning a computer at home was still a rarity.
In the 1990s, I guest-edited special issues of The Book Review on children’s and young adult literature at a time when this genre was not even considered a category worth taking note of. Putting together an issue meant using the landline phone preferably during office hours to call publishers/reviewers, or posting letters by snail mail to publishers within India and abroad, hoping some books would arrive in due course. For instance, the first Harry Potter novel came to me via a friend in Chicago who wrote, “Read this. It’s a book about a wizard that is selling very well.” The next couple of volumes were impossible to get, for at least a few months in India. By the fifth volume, Bloomsbury UK sent me a review copy before the release date, for it was not yet available in India. For the seventh volume a simultaneous release had been organised worldwide. I got my copy the same day from Penguin India, as it was released by Bloomsbury in London (at the time Bloomsbury was still being represented by Penguin India). Publication of this series transformed how the children’s literature market was viewed worldwide.
To add variety to these special issues of The Book Review I commissioned stories, translations from Indian regional languages (mostly short stories for children), solicited poems, and received lovely ones such as an original poem by Ruskin Bond. All contributions were written in longhand and sent by snail mail, which I would then transfer on to my mother’s 486 computer using Word Perfect software. These articles were printed on a dot matrix printer, backups were made on floppies, and then sent for production. Soon rumours began of a bunch of bright Stanford students who were launching Google. No one was clear what it meant. Meanwhile, the Indian government launched dial-up Internet (mostly unreliable connectivity); nevertheless, we subscribed, although there were few people to send emails to!
The Daryaganj Sunday Bazaar where second-hand books were sold was the place to get treasures and international editions. This was unlike today, where there’s instant gratification via online retail platforms, such as Amazon and Flipkart, fulfilled usually by local offices of multi-national publishing firms. Before 2000, and the digital boom, most of these did not exist as independent firms in India. Apart from Oxford University Press, some publishers had a presence in India via partnerships: TATA McGraw Hill, HarperCollins with Rupa, and Penguin India with Anand Bazaar Patrika.
From the 1980s, independent presses began to be established like Kali for Women, Tulika and KATHA. 1990s onwards, especially in the noughts, many more appeared— Leftword Books, Three Essays, TARA Books, A&A Trust, Karadi Tales, Navayana, Duckbill Books, Yoda Press, Women Unlimited, Zubaan etc. All this while, publishing houses established by families at the time of Independence or a little before, like Rajpal & Sons, Rajkamal Prakashan, Vani Prakashan etc continued to do their good work in Hindi publishing. Government organisations like the National Book Trust (NBT) and the Sahitya Akademi were doing sterling work in making literature available from other regional languages, while encouraging children’s literature. The NBT organised the bi-annual world book fair (WBF) in Delhi every January. The prominent visibility in the international English language markets of regional language writers, such as Tamil writers Perumal Murugan and Salma (published by Kalachuvadu), so evident today, was a rare phenomenon back then.
In 2000, I wrote the first book market report of India for Publisher’s Association UK. Since little data existed then, estimating values and size was challenging. So, I created the report based on innumerable conversations with industry veterans and some confidential documents. For years thereafter data from the report was being quoted, as little information on this growing market existed. (Now, of course, with Nielsen Book Scan mapping Indian publishing regularly, we know exact figures, such as: the industry is worth approximately $6 billion.) I was also relatively ‘new’ to publishing having recently joined feminist publisher Urvashi Butalia’s Zubaan. It was an exciting time to be in publishing. Email had arrived. Internet connectivity had sped up processes of communication and production. It was possible to reach out to readers and new markets with regular e-newsletters. Yet, print formats still ruled.
By now multinational publishing houses such as Penguin Random House India, Scholastic India, Pan Macmillan, HarperCollins India, Hachette India, Simon & Schuster India had opened offices in India. These included academic firms like Wiley, Taylor & Francis, Springer, and Pearson too. E-books took a little longer to arrive but they did. Increasingly digital bundles of journal subscriptions began to be sold to institutions by academic publishers, with digital formats favoured over print editions.
Today, easy access to the Internet has exploded the ways of publishing. The Indian publishing industry is thriving with self-publishing estimated to be approximately 35% of all business. Genres such as translations, women’s writing and children’s literature, that were barely considered earlier, are now strong focus areas for publishers. Regional languages are vibrant markets and cross-pollination of translations is actively encouraged. Literary festivals and book launches are thriving. Literary agents have become staple features of the landscape. Book fairs in schools are regular features of school calendars. Titles released worldwide are simultaneously available in India. Online opportunities have made books available in 2 and 3-tier towns of India, which lack physical bookstores. These conveniences are helping bolster readership and fostering a core book market. Now the World Book Fair is held annually and has morphed into a trade fair, frequented by international delegations, with many constructive business transactions happening on the sidelines. In February 2018 the International Publishers Association Congress was held in India after a gap of 25 years! No wonder India is considered the third largest English language book market of the world! With many regional language markets, India consists of diverse markets within a market. It is set to grow. This hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2017, Livres Canada Books commissioned me to write a report on the Indian book market and the opportunities available for Canadian publishers. This is despite the fact that countries like Canada, whose literature consists mostly of books from France and New York, are typically least interested in other markets.
As an independent publishing consultant I often write on literature and the business of publishing on my blog … an opportunity that was unthinkable before the Internet boom. At the time of writing the visitor counter on my blog had crossed 5.5 million. The future of publishing is exciting particularly with neural computing transforming the translation landscape and making literature from different cultures rapidly available. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being experimented with to create short stories. Technological advancements such as print-on-demand are reducing warehousing costs, augmented reality is adding a magical element to traditional forms of storytelling, smartphones with processing chips of 8GB RAM and storage capacities of 256GB seamlessly synchronised with emails and online cloud storage are adding to the heady mix of publishing. Content consumption is happening on electronic devices AND print. E-readers like Kindle are a new form of mechanised process, which are democratizing the publishing process in a manner seen first with Gutenberg and hand presses, and later with the Industrial Revolution and its steam operated printing presses.
The future of publishing is crazily unpredictable and incredibly exciting!
3 Feb 2019
Vidyun: The First Hand books were initially conceptualised as non-fiction comics anthologies, as at the time there was not too much non-fiction work being made in a dedicated way. Speaking personally, I was interested in what could be produced if we encouraged artists and writers to engage with their social, political, and economic context through a platform like an anthology. That’s the sprit with which First Hand 1 was begun with myself, Orijit Sen and Arpita Das. First Hand 2 took on a slightly different approach. The first book took about three years from conceptualisation to finish, and the second book took roughly two years.
Arpita: Vidyun came to me with the idea for First Hand, to make comics out of real on-the-ground reportage in India, in early 2014. We had published our first graphic anthology on the Indian Partition, This Side That Side very successfully in the Fall of 2013, and I was immediately excited by the potential of what Vidyun was sketching out for me. Conception to publication took 2-2.5 years each time.
2. How did the name “First Hand” come about as a title for these books? What is the principle of selection for the stories to be included in the volumes?
Vidyun: The name “First Hand” reflects the spirit of the books – that they are or are based on seen and heard stories, or that someone has witnessed them. It also alludes to the process of drawing.
The first book was much more about generating a kind of content we (my co-editor Orijit Sen and I) thought was missing in the Indian comics’ scene and trying understand the many facets of non-fiction. So it was an exploration of genre and what is possible in it. For this reason, we did an open call for stories, from which we received 50-odd applications. From this we selected work using the writer’s process as a filter for this book, as well as the ‘contemporariness’ of the narratives. ‘Process’ refers to how the material that forms the base of the narrative was gathered—for example, if it was through research, interview, or personal experience. The second lens was the relationship of the work with contemporary public life, i.e., the social and political milieu of the country. A deeply personal story, while being non-fiction, would have to have some relationship with recent events or phenomena.
On the other hand, this book was a deep-dive into the theme of exclusion – so it was a challenge in a different way. To understand the length and breadth of the issue, what the data in the report was saying, and develop works accordingly was an intensive process. Many of the stories in the book are not strictly non-fiction – rather it is work that is true-to-life. In order to put forward the data holistically, we had to fictionalise and merge experiences of different people and place them in a narrative frame. In some cases, anonymity was also a concern. In addition, there were some non-fiction narratives that were selected for the book – like Water and Shadow Lines. I tried my best to develop and select work that their either reflected the report or then complemented what it was saying in a different way – for example through visual poetry (Water) or then a wordless comic (Without Permit Entry Prohibited).
Arpita: This was Vidyun again. She had a few options in mind but was always leaning in favour of First Hand, and I loved it too. The title communicated so effectively what the most vital core of the series would be. For Volume 1, there was a Call for Entries while for Volume 2, Vidyun commissioned the artists to collaborate with the writers. But for both models, what remains most important is that there is tremendous integrity in telling the story as the writer envisaged it, and excellence in terms of form.
3. Making graphic novels is an expensive proposition in terms of all resources, not just financial. Why choose this format to tell these stories?
Vidyun: The only aspect of comics making that is inherently more expensive than other books is the production – but even that depends on the kind of book. This has to be viewed relatively – those who work in film marvel at how much more resource efficient the medium of comics is, even as it tells a visual story. Although, comics and graphic novels come in the form of a book – they offer something very different from the written word, and need to be viewed in those terms.
There are so many reasons to work with this medium. For example, through drawing, one can evoke a detail or a feeling or a texture or a history as experience for the reader. It is also a way of seeing the world, of picking up information and metaphors that arise from a visual understanding of society. In that way, practising this medium offers a different perspective. These observations can be put forward as visual metaphor or cinematically, while using the physical space of the page to emphasise different parts of the story. The list goes on and on!
Arpita: Yes, it is a time-consuming format, and there are financial challenges as well, but for me, it is a genre that is unbelievably exciting in its potential. I also have to say that the way our two earlier graphic books, A Little Book on Men and This Side That Side continue to sell, and sort of put us on the map in terms of spelling out to our audience the kind of bold and stereotype-smashing publishing we wanted to do, almost nothing else has done it with such effectiveness. Frankly, I am waiting for a time when we start having multiple awards for graphic books to reward some of this stupendous work, and the risks we have taken to put it out there.
4. The publication of the second volume has coincided with the first ever graphic novel being nominated on the Man Booker longlist. Do you think the reception to graphic novels will change after this announcement? What has been the reception to your two books?
Vidyun: Personally I think that these are two very different spaces. Perhaps it will make non-readers of the medium more aware of it but little changes otherwise. Comics have been winning ‘mainstream’ accolades for several years now, I don’t think there’s much left for us to prove. After all, it’s a medium that can be used to tell stories well or poorly – that depends on the creator. Things only change for the field when genuine interest is taken in the distribution of comics, which currently remains very niche the world over.
Arpita: As I said, the reception has been incredibly heartening. We keep printing these books, and we are always behind on demand, which as a publisher I can tell you, is a good thing.
5. Why did you choose to base First Hand 2 on the 2015 edition of the India Exclusion Report instead of circulating an open call for submissions of original stories as you seem to have done for First Hand 1?
Arpita: CES have been our publishing partners for more than three years now, and Yoda Press publishes the India Exclusion Report annually with them. When Harsh Mander got in touch with me asking if there were other genres in which they could adapt some of the narratives emerging out of the extremely important documentation that IXR is doing, I immediately thought of the graphic genre. Because that was exactly what we had hoped to achieve with First Hand 1: bringing the Indian reality on the ground to another audience, and we succeeded. Vidyun and I had also thought from the beginning that from the second volume onwards, we should think thematically—that this the only way to build up a series. So when CES showed interest in trying something radical and new, we immediately got to work on it. The stories were all already there, incredible, chilling, uplifting, eye-opening stories. They just had to be gleaned from the documentation and told in this fabulously bold format that graphic books always make available.
Vidyun: Centre for Equity Studies (CES) approached us with the idea of converting their 2015 edition into graphic format – we accepted because of the possibilities of the stories that we could create. These are very important narratives about marginalisation that need to be told, so that we can work towards a more inclusive society. India is a shockingly unequal nation, and there are urgent issues like casteism, gender-based discrimination, communalism, economic disparity – to name a few. We felt these comics could offer an introduction to them, and also give them a visual register. Exclusion can at times hide in plain sight, and we hoped that this book could make it easier to identify and fight.
Open calls are a great way to push the field further, to encourage new voices through a platform. Since there was little non-fiction work being produced when we did First Hand 1, an open-call worked very well.
With First Hand 2 the approach was different – working in a dedicated way on a specific theme is an opportunity to engage with subject and storytelling a more detailed way. It was important that exclusion be explained in the terms of the original report, and for that reason it made sense to have a small, dedicated team that could also familiarise themselves with the report and produce accordingly.
6. Do publications like this lend themselves to travel well in other English language book markets or even other languages? Or do you see them only as India-specific books?
Arpita: Many German, French and Australian publishers have shown interest in buying rights. There is a French publisher who recently asked if they could put together the comics on women from the two volumes. I have discussed this with Vidyun and we are open to it. I had meetings at Frankfurt Book Fair 2018 with French and Australian publishers to discuss the project. Next year the Salon the Livre is doing a Guest of Honour India year, and they are showcasing some books from India for their publishers recommending them for rights purchase, and they picked First Hand 2 as one of the books. So yes, I think we are getting there.
7. Why Is there inconsistency in providing translation for text spoken or written in Hindi/Devnagari? The first story is narrated in Hindi with no translation whereas “Shadow Lines” has translations for the few lines spoken in Hindi but written in Roman script.
Vidyun: It was important to have some works in Hindi in the book as I have always felt that graphic narratives and comics should be published in a variety of languages, in their original script.
“Shadow Lines” has translations as it is reportage work, and some translation was required to explain context – especially as the rest of the comic is in English and roman script.
Arpita: Well, because both the stories by Bhagwati Prasad were written originally by him in Hindi using the IXR data and information. Whereas, Neha’s story was written in English, and the Hindi text occurred in between. I think the two narratives were treated faithfully as they should have been, within the language of origin parameters.
8. Will “First Hand” become a platform and a launch pad for testing new voices alongside experienced storytellers?
Arpita: I think it already is. So many narratives have been drawn or told in both the existing volumes by first-time artists and storytellers. And they appear at the end alongside well-known voices. And if and when we manage to publish more volumes, its perception as a series which empowers new voices as much as it showcases established ones should only grow.
Vidyun: I think to a degree it is already that, and I am very happy that it has been able to provide this platform to both. If we can continue this series, then it will hopefully continue in this vein.
9. Yoda Press is known for publishing unusual literature and always crackling good subjects but are not necessarily known as publishers of graphic novels (except for This Side, That Side). So why venture into the graphic novel genre? Will this become an annual feature for Yoda Press or remain as a series whose frequency is undetermined?
Arpita: Well, since 2013 we have indeed become known for our graphic anthologies as well, since we have published three in just five years since then, and these are big books, over 300 pages, each one, involving much skill and many voices. It cannot be an annual feature because each of these anthologies takes 2 years to come together at a minimum. So that is what we are looking at as a time frame.
10. What were the highs and lows of publishing Vol 1 vs Vol 2?
Arpita: The high for me as a publisher is always when the book is in my hand. The lows usually occur when there are delays in the scheduling and one hits the panic button, and then you have to calm down. I think in some ways Vol. 1 with its Call for Entries starting point was a more dynamic journey, whereas here it felt more like the work was at hand to begin with and had to be delivered. The book at the end in both cases was just splendid, so finally it was a high that outlasted the lows.
21 November 2018
Every Monday I post some of the books I have received in the previous week. Embedded in the book covers and post will also be links to buy the books on Amazon India. This post will be in addition to my regular blog posts and newsletter.
In today’s Book Post 6 I have included some titles that I received in the past few weeks and are worth mentioning and not necessarily confined to parcels received last week.
20 August 2018
This is a book review of two Yoda Press titles, published in HardNews magazine. The link is here:
‘Write down what you saw, what you heard, what you endured’
Aziz’s Notebook is about the two daughters of Aziz, Fataneh and Fatameh, who were arrested for being mujahideens in the early days of the Iranian or Islamic revolution. Fataneh was pregnant and Fatameh had a three-year-old son and a six-month-old daughter, Chowra. Later, they were executed by the regime. But not before they, especially Fatameh, had been put through torture, solitary confinement in a tiny cell that was actually an abandoned bathroom, electric shocks, nails being pulled out and spine being broken. (“Her head is still filled with Rajavi’s — the leader of the Mojahedin-e-Khalq organization — ideas and she is not willing to collaborate with us. She will remain in prison until she rots.”) This slim diary-cum-memoir by Aziz, from 1981 to 1988, when his daughters were taken away by the new regime and ultimately put to death, was written for his grandchildren, though they would accompany the elders every week to visit their mother in prison. The immediate reason for their arrests was that Fataneh and Fatameh had stood for election as candidates for the Mojahedin-e-Khalq in the towns of Gachsran and Shiraz. These were the first legislative elections held under the Islamic Republic. In the book, Aziz attempts to record his memories and observations. He is an “old man of seventy, with trembling hands, bloodshot eyes, a broken heart and a life that was swept by the wind, the pernicious effect of this revolution,” but it is his “inner voice” that shouts: “Write down what you saw, what you heard and what you endured.”
Many years later, when the grandchildren had fled to France, to be with their father, a “political refugee”, they would watch and help their father build a “museum” to their mama in their flat. An empty wardrobe — “the same size as a coffin and looked like one too”— with Persian calligraphy engraved in red on its door which meant “Nothing”. Inside, the transparent shelves were slowly stocked with all the possessions of Fatameh that could be retrieved from her Iranian home and prison. But their father found it very difficult to answer his children’s questions about what exactly happened to their mother. Many of the answers lie in their grandfather’s continuous text.
The structure of Aziz’s Notebook is in three sections. The first is a translation of Aziz’s real notebook, the second is Chowra’s account of discovering her grandfather’s diary and the painful journey she embarked upon in trying to access what he had written, and finally, there is a selection of correspondence between the family members (1978-1992). It is interesting to compare the tenor of each section.
Aziz’s writing is focused, taut with details, dates and journeys, trying to recreate the horrific period as correctly as possible for his family. It must have been excruciatingly painful for him to write it but he seems to be determined. Whereas, when Chowra begins to write, she opens her narrative with an account of her brother’s and her flight from Teheran to join their father in France. It is composed and flows chronologically. Then it begins to waver and meander as she recalls incidents that link it to what she is writing. At times, this style becomes confusing to follow but is quite understandable (and not at all unusual), given how, as a woman, she is trying to piece together a part of her history, more importantly, derive an image of a mother whom she never really knew, save for some hazy memories of a woman sitting behind a glass partition in prison trying to hold the telephone with both hands to speak to her visitors. Chowra solicits friend Sarah’s help to translate her grandfather’s Persian manuscript but the project is quickly abandoned: “Sarah discovered the reality of a buried history: her country, her society, her history.” Experiencing extreme violence first-hand and living in a state of constant terror is not an enviable position to be in, as in the case of Aziz, but to write about it requires stupendous perseverance and mental strength. Yet, as Chowra discovers, the memories are permanent for the survivor.
Violent Belongings (first published in 2008) is focused on the relation of violence and culture in the modern world, particularly on how Partition had a resounding effect on history for a long time after 1947. Its most obvious impact seems to be on the way the Indian subcontinental diaspora redefined and realigned its identities in a post-colonial world. Speaking from her experience and engagement with the Indian diaspora, Kavita Dahiya discovers how the events of Partition continue to resonate in contemporary life and communities are “collectively created and contested through various media, in postcolonial India and ethnic America”.
According to her, these discourses continue to reside deeply in the consciousness of these societies, albeit through their existence in literature, films and other modes of cultural expression. Research on international migration reveals that currently 190 million people reside in a country where they were not born, while there are 24.5 million internally displaced people in the world, making one in 35 humans in the world a migrant. Hence, it is not surprising that generations of writers, filmmakers, cinematographers, historians, feminists and academic discourses are preoccupied with how the “scene of violence that becomes ordinary during Partition and refashions everyday life” has left an indelible impact in literature, cinema, memoirs and verbal accounts. Apart from English, much of this material is to be found in accounts recorded in Hindi, Urdu, Bengali and Punjabi.
Reading two books in quick succession dealing with an extremely violent chapter in a nation’s history is a disturbing exercise. But, they are differentiated in treatment. Aziz’s Notebook was written immediately after the events described, and is extremely powerful to read. Violent Belongings is an academic attempt to “trace the political economy of memory” and to understand the senseless losses of those who have endured, inhabited and survived ethnic violence and displacement, both in contemporary South Asia and in the Indian subcontinent of 1947. It goes over much familiar ground covered in many published discourses on Partition. It will remain a useful handbook for its analysis of literature and media linked to Partition.
Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, Delhi, 13 May 2013
Chowra Makaremi Aziz’s Notebook: At the heart of the Iranian Revolution Translator, Renuka George Yoda Press. Pg 150. pp. Rs. 250. Publ. 2013.
Kavita Dahiya Violent Belongings: Partition, Gender, and National Culture in Postcolonial India Yoda Press, Delhi, 2013. Pp. Pg.250. Rs. 450