Friday, April 30, 2010

A British love affair with Arabia

Allama Iqbal, one of the tallest poets and philosophers Asia has produced, had been endlessly fascinated by the rise and fall of the Muslims.

He had been preoccupied with the issue in both his Urdu and Persian poetry collections, both incredibly rich in their range and language. When it comes to the breadth of vision, foresight and grandeur of ideas and thought, no one comes close to the man claimed by both India and Pakistan. The much exploited Saare jahan se achcha Hindustan hamara is just one gem from his repertoire. I have been constantly reminded of the poet philosopher and what he once said about the Arabs while singing my way through Sir Wilfred Thesiger’s “Arabian Sands”. Iqbal passionately believed in the Islamic renaissance and argued that the rejuvenation of the civilization that ruled the world for nearly a thousand years would start in its birthplace at the hands of desert Arabs.

Iqbal made the prediction at a time of great turmoil and utter chaos in the Muslim world after the collapse of the Ottoman caliphate. I’ve often wondered what exactly Iqbal had in mind when he pitched for the Arabs at a time when they seemingly offered no hope for optimism. Thesiger’s Arabian Sands offers the answer. Iqbal believed that the world would rediscover the glory of Islam when the Arabs rediscover their roots and their original simplicity, honesty and the courage that once endeared them to the world. Arab traders who took on high seas with their primitive boats and traversed the world on horseback promoted their new faith and worldview not at the sword point, as some choose to believe, but with their actions and the way they conducted themselves. 

Full report here Arab News

Bangla bizarre

Sukumar Ray’s fantasy world and deft use of language remain popular with today’s children.

If there is one thing that distinguishes the world of Bangla writing from the literature of the rest of the Subcontinent’s languages, it is the abundance of works written for children in modern times. There is not one reputed writer or poet of this language who has not written significantly for children. Soon after the arrival of modern printing technology in India, in the 19th century, magazines for children began to appear in Bangla. Today, Kolkata’s Pujobarshikis, the annuals published during Dassehra (as also perhaps for Id in Dhaka) for children, carry quality works by writers that are read and cherished by lakhs of Bengali children.

Today, there are several notable children’s magazines that have been running successfully for many decades. Sandesh, for instance, has acquired something of a heritage status, first published by the writer and composer Upendrakishore Raychowdhury in 1913. After his death in 1915, his eldest son, Sukumar Ray, took over as the editor of the magazine. Of Upendrakishore’s many works for children, Goopie gayeen bagha bayeen (Singer Goopie, Drummer Bagha) was made into a film by Sukumar’s son, Satyajit. This was the first of several films for children that Satyajit Ray made. Though lesser-known outside Bengal than his son Satyajit, it was Sukumar who transformed children’s writing in Bangla by creating a world of witty nonsense prose and fiction.

Tagore's poems remembered by Chinese

On my recent visit to China, I had the most interesting conversation about poetry and literature.

At the swanky Shanghai airport, as I waited for my connecting flight to New Delhi, I met Shu, a Western-educated octogenarian university teacher, who was deeply in love with the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore.

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was a poet, novelist, musician, and painter who was the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize in literature.

Tagore is probably the only litterateur who had written the national anthems of two countries - "Jana Gana Man" for India and "Amar Shonar Bangla" for Bangladesh.

Shu had met "the bearded man with soft eyes" with her father, when he had visited China to deliver a series of lectures in 1929.

Full report here Shanghai Daily

HT-Penguin India one amazing story contest

To coincide with the publication of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s new book One Amazing Thing, we bring you one amazing contest! Write a 125-150 words mini story on something amazing that’s happened in your life. There are only two rules: you have to be in the story and it has to have a remarkable incident in it.

Entries will be selected by the author and Penguin India editors.

1st Prize: Book vouchers worth Rs 5,000 and a copy of One Amazing Thing.
2nd Prize: Book vouchers worth Rs 3,000 and a copy of the book.
3rd Prize: Book vouchers worth Rs 2,000 and a copy of the book.
PLUS: Early bird prizes of 7 copies of the book for the first 7 entries.

Full report here Hindustan Times

A new journey into the virtual world

Globalization and digitization are the two dominant trends that have changed the face of book publishing in the last decade. They are interlinked because of the rapid advance in communications and computer technologies. Now we learn that Google will make millions of digitized books from research libraries, hitherto not easily accessed, available to readers for a fee. These include out-of-copyright books (whose authors have died more than 50 years ago) as well as those recently published. Whether copyrighted books should be put online is still sub judice in the American courts, but if the issue is settled in favour of Google, the latter could become the largest library and book-selling business the world has ever known.

Some questions arise. Will large distributors accept digitized books at the expense of traditional printed books to make Google’s attempt a success? What are its implications for book publishers and authors? Would they stand to gain financially with digitized books that could replace the traditional print format or supplement it? Moreover, would readers get digitized books at lower prices, if you factor in the cost of the computer hardware/iPad and other hand-held devices that would be required to read the digital text and the fees that would need to be paid to the publisher for accessing it?

Full report here Telegraph

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Aatish Taseer: An interview

Aatish Taseer’s The Temple-Goers (Picador India) takes you to a Delhi that is grappling with issues of religion and class that define and shape the metropolis in myriad ways. At the heart of the novel is an assimilation of two different worlds: those of Aatish, the narrator and an aspiring writer, and Aakash, his trainer at a gym in the city. Through their friendship, Taseer shows the socio-economic and religious divides that come in the way of developing a cohesive national and cultural identity. “We’re making a world in India that is unwelcoming of the man coming up. It is a place in which, if he is to succeed, he must give up many things about himself — ideas of language, dress, customs and religion — and fall in line with a very shabby modern ideal, one that will leave him a smaller man than he was,” says the author, emphasising the need for human awakenings which can happen only when we, along with the new prosperity, have a “cultural and historical renewal”. For Aakash, Delhi is a “city of temples and gyms, of rich and poor people, of Bentleys and bicycles, of government flats and mansions, of hookers and heiresses”.

Excerpts from an interview:

The Temple-Goers has some parallels with the real life. Does it also have some personal parallels?
 Very few, in fact. There is a non-fictional cast, which falls away as the book progresses. And this is because it is, in part, a story about a writer finding his material, about him discovering how to write about the world he grew up in, a world that in many ways has been superseded by the changed city he returns to. But as his material clarifies, this non-fictional crust breaks to reveal a core that is pure invention.
It is unusual that you have given the narrator your own name, isn’t it?
Less unusual than it seems. There have been others well before me who have used  narrators like this. Think of Proust’s “Marcel,” for instance, or Manto’s “Manto Saab” These narrators, as with mine, have a reality that seems shared by the writer, but it is in the end a superficial likeness. It is there for a reason, but I don’t want to give too much away.

The title is interesting, though the novel has less to do with religion. Did you want to explore the sacred?
No. I am always only interested in the attitudes and sense of self borne out of religion, not in faith itself. The “temple-goers” of course is a shorthand given the narrator by a character in the book. And it refers to a kind of person for whom the idea of India is very easy to apprehend, almost instinctive. It is not an idea of a nation state with fixed political boundaries, but of a land, and it is a very gentle and persuasive idea; it is bound to the actual physicality of India, to a geography made sacred, ritualised and re-enacted over and over again. This person, still with his religion, his language, his customs close around him, stands very far apart from the culturally denuded India I grew up in, where often a kind of boastful, national pride stood in for real learning and knowledge. Now, as you know from reading the book, its aim is not to put forward a romantic idea of the “temple-goers” and to run down the other India; that would simplify the picture too much; but yes, there is the pain of cultural and linguistic loss running through the book, and perhaps a longing for a wholeness that seems less and less possible.

The novel shows the city in a state of flux, though many things are changing for the worse. Do some of these changes bother you?
I don’t think of it as a change for the worse, but yes, there are things that concern me. I feel, for instance, that we’re making a world in India that is unwelcoming of the man coming up. It is a place in which, if he is to succeed, he must give up many things about himself — ideas of language, dress, customs and religion — and fall in line with a very shabby modern ideal, one that will leave him a smaller man than he was. We speak a lot of pride and self-confidence these days, but what do these things mean when every day we force Indians to forsake those things that should naturally be the source of their pride and self-confidence? Instead of enshrining our culture and history at the heart of our new modernity, we have cast it out in favour of something far shallower; a very drab modernity. We can try and hide it with bogus words like “aspirational”, but we both know that these are really euphemisms for more tackiness and imitation. It is important not to forget that only tyrannies can survive on science and technology alone; free societies need something more; they need human awakenings. And for that to happen, there must be, along with the new prosperity, a cultural and historical renewal.

The novel bristles with so much tension — social, sexual and, even, political. Was the mix essential for an engaging narrative?
I think it is as an aspect of the multiplicity of values, some old and decaying, some new and still forming, that have come into play in our cities. There is, at this present moment, an amazing level of particularity in each man’s idea of his self and worth. There are the old forces like language, region, caste and class. But these only give half the picture, for overlaying these things are a set of appealing, modern values that have changed the way we want to live, the kind of parents we want to be, the talent and hard work we wish to reward, the discriminations we want to prevent. All this makes for a special tension in which our deepest affiliations (and prejudices) come up against the reality of a society in which the old rules don’t fully apply and the new ones are yet to take firm shape. Aakash is a man made on the cusp of this change, a man who is many men to many people. But, in a sense, the city is full of men like Aakash, each an exquisite, highly particular configuration of different values. And the challenge is to bring into being a world where this vast spectrum of human possibility can find just fulfilment.

Your first book, a non-fiction, was a personal journey. And your novel, too, is some sort of journey for the narrator. Do you feel at home in Delhi?
Very much so. I adore Delhi. And slowly, as it has become part of my writing, I find its life richer and more varied than ever before. I’m also enthralled by the changes to its landscape, the new lines of communication being slung across its expanse, and the people being thrown up by the change.

Is it tough to deal with issues of identity and mixed parentage? How much has that difficulty shaped your sensibility?
Tough initially, but now easier and easier, almost a privilege. I feel that that initial confusion freed me from the desire or possibility of belonging to any one group. It helped make the world a bigger place. I do, in the deepest sense, feel Indian, but this is a very wide net and often, much to their annoyance, includes Pakistan.

Could you tell me some of your early influences, both in fiction and non-fiction?
I started by admiring the simple and direct writing of V.S. Naipaul. That ideal of writing has remained very close to me. But quickly I felt I needed to find writers in whose worlds I could recognise subjects similar to my own. For this the Russian writers — Pushkin, Gogol and Tolstoy — and their times, made available to me through the biographies of Henri Troyat, have been a great inspiration. I have also looked to French writers like Balzac and Maupassant. The latter was an important influence on Manto, from whom I was able to learn more about how I might write about my own world. But to tell you the truth, for a long time it all felt like a great muddle, and it has only now begun to clarify by degrees. It will never be a straightforward picture; it will always feel, as with so many things today, like an inheritance pieced together from odds and ends. There is no easy tradition to inherit, but you make your way from writer to writer, gaining, one hopes, a surer sense of what works for you. And then there is the Sanskritic world, which, though it is yet to feed into my writing, has had perhaps the most profound effect on my view of what our literary past contains.

Not just gay writing

The week I start making notes for this essay is the same week my mother is reading for the first time the manuscript for my short story collection, Quarantine...,” Rahul Mehta writes in an essay, “Coming Out”, just after the publication of this debut collection.

“What I didn’t say then was that I, in fact, don’t want (my parents) to read it. And now that my mother is, I am terrified. I am worried that she will object to the family stories I have stolen and altered and bent to suit my purposes. I am worried that she won’t understand what ‘fiction’ means, and that every time she reads a passage in which a young, gay Indian-American man is having sex (and there is, in fact, a fair amount of sex in the book), that she will think it is me: me having rough sex in an alley, me masturbating in the back of the family car, me having unprotected sex in a loft in New York with a one-night stand.”

More, almost, than the nine stories in Quarantine, this essay marks the pleasures and pitfalls of Rahul Mehta’s writing. This is one of the most surprising collections I’ve read in recent months: honest, spare, moving in the tenderness with which he chronicles the fault-lines and the epiphanies of relationships, but narrow in its scope and ambitions.

Full report here Business Standard

A Socialist who became a Communist

EMS Namboodiripad - History, Society and Land Relations: Selected Essays.

EMS Namboodiripad - The Frontline Years: Selected Articles.

LeftWord Books
Rs. 250 each

“Sankara was one of the tallest of India's (and the world's) idealist philosophers; his Advaita Vedanta is one of the richest contributions India has made to the treasury of human knowledge.” So declares Elamkulam Manakkal Sankaran Namboodiripad, known to the nation simply as EMS. The Marxist, who headed the world's first elected Communist government in Kerala, pays this tribute to the saint-philosopher from Kaladi in an essay in the academic journal, Social Scientist, on the occasion of Adi Sankara's 1,200th birth anniversary in 1989. “Is the participation of Marxist theoreticians (in the anniversary) not a betrayal of dialectical and historical materialism...?” ‘No', says EMS, recalling the recognition by Marx and Lenin of the contributions of idealist philosophy and philosophers. From the tribute, however, he proceeds to a trenchant criticism of Sankara and the Advaita Vedanta.

Pointing to the non-idealist streams of ancient Indian philosophy, including that of “the Buddha whose near-materialist philosophy gripped the mass of suppressed humanity,” EMS writes: “...those belonging to the materialist school had to fight an unequal fight and were therefore defeated...the defeat of the materialists in this unequal battle was the beginning of a millennium-long age of intellectual and socio-political backwardness which culminated in the establishment of British rule in our land.” The approach is illustrative of the world outlook that informs the entire volume titled “History, Society and Land Relations.”

Full report here Hindu

Guerrillas in the mist

At the height of the first Naxal movement, reflections of the revolution could be seen in the works of writers from Kerala, Bengal, Andhra and other “affected” states. Some romanced the gun, some romanced the revolutionaries; some were fiercely anguished works that are still read, if only in the college library.

It is unwise to expect the conflicts of the day to draw an immediate response from writers, but the Maoist conflict in India over the last few years has begun to leave its mark on writing in English. You may or may not be among the ranks of Naipaul believers, but give him credit for his sharp instincts.

In 2004, four years before Red Sun, Sudeep Chakravarti’s non-fiction exploration of Salwa Judum and the Maoists, was published, Naipaul came out with Magic Seeds, in which his protagonist Willie Chandran joins a revolutionary movement in India. Like C P Surendran’s 2006 Iron Harvest, Magic Seeds illustrates the pitfalls of writing about revolution. Ideological debates seldom make for strong plot points, and it requires the cynical eye of a Graham Greene to turn calls to the barricades into good writing. Naipaul flourished his own brand of cynicism: “Murders of class enemies — which now meant only peasants with a little too much land — were required now, to balance the successes of the police.” But if Iron Harvest was imbued with an excess of revolutionary fervour and disillusionment, Magic Seeds exuded listlessness.

Full report here Business Standard

Sri Lankan English: The state of the debate

In the two and a half years since I published my book, A Dictionary of Sri Lankan English, I have followed the ongoing debate on the subject with interest. The good news is that there is a debate, and it seems to have entered the public domain rather than being confined to academic circles. There seems to be increasing acceptance of the idea that such a thing as Sri Lankan English exists, that it deserves to be recognised as a valid variety of English, and that Sri Lankans can be proud to speak English “our way”.

This opinion is nothing new in the world of English language teaching. “World Englishes” is a well-established and growing field – the plural “Englishes” says it all. And here in Sri Lanka ELT academics such as Professors Thiru Kandiah, Siromi Fernando, Arjuna Parakrama and Manique Gunesekera have all contributed to promoting the idea that the Sri Lankan variety of English should be validated alongside other more established varieties. What is new is that it seems to be coming out into the open, a “hot topic” on which many people are ready to express an opinion.

Full report here

Kim's evening in Chennai

It was an evening of high spirits, great conversation and good food as leading author Kim Morrison spoke to Minnie Menon about her life in the spotlight, her fitness regimen and her latest line of aromatherapy products.

Gracing the occasion with their presence were socialites from all walks of life. While VJ Paloma looked casual cool in her summer dress, Gopika Varma and Prashanthi added an ethnic touch to the evening with their stunning ensembles. However, the head turner of the night was gorgeous designer Rehane, who looked sizzling in a black and red outfit. Also spotted at the event were Anand Amritraj, Priya Selvaraj, Vaniela, Nilofer, Karen and Meena, to name a few.

Full report here Times of India 

A stalwart of the Dravidian movement

C. N. Annadurai (1909–1969), with a balding pate, tobacco-stained teeth, stubble chin and a captivating husky voice, stood barely five feet and two inches. But he strode Tamil Nadu politics like a colossus. Anna, as he is widely known, harnessed the ideas and energies unleashed by his mentor Periyar E.V. Ramasamy and securely accommodated Tamil nationalism within the Indian nation-state.

His imprint on the Tamil language, both in print and on the platform, was distinct, with numerous emulators and imitators. Unfortunately, Anna has been ill-served by biographers. For want of a competently written biography in English, the non-Tamil readers were hugely handicapped in understanding the man who made a lasting impact on Indian politics. In bringing out this book, R. Kannan has addressed this long-felt need.

The author traces the eventful life of Anna from his birth in a modest weaver family in Kanchipuram. Getting a degree through Pachaiyappa's College, he chose a career in politics and cut his political teeth in the Justice Party that had a non-Brahmin base. His moment came when he was spotted by Periyar and groomed as his lieutenant.

Full report here Hindu

Voice of the suppressed

Roma Tearne's voice trembles with indignation. "I keep being sent YouTube clips showing the most terrible things," she says. "In one a 26-year-old disabled Tamil man is being beaten to death by the army and his body thrown into the sea. Who says the war is over?"

While much of the world merely noted in passing the recent defeat of the LTTE - the Tamil Tigers - and the election victory of President Rajapaksa's coalition, the Sri Lankan-born but British-based painter and author remains galvanised by the island's descent into fascism.

I met Tearne just before the publication of her fourth novel, The Swimmer. It centres on the murder of a Tamil refugee by the police and like her previous three (Mosquito, Bone China and Brixton Beach) her new work is informed by the terrible events of Sri Lanka's civil war, although it is mainly set in Britain.

Full report here Morning Star

The most learned of them all

It fills me with joy that Asko Parpola has been awarded the inaugural Tamil Classical Award for 2009. Not merely because I am interested in the same topics as the Finnish scholar is. I have always felt, reading Parpola’s voluminous books on Indus script, that he is one scholar who knows more about India than any Indian academic

Parpola had devoted his entire life for this research. It was not just for taking a doctoral degree that he did his research for - a common practice among our university-educated youth. Parpola’s excellent academic background backs up his genuine interest and enthusiasm devoted to the study of Indology.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi could not have found a better choice than Parpola for the inaugural award.

Full report here New Indian Express

Voyage of discovery

There you see Raja Raja I enter the Thanjavur Big Temple, through the entrance known as Anukkan vayil, and his bodyguards ask people to make way for him. The King admires the Kerala style art of the entrance. He then turns his gaze towards the Keralantakan Vaayil, which is a reminder of his victory over the Chera king. This gopuram is a metaphor in stone for one of the five elements, namely fire.

Raja Raja's glance then briefly rests on the Raja Rajan Vaayil, with its sculptural representations of another element - water. He then walks towards the sanctum sanctorum, where he worships the Linga that arises from the earth. The inside of the vimanam is hollow all the way up to the kalasam, representing yet another element - space.

The King then enters the Saantaaram, the passage around the sanctum sanctorum, and worships the deities here, while a pleasant breeze caresses his face. The fifth element - air - is represented here. But the king's worship is not over, yet. He now genuflects before devotees who have worshipped at the temple!

These are the sequential images that one is able to visualise, when one reads Dr. Kudavayil Balasubramanian's book on the Big Temple, titled Rajarajechcharam. The book is the result of his 40-year obsession with the Big Temple. The book records details about the architecture, sculptures, art, inscriptions, history of and philosophy behind the temple.

Full report here Hindu

Commentary on Kuresa's hymns

Kuresa, revered over centuries as a gem of an Acharya, was among Ramanuja's foremost disciples, though older than him by seven years. Humility was his hallmark.

It was Kuresa who helped Ramanuja, while in Kashmir library, by storing all of the ‘Vritti grantha' in memory to serve in Ramanuja's dictation of ‘Sri Bhashya' which Kuresa wrote down.


Kuresa authored five hymns in Sanskrit, which are collectively designated ‘Panchastavee'. Without doubt, they are the outpourings of a saintly soul on the lines of the Naalaayiramof the Tamil savants, the Azhvars. It was but fitting that he came to be known as ‘Azhvan'. In recent times, many have come out with their own explanatory commentaries on them.

Of the five, ‘Sreestava' is the shortest, with 11 verses, and it is on Mahalakshmi. ‘Srivaikuntastava' is on ‘Paratva' and the bliss of Srivaikunta. ‘Atimaanushastava' is in admiration of the superhuman traits of God's incarnations such as Rama and Krishna. ‘Sundarabaahustava', with 132 verses, is on the deity, Kallazhagar (Azhagarkoil), whom he worshipped when he went into exile in the face of the threat of persecution by a Chola king. And the fifth one, ‘Varadarajastava'(101 verses) is in praise of the deity in Kanchi and it is recited in the shrine of the Lord even today. Very significantly, an invocation to Kuresa hails his works as constituting the auspicious maangalya sutraaround the neck of the ‘Veda' damsel, who is devoted to Lord Narayana. Among those who have written commentaries in Sanskrit on these works is Ramanujacharya, a renowned Vyakarana vidwan. His work had presumably been languishing, as manuscript in palm leaves at various places. It is to her credit that Geetha has diligently collated all the recensions, taking care to indicate the source in the footnote.

Full report here Hindu

Rare books throw light on vintage Madras

Two hundred years after it was written, the beguiling clarity of the Tamil script on yellowed pages is perhaps testimony to the quality of ink used in 1896. A Collection of Official Documents in Tamil Language', a compilation of handwritten papers used in the Courts of Law, by Lieutanent W F Wright, is one of the rare books currently on display at the Connemara Public Library.

Organised as a two-day event beginning on Friday, April 23, to mark World Book Day', these books offer vivid glimpses into the times of the Madras Presidency going as far back as the 17th Century. Though the books appear homogenous from the outside with their grey binding, the small details you come across as you leaf through them are sure to keep the visitors hooked.

For instance, a quick reading of A Narrative of the Celebration of the Jubilee of Queen Victoria', compiled by Sir Charles Lawson in 1887, shows that the casing which used to hold the scroll containing the Madras Presidencial Address' was manufactured by P.ORR & Sons, a household name today. The books stand testimony to the the painstaking attention to detail adopted by the British while documenting an event and also illustrates the opulence that pervaded in those times. The scroll is described as being encased in a cylindrical casket, held aloft by a caparisoned elephant with a "finely modelled mahout" by its side, both standing upon a silver case mounted on a slab of Malabar Rosewood, 17 inches long.

Full report here Times of India 

Publishers eye children's books market

It is that time of the year when books on Tenali Rama and Harry Potter take the place of science and maths books. Summer vacation, among many other cheerful things, gives children the freedom and time to read at leisure what they love.

Book publishers too gear up for the brisk season ahead. Activity books such as colouring and handwriting have begun to see a 50 per cent jump in sale, according to C.J. Raja, in charge of designing and production of Apple Publishing International Private Limited.

Bookshops have already stocked children's literature, bringing good news for the distributors of such books. Nearly 4,000 books for children are being shipped every month to Malaysia and Sri Lanka and the next two months would see an increase, says T. Senthil Kumar, proprietor, Rhythm Publishers.

“A majority of books that are shipped are Tamil fiction. The two countries are a major market for Tamil books,” he observes.

Full report here Hindu

Pain of partition

The 1984 Sikh riots continue to torment even after 25 years. Sunita Sharma has painted a moving picture of the social impact of the riots in her novel Main Khush Hun Kamli (I Am Happy Kamli)

Some wounds refuse to heal. The 1984 Sikh riots continue to torment even after 25 years. Sunita Sharma has painted a moving picture of the social impact of the riots in her novel Main Khush Hun Kamli (I Am Happy Kamli). “I had the story with me for 14 years but publishers were not willing to touch a disturbing story which could have political repercussions,” says Sunita, who started her career as a lecturer before moving to writing and social work.

The story of Jasjot (name changed) came through her niece, who was a good friend of Jasjot.

“Jasjot was a kid when the riots broke out. She saw her uncle burnt alive and a burning tyre put around the neck of her father. The impact was such that she lost her voice for five months. Her father, who used to run a cinema hall suffered heavy losses in business as the theatre was burnt down during the riots. Poor economic condition and a big family forced him to marry her at the age of 16 to a Canada-based boy, Manvinder. The marriage was kept a secret. He turned out to be a beast. He had illicit relations with his sister-in-law and used to tease Jasjot for not being sexually mature. When my niece shared this story, it became the catalyst for me to start working on it. How can a man stoop so low?” Sunita says. Manvinder got shocked when Jasjot became pregnant. “He would say I have had physical relations with so many women. Nobody complained of it!”

Full report here Hindu

Maritime history of pre-modern India

Coastal Histories Society and Ecology in Premodern India
Edited by Yogesh Sharma
Primus Books
Rs. 695

Maritime India - Trade, Religion and Polity in the Indian Ocean:
Pius Malekandathil
Primus Books
Rs. 695

The two books under review complement each other in establishing the sea trade as an important driver of socioeconomic process in littoral societies that interacted primarily for trade.

They highlight the social dynamics behind the changes in the ruling and trade patterns of the coastal region. Michael N. Pearson, the well known historian of the Indian Ocean, has written the foreword for both. Sea trade was known in the South from very early times and the Sangam literature is full of references to the overseas trade and the functioning of ports, with the state acting as a facilitator of trade and as the custodian of goods landing in the harbour. Almost everyone who came from the West was referred to as Yavanas in Sangam and there was cordial relationship between the state and the foreign trader.

Effect of Christianity
A collection of articles by Pius Malekandathil, ‘Maritime India' speaks largely about Christianity in the coastal areas and its effect on trade. And the author describes the publication as a “study of the impact that the circuits in the Indian Ocean exerted on the socioeconomic and political process of India.” Significantly, Pius has dealt with the India-Sassanid (Persia) maritime trade and its impact on society, an area that has not been gone into by the earlier studies. One felt that the analysis of tributary-trade system could have drawn upon the Tamil inscriptions in Southeast Asia and China, where Indian merchant guilds had a strong presence.

Full report here Hindu

Monday, April 26, 2010

National Library plans a ‘Museum of the Word’

The National Library is planning to establish a a Museum of the Word to mark and preserve the long history of various scripts created, used and some lost in our country on continued history.

The museum is to come up in an old heritage building, which was once the home of Warren Hastings, Bengal's first Governor General in the city of Kolkata. The oul building will be converted into a centralized air-conditioned exhibition facility which will display clay tablets, printing equipment, etc.

India has been mother to many tongues and originator or so many scripts and moreover its influenced many more. As for publishing, the country may offer small opportunity to big publishing houses looking to offer books in English but in regional languages, printing houses churn our more than 50,000 titles every year.

Full report here

Central Library observes World Book Day

Along with the celebration of its golden jubilee, State Central Library observed World Book Day at its premises on April 23.

Organising of a symposium on the topic, 'importance of books in the world today' was the main attraction of the day's celebration.

Speaking at the function, DM College of Arts Reader Dr Moirangthem Priyobarta said that books make a person literate who understands the pros and cons of every happening.

Stating that books enlighten the minds of human beings, he went on saying that it can even lift a person up to the level of God. He however said that people must avoid books which can spew poison and distrust among people.

Full report here e-pao

Narmad mapped Gujarat but promoted Hindustani

The concept of Gujarat was introduced by Narmadashankar Lalshankar Dave, popularly known as Narmad, in 1873 in his poetry ‘Jay Jay Garvi Gujarat’.

‘Jay Jay Garvi Gujarat’ formed the foreword of his first Gujarati dictionary ‘Narm Kosh’. Narmad identified the region of Gujarati-speaking people.

The poem epitomises the sense of pride of the region. He clearly explained that the four points within which Gujarati-speaking population exists, are Ambaji in north, Pavagadh in east, Kunteshwar Mahadev in Vapi in south and Somnath, Dwarka in west. This largely became Gujarat’s boundary even though Saurashtra and Kutch would have differed with the view at that time. “Narmad gave birth to the idea of Gujarat through his poetry and writings. But he also wrote about one India and one language. He suggested that there should be only one language nationally which is Hindustani, a mixture of Hindi and Urdu spoken in north India in areas around Agra,” says Ramesh Shukla, a language researcher who specialises on Narmad.

Full report here Times of India

REVIEW: Jangalnama

Jangalnama: Travels in a Maoist Guerrilla Zone
Pp 206
ISBN: 9780143414452

The profound insights offered in Jangalnama are the result of Satnam’s close observation of the guerillas and adivasis of Bastar.—Varavara Rao

Maoist guerillas—always on the move, always on guard—living deep in the jungles of Bastar. Outlawed, demonized and hunted by the state, they are perceived with fear, incomprehension and terror by the outside world.

Satnam spent two months in remarkable intimacy with the guerrillas: travelling with them, sharing their food and shelter, experiencing their lives first hand. Through his up-close and personal account of their daily lives, we register them as human, made of flesh and bone. We are persuaded to appreciate their commitment to root out oppression.

Jangalnama is not merely a travelogue recording Satnam’s days in the jungle. It is a compelling argument to recognize the humanity of those in conflict with the mainstream of Indian society and to acknowledge their dream of a world free of exploitation.

Racy eye-opener of a book on the Maoist movement Little About
Why Bastar's tribals harbour Maoists?

This is undoubtedly India's answer to "Red Star Over China", the epoch-making story of what the then obscure Mao was up to in China's rural areas at the head of a nascent Communist party that eventually took power in 1949. When American Edgar Snow came out with the classic of a book, the world sat up and took notice.

The Indian Maoists of Bastar are of course not an unknown commodity. Yet there has been no account of what they are doing in the huge, forested land of poverty amid plenty known as Bastar, a story as exhaustive and moving as this racy eye-opener of a book.

Unlike most books on Indian Maoism, this one does not dabble in ideology, party documents and polemics. Like Snow did decades ago, Satnam, a committed Leftwing writer-activist from Punjab, focuses on the impoverished people and the revolutionaries he meets in Bastar. He spent two months in the forests, living with his subjects to study why Maoists are on the ascendency in the mineral-rich region where governments have existed only in the form of greedy contractors and corrupt policemen, leaving the mass of tribals to wallow in poverty, disease and illiteracy while outsiders strip away Bastar's minerals.

Bengali to English

"Prepone” is now a word in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. So is “airdash”. For those who squirm at the made-in-India opposite of “postpone”, the dictionary-makers say: “It enriches the language”. Not just Indian English. Shuddh Hindi words like attar, dhoti, dal are already there in the dictionary.

At the same time, the latest edition of Samsad Bangla Abhidhaan contains words as intrinsically English as “blade”, “blackboard”, “breakfast”, “captain”, “calendar”, “estate”, “envelope” and “engine”, to mention only the first part of the tome. Why not enrich the English dictionary with some Bengali? Worldwide, there are 20-25 crore speakers of Bangla.

Educationist Pabitra Sarkar says it is difficult to find the English equivalents of two kinds of words in Bengali. One: cultural terms like abhisar and abhiman, used to such rich effect in Vaishnava padabalis. Two: kinship terms — beyai, beyan, bhayra bhai, nonod, ja, bhashur… Metro draws up a list:

Abhiman: The original meaning was pride, but the current usage — anger, or something close to it, at being upset with a loved one. This one word is one whole chapter in any relationship, be it between lovers or between parent and child or between siblings or friends. Or just think Radha, when Krishna comes back after having spent the night with Chandrabali.

Full report here Telegraph

At home in the world

Rabindranath Tagore’s 150th birth centenary celebrations, to begin next month, have already set the drums rolling at the ‘cultural departments’ of the government, both Central and states. Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, ever anxious to get a foot in the door, has renamed as ‘Rabindra Ghat’ the crematorium by the river Hooghly where the poet was cremated 69 years ago. That jells with a Tagore song if sung in reverse: for you it is the beginning, for me it is the end.

Not to be outmanoeuvred by Mamata’s Trinamool Congress, the ruling Left Front in West Bengal is christening even routine rural development projects with the ‘R’ word embedded in it. At an even higher level, Tagore’s institutionalising is progressing with great fervour. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has announced that a “distinguished panel” of 25 persons would oversee the celebrations. The Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) is unveiling plans to showcase Tagore to the world, maybe to display India’s ‘soft power’.

It could well be so as the PM has announced that the celebrations would be ‘jointly’ held with Bangladesh, the second nation of the subcontinent with a Tagore song as its national anthem. Besides, Unesco has passed a resolution that it would celebrate Tagore’s 150 years and the centenaries of Pablo Neruda and Aimé Césaire' as an instance of what it has named, with appropriate profundity, as the ‘reconciled universal’.

Full report here Hindustan Times

Foundation laid for renovation of Tagore's cremation site

As part of Nobel laureate and poet Rabindranath Tagore's 150th birth anniversary celebrations, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Sunday, April 25, laid the foundation stone for improvement and extension of the Nimtala Ghat, where he was cremated 70 years back.

'We have to improve the condition of this burning ghat for the benefit of the locals and beautify it for preserving Rabindranath's memory,' Bhattacharjee said at the function.

He also laid the foundation for developing the Rabindranath Tagore Memorial Udyan situated in the premises.

Full report here Sify

World Book Day celebrated

The Library Media Centre at Kendriya Vidyalaya, Pattom celebrated the World Book and Copyright Day 2010 with competitions, exhibition and an author meet from April 22 to 24.

 There were bookmark designing and book review writing competitions and an exhibition of books written by William Shakespeare, whose birth and death day falls on April 23, which was declared as World Book and Copyright Day by UNESCO in 1995.

 In the author meet held on the final day, Dr Vilakkudy Rajendran, Malayalam writer and former editor and assistant director of Kerala Bhasha Institute, interacted with the students on books, reading, copyright and libraries. He asserted the importance of books in one’s life and asked the students to become the guardians of one’s own language.

Full report here New Indian Express

Bringing books to their perfect readers

Marcel Proust the great French novelist and philosopher, once said, in reality, every reader is, while he is reading, the reader of his own self...and the recognition by the reader in his own self of what the book says is the proof it its veracity.This is an axiom that underlies not just the best novels but also the ideal reader, who can confirm the best and the worst of his or her life through the experience of reading a good novel. In The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a novel that comes more than a century after Proust's observation, the protagonist observes that perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.Thanks to Proust, we can understand why this particular book finds all its perfect readers, affirming as it does the best parts of being human, and that too against the backdrop of an inhuman war.

It is 1946, and the island of Guernsey, the only part of England that was actually under German occupation during the Second World War, is slowly putting itself back together. A spirited London journalist, Juliet Ashton, decides to visit the island in response to an odd assortment of letters that she gets from members of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Juliet is intrigued in the first instance by the Society's name and then by a letter from Dawsey Adams, a vegetable and pig farmer. In that letter, Dawsey asks her about a book by Charles Lamb because he chances upon her name in a second hand book that he bought in Guernsey. Delighted to find that like her he is passionate about books, she learns about the extraordinary circumstances that led to the founding of the Society, and then decides to travel to Guernsey to find out more, in the hopes of perhaps even writing about it. Juliet soon finds that she is inexorably drawn into the lives of these remarkable people.

Full report here Hindu

The write book at the right price

The initial response to the ongoing book fair organized by Ashish Book Centre at Sunder Bai Hall, New Marine Lines, clearly indicates that Mumbai has no shortage of book aficionados.

With more than 2 lakh popular titles available under one roof at an 85% discount, it appears to be the perfect place to stockpile books for the summer. For instance, the India Travel Guide (Lonely Planet) usually sold at Rs1,500 can be availed at a discounted price of Rs500.

Worldwide best-sellers and excellent works by reputed authors which are normally priced at Rs 500 and above, can be obtained here for just Rs50 and Rs100.

A comprehensive range of encyclopaedias is also available at amazing discounts during the book fair, which is being held up to May 3, 2010 from 9 30 am to 8 30 pm.

Full report here DNA

Sunday, April 25, 2010

We fight, not over Kashmir but over who will wash the dishes

Amitava Kumar, author of Husband Of A Fanatic (2004), watched the to-do over the Sania-Shoaib match with some bemusement and a great deal of empathy. After all, the professor of English at Vassar College in New York State had not only married a Pakistani himself, but also written a book on it. In an interview with DNA, Kumar provides a characteristically tongue-in-cheek and at the same time insightful view on cross-border relationships that transcend the prejudices bearing down on them.

Where did you meet your wife? Was it love at first sight?
My wife’s name is Mona Ahmad Ali. I met her in New York City, in August of 1997, during the India Day parade. I began to fall in love with her when I found myself writing a poem about that day. “I have lost India, you have lost Pakistan, we have become the citizens of General Electric...”

What was the courtship like? Was it fascinating for you to be going out with a Pakistani and for her to be dating an Indian?
The New York Times had just published a story about Indians and Pakistanis getting along together in places like Queens. I was happy that I was part of an international trend. It is not every day that you have a part of your life validated by The New York Times!

Full report here DNA

Start talks, stop Green Hunt: Arundhati Roy

Calling for talks between Maoists and the government, writer Arundhati Roy on Saturday, April 24 demanded an immediate ceasefire on both sides, formal halting of the combing operations and Operation Green Hunt, and resettling people who were rendered homeless in Chhattisgarh's Dantewada district.

Ms. Roy also demanded that details of memoranda of undertaking signed between the government and mining industries, involving tribal regions, be made public.

She was speaking at a public meeting here on ‘Indian state's War on People and the Assault on Democratic Voices'.

It was organised by the Forum Against War on People, a forum of civil society organisations, parties, individuals and social activists.

Full report here Hindu

Fairytale, poetry, horror in Tarun Jung Rawat's art

Young artist Tarun Jung Rawat cuts across literary and artistic references to produce what he describes as 'fairytale art' that boasts of 'playful magic realism'

'I always try to imbue my works with a quality of playful magic realism. I believe in magic,' says Rawat, whose exhibition 'Never Mind the Bullfish, Here's Spot of T' is on at the Visual Arts Gallery in India Habitat Centre in Delhi.

'As a child, I was fond of reading books by Roald Dahl and Edgar Allan Poe. The spooky and the sinister quality of their stories held me captive. Later, as I matured into a designer and then as an artist, the sinister aspect of their tales lingered in my mind. And I allowed shades of horror and magic to creep into my works.

'The T in my 'Bullfish...' is double-edged. It stands for the quintessential pot of a lazy 'chai' or Tea and the artist in me,' Rawat, who is in his 30s, told IANS.

Full report here Sify

Connemara's online catalogue launched

A two-day exhibition of rare books that got under way on Friday, April 23 at Connemara Public Library in Chennai has on display one of the earliest published books in India – a bible – dated 1608.

Inaugurating the exhibition, School Education Minister Thangam Thennarasu said the out-of-print books were displayed with the aim of bringing more people to the library. “The exhibition showcases the history of print technology in India,” he told mediapersons. Connemara Public Library is among the four depository libraries in the country, which receives free of cost all books, newspapers and periodicals published in the country.

Full report here Hindu

Exhibition on rare books begins in Jammu

An exhibition showcasing rare books and manuscripts, including those on Jammu and Kashmir, began in Jammu on April 23.

Inaugurated by state Minister for Culture and Tourism Rigzin Jora, the exhibition at the Kala Kendra had manuscripts dating back to the 17 century AD.

Among the books and manuscripts exhibited were Adi Granth (1887), Shah Nama Firdousi (1874), Aayeen-e-Akbari (1274), Gulam Nama (1932), Bustan-e-Hikmat (1874), Makhzanul Advia (1882), Tareekh-e-Rajgaan-e-Jammu-wa-Kashmir (1886)and Naya Purana Ehad Nama (1824).
The exhibition, which was to be a one-day affair, has now been extended to two more days.

Full report here Azad Kashmir

Archie comics to introduce first gay character

Now it won't be only about Archie, Veronica and Betty. The world’s oldest teenager comic book is to introduce its first openly gay character Kevin Keller, announced the publisher on Friday.

"The introduction of Kevin is just about keeping the world of Archie Comics current and inclusive. Archie's hometown of Riverdale has always been a safe world for everyone. It just makes sense to have an openly gay character in Archie comic books," said Jon Goldwater of Archie Comics on its official blogsite http://www.archiecomics. com/blog/news/

The Veronica #202 edition will introduce Kevin as the new hunk in town and Veronica just has to have him in the full-issue story Isn't it Bromantic?

Full report here Hindustan Times

Indian-origin MP chosen for Krishna Menon Award

A leading Indian-origin Labour MP has been chosen for the V K Krishna Menon Award 2010, for his outstanding contribution towards political, social and economic advancement of the deprived sections of the British community.

Announcing the award, Dr Cyriac, Maprayil, Director of the London-based V K Krishna Menon Institute, said the award would be presented to Virendra Sharma later in the year who will also deliver The V K Krishna Menon Memorial Lecture.

Dr Maprayil said, "Sharma is one of the earliest labour party activists in this country with a consistent record of service to the Labour Party and to the Asian Community.

"His large majority at the polls speaks for itself and the high esteem and respect in which he is held by his
constituents. He has brought dignity and self-respect to politics condemning opportunism, cynicism and self enrichment of many politicians at a time when we were beginning to lose faith in politics.

Full report here Indian Express

The good shepard

For someone searching for an identity, author Sadia Shepard seems confoundingly free of internal conflict...

“Writers should be read but neither seen nor heard,” said author Daphne du Maurier, who would be taken aback to see the self-promotion that has come to be essential to the book trade in this day and age, as seen at the recent Karachi Literature Festival . Of the writers presenting their work was rising star Sadia Shepard, presenting her debut The Girl From Foreign, a memoir of her search for her Indian-Jewish grandmother’s roots. Shepard — who grew up in a multicultural household outside Boston — was 13 when she discovered her grandmother’s heritage.

Fascinated by the knowledge that her maternal grandmother had been born Rachel Jacobs in a little-known Jewish community in Mumbai, before ultimately marrying a Muslim and converting to Islam, the grown-up Shepard travels to India to find out more about the life her grandmother left behind. The result of this journey is The Girl From Foreign. Shepard is, at this young age, already quite the Renaissance Woman. By profession she is a documentary filmmaker who has worked on projects for the Discovery Channel.

Her most successful work is the critically-acclaimed documentary The September Issue, a ferociously entertaining account of the production of Vogue magazine’s legendary bumper issue. She started her book in 2003 — breaking off in 2007 for the filming of The Septmber Issue — before publishing it in 2008. When you write a memoir so young, you’re setting yourself up for that thorny question of why anybody would be interested in reading about you in the first place. “I never thought anyone would read my book”, says Shepard, who did not let the disconcerting possibility discourage her from writing it.

Full report here International Herald Tribune

In a world of uneasy choices

Born in Dhaka, Mahmud Rahman came of age during the creation of Bangladesh...

During the 1971 war, he was a refugee in Calcutta. In his adult life, he has lived in several US cities. His fiction and non-fiction have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, Britain, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. He also translates Bangla fiction. In this interview, he speaks about his new collection of short stories, Killing The Water (Penguin). Excerpts from an interview:

When did you begin writing?
I wrote all along, ever since my schooldays. But I took up narrative prose only in the mid 90s. 

How did major upheavals in your life affect you as a writer?
In the earlier years, there was great upheaval around and inside me. In my 20s, after the war and subsequent disappointment with the way things turned out in independent Bangladesh, I was an angry young man. I revisited some of those times while writing my stories through both the filter of time and what I’d like to believe is a greater thoughtfulness. I strive to reflect complexity. Fiction can’t provide answers, but it can convey a sense of people living in worlds of uneasy choices.

Where do you find inspiration?
First, in fragments from memory. The title story ‘Killing the Water’ plays with myth-making from events in my childhood. Second, I enjoy drawing out people to share stories. ‘City Shoes in the Village’ came from an anecdote my father told me. While living in Calcutta in the 30s, he had built a motorboat and navigated it to his home in Chandpur. I tried to imagine what might have happened when someone like him without close links with either his village home or his relatives returned home — in order to get a sense of his alienation. This story also drew in emotions and reactions I myself felt when I first returned home to Dhaka after 10 years in the US. Third, I tend to take mental snapshots and retain striking images. The story ‘Yuralda’ emerged from an image of a woman I saw once on a dance floor, swaying by herself, dismissing all who approached her.

What have been your best and worst experiences as a writer?
It’s wonderful when a reader “gets” the story you meant to tell; when reading the story surprises and awes. I also feel delighted when a story comes together. Worst experiences? A work that refused to come together, one that defeated me.

Full interview here Deccan Herald

Review: Of Wooing, Woes and Wanderings

Of Wooing, Woes and Wanderings
Amitabha Chatterjee
Rs 250
Pp 258,

Of Wooing, Woes, and Wanderings is entertaining, fluid, and sensitive. Chatterjee explores the love-life and profession of an Indian oilman in the bleakness of oil rigs in the world, a little-explored theme so far.

Lovers without borders Deccan Herald
Venezuela, sultry beauties with voluptuous figures, Latino rhythms, Harry Belafonte singing ‘Matilda...Matilda... she took me money and run Venezuela’ (all the more relevant as the author too, invokes Belafonte). These are some of the thoughts, images and cadences that Of Wooing Woes and Wanderings evokes, by free association.

This is the story of Rajarshi — a young, inexperienced Indian oilman with traditional values, posted to Venezuela, and Marisel — a vivacious, curvaceous Venezuelan woman, and their adventures and misadventures in Venezuela, Egypt, Qatar, Syria, Sudan and Muscat. They meet at a party thrown by Rajarshi’s friends to celebrate his arrival at the oil-rig in El Tigre. At first, Rajarshi’s vocabulary in Spanish is limited to half a dozen words and Marisel’s knowledge of English is non-existent, but the chemistry between them needs no language.

Of Wooing, Woes... reads like part-travelogue, part-refresher course in Spanish, and part log book of an oil-rig interspersed with rambunctious, titillating romantic episodes. Reading about the author’s experiences in Egypt reminded me of my trip to that country, the Nile Cruises, the Pyramids of Giza, Luxor, the Sphinx, the mummies, the statues of Tutankhamen and Nefertiti, the papyrus paintings, and in a lighter vein: “You from India? Amitabh Bacchan!” I looked ruefully at myself in the mirror to see whether I resembled the Big B!

Gandhi's sex life laid bare in new book

A new book on Mahatma Gandhi has delved into the intimate life of the Indian icon whose famous vow of chastity did not prevent him sleeping with naked women and conducting bizarre sex "experiments". Gandhi: Naked Ambition by British historian Jad Adams sheds new light on the spiritual leader and independence hero whose spartan existence and resistance to earthly pleasures are an integral part of his popular image.

The book has been released in Britain and will be available soon in India where it is bound to make waves in a country where Gandhi's image is fiercely protected and a source of national pride. That his attitudes to sex were censorious and unusual is well known. He wrote of his disgust at himself for having intercourse with his wife Kasturba, aged 15, when his father died in 1885.

In later life, having fathered four children, he forbade even married couples in his ashram retreats from having sex and lectured men on the need to take a cold bath when they felt lustful. More than 60 years after Gandhi's death, Adams has gone through hundreds of pages of his writings and eyewitness accounts to build a behind-closed-doors picture of a man considered both a saint and the father of the nation in India. "One of things you find about Gandhi is how much he wrote about sex," Adams said.

Full report here AFP

Drawing from life

Nothing gives Karan Bajaj as much thrill as writing about the common man stuck in bizarre situations...

After the success of his wild and racy debut novel, Keep Off The Grass in 2008, U.S.-based Karan Bajaj's second novel Johnny Gone Down (HarperCollins) is all set for release. Having already reached the mark of 50,000 in its first print run, the book has managed to generate excitement among book lovers. The technocrat-turned-writer reflects on his second effort and passion for writing.

On how he got into writing and his writing style...
Till I was about 22-23, I never really thought of what I wanted to do. I completed my engineering and then went on to pursue an MBA from IIM Bangalore. I got a fulfilling job that gave me ample opportunities to travel, as well as some great experiences which found their way into my books. (He now works with Kraft Foods in New York). As far as my writing style is concerned, I guess I am an old-school thriller writer. I love to write about conflict up-close, which can be seen in both of my novels.

On Johnny Gone Down
It is a deep, dark Forrest Gump-ish story that talks about the character's 20-year journey which takes him all over the world, where he lives as a genocide survivor, a Buddhist monk, a drug lord, a homeless accountant and a software mogul among others. It is a story about the unpredictable trajectory of events for a normal man who wants to live this strait-jacketed life but ends up in bizarre, surreal situations. The places mentioned in the novel are the places that I have travelled to.

There are portions of the book which talk about events, both historical and contemporary which struck me and inspired me, for instance the genocide in Cambodia in the 1970s.

Full interview here The Hindu

REVIEW: Indian Essentials

Indian Essentials
Rs 450
Pp 526
ISBN: 9780143065265

In this quirky collection, twenty writers and social commentators ponder the mysteries of the Indian psyche and try to make sense of one trait, phenomenon or cultural value that is quintessentially Indian. From the Indian male’s predilection for public urination to the Indian female’s obsession with gold, from the jhatkas of Bollywood to the melas of Allahabad, from our embarrassingly frank matrimonials to our obsession with sex (or rather not talking about it!), nothing is spared scrutiny. And because we Indians like a little something extra over and above what we are promised, in The Short Dictionary of [Other] Things Indian, a concise guide to Indianisms, there are the peculiar Indian qualities. Dip into this collection to find out what it means to be Made in India.

The way we are Tribune India
The reviewer has decided that she’s going to follow Jerry Pinto on Twitter or whichever social network he is on, since the time he had her chuckling over his little compilation of terms most Indian, which comes in the form of an extra booklet along with Indian Essentials.

That’s a cunning trick, by the way, because the size of Indian Essentials can daunt the reader who is now used reading only about 30,000 words, give or take a few. But the slim little book grabs you and when you put it away singing Vicco Vajranti Ayurvedic cream, twacha ki raksha kare antiseptic cream, (Because Jerry Pinto, henceforth, the reviewer’s Twitter hero, asks the reader to, you see), you reach for Indian Essentials, hoping that its going to do the glossary justice. The view is a bit lop-sided, I admit, but the glossary is so vastly amusing that the expectations rise.

And the reader is not disappointed. Dare she go non-intellectual and say that the book is "lovely?" There! She’s said it! It’s a lovely book, amusing, touching the core and revealing the reality of the pure Indian spirit, but sweetly, gently, with humour and compassion. The Indian love for tradition, the hypocrisy, the family feeling, the smoke curtains around sex, the NRI phenomena, Bollywood, cricket, marriage `85 everything is dissected, put under the microscope, thoroughly examined and then sewn up neatly by the authors of this anthology.

The list of authors packs quite a punch. All heavyweights in their respective fields, they have varied views, experiences, and spheres of influence. That’s why each piece, though the surmise(s) is not new, is treated with a fresh perspective. For example, in Hum Log, the Sex Log, the writer, Samrat, writes about the obfuscation of sex issues in India, but with what different angles! He covers everything from the immensely popular porn website Savita Bhabhi to ‘Ask the Sexpert’ sections of magazines answering questions in their half-baked manner; divine procreation in mythologies, and the ‘V.D, Sex specialists’ who promise that the suffering man will regain his "virility and masculine vigour". The article is no-holds-barred irreverent and rip roaring hilarious!

Review: All That You Can’t Leave Behind

All That You Can’t Leave Behind: Why We Can Never Do Without Cricket
Soumya Bhattacharya
Rs 199
Pp 129
ISBN: 9780143066293

If one were to do a nationwide poll of Indians born after Independence and ask which is the one date they remember most, the answer may well be 25 June 1983, the date on which India won the cricket World Cup. It is often said that cricket in India is like a religion; nothing could be more misleading. Religion has scarred the nation more deeply than anything else. Cricket is the balm that heals.

In our collective consciousness, there is nothing quite like cricket. As the most visible expression of national identity, as an obsession or a dream, cricket is the only thing that possibly unites a country as diverse and as contradiction-ridden as India.

In this brilliant book, Soumya Bhattacharya shows how we have made this game our own, given it our own colour, our own customs, our own codes. And how cricket in turn has come to permeate every aspect of our public life, from popular culture to politics—so that, when a game is on, the rest of life happens strictly between overs. In the end, All That You Can’t Leave Behind is as much about India as it is about cricket.

Our secular institution Deccan Herald
Hockey continues to be our national sport (yes, from time to time, we need to keep reminding ourselves) and disciplines such as tennis and more recently badminton have captured the imagination of Indian sports lovers. But nothing quite excites and drives us like cricket does. Everyone has an opinion, and the beauty is that there is no such thing as a correct opinion or a wrong one. Yes, statistics throw up cold numbers and therefore leave little room for debate, but that is certainly not the case when it comes to opinion.
Not everyone who is passionate to the extent of being obsessive about cricket, however, gets a platform to express himself. Most of us have to make do with discussions with friends, which begin pleasantly enough and soon become animated before mushrooming into full-blown and heated arguments because each man has his opinion, and is completely convinced that he is correct. Time after time.

Then, we have people like Soumya Bhattacharya, tied to cricket through a special bond that was the extraordinary World Cup triumph in 1983. Bhattacharya is fortunate in that he is in a position where he can share his views with millions of people. Fortune, however, has had very little role to play in the manner in which he has communicated with fellow cricket-lovers through All That You Can’t Leave Behind.

This labour of love isn’t overpowering in that it doesn’t beat you into accepting the author’s point of view as being the only one worth consideration. If anything, All That You... is a personal account of a fascinating relationship that began with Kapil Devils conquering the world, and that hasn’t suffered because of the passage of time or the escalation of responsibilities.

Given that he is the Resident Editor of The Hindustan Times in Mumbai, Bhattacharya doesn’t need a book to influence opinions, which in any case doesn’t seem to be his motive. Right at the beginning, though, he debunks the popular myth that cricket in India is a religion.

Workshops help art push new frontiers

Aesthetic exchanges at interactive workshops that give a sense of purpose, involvement of the community and new populist idioms have helped art reach out to the widest cross-section of people over the last decade. The change, as Robert Loder, founder-director of the Triangle Arts Trust, Britain, said has been 'brought about by the new interactive nature that art has acquired as a result of workshops and public projects that rely on people's participation to carry art forward as tool of communication and mass awareness'.

Loder, known as the "workshop man" for pioneering the concept of art workshops across the globe, was in India to launch the Khoj Book - the country's first ever printed volume on community, workshop and interactive art - at the British Council here Friday.

"I think the art workshop experiment has been the most successful in India when compared to other countries across the globe. It has brought about a big change in the artistic temperament of the country. Artists can now articulate and express themselves in more creative ways," Loder said.

Full report here Sify News

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Geography is history

Two books that reveal the international Indian. One shows how to do it right...

After the exit: Rahul Mehta's Quarantine
Most Indian fiction in English in the last two decades falls under what is disdainfully referred to in literary circles as “mango pickle” writing. These are elaborately written stories of being raised in an archetypal corner of exotic India, of walking through paddy fields, lying awake in the festering summer heat and the haunting memory of grandmother’s cooking. Smack your lips a last time, because mango pickle stories are now on the wane.

Much like our peripatetic countrymen, Indian writing has also gone places. The works of two new authors releasing this month augment this trend. The first is Rahul Mehta’s Quarantine, a book of nine short stories about gay Indian Americans. In Mehta’s world, the big story is not about coming out of the closet; it is what happens after the grand exit. His characters are cast adrift from the original American dream of big money, big house and big car. They inhabit cockroach-ridden apartments with dirty linoleum floors and have complicated relationships with other men. None of his protagonists long for India or an idea of India, they are American, comfortably ensconced in both their nationality and sexuality. Sure, there is anxiety about their family’s acceptance of their homosexuality, but it is societal, not cultural.

The script-turned-book: Manisha Lakhe's The Betelnut Killers
Manisha Lakhe’s The Betelnut Killers begins with detective Franklin D. Wade walking into a sanatorium in Portland, Oregon, US. For the rest, the book shifts to the home of Chimanbhai Shah, a Gujarati who runs an Indian shop. When Supriya, a hottie who was Shah’s assistant, starts her own store on the other side of the mall, Shah feels the “heat” of the competition. The Shah family, determined to get rid of Supriya, hatches a plan to bring Osmanbhai, a Mumbai don, to the US. But of course, things go wrong from the start.

Lakhe lived in Portland and she knows the topography of the place well. Also on cue are some of her observations about Indian Americans. What lets Betelnut Killers down is what comes across as Lakhe’s contempt for Indian Americans such as Shah. She caricatures them to such an extent that it is impossible for the reader to care about the plot.

Full report here Mint

Will books survive Facebook?‎

As young people spend more time on the Internet, are books still a part of their lives? Can traditional publishing survive Facebook and piracy? Ravi Singh, Editor-in-Chief, Penguin India, is optimistic. On World Book Day (April 23), he tells Salil Jose that the publishing industry will only grow in the years to come...Excerpts from an interview:

Are you optimistic about the future of publishing in India?
Definitely. There was a steady growth in the number of books published over the last six to seven years. This trend will continue. The market is growing. So I am optimistic.

Which genre of writing is going to be the most popular in India in the next one year?
I think non-fiction will be more popular than fiction. The books of Ramachandra Guha or Gurcharan Das were in demand over the past few years and this trend will continue.

Recently, Penguin has been publishing the works of controversial personalities like Jarnail Singh and Sister Jesme. Was that a conscious decision?
I don't think they are controversial books. Jarnail Singh's I Accuse was about the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. He has narrated the victimisation of his community after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Ever since he threw shoes on Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, he assumed the role of a spokesperson for the community. So getting him write about anti-Sikh violence was a conscious decision. Any publisher would do that. The same is the case with Sister Jesme's Amen: An Autobiography of a Nun. She has dealt with evils of the Catholic Church in Kerala.

What was the feedback to these books? Will we see more such books in the future?
These books have been well-received. You can expect more such books in future.

Young Indians spend a lot of time on the Internet and social networking websites. How has the Internet hit their reading/writing habits?
I am not sure about it. There is no data available. I don't think it has a direct impact on the reading or writing habits of people. However, we find the Internet a good platform for promoting our books. For example, we have Facebook pages for many authors. Also we use blogs to promote books.

Full report here Sify News

Let’s read the fine print

Last week, Penguin Books CEO John Makinson said that there is no real market for books in India. White man he not speak with forked tongue. Surely he was referring to volumes in English publishing in India, which are indeed poor by Western standards. His candour is a refreshing change from the insane enthusiasm of foreign publishers who expect our market to explode any moment. But perhaps Makinson missed the ferment of activity in Indian language publishing, which churns out almost 50,000 titles every year. Everyone seems to miss this vernacular revolution hidden from angrez eyes.

But then I learned of the National Library’s plan to found a Museum of the Word to celebrate the many-layered history of shabda in India. In retrospect, it is amazing that we don’t have one in a country which is a Babel of tongues and a maze of scripts. And home to one of the two dozen undeciphered scripts in the world, courtesy the Indus Valley civilisation.

The National Library has just vacated its old digs in Kolkata in favour of a modern, climate controlled building. It is planning to turn the old heritage building, which was once the home of Warren Hastings, Bengal’s first Governor General, into the museum. Exhibits will range from clay tablets to printing equipment like superannuated letterpresses.

Full report here Hindustan Times

India's answer to Brokeback Mountain ready to hit cinemas

First Indian film to feature a gay kiss, Dunno Y … Na Jaane Kyun, likely to spark controversy...

The posters are ready, so is the film. The only question is whether the Indian public is too. Dunno Y … Na Jaane Kyun, a film featuring India's first cinematic gay kiss, is scheduled to go on general release within weeks. Already dubbed India's answer to Brokeback Mountain it tells the story of an aspiring model who travels to Mumbai, India's commercial and film capital, to seek his fortune and enters into a homosexual relationship, in part to further his career.

Trailers of the film have been well received by activists. "It looks good," said Ashok Row Kavi, editor of Bombay Dost, India's first gay magazine. It talks of the complexities [of being gay] in India. Taboos are still very strong and hopefully it will change things."

For decades Bollywood avoided graphic depictions of even heterosexual kisses, with films famously cutting away to images of budding flowers, breaking waves or crashing waterfalls at the crucial moment. Earlier this year a film called Love, Sex … and Dhokha (ditching) which included relatively graphic scenes of heterosexual sex was released. Though there was much media debate, the film generated little public outrage, encouraging those seeking to draw the largely formulaic Indian film industry in new directions. However the most explicit sequences in the film were cut or altered by censors.

Full report here Guardian

Desha Kaala turns five

Desha Kaala, the Kannada quarterly journal, has turned five. A moment of celebration and reflection...

At five, can one say, “has stood the test of time”? It indubitably seems like a fitting expression for these times that we live in, more so in the case of creative endeavours. Desha Kaala, the quarterly Kannada journal, completes five years and has much to celebrate – turning up right on dot, a fetching weave of aesthetics and content, a vaunted contributor list; to speak of those in plain sight.

Kannada has always had a rich tradition of Little Magazines, if not copious. Some literary, and some non-literary. While most of these have been purely literary in their concern, the later ones like Sakshi and Rujuvathu seriously strived for a cross between mainstream magazines and academic journals and hence are more than just literary. They were more a product of their times, without cocooning themselves in the comfort of literary flourishes: they addressed the unrelenting social, cultural and political questions. Desha Kaala strives to belong to this space – addressing larger cultural questions, along with an engaging dose of literature.

Full report here The Hindu

Satyajit Ray retrospective opens in Dhaka

A retrospective of Satyajit Ray's films opened in the Bangladesh capital on April 23 to mark the 18th death anniversary of the master filmmaker who is regarded as a towering figure of 20th century cinema.

The Indian high commission has organised the week-long event where six of Ray's movies will be showcased as part of the 'Satyajit Retrospective' at the Indira Gandhi Cultural Centre in downtown Gulshan.

'Satyajit Ray Introspections' by Indian documentary maker K. Bikram Singh and Ray's own Kanchenjunga are being showcased, while the documentary Pa and Ray's all time classics Apur Sansar, Aranyer Dinratri and Seemabaddha will be screened over the week, reports New Age newspaper.

Full report here Sify News

India has got beneath my skin: Diana Preston

Married to fellow writer Michael Preston, British author Diana Preston reveals that travel is always on their cards. The couple chose India as the first faraway destination to visit, knowing little that the country would eventually become the centre of many novels they would pen together. Diana admits, “I have lost count of the number of times I have visited India since then. The country has just got beneath my skin. From the shore temples of the South to the Northern fringes of the country, we have seen it all. Every time we come back, we go away learning a lot.” 

It was on her first trip to India that Diana developed her interest in the Mughal history of India, gazing at the majestic Taj Mahal and walking down the Fatehpur Sikri corridors. Diana adds, “It led us further back into the chronicles of the Mughal era. Five years ago, we wrote our book on the Taj Mahal.”

Writing novels exclusively centred around this glorious historical period required several research trips. The author laughs as she recounts, “We had so much travel to do that we even got ourselves round trip railway passes. To capture all the sights and sounds of the country, we preferred travelling at night.” They also decided to do all their traveling by train.

Full report here DNA

Gurinder Chadha back with another comedy

Gurinder Chadha, writer/director of the acclaimed comedy Bend It Like Beckham, is back with another affable cultural comedy. This time the concept around which the story revolves is a mother who, in her desperation to marry off her daughter, kills off those who ruin her plans.

Rather than centring on the spooky excesses of this doting mother, however, the film is taken down Chadha’s favourite soppy-family route as the ghosts of the deceased come back to haunt her, but end up deciding to help in her tasks in order to redeem their souls.

The concept isn’t a bad one. There’s plenty of scope for excess as the ghouls trail Mrs. Sethi, pursued by bumbling detectives, and her daughter Roopi as she searches for love. The silliness is enhanced by Roopi’s friend Linda, whose obsession with Indian culture has led her to believe she has psychic powers, a useful skill that is drawn on for several of the more humorous plot twists.

Full report here Obsessed With Film

The play of languages

Girish Karnad’s examination of the English-vernacular divide has echoes off the stage...

Shashi Deshpande was giving a talk in Bangalore about being an English language writer in India and Girish Karnad was in the audience. “While listening to her, I began thinking that her father was the great Kannada writer Shriranga, though Shashi herself cannot speak or write in Kannada,” Karnad recalls over the phone from Bangalore. “Her (Deshpande’s) sister, however, can, and she is the one who translated her father’s work in English.”

Attending that talk provided the spark that made Karnad write Odakalu Bimba, a Kannada play about a Kannada writer whose debut novel in English is a big international success. After its Kannada and Hindi versions (Bikhre Bimb) had successful runs, Karnad decided to translate the play in English, calling it Broken Images. Directed by theatre veteran Alyque Padamsee, the single-character play features Shabana Azmi as the Hindi-language writer Manjula Sharma, whose sudden success prompts her to introspect about her language and identity.

“Writing plays is like having children,” Karnad says. “You can’t predict what will become of them. They develop their own fate lines.” It is a familiar enough observation, backed in this instance by over 40 years of playwriting experience. Karnad cites the example of his play Naga-Mandala, which he wrote for a college production. Based on a folk tale about a woman who “marries” a snake, it has, much to his surprise, become his most performed play.

Full report here Mint