Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Reading COUNTRY DRIVE by Sukrita Paul Kumar & Yasmin Ladha — a collection of 'duets in poetry', literally and figuratively, by two accomplished poets at the height of their powers, where diverse themes intersect in unexpected ways. As Francis Bacon said, this is definitely a book of chew and savour.
I KNOW YOU ARE HERE by Gayatri Majumdar @
The New Delhi World Book Fair 2019.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

THE LADY PERFUMER by Renn. Ready for shipping. Available @

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Reading I KNOW YOU ARE HERE by Gayatri Majumdar. Reading this book is like going on a whirlwind tour across India, from Dharamkot in Himachal to Aurangabad in Maharashtra to Puducherry, with the world’s best tourist guide for company, who misses nothing and shares everything with a sardonic wit.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Reading Kamal Kumar Tanti’s POST-COLONIAL POEMS in Assamese. There may be an English version soon. Watch this space.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Breaking language barriers at NDWBF 2019

Literary exchanges and books for all readers, irrespective of languages and abilities, were the highlights of the 27th edition of New Delhi World Book Fair, held in Pragati Maidan, New Delhi from 5 to 13 January 2019, reports Dibyajyoti Sarma

To be certain, the annual New Delhi World Book Fair (NDWBF) is neither Frankfurt, where it’s more business nor London, where it’s more books. NDWBF is its own thing, a mixture of both books and business, and a gathering of book lovers in the country’s capital. The 27th edition of the Fair was no exception with booksellers and book buyers crowding the halls at Pragati Maidan from 5 to 13 January 2019.

If NDWBF 2019 looked especially crowded this year, it’s because due to the ongoing construction at the Fair site, exhibition space was limited, and as a result, while a number of exhibitors did not even get to book their stalls, others were squeezed into smaller spaces. Still visitor footfall was encouraging, not just in the Hindi language section, which always sees a better footfall, but also in English trade section.

Inaugurating the event on 5 January, Prakash Javadekar, minister of human resource development, said that last year 12 lakh people visited the show. This year’s number should easily match this figure.

This year’s Guest of Honour country was Sharjah. Javadekar said, “More than 2 million Indians have made UAE their homes, which shows that the cultural ties between the two countries have grown over the years.

India-UAE collaboration
On the second day of the Fair, a discuss between Indian and UAE publishers during the seventh edition of CEOSpeak, a forum for dialogue in the publishing sector, saw the Emirati publishers underlining the need for translated works, and for Indian publishing to expand in Africa through Sharjah.

Ahmed Al Ameri, chairman, Sharjah Books Authority, said, “Sharjah is the gateway to Africa for Indian publishers,” adding, “Reading and literacy are the beating hearts of Sharjah.”

He said while it takes 60 days to ship from India to Africa, it takes only two weeks from Sharjah, the UAE's third largest emirate and a free-zone in the world for publishing. He also highlighted the importance of translations for cultural exchanges and cross-border collaborations. To highlight this, at the Sharjah pavilion in the Fair, it hosted 10 emerging litterateurs from UAE and a set of 57 books translated from Arabic to Hindi.

Dilip Chenoy, secretary general, Ficci, said that India is a USD 4.6 billion book market and the second largest English language print book publisher in the world, adding, “UAE accounts for a sprawling 37% of India's total book exports to the Arab world.”
The forum also saw publishing stalwarts discuss literature for children and young adults, and brought forth the need to include them in forums like CEOSpeak. Both UAE and Indian publishers noted the need to give young readers myriad options, and highlight the common challenges they face across geographic borders, rather than just trying to transmit values through the written word.

Vikrant Mathur, director, India & Asia Pacific, Nielsen Book, said the total trade market in India is worth Rs 24.0 billion and growing at a CAGR of 8.5%. Local languages trade books account for 44% of the market and English trade books 56%. He said within English trade books, the highest contribution is that of adult non-fiction at 45%, followed by adult fiction (30%) and children (25%). Hindi contributes maximum (35%) followed by Malayalam (9%) and Bengali (8%).

CEOSpeak was organised jointly by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) and National Book Trust, India, the organiser of the book fair.

Books for differently-abled
The theme for NDWBF 2019 was ‘Books for readers with special needs’, and it was a timely initiative too as special books for the differently-abled remain a marginal publishing activity. The theme pavilion had an exhibit of around 50 books, including Braille editions, audio books, integrated print-Braille books, silent books, tactile books. On the occasion, NBT published a special catalogue of its books published in Braille, in Braille, so that the large-sized book that can be read by the visually-challenged. The book contains a list of 250 titles in Braille.

New Delhi Rights Table
For publishers, one of the important features of the Fair is the New Delhi Rights Table. On its seventh edition, this year, the two-day event saw the participation of more than sixty publishers from India and abroad. The forum provides a platform to network and explore business opportunities together with publishers, right agents, authors, translators, and editors.

100 German must-reads
At the Fair, German Book Office, New Delhi showcased ‘100 German Must-Reads’, a selection of volumes that has the power to change the reader’s view of Germany and Europe. Presented by Deutsche Welle, the ultimate list of German-language books translated into English, feature books such as Franz Kafka’s The Trial; Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera; Pascal Mercier’s Night Train to Lisbon and Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart, among others. The selection ranges from books published in 1901 (Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks) to 2016 (Phillip Winkler’s Hooligan).

The business of self-publishing
In the last couple of years, largely thanks to Amazon’s self-publishing platform, self-publishing has become a legitimate publishing segment on its own, attracting readers, writers and solution providers. Chennai-based Notion Press, which calls itself ‘guided publishing platform,’ had the strongest presence at the fair. One of the fastest-growing self-publishing business in India, founded in 2012, the company has published more than 4,000 books, with branches in Singapore and Malaysia.

Then there were other names like Blue Rose, Zorba, and so on. The business looks so lucrative that even Nielsen has started offering services for independent publishers and self-published authors. The company helps writers and new publishers understand the book supply chain and guides them through the process from purchasing a publisher prefix and range of ISBNs to receiving your orders online, enhancing metadata to ensure reach the widest possible audience and sell more copies of books.

There was also Repro India to take care of the printing and distribution aspect of books. Manipal Technologies, which offers a range of services to publishers, including print production, warehousing, end-to-end digital publishing and so on, also made its presence felt during the show. Also present was S Chand, one of the country’s biggest education publishers.

Between Hindi and English
Over the years, English and Hindi publishing have been working to make books published in either languages available into the other. For example, this year, journalist Ravish Kumar’s popular book of micro fiction, Ishq Mein Seher Hona, published by Rajkamal, was translated into English and was published by Speaking Tiger. The same way, Rajkamal released the Hindi translation of Arundhati Roy’s novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness during the Fair.

However, the highlight of this literary exchange was the publication of the first English edition of the popular Hindi literary magazine ‘Hans’. The first edition of English translations of selected works from its earlier editions was unveiled during the show by author Mark Tully and novelist Mridula Garg, who spoke about the magazine’s illustrious history while writers and translators, who worked on the edition, spoke about Hindi literature and the difficulties in carrying out translations.

The inaugural issues carries 13 stories published over five years between 1986 and 1990 in original Hans.

Rachna Yadav, managing director of the magazine and daughter of writer and former editor Rajendra Yadav said the English translations were an effort to expose audiences outside of the ‘Hindi belt’, especially in metro cities about the wealth of contemporary Hindi fiction.

The Hindi version of the magazine has a circulation of about 10,000 copies.

Yadav said subsequent issues, which will be published annually, will carry stories from the next five-year period.

While Hindi publishers are doing their bit to translated literatures from English and other languages into Hindi, it’s the English language publishers who are taking the momentum of Hindi publishing forward. Today, all major English publishers have a Hindi imprint. For example, last year, Penguin Random House India acquired Hind Pocket Books, one of the oldest Hindi language publishers in the country. Meanwhile, according to Oxford University Press, its language publishing division, through which it publishes in Hindi and Bangla, is doing quite well.

(The piece was first published in PrintWeek India)

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

A novel of people

Review of There’s a Carnival Today by Indra Bahadur Rai (Translated from Nepali by Manjushree Thapa), New Delhi: Speaking Tiger, 2017, Rs 350/

When I first picked up the Manjushree Thapa’s translation of celebrated Nepali author Indra Bahadur Rai’s There’s a Carnival Today, the first thing I remembered was reading Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin all those years ago, especially his concept of carnival as a social institution and his idea of novel as polyphony.

Perhaps the English title of the novel and the bright white, indigo and red cover, featuring a protesting mob, among others, were the triggers. As I read on, my hunch proved to be not altogether wrong, but not entirely correct either.

On the surface, the novel tells the story of Janak, a garment trader, and his family, his wife from across the border in Nepal, Sita, and their two children, Ravi and Divya making a living in Derjeeling, a decided British town, now a part of West Bengal, hosting diverse communities such as Bengali, Nepali, Lepcha, Bhutia, Tibetan, among others.

Dig deeper and several stories emerge. It is a story of a country in transition from independence to self-rule to development (The novel begins at the dawn of Independence when Janak returns home after completing his studies in Kolkata and ends during workers agitation in 1950s.).

It is the story of the struggle of the Tea Garden Workers’ rights that led to a full blown protest in Derjeeling in the 1950s. In one sense, it is a story of the communist labour union movement in the tea plantations.

It is also the story of building a cultural identity, the ‘Gorkha’ identity and the rise of the demand for a Gorkhaland state. At the same time, it is the story of cultural diversity, the comingling of different peoples — settlers from Nepal, who while using the language, formed a separate identity as Gorkha (which the novel highlights in the confrontations between Janak and his father-in-law, who is from mainland Nepal); Lepchas; Limbus; Bhotias; Bengali administrators and tea plantation owners (exemplified by Janak’s neighbours MK and Ajoy Dasgupta); and the Bihari and Marwari traders (as represented by Jayabilas, once Janak’s business partner, now his bitter enemy). There are also vestiges of the colonial past (the movie theatre in the market and even Goan Jazz).

This inevitably leads to another story, a story of clash of cultures, between the Gorkhas and their Bengali leaders ruling from Kolkata, between the indigenous population and the migrants, between the tea garden owners and the workers (This clash between capitalism and communism comes to a full circle in the clash between Janak and Ravi, a businessman and a teacher fighting for workers’ rights. The first half of the novel concerns Janak as struggles to build a perfect family while the second half shift towards Ravi, who against his father’s wishes, becomes a teacher and gets involved in the politics of the tea gardens.). At one point, Janak says, “Good habits are as useful as Bihari servants; bad habits are as evil as Bengali masters.”

Above all, There’s a Carnival Today is a novel about a city, known the world over for its tea and for the Kanchenjunga peak — a novel about Derjeeling, her people and their political aspirations. The story isn’t over yet, and Rai knew, as he ends the novel with Janak’s transition as a man without courage to a man acting as though he has courage.

So, we could perhaps read the novel using Bakhtin’s philosophy after all. For one thing, Rai’s narrative is classic polyphony. Unlike a classic western novel, which follows the protagonist’s journey, seeing the world from his point-of-view, Rai shows an unfailing curiosity towards all his characters, and their unique situations. The novel is purportedly centred on Janak and his travails, but Rai is in no hurry to narrate the story of his struggles — his identity crisis, his struggle to succeed in business, his conflict with his children and his doomed extramarital affair.

Instead, Rai’s narrative digresses at every possible opportunity to tell us more about the people in Janak’s life, his neighbour MK and his long-suffering wife Babuni; Ravi and his love for an anglo-Indian girl; Bhudev, Janak’s partner at the party and soon his bitter rival; Jayabilas, Janak’s business partner; Namgyal and his wife Yamuna, and even occasional Madhesi servants.

This apart from Rai’s interest in describing mundane activities in illuminating details, like shopping, food habits, drinking habits, customs and clothing, which he does in such a way that they take a life of their own.

In the introduction to the book in 1958, Rai wrote, “I saw that life was moving forward, but not in an organised manner, with everything falling into place. I have disarranged this novel in a similar way. I didn’t see life as a singularity, or as the chemical purity and unhindered progress of a single subjectivity. Love is the mother of all emotions: Touch it, and all of our other emotions awaken and writhe.”

Love, then, is the key to understand There’s a Carnival Today — the love that Rai’s characters display, and love that Rai feels for his characters, and their causes.

At this juncture, Bakhtin’s philosophy doesn’t help us much, for There’s a Carnival Today defies comparison to the western novel tradition, and we must read the book in its own term, in the context of its own creation.

Indra Bahadur Rai (who passed away this year) was the first Nepali-language writer to win the Sahitya Akademi Award for a book of literary criticism on Nepali literature, Nepali Sahityaka Adhaarharu, in 1976. Together with two prominent modern poets from Nepal, Bairagi Kainla and Ishwor Ballav, Rai founded the abstract ‘Tesro Aayam’ (Third Dimension) school of writing, introducing an abstract, modernist aesthetics to Nepali-language literature. Later, Rai invented the exuberant and lyrical deconstructionist aesthetics that he called ‘Leela-Lekhan’ (play-writing).

There’s a Carnival Today (the only novel by the author of thirteen other books), originally published in 1958, is Rai’s early work, and as such, instead of literally experimentation, we notice a rather plain narrative highlighted by his desire to do right by his people and his land. Here lies the pleasure of reading the novel, like a grandfather’s tale, without discernable beginning and end, yet each moment illuminated by lived experiences.

In this sense perhaps, Rai’s Derjeeling is like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Macondo in One Hundred Years of Solitude, and the political struggles are like the numerous wars Colonel Aureliano Buendia fought. Yet’s unlike Marquez’s long passages, Rai’s narrative is filled with conversations, both as communication and as a code to understand character motivations. And Rai’s approach is joie de vivre. He approaches everything with a lightness of touch, never allowing the readers to get bogged down by the complexities of it, never allowing the proceeding either to turn maudlin or tragic. This masterwork of fine balance is one of the joys of reading There’s a Carnival Today.

In her note, the translator, Manjushree Thapa, writes, “There’s a Carnival Today doesn’t capture the wry tone of Aaja Ramita Chha, which deploys the word ‘ramita’— a combination of fair, a show, a spectacle or some fun— ironically.”

Yet, Thapa’s translation is on point. At no point in the novel you feel that you are reading a translated work — it flows perfectly.

{First published in Indian Literature, the bi-monthly magazine of the Sahitya Akademi, November-December 2018}