Friday, September 19, 2014

From being a ‘deskie’ in a half-lit corner of a run-down office nights after night, it was quite a change to be on the other end of the spectrum, witnessing bigwigs from the Indian newspaper industry discuss the realities of the business, from printing presses to new sources of ad revenue to new ways to disperse news, at the Wan-Ifra (World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers) Annual Conference, 17-18 September, New Delhi

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Delhi Book Fair

The best thing about the 20th annual Delhi Book Fair, which was held from 23 to 31 August, at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi, was the fact that people still visited a show dedicated solely to books, and office stationery items. While the footfall was noticeably low during weekdays, it was more than satisfactory during the weekends.

However, the usual concerns regarding the business of books remained the same. The stalls owners claimed that most visitors came to the book fair to browse, not to buy. Probably, they would later order the books on an e-commerce site, which offers massive discounts, if he doesn’t prefer an ebook, said a stall owner who did not want to be named. Another stall owner said most visitors come to the exhibition looking for special books, especially dictionaries, at a discounted rate. They are not interested in picking up a random book off the shelf, he said. He bemoaned that most visitors seem to be interested in picking up an educational CD for their kids than pick up a book.

The event, jointly organised by the India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO) and the Federation of Indian Publishers (FIP), saw more than 225 publishers and distributors are participating. This year, the theme of the nine-day event was Literature in Cinema. To mark this, there was a small exhibition, delineating the journey of a story from written words to the celluloid. There were titles like Devdas, based on Sarat Charandra Chattopadhyay’s bestseller, Junoon, based on Ruskin Bond’s A Flight of Pigeons, and Samskara, a 1970 Kannada film based on the epoch-making novel by UR Ananthamurthy, who passed away recently.

The complaints of the exhibitors may be true to a certain extent, but things are not so black-and-white. Unlike the other book fair organised in Delhi in February every year by the National Book Trust, the New Delhi World Book Fair, the current exhibition was markedly smaller in scope, both in terms of stalls by publishers and bookshop owners and business expectations.

While most major English-language publishing houses based in India had their stalls, it was the Hindi-language publishing houses that attracted more visitors, both young and all. All major Hindi-language publishers, including Pustak Mahal, Rajkamal, Kitab Ghar, Gita Press and Vani Prakashan, which recently completed 50 years of its existence, saw encouraging footfalls. There were visitors ranging from young college students to housewives to office-goes to retired persons who showed a kin interest not only original Hindi works, but also bestselling international titles translated into Hindi. There were also stalls displaying books in other regional languages, including Tamil, Malayalam, Bengali and Assamese.

Visitors also thronged to exhibitors of specialty book, such as books on computer sciences, medicine and most importantly, spirituality. Another interesting feature of the exhibition was the stalls selling second-hand and used books in Rs 100 or less per copy. Some stalls even sold three books for Rs 100. There were also stalls selling rare books, which also attracted people looking for the first edition of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and such.

Graphic novels, a relatively new genre that seems to merge a reader’s interest in visuals with written words, also found their takers. There was a big crowd at the stall of Raj Comics, the largest comic book distributor and publisher in India, known for, among other titles, Super Commando Dhruva series of comics.

There was also a big interest in the Chacha Chaudhary comics by the inimitable Pran, who passed away recently at the age of 75. Since his passing, the publisher, Diamond Comics, has reissued all Pran comics since 1971, including titles involving the antics of Pinki, Billoo, and of course, the grand old man Chacha Chaudhary, with his dramatic white mustache and his red turban, and his sidekick from the planet Jupiter, Sabu, fighting evil. The publisher said the books are doing quite well, especially among the adult readership, who is buying entire Cacha Choudhary collections in bulk for its nostalgic value.

In terms of technology, this year, the organisers developed a mobile app to facilitate visitors navigate venues and stalls. The idea was to offer visitors a hassle-free experience, said the organisers.
Another Internet address/:

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Time for another list in Facebook. This time 10 favourite films. Maneesha Singh tagged me and I did the list dutifully. I am loving it…/

Here is what I wrote in Facebook/

Thanks for the tag, Maneesha. Now, it would be difficult task indeed. As everyone in Pune knows, I am mad about movies. Sam and Anoop would vouch for it. Where do you start? With the film, the DVD of which is still with you? The Rituporno Ghosh film? Or, should I mention Amores Perros; I gave you the DVD, you did not even watch it, or those Ray films? Anyways, here is my list, as I remember:

1. Trikal (Hindi, dir. Shyam Bengal) I can mention any Bengal film for that matter; Kalyug, Junoon, even Bharat Ek Khoj, if you can call it a movie, but Trikal is something else, with Leela Naidu, and Goa. I saw the film after my first visit to Goa, and the film illuminated the place for me.
2. Pyaasa (Hindi, dir. Guru Dutt) Was there ever anyone else? Or anything else? And when he sings, ‘Jinhe naaz hai Hind par, woh kahan hai…”
3. Jait Re Jait (Marathi, dir. Jabbar Patel) Later, he made great films like Umbartha and Sinhasan, but this film, with a young Mohan Agashe and smouldering Smita Patil is time capsule. And those songs… “Mi raat takli…”
4. Pratidhwani (Asomiya/Khasi, dir. Bhupen Hazarika) Another time capsule of a movie. The songs, the doomed romance between a shepherd and the beauty married to the Khasi siem, the scenery. “…khublei shibun, shibun tomakai…”
5. Sri 420 (Hindi, dir. Raj Kapur) Because it’s Raj Kapur, the original showman, and the song, “Ramaya vastavayya, main ne dil tujhko diya…”
6. Solaris (Russian, dir. Andrei Takosvsky) What if you got to relive your lost love all over again, would you make the same demands? Would you make the same mistakes? Some questions have no answers.
7. Baraka (No Language. dir. Ron Fricke) This is the world, man, and this is the film for this world, and it’s a blessing.
8. The Holy Mountain (Spanish, dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky) This is a fever dream, spiritual madness, where turd can turn to gold.
9. Pan’s Labyrinth (Spanish, dir. Guillermo De Torro) This is where myths and realities merge. If you don’t believe in fairy tales, you don’t believe in anything.
10. Happy Together (Mandarin, dir. Wong Kar-wai) A doomed romance unlike anything else. When he says, all unhappy people are the same, you tend to agree.

Hey, Sam, Anoop, give it try at this please.
How about you, Ankit? Want to make one? I would love to see your list.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

how to be both

How to be Both
Ali Smith
Hamish Hamilton

Elizabeth Day reviews Ali Smith's How to be Both: How to Be Both is not a multi-choice narrative, but the textual order depends on an element of chance. The book has two interconnected stories. There is a teenage girl called George whose mother has just died and who is left struggling to make sense of her death with her younger brother and her emotionally disconnected father. And then there is an Italian renaissance artist, Francesco del Cossa, a real-life figure responsible for a series of striking frescoes in the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara, Italy.

Depending on which copy you pick up at random, you will either be presented with George's story first or with Francesco's. The two narratives twist around each other like complicated vines – one of George's last trips with her mother was to see the Ferrara frescoes and del Cossa is haunted by strange visions of a teenage girl who uses "a votive tablet" and holds it to heaven "like a priest raising the bread". The fact that this votive tablet is an iPad and that the reader is in on the joke while Francesco isn't, is just one of the witty touches with which Smith splices the novel.

At its heart, How to Be Both, which has already been longlisted for the Man Booker prize, is an eloquent challenge to the binary notions governing our existence. Why, Smith seems to ask, should we expect a book to run from A to B, by way of a recognisable plot and subplot, peopled by characters who are easily understood to be one thing or another?

Smith's characters revel in surprising us – George has a boy's name but is a girl whose sexuality is only just being explored; Francesco is born a girl but binds her chest and lives as a man. When Francesco is taken to a brothel by a male friend, the artist declines to sleep with the prostitute but draws her instead. When, centuries later, George and her mother study del Cossa's frescoes they cannot tell who is male and who is female. In the end, they decide it doesn't matter. And when Francesco sees George for the first time, she assumes George is a boy, only to discover later that she had been mistaken.

Jan Dalley reviews Ali Smith's How to be Both: For a writer, it can be perilous to have a superperceptive adolescent as your primary narrator — that way cutesiness lies — yet Smith gives herself two of them. And the broken-backed structure of a novel in two halves, their time frames separated by centuries, is overfamiliar, and courts the risk that readers will spend the second half of the book picking up on clever parallels, rather like a sixth-form English class.

Undaunted, in her latest book Smith walks boldly into each of these danger areas, but skilfully makes the territory her own, skirting every pitfall and adding so much unexpected richness that we forgive the occasional stumble into the expected.

In the modern half of the book George, short for Georgia, is named to alert us to the gender-bending that beats like a pulse through both narratives. After her mother’s death, George lives in the family home with her younger brother and a father who uses alcohol "like wearing a whole fat woolly sheep between me and the world". There is school, and cooking Henry’s supper, and therapy sessions with Mrs Rock.

But George’s more vivid life is lived in flashback conversations with her mother, in bunking off school to gaze at the only Del Cossa in the National Gallery, and in two unusual relationships.

One, with an older schoolfriend, is typical of clever girls testing out their first romantic feelings. It’s a loose mirror of a mysterious, almost-sapphic liaison of her mother’s, but while "H" shyly suggests she is "a bit more hands-on than hypothetical", George prefers to send texts in Latin. The other, much stranger bond is virtual, with an underage girl who is the victim of a piece of nasty pornography that George discovers by chance online.

The book’s other half transports us to Italy in the 1460s, where the odd and talented child of a mason-brickmaker has also suffered the loss of a young and vibrant mother. In the throes of grief, the child wanders the house dreamily decked in the mother’s clothes until the father, in desperation, strikes a deal: to adopt a new name and dress "like your brothers", in return for lessons in drawing and colours.

So Francescho the jobbing painter is born, and learns to be artisan and artist. We gradually discover, as his narrative develops, that Francescho is also both in his own time and out of it, both living and not, in an oblique commentary on the reach and durability of art.

As she delves into the medieval world, savouring its rumbustious textures as well as the intimacies and rigours of the artist’s life, Smith’s writing really catches fire. In this section all of her rich stylistic inventiveness, as well as her imaginative range, come into play.
More Here>


As Google honours the great Leo Tolstoy, I remember his works. During those days, when I would read only Asomiya, there was a whole lot of his works available in my mother tongue, in nice hard cover books, published by Raduga Publishers, Moscow. Those days, socialist India had very good ties with USSR, and Tolstoy was one of the prime targets of cultural exchange. Then, he was also an acknowledged teacher of Mahatma Gandhi. That helped.

Later, at the university, Anna Karenina was prescribed for the syllabus. It was a fat book and I was not interested in the book, not just because of the bulk, but because it was prescribed. You know, when you are young, you don’t want to follow rules. Anyway, we had a good teacher, who took just two classes on Anna Karenina, and spoke about trains, the train from where Anna gets down and meets Vronsky and later, the same train where she flings herself to death. I finally manager to work my way through the novel, and the only person I liked there was Dmitri Levin. And, Kitty too, I guess.

I haven’t managed the courage to tackle the might heft of War and Peace though the novel has a pride place in the library at my home. But I have seen the film, with Henry Fonda and Audrey Hepburn several times, and I think it is a very good adaptation.

I think I have read the Life and Death of Ivan Ilych, but I don’t remember anything about it.

What distills the Leo Tolstoy experience for me are the short stories. There are just a handful of them, but all of them are gems. The story about a man who is so worried about his pumpkins that when he visits the shrine he only sees pumpkins. The story about the man who runs and runs for land and eventually dies (How Much Land Does a Man Need?). And finally, the story about the angel who falls down on earth and works for a cobbler (What Men Live By). Oh, I love that last story.

In film, I loved The Last Station, despite the fact that I had some strong reservations. But Christopher Plummer was great as the maestro. Wikipedia says: A 2009 film about Tolstoy's final year, The Last Station, based on the novel by Jay Parini, was made by director Michael Hoffman with Christopher Plummer as Tolstoy and Helen Mirren as Sofya Tolstoya. Both performers were nominated for Oscars for their roles. There have been other films about the writer, including Departure of a Grand Old Man, made in 1912 just two years after his death, How Fine, How Fresh the Roses Were (1913), and Leo Tolstoy, directed by and starring Sergei Gerasimov in 1984.

More on Leo Tolstoy Here.

The Prisoner of Zenda