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Literature is not the sole preserve of the storyteller

Through most of literary history, great writers have either tended to look down upon the art of storytelling or have regarded it with ambivalence. We can trace this attitude all the way back to Don Quixote’s plotless meanderings. Or even further back, to Shakespeare’s rambles and language games. More recently, the Modernist assault on narrativity seemed to have put paid to our storytelling instinct for good. And when James Joyce said that all stories should begin with the phrase “once upon a time”—the opening words of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man—everyone understood that he was just having a laugh at the expense of the raconteur.

Even those among modern writers who were interested in the story saw it as an extinct form. The story to them was an old-world relic that was out of place in the complex of modernity. Walter Benjamin’s essay “The Storyteller” interprets the death of the story as the necessary consequence of the birth of the modern era, in which the “communicability of experience is decreasing”. Benjamin’s essay celebrates the simple pleasures of reading the Russian writer Nikolai Leskov’s stories, by identifying “a new beauty in what is vanishing”.

Then there is Virginia Woolf’s essay on Chaucer, which indulges a similar nostalgia the modern writer felt for the straightforward tale. Chaucer, Woolf writes, “has pre-eminently that story-teller’s gift, which is almost the rarest gift among writers at the present day”.

So this essentially was the modern stance towards the story: informed by a belief that the talent for spinning yarns, a vestige from a more innocent past, was the rarest of gifts. The story, in this view, transcended all artistic ideals, even if, for the writer, it meant catering to popular tastes. As the man on the golf course in E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel (1927) says, “You can take your art, you can take your literature, you can take your music, but give me a good story.”

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The complexities of humanitarian awards: Gui Minhai’s daughter on the freedom to publish

Gui Minhai, a publisher who disappeared in China earlier this year, has said in a videotaped interview—which critics say is forced—that he does not want the Prix Voltaire. His daughter denies that this is his actual feeling.

It fell to the daughter of Gui Minhai, the Swedish publisher and bookseller detained in China in January, to ask a question Sunday (January 11) that has dogged the International Publishers Association (IPA) for more than two years:

“Why is the Chinese Publishers Association allowed to be part of the IPA? How is this defensible?” Angela Gui asked a hushed gathering of IPA delegates in a Skype transmission from her home in the UK on the first day of the IPA’s 32nd International Publishers Congress seated in New Delhi.

In a full day of issues and insights, the interview with Gui’s poised, articulate daughter was easily the most compelling part of the day, coming in a session which asked “Do Awards and Recognitions Help?” in cases in which defenders of the freedom to publish are granted the IPA’s Prix Voltaire and other humanitarian awards.

The session’s chair, Jessica Sänger, director for European and international affairs with the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, had asked Angela Gui if—on the eve of formally confirming her father as the honoree of the 2018 Prix Voltaire—there might be more ways the IPA’s 60-nation membership could support Minhai in his plight.

“Is there anything we should be doing to support you,” Sänger asked, “in your campaign to hopefully improve his situation and finally be released?”

Angela Gui answered without rancor, choosing her words thoughtfully. “In terms of what can be done to help, that’s a very difficult question because there’s certainly no information [about her father’s current situation]. I’m unsure how to proceed in my own advocacy efforts. And of course, I think using the channels that are available to the IPA to exert pressure is very important.”

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Book Review: Wayfaring by Tikuli

Reviewed by Bhaswati Ghosh

Wayfaring

 

Title: Wayfaring
Author: Tikuli
Publisher: Leaky Book (2017)
Pages: 136

Tikuli knows her mountains well. Not only their physical scale and magnitude, but also the silence and solitude they subsume. Like mountains, she knows how to stand tall amid loneliness and rocky treacherousness. And like them, she has harnessed this solitude to distill it into something beauteous.

If solitude is nature’s essential condition, loneliness, its second cousin, is a function of being human. As Wayfaring shows, we don’t always choose loneliness; sometimes it chooses us. When it does, it’s seldom romantic and more like one’s own shadow, impossible to disown. This is Tikuli’s relationship with the pain of loneliness. Her words bear scarring anguish, and yet instead of exhausting the spirit, they nourish it. Such is the luminescence of her expressions; they betray a heart that’s gone through fire to turn into gold.


I listen to the silence of the trees
as the leaves spiral down and dance
to imaginary music along the pathway,
they cling to my worn sneakers,
my gaze follows two pairs of wings
chasing each other in the clear, blue sky [Trail]

Where she diverges from the mountains is in her movement, voluntary or not. She and her poems drift through different terrains as the section names evince: Trains, Exile poems, Remembrance, Travel, Mosaic, Acrostics, Delhi poems. The “Train” poems set the tone of this roving spirit with quickening grace. Between the span of two poems, Mist and City Metro, the scene changes from rhododendron-flanked valleys to a shopping bag laden cityscape. Even in the movement, there is a steadiness that comes with a contemplative eye, one that pauses long enough at the view out of a train window before letting it escape. The poet’s attention is equally unwavering inside the train. The Local Train is a photographic example of this and places the reader inside the packed coach of a train in motion. In Rain, a short poem, train and rain magically become one.

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Book Review: 1984: India’s Guilty Secret by Pav Singh

By Nilesh Mondal

1984 India's Guilty Secret

 

Title: 1984: India’s Guilty Secret
Publisher: Rupa Publications India (2017)
Pages: 295
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1984: India’s Guilty Secret does something most books in its genre can’t – it keeps its promise. It’s a scathing and almost brutal journalistic read rich with data and mention of instances that have become a permanent fixture in the memories of one of the largest communities of our country, unfortunately. While most books in the genre of journalism either manage to alienate their readers by the use of jargon or disappoint by eventually turning out to be shallow fluff pieces lacking anything of relevance, this book by Pav Singh fulfils on both counts. It manages to pull in the reader by the sheer honesty that leaps out of every page, and keeps them firmly invested by a streamlined account of facts and discussions which affirm the need to learn more about our history in order to understand the present scenario in our country.

In the foreword, the author apologises for and justifies the use of gory and violent details, and it is an apology made for a reason – this book contains distinct and often detailed descriptions of the atrocities committed against the Sikh community in the wake of the infamous 1984 riots. However, the real horror of the incidents discussed in this book, does not come from the details but rather from the calm way in which the author chooses to talk about them. Pav Singh plays both roles to perfection here, as a narrator who isn’t divorced from the trials and tribulations of the Sikh community as a whole, at the same time, as a journalist, focussing more on facts to support his arguments, relying on the readers’ understanding of the truth and not just their sympathy. At recurring intervals the author reminds us that it’d be a grave error on our part to call the chaos that unfolded in those four days, a riot. Riot is spontaneous, he reminds us, but what happened in 1984 was something that had been planned well in advance, against a community which had no idea what violence awaits it and was thus unable to either fight back or even defend itself; massive propaganda and media blackouts were used by the forces in power to make sure there was no escape from the death and destruction that’d follow, making it in essence, something much closer to the genocide initiated by Hitler during WW II. Indeed, stories from the Nazi camps and inhuman circumstances that had plagued Germany are used at many instances, as a method of drawing parallels between these two occurrences separated by time and space but brought together by intent and its fallout.

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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 questions with Madhulika Liddle

By Farah Ghuznavi

Madhulika

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

Because there are all these stories rattling about in my head which don’t let me sleep nights. If I don’t write, I’ll be perpetually sleepless.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

My most recent book is Woman to Woman: Stories. This is a collection of twelve short stories, all of which are women-centric. Probably the most important thing I was trying to say through this was that I do have the sensitivity and intelligence to write something other than genre fiction! (Till now, I’ve mostly been associated with either crime fiction or black humour, so I thought it was high time people realized that I was a little more versatile). On a more serious note, I also wanted to draw attention to various problems that plague women—from the mundane to the horrific.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

I don’t think I have a writing aesthetic as such, but yes, I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my work. I spend ages doing research (and, considering a lot of what I write is historical, that means a lot of research). And, I read and re-read and edit my work over and over until I am certain it’s as good as I can make it. I can’t bear writing that’s ungrammatical or riddled with errors, of whatever sort.

Who are your favourite authors?

I have lots of favourite authors, but among the top ones would be PG Wodehouse, Georgette Heyer, Ruskin Bond, Munshi Premchand, Bill Bryson, Gerald Durrell, and Robert van Gulik.

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Book Excerpt: Accumulation by Segregation: Muslim Localities in Delhi by Ghazala Jamil

Muslim Localities in Delhi

Re-Imagining Political Contestation and Death (pp 116-120)

Political assembly and protest are also performances of citizenship status and claims. While enactment of violence by protesting publics with non-Muslim identity markers are considered routine and normalised, an assembly of protesting Muslims is potentially just another site of their fatal targeting. Another important example that effectively illustrates the preceding analysis is the case of the ‘Sealing Drive’ in Delhi in 2006.

The importance of this instance in the recent history of Delhi unveils complex dynamics of the political economy of built environments, the material logic of segregation, contestations, and negotiations of elite circuits with the unorganized sector in claiming their vision of the city, and biopolitics of the state.

The case exemplifies a tussle between big capital and elite networks represented by RWAs on the one hand, and traders and small manufacturers on the other. Elite RWAs insisted in getting this case filed at the High Court of Delhi that their sense of security, peace of mind, tranquillity, and aesthetic sensibilities were being off ended by business establishments within residential areas (Ghertner 2011; Bhuwania 2016). An appeal for preventing mixed land use was in line with the vision of the Delhi Master Plan, and on the agenda of previous Delhi state governments headed by the BJP and the Congress. The judge presiding over the case, Justice Sabharwal showing keen interest in the case passed a verdict which effectively read as a mass eviction notice to lakhs of establishments which were ‘illegal’ (Mehra 2012).

Allegations of misconduct on the part of Justice Sabharwal came to light later, illuminating the nexus between big capital and the judiciary (Roy 2007, Mid-day 2006). Justice Sabharwal’s son owned a real estate firm that gained substantially from an instance of demolitions as a result of the implementation of the court order by civic bodies.

The traders in Delhi have mainly been Punjabi Hindu–Sikh but many small traders and small manufacturers belong to various diverse social backgrounds too. Diya Mehra (2012) points out that the movement run by the traders’ association employed Partition rhetoric profusely. While on the other hand, they used the daily wage workers associated with their businesses to pitch up the protest against a judicial order which was anti-poor, anti-worker, and anti-unorganized sector.

During protracted protests, in which the traders associations were reluctant to go to the Supreme Court because it could have also given a judgement adversarial to their interest, the traders’ associations continuously negotiated with the state and Central Governments, the municipal corporation, as well as the Delhi Development Authority (DDA). Violence and rioting was also used strategically as a final device of pressurizing the state and elite networks. There were many incidents of rioting and damage to public property such as state transport buses. Eventually the government informed the court of its inability to implement the order as it would give rise to a law and order situation.

Ovais Sultan Khan, a participant of this study gave me an account of the occurrences that led to the shooting. This foretold law and order problem took place when the police opened fire at a protesting crowd in Seelampur on September 20, 2006.

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Foreign language books big crowd-pullers at book fair in Delhi

With over 20 countries participating in the ongoing New Delhi World Book Fair, foreign publishers are offering a diverse collection of books, but it is the language learning guides that are attracting heavy footfall.

Available for several foreign languages like French, German, and Persian among others, the books cater to all levels of learning – from picture books for beginners to novels for veterans.

According to Ishjot, who is managing the stall for German Book Office, majority of their customers comprise of parents who want their children to start learning German from an early age.

Books on illustrations and short stories for beginners, priced at nominal prices, are selling like hot cakes, she said.

“People are buying picture books and story books in large numbers, since they cost hardly Rs 150 each. So, parents who want their children to learn the language are readily buying the books. Those who are already learning German, are asking for more detailed books on the language’s grammar,” she says.

Books at the stall also include a collection of classics by famous German author Daniel Kehlmann, along with English translations of popular German literature. Read more

Source: Business Standard 


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India: Delhi Is The Most ‘Well-Read’ City Of 2016 And Chetan Bhagat’s Book The Highest-Selling One

The national capital has emerged as the most well-read city in India for the fourth consecutive year with Bengaluru and Mumbai taking the second and third spot, respectively, says a survey conducted by Amazon India.

According to the ‘Annual Reading Trends Report for 2016’ conducted by Amazon.in, Karnal, Vadodara and Patna are first-time entrants in the Top 20 list having bought more books than cities like Coimbatore, Visakhapatnam and Lucknow this year.

Chetan Bhagat’s book ‘One Indian Girl’ emerged as the highest selling book of this year followed by JK Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts I and II’.

The third spot is taken by exam preparation book ‘Word Power Made Easy’ written by Norman Lewis, Robin Sharma’s non-fiction ‘Who Will Cry When You Die?’ was at fourth position. Read more

Source: Huffington Post


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Excerpts: Sultan of Delhi: Ascension by Arnab Ray

9789351950929 Prologue

There were no stars in the sky. There was no moon. Just the wet cold seeping through thick cloth and bone, and the fog slowly smothering the night.

Every once in a while, a truck would grope forward over the broken road. Sometimes a long-distance bus would rumble by, but no sooner would its headlights pass than the fog would flow back denser than ever before.

Milte hain dil yahaan, milke bichadne ko

Kishore Kumar’s voice floated from the direction of the ramshackle bamboo structure that lay fifty yards to the side of the road, perceptible through the fog only because of a Hasag lantern that was hung to its front, illuminating a sign that read ‘Exide Batteries’. fte small shop, one of the few that still operated on this side of the highway, sold batteries, torches, kerosene, hot tea, pakoras and, if you knew what to say and how much to pay, desi hooch. It was closed now, the coal ashed, and the front covered with tarpaulin.

But it was not empty.

On a charpoy, at the front of the shop, sat two men, one hunched slightly forward and the other leaning back and looking up at the sky, holding in his right hand a small transistor radio.

‘Why don’t you turn the radio off? Or at least change the channel. I hate Kishore Kumar.’

‘It’s my radio. It plays what I want it to.’

fte first man pulled his monkey cap closer to his skull and clenched tightly the two thick shawls draped over his body.

‘Tell me why you like Kishore Kumar again,’ he said, tapping the ground rapidly with his feet in a desperate attempt to stay warm. ‘Because he has a great voice.’ In sharp contrast to his companion, the man with the transistor had on, as his  shield against the numbing cold, only a flimsy grey sweater.

‘Because he has a great voice? That’s it? I mean that’s all you can say about the great Kishore Kumar? A ten-year-old would give that answer! Tell me the reasons why you like him, explain it to me.’

The man with the transistor said nothing.

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Teamwork Arts hosts curtain raiser for Zee Jaipur Literature Fest at Delhi

The event at the Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi was packed with publishers, authors and supporters of the festival, media and the literati.

Co-directors Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple shared their insights into the themes and authors participating at the annual carnival of the mind to be held from January 19th -23rd, 2017.

Namita Gokhale, writer, publisher and Co-director of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival, said, “We live in times where the cycles of change are puzzling, often disruptive. Books are the answers to these puzzles, literature is the force that links and binds human stories, and contemplates the human situation. In an increasingly parochial and polarised world, literature helps us scale the walls. And translation is the tool that helps us access cultures and knowledge systems.

This year’s festival is more multi vocal than ever before, with about thirty languages represented there. Translation is a key focus and a variety of strands and themes including the constitution, the Magna Carta, Sanskrit, the movements from the margins to the centre, examine the ideals, the ideologies, the realpolitik, of our world, as well as the freedom of the dreaming imagination.”

William Dalrymple, writer and Co-director of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival, said, “It’s been an extraordinary journey from 16 attendees ten years ago to a third a million today. On the way we have brought many of the world’s greatest writers to India and showcased Indian writing to the world. We have ignited a million minds to the wonders of literature. This year will be our most irresistible spread of literary genius yet. Roll on the 19th of January!”

The programme for the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival 2017 will touch upon a multitude of ideas and themes including a look at the nation, Freedom to Dream – India at 70 which explores India today in the context of its history as well as its future, Translations and World Literature, Women and Marginalised Voices, Sanskrit, and Colonialism and the Legacy of the Raj. Read more

Source: Everything Experiential