Thursday, December 18, 2008
The tremendous potential of women in the workforce can be best tapped not just with changes and the right noises at the corporate level. There is a wider and more far reaching need for social change.
Read the full published article
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Others are saluting the 'spirit of Mumbai' and bravely trying to carry on as usual.
But at the end of the day, this incident may be as quickly forgotten as the previous terror attacks in Mumbai, and the recent bomb blasts in Surat, Delhi and elsewhere. I wonder how long it will be before the media and the public forget this horror and run after the next cricket match or a child trapped in a well.
Will any lasting lessons ever be learnt from this tragedy? Will there be a greater political will to prevent such thigns from happening?
Many of us are wanting to do something. IMHO a starting point could be if we mobilised opinion for a better pay package and more advanced equipment (weapons, bullte proof vests etc) for the true heroes who risk their lives to keep us safe. It's a sad anomaly in our country that youngsters who take porders for pizza from overseas callers can earn much more in a safe job than protectors of our security.
Ending with a prayer for peace,
Friday, November 28, 2008
The unfolding terror drama in Mumbai is truly shocking. My memories of Mumbai are personal and warm. We lived and worked there for four years. True, the commuting distances are huge and life is just too hurried and hassled for the city's teeming millions. True, one has the jostle through crowds, negotiate heavy traffic and polluted air.
Yet warm human memories remain etched in my soul. The time when I was stuck in a jam-packed local train and the rough-looking fellow commuters came to my rescue. The time when I slipped on the steep steps of the railway overbridge and strangers came forth to ask if everything was ok. My sweet elderly neighbour who let all the kids returning from school play with her cute little pooch, the memories are many. I've always loved 'Maximum City' as a vibrant place where every stranger can feel welcome. Mumbai has always been India's, and my personal city of dreams. I found the city much more disciplined and comfortable for working women compared to many other Indian cities.
I used to take my son out to Gateway of india when he was a tot. We sould browse through the Prince of Wales Museum and the Jehangir art gallery, where the ancient artefacts and miniature paintings never failed to elcii wonder from my little one. We would end the outing with a boat ride and a stroll by the Taj Hotel. We used to love those outings. the News images seem to be coming from another world.
I only hope and pray that the nighmare will end soon. We must not allow a misguided few to ruin what has been built over generations.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
By Monideepa Sahu
When peacocks fly, they display startling flashes of bright orange feathers on their wings, which are otherwise hidden. Wild jungle fowl appear drab to blend in with their forest surroundings, but bright, colourful highlights illuminate their plumage in the sunlight. Armed with the best cameras and sharpest lenses, international award-winning wildlife photographer K.M. Narayanaswamy films many such gems of natural beauty. Among his many honours, he is the ARPS (Associate of Royal Photographic Society, England), and was a member of the Indian team that won the Silver Medal (Nature Prints) in the 14th Biennial FIAP World Cup Photographic Competition in Spain. One of his most appreciated photographs is of three wild tiger cubs inside their den deep in a forest. “They were just three weeks old, and barely the size of kittens,” K.M. Narayanaswamy reminisces. “Even their eyes had not yet fully developed, and that is why they appear blue in the photo. I resisted the urge to cuddle the cute little cubs. We must never touch, or otherwise disturb the babies of wild animals. Even if the mother is not present, she can sense the presence of humans, and she may panic and abandon the helpless babies.” Photographing the adorable tiger cubs was a difficult and dangerous task. As Deputy Conservator of forests, he would instruct the forest guards to keep him posted on movements of wildlife. When he learnt of the presence of a mother cub and her newborn litter, his excitement was boundless. He and his team painstakingly tracked them for days through the dense jungles, and then hid themselves near the den. When the mother went away to hunt, K.M. Narayanaswamy stealthily went within three feet of the den’s entrance to take unique pictures. “If their mother had seen me, I would not have lived to tell the tale,” he tells us. “Even though I was careful to keep at a distance from them, the mother sensed human presence and immediately moved them to a new hideout after she returned.” This marvellous picture won prestigious international awards, and has been included in many international books on wildlife.
Baby animals and wildlife families find a special place in K.M. Narayanaswamy’s pictures. His photo of a brood of barn owl chicks look like mischievous children posing for their class photo. In a picture taken in Doroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary, tiny cubs try to clamber playfully on their mother’s back as she walks with a serious and determined manner. K.M. Narayanaswamy waited for hours every day at dawn to capture a pair of river terns mating. After their little chicks hatched, he photographed the parents taking turns to feed their young. “Wild creatures can be loving and caring just like humans,” he observes.
K.M. Narayanaswamy’s pictures often capture animals in a friendly and playful mood. He has taken photos of a pair of tuskers in Kabini playing like schoolboys. Two rhinos in Kaziranga face each other in another picture as though sharing interesting secrets. Another series of photos shows a male elephant covering himself with a luxurious slather of mud, and then spraying himself with water from his trunk. “It was like an elaborate spa beauty treatment, which took the elephant nearly three hours,” says K.M. Narayanaswamy.
The brilliant hues of nature also find a prominent place in his photos. His photo of a blue jay or Neelakantha bird is striking, showing he glowing shades of turquoise, indigo and peacock blue of its plumage. This state bird of Karnataka has chosen an equally colourful meal; a bright green fuzzy caterpillar. K.M. Narayanaswamy spends long hours waiting for the right effects of sunlight and shadows on his wild subjects. “The dazzling colours of nature are wonderful,” he says. “They are created by God and not by computers.”
Becoming an internationally celebrated wildlife photographer involved years of dedication and effort. He joined the Indian Forest Service in 1985 where documenting wildlife was part of the job. Inspired by accomplished seniors like Shri. M. N. Jayakumar, he began photography in 2000. His work took K.M. Narayanaswamy to different parts of the country, where he observed wildlife in their natural surroundings.
K.M. Narayanaswamy is deeply interested in sharing the wonderful world of nature with young people. He takes sessions in schools and colleges.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Today it is an accepted fact that provided a supportive environment to learn and grow, Persons With Disability (PWDs) have the capacity to work efficiently and earn a living with dignity. Indeed, they can be a valuable addition to the skilled workforce. Says Hema Ravichandar, Strategic HR Advisor, "With the talent shortage and war for talent, institutional initiatives to encourage diversity and more importantly, the mindset of inclusivity, it is no longer just a nice to do thing but is actually a business imperative. It widens the available talent pool, while encouraging merit worthy yet differently-abled individuals to make a mark and be productive. Most mature organisations today are sensitive to this talent pool, but only some have initiatives to harness their potential in a structured and planned manner."
The Government and Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) have taken the lead in providing employment and other opportunities to the disabled. Several ministries departments of the Government of India and State Governments provide various concessions such as subsidized rail and air travel, special conveyance allowances to disabled employees, and Income Tax concessions. Award of dealerships by public sector oil companies and economic assistance by nationalized banks at Differential Rates of Interest (4%) to the disabled empowers them to set up their own income generating business ventures. Public Sector Banks also offer concessional loans and donations to organisations working for the welfare of the handicapped.
The prosperity of a business enterprise and of the community in which the business operates, are interdependent on each other. While business enterprises generate income and commerce, they can exhaust natural resources, dispossess original residents of the area of their land, or pollute the environment. What do these enterprises do to compensate the community apart from paying fees, taxes, or one-time compensation to affected people? Today along with the rest of corporate India, IT and ITES companies are waking up to this concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), and realising that it comes with its own advantages. Extending the opportunity for employment and upgradation of skills to PWD is one major thrust of CSR initiatives. Indeed, corporates who train and employ PWD stand to gain workers with valuable talents. ‘Nowadays, I find that many corporates perform only 10% under CSR and hype becomes 90%. This phenomenon is good neither for the society nor the company,” says Prof. Y S Rajan. (1) Ideally, CSR has to happen naturally as part of the company’s vision to gain respect and cooperation of the community, and not as short term publicity measure. CSR not only boosts a company’s image, it has several long term positive results. Employees feel more motivated to work for a company with a social conscience. Enhanced productivity and profit is an indirect outcome. CSR is not charity, but a company’s return to the community, which is helping it to grow and sustain profits.
read the full article here
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Fiction - including poetry - should be taken just as seriously as facts-based research, according to the team from Manchester University and the London School of Economics (LSE).
Novels should be required reading because fiction "does not compromise on complexity, politics or readability in the way that academic literature sometimes does," said Dr Dennis Rodgers from Manchester University's Brooks World Poverty Institute.
"While fiction may not always show a set of presentable research findings, it does not compromise on complexity, politics or readability in the way that academic literature sometimes does.
"And fiction often reaches a much larger and diverse audience than academic work and may therefore be more influential in shaping public knowledge and understanding of development issues."
Tom Clougherty, policy director of the Adam Smith Institute, said fiction was "a useful tool in aiding people's understanding, sparking their interest, and humanising issues".
But he warned: "There's a problem. Fiction works by appealing to people's emotions, not their intellect or rationality."
I am now reading Swarnakumari Debi Ghoshal's 'An Unfinished Song.'. Oxford University Press Classic re-issue.
Swarnakumari was Rabindranath Tagore's own sister. Born in 1856 in a progressive family of her times, she was educated in the 'zenana' by private teachers, and was married off at 11 years. She lived in purdah or semi purdah thruoghout her life.
Yet she wrote many books (begun well before her more famous brother appeared on the literary scene) and edited a popular intellectual magazine for decades. She also actively contributed to social work, and helped the cause of widows and female education.
The novel, translated by the author herself into English, portrays a remarkable young woman who wishes to choose her husband on the stregth of his moral character rather than social compulsions. It's a very readable book even today.
A radical idea for those times, when very few women in progressive uppr class families of Bengal had limited access to Western education. Child marriage was the norm, and Indian women had a social position far inferior to what they enjoy today. This heroine would have been a pathbreaker, a rebel. Yet she does this within the patriarchial framework.
Another work of fiction showing us how life would really have been in the past. Or perhaps this is also the athor's dream of how she would have wanted life to be.
No doubt the author's perspective is necessarily limited by her personal experiences and the strata of society in which she has been brought up.
But fiction such as this throws new light on the human side of history and sociology.
Sunday, November 09, 2008
I haven't been posting of late. Planning to make it up by posting my most recent publications.
Here's a piece published in Deccan Herald 9.11.2008, on Ayn Rand. We read and raved over her books as teenagers, as generations before and after us. The supremacy of the individual, the championing of the right of the individual to grow to full potential, these are indeed admirable. when is there need for curbs and control? Where can we strike the right balance between the needs of the individual and of society as a whole?
Today when blazing flames from Wall Street to Dalal Street are reducing the wealth of nations to ashes, many are questioning the premises of free market economy and mulling over the merits of strict government control.
Ayn Rand’s classic cult novels and philosophy of Objectivism can now be read from a fresh perspective. Ayn Rand (born Alice Rosenbaum, Jan 20, 1905-1982) was a Russian-born American writer, best known for advocating the supremacy of individual rights.
Her passionate pleas supporting personal freedom and laissez-faire capitalism won her many admirers. She defined her ideal of the independent, unfettered genius and a social system where economics need to fit the needs of people, in her bestselling novels The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957). The noted economist Alan Greenspan was among her early enthusiasts.
Read the full article here
Thursday, July 10, 2008
In an article in Mail Online, James Chapman says,
"Just two days ago, Gordon Brown was urging us all to stop wasting food and combat rising prices and a global shortage of provisions.
But yesterday the Prime Minister and other world leaders sat down to an 18-course gastronomic extravaganza at a G8 summit in Japan, which is focusing on the food crisis.
The dinner, and a six-course lunch, at the summit of leading industrialised nations on the island of Hokkaido, included delicacies such as caviar, milkfed lamb, sea urchin and tuna, with champagne and wines flown in from Europe and the U.S.
But the extravagance of the menus drew disapproval from critics who thought it hypocritical to produce such a lavish meal when world food supplies are under threat. "
There's much food for thought here. The spirit of Marie Antoinette rules.
I'm also thinking of many parallels, like the popular magazines that crythemselves hoarse over the dangers of plastics, and then wrap the hundreds of thousands of copies of their mags in plastic bags.
Friday, July 04, 2008
In recent weeks, strange reports made headlines, with the media trying to milk every drop of sensational value out of them;
Some woman trying to kiss a radio jockey,
a live baby wrongly declared dead in a Private hospital,
A teenaged girl from Kolkata with a health problem (nervous breakdown or spinal problem?) attributed at various times to the parents' attitude, or to harsh remarks made by judge in a reality show,
The list seems unending. And then, as some point out, real news we can use seems to be relegated to fine print in some back page. ARe sschools and offices going to remain open during a strike? It's a tough job wading through the sensational reports to find out.
Several Indian newspapers fell victim a couple of days ago to a hoax about the arrest of
a supposed Nazi war criminal. Apart from the media’s alarming
ignorance, the episode also reveals our fascination for unconfirmed
news from ‘intelligence’ sources.
Here are excerpts from an article by Siddharth Varadarajan in The Hindu;
On Sunday, an email message from ‘Hamman Smit,’ press officer from
‘Perus Narpk’ from Shede Road in Berlin arrived in the inbox of several
journalists in Goa and Bangalore. The message identified ‘Perus Narpk’(anagram of super prank)
as the “intelligence wing of the German Chancellor’s core” (sic) and
claimed credit for the arrest on the Karanataka-Goa border of a
fugitive Nazi war criminal named Johann Bach who was responsible for
the killing of 12,000 Jews in the ‘Marsha Tikash Whanaab’ concentration
camp (there was no such camp, a quick Internet search would have proved it if any journalist had cared to verify the 'facts') ). The email contained a press release full of outlandish details
about the operation, including the claim that the octogenarian Bach had
revealed his identity to a holidaying Israeli couple during a rave
party in Goa, and had stolen an 18th century piano from a museum in
‘East Berlin’ which he was trying to sell through a local newspaper.
The email was literally full of clues suggesting it was a hoax. The
author revealed he was “hamming,” his office was on ‘Shady’ road And yet, a number of
hacks and their editors in newspapers of repute such as The telegraph, The Indian express and Deccan Herald rushed to print with this sensational story
without bothering to check any of its hilarious details.
This brilliant hoax was the handiwork of ‘Penpricks’ a journalists’
collective in Goa whose blog, penpricks.blogspot. com, is dedicated to
discovering “the rotund flanks and the shaggy underbelly of the Goan
media. And of course, the rare honest rib.” One of its more celebrated
exposes was the debunking of a story run by CNN-IBN about the Russian
mafia taking over land in Goa. Penpricks also criticised The Herald
for offering to strike a deal for the sale of lead editorials after it
posed as a business house interested in positive coverage.
But even if the immediate target of Penpricks was the Goan media, it
has succeeded in exposing the underbelly of the Indian media as a
whole. Indeed, there is nothing surprising about the hoax receiving
such widespread play in the national press. For though the ‘Johann
Bach’ story was outlandish, it was no more so than the reports
regularly put out by Indian police departments about the arrest of
Shameful it is indeed. The declining standards of media reports, doubtful value of 'news' which is given almost 24x7 coverage on the gazillion news channels, such trends are cause for concern.
There are several possible causes for this. IMHO
1. The dumbing down of news to suit the needs of commercial sponsors and various lobbies.
2.Competition among too many media channels vying for ever sensational 'scoops', to ensure TRP ratings.
3. The mushrooming of mass communications schools, with teachers who often have only theoretical and no real practical experience in journalism.
4. It is a fact that the brightest youngsters opt for other courses, leaving the more average students the option of journalism.
Phew, maybe the whole world is simply dumbing down. Tomorrow, someone will flash messages on TV, FM radio, and all over every newspaper that the sky is green with purple polka dots. And if the enws reports say so, we will accept it.
Monday, June 16, 2008
On Saturday, I attended a discussion on blogs and blogging. The six odd people present didn't know anything about blogs. They only wanted to know how to make money from blogging, and whether you get stalked or harassed by psychopathic freaks if you blog.
difficult to explain to such people (they weren't really listening, if you understand what I mean) that you can convey a particular image of yourself in cyberspace and carry on with dignity. Not only that, you can make connections with amazing people you've never met.
It all amounts to lateral thinking and making connections. Many of us prefer to restrict ourselves to a narrow line of vision. Some wander off the straight and narrow and sometimes gain new insights from doing so.
Monday, May 26, 2008
Recent weeks saw yet another spate of disastrous cyclones and earthquakes hit parts of our planet. Huge loss of human life, destruction everywhere. Like everyone else, I watched the images flash on the TV screen and newspapers. Many made emotional statements. I watched with horror and waited.
As expected, the images soon gave way to fresher and more interesting news. It's as though the world needs new images of horror on a regular basis. And of course the media is ready to procure these and oblige.
Doublespeak and crimes against humanity has occured through the ages and encomapssed all races. Today heart rending images are flashed and changed for our benefit. It is calculated to sway our emotions and make us react without pausing to rationalise.
Yes, Hitler mass eliminated Jews duirng the War.
But such cases of genocide have occured many times. Natural disasters, too, can happen at any time and anywhere. They spare nobody. Why is it that some tragedies are remembered again and again and universally condemned.
Why do we choose to downplay the millions of deaths in the man made Bengal Famine?
Why does the world choose to deny by a resounding silence, the existence of Darfur?
Why have we already almost forgotten the cyclone in Myanmar or the bomb blasts in New Delhi's Sarojini Nagar?
There are many such instances . We cannot be selective in our condolences and condemnations, and then move on to the next disaster as though seeking variety and novelty. What today's media needs are more voices of clear reason and objectivity
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
English languge publishers in India do not seem to find enough home-grown talent to nurture and sell, at least so their published titles would have us believe. Walk into any city bookshop, and you'll see the usual bestselling foreign authors proudly on display. The Indian writers? A few sad books languishing in the back shelves, and those are the ones being published and promoted by mulitnational biggies. Where are the writers, and where are their books, even if someone wants to read them?
I also wonder whether its always originality and quality that counts for the big name publishers. Or do they calculatedly choose books poised to 'sell' in the marketplace? I recently read an anthology of childrens stories by Indian writers. The writing was competent and some of the names were familiar. Yet the stories and plots reminded me too closely of a show run some years ago in a popular children's TV channel. The resemblances were too close for my comfort.
Keeping all this in mind, I asked questions and got some very interesting replies. The result was the following article, which appeared in BTW magazine a couple of weeks ago. The full unedited version is given below.
A friend told me he liked the article, but that it read like a journalistic piece. True. I've quoted many opinions instead of giving only my own. But I'm very much there behind the scenes, asking, observing, organising everything into a coherent whole. And yes, the BTW editors are also there, supporting free speech by publishing this. The views of many carry more weight than those of a single individual. Here they are. Let the reader decide.
INDIAN WRITING IN ENGLISH; THE SUPPRESSED VOICES (BTW, 11.05.2008)
Indian book lovers can choose from a wealth of fascinating new titles in creative literature from foreign authors. Our regional Bhashas have their venerable home-grown creative traditions and towering literary giants. However, Indian writers of comparable stature writing in English seem relatively fewer and far between. Many acclaimed authors such as Salman Rushdie, Jhumpa Lahiri or Rohinton Mistry are expatriates writing primarily for a Western audience. A new Indian author of fiction who is published in India, commands a limited readership and is considered successful if the book sells just 1000 copies. “The best of Indian writing is not in English,” avers Sunil Poolani, senior journalist, author, and founder of Frog Books, Mumbai. “A Vaikom Muhammad Basheer or a Sarat Chandra Chatterjee is any day equal to a Marquez or Umberto Eco. They are not as famous because they are not properly translated like their western counterparts.”
India has a huge population of educated people and a fair portion of readers interested in serious writing. Visit India and see. Sadly, many yearn for a wider choice in home-grown popular as well as literary fiction in English. Is there a paucity of desi talent? Are original and interesting new Indian books in English not published and marketed in the right way? Hasmita Chander, a freelance writer and editor who has been published in seven countries, voices a widely-felt need. “I long for more stories in familiar Indian settings about real Indian people. I wish there were more memoirs, creative nonfiction, and essays written about India for Indians. The little that is available is often focused on explaining India to a foreign reader, which is off-putting after a point for an Indian like me. Popular fiction has little on offer with the same old staid themes, predictable stories, pretentious ones, unrealistic ones that are obviously fitted into a contrived plot. It's an insult to the intelligence, and a disappointment to read. So what is left but to turn to western
literature, and keep searching for good quality work?”
If enough citizens of our great country are not interested in buying and reading new books, a shortage of well-crafted and accessible writing is one cause of it. The pretentious ‘literary’ artifices of some Indian writing in English deter potential readers with self-indulgent, glib or superficial works that seem to have little to say. Verbal wizardry can dominate over a strong story, characters and emotions. “My issue is with taught writing, seminar writing, writing by proxy by editors, writing that is too self conscious,” contends Abhigyan Jha, writer of hit screen and TV scripts, three novels, and co-founder of Undercover Utopia Publications. ”Our writers and publishers are too high brow. Without mass market paperback authors - without great storytellers - all literary fiction of the late 20th century is about to be consigned to trash cans of history. Steinbeck and Hemingway were relevant to people and they wrote great language too. We need more writers of well-crafted, imaginative popular fiction like Rowling, Grisham, Asimov and Arthur Clarke. It is they who help the publishing industry survive. It is they who encourage readers in every generation to take up reading.”
Surely Indian writers do not lack talent and imagination. Some original, interesting and well crafted fiction in English is indeed being created by home-grown Indian writers. But why aren’t more of these new books read and talked about everywhere? Is it because Indian reading tastes are too diverse and fragmented into readers of regional languages? “Who says books do not sell well in India?” counters Sunil Poolani, “Trash sells. Books brought out by Shobhaa De, Robin Sharma, Chetan Bhagat sell. Ditto books on cookery, cinema, self-help (due to growing mental insecurity), and travel guides. What does not sell is meaningful and path-breaking literature. So an aam janata do not know who a Kiran Nagarkar or O V Vijayan is.”
Why do Indians buy fewer books than readers in countries like the US, where new writers can aspire to sell 10,000 copies? “You cannot compare US with India,” says Sakuntala Narasimhan, author of 11 books, consumer rights activist and classical musician
“They have a homogenous English reading market. We are a cultural motley, with high illiteracy, regional languages etc. Also, there is more money in the hands of Americans.”
Zafar Anjum, Singapore-based journalist, film maker, author of two books and founder-editor of Kitaab.org, a website dedicated to Asian writing in English, has this to say;. “Indians don’t have the same kind of reading habits that we see in the developed world. In overcrowded cities like Delhi and Mumbai, it would be difficult to imagine commuters reading books in jam-packed buses and trains like their foreign counterparts. In the US and the UK, the market is uniform in terms of the language. In India, the English speaking yuppies, who are equipped with the language skills to make book stats look sexier, are simply not interested in books. And if they are, they would buy books like One Night@ Call Centre. But I hope things will change.”
Does inadequate support from Indian publishers translate into less visibility and sales of quality new books written by Indians for an Indian audience? If potential readers do not see or hear about a book, they won’t know of its existence, let alone seek it out to buy and read. Publishing is a profit-making business like any other. According to their press release dated 5.3.2008, “The tremendous performances of Pearson’s India units was led by Penguin, which last year …achieved sales just short of Rs.1 billion.” Yet new Indian talents struggle to reach an audience. Publishers in India are sometimes accused of short-changing authors by way of royalties. If the rewards are niggardly in this highly competitive business, emerging literary talents may be compelled to give up half way. “Most Indian publishers cheat. I should know, as author of 11 books. Except for 3 publishers, all others cheated me on royalty payments, including some big name publishing houses,” says Sakuntala Narasimhan. Sunil Poolani blames “poor payments, the lalas of the trade, and lack of funds for research. Look at the kind of money British or other writers are given to research their works. So, save our Ramachandra Guha, the best history books on India are written by British writers. Gregory Rabassa is paid as much as Marquez for translating the latter's work.”
Abhigyan Jha says, “The publisher will expend almost nothing on marketing new books. Underwear is promoted aggressively in this country but we are still shy of promoting books. The writer has to pay for his own marketing (always a higher cost than printing) but it is not called self publishing. Why? Because supposedly the publisher (who in India is merely the printer and the distributor) by its editorial expertise chooses only the good books to publish…In 60 years these publishers couldn't find a single book which would sell a million copies in its first year.”
Money and hype can sometimes push books of inferior quality to the top of the bestseller lists, while better writing languishes for lack of publicity. “That's the tragedy one has to suffer, no matter how talented you are,” says Sunil Poolani.” Like their western counterparts, not a single big publishing house entertains new talent unless it has sex appeal and/or probability of selling. ‘The best magical realist after Marquez,’ that's what a 'great' books page editor of a national weekly called a 20-something Bombay guy who wrote a trashy book. He paid the publisher nearly 10 lakh for launch, pitching stories, interviews and reviews. The publisher got a good deal, the scribes were paid, and the author, belonging to a rich business family, got instant stardom. What if the book sank without a trace. The scene is the same in the US too, where thousands of books come out every year. If a work of fiction has to sell, in India or in the US, hype and hoopla are important; get a Booker, get dragged into controversy, voila, then your book is in the best-selling list.”
Are Indian readers to blame for preferring foreign writers and East-West stories by expatriate authors over home-grown writing? We are impressed by even the most obscure and dubious foreign achievements and tend to rush to buy the book. Sunil Poolani and Sakuntala Narasimhan attribute the current situation to our colonial mentality. “If we were slaves of the British, now the neo-colonialists are the US,” says Poolani. “You will find a pirated Kavya Viswanathan 'magnum opus' on Bombay's mean streets. Also to be blamed are the Indian media who is perpetually licking up western 'success' stories.” “This is true of other fields like science and the arts,” adds Sakuntala Narasimhan. “The market is dominated by East meets West because the overseas buyer is not interested (or does not understand) indigenous settings. Indian writers turn out masala with an eye to the west because they think it is the shortest route to sales and fame.”
True, a “flabby’, pretentious literary style is the flavour of the season the world over. Indian writers are merely conforming to current trends, and things will change. Insightful, imaginative new fiction is also being crafted by Indian writers. Zafar Anjum ends the debate with a ray of hope. “Best seller lists are no indicator of quality. What’s wrong with a book lying in one of the back shelves of the bookstore? Discerning readers will find a good book if that’s what they want. Publishers, and not writers, need worry on that score.”
Very few voters turned up from middle and upper income areas of bangalore. Very few of my neighbours voted. "No time," said one lady. "Oh I forgot," said someone else. The newspapers were debating this public apathy. It seems the young and restless are more bothered about using the public holiday to go off to a resort or party away. It's the poor who need politicians to do things for them. the better off can pay for what they want.
I'm left with a dab of indelible ink on my finger wondering what it all means.
Monday, April 21, 2008
No, I had not morphed into a gigantic insect, though the chain of events did resemble a Kafkaesque nightmare. I continued to spend most of my time breathing, eating and sleeping on this very planet, and I did indeed cast a shadow wherever I stood. The fact that I walked proved that I was not yet dead. The friendly neighbourhood grocer, dhobi, watchman, fishmonger and garbage collector were my witnesses. But then, they also probably didn’t exist according to the current electoral rolls.
Taking time to introspect, I wondered where I had erred. When I submitted my Form 6 to the concerned official, did I incur disapproval in presumptuously asking for an acknowledgement? I did notice that the figure of august authority was too busy to tear off acknowledgement slips for others. If I returned to the same official with my form, would he remember the tall lady with hair like a bird’s nest after a storm? The quest for truth and justice is an arduous task. One must keep faith, be determined, and learn to think out of the box. I thought of a stratagem worthy of the Gestapo or Mossad to bypass my gaffe in dealing with upholders of supreme authority. This time, I sent our forms in the hands of a trusty and suitably nondescript local lad. Mission accomplished, the lad returned with acknowledgements, that too without even having to ask. I am praying, crossing my fingers and toes, and touching wood. God and officialdom willing, my ninety-plus father will realize his dream of being the oldest voter from his constituency.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Were these deaths a string of coincidences? Any overwhelming compulsion can stress a person out, resulting in avoidable health problems and perhaps untimely death. The spontaneous joy of blogging, or any activity, for that matter, is destroyed if one is under constant pressure to churn out a certain quantity of writing.
Blogging for pleasure sans profit can also sometimes spring surprise rewards. My writer friend Vinod Ekbote
recently won a prize dinner for his
blog .One success led to another. "The New Indian Express carries an
excerpt from a post from my blog in today's edition on the front page," he says.
"The excerpt, incidentally, is from the post I wrote about the prize
dinner I won for my blog.
Yesterday, the Editor in Chief of Random House India-Chiki Sarkar-
left a comment on my blog though only to tell Jhumpa Lahiri's new book
can be ordered online.
Blogging sure is getting me attention folks. I'm on cloud 99!"
You can win, and retain your health and sanity, and perhaps even gain some fame and money by being spontaneous.
Friday, April 04, 2008
I sometimes pity readers of English language publications in India. Popular magazines and newspapers carry an overwhelming amount of advertising and commerce driven material. Enough has been said about even editorial space in major newspapers being available at a price. Do we need to daily read news items aggressively pushing for farmyard animal type promiscuity? Must we be fed an overdose of celebrity tripe and trivia with our morning coffee?
We seem to have the women's magazine style of formula fare on the one hand, and 'literary' and sometimes boring and inaccessible 'highbrow' writing on the other. But what about well-written, imaginative and interesting works which a wider range of general readers can understand and enjoy?
There could be several reasons for this. There are many high quality popular magazines in our Indian languages where new writers can test and hone their literary skills. But English, the language that strangely enough connects our mutilingual society, has too much of commerce driven drivel in print.
The book publishing scene is also commercially driven. Big names and celeb authors sell. If one is not already famous, one can't hope to get a book published easily. The few original and interesting new authors in English who do manage to gt published, get little publicity. If people don't know about new books or see them displayed in store shelves, how will they buy and read them?
The attitude of some serious writers is also interesting. A well-known consumer rights activist, classical musician and author of seven books recently told me, "Only one of my books is a collection of short stories. The rest are serious works on biographies, music, etc."
Idiots who indulge in creative writing (usually unpaid because it is non-commercial) get routinely ridiculed even in Indian writers' groups, :-))because their writing doesn't earn big money.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
People lie for several reasons. We desire to protect our public selves, and consciously try to mould the impressions we convey to others. We also lie to protect out private lives and our sense of self worth.
Saturday, February 09, 2008
For me, stories are roundabout ways to arrive at the roots of reality. If we dig straight and directly, we are more likely to destroy the fine, delicate roots which nourish life itself. Life's mysteries and the sense of wonderment they engender, cannot always be filed away and conveniently categorized as dry data. That's where the storyteller enters, to breathe life into words and emotions, and evoke all the nuances that make up life.
Let's take a question which many of us face. What does it mean to be an Indian? It isn't easy to define the sense of identity we feel in a land of many cultures and languages. I'm a Bengali (Bong), but folks in Karnataka, where I live, take me for a Coorgi or a Mangalorean. Some have even taken it for granted and tried to converse with me in their totally incomprehensible to me dialects. I've given up trying to explain to people that I'm a Bong (noo, not from Kolkata, only rarely visit there, never lived in those parts, no roots there. but I know the language well enough to translate a Bangla story or two into English) I'm a Bong born in Delhi because my father settled in Delhi after Independence/Partition (1946, to be exact). Ancestors are East Bengalis. And now I live in Karnataka and speak passable Kannada. I've given up explaining to people and just say, I'm Indian.
I wrote a short story which has a reference to this feeling of being different, but also being totally Indian. The link to 'A Royal Tour' is on the right sidebar.
I have always wondered how much of one's personal experience can go into a story and still be considered fiction? This particular story of mine is based on my true life experiences. My only child is named Siddhartha, and he is a newly emerged from the chrysalis doctor. This piece started out as creative non fiction. But somewhere along the way, it evolved into fiction. As the real life Siddhartha observed,"The character evolves into someone like me towards the end, but at the beginning of the story, he is quite different."
I put this question to Indian author and actor Tom Alter, who despite his markedly Caucasian looks, is 100% Indian, right down to peppering his English speech with untranslateable Hindi and Urdu colloquialisms. Here's his reply;
"As for putting personal truth in our writing? -- it is the only thing to do -- all writers do -- they must -- we must -- in both of my novels, I am everywhere -- but not always as 'I' "
I hope some readers of this blog will pause to enlighten me. How much of your own experiences and emotions do you put into your fiction?
Saturday, February 02, 2008
The doorbell clanged, nearly jolting my breakfast off my lap. A lanky, dour-faced man peered in through the door and barked, “Voters’ list check.”
“Four voters here,” I said, proudly flashing our photo identity cards.
“No voters enrolled from this door number,” said Dour-face.
The nightmare of a struggle for identity, understanding and security had begun.
I pored over his lists, checking every page. Our numbers, our names, our very existence had vanished in a stroke of bureaucratic whim and authority. “We’ve lived here since 1995, and voted in every election,” I pleaded. “Please correct the list.”
“Proof of identity and residence?” Dour-face growled.
“If I didn’t live here, I wouldn’t be opening the door dressed like this. And that’s undoubtedly my mug on the card,” I said, waving our photo identity cards again.
“As per my list, you don’t exist. Register again with valid proof of residence.” Dour-face thrust a Form 6 into my hand and marched off to negate the identities of the folks next door.
Unable to comprehend my fate, I searched websites and directories for an elusive supreme authority that could restore my true selfhood. The name and contact number of an official offered hope of redemption.
“My family members are registered as voters from this address since 1995, but your enumerator says our names are not included.”
“What is your problem?”
Feeling more preposterous than a cockroach in a clown suit, I repeated my query.
“Where do you stay?”
I told him.
“Gregor Samsa…,” I almost blurted out, remembering Franz Kafka’s hero who lost his identity and was transformed into a gigantic insect. But I stopped myself, pleased that I could still remember my name.
“I don’t attend to your area,” the official said, although the website stated otherwise. No, he didn’t know whom I should contact.
I am now struggling against hope and fear, reason and inanity, in a confusing world where I just might find an intangible truth about the human condition
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Hong Kong’s best-selling English language author Nury Vittachi has an amazing range of over 90,000 fiction and non-fiction books in print. He is best known for his humorous crime novels about the Feng Shui Detective. This versatile author writes for children as well as for adults, and can simultaneously elicit laughter and provoke deep thinking.
Tom Alter was born in Mussorie, India, to American missionary parents. After acting in over 250 Indian films by eminent filmmakers such as Satyajit Ray (Shatranj Ke Khiladi) and Ismail Merchant, and starring in 50 TV serials and numerous stage productions, Tom Alter directed his artistic talents toward writing novels. A sportsman adept at playing cricket, basketball, tennis and badminton, writing on sports related themes was a natural choice.
His latest novel, The Longest Race, revolves around a brilliant young marathon runner. The book, Alter says, “is an allegory about anyone who wants to have a challenge in life.” The theme is of universal relevance, and not a fairy tale with a winner. "For me it is much more than a story about sports,” he says. “Bahadur is a hero of today's India, not only in the field of sports.”
Where do they find inspiration and ideas for their stories? Nury Vittachi says, "The world is a funny place. I don’t have to invent humour – mostly I just watch it and write down what I see.”
Tom Alter also finds ideas from the familiar world around him. “I grew up in Rajpur, where Bahadur’s story is set,” Alter says. “As kids, we freely played with the children of malis (gardeners) and chowkidars (watchmen). I could definitely identify with them.”
These two authors shared interesting insights about their unique approaches to the craft of writing. Alter says, "I rarely share what I write with anyone -- am too possessive about it -- am hopeless at taking advice." Bahadur's story is one that Alter lived with for many years before writing it down. Naturally, he got it "around 70-80% right in the first draft." Subsequent revisions did not result in any major changes in the plot or characters.
Vittachi's writing is amazingly varied. Does it require a different mindset, different type of artistic discipline, to write books like the NORTH WIND about journalists under siege, and then humorous essays and detective stories? How does he handle this switch in styles and themes?
Nury Vittachi says; "I’m a big mouth! I write almost as fast as I talk – up to 5000 words a day. Can you imagine putting up with someone like me for days or years on end? My wife is a saint."
He shares an interesting anecdote about his novel, Asian Values. "That book was fun to do. When I wrote the first draft, I showed it to my writer friend Xu Xi who told me that it didn’t capture the emotions that two strangers clamped together would feel. So I actually arranged to be clamped to a stranger for 24 hours to get a better understanding of how it would feel. It was an unforgettable experience (the unfortunate victim to whom I was clamped was a young female jazz singer). Then I re-wrote the book."
Saturday, January 19, 2008
As the new year unfolds, I hope my blog will grow along with it. If my posts were infrequent of late, there were solid reasons for it. The ideas came and vanished like bubbles. Thanks to the pressures of life, I rarely managed to reach out to the iridescent globes before they floated away into eternity.
True, as a friend suggested, I could have spewn out a stream of random posts on anything like, you know, recipes. I'm a respectable cook and will share recipes with friends, but not here on this blog. This began as a 'thoughtful blog', and I intend to continue on those lines without compromising on quality. By thoughts, I don't mean "listen to my rambling rants as I slouch on the beanbag and count the hairs on my arm" sort of thing. I respect my readers' intelligence as much as my own. I don't care to waste my time reading other people rambling about what they ate for lunch, and I won't impose such pointless trivia on others.
The thoughts will continue; on life, on books and writing,and insights from reading and interaction with authors for my literary column.
The posts will come at least once a week.
Monday, January 14, 2008
I write on anything that interests me, and am happy to publicize a worthy cause. My article on children's participation in local self-goverment in rural India was published in December by Infochange news and features. Other sites and bloggers have put this up, so I'm sharing it again here. Let's spread the word.
Children Speak Up
By Monideepa Sahu
11 January, 2008
The Karnataka government's panchayati raj ministry recently issued an
order (638-2007, dated 30.10.2007) making it mandatory for all
panchayats to provide children a platform to put their concerns
forward directly to elected representatives at special children's gram
The order makes it mandatory for panchayats to report back on action
taken to address issues raised by the children.
Concerned for Working Children (CWC), an NGO that has been involved
with child-related issues for over two decades, was consulted during
the drafting of the circular.
This is indeed a welcome move -- an affirmation of the child's right
to participate in the decision-making process. "(It) recognises
children as citizens of today and highlights the accountability of
elected representatives to the children of their communities," says
But if it is not to fall by the wayside as yet another
well-intentioned but ineffective measure, the order must be properly
implemented. Intensive and systematic capacity-building is required to
enable children to effectively use these gram sabhas to realise their
rights through active participation and cooperation with adults in
authority. Likewise, adults, especially those responsible for
facilitating the gram sabhas, must be trained to appreciate their
importance and to conduct the proceedings smoothly. Children need
special guidance in order to derive optimum benefit from the gram sabhas.
Makkala panchayats (children's councils) were introduced for the first
time as a parallel government of children working closely with
panchayats in Karnataka in 1995 as a pilot project by the CWC and the
Bhima Sangha (a union by, for and of working children, facilitated by
the CWC). This was a collaboration with the ministry of rural
development and panchayati raj, government of Karnataka, aimed at
empowering children. Under this project, the first children's gram
sabhas took place in Keradi, Alur and Belvi in Udupi district, in
2002. The chief executive officer of Udupi district, the state
government-appointed administrative head of the district panchayat,
observed the functioning of the children's panchayats. Impressed by
what he saw, the CEO requested that the CWC replicate its work in all
panchayats in Kundapura.
The model of including children in local self-government has been in
place since 2004 in all 56 panchayats of Kundapura taluka, Udupi
district, Karnataka, covering a population of 380,000, of which around
160,000 are children (2001 census). Of them, nearly 20,000 children
and adults have taken active part in gram sabha meetings and allied
discussions and surveys. Children are encouraged to become actively
involved in planning for local issues under the Five-Year Plan system.
In the Kundapura taluk gram sabhas, children listed problems and
difficulties affecting their community, as they saw them. "Stray
cattle make the area in front of our school dirty and smelly," said
one child. "This place gets flooded during the rains forcing us to
take a lengthy route to school. Our mothers also find it difficult to
trudge so far to fetch water," said another child from the Hallihole
panchayat. Wading through the flooded stretch was not a problem for
the adults in the area, but for little children the water was
neck-deep. Alcoholism was another major problem, and children bore the
brunt. In Golihole panchayat, intoxicated fathers beat up their wives
and traumatised the children. In Hengavalli panchayat, many children
felt that money spent on liquor was a major cause of their poverty.
While tabling local issues, the children of Kundapura taluk offered
practical solutions benefiting not just themselves but the community
as a whole. They showed great organisational capabilities and clarity
of thought as they conducted surveys, collected data, and documented
discussions between groups of children, women, the differently-abled
and other special groups in support of the solutions they came up
with. A boundary wall could be constructed around the school, thus
keeping out stray cattle and providing children with a safe play area.
The daily drudgery of village women and children could be reduced by
constructing a simple footbridge to shorten the tortuous route to
school and the potable water source. Alcoholism and its attendant
evils could be curbed by closing down liquor shops and persuading
liquor traders to take up alternative means of livelihood.
The first series of special children's gram sabhas for 2007 have
already commenced and have had a powerful impact on reinforcing local
governance. Hundreds of children took part in a recent sabha in
Hallihole, a remote panchayat in Udupi district. The panchayat
reported back to the children about the successful implementation of
19 programmes that had directly arisen out of issues raised by the
children at the 2006 children's gram sabhas. These included the
construction of toilets in schools and improved access to basic
facilities and services, not just for children but the entire
community. President of the panchayat, Shankar Narayan Chatra, said:
"It is now absolutely clear to me why children's participation is
essential to strengthen local government. Children not only list their
problems, they also describe the implications of the problems and the
importance of addressing them. This has been extremely useful to us to
develop our action plans."
Seven-hundred-and-fifty children participated in the children's gram
sabha at Hardalli Mandalli, also in Udupi district. After organising a
procession in which they voiced their concerns, the children made
detailed presentations about local issues such as the need for a
community hall for the local high school, and water facilities and
toilets for homes that lack them.
Replicating the successful model of these special children's gram
sabhas throughout the state will involve a high degree of commitment
and cooperation among all the involved parties. The unique
socio-economic factors and polity of each village pose challenges that
will have to be taken on board. Each problem will have to be tackled
with patience and imagination to arrive at equitable solutions that
are acceptable to the entire community.
The sabhas should be widely publicised and include within their scope
all children, including children out of school, migrant children, and
children with special needs. Children with special needs and children
from marginalised sections of society need to be encouraged to
participate, while extra effort must be made to include children from
migrant communities into the sabhas.
The actual sabha itself should be conducted in a lively and
interesting way to motivate children to attend and discuss their
problems honestly and without inhibition. A non-judgemental and safe
environment must be ensured for all children.
At present, the special children's gram sabhas have been envisaged
only for rural areas. But urban children too need to be included in
the process of self-government. The possibility of holding urban
children's sabhas should be explored with NGOs working with children
and city corporations and municipalities.
Adults also must be trained to make the best use of the system. Gram
panchayat members and government officials involved in enabling the
special children's gram sabhas should be provided inputs regarding
children's rights and addressing violations of these rights. They need
to be made aware of the importance of enabling children's
participation in local self-government. Only enlightened adults who
probe and question the given scheme of things, and consistently review
the situation, can act responsibly towards developing a healthy
socio-economic basis for democracy to thrive.
Likewise, budgets must be specifically allocated towards addressing
the issues raised by children. The current government order makes it
mandatory for panchayats to report back on the action taken, ensuring
a degree of compliance. However, panchayats can show lack of funds as
an excuse for inaction. A solution, suggests Kavita Ratna of the CWC,
would be for the state government to set aside a specific percentage
of the budget to address child-related issues.
Critics of the government order believe that the emphasis on
children's participation may be misconstrued as a dilution of adult
responsibility. Although it is vital to inculcate democratic values in
young children, adult community leaders must not make this an excuse
to shirk their responsibilities and grow apathetic towards
child-related issues. Kavita Ratna of the CWC says: "The new system
makes adults more accountable." In a major shift from its earlier
stance, the current government order links these gram sabhas to the
planning process and programme implementation of panchayats.
Panchayats are now required to provide follow-up reports on action
taken to address the issues raised by children. "We have already seen
it in action," Ratna says. "Panchayat members are now preparing
databases, setting projects in motion, and taking child-related issues
InfoChange News & Features, December 2007