Saturday, December 8, 2012

Arriving or Happening at the Arranged Time


Here I reproduce, my Edit Page Speaking Tree article published in The Times of India in October 2010 and available on my page on the Speaking Tree portal.

In A Passage to India, E M Forster makes an interesting comment about an elderly character Mrs Moore and her understanding of life stating that she had learnt that life never gives us what we want at the moment that we consider appropriate Adventures do occur, but not punctually. To be punctual is variously described as arriving or happening at the arranged time or as the state of being in time In another context, punctuality could imply the arrival of the moment of truth at an hour arranged, as it were, between the individual and the moment of truth.

Since that kind of power to either precipitate or postpone one's moment of truth is not granted to human beings, we find that most human virtues and wisdom are based upon the premise that human beings must learn to negotiate with the schism between what they think to be opportune time and what the pace of time considers opportune for them The virtues of patience, detachment, hope, endurance and acceptance are all meant to communicate how human nature, wisdom, and philosophy have all been geared to the belief that the moment of truth has an uncharted course and one has no control over it.
Hence we have the idea of waiting, hoping, enduring and so on King Solomon's Sermon in The Bible, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 ''A Time for Everything'' has as its underlying theme the impossibility of forcing things in life, the inconceivability of precipitating as well as postponing adventures in life Ultimately, how does the dynamics of being on time relate with the vagaries and unpredictable nature of life? We learn the hard way that keeping a date with Time is based on our perception of the moment.of appointment with it, whereas the fog of Time does not believe in some mechanical or pre-arranged rendezvous and has more liking for the idea of spontaneity that largely guides the stratagem that life creates for us.

Shakespeare's Hamlet learns the same lesson after going through the learning process in life: ''We defy augury; there's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come; readiness is all'' However, beyond the half-pessimism of Mrs Moore, half because it believes that adventures do occur, and half-optimism of Hamlet, the inclination of a common experience is more towards the belief that life.does not keep pace with our expectations and more often than not remains stingy in distributing its bounties despite our endeavours to be there in time.

The matter-of-fact but dignified statement of Vladimir in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot underlines for us a very business-like approach to life's appointments conveying that it is life itself that is refusing to respond to us: 'We have kept our appointment and that's an end to that We are not saints, but we have kept our appointment How many people can boast as much?' And the rather prompt reply of Estragon stating 'Billion' even enlarges the scope to express simmering discontent of the commoners.


The writer is an Editor, National Book Trust, India


 
 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Post-Pre-Reading: Excerpts from My Father’s Novel to be Published Posthumously


Observing the First Anniversary of Prof. Arun Kumar Sinha’s Demise

Today is the first anniversary of my father’s death. (Read more about him at http://aboutreading.blogspot.in/2012/03/dylan-thomas-his-father-and-my-father.html (Dylan Thomas, His Father and My Father on this blog) or read http://timesofindia.speakingtree.in/spiritual-articles/faith-and-rituals/the-strong-brown-god or http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-11-30/patna/30458045_1_sinha-condolence-meeting-social-activist). We are at Patna, at our home and in the house where he breathed his last. For the last few weeks, as the date of his demise approached, I had this feeling of moving towards the death of my father. It was a kind of a strange countdown—now only a few weeks left for his death, now a few days, a few hours, a few minutes and so on and so forth. I think, I might not have these feelings when we observe the second anniversary or later on, because, like so many things, this is also an emotion, an experience being encountered by us for the first time. I do not know how to mark this occasion, other than the brief get together we had today of close family friends remembering him with some rituals and eating together, which is such a crucial part of mourning together. I have been typing and trying to edit the autobiographical novel that my father wrote and which, I do not know, if he left complete or not. May be the sequence of the story will bear it out. Herein I reproduce the first few unedited paras of this novel, which is yet to be titled and is set in the early 1950s of a village and later on towns of Bihar, to mark the occasion. I do hope that very soon I will be in a position to publish it with a brief prefatory note to explain the context in the absence of the author. In the obit-advt that we gave in the Patna edition of The Times of India today, a few lines from the opening paras were also used as they seemed so very relevant on the occasion. Have a feel of an unpublished work of an author who is no more with us--and that is why I call it a post-pre-reading:




The fascination for the big, long word, more for the word itself than for what it means or suggests—this is almost a sensual fascination. ‘Almost’ because we shy away from such a thing as word—fascination. And words don’t die. Memories of places, those we loved and are no more, fade away for ever, but words walk out of the cold storage, as it were, and surprise us like forgotten acquaintances. They sometimes come to stay. Per-so-na-li-ty...how did Ram Bahadur negotiate the tentative beginning, the soft and stable rise, the silken yet steady fall of the five-syllable word? The poor weaver might have winced as the father drooled. Despite his some English, Ram Bahadur couldn’t catch the sense of the time. It was time to dare more and drool less. It was time to cut down on words, on personalities. Shiva won’t wait for the cloud caused by Veer’s illness to disperse. From books of history he had learnt that the contradictions can’t be wished away. The conclusion is never reached; one only moved towards it, uncertainly yet doggedly. Moreover, Shiva was always short of patience. He’d start a thing and then wonder what to do next. So he brushed aside father’s advice to wait and had the old building—except for the older northern portion—razed to the ground. The entire family was made to seek shelter in the sensibly unrazed portion which comprised one very large room (here trunks served for beds) and dung-smelling shed, where the cows (they were never more than two in number) were hustled into in rains and cold. During the two month long summer vacations, Shiva read and mused over Shakespeare and Milton in this dungish but cool corner.

Nothing exhilarates more than the sight of a habitation coming up. It has the touch of a new civilization taking shape. It didn’t matter if the architect was called from a big city or the village mason made the design or it emerged from the stubborn resolve of Shiva or from the unarticulated blessing of his parents. What mattered was that it was coming up. Shiva had started with a shaky fund and on assurance from Iqbal that he’d not let shortage of material stand in the way. Iqbal became the backbone, and it was later found that his advice should have been better avoided. Why were the bricks which were extricated from the rubble of the razed portion used in the foundation of the new house? Ram Bahadur’s sullen silence was not warranted. Didn’t he see that Shiva had neither time nor experience to take care of the sundry details? Shiva’s mother fumed and fretted but couldn’t succeed in breaking the strong indifference of her husband. Perhaps the discomfiture he suffered over Rukmini’s marriage had weakened the parental chord for ever.
Obituary that we published in Times of India, Patna, today

Ram Bahadur’s unnatural indifference was, however, swept away by the rising current of jealousy, intra-caste rivalries, deliberate villainy and much more, which constituted the essential diet of life in the village called Satnampur. Shiva was still a stranger to the unimaginably endless drama behind the still life of the village which was, by any means, large and ever expanding in terms of population. There was not much wealth, and almost no striving after it, hardly a thing called aspiration could be spotted, but its very size, its proximity to the district town & therefore to the law courts, besides a sizeable Muslim population which was in terms of consciousness more vibrant—all these and more made Satnampur in the early 1950s a spark waiting to ignite.

Shiva knew about the topography and demography of his village but as remotely as he knew the places on the maps of India and England. So when Iqbal was heckled by a group of youths for absolutely no provocation from the former, Shiva was more than surprised. He was still in his early twenties and he had travelled remarkably far in life because of hard work and, of course, a modicum of opportunity. He didn’t ever think that he had grown into a sort of nucleus around him unfamiliar sensations would arise and clash for prominence. Iqbal was hated because he had occupied the whole space where Shiva stood and moved in the stupefied imagination of the people in the village. It was more than a pressure on the emotion; the equation of power in the village looked like shifting from the southern tip to the western, where the new house was coming up.

You live in relation to others, howsoever aloof, secluded, taciturn you may be. They will catch you by the scruff of your neck. They will catch you and bring you to the ground, maim you for life if you don’t acknowledge their presence and their limitless tine for surveillance. Shiva’s intelligence, his insight were put on test by the assault on Iqbal which the latter had, smartly, shrugged off. Shiva could see that the incident might trigger off a Hindu-Muslim row, besides the scare of the police raid on the village upset his nerves. Finding himself so close to the cause of the possible flare-up, Shiva rushed to his father. That broke Ram Bahadur’s indifference.
Excerpts end...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Prayer Before Birth by Louis MacNeice

Here I reproduce a marvellous poem by Louis MacNeice, a great under-estimated and under-read poet having lingered under the shadow of Eliot and more under W. H Auden, getting ritually clubbed with Stephen Spender and C. Day Lewis under 'the poets of the Thirties'.

About this poem, I take this opening para from wikipedia.com: ‘Prayer before birth is a poem written by the Irish poetLouis McNeice (1907 - 1963) at the height of the Second World War. In the poem, Louis MacNeice expresses his fear at what the world's tyranny can do to the innocence of a child and blames the human race "for the sins that in me the world shall commit". The poem also contains many religious themes and overtones through the use of double-imagery; the child could be seen as a metaphor for Christ, making reference to certain themes and events said to have occurred during his ministry on earth.’

However, the poem is open to varied interpretations and I find the emotions, images and inner turmoil of the poem so very contemporary with the last two lines putting Hopkins' ‘sprung rhythm’ experimentation to  convey a most effective jolt to the reader. One can hear the poet read this poem at http://www.macawbooks.com/

  

Prayer Before Birth

I am not yet born; O hear me.

Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the

     club-footed ghoul come near me.

I am not yet born, console me.

I fear that the human race may with tall walls wall me,

     with strong drugs dope me, with wise lies lure me,

        on black racks rack me, in blood-baths roll me.


I am not yet born; provide me

With water to dandle me, grass to grow for me, trees to talk

     to me, sky to sing to me, birds and a white light

        in the back of my mind to guide me.


I am not yet born; forgive me

For the sins that in me the world shall commit, my words

     when they speak me, my thoughts when they think me,

        my treason engendered by traitors beyond me,

           my life when they murder by means of my

              hands, my death when they live me.


I am not yet born; rehearse me

In the parts I must play and the cues I must take when

     old men lecture me, bureaucrats hector me, mountains

        frown at me, lovers laugh at me, the white

            waves call me to folly and the desert calls

              me to doom and the beggar refuses

                 my gift and my children curse me.

I am not yet born; O hear me,

Let not the man who is beast or who thinks he is God

     come near me.


I am not yet born; O fill me

With strength against those who would freeze my

     humanity, would dragoon me into a lethal automaton,

        would make me a cog in a machine, a thing with

           one face, a thing, and against all those

              who would dissipate my entirety, would

                 blow me like thistledown hither and

                    thither or hither and thither

                       like water held in the

                          hands would spill me.


Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me.

Otherwise kill me.


LOUIS MACNEICE 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Global City Called Book Fair


AN INSIDER'S ATTEMPT AT UNRAVELING ITS CARTOGRAPHY

Coinciding with the opening of Frankfurt Book Fair 2012 today (10-14 October)



Many of us visit a book fair as a reader. But what about the perceptions of those whom we visit: the publishers, publishing professionals, trade and exhibition experts, stall designers--for them book fairs are like a one large global city with which they grow like insiders. Having had opportunities to participate as well as be part of organising teams for book fairs as well as holding of various literary programmes at different publishing destinations, this is my take on the phenomena of book fairs from that perspective...
 
The 2012 edition of the mecca of international book trade, Frankfurt Book Fair, opens today. However, the moment a publishing professional conversant with the maps of book fairs steps inside the hallowed precincts of a book fair, whether it is being held in an upward city Mall COEX in the heart of Seoul in the far-east or at the Earls Court of London on the other extreme of the globe or at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi or in the restless exhibition centre of Beijing or at the Frankfurt Trade Fair or at All-Russian Exhibition Centre, Moscow, he/she knows its lanes and by lanes like the palm of one’s hand even though visiting it for the first time. Like some well-rehearsed exercise evoking déjà vu, one instantly find one’s way to the place of registration, looks for one’s stalls in the directory for the sake of formality as one has already seen the layout and found out the placement of one’s stall on the Fair’s website or has been already notified by the organisers, sets up books for display and gets ready for the Rights meetings—fixed as well as walk-ins and impromptus—which many a time expect one to carry the unstated assignment of being cultural encyclopaedia of your own country!
Bologna International Book Fair, 2012. Photo courtesy http://www.bolognachildrensbookfair.com
















Large cut-outs of the book-covers of newly released titles, smiling bestselling and celebrity authors, octonorm stalls and stands of publishers and publishing associations, illustrators’ walls, colourfully designed with innovative space utilisation booths of big publishers, buntings hanging overhead catching attention and a musical cacophony of visitors. Welcome to the Global city of Book Fairs--a city in itself with its own lanes and bye-lanes, structures, cultural and marketing space, codes and citizenship where language of books and people do not prove to be any barrier. In fact, the more the cultural and linguistic representations, the richer the City becomes, because citizens here speak the universal language of content creation, visual representation of ideas, and business of knowledge dissemination and are here to build bridges through the maze of multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic human discourses. No wonder, Brian Moeran, Professor of Business Anthropology in the Department of Intercultural Communication and Management at the Copenhagen Business School, Denmark, in his fine anthropological study on book fairs, states:

With their sealed-in, windowless structure, their special stand constructions and furnishings, exhibition halls separate the book fair from the outside world. They also, as noted earlier, map out in spatial terms the key agents and institutions (different kinds of publishers, rights sellers, service providers, agents, media) within the field of publishing, and so embody that wider field as they produce, reproduce and legitimate both it and the positions of the players therein (cf. Entwistle and Rocamora 2006: 736)”. [ Creativity at Work: An Anthropological Analysis of Book Fairs by Brian Moeran September 2008) http://www.scribd.com/doc/93752020/Bookfair-Analysis] For a fuller understanding of Moeran’s work, one can refer to the book Negotiating Values in the Creative Industries: Fairs, Festivals and Competitive Events edited by Brian Moeran, Jesper Strandgaard Pedersen, Cambridge University Press, 2011

Main Entrance Leading to Moscow International Book Fair 2008. Image Courtesy http://www.moscow-photos.com

The best thing about this City is that it is not Utopian. It is grounded in deeper human reality of which the market reality is just a part. It can create avenues even for thesmallest publishers publishing in languages spoken by a, say, handful, for example, Estonian, spoken by roughly 1 million people in this European nation of the Baltic region of the Northern Europe,and can have poets like Jaan Kapalinski and historical novelists like Jaan Kross whose works have been translated in all major languages across the world. Indeed book promotion, the cherished ideals of this City, is all about promoting new ideas that carry human civilization on their shoulders.

The citizens of this City are, of course, novelists, poets, authors, translators, editors,  linguists, grammarians, philosophers, illustrators, literary agents, rights managers, language interpreters, printers, academics, antiquarians, librarians, booksellers, journalists, software and multimedia suppliers and those selling plots in new settlement areas in the form of space at various international book fairs—all directly or indirectly serving the readers. But the best thing about the City of Book Fairs is that it gives faces to the names. Those connected on e-mails across the globe get to meet face-to-face to meet in another fair. 

India-China Publishers Roundtable, Beijing International Book Fair, 2010. Photo Copyright: The author
These citizens see each other only in one book fair or the other and hence make themselves perfect inhabitants of it by emphasising that social and direct personal relations and networking are major function of the citizens of book fair. No wonder, its citizens attend the launch of the debut work of an author with the zest of birthday parties with the alliances between publishing houses working as contract marriages. As it happens, the resourceful and adventurous ones are able to find partners on their own, for some, matrimonial agencies specialising in ‘match-making’ have to make efforts to organise mass engagement possibilities through roundtables and talks! 

Literary Festivals: A sub-city

Building upon these fabulous stories,  interesting research are now on to understand the sociological and economic rationale of the success of these direct, face-to-face alliances between publishers, between authors and readers, between authors and publishers and among them all. 
Audiences listening to readings by Indian authors at Frankfurt Book Fair, 2006. Photo Copyright: The author
 At a Conference on Book Cultures, Book Events: The Transnational Culture, Commerce and Social Impact of Literary Festivals organised by University of Stirling, 23-24 March 2012, enlightening papers were read that could help one unravel the economics as well as the aesthetics of this City. Speaking on Up Close and Personal: Why Readers love ‘live’ book events, Danielle Fuller, Department of American & Canadian Studies, University of Birmingham, stated (in her abstract) in the context of UK, USA and Canada:

“The most successful mass reading events (MREs) – from Richard and Judy’s Book Club to Canada Reads to long-running One Book, One Community programmes in Chicago and Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge – exploit the opportunities offered by the co-extensive relationships among media to produce multiple encounters with books.  Equally significant to their success as entertainments, MREs extend the possibility for multiple encounters with other people. They provide opportunities for human interaction via a socially-networked event that can be engaged on- and off-line, either once or repeatedly. These encounters may be ephemeral, but, as our research has demonstrated, they are capable of producing significant moments of identification or affective connection among participants.”  

In another enlightening paper on The Future’s Live, the Future’s Digital: Why Publishers Should Embrace Live Events in a Digital Age by Alastair Horne, Communities and Social Media Manager, Cambridge University Press, sought to underline the vital role that live interactive events with the authors at book fairs or at other literary festivals may play since the physicality of books is disappearing in some parts of the world where e-books have made a strong presence. I quote from her abstract:

“As ebook sales rise, economics may dictate that print itself will become a premium product: like vinyl, the preserve of enthusiasts for whom the physical object is a key part of the experience. I consider how the live event may add value here also, through such formats as exclusive souvenir editions packaged with the opportunity to meet the author.

I explore how publishing might learn from the changing role that live events have played in the economics of the music industry. As the price of recorded music has dropped, live events are no longer a promotional tool for a recorded product but have become a premium product in their own right, and major artists now sign “360 deals” that package rights to tour and merchandising revenues alongside recording contracts – with both traditional record companies and new players. I examine how publishers might profitably follow suit.

(both above quotes from http://www.bookcultures.stir.ac.uk)

A Place for Cultural Makeovers
Yes, it is a democratic, liberal city run by the reading public for the reading public and by the reading public and its gates are getting opened up to new migrants. Let us find them out—film producers looking for scripts, as the successful focus on cinema at New Delhi World Book Fair show or regular special talks on transferring content from print to visual medium at Frankfurt show; organisations like Army looking for an image makeover as the stall of South Korean Army at Seoul International Book Fair last week showed. When I asked them what they intended to achieve, its spokesperson said they wanted to show that joining army did not mean that you did not get to read and hence they had coined the slogan, ‘make books your cruise missiles’ and were accepting donations for their libraries. 
Stall of South Korean Army at Seoul International Book Fair, 2012 Photo Copyright: The author

In recent times, the international business centres like Abu Dhabi or Sharjah or Bangkok have hired professionals from abroad and pumped in money to organise book fairs with the objective to shake off perceptions about themselves and go for cultural makeovers. In this context, it is interesting to read what Edward Nawotka had to say in his article in Publishing Perspectives

“Book fairs seem to have a civilizing effect on a city. Ironically, they are most successful in cities that seem on the surface the least likely to support them. In the United States the largest and most influential book fairs don’t take place in New York or San Francisco, the two cities most closely associated with book publishing, but in Miami and Los Angeles, cities best known for vice and Hollywood. And then there’s the National Book Festival, which takes place in Washington D.C., and was started by former First Lady Laura Bush, who took the inspiration from the Texas Book Festival, which she had launched a half-dozen years earlier in Austin. Politics and literature are not always the coziest of bedfellows.” 

‘In China and the UAE Book Fairs Civilize Business-Minded Metropolises’, Edward Nawotka, Publishing Perspectives, March 8 2011, (http://publishingperspectives.com/2011/03/china-uae-book-fairs-civilize-business-minded-metropolises/)

A new wave of citizens comprise of those specialising in creating ‘book arts’. They previously occupied the enclave dedicated to book illustrators in this City, but have now branched out, brought in installation artists, sculptors, musicians etc along and have created their own residential areas. You find them most conspicuously in the Fair dedicated to children books and YAs, that is the Young Adults, held at the cosmopolitan Italian college city, Bologna in Northern Italy. They have been able to add new dimensions--- their stalls presented as an artist’s studio, books nailed and put in chains to show angst against the banned and censored books, fast food vans to display books on cookery etc.
An Image from London Book Fair, 2009: Promoting Cookery Books in the Right Ambience! Photo Copyright: The author



 It is a modern, cosmopolitan City, no doubt, but since its economy and culture revolve around ideas, published as well as yet to be published, it traces its origin to the ancientest human past. No wonder, the City has opened up large Special Economic and Cultural Zones/Thematic Towns for its citizens to assert, explore and enrich their identities. Hence we have Christian Book Fairs across the world, World Sanskrit Book Fair at Bangalore, International Antiquarian Book Fair at California, International Women’s Book Fair held in London early this year, International Islamic Book Fair held in various cities in India as well as abroad etc. Mention of that fabulous concept of Art Book Fairs happening at various places such as New York, and London would be in the fitness of the things where the book art enclave of Book Fair seems to blooms into its own and make a powerful statement on the collaboration of visual arts and printed books. 

An image from New York Art Book Fair, 2012. Photo Courtesy: http://nyartbookfair.com

Those who think that this Global City is only about selling and buying (copy) rights, need to know that this City is founded on the premise of creating space for the other kinds of Rights too which make human civilization worth living and hoping for. Moreover, it also underlines that for all love stories to continue and sustain, physical proximity makes up for an essential part, whether with human beings or with books.



Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Kind of Book Reviews That You Can Look For


Dear Friends

I received some enquiries for the book review page ‘Reading and Re-reading’ that is being launched on my blog ALL ABOUT READING (www.aboutreading.blogspot.in). I humbly request all authors and publishers not to send me books straightaway. I have limited time, resources and interest. If you want your book (s) to be reviewed, please send me a mail at allaboutreading73@gmail.com with a synopsis of the book and profile of the author. This will be duly acknowledged and if I find it interesting, I will get back. I am interested in poetry, fiction, marginal discourse (literary as well as socio-cultural), memoirs/travelogues/diaries of contemporary personalities and also in anything related to the business, art, science, sociology, anthropology etc of book publishing, book exhibitions etc. For example, memoirs of publishing editors would be a special area of interest. Interviews of authors may be supplemented, if that is deemed fit. A little window to children’s lit and YA also round the corner…Of course, one can always encounter something interesting to share from any genre!

The idea is to give a comprehensive treatment to a book, new arrivals as well those already in existence, so that we can have better understanding about what is being read, written and published. Books in Hindi and English (including those translated from other languages into these languages) published anywhere in this planet or beyond would be accommodated for the time being till it is found feasible to rope in some of my friends to review books of other languages. E-books are welcome but they would not be picked up for review only because they are e-books!

Textual analysis of the book is supreme for this blog and in case, by any chance, anybody is looking for a personalized, muddy, nudist and obscene duels about authors or publishers, then one is free to visit thousands of such sites in circulation on the internet, which according to numerous online surveys and also statements of the ministers, are being frequented more by kids rather than by adults. Hence, please do not waste your time here looking for any such juicy reviews.

Yours truly and looking for your support, guidance and suggestions and wishing you all an active reading…REVIEWS WOULD HAPPEN AS AND WHEN AN INTERESTING BOOK IS LOCATED ‘AND READ’, …

Disclaimer: Kindly note this is a purely unregistered, voluntary and non-commercial blog, which is not supported by, or claims to be supported by, any organization, government or non-government.  Lots of thanks and regards.