Thursday, October 28, 2010

All’s Fair in Love

For Thachom Poyil Rajeevan, who writes in Malayalam and English with equal felicity, poetry is something he breathes in and out every moment. His verses have been translated into more than a dozen languages. He is also an acclaimed novelist in Malayalam — his novel Paleri Manikyam was recently adapted into an acclaimed movie, starring Mammootty.
Recently his bilingual volume of poetry on, yes, love was published by Mathrubhumi Books (Rs: 100; Pages: 158) titled Pranayasatakam, richly illustrated by Kabita Mukhopadhyay.
Rajeevan recently spoke with Sunil K Poolani. Excerpts from that conversation:
From a serious poet writing in Malayalam and English what prompted you to pen a bilingual volume of poetry on love?
My generation, I always feel, have grown up without the experience of love — not just love, but all the natural and spontaneous life aspects associated with it. This was mainly because what the modernists, our immediate predecessors, irrespective of their ideological orientation like capitalism or communism, had taught us that, that personal experience was insignificant and what we must try to express in creative life was our social existence. So, I had a preconceived notion for long that love was a bourgeois concept. Now, looking back, I regret that; caught in ideologies, I have wasted my life. For me, these love poems are my attempts to come in terms with the naturalness of life.
And, as regards the bilingualism, I made it bilingual because it contains poems written both in Malayalam and English originally. And, in fact, in the process of writing, the English ones were spontaneously translated into Malayalam and the Malayalam ones into English, in such a puzzling way that finally I lost the sense of the original. I think this is the problem of bilingualism. It’s a border area where you lose your acquired identity and get hold of a new one. A bilingual writer, sometimes, I feel, is an intruder who can be caught anytime for violating laws and standards and, all at once, an amphibian, like a translator.
What inspired you to write this series of work? And how did the discerning constituency of your readers receive it?
There has always been an interval, a period of silence in my writing. My first collection was published in 1991, the second one in 2000, and the third and fourth in 2006 and 2009, respectively. And these poems are the ones with which I filled the gap of silence. They came to me naturally and uninvited.
I think poetry must encompass the totality of experiences and address the silence that often goes unattended in life. In Pranayasatakam, the point, if there’s anything like that in writing poetry, was to project love not as just a carnal desire but as a longing to be one with the ultimate, transcending time and space, capturing the moments of ecstasy, agony, weariness, sensuality and spirituality of life — a metaphor for what is inexpressible, a celebration of the unique.
And interestingly enough, with these poems, I’ve got a new constituency of readers, the younger generation. Almost all the poems in this collection are now being circulated through SMS without mentioning whose lines are they. And I’m happy about it. I’m against creating a permanent constituency of readers. It’s a political strategy.
As an acclaimed novelist in Malayalam, which medium are you most comfortable with? And what do you think is the future of poetry in the two languages you delve in?
Poetry is my all-time favourite medium. At the same time, there are experiences, which I find, cannot be transformed into the format of a poem, owing to its generic character. That’s was how I began to strike out towards a novel. The novel is about an onerous journey into the past undertaken by a crime investigator to uncover the mysteries shrouding the death of an innocent, young woman in my village, Paleri, in the 1950s. Set in the period of the first Communist government in Kerala, the novel portrays the transition of an Indian village from feudal system to modern democracy, unravels the nefarious nexus between the police, the criminal elements and the political establishment, and speaks of the women predicament; all relevant even today.
For me, poetry primarily is a personal medium. And in it, there’s something that doesn’t allow it to die. The most ancient of all human expressions, it’s as fresh as something just invented. Poetry always tempts us to attempt a definition. But, the moment we define it, it itself disproves the definition. There won’t be any other literary medium like poetry that has undergone so much misuse and abuse. Still it survives. Often, it’s not the medium of the winners, but that of the defeated, a loser’s medium. I think it’ll continue like that, in any language.
-- Sahara Time

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

PEN Statement on Rohinton Mistry Ban

Theosophy Hall
40 New Marine Lines
Mumbai 400 020

20 October 2010
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
The PEN All-India Centre strongly condemns the removal of Rohinton Mistry’s novel, Such A Long Journey, from the SYBA syllabus of the University of Mumbai’s Literature course. We also express our great disappointment at the manner in which politicians belonging to the supposedly centrist and liberal parties, including the Indian National Congress, have consented to this ban, demanded by the scion of a right-wing political party, the Shiv Sena.
India has lapsed into the worst kind of competitive populism, with political forces seeking to outdo one another in destroying and banning works of literature, art, theatre and cinema, in the name of an aggrieved religious, ethnic or regional sensibility. Not only does this constitute a betrayal of the liberal Enlightenment ideology that ushered India into postcolonial freedom, but it also makes nonsense of our claim to being a 21st-century society, marked by openness, tolerance of diversity, and respect for the creative imagination.
There is only one name for a society that bans and burns books, tears down paintings, attacks cinema halls, and disrupts theatre performances under the sign of an aggressive chauvinism. ‘Fascist’ is too gentle a description. The exact name is ‘Nazi’. It is a matter of extreme sorrow that Mumbai in 2010 is exactly what Munich and Berlin were in 1935. It is for civil society in our city to decide whether we want to plunge deeper into the abyss of Nazi-style obscurantism, dictatorial oppression and a savage destructiveness towards every impulse that is open, receptive, creative and compassionate -- or whether we shall resist it.
Ranjit Hoskote
Naresh Fernandes
Jerry Pinto
For The Executive Committee

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

A peep into the world unknown

(Priya K's Prophecy was published by Frog Books, an imprint of Leadstart Publishing Pvt Ltd, Mumbai)
-- The Hindu, Chennai, 6 October 2010

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Gay Guys Hang Out Here

Now this guy is an absolute sweet heart. A true Gaysi supporter, lending a hand in times of need. A Mumbai boy, which places him in my “Never-To-Diss” list by default, yes…the rest of yous watch your back.
And oh! he also happens to be the Talk-Of-The-Town for his recently published book, “You are not alone”.

What prompted you to pen down “You are not alone”?
I wish I knew the answer to that question. One Saturday afternoon, I was completely bored out of my wits. Since I had nothing better to do, to kill time I began penning down random thoughts on my computer. And voila I had a prelude and chapter 1 to “You Are Not Alone”. I excitedly called up a few friends and read out to them what I had just written. The immediate reaction to what they had just heard was “WTF! You can write!!”
Initially, my writing was going to be for my own personal consumption. But after completing “You Are Not Alone” I realised that here I had a story that could be shared to build awareness about how normal the ‘gay’ life could be if you did have the support of the right people. We’re like anybody else at the end of the day and that’s the story my book tells.
A little bit about your journey from South Korea to Mumbai city?
I was born in South Korea, brought up in Taiwan and then my family eventually moved to Mumbai when I was 8. With this move to Mumbai I realised how much surroundings and society can impact and change your overall behavior. From being absolutely comfortable with who I was in a foreign country that cared little about an effeminate boy like me, in Mumbai, I felt intimidated, I felt noticed, I felt queer. I finally got comfortable in my skin and began falling in love with the city I initially hated so much. Mumbai has given me my family, my friends, my closest relationships. I can’t think of ever moving away from this city anymore.
Has life changed for you post decriminalization of IPC 377?
Homosexuality became dinner table conversation in my home only after the decriminalization of IPC 377 and the topic becoming front page news. That was the first time in my life that I realised that my parents didn’t have a prejudice for gay people and that gave me the courage to finally come out to them. My parents have been awfully supportive and “You Are Not Alone” would have not seen the light of day if it weren’t for their impeccable support. And of course without doubt, after the repeal of IPC 377, it feels great to not be an outlaw.
What was your experience in finding a willing publisher, considering the how Indian Gay authors have become flavor of the season for many publishing houses in India and overseas?
I had begun approaching publishers with my book a few months before the repeal of section 377. None of the publishers I approached wanted to take a risk with the book. I was either told “The subject is not commercially viable” or “This does not fit into our genre of fiction”. Finally, after 12 rejections, Leadstart Publishing had the mettle to publish the book and take a risk with the subject. Even in retrospect, if you look at the year gone by, only 2 mainstream books on the queer theme have been released in India. Quarantine by Rahul Mehta and mine. So are gay authors really the flavour of the season? As of today, maybe yes, but that definitely was not the case even as recent as 2009.
What would your advice be to young people struggling with their sexuality?
My advice would be, “Take your time, get comfortable with your sexuality. Speak to a confidante if you need to, it always helps. Finally come over to this side of the fence, its great!”
Future plans?
Currently, I am ideating for my next book which again will feature gay protagonists. I hope to continue to support the gay cause through my writing. And plus I continue to focus on doing well in my day job as an HR professional.
If you were to write a script for a Bollywood movie with a queer couple in the lead roles, who would you cast?
Interesting question! I will try not to be clichéd here and will definitely not say Abhishek Bacchhan and John Abraham. Even though I think John is extremely hot and would be extremely disappointed to not cast him in the film I write. Hmmmm, I think would cast Ranbir Kapoor and Sanjay Suri. I don’t think the pairing could get any more “queer” than that now! Would it?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Raj Supe books launch pictures

Three books by Raj Supe, published by Leadstart Publishing, were launched recently. Seen in the picture at the bottom are author Supe, actor and playwright Makarand Deshpande, Bollywood actor Kay Kay Menon, and theatre legend Satyadev Dubey, and (on the top picture) actor Pavan Malhotra and scriptwriter Shiv Subramaniam can also be spotted.

Friday, September 10, 2010

How Pancham Yadav Got Published

(Pancham Yadav, 11, A shy, imaginative boy who wrote his first story in kindergarten, Pancham likes to draw as well as write. He created his own comic strip called Phoenix Man when he was 7. Pancham also plays the guitar, drums and keyboard. He is the youngest member of his school’s editorial team and helps edit the school magazine and newsletter. His fifth-grade English teacher first suggested that he try to get published.)

The Booker wannabes are getting younger and younger. Now a whole battalion of child novelists have hit the market, says NERGISH SUNAVALA

IF YOU consider yourself a good writer but weren’t published between 6 and 16, blame your mom. Child authors are being churned out at a furious pace and leading the charge is an army of doting, determined mothers who have an unwavering faith in their child’s ability. Occasionally, you might come across a bewildered father, a lone straggler at the back of the battalion.

Fifteen-year-old Anshuman Mohan’s book Potato Chips was published by HarperCollins in May this year. He says his mother, Sheetal Bagaria, is like his personal PR agent. She would go to bookstores while Anshuman was in school, and compile a list of publishing houses, then come home, Google their websites, read their submission guidelines and start sending out copies of the manuscript. When Anshuman got bored or distracted, as 13-year-olds tend to, she would find ways to keep him motivated. “He had so many other things to do that he would slack sometimes. That was when I had to a be a really good cook and make meals he liked and put it in front of the computer and say, please Anshuman, write for five more minutes.”

Bagaria is bowled over by her son’s peppy, occasionally humorous, often cheesy, Chetan Bhagat-style of writing. When Anshuman missed class to promote the book, Bagaria would tell him, what is the use of learning about Einstein, when you can be Einstein? “I believe in starting from the top instead of climbing up the stairs,” says Bagaria. “I told him, you don’t need to participate in essay competitions, start from the top by writing a book.”

Neena Yadav has a lot in common with Bagaria. She preserves everything her 11- year-old son Pancham Yadav writes, even the ‘make-a-sentence exercise’ that Pancham gets assigned in school. The door of his room is covered with mundane paraphernalia, but each seemingly insignificant object holds a special significance. The printer cartridge stuck on his door is the first cartridge he changed, the bottle cap is from the first bottle he opened and the whitener ink is — you get the drift.

Pancham’s book, The School Ghost, will be published by Leadstart Publishing later this year. His book is a Secret Seven sort of adventure story set in the West. When people suggest that he focus on India, he replies, “If Danny Boyle can make Slumdog Millionaire, why can’t Pancham Yadav write about kids in the West?”

Pancham’s writing may be good for his age but he cannot hold his own against adults who write for a living. He believes that publishing houses and readers should make allowances for children and not expect a “perfect copy”.

Sayoni Basu from Scholastic Books has read many manuscripts penned by child authors. They receive around eight manuscripts written by children every month, up from one every two months, four years ago. “There are parents who really feel their children’s work is the best in the world. I feel like telling parents ‘read some more books,” says Basu. She believes the mad dash to get published at an obscenely young age — a six-year-old in the UK just got a contract for 23 stories — is a growing trend. “I suspect that sooner or later, some publisher is going to realise it is profitable to publish children’s manuscripts whether or not they are good,” she says.

That day is already here. Vanity publisher has published three books by child authors. Rabindranath Nambi chose to get his 13- year-old daughter’s first book self-published because she worked on the book for two years and he wanted to reward her persistence. He let her design the cover and then surprised her with a copy on her 12th birthday. He even bought personalised copies for all her friends. Nandhika Nambi screamed in delight when she opened her last present and saw her name on the cover.

The initial cost of publishing the book was somewhere between Rs. 15,000 and Rs.20,000, more copies can be printed at an additional cost of Rs.150 per copy. Nambi wanted to hire a literary agent to get the book reviewed by a mainstream publishing house but he says they asked for Rs.10,000 to Rs.15,000 just to read the book.

Nandhika became a mini-celebrity in school after her book was published, but her father sensibly explained that the book was rejected by mainstream publishing houses and he had to pay to get it published. “There is no point hiding these things,” he says. “One day, the child will realise the truth.”

When Nandhika’s second book was also rejected, she was terribly upset. “I told my dad not to self-publish the second book but he convinced me not to let it go waste,” she says. Her dad says he might help her publish two more books but after that she is on her own.

While Nandhika struggles to get published by a mainstream publishing house, Samhita Arni, 26, wonders if she peaked too early. Arni’s first book, Mahabharata: A Child’s View, was published by Tara Books when she was 12. “Even today, I’m trying to live up to the expectations that writing a book at 12 created,” she says. Arni is less unidimensional than other child authors — unlike the rest, she has experienced failure. She describes the horror of promoting the book abroad where she was lumped on the same panel as Shashi Tharoor, simply because she was also an Indian author. The book shaped Arni’s life but she is painfully honest — “I lost friends, suffered heartaches and grew up too fast,” she says.

Geeta Wolf at Tara Books remembers Arni writing and drawing on the back of envelopes and on loose sheets. Arni’s mom had to make sure that no scrap of paper ever got lost. A stark contrast to Tishaa Khosla — today’s teenage author who writes for a target audience and launches her website in tandem with her book so fans can get in touch immediately.

The Guptara twins, now 21, based in Switzerland, co-authored their first novel when they were 17. Suresh and Jyoti had an online presence even before they were published and now they have their own literary agent. They were so confident their book would create a buzz that the fanfare didn’t catch them off guard. “We thought it was about time,” says Jyoti.

Anshuman also has a website with zooming graphics and jazzy music, which costs around Rs. 30,000 to develop and was unveiled at a party. His friends brought their laptops and they all opened the website at the same time to celebrate the launch.

Asked if he can be followed on Twitter or Facebook, Anshuman ponders the question and then quips, “It’s a good idea to have a (page) where (fans) can follow me.”

-- Tehelka

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Launch of Sindhu Rajasekaran book in Chennai

(From left to right: Sunil K Poolani, publisher and managing editor, Leadstart; Sindhu Rajasekaran, the author; Justice K Chandru of Chennai High Court; Sashi Kumar, chairman, Asian College of Journalism; Thamizachi Thangapandian, writer and professor; Indiran, art critic and Tamil writer; Vijaya Thiruvengadam, writer and broadcaster)

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Raj Supe’s books to be launched by talented artistes Kay Kay Menon, Mak Deshpande, Satyadev Dubey

Raj Supe is launching three books Big Bappa (a short novel), Pilgrim of the Sky (a spirituality memoir), and Jai Jai Ram Krishna Hari (a five-acts play in translation, on saints of Maharashtra). The author is getting Mumbai’s talented artists, his long time associates, to launch the books on 10th September at Granth Book Stores Mumbai. The invite interesting says “comrades in artistic arms, arguments and coffee cups” come together to launch Raj Supe’s books. Supe’s comradeship with Kay Kay Menon (his friend from university days), Mak Deshpande and Pundit Satyadev Dubey goes back to nearly two decades. Between their stints together, this author seems to have made a detour off the beaten track, to the Himalayas and returned armed with spirituality fiction genre. “We’ve been arguing at Prithvi Theatre Café for decades,” says Supe. “Books have happened along side.”
Raj Supe is launching “Big Bappa”, an exciting fictional novella, just a day before Ganesha Chaturthee. Art meets God in this enthralling tale. The book is supposed to be a feast for Ganesha lovers! The author writing in first person tells the story of Vinayak Pandit, a complete rebel, an artist and mystic, and an unusual and radical sculptor of Ganesha idols. He reminds us of Van Gogh who was painter, deviant and messiah rolled into one. Through the story of this man, Supe creates a fresh perspective for the reader to look at idol-worship. The life of Vinayak is lived in the pain of the pursuit of simple, lofty truth.
“I wrote this tale during Ganesha festival 15 years ago, it’s a gift of Ganesha and that’s an elephantine reason to launch it around Ganesha Chaturthee,” says Raj Supe. This book could make an ideal gift through the Ganesha festival. Who knows the book may prove to be a good luck charm, a souvenir & a blessing to the loved ones.
The second book, Pilgrim of the Sky is a spirituality chronicle. It describes author’s days in UK with his Guru, Kinkar Vitthal Ramanuja. Accompanied by an intimate disciple and the greatest living Bauls, armed with spiritual literature and musical instruments, the band of disciples work to spread the gospel of Naam Avatara Sri Sitaramdas Omkarnath abroad. Many human interest stories emerge as the Guru counsels those who come to him. Extremely interesting narration by the diarist, Raj Supe, helps you enter spirituality from a down to earth plane. Gems of metaphysical truths, scattered casually by the Guru, are faithfully recorded in this memoir. Amidst all the cross-currents of exchange that happen in this novel setting, there are the exchanges of a very personal nature between the author and his Guru. “My Guru gave me the spiritual name ‘Kinkar Vishwashreyananda’ (one in whom the world seeks refuge) in London on this trip. I’ve recorded the notable incident of my higher initiation in this book,” says Supe.
This book gives us some rare insights both worldly and mystical. Anyone interested in religious thought or spirituality will find much of value in Pilgrim of the Sky.
His third, Jai Jai Ram Krishna Hari is an English rendering of a play by saint-playwright, Sri Sri Sitaramdas Omkarnath. The work overflows with devotion and pristine beauty. Here is a moving account of lives of Nivruttinath, Jnaneshwar, Naamdev, Jana, Gora Kumbhar and Chokhamela, all much-adored saints and prime movers of the Bhakti Movement in Maharashtra. Some are outcasts from the Brahminical fold and some risen from the class of menials. There is Gorakhanath, Adinath and other divinities discussing concerns for spiritual upliftment in this drama. It is a miraculous circle of devotees! The play is a tribute to the Bhakti Movement of Maharashtra extolling the egalitarian practice of the chanting of Naam. It is unique because it brings souls from the earthly and the divine plane together.
The publishers Leadstart and Celestial Books consider Raj Supe promising. While Swarup Nanda says, “Raj Supe is not a debutant author. He already has a novel, a book of poetry and many translations to his credit. We’re launching Celestial Books imprint and his work is just right for the spirituality genre”, Sunil Poolani adds, “We knew when we saw his manuscripts that this guy has been writing for years.” Indeed, though reluctant to be published for all these years, Raj Supe has been writing for long and his comrades Kay Kay Menon, Makarand Deshpande and Satyadev Dubey have been apparently reading him, but now it seems the author is gaining a newer ground with wider audiences. May Ganesha wish him luck!

Attend the Book Launch: Venue: Granth The Book Store, 30/A, H.M. House, Juhu Tara Road, Santacruz (West), Mumbai - 400049. Tel 26609327/37
Date: 10th September, 2010 at 7 PM.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Our Author is a Young Achiever

One of our authors, Mona Rajhans, whose To Be Continued..., was published by Frog Books, was awarded the 'Young Achievers' Award 2010' recently. The occasion was the 372nd anniversary of Sir Durgadas Rathode, a freedom fighter dating back to the era of Emperor Aurangzeb. Every year talents in their respective fields are awarded the honours. This year our young Mona was one of them. She was handed over the award by Maharaja Gaj Singh II in Jaipur. Great going Mona.

Friday, August 27, 2010

G A Kulkarni book launch

Scenes from the book launch of GA Kulkarni's book, A Journey Forever, published by Frog Books, an imprint of Leadstart Publishing Pvt Ltd, at Oxford Bookstore, Bombay, recently. (Top) Actor Atul Kulkarni reading out excerpts from the book. (Bottom) Sunil K Poolani, Publisher and Managing Editor, Leadstart; Murzban F Shroff, acclaimed author; Dr Vilas Salunke, who translated the book from the Marathi into the English; Raju Parulekar, senior journalist and TV host; Swarup Nanda, CEO, Leadstart.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Pink Prose: Unqueering the Pitch

A year after the repealing of Section 377, there’s more homosexual literature coming out of Indian bookstores

Joeanna Rebello Fernandes

It was Oscar Wilde, beloved bisexual, who pronounced “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written.” Yet, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ have come to cast a book by its ‘moral’ moorings. And these days, when morality is obsessed with sexuality, anything that smells ‘deviant’ has to be handled with care, if touched with a bargepole at all.
Until very recently, writers whose works were homoerotic were politely fobbed off by publishers with apologies that the market wasn’t ready or the work didn’t fit in with the publisher’s ‘list’. Section 377 was another empty gun to the head. A year after being repealed, and the subsequent press it received, alternative sexuality is now closer to mainstream ideas of ‘ normalcy’ than before. Heartened, more closet homosexuals and transpersons are coming out, even if within the community itself. And the syllogistic outcome of this disclosure is that more literature on the LGBT experience is coming out as well.
When Arun Mirchandani —a 28-year-old working in HR, who says he was inspired by Harvey Milk—worked up the nerve to tell his story in a semiautobiography called You Are Not Alone, he wore his soles thin, taking the manuscript to 12 publishers last year. This, in the wake of the repeal. The thirteenth publisher, Leadstart Publishing, had more mettle. “We’ve already sold 750 copies in two weeks,” says Swarup Nanda, CEO and Chairman of Leadstart.
Mirchandani’s was just the kind of specialised book Leadstart was looking for, going by its agenda of ‘creating more niches than masses’. This was the first book on alternative sexuality they produced, and they’re scoping writing rooms for more. They understand sales won’t be ginormous in a country like India, where, as Nanda piquantly puts it, “people look around before buying a condom or sanitary pad”. Their marketing plan is pretty simple too—make the LGBT community the primary market, which is why the book has been circulated within gay colonies like Queer-Ink, Bombay Dost and Humsafar Trust.
“The time has come to build awareness,” says Mirchandani, who knows how crucial edification is. It was only after homosexuality became dinner conversation across India around the time of the verdict that he found the courage to come out to his family. “They still won’t discuss the book with friends and family, and may even deny my authorship of it, but I respect that sentiment,” he says. “There’s still a cultural barrier that prevent parents of this generation from accepting a truth like this. Our generation will be more comfortable with it.”
Art does its bit to proselytise, and even though sporadic and low-key in this country, it has made apostates of the formerly homophobic. Films, art and literature bring the truth of alternative lifestyles closer home; they don’t just help the mainstream understand, they help their own cope. April saw the launch of Kashish, the first massive LGBT film festival. In April,, the country’s first online bookstore devoted to ‘queer’ texts surfaced. It doesn’t take a lesbian to tell you what a favour this service is. “When I moved to India I couldn’t find any literature that wasn’t mainstream,” says Shobhna S Kumar, founder-director of “At Crossword and Oxford you’d be hard pressed to find a book on feminism, let alone queer literature.” For two years Kumar compassed bookstores and libraries to see how much LGBT literature was available. The answer birthed the online bookstore with over 200 titles by foreign and Indian authors (in fiction and otherwise) and journals. “Books helped me navigate my own feelings; I learnt about other people’s lives, how they came out, how families coped,” says Kumar. She recalls the Indian NRI who left a book behind for his parents to learn the truth about his sexuality.
Apart from supplying an invaluable resource to readers of every bent, Kumar acknowledges another fortunate fallout of the online trade: privacy. “At a bookstore people are loath to buy a book on homosexuality, worried about what the staff or fellow customers think,” she points out. The Internet has been a popular hunting ground for whatever is elusive in India, and Amazon is their terminus for hard-to-come-by books. But according to Kumar, the universal retailer doesn’t ship books on queer issues to India. “They don’t tell you why. It must be a custom law,” Kumar surmises. Her company aims to do what Amazon doesn’t dare—not just by meeting the market for this literature but also to publish works. “We’ve received some manuscripts since the site launched,” she says. “But we’ll have our publishing processes up in about six months.”
2010 launched two titles in English fiction: one was Arun Mirchandani’s, the other was Quarantine by Rahul Mehta, published by Random House. Penguin too has brought out several titles on alternative sexuality, some of which are academic treatises. Even though publishing houses are dropping their guard, a growing number of LGBTs are making themselves heard through community journals, mailing lists and blogs. And not just in English. Gay and transtext blooms in Bengali, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam point to a braver publishing industry outside Delhi and Bombay. Some iconoclastic works by transpersons have emerged from the south, one of which is I Am Vidya by transgender writer ‘Living Smile Vidya’; the most recent other is by Revathi, published by Penguin as The Truth About Me.
“Many sexually liberated texts have emerged in Tamil, and these owe much to feminist Tamil poets like Kutti Revathi, Salma, Suhirtharani and Malathi Maithri, who brought the body into popular discourse,” says Aniruddhan Vasudevan, a dancer and gay rights activist in Chennai. Vasudevan says we need to go beyond literature sized by sexual stereotypes. “Instead of just queer texts, I’d much rather have the ‘queering of texts’— ways of queer interpretation,” he says.
And to get your sexual word-stock straight, refer to the dictionary on sexual terms compiled by the Tamil literary trust, Kalachuvadu.
-- The Times of India (Frog Books published You Are Not Alone by Arun Mirchandani.)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Ancient beliefs, link to modernity

Sulabh Jain makes an interesting attempt to deal with the religions of Ancient India and Egypt and point to similarities between the two, writes RAJESH SINGH
The Evolution of Religion:The History and Religions of Egypt and Harappan India
Author:Sulabh Jain
Publisher: Leadstart Publishing
Price: Rs 495

There has been of late a surge in the number of “non-specialist” authors tackling specialised subjects and exposing themselves to criticism, if not derision, by established experts. While there may be some merit in the criticism, the bright side is that such writings emerge as fresh and free from ideological baggage. The approach is novel and the writer willing to handle the material in a creative and imaginative, though not reckless, manner. The reader is the beneficiary in the process since he gets a new perspective with the broadened canvas.
Sulabh Jain, a computer professional with a passion for ancient history and mythology, must thus be congratulated for his brave attempt. He ventures into a territory that is not just specialised but super-specialised: He deals not only with religions of ancient India and Egypt but also seeks to establish a link between the two. Academics will no doubt dismiss the mere idea as preposterous; to be fair to the author, he too does not seek to place a seal of authority on his supposition. Yet, the material that he presents is tantalising enough for us to at least consider his theory that the religious beliefs and practices of the two ancient worlds had much in common and that there may have been some sort of religio-cultural “sharing” between their two peoples.
There are two other more internalised strands of thought that run through the book: The dating of the Rig Veda and the so-called Aryan invasion theory. One would have thought that, considering the fresh research, at least the latter should have become a dead subject. But there are still dominant voices that continue to endorse the invasion story, and they are influential enough to find their way in the world of academics — right from school textbooks to international seminars and research papers published worldwide.
While for Jain the two issues are apparently coincidental to the central theme of the book, they are of enormous interest to the expert and the lay reader alike, since they continue to be hotly debated with no settlement in sight. We shall concentrate on that for the moment here. Early in the book Jain tackles the contentious issue of dating the Vedas. Referring to the “traditional date” of 1500 BC, he says that “modern research has changed the widely held dates for the composition of the Veda’s... many scholars today believe that they have of a far more ancient origin.” The author goes on to use the river Saraswati example — incidentally the dating of the river’s drying up is turning out to be an important landmark in unravelling the mystery of not just the Vedic composition but also in revisiting long-held notions of the Harappan culture — to logically revise the first of the Veda, the Rig Veda composition. He says, apparently of the Rig Veda, “The river Saraswati is referred to (in the Rig Veda) as being the most powerful river in the region, but recent study shows that this river had dried out by approximately 1900 BC, before the end of the Harappan age. The Vedas could not possibly bear historical witness to a river that had dried out several centuries before the suggested date of their composition.”
The author cannot be faulted for concluding, “This and other evidence has pushed the date of the Vedas to a conservative 2000 BC, while some academics are brave enough to propose a far more ancient date in the range of 3000 BC-4000 BC. In either case early Hinduism must have had a considerable Harappan influence.” Jain is dismissive of the Aryan invasion theory even though he admits that the disappearance of the Harappan civilisation remains a “mystery.” He notes that the “growing consensus amongst historians today is that the Indo-Europeans of the Veda did not destroy the Harappan civilisation.”
He further observes, “There is almost nothing in the Vedas that supports the claim that the Aryans were foreign invaders of north India.” This is a valid point considering that the Rig Veda at least was a contemporary of the Harappan age. The ancient text, which is otherwise extremely detailed in its notings of virtually all (then) contemporary matters, does not talk of subjugating people, invasion or coercion.
Jain has his own theory for the “disappearance” of nearly “five million people” though by no means is it a novel one; quite a few historians have considered it. It is believed that they could have dispersed in various directions in the country in search of more hospitable conditions. However, as he further explores in the book, although the Harappan people may have disappeared from their original abode, their religious beliefs that were left behind in the ruins of what we should rightfully refer to as the Indus-Saraswati Civilisation, spread across the rest of the country with them.
For instance, he mentions, based on excavated material, “ seems clear that the Harappan people worshipped Shiva in a form that is very similar to today.” He is obviously referring to the “proto Shiva” figures discovered in the ruins. The proto Shiva has a yogic sitting posture with the phallus exposed. Also, there are two “drum like objects” supporting his seat. Today’s Shiva too has a similar posture, with the drum now in his hand. The phallus remains, like then, a symbol of energy and creation.
Jain makes an interesting observation about cow worship. He remarks, “The obsession with cow worship which is such a fundamental feature of modern Hinduism is not obvious in Harappan also seems to be absent in the Veda themselves.” The writer is obviously referring to the Rig Veda, since cow slaughter gets officially banned in another later Veda, the Atharva Veda. Anyway, Jain through this instance provides another proof that the Harappan people and the Vedic people co-existed, if they were not one and the same.
Of course, the principal aim of the book is to demonstrate a similarity between Harappan and ancient Egypt’s religious cultures. In Part Two of the book, Jain deals with what he considers “religious similarities”. Here, for a moment, we need to consider that for a large part Harappan and Hindu religions are synonymous. Both being polytheistic in nature, they have a pantheon of deities, male and female. If the Egyptians have Atum — the ultimate power of the universe — the Hindus consider Brahma as the creator. “The creator gods Brahma and Atum were both created by a combination of flowers, birds and eggs as symbols of their adaptability towards the universal elements,” notes the author.
He then talks of the phonetic similarity between the Indian Surya and the Egyptian Ra and the fact that both engaged in an epic battle with serpent agitators. “The battles of Ra with Apophis, and Surya with Rahu/Ketu are so similar that it could only result from a common source,” he contends. Jain goes on to observe, “There are many details from Hindu and Egyptian sources that suggest that Ra and Surya are one and the same god.” Of course, Apophis too compares with Rahu and Ketu.
Jain then zeroes in on the two foremost goddesses: Durga for the Hindus and Sekhmet for Egyptians. If the latter is lion-headed, Durga sits atop a lion. Both are symbols of power and authority, and they are called upon to deliver justice with a heavy hand when milder forms have failed. The author says, “…it appears that Sekhmet is a descendent of the Harappan Durga as there is a space of a few centuries between the first recordings of a Harappan Durga and the first mention of the Egyptian Sekhmet. There can be little doubt that these two goddesses…are actually the same deity represented by two different cultures.”
Interesting as these and other similarities are, from the lay Indian reader’s point of view, perhaps the author’s take on the Harappan civilisation vis-a-vis the Vedas and the river Saraswati is more engaging.

Making a Queer Pitch

Suffocated by the silence surrounding homosexuality, a lesbian activist has started India’s first bookstore devoted to the subject. By Madhavankutty Pillai

Among the many things that Shobhna S Kumar does as a lesbian activist includes counselling those who want to come to terms with their sexuality and hosting events where community folk can meet each other. Her latest venture, though, melds another aspect of her life with her activism: reading.
“I was born in Fiji, then went to Australia and then to the United States before finally falling in love and moving to India. When I came to Mumbai seven years ago, I found that I just couldn’t find the kind of books I wanted. Also, I realised that in ordinary bookstores, people were uncomfortable being seen reading or buying books dealing with homosexuality. The apprehension was what the person next to you would think,” she says. Then there was also the fact that very few books related to homosexuality were available in India. She had a personal collection of 1,000 books, but they had all been mostly bought abroad. You could buy from Amazon but the shipping charges could bankrupt you. She decided to change things.
Her bookstore,, has been online since early April after a soft launch, and recently, on 2 July 2010, the anniversary of Delhi High Court’s decriminalising homosexuality, her online bookstore for the gay community, probably the only one in India, went formally open. “It’s basically trying to give people a comfort zone,” she says. At the website, the genres are divided into fiction, non-fiction, children, family and magazines. The children’s category is the only one that has nothing to do with the theme of homosexuality. The family category has a number of books for relatives and parents to cope with a kin’s orientation. The magazine section has titles like Bombay Dost and Swikriti Patrika.
Almost all the English books in the fiction category were written abroad, for there are very few by Indians. An exception is You Are Not Alone by Arun Mirchandani, which Shobhna recommends for being “beautifully written, it’s a gay person’s life in flashback”.
The venture, she says, is extremely risky, because her customers are not high-end, and being a new and small scale operator, she gets no credit and has to pay upfront for all the books she stocks. She still manages to sell Rs 30,000 worth of books in a month, and the trick is to stock not more than ten copies of a title at a time. She expects to do better now that the launch is through. If it works out, at some point, she wants to get into publishing.
But is not just about reading. It also aspires to be a networking zone. There is a writer’s corner where members of the community can pen their poems and prose. There is a queer calendar which is currently blank, but anyone can post an event there. If you are straight and want some insight into the queer world, a section called Queer Lingo explains terms related to the community.
-- Open (Frog Books published You Are Not Alone by Arun Mirchandani.)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Stories from Bangladesh: Publisher's Note

14 July 2010

To my sisters and brothers of Bangladesh who are interested in writing and the written word…
It was more than a year back that Tanvir Malik, a talented writer from Dhaka who teaches English in a university there, approached me, as a publisher, to bring out a volume of his short stories, Short Takes, which talk about Bangladeshi life and culture.
Now, we Indians have this mindset: we do not look at neighbouring countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh as places from where much creativity, especially in writing and fine arts, emerges. At least that was the mindset till recently; and things are changing, and for good, if you look at the spate of books written by Pakistani authors brought out by Indian publishers is any indication.
Coming back to Tanvir what I liked most about his works are his simplicity in narration and his eagerness to portray images that you see in your day-to-day lives. There may not be any path-breaking writing here, nor are any indications that Tanvir is an iconoclastic. But good writing is what matters and it has no boundaries, and Tanvir possesses this quality.
We, at Leadstart Publishing, are really happy and proud that we published Tanvir’s maiden debut, and now we are rejoiced by the fact that he is holding a book release function in this vibrant and effervescent city of Dhaka. We are really sorry that we could not grace this occasion, which we of course sorely miss.
I wish Tanvir all success and I hope each one of you in the audience will enjoy this talented writer’s storytelling skills.
Best of luck and have a nice evening.
Love from India.
Sunil K Poolani

A Journey Forever coverage 1

Lokmat, 12 July 2010

A Journey Forever coverage 2

Prabhat, 11 July 2010

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

सामाजिक स्वीकृति का सवाल

विनीत खरे
बीबीसी संवाददाता, मुंबई

एक साल पहले दिल्ली हाईकोर्ट ने एक महत्वपूर्ण फ़ैसले में कहा कि दो मर्द या औरत अगर अपनी सहमति से बंद कमरे के भीतर यौन संबंध बनाते हैं तो ये अपराध नहीं है.

क्या इस फ़ैसले के एक साल बाद समलैंगिकों को लेकर समाज की सोच में परिवर्तन आया है?

इस फ़ैसले को भारत के समलैंगिकों के लिए भारी सफलता माना गया, लेकिन विभिन्न धार्मिक संगठनों ने इसका विरोध किया. मामला अभी सुप्रीम कोर्ट में है.

मिलिए हरीश अय्यर से. जब वो छोटे थे तब उनके एक रिश्तेदार ने कई वर्षों तक उनका शारीरिक शोषण किया. उन्होंने ये बात अपने स्कूल में एक साथी को बताई, तो पूरे स्कूल में बात फैल गई.

वो कहते हैं, "सभी बच्चों को लगा कि मैं अपने रिश्तेदार के साथ सो कर आया था. स्कूल की दीवारों पर लिख दिया गया कि समलैंगिक यौन संबंध के लिए हरीश से संपर्क करें. सहानुभूति की जगह मुझे दुर्व्यवहार मिला. चलता था तो लोग पीछे हंसते थे. उस वक्त मुझे नहीं पता था कि मैं समलैंगिक हूँ कि नहीं. लोगों का व्यवहार इतना खराब था कि मैने आत्महत्या तक करने की सोची."

ये कहानी सिर्फ़ हरीश की ही नहीं, बल्कि उनके जैसे कई दूसरे समलैंगिकों की भी है जिन्हें हर कदम पर सामाजिक तिरस्कार का सामना करना पड़ता है.

लोगों को कैसे समझाया जाए कि उम्र बढ़ने के दौरान ये नहीं समझ पाना कि आप पुरुष हैं या औरत कितनी कश्मकश की स्थिति है. व्यक्ति अपने आप से ही लड़ता रहता है और उसे समाज के बनाए बंधनों में नहीं चाहकर भी रहने को मजबूर होना पड़ता है.

हरीश ने जब अपने समलैंगिक होने की बात अपनी माँ को बताई तो उम्मीद के मुताबिक उन्हें विश्वास नहीं हुआ, लेकिन बात में उन्हें ये बात माननी पड़ी. उनकी माँ पद्मा विश्वनाथन कहती हैं कि उनके परिवारवालों ने शुरुआत में सोचा कि हरीश भी जल्द शादी कर लेगा, लेकिन ऐसा नहीं हुआ.

वो मुस्कुराते हुए कहती हैं, "हरीश मुझे वो सब कुछ बताता है जितना वो बताना चाहता है. अगर उसे कोई लड़का अच्छा लगता है तो वो कभी-कभी मुझे बताता है."

समलैंगिकों के लिए आज भी सबसे बड़ी चुनौती है समाज में स्वीकार्यता. कानून की धारा 377 जैसे उनके सिर पर लटकती हुई तलवार जैसी थी.

मामला सुप्रीम कोर्ट में

हालांकि मामला अभी सुप्रीम कोर्ट में है, ये कहना गलत होगा कि तलवार सिर से हट गई है.

दिल्ली उच्च न्यायालय के फ़ैसले के एक साल पूरे होने पर मुंबई के आज़ाद मैदान पर एक रैली का आयोजन किया गया. वहाँ लोग तरह-तरह के रंगीन कपड़े पहन कर आए थे.

थोड़ी दूर पर खड़े इस रैली को देखने वाले कुछ लोगों का कहना था कि समलैंगिक धर्म के विरुद्ध काम कर रहे हैं और वो समाज के लिए सिरदर्द बन गए हैं. हालांकि वो मानते थे कि समलैंगिकों और हिंजड़ो के साथ किया जाने वाला बर्ताव ठीक नहीं है. उनकी माने तो ये पश्चिमी सभ्यता का असर भी है जो लोग समलैंगिक हो रहे हैं.

यानि समाज की सोच में कितना परिवर्तन हो रहा है, या हुआ भी है कि नहीं, इस पर विचार बंटे हैं. इसी रैली में मौजूद राजपीपला के राजकुमार और कार्यकर्ता मानवेंद्र सिंह गोहिल का कहना था कि क्षेत्रीय भाषा लोगों को समझाने में महत्वपूर्ण भूमिका निभा रहे हैं. उनका कहना था कि ये एक क्षेत्रीय अखबार ही था जिसने पहली बार उनकी कहानी छापी थी कि वो समलैंगिक हैं.

किताबों की कमी

यानि मानवेंद्र की माने तो लोगों में मुद्दे पर बहस ज़रूर हो रही है. समाचार माध्यम इस मुद्दे को घर-घर तक पहुँचा रहे हैं. लेकिन अभी भी देश में समलैंगिकों से जुड़ी किताबों की कमी है.

अरुण मीरचंदानी ने समलैंगिकों पर किताब लिखी है जिसका नाम है यू आर नॉट अलोन, यानि आप अकेले नहीं हैं. ये एक समलैंगिक व्यक्ति के संघर्ष की कहानी है और लेखक के मुताबिक लोगों में ज़िंदगी के प्रति उम्मीद जगाती है. अरुण कहते हैं दिल्ली हाइकोर्ट के फैसले के बाद इस मुद्दे पर लोगों में जागरुकता बढ़ी है और समलैंगिक अपने अधिकारों के प्रति सजग हुए हैं.

लेकिन अरुण कहते हैं कि अभी भी लोग खुलेआम दुकानों में उनकी किताब खरीदने में डरते हैं, कि कहीं उन्हें समलैंगिक विषय से जुड़ी किताब पढ़ते कोई देख न ले.

ऐसे ही लोगों के लिए वेबसाइट क्वीयरलिंक डॉट कॉम वेबसाइट की शुरूआत की गई है. इस वेबसाइट की शुरुआत की है शोभना कुमार ने. ये भारत की पहली वेबसाइट है जिस पर समलैंगिकों से जुड़े मुद्दों पर किताब मिल सकती है.

शोभना कहती हैं कि पहले हर हफ़्ते करीब 10 किताबें ही बिका करती थीं, अब हर दिन करीब पाँच किताबें बिकती हैं. इन किताबों में समलैंगिकों से जुड़ी समस्याएँ, उनका दर्द, कविताएं जैसी बातें होती हैं. साथ ही ये कि अगर वो दुनिया को वो बताना चाहते हैं कि वो भी समलैंगिक हैं, तो वो ये बात लोगों से कैसे कहें.

वकील आनंद ग्रोवर कहते हैं, "सबसे पहले सुप्रीम कोर्ट में हमारी जीत होनी चाहिए. उसके बाद कई छोटी-छोटी लड़ाइयाँ हैं. बच्चे गोद लेना, शादी कर पाना, जैसे मुद्दों पर अभी लड़ाई बाकी है. आम लोग हमारे विरोध में नहीं हैं. आपको उन्हें समझाना होगा."

मुंबई में समलैंगिकों के लिए भारत का पहला स्टोर भी खुला है जहाँ लोग बिना किसी हिचकिचाहट के टी शर्ट्स, किताबें और दूसरे सामान खरीद सकते हैं.

इसके अलावा दिल्ली में समलैंगिकों के लिए ट्रैवेल बुटिक भी खुला है जिसकी मदद से समलैंगिक भारत के विभिन्न इलाकों की सैर पर भी जा सकते हैं. यानि वक्त के साथ-साथ परिस्थितियाँ बदल रही हैं, लेकिन अभी भी एक लंबी लड़ाई बाकी है.

-- BBC Hindi

Friday, July 02, 2010

Telegraph short reviews

Eagle Spotted, Message Decoded (Frog, Rs 295) by Siddhartha Choudhary chronicles the various existential crises in the life of an engineering graduate who is “awkward, nervous”, and who considers himself to be a good-for-nothing bloke. Fresh out of college, he is forced to choose one of the toughest professions that the world has to offer, and, expectedly, is reduced to a nervous wreck. He seeks help from a batty senior, a troubled colleague and from the love of his life, but isn’t sure who exactly is going to bail him out of the mess. More worryingly, there are chances that he will make the same mistakes once again. This is another of those dreary “coming-of-age” stories that seem to be a favourite with Bollywood scriptwriters.

The Apple Elusionist (Virgin Leaf, Rs 200) by Avrina Jos tells the story of Nadine Parkman, who has been blessed with a perfect life. A caring father, a kind mother and a supportive sister help Parkman lead a fairy-tale existence, which, however, is ruined one fine day because of her own fault. Standing alone, amidst the debris of her life, Parkman seeks and receives a gift that will help her escape her troubles. But soon, she realizes that there is a price that one pays for every wish that is answered. Corny and supremely puerile, this work by a teenage debutante will hopefully find an audience among anguished teens.

The Telegraph, Calcutta, Friday, June 25 , 2010

Engrossing tales

Reviewed by Jyoti Singh in The Sunday Tribune
The Moments of Life: Short Stories
By Aju Mukhopadhyay. Frog Books. Pages 143. Rs 195.

THERE are stories worth sharing at every step of our life is what one feels after reading The Moments of life. The art of deft narration is better known to the author Aju Mukhopadhyay. Apart from being a master storyteller, he is a writer of poems, essays, features and has to his credit 12 books written in Bengali and 14 books in English.
A person of international fame, he was awarded the Best Poet Certificate of Competence as a published writer by the Writers Bureau, Manchester, UK; Best Poet of the Year 2003 by the Poets International, Bangalore; Editor’s Choice Published Poet Award by the International Library of Poetry, USA and Excellence in World Poetry Award 2009 by the International Poets Academy.
The Moments of Life is an assemblage of 26 short stories set in Bengal and sometimes in the South. The stories take up a whole range of issues—social, political, familial and individual—drawn from the everyday life of the common man.
The opening story, The Moments of Life, after which the anthology is named, revolves around the Naxals. It is certainly an innuendo pointing at the fact that Naxalism is a reflection of the need for the developmental policies and initiatives to reach the grassroots, especially the backward tribal areas. Though it might seem a Herculean task—to work towards taking development to those who need the most, lest their simmering discontent should ignite unrest—it is the only way out. Through the narrator, the author highlights how the discontented, poorest, weaker and most vulnerable people join the movement to escape the adverse situations, dreaming of overthrowing the relentless system. It stresses on how ever-expanding, seamless corruption cripples the good intentions involved in implementing the policies for the betterment of people and also the need to play the role in community affairs with adherence to the tenets of good governance.
Man-woman relationship is a recurring theme—unraveling the changes in the social sphere and the effect on it of several subterranean forces—in most of his stories. The author shows how in man-woman healthy relationships foster the psychological development of people and how the unhealthy ones destroy or diminish happiness.
If A New Day Begins highlights how love transform the lives of Subodh and Sulochana who otherwise led unpleasant ones, The Wonderment of Life—through Anjali-Robert Pinto’s sound married life, who belong to different religion and background—emphasises how care, mutual understanding, trust, compassion and support lead to authenticity in a relationship and concretises it. The Phoney reflects the circumstances that lead women to prostitution while The Cuckold brings forth the sad plight of a helpless woman who is forced by her husband to grant sexual favours to a high-ranking police official so that his business could thrive.
The Pride of a Woman narrates the story of infidelity on part of the husband who cheated his wife into believing that he died fighting a battle, whereas he married in Pakistan and converted to Islam. The Unknown Love treats the theme of incest while The Law of Life addresses the sad plight of lepers.
All these stories—and the others that have not been mentioned in order to delimit this piece of writing—crafted in lucid prose come with morals, silently and smartly pointing and at the same time begging for answers to the ailments of society. The work is indeed a valuable contribution to the genre of short story.

Pune launch of G A Kulkarni's book

Friday, May 07, 2010

Navel Gazing

Sunil K Poolani

The Temple-Goers
Aatish Taseer
Picador India
Price: 495; Pages: 297


We don’t know whose brainwave the title of Aatish Taseer’s debut novel is. It could be the publisher’s, but more likely it could be the author’s himself, given that Indian writing in English is often vanity publishing under a fashionable rubric. Be that as it may, Temple-Goers smacks faintly of Orientalism, its hyphenated condition only adding to the original unease.
Of course, the hyphen as an existential situation offers lots of creative possibilities. And, to give him due credit, Taseer has fairly gorged on it. His non-fiction book Stranger to History explored his split identity as the only son of a Sikh mother and Muslim father, a condition aggravated by the fact of his parents’ long separation and that they live in neighbouring countries partitioned by religious animosity.
Taseer who travelled through Islamic lands to discover his paternity, so to speak, ended up disowning it. Not his father’s fault, anyone who read that book would say, considering that the writer had religiously followed a conducted tour of the Islamic capitals but only after leaving his mind and heart back in Delhi where he grew up.
Which is where he returns to with Temple-Goers. Being the political capital of an evanescent India with imperialist ambitions, the city is of course replete with shakers and stokers. Even the geography in the novel is ditto Delhi, (Sectorpur and Phasenagar — Noida or Faridabad for you), and Taseer does hold a candid camera to the changing nature of the capital city — sophisticated on the outside, but murky within; perfumed on the periphery, but rotting inside.
The main protagonist, however, comes across as brittle and seriously confused. In due course he encounters two characters who totally change the way he thinks, lives, behaves and even shaves. Aakash Sharma, the gym trainer, later in his life becomes more of his sex trainer; even taking our hero to an obese Nepali prostitute.
Through Aakash, the hero discovers his own self; though his sexuality (remember the gay bars in Damascus and Istanbul in Strangers to History?) sometimes treads the narrow line of homo-eroticism. Then, there is Zafar Moradabadi, Urdu poet and ghost-writer of PhD theses. Zafar saab’s job is to teach our hero Urdu so that he can read some great poets in the original.
There’s the familiar cast of politicians too (chief minister Chamunda, for instance, clearly modelled on Vasundhara Raje Scindia), and of course, the women. Sanyogita always gives the hero vicarious pleasures even if he is in no mood for it, though sex between them mostly looks like an incestuous relationship between mother and son. Then there is this heavy Megha, who whizzes past his life like a tornado.
The plot, minus any real suspense, is predictable and the narrative nothing really to write home about. Even the Orientalist red-herring finally comes to nothing. Temple-Goers, at best, is a diary about a city and its inhabitants, written unhurriedly.

Monday, April 05, 2010

All play and no work

Adrift: A Junket Junkie in Europe (Frog Books, Rs 150) by Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu is an attempt to portray the “sights, sounds, smells and tastes of an evereffervescent Europe with punch and panache”. Sidhu comes across as a passionate writer and an unpretentious individual. Here, she admits that she is not on some spiritual quest, neither is she on a journey of self-discovery. Her sojourn begins with the accidental discovery of an unutilized air ticket that sets her off on a trip during which she discovers the many joys that Europe has to offer — a surprise “Goa party” thrown by Indophiles in Germany, a legally-purchased joint in Holland, the sheer beauty of Vienna, picnics on the Hampstead Heath and so on. Sidhu’s book is pacey and humourous, but it lacks the analytical richness and contemplative quality that inform the works of accomplished travel-writers like Pico Iyer.
-- The Telegraph

Frog Books: Recipe for a novel

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Recipe for a novel

Sunil K Poolani

Lessons in Forgetting
Anita Nair
Price: 399; Pages: 329

The idea
Obviously, the idea is to make the dish delectable. Especially if it is meant for commercial consumption. Since this recipe is about concocting a novel, the ingredients are characters and plot(s). Narrative style does not feature here as it is more of an aftertaste: good, passable or bad.


* Midlife angst/desperation: In good volume
* Corporate lifestyle from a woman’s point of view: Stronger the better (since the main clientele are bored housewives)
* Whirlwind nature: Adding cyclones into the already-rich blend gives headiness
* Teenage trauma: Yummy and zappy (as this is an upcoming market)
* Salvation, absolution, redemption: In good measure, to cater to urbandisillusionment
* Spice and salt: As much as you can get from south Indian cities andvillages

Method of preparation
Since this is a volatile plot you would require a cauldron. The main ‘ingredients’ are Prof JA Krishnamurthy, or Jak, a cyclone studies expert; his daughter Smriti, 19, who is traumatised after a beach attack; the corporate housewife Meera, who is also a cookbook writer, and of course, the main protagonist. Jak is hell-bent on finding out the reason for Smriti’s now-comatose state.
On a parallel track, Meera, disenchanted because her husband has discovered a pretty young thing, reciprocates by wooing a young stud. Include a Force 6 gale and the cauldron starts to sizzle.
Since the idea is to have an interesting mix, the burners are used at varying temperatures. Yes, you guessed it right: the narrative switches between past and present, linear and non-chronological. A dish should have a regional flavour, so Bangalore does fine here, thank you, what with the city’s cantonment areas and old-style villas, beantown’s nouveau rich, the corporate types et al coming into play.

All said and done, since this preparation is a hastily churned out one, it is advisable to serve it on a single platter sans any side dishes, that is, if at all you can finish it in one go.
And since the plot is dense and the narrative hard to munch through, keep digestive pills handy, just in case. And in the end, or the next morning when you hit the washroom, the dish is a lesson in forgetting.

(Sunil K Poolani is one of the main chefs at Leadstart Publishing, Mumbai)
-- DNA

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Thus Spake the Lady

Rachana Sivadasan
See Paris for Me
Priti Aisola
Penguin Books India
Rs 299; Pages 289

This is romance, no doubt, right from the word go. Yet, the term love takes a backseat. Priti Aisola, the rising start of literary ‘fictionista’, has a knack for telling stories; and she does cater to the innards of the female mind: the traditional female in India that is. Oh, ahem, a book that suits ‘Indianness’ when it comes to the institution of marriage, so to say.
Sadhavi, the protagonist, could be any normal Indian women displaced in Paris for a short time span. She dilly-dallies with normal life and, voila, soon the “few years itch” sets in. The story isn’t much to rave about: lady loves man; man loves lady; lady backs out; man does, too; and, ahem, life goes on. And that’s all to it.
Nevertheless, the lines in between are highly poetic and the author seems to have a way with describing buildings and flowers in tango with her various emotional states. The subtle touch the author lends to the entire story envelopes the reader in a safe haven of pure clarity of living. The simplicity of the family of Raghav, and so also Sadhavi’s and her friends, gives the reader the impression that this particular story is a bit far-flung from the realities of real life drama.
There’s not a soul in the book that crosses a limit. Everyone has a steady mind and it seems that if life was so, then not a soul would stumble in life. None would deviate or even try to peep into the world of intense passions that drive women to have flings or husbands to even look at other women. It’s a new way of living, the Aisola-way of life-the-age-old-way of life; no, it’s a brand-new way of life, say.
Raghav is the epitome of patience, the ideal husband. Kanav, the lover boy, is the eternal pinup lover boy. Advika is the friend you can only dream of having. Sadhavi, hence, is the heroine of the olden times.
What is outstanding about this story is how the author has been able to stretch a short theme into something so voluble without making a total bore of it. The little bits of additional information, be it the roads of Paris, various landmarks or the hordes of flowers she seems to be ensnared by… are all neatly woven in to form a neat patchwork of the ruminations of a single woman’s search for some lost portion of her soul.
There isn’t more to it all than a romance nipped in the bud. Read it if you are a married woman, who are about to have a fling. Yes, a must-read for all married women who need answers to questions that you may ask some Agony Aunt. Ms Priti Aisola has some answers.
A voice to hear for.
-- Sahara Time

Sex and Retribution

Rachana Sivadasan
A Pack of Lies
Urmila Deshpande
Price: 295; Pages: 291

First and foremost, you do not feel like touching the book. It is too wet, oops, slimy to say. The colour the reviewer meant, dummy. The you stand vindicated, when the writing is mostly crosses the delicate barrier of pornography and erotica. Oh, well, is it another tale of a nymphomaniac’s account, warts and all? Oh, again, read through, bet. Not the book. This review.
Since this review is written from a women’s point of view, here it goes: A man would like the first half for its salacious details; and a woman would like it for the second half for its escape and facing life. Ooohm, ha. Now here it goes, the continual virtue of the uninvited.
The story revolves around Virginia, or rather Ginny, and her view of the world, first through the cunt (a favourite word she uses all through and where she came from) and then through a well-meaning head-upon-stronger shoulders, whatever you make out to be. It takes the reader lightly, or headily, yet held very close, always bosom-like, through the tumultuous story of childhood lost and never found, tiresome they most of them all.
A circle of friends who stays with them all, with the protagonist throughout her very disturbing growth, whatever it accounts to. Ginny belongs to that great world of glamour and fashion, but, subtly, the author keeps the reader tethered, far away, from the arc lights, treating us, yes us, instead to a myriad flashbacks and events of a heart-wrenching quality, of uselessness, we are not sure.
It’s an oft-repeated tale of lost childhood and a broken family, and trying hard to regain that loss, which loss is not anyone’s prerogative. What holds true is this very simple story together, put together, is Ms Urmila Deshpande’s use of the language, which is simple, you know… filling the gap for the reader and to make the reader, for, for the protagonist.
The storyline meanders along like the 80’s obsession with Anglo-Indian (or is Anglo-Saxon?) themes, were alcoholism was a common vice and young girls got carried away with sexual interludes and almost ruin their lives. If you have watched the movie Julie, the one with the south Indian actress Lakshmi doing the honours, well, then, you have a little bit of a background with a bit of Fashion thrown in.
Character sketches are done with a lot of detail; good. There’s the creepy old man of a photographer who almost messes with Ginny’s life, taking her under his wing. The loyal man-buddy, Roy, and Bree that close girlfriend without whom no girl is complete. Millie and Simi, the half-sisters, come out clear and there is no extra frill to highlight any nuance of their natures. The author deserves due credit for economy of melodrama when it could have been stretched out to fill another hundred pages.
Definitely a woman’s world dissected for study, Ginny is never described in complete detail. The reader is left clueless, looking for meaning (or insights?) into the fact that she has fizzy hair, of all the things, aha, and she never feels comfortable in her skin, thanks to the ugly duckling syndrome, ahem.
A mix of Mills and Boons, should we say, and an emotional pot-boiler, at its best, A Pack of Lies makes sure that the reader gets the required amount of the thrills in just about every sphere; well, barring science fiction and history. Good to keep you for a day-long train journey — you know, if you are a woman or a man, not necessarily in that order, curious about the ‘womanly torments’; which the author is in full command of.
-- Sahara Time

Live Life Pintsize

By Sunil K Poolani
Arrack in the Afternoon
Mathew Vincent Menacherry
Price: 350; Pages: 315

A disclosure: As a reader, reviewer, publisher, and a Keralite to boot, there is one thing I really dread: A work of fiction in English which has Kerala as its principal subject. I say this from experience. For you could, even before turning the first page of most novels in this genre , expect a melange of clichés — backwaters, communism and promiscuous NRI wives to name a few — smarmy sentimentality and pretentious ruminations, everything marinated in stilted prose.
So, it was with much trepidation that I began to read the novel in question, expecting the usual antics from those who savour kappa and karimeen and write about them, too. However, I was in for a pleasant surprise as what Menacherry had to offer was not the predictable spiciness of aviyal but the heady spirits of bootlegger stuff.
The hero of the novel is Verghese Konnikara, a loser-alcoholic, whose life takes a miraculous turn right when it sinks to the lowest point in the abyss. The turnaround begins when he tries to give up his life by jumping in front of a speeding truck on the highway. He survives. Even better, his exceptional ‘jump’ gets noticed by an ‘entrepreneur’, Karan, who becomes his guardian spirit from then onwards.
Karan, naturally, is that wily Bombay businessman; he literally turns Verghese into a circus animal: making him jump in front of trucks and charging the public for it. What both did not anticipate was that Verghese’s performances would soon put him on a pedestal as a saint who can perform ‘miracles’. In a short span, he becomes the most-sought-after godman in the city, country and worldwide: he gives sermons to ever-increasing, gullible masses with verve and mesmerising them with both word and gaze. He becomes a Page 3 fixture (due mainly to the famous editor Sabu Joseph of Mumbai Masala) every day, is invited to the parties of the biggest industrialists in the country and also — since most bored, rich wives find him sexy — he gets to fornicate them often. What more can a desperate maverick alcoholic hope in life?
But all good things have to come to an end. Karan milks him like there is no tomorrow and Verghese is drinking and abusing his body like Armageddon awaits at sundown. Verghese, steered by Karan, is increasingly drawn into the high-life of society (including his sojourn in America), but in the process he alienates his old friends: Patricia, his lover-sex-object who runs a liquor shop, and the neighbourhood shopkeeper Pillaichan, both of whom stood by him when he was in the pits. One day he decides enough is enough and just walks on to the road, in front of his followers, and jumps, for the last time, in front of a speeding truck, with inevitable results.
Menacherry’s craft is charmingly simple, without gimmicks and he seems to have studiously kept away a thesaurus while writing. My only quarrel is that he ‘namedrops’ a lot: you can easily figure out the Bachchans, the Ambanis, Thackeray, party animals, and even the biggest rag-sheet in the city. The recognisable characters walk into Verghese’s life like in a cheap Ram Gopal Varma flick. Was there a need for that? Well, the only plausible reason one can arrive at is that Menacherry hopes his book would be made into a movie, one day — and why not, by Varma himself?
Despite this shortcoming, Menacherry’s is a voice worth waiting for, especially since nothing much is known about his background except that he lives in Mumbai and is an entrepreneur. No baggage or distractions there. Somewhat like Verghese’s unassuming nature.
-- Sunday DNA / 7 February 2010

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Learn Before You Preach


By Dilip Raote
The Face You Were Afraid to See: Essays on the Indian Economy
Amit Bhaduri
Penguin India 2009
Price: Rs 250; Pages: 194

In his collection of essays, Amit Bhaduri presents this view: “Large corporations, aided and abetted by the land acquisition policies of the central and state governments, are indulging in massive land-grabbing. We witness the perversity of development in the destruction of livelihoods and displacement of the poor in the name of industrialisation, in the construction of big dams for power generation and irrigation, in the corporatisation of agriculture despite farmers’ suicides, and in the modernisation and beautification of our cities by the demolition of slums.” After reading this introductory blurb, the immediate urge is to throw away the book. Oh God, not another bleeding-heart socialist!
But it turns out that Bhaduri does not do ideological linear-thinking of the kind that produces fundamentalist extremism of the various sects of the Right and the Left. He presents an objective view of the facts, as he sees them, of the Indian economic mess. But he does not offer a solution. His last essay ends thus: “We live in a time when both centralised planning and corporate industrialisation have visibly failed…Faith in existing paradigms is deeply shaken. The conventional politics of trying to capture centralised power by any means without trusting the creativity of the people has rendered the political parties of both the Right and the Left without legitimacy in the eyes of the people. The time is ripe for a new beginning.”
And what should be this new beginning? Bhaduri offers no ideas, and so comes across as a moralising observer who keeps saying, “This is wrong! This is very bad! This should not happen!” like a socialite socialist at a pseudo-intellectual dinner party.
Bhaduri is also ignorant of history. There was land-grabbing in prehistoric times; powerful tribes took over and the losers were killed or evicted. There were economic and social consequences. Tribal territories eventually grew into kingdoms and empires; economic, political and social consequences expanded like a spiral. Feudal lords created SEZs to build palaces, forts, ports, markets; the displaced fled to towns and created slums. Then there arose the cycles of rise and fall of the empires — prosperity, decadence of the contented ruling classes, and the anger of the poor which provoked violent revolts. New classes came to power and raised the hopes of the people; then came contentment and debauchery at the top and growing anger in the lower layers. This produced rightists and leftists, and both believed that only they were right. History presents this scenario over and over again.
India now has a very ambitious ruling class which sees itself as guiding the country towards being a world-class empire. India has Empress Sonia and thousands of feudal lords ruthlessly pursuing wealth and power. And there is a population of over a billion people who must have access to water, electricity, healthcare and sanitation, education, communications infrastructure, banking and money markets, and all the signs of a progressive, fast-developing society. All these projects have to be pushed fast to attract global attention and investment. And to hell with anti-development protest movements!
Which takes us back to history. As in historic times of contentment and decadence, the most important, and corrosive, consequence of India’s push and shove development has been the acceleration in corruption. India is now a thoroughly corrupt country — the lower classes have to pay bribes for survival, and the upper classes pay to get anything they want done. With big and small projects coming up everywhere, the corrupt are contented and pursuing perverse pleasures. If the bribes and donations given in a year at all levels were counted, the total amount would be more than the GDP of many developing countries.
Bhaduri, and other economists, should be studying history, carefully watching the swing of the pendulum, anticipating the consequences, and thinking about new ideas which will reshape economics. Instead, they gush on the Right side or moralise on the Left side. Meanwhile, the world moves from capitalism to neo-socialism to neo-capitalism to super neo-socialism… Each produces faces of greed or despair which you are afraid to see.
-- Sahara Time