Tuesday, August 29, 2006

What shape is an elephant? Is it round or crooked? Is it soft or is it coarse? These are the questions that go much deeper than they appear.

With this story, Katha introduces Rumi, the great Persian poet and philosopher, for the first time to young readers in India. Rumi's original version of the story of the elephant in a dark house seeks to explain why people have differing notions about Life and indeed, about God.

We try to understand Life as people try to understand the elephant in the story - by groping in the dark. But touching alone is no way of knowing. If we allow ourselves to look beyond, we shall behold more than our eyes can see and our hands can touch.

So open your mind's eye, and together with Rumi, see what you may have never seen before!

The Indian Express
(The School Magazine, May 24, 2006)

Have you read the poem The Blind Men and the Elephant by John G Saxe? It goes,

"There were six men of Hindustan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the elephant,
Though all of them were blind ...

The great Persian poet and philosopher Rumi had interpreted a verse of the Quran to explain the consequences of a group of Persians who tried to picture the elephant by feeling it. They had never seen the animal; and could not wait until daylight to satisfy their curiosity.

The story goes on to describe how they imagined the elephant, each by touching a part of the animal and thinking it was the whole.

Rumi's tale, which also formed the basis for Saxe's poem, explains how we must open our mind's eyes and look beyond things that are jst in front of us.

The book is made lively with colourful illustrations by Feroozeh Golmohammadi, an Iranian artist. The paintings convey a poetic rhythm, with the illustrations, speaking as much as the words.

The book introduces Rumi to the readers and is simple and interesting in style.

-Anusha Chandrasekaran.

The Hindu
(Young World, June 9, 2006)

Books that are sure to keep you glued to its pages ...


Helping you to step into another magical world is the Persian poet and philosopher, Rumi's "What shape is an elephant?" Indian kids no doubt are familiar with the story. It is the story of people trying to identify the shape of an elephant in the dark and coming out with hilarious interpretations. But what makes this particular book special is the exquisite illustrations by Feeroozeh Golmohammadi. The brilliant innovation of the folded frieze is a bonus that would make one long to frame it as a treasured tapestry. And it is easy to imagine children poring over the pictures, living in the old world charm.
-Rohini Ramakrishnan
The illustrator
Feeroozeh Golmohammadi has been painting and illustrating children's books for nearly two and a half decades. She is among the first Iranian women to have won international acclaim in art and is credited with ushering in the renaissance of Persian miniature paintings.
She has to her credit a wide range of books that have won national and international awards, some of them being NOMA (thrice), Iran Gold Plaque and the Hans Christian Anderson Honorary Diploma. Her other interests include photography of which she's held several exhibitions across the world, and journalism. She has been the chief editor of the popular Iranian magazine Zan-e-Rooz.
The latest honour that she has received is the coveted grand prize in the first international Chitrakala contest conducted by Katha.

Publishers: Katha
32 pages, size 11 X 8.5
Age Group: 7 - 10 years
ISBN 81-89020-49-8 [PB]
ISBN 81-89020-48-X [HB]
Price: Rs 95 [PB]
Rs 150 [HB] (in India and the subcontinent)

Monday, August 28, 2006

A Restoration Process

The Senate House of Madras University has been restored to its original, radiant glory. Conservation Architect Kalpana spoke eloquently about what she and her team had to go through, the months of hard work, research, mixing, scraping, climbing precarious hieghts, rediscovering old relics that had been thought to be lost forever ... before stumbling upon the inner, hidden beauty of the Senate House.
It occurred to me, as I was poring over my manuscript, that editing was a process that was a lot like restoring heritage buildings. Think about it, if you will: when an editor receives a manuscript, it's rather like a faded cloth, containing little glints and gleams of the original, of which it is a reflection. Then, the editor sets to work, scraping away the blemishes, rediscovering original patterns, sifting through words and meanings, digging through paragraphs, chiselling away misinterpretations ...
And the end process reveals the complete manuscript, in all its glory.
Kudos to the architects of this world, don't you think? :)
- Pavithra Srinivasan.

Friday, August 25, 2006

"The Silent One ..."

"... the only one who can stand at the extreme frontiers of the imgination and captre those concepts which have so far refused to be contained in words," says the writer who revolutionized the Tamil literary scene, Pudumaipittan.

"Mauni," says Lakshmi Holmstrom, "came into prominence in the 1930s, and along with Pudumaipittan, is considered one of the great modern short-story writers in Tamil. He is a writer's writer, an innovator and self conscious stylist ... and he wrote only twenty-four stories, in all. Mauni's stories, unlike Pudumaipittan's are concerned with the inner world of imagination rather than the external world of social change..."

The Statesman
(October 31, 1997 )

Manoj Das


Mauni known for his innovative use of the narrative form, explored new horizons in the Tamil short story genre. This volume, the third in the Katha Classics series presents eleven stylistically refreshing stories. Bordering strongly on the metaphysical, these stories structured around minimalist plots, confer a sense of the bizarre on situations that are otherwise commonplace. Encompassing a wide range of emotions and experiences, Mauni’s mindscape finds expression in the irregular rhythm of life itself. This makes for a compulsive read.

Reviews and Commentary

… with Mauni (S Mani, 1907-1985) the short story in Tamil found a new freedom and assurance. When P Raja, then a student and now a noted scholar, met Mauni in the seventies and asked him if he would give a clue to appreciating his works, he brushed aside the demand, saying, “I write for the 21st century.”

It is significant that a collection of his stories has been made available in English soon before the dawn of the new century on which the celebrated writer pinned his hope ...

The translation is excellent and Venkat Swaminathan’s article, “Mauni and the Tamil Short Story,” is a valuable document.

The Book Review
(January - February 1998)

Vijaya Ramaswamy

Mauni’s short stories are one of the most serious collections to hit the Indian literary scene in recent years. The credit for this goes to the Katha team and the dynamism of Geeta Dharmarajan. This reviewer felt that the best tribute one could pay such an important publication was a detailed study of the translations compared at every point by reference to the original text. Looking minutely at the translation of each story one must congratulate Lakshmi Holmstrom on her brilliant translations …

The translations are faithful to both the letter and the spirit of the original text …

Mauni: A Writers’ Writers on the whole makes for a compulsive read, shades of pastiche notwithstanding.

Indian Review of Books
(September 16 - November 15, 1997)

It is not usual for a review to come dripping with gratitude. This time, though, that is precisely how it must. For Mauni: A Writers’ Writer is the most tastefully produced, the most sensitively edited and translated, the most imaginatively formatted Indian book that I have ever come across. Everything is simply dazzling about this “collaboration” of love ... the series editor Geeta Dharmarajan’s resolve to “resurrect” him before the world; the sensitivity and hard work evident everywhere in Holmstrom’s introduction and translations … it is priceless …

Reading the eleven stories is, to invoke Murphy again, “such pleasure that pleasure (is) not the word.” Organized along a matrix of surds, the stories have little characterization and less plot about them. They are, in a sense, about the apparatus called Mauni’s mind which, like Murphy’s, is a sensationally self-opposed, self-opposing thing ...

The texture has a sensuous beauty that reminds one of the best of Shakespeare. The details which it is made up of are apparently inessential, but, even when they are not symbolic, they generate the overall emotional mood in which, for example, the stone yaalis in a temple can shake and fume with rage as a non-preordained love story is about to be born ...

For anyone interested in testing their ability to pluck out the heart of mysteries, the volume has a number of teasing tales ...

Mauni here, as everywhere else, is wholly successful in negotiating with western romanticism and modernism on the most honourable Indian terms.

Publishers: Katha
Library: Katha Classics/Tamil
Price: Rs 200

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Just for kids

Writer and Blogger Venkatesh (he is currently with Vikatan Publishing) has posted on Katha Books, quoting the Business Line article. He's written about how Katha and Thulika have managed to carve a niche for themselves in the field of Childrens Publishing, bringing folktales of India among children, with beautiful illustrations and excellent production:

கதா, துலிக்காவின் சிறுவர் நூல்கள்

கதாவும் துலிக்காவும் நிறைய சிறுவர் நூல்களை வெளியிட்டு வருகின்றன. மிக அழகான வண்ணப்படங்கள் நிறைந்த புத்தகங்கள் அவை. சமீபத்தில் தி பிசினஸ்லைன் நாளிதழில் அவர்களது புத்தகங்கள் பற்றி வந்த
கட்டுரை இது.
குறிப்பாக இவ்விரு பதிப்பகங்களும் இந்திய வாய்மொழிக் கதைகளை வெளியிடுவதில் அதிகம் கவனம் செலுத்துகின்றன. ஆங்கிலம் மற்றும் பிற இந்திய மொழிகளில் இந்த நூல்கள் பதிப்பிக்கபடுவதால், ஓரளவுக்கு விலையும் குறைவாகவே இருக்கிறது.இந்தக் கட்டுரையில் சொல்லப்பட்டுள்ள ஒரு விஷயம் உண்மை.
பல வெளிநாட்டுப் பதிப்பங்கள் இங்கே இந்தியாவில் புத்தகங்கள் விற்கும்போது, நினைத்தே பார்க்க முடியாத விற்பனைக் கழிவை விற்பனையாளர்களுக்குக் கொடுக்கிறார்கள். புத்தக விலையை எவ்வளவு வேண்டுமானாலும் ஏற்றிக்கொள், ஆனால் எனக்கான விற்பனைக் கழிவு மட்டும் குறையாமல் இருக்க வேண்டும் என்று பல புத்தக விற்பனை நிலையங்கள் நினைக்கின்றன.
அதனாலேயே பல வெளிநாட்டுச் சிறுவர் புத்தகங்கள் இங்கே உள்ள கடைகளில் சுலபமாகக் கிடைக்கின்றன.இதையும் மீறி, தங்களால் சிறுவர் மார்க்கெட்டைத் தக்கவைத்துக்கொள்ள முடியும் என்று இவ்விரு பதிப்பகங்களும் முனைவது நல்ல அறிகுறி.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Books that are sure to keep you glued to its pages ...

Hindustan Times
(November 14, 2005)

Mid-November is that time of the year when publishers turn to the small fry and, sure enough, mouth-watering books for youngsters are on offer again this Children's Day.

Katha issued Surangini by Partap Sharma.

In Surangini, the daughter of a village zamindar is coveted by Kalu, a poor weaver. How he weaves his love for her makes up this charming tale.

"The main objective," says Katha, "is to enhance the pleasures of reading for children and help break down gender, cultural and social stereotypes."

The Hindu
( June 9, 2006)

Surangani, the zamindar's daughter, and Kalu, a poor weaver, are in love. But is their love to be? Pratap Sharma narrates this story of love and friendship, of trust and betrayal, in simple language. A tale of struggle and conquest never fails to enthral readers and here too we have the eternal love story with all its complications and the struggle to overcome them. A magic carpet, a story within a story, an enigmatic puzzle takes place before the story ends happily ever after, but with a strange twist. The beauty of the story is further enhanced by the illustrations by Vandana Bist.

Publishers: Katha.
Price: Rs. 120.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The First ...?

Penguin Publications started a blog on July 31st, 2006. Here's what the blogging editor, Venetia Butterfield, has to say: "...We’ll hopefully be covering all the joys of the publishing process on this site, including signing up new authors, publishing their books, and all the adventures in between. "

Cool news. There are about four posts in, and it promises to be an interesting ride.

Brandrepublic says about them: "Penguin Books is to become the first major publishing company to launch a blog, offering readers sneak previews of work in progress from top authors as well as publishers and editors posting the latest news from the company."

Although, I have to say, we were in before them.

(Young World, The Hindu, April 21st, 2006)
All she wanted was a hill myna. She never thought of the trouble it would cause. A translation from the original Urdu.
A heart-warming tale of a father's love for his motherless daughter, The Myna from the Peacock Garden begins Katha's series of translations for young readers.
The tale is simple: Kale Khan works in Nawab Wajid Ali Shah's Peacock Garden. And his daughter wants a hill myna for a pet. Unable to afford such an expensive pet, he takes one from the nawab's collection reasoning that with 40 mynas flitting around the cage no one would take an exact count. The rest of the story concerns Kale Khan's attempts to ensure that no one figures out what he's done and to keep the smile on his daughter's face.

Sagaree Sengupta's translation carries the reader along into a different world. You can almost see the events unfolding before you as Kale Khan gets caught, but is pardoned by the emperor. He even gets the myna that he stole. But now the British Resident wants that myna.

The original Urdu story was by Naiyer Masud. While the cover mentions Naiyer Masud and art by Premola Ghose, there is no mention of the translator.

- R. Krithika.
The New Indian Express
(School Magazine, March 22, 2006)
Falak Ara is a mynah. A hill mynah that is capable of speaking and imitating any voice. Among the 40 mynahs housed in the majestic cage in the Royal Peacock Garden, Kale Khan, the caretaker of the birds, steals Falak Ara for his little girl who is motherless and has been pestering him for a hill mynah.

The story is set during the reign of Sultan Wajid Ali Shah in Lucknow. Kale Khan's daughter, who is also named Falak Ara, takes instant liking for the mynah. But her joy is short-lived. The king arrives in the garden one day and asks, "I don't see Falak Ara today." Nabi Baksh, the minister, tries to pacify the King. But Kale Khan is exasperated. He rushes home and manages to convince his daughter that the mynah needs to be taken to the hospital as 'she is in a bad shape'.

The birds are the centre of attraction at the garden as they enthrall the royal guests with their songs. But it's Falak Ara which is the cynosure of all eyes when it starts singing. Kale Khan can't believe it. will Kale Khan get a royal pardon. Read the book to find out more about Falak Ara and her mynah.

The story, originally writeen in Urdu, is a fine work of translation. Apart from written in a simple language, there are pictorial illustrations, bringing the story and the ancient age come alive. the innocence of childhood and the seriousness of theft as an offence are interwoven well to bring out a delightful tale. A recommend purchase for all who simply love good stories.
- Amy Vigel Raj
About the author
Naiyer Masud
About the illustrator
Premila Ghose

: Katha
Series: Pocket Plus
Age Group: 10 + years
ISBN 81-89020-45-5
Price: Rs 95

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Friday, August 18, 2006

(The Hindu, Ocober 7th, 2003)

A social novel

THE PULL of both classical Indian traditions as well as the influence of 18th, 19th Century English novelists can be identified in most early writings which come under the name of the Indian English novel.

Even while reading this book in translation, one cannot forget that it was written in the early days when the novel as a genre was beginning to make its presence as a saga of contemporary life. We are aware that the social realistic novel came late to Tamil and Madhaviah was one of the pioneers who paved the way for later novelists like Kalki and Pudumaipithan, by pointing out that the novel can be a powerful social force in shaping public thought.

The serious novel by and large we know, is expected to make a statement of the human predicament as the epic did in ancient times. Only the novel does not give solutions in the old forthright manner but poses basic questions inherent to life. The concerns of man in his journey of life, the choices before him and his efforts to connect with other humans in his loneliness, continue to be the motifs of Padmavati Charithram, as in the narratives of yore.

The blurb says quite dramatically: "A hundred years ago a salt inspector in Tamil Nadu had a grand dream of a story that spoke of love and jealousy and all things that lie in between — the stuff that dreams inevitably are made of even today." As a document of social history, the novel also conveys an authentic picture of the Brahmin life in the rural south as well as student life in the then city of Madras. The evils of child marriages, widow disfigurement and expensive rituals for the sake of societal approval, acceptance of concubinage among the wealthy, are highlighted during the discourse. The reader is left to ponder over how well the "Victorian novel" form was adapted to suit the Indian theme.

The author's didactic purpose of persuasion through entertainment is obvious. The translator, Meenakshi Thiagarajan, the granddaughter of Madhaviah, is sensitive to the subtle nuances of the text, possessing the ability to convey them in another tongue, while jealously guarding the flavour of the original. Generalisations and truisms peculiar to Tamil have been rendered with a sense of appropriateness. "It is far better to struggle for livelihood than live off somebody's largesse" or "if one accepts charity one becomes a slave" are everyday comments in most Tamil households.

The Indian novel may have been derivative in nature but today the story has finally gone out, with the "pattern" having come in as the basic form in fiction. However despite the fact that the book sometimes reads like a slice of biography, the episodic nature of the novel suits the theme, which has not yet dated. Part of the pleasures of reading Padmavati in translation is in the series of faithful encounters it offers with those who lived a 100 years ago.

By giving rare insights into a particular community with the inherent social tensions prevailing at a particular time and place in history, the story will continue to have readership in the original form as well as in the translated version. The translation has been brought out by "Katha" publications, well known for their judicious choice of texts in their endeavour of encouraging regional language writing.

Prema Srinivasan

PADMAVATI: A. Madhaviah, Translated by Meenakshi Thiagarajan; Rs. 250.
Published by: Katha Publications.
Delhi: A-3, Sarvodaya Enclave, Sri Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi-110017.
Chennai: 8, 1st Main Road, Karpagam Gardens, Adyar, Chennai -20.

Another review of the the novel's right here.

Friday, August 11, 2006

(August 11th, The Hindu Business Line, 2006)
Young readers and their parents are hungry for homespun stories.
Archana Venkat

Closer home: Children's books with Indian stories are in bigger demand now. - V. GANESAN

Once Upon a Moontime... ' Sounds familiar? Perhaps not, unless you grew up in Arunachal Pradesh. But now you can read all about this tale sitting in any part of India, thanks to the growth in publications for children.

But in an electronic era, are children interested in books at all? Of course, there's all that craze for Harry Potter and his series of adventures.

Katha and Tulika Publishing bring out books for children. Katha publishes stories from largely Indian folklore and mythology, while Tulika focuses on contemporary fiction and has bi-lingual books where the text in English and one other regional language to help children pick up regional languages. "Aside from Harry Potter, do kids really have a variety of Indian books to choose from," asks Geeta Dharmarajan, Director, Katha. "We want to provide them that choice." Katha publishes stories largely from Indian folklore and mythology, as there is a rejection of foreign literature at some level with parents asking for Indian stories, she adds.Sandhya Rao, Editor, Tulika, says parents have become more conscious and want children to look at books from other cultures, not necessarily from the UK or the US. Tulika focuses on contemporary fiction and brings out bi-lingual books that can help children pick up regional languages.

Regional riches

Multicultural India is a rich storehouse of stories for children and young adults in all regional languages. As many young readers seem to prefer reading in English, publishers are also bringing out translations of regional literature.

Katha publishes little-known tales like Mayil Ravana, where Hanuman is the protagonist instead of Ram. There is also a Dalit Ramayana and a tribal version of the Mahabharata. "Conventionally characters in our epics are portrayed as either good or bad. The narrative is often third person glorifying the hero," says Geeta. She believes that children must be exposed to different cultural versions of stories to help them form a broad worldview and overcome prejudices.

Folktales and legends are another favourite source for publishers. Northeast India is an untapped source rich with folklore and mythology, she says. Katha is publishing a series of tales from the Northeast, with some of them being translated in English for the first time.

Local flavours

"There are many books coming up with local legends but one needs to write such stories keeping in mind their cultural background," says Sandhya, pointing out that it is important to retain cultural differences in the translations. She gives the example of a popular Swedish work, Pippi Longstrump, which was translated into English.

"The Swedes drink a lot of coffee. So the original book had people drinking coffee. But when the book was translated into English, coffee was replaced with tea because the English are tea drinkers," she says. Though this helps in making the story universally familiar, it does not give children the chance to know about Swedish culture, she says. Imagine replacing roti with rice while translating a Hindi tale into Tamil!

With such attention to detail, translation is a tough job. Geeta feels that translating from Indian languages to English is more difficult. "Our stories are simple with a lot of scope for imagination. Western stories are very descriptive and make readers imagine the story from the author's point. So when you translate an Indian author like Asokamitran in English, the stories fall flat," she says.

But the pain taken by publishers has not gone in vain. The spotlight on Indian stories appears here to stay. "Over the last 5-6 years, the market for children's books has grown by leaps and bounds and I see a lot of potential for Indian fiction," says Sandhya.

Geeta recalls a recent visit to an Ahmedabad bookstore where she spotted Katha storybooks placed in front of the Harry Potter series. "The shopkeeper said the initial rush for Potter books was over and people needed their staple diet — Indian fiction!" she says.

But this is not so everywhere. Retailers often display foreign books (generally priced way above Indian publications) more prominently as these fetch better margins. A Harry Potter book priced Rs 875 is no match for a Malgudi Days priced Rs 100 or so.

Sandhya says that in England and a few other countries, local publishers are encouraged more than foreign publishers. "I wish our retailers could encourage some local publishing houses," she says.
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