Friday, June 29, 2007

Good old Indian folktales need a Magic Genie

New Delhi, June 29 (IANS) Once upon a time, traditional folk tales from thePanchatantra or, say, stories of Akbar and Birbal used to be hugely popularwith Indian children.But ask a kid today about her favourite book, and chances are she will namean Enid Blyton, a Nancy Drew, a Hardy Boy and - even more likely - a HarryPotter.

To give an example, the pre-bookings for the seventh edition of the HarryPotter series to be released July 21, is escalating at a rapid rate. Thesixth in the series sold a smashing 160,000 copies in India last year.The story is entirely different for Indian folk tales and other children'sbooks. A predictable storyline, monotonous illustrations, lots of moralbaggage and more importantly sloppy marketing have led to their taking abeating."Most children have heard the folk tales before - either from their parentsor their grandparents. So there is no attraction to read a folk tale book,"said Vandana Bisht, an author based in Delhi."Moreover, they don't find the Indian folk tale books interesting becausethey are not laid out as interestingly as their foreign counterparts. "Most traditional Indian stories have a rural backdrop or a royal setting.Many have birds, animals, trees and flowers talking and interacting freelywith man -far removed from reality and a rather different take on fantasycompared to, for instance, a Harry Potter!

"The main problem I think with these books is that they compromise on the fun factor by attaching too much of moral baggage. Also, kids get bored of seeing the same kings and queens in their royal garb," Bisht told IANS.Currently working on a book based on Tibet and with elaborate illustrations,Bisht has authored many children's books like "Avadhi Folktales" and"Princess With The Longest Hair".

Mamang Dai, another writer of children's books based in Arunachal Pradesh,said that besides lacklustre illustrations, the marketing strategy adoptedby publishing houses and agents here is perhaps not good enough to attractmore readers.Agreed Gita Wolf, publisher of Chennai based Tara Publishing House. "Thereason why certain things are popular is often not because of theirintrinsic merit, but because there is a huge marketing machine behind them.This is increasingly the case."This is not to say there is no merit in Harry Potter - on the contrary. Butsadly, marketing budgets need to be several times larger than publishingcosts - and Indian children's books do not have pride of place in Indianbook shops," Wolf told IANS.Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih, deputy director of publications of the NortheasternHill University based in Meghalaya, said there is a need to revamp folktales to suit the changing tastes of children."

There should be an element of modernisation along with the mythical elementin the folk tales so that children can relate to the stories. There shouldbe contemporary characters with elements of mystical powers. While somethings - a part of the essence perhaps - are going to be lost because ofthis, there will be something gained as well," Nongkynrih saidThe author of numerous folk tale books in the local language of Meghalaya,Khasi, he said there was also an urgent need to transform these stories that hardly goes beyond three pages into full-length novels.Bisht points out yet another reason."Children today are looking towards the West in every aspect. Be it inclothes, movies or food.

So is the case in books. Moreover, the ruralsetting or royal background which the Indian storybooks generally deal withis not identified with by the children," said Bisht.Steering away from this trend, some publishers like Tara Publishing House ofChennai and Katha of Delhi are giving a push to children's books that aremore realistic and have extensive illustrations.One of the books by Tara, "Trash! On Ragpicker Children and Recycling", forinstance, is based on the real life experience of ragpicker children.It talks about one particular child who runs away from home and ends up as aragpicker in the city. His trials and tribulations, humorous instancessprinkled with serious ones like child labour, child rights and recycling,earned this book a mention in the Munich-based White Ravens, a selection ofinternational children's and youth literature.
- Azera Rahman

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

In the Sky of Cinema – 3: Re-visiting new wave


In collaboration with

Alliance Francaise de Bombay and National Film Archives India, Pune

In the Sky of Cinema – 3
Re-visiting new wave

Festival Dates: 25th June to 29th June (2007)
Venue: Alliance Francaise, Mumbai

We're looking forward to having you with us!

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Sketches from Memory

Laxmibai Tilak singularly championed the cause of girls’ education in Maharashtra in the early twentieth century. Sketches from Memory is her autobiography, tracing as it does her relationship with her scholar husband through his conversion to Christianity and her selfeducation.

Time Out
(Mumbai ISSUE 21 Friday, June 15, 2007)

The best-known of the classic conversion stories, Laxmibai Tilak’s Sketches From Memory has just been published in a new translation by Louis Menezes, a Jesuit priest now at St Xavier’s School in Mumbai. Unlike the OUP translation titled I Follow After, published in 1950, this translation is from the abridged Marathi version prepared by Laxmibai’s son D N Tilak, and published by Popular Prakashan in 1994. The original autobiography appeared in serial form in Marathi in the late 1930s.

Sketches From Memory is a compelling narrative and unexpectedly humorous. When she is to be “viewed”, Laxmibai consoles herself by thinking that, while her looks and complexion were “truly moderate”, it helped that her nose and eyes, “even if they weren’t proportionate, ...were all in the right place”. Her father had a mania amounting to madness about purity, and insisted everything brought into the house be washed, including salt and sugar. Of course, the concern for purity had its appalling side as well. The father performed rituals for 25 years because a Mahar had accidentally let a drop of water fall on him, and thrashed everyone at home for the slightest breach. Laxmibai’s father-in-law was just as appalling – burning his wife’s poems as soon as she wrote them, and virtually kicking her to death.

The core of the book is Laxmibai’s relationship with her husband, very different from that of her parents and her in-laws. She had a mind of her own, and when Tilak became a Christian she didn’t plan to become one too. But she has her own moments of truth. “Did god make castes,” she thinks, “or did man?” She then decides to “eat and drink from everybody’s hand”.

She attended Tilak’s prayer sessions, and began to like the prayers. “It was a new kind of joy, praying this way, to the god who dwelt within our hearts.” Eventually she too was baptised, but refused to be baptised by a foreigner. Only a fellow Indian would do.

- Eunice de Souza

The Author

Laxmibai Tilak

The Translator

Louis Menezes

Publishers: Katha
Cover Design: Geeta Dharmarajan
Cover Painting: Jagannath Panda
Category: Katha Non-Fiction/Autobiography
Statistics: 5.5" X 8" 408 pages
ISBN 97881-89020-73-6 [PB]
Price: Rs 350 [India and the subcontinent only]

Buy now!

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Ma Ganga and the Razai Box

'Ma Ganga and the Razai Box’ is a delightful story that combines mythology and contemporary environmental issues. A miffed Ganga, an awakened hill people – together they spread once again Shiva’s matted locks – the mesh of roots and branches holding back the topsoil from being swept away by the river.

The Hindu
(Young World, Saturday, 15 June 2007)
Teaching through story telling is often more entertaining and effective than laying down a list of dos and don’ts. The two books from Katha —Ma Ganga and the Razai Box and Satyadas — employ allegory to provide a charming yet instructive account of issues that affect us all.

Young Yasho of the Hill people is the protagonist of Ma Ganga and the Razai Box. Though young, she bears the responsibility of finding a solution to the problem of soil erosion that is depriving her village of the fertile top soil required for cultivation of crops. An added problem is the scarcity of water, as a peeved Ma Ganga has decided not to run her course and instead sleep inside Yasho’s razai box, till the Hill people find Shiva’s matted locks over which she can flow. Complete with vibrant and dramatic illustrations, the story, written by Geeta Dharmarajan, weaves environmental concerns like pollution, soil erosion and desertification with mythology, without losing out on the simple human tale.
The Author

The Illustrator

Publishers: Katha
Cover Design: Geeta Dharmarajan
Category: Children's Books
Statistics: 32 pages
ISBN 81-89020-74-9 [PB]
Price: Rs 80 [India and the subcontinent only]

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Satyadas is a simple allegorical tale of changing fortunes and the exit of human values at the advent of material well-being and prosperity.

The Hindu
(Young World, Friday, 15 June 2007)
Exploring truth
Satyadas is the name of the mysterious visitor who appears on a rainy evening in front of Raghunath’s humble grocery shop. Unable to travel in the bad weather, he is offered food and shelter by Raghunath, the warm and caring host. He goes away the next day, but not before leaving a pouch whose valuable contents will test the limits of Raghunath’s honesty.

While the charcoal sketches bring to life the humble life and household of Raghunath, the story, originally written in Bengali by Bimal Kar and translated into English by Enakshi Chatterjee, is about the decline in human values as one falls a prey to greed. As the prologue to the book describes, it is a story “exploring truth, falsehood and everything in between.”
The Author

Bimal Kar
The Illustrator
The Translator
Enakshi Chatterjee
Publishers: Katha
Cover Design: Geeta Dharmarajan
Category: Children's Books
Statistics: 40 pages
ISBN 81-89020-68-4 [PB]
Price: Rs 75 [India and the subcontinent only]

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007


The darksome dozen-plus one. Thirteen haunting tales exploring Bengal’s ghostly repertoir, authored by evocative storytellers such as Tagore, Lila Majumdar and Mahasweta Devi. Hauntings takes you to the supernatural beyond, characterised by witches, vampires and other numinous creations which cross and unfurl from the deep recesses of the mind, combine with the eerie netherworld and produce that shiver in your spine. The stories feature female protagonists who universalise the cry of rape, love, loneliness, betrayal and social marginality as they act from the other side of midnight whichle living the life within. Emotions of jealousy, greed, the hunger for youth, unrequited love, rage, revenge and attachement find passionate expression by means of their supernatural powers, breaking the silence imposed on them in life.

The Express Magazine
(July 2, 2000)

In Bengali literature, the supernatural lurks in every corner - in cremation grounds, bamboo forests, ruins, the people’s minds. It also has a rich tradition of literary magazine, where writers like Tagore and other greats would contribute with a novella, a poem, and very often with a ghost story. True, much of the charm is lost in translation. But do gloss over the language conundrum, and treat yourself to 13 gems of some of the best minds in genre.
(June 26,2000)
Of traditional Bengali ghosts, there is a taxonomy, outlined in the introduction to Hauntings ; not only are they divided into male and female spirits, there are about 12 or 13 kinds of ghosts with specific attributes, from the nishibhoot to the petni. Because this anthology traverses a century, it demonstrates the disintegration of these old taxonomics as the bhoot moves from abandoned ruins and deserted ponds to familiar bedroom skylight.
- Anuradha Roy

India Today
(July 17, 2000)
Reading Suchitra Samanta’s introduction to Hauntings: Bangla Ghost Stories was like taking a trip down memory lane, when one had to obey all kinds of dos and don’ts to keep the large variety of ghosts at bay. Like not answering if someone called in the dead of night to avoid the nishibhoot, not approaching a bel tree where the brahmadaitya was supposed to live, or a shaora tree, abode of the shankchunni, after sunset.

From the rich tradition of ghost stories that is an integral part of Bangla literature. Samanta selects 13 sspanning over a century. There are three stories by Tagore, two of which have been made into films-Manithara by Satyajit Ray as part of Teen Kanya and Kshudita Pashan by Tapan Sinha, who retained the title.

The collection is fairly representative. Samanta clarifies her criteria for selection, one of which is that stories with women as protagonists have been preferred.

The Authors
Rabindranath Tagore
Pramatha Chaudhuri
Panchkari De
Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay
Tarashankar Bandopadhyay
Swapan Buro
Lila Majumdar
Kamakshiprasad Chattopadhyay
Shishir Lahiri
Mahasweta Devi

The Translator and Editor

Suchitra Samanta

Publishers: Katha
Cover Design: Geeta Dharmarajan & Arvinder Chawla
Cover Sculpture: Durriya Qazi
Category: Katha Regional Fiction
Statistics: 5.5" x 8" 216 pages
ISBN 81-87649-01-1 [PB]
Price: Rs 200 [India and the subcontinent only]

Buy now!

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A Southern Harvest

A Southern Harvest is a collection of sixteen brilliant and evocative stories from contemporary short fiction in Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu. The stories, by writers both new and established have been translated into English especially for this volume. The collection is edited by Githa Hariharan, winner of the 1993 Commonwealth Writers Prize for the Best First Book. The language sections are introduced by eminent literary figures in that language.

Indian Review of Books

This is a collection of short stories translated into English from the four southern languages – Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam and Telegu. Each language section has four stories, duly introduced by an eminent author/critic of that language situating the short story narrative in the overall context of fiction in that language, as well as siting the chosen stories within that context. It must be mentioned that all the stories selected have been translated for the first time for this edition for Katha Regional Fiction ...

What it has presented is an extremely rich crop of writers who would remain mainly unknown, but for such efforts, to the English reading/speaking public.

What do you say about stories that make you sit up, that wrench your guts and tug at your hearts? The recurrent images of “poverty, pauperisation, dispossession and powerlessness” weave a common strand through the various narratives irrespective of the language … “The Desolation Within” (Telugu) … is a wonderful, touching story which never degenerates into pathos.

… these are not bed-time stories … each disturbing tale shakes you out of your slumber and makes you think.

This book is also special in that the translation policy is explained: if you feel that the stories are uniformly good – the keyword is “uniform!” For the different languages, with their various regional dialects and registers are all compacted into standardised English ... the final product(s) are very readable and have provided us access to literatures which we would have remained ignorant of otherwise.

– N Kamal

Business Standard
(May 1994)

This anthology from Katha is an eye-opener to the literary trends in the south ...

What comes as a bonus to readers is the short but comprehensive introduction that precedes each language section. Writers like Ayyappa Panicker have sketched out a helpful guide to the literary scene in their language … in spite of not being selected on any premeditated themes, the stories seem to have arranged themselves in a strikingly discernible pattern. The images that recur are those of poverty, pauperisation, dispossession and powerlessness ...

As always, this collection from Katha too showcases the best of regional talents.

– Purabi Panwar

World Literature Today

The sixteen short stories which comprise A Southern Harvest are in groups of four from each of the major South Indian languages – Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada, and Telugu – and have been translated into English for the first time for this publication. Each cluster of stories is introduced by an Indian critic who specializes in that particular language. The stories are largely from the past decade and represent a mix of established and new writers ...

Renewal is the keyword here, for despite the problems of translation and the fact that thirteen different translators were involved in rendering these stories into English, there is a consistency of readability and level of diction which makes this diverse volume a pleasant unity. Rather than allowing the problematic aspects of translating idiomatic flavours to overcome the project, the translators, by accident of design, have settled on a sense of homogeneity, which is the best compromise possible, given the multifariousness of the material ...

Hariharan’s small volume illustrates that short fiction in South India is in a healthy state.

Indian Express
(July 10, 1994)

All sixteen of the stories here … are appearing in English for the first time and they have the freshness of a bundle of newly harvested paddy. They carry the reassurance that in the literary fields of these four states, the rain god has been kind and has filled the grains of fiction. If there have been years of drought, it has left no lasting disillusionment ...

… there is reason for optimism. As Kethu Viswanatha Reddy points out in his preface to the Telugu section, three thousand short stories in Telugu appear every year in various periodicals. Two-thirds of these are pulp. The rest remain unavailable in translation. If we can bring this valuable one-thirds into a catchment area of what, for want of a better expression, one may call mainstream Indian literature – how much richer it would be.

And if we were to do the same with all the rivers and streams from our different language traditions, think of the new words, experiences and ways of seeing that would flow in. This book is valuable because in its own modest way, it attempts just that.

– Pamela Phillipose

The Authors

Ayyappa Panicker
Paul Zacharia
C V Sreeraman
Sa Kandasamy
Thopil Mohamed Meeran
Dilip Kumar
P Lankesh
Jayant Kaikini
Mogalli Ganesh
Kethu Viswanatha Reddy
Abburi Chaya Devi
Allam Rajaiah

The Translators

Ajithan G Kurup
B Chandrika
Usha Nambudripad
S Krishnan
Vasantha Surya
N Kalyan Raman
Ramachandra Sharma
K Raghavendra Rao
Padma Ramachandra Sharma
Vijaya Ghose
E Nageswara Rao
Vasantha Kannabiran
K Balagopal

Edited by
Githa Hariharan

Publishers: Katha
Cover Design: Neeraj and Pallavi Sahai
Category: Katha Regional Fiction
Statistics: 5.5" x 8" 192 pages
ISBN 81-85586-11-X [HB]
ISBN 81-85586-10-1
Price: Rs 120 [PB] [India and the subcontinent only]

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Wordsmiths

Here are five scintillating interviews that capture the magic and the mystery of the world of the contemporary Indian writer. UR Ananthamurthy, Bhupen Khakhar, Mahasveta Devi, Krishna Sobti and MT Vasudevan Nair offer insights into the art and craft of writing, share their hopes and fears and reveal that unique creative urge which makes their work what it is. Also featured in this volume, the first in the series, is an alluring selection from their writing, fiction and non-fiction. Essential reading for the browser and bookworm!

The Hindustan Times
(April 1997)
The five translated writers featured in The Wordsmiths form an astonishing array of different levels of exploring mostly rural reality in an almost entirely rural way.

UR Ananthamurthy’s “Mouni” is an unwinding of a feud and all virile emotions associated with it, the two adversaries being immigrant land-holders. The disturbing silence observed by the defeated one defeats the “winner.” It is almost suggestive of reality taking the shape one assumes it to have.

Mahasveta Devi’s “Arjun” lays bare socio-econo-political concerns and portrays the downtrodden lot of the tribals of Bengal. Set against the backdrop of the Naxalbari movement, it tears away the veil of exploitation and is a positive attempt of the tribals to assert their identity, rather than be dehumanised completely by the village powers-that-be. So the revolving door of prison imparts strength in the end. Mahasveta Devi is firmly ensconced in tradition alongwith the parallel thread of enlightening modernity. However, she yet firmly stands by the energy imparted by fables, folklore, riddles, rituals, death rites. It is a treasure trove of wisdom for her, and this has been effectively communicated. Relatedly, once exhausted on a walk with tribals, thinking she would die, the tribals promised to get “big boulders” for her grave – the ultimate tribute.

Bhupen Khakhar, a self-professed homosexual, writes about the possession neurosis by leading an insular life (read village life). However, in the village even the apparently otherwise petty takes on major proportions. “Vadki” does exactly that – a tale of a housewife obsessed with her small home world of possessions, set against a domineering husband who even rations sex and swears by childlessness (an excruciating situation for the lady of the house).
Editor Meenakshi Sharma’s selection is truly outstanding. The interviews with Sobti and Ananthamurthy get practically down to brass tacks. The wellspring of creativity is shown in the clear light of day. The interviews with Mahasveta Devi, Khakhar are in-depth explorations of the much microscopically examined “creativity urge.” All the contributors deserve kudos for laying bare their concerns. A good read indeed.
Shri Sadanand Menon says ...
Wordsmiths is one more success story of Katha, the Delhi-based publishing house, which broke fresh ground five years ago with its annual event, the Katha Prize Stories, a compilation of English translations of the best short stories of the year culled from major Indian languages. It is ventures like Katha by Geeta Dharmarajan’s able team, and Sahitya Akademi’s journal of “Indian Literature,” steered by writer/poet K Satchidanandan which have injected fresh energy to this neglected genre.

There is another black hole of Indian Literature in the absence of academic rigour and total disinterest in the mass media, namely the “magical” existence of writers in our imagination. For instance, even for the bulk of our serious readers, MT Vasudevan Nair – recipient of the highest award in Indian literature, the Jnanpith – would be a stranger. Some might have read translations of his stories. But few would have learnt more about his concerns, methods or conceptual paradigms through the vacuous “interviews” in mainstream media, which conceal rather than reveal the writer.

Enter Wordsmiths. Edited by Meenakshi Sharma, it comprises exhaustive interviews with five contemporary heavyweights – MT Vasudevan Nair ( Malayalam), Mahasveta Devi (Bengali), UR Ananthamurthy (Kannada), Krishna Sobti (Hindi) and Bhupen Khakhar (Gujarati). The inclusion of select translations of their fictional and non-fictional works and bio-sketches give a rounded feel to a venture exciting enough to be hailed as the ‘future’ of Indian publishing and a laudable act of bridge-building.
India Today
(June 1996)
This delightful collection from Katha is an introduction to five major contemporary writers: UR Ananthamurthy, Bhupen Khakhar, Krishna Sobti, Mahasveta Devi and MT Vasudevan Nair. Each writer comes in the form of an interview, a translated work and an extract of his/her critical writing thus providing the reader with a fairly comprehensive portrait of the writer.

What strikes you is that these are not just craftsmen of exceptional literary works but formidable thinkers as well – which is also a tribute to the skill of the interviews. Murthy’s discourse on the shabdasutka for instance or the revelation of his Brahminical mind (used here in the widest sense of the word) is stimulating reading. Equally stimulating is painter Khakhar’s revelation as a writer and his refusal to take himself seriously. His story “Vadki” in fact is quite the most charming piece in the collection.

Sobti’s extract from Ai Ladki is a moving account of a daughter watching her mother die. The querulous tones of the old lady are placed delicately alongside the daughter’s patient voice. It is interesting to hear Sobti unfold her knots in an interview that captures her zest of life.

Devi is arguably the greatest living Bengali writer; a woman wholly committed to the world of tribals and who has been studied by the greatest living deconstructionists of all – Gayatri Chakravarty Spivak. It is refreshing to find that behind that politically correct exterior beats a heart that can laugh at its reputation. The last interview is with a man who has become a legend in his own lifetime – MT Vasudevan Nair. “Before I sit down to write,” he says at one point, “I always ask myself: is it necessary to write this?”

If you have wished to find out what is happening in regional literature this is a fine book to start with. It does not matter that sometimes the names are not easy to remember, that you keep forgetting what a vadki or uralppura is. At the end of each story there is a sense of oneness with the author and pride that there is in every part of India a living tradition of creative energy.

– Ira Pande
Indian Review of Books
(March 16 – April 15, 1997)
Since its inception over seven years ago, Katha has been active in promoting a wider awareness of the rich texture of our regional literature. Although initially Katha concentrated on English translations of carefully selected short fiction from various Indian languages, Wordsmiths is, by far, a more ambitious venture, in that it also give us an overall view of the influences that shape our contemporary literature.

Why do writers write and what energises the creative urges that inspire their works? How do they respond to the tool of language and use it to set their imagination free? Do they feel they have a special responsibility to society and if so, what is the price they have to pay to carry it out? UR Ananthamurthy, Bhupen Khakhar, Krishna Sobti, Mahasveta Devi and MT Vasudevan Nair, five pre-eminent writers from different parts of the country, who write primarily in their respective mother tongues, reflect on their aims, aspirations and preoccupations and share with us, through the pages of Wordsmiths, their distinctive observations on issues such as these.

The book has been cleverly structured to portray the writers and their work in a broader context – we have a short story and an essay by each writer supplemented by a brief introduction, an interview and his/her curriculum vitae – and offers us wide-ranging insights into the nuances of the creative process and the stimulation of confronting the unexpected ...

Wordsmiths is an excellent introduction to Indian writing that encompasses many areas – geographical, cultural, rural and urban. Notwithstanding the opinion of critics like Leavis who contend that anything a writer has to say is found in his or her work, the comments of writers on life and literature help us understand better how they write out of the flux of a changing society, as also the complexities of their “urge to explore, experiment and reinvent society.”
– Veena Seshadri

The authors

U R Ananthamurthy
Bhupen Khakhar
Mahasveta Devi
Krishna Sobti
M T Vasudevan Nair

The Editor

Meenakshi Sharma

Publishers: Katha
Cover Design: Geeta Dharmarajan
Category: Katha Profiles
Statistics: 5.5" x 8" 210 pages
ISBN 81-85586-48-9 [PB]
Price: Rs 195 [India and the subcontinent only]

Buy now!

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