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1. witing the generational saga

Irish curragh secured onshore at Tory Island
Glossing the new book releases and early reviews, and finding a novel that gathers up far-flung place settings of nostalgic relevance to me, loaded with topics of special interest, and all in one tidy package, seemed like an invitation to further self-discovery.  No Country, by Kalyan Ray, jumped out as promising.  The novel is a family generational saga spanning about 150 years, beginning with the mid-nineteenth century famine years in colonial Ireland, and moving to India in the years of the British Raj, before independence from England, and finally to North America--Canada and the United States.

Over that great a span of time, there are more than a few generations to deal with.  Throw in a complicating roster of intermarriage and trying to track family lines, and the average reader may feel challenged to fully appreciate the sweeping themes of a family's struggles, reversals, and successes, always at risk of being truncated into obscurity with the potential failure of any one generation.  The book is only moderately long; nonetheless, Ray moves his characters through a number of epochal historic events: the famine that destroyed perhaps a quarter of the Irish population; the pestilent voyages of coffin ships that finished off a similar number fleeing the famine to North America; the years of pre-independence revolution and terror in India faced by an Irishman who fled there, and later by his Anglo-Indian descendants; and ultimately, their immigration to the New World and the tough decades following, with the  inner tempering and annealing of spirit demanded for life in a new, industrial age unfolding there.

I enjoyed getting Ray's slant on some of the topics I felt somewhat familiar with, like the Great Hunger, An Gorta Mor.  My Irish grandparents were born shortly after the worst of those years. and left when they reached their twenties.  One can be disheartened reading about the callousness and politics that exacerbated The Great Hunger.  And be no less shocked by the callousness and politics practiced by the authorities in attempting to smother the gathering storm of Indian rebellion against colonial rule by Britain.  Ray uses the deliberate massacre of an unarmed civilian population at Jallianwala bagh to stunning effect.  One has to remember we also had our own My Lai during the Vietnam war, lest we think modern humanity has relegated all such events to the past.

One of the topics I had been interested in was Ray's take on the life of Anglo-Indian residents living in India, which was his own life growing up there.  I had worked in Pakistan (once northern India) as an engineer on a dam and had come in contact with a number of workers from the nearby mountains who stood out from their compatriots as fair-skinned, light-haired, Anglo types.  I often thought of the large number of soldiers in the British Raj Army who had been recruited from Ireland.  On holiday trips through the Khyber Pass to Afghanistan I sometimes stopped to inspect the British Raj regimental crests chiseled into the sandstone along the Pass.  Some of these seemed old enough to have been the crests of units that had participated in the British-Afghan Wars of the nineteenth century.  Whole Raj armies had been swallowed up in Afghanistan, and I wondered how many of the present day Anglo-Indian, or perhaps more precisely, Hiberno-Indian, were descendants of those soldiers who fell there.

A reader can be repulsed reading of the oppressive use of police and intelligence services, paid or coerced informers, and repressive laws, in the dying period of the Raj, and in pre-independence Ireland, designed to contain perceived threats of public dissent to political and economic interests.  That is perhaps not much different than what is practiced in many places today.

I think one difficulty with the structure of No Country is a blurring sweep of characters as the story moves through the generations.  There's not much space to become acquainted with each character.  The main progenitor, Padraig, both biological and adoptive to the cascading line of descendants, is aptly revealed in the beginning as a young man in Ireland, as well as is his best friend, Brendan. When Padraig is compelled to flee to India, the situation of Brendan and Padraig's daughter, Maeve, becomes desperate in the famine, and when there is no news of Padraig for over a year, they board one of the coffin ships for North America.  We get to know young Maeve fairly well on the voyage, and it's an endearing characterization.  After a harrowing ordeal they reach Canada, and that's about the last of expansive characterizations for any of the successive generations.

Another concern from a writer's viewpoint might be the introduction of startling coincidental material into an already ambitious plot.  One of the young woman protagonists travels to New York to seek the young man she had known in Canada, and becomes employed in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory there, the locale of a historic fire tragedy.  It was a dramatic episode in the telling, but it seems not entirely organic to the story thread.  Another coincidental element was a chance crossing of paths with a psychopathic character when a Padraig-descendant's family purchases their home from the psychopath's family, which led to diabolical consequences.

All in all, No Country is an engrossing read and is well recommended.


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2. The Narrative Arcade: On Vikram Chandra's "Artha"


Vikram Chandra's collection of interconnected stories, Love and Longing in Bombay, is a book I had thought of writing about in some detail, but I'm afraid time is not on my side with that, and a number of other writing projects need attention. One story I managed to make some notes on is "Artha", and here are those notes, in case some thoughts on the story are useful to someone else...

In thinking about Love and Longing in Bombay, I’m going to start by grasping some tiny pieces within the wholes, and see what I can do with them.

First, a single story, and a single page of that story, and not the words but the blank space.

The story: “Artha”. The page: 165 of the 1998 Back Bay Books paperback edition.

The two blank spaces between narrators and their narratives.

The first narrative is the introduction common to all of the stories, a frame that remains mysterious until “Shanti”, the final story. If we assume, as I think we can, that the narrator of the introductions is the same in each of the stories, then his name is Ranjit Sharma.

The second narrative is that spoken by Subramaniam, who has been the putative narrator (storyteller) of the previous tales within the frame.

But “Artha” becomes distinctive with the next blank space, for here we are ushered into yet another story, that told by “the young man” to Subramaniam. The young man’s name is Iqbal. He will be the narrator for the remainder of the tale.

Another item of distinction: after each blank space, the speaker is identified within parentheses. Previously, there has been no need for this. Now, though, there must be no mistake. Is the reason that there is a story-within-the-story? Possibly, but I’m not convinced of that, because the transitions into the tales are no more confusing than those in previous parts of the book, and the multiple embedded stories in the only remaining tale, “Shanti”, are, arguably, more confusing and do not have such clear, interrupting markers.

Let’s return to the idea of the blank space for a moment. Printers, or so I’ve been told, call these spaces “slugs”. I like the positive sense of that, rather than the negative of blank space. Slugs are an insertion, a something. Slugs disrupt the text from within — they give it order and shape by signaling some unspoken drift, thus taming what would otherwise be a jarring slip, an incoherence, by making it visible. The slug is a sign: Mind the gap.

Once we’ve minded that gap, though, we get a stutter in the story: “(Subramaniam said)”, “(the young man said)”. I shall now indulge in a moment of paranoid reading: Are these stutters a distancing technique inspired by the über-narrator’s fear of being mistaken for a homosexual? The parenthetical speech tags are unnecessary; they are excessive intrusions, and, unless my memory and notes are failing me, the only such intrusions into embedded narratives anywhere in a book comprised of embedded narratives. (The most complex such embeddings are achieved in “Shanti” via typographical changes — separated visually from the main text, but without their own text interrupted.)

We should note, though, that even if we assume that the parenthetical speech tags are motivated by the über-narrator’s fear-laden desire to distance himself from any perception of being a/the homosexual man, the insertion of “(the young man said)” puts those words within the homosexual text. Ranjit’s words enter Subramaniam’s story, and then Subramaniam’s words enter Iqbal’s. All of these words are part of one text, “Artha”, that is part of a larger text, Love and Longing in Bombay. The attempt to create distance from the homosexual narration has, paradoxically, done exactly the opposite. It is not the homosexual narration that desires separation, but the heterosexist; the heterosexist narration’s effort to separate and distance itself has placed it within the homosexual narration.

(Now would be the time — this would be the space — to discuss mimicry and postcolonialism. I am not going to do so. Instead, consider this paragraph a slug.)

Walter Benjamin wants to get into the conversation. Here he is, via Mark Jackson:
The arcade [says Jackson] acted as a spectacular landscape that opened up the city as an illusory, sleepy, standstill world of the phantasmagoria, while at the same time, in the form of the more intimate and decided ambiguous, street-but-not-street of the arcade, it closed around the modern subject as if a room, reassuring with “felt knowledge” (Benjamin, 1999, p. 880) intuitive semblances of domestic wish fulfillment. (39)
The idea of the arcade as street-but-not-street could be extended to the idea of Love and Longing in Bombay as an arcade, a book of x-but-not-x. How do we solve for that x? Can we locate an “illusory, sleepy, standstill world of the phantasmagoria” within the book? For Jackson-via-Benjamin, commodities are phantasmagoric, and “phantasmagoria” is a quality of mystification and even misrecognition: “Desired and consumable things, they embodied and thus represented, dreamt wish images of futurity, and, at the same time, the imminent (and immanent) undoing of that indwelling mythic aspiration” (38)

Must phantasmagoria always be mystifying? Is mystification itself always undesirable?

I would like to keep open the question of phantasmagoria’s usefulness, for as a mode of fantasy it should (shouldn’t it?) possess some of the power of fantasy to reveal structures and discourses of desire otherwise inaccessible.

Is it meaningful to suggest that the insertions of speech tags into the narrations of “Artha” are traces of phantasmagoric desire? That the otherness of Iqbal — located not only in his sexual identity, but his name, which indicates religion — is itself desired. But desired how? To what end? Perhaps the cosmopolitanism of the post-colonial/post-modern city, the place where identities can flow into each other, where mimicry and fantasy themselves create identities (for, after all, isn’t identity without any trace of mimicry and fantasy illegible?). Iqbal as we receive him is not Iqbal, but rather the voice of Iqbal mediated through the voice of Subramaniam mediated through the voice of Ranjit, and all of which is constructed by Chandra.

The arcade of voices, the phantasmagoria of identification.

For Iqbal, religious difference can be dismissed “in one smile” (198) if desire is present. Perhaps that is what the inserted speech tags, and their paradoxes, suggest. The simultanous desire not to be mistaken for a homosexual and to be part of the narrative of the homosexual.

To walk the arcade.

To fantasize.

To be present without losing identity.

To smile.

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3. Princess India

IMAG0535

I lost India, my beloved studio-mate Saturday, June 7th. I’m only now able to write about her.  She was loved and maybe even a little spoiled. India was her mama’s baby but she spent the workday with me. Not only was she my work companion—as well as the official Studio 27B greeter—India made many cameo appearances in my books. I’ve compiled them here. There are probably more and I’ll add them as I find them.

Sleep well, my princess.

india.hike India's first cameo in Broccoli Dog by Lynne Berry (Ladybug Magazine September 2003). From Peter Spit a Seed at Sue by Jackie French Koller (Viking 2008). From Peter Spit a Seed at Sue by Jackie French Koller (Viking 2008). From Peter Spit a Seed at Sue by Jackie French Koller (Viking 2008). In the boat with her pal, Brandon. Two Bad Pilgrims by Kathryn Lasky (Viking 2009) Color by Vince Dorse. Two Bad Pilgrims by Kathryn Lasky (Viking 2009) Color by Vince Dorse. India in her winter jacket, helping to deliver presents. From The Year Without a Santa Claus by Phyllis McGinley (Marshall Cavendish 2010). From The Really Awful Musicians (Clarion 2011) Snoozing in Studio 27B.

IMAG0353


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4. Political apparatus of rape in India

Last week the Guardian reported, “A state minister from Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party has described rape as a ‘social crime’, saying ‘sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong’, in the latest controversial remarks by an Indian politician about rape.”  While horrified by these comments, I remembered that a book from OUP India’s office had recently landed on my desk and the author, Pratiksha Baxi, might be able to shed some light on the issue of rape in India for Westerners.  Below is a post Baxi sent in response to my query following the story mentioned above. –Christian Purdy, Director of Publicity

By Pratiksha Baxi


In the wake of the Delhi gang rape protests in 2013-2014, a section of the western media was critiqued for representing sexual violence as a form of cultural violence. For instance, a white woman reporter said to a friend, ‘we are filming Indian women of all kinds. You look modern. Please, can you say—I am India’s daughter’. Not fazed by the angry refusal, the reporter found some other ‘modern’ looking woman to mime this script for the camera. The Delhi protests became a resource for a certain kind of racialized sexual politics, which looped back to a nationalist rhetoric decrying the tarnishing of the image of the country abroad. Indian politicians responded by blaming the media, feminists, and the protests for sensationalising rape, and producing the crisis now posed to the image of a globalising economy.

The national and international political debates ignore Indian feminists and law academics—who innovated new juridical categories such as custodial rape and power rape—leading the path to conceptualise rape as a specific technique of state and social dominance.  They do not cite the learning of subaltern or Black feminists of the Global South. Nor are different jurisdictions compared to raise more serious questions about the cunning nature of law reform in neo-liberal contexts. Although there has been feminist research on rape, feminist interventions in international law and several global collaborations to combat violence against women, there seems to be an inability to carry the complexities of these debates in the national and international mainstream media.

Protests at Safdarjung Hospital. Photo by Ramesh Lalwani. CC BY-NC 2.0 via ramesh_lalwani Flickr.

Protests at Safdarjung Hospital. Photo by Ramesh Lalwani. CC BY-NC 2.0 via ramesh_lalwani Flickr.

In India, the political rhetoric on rape continues to deploy conventional scripts: boys will be boys; sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong; alcohol causes men to rape. There is a political refusal to recognise that rape is central to dominance, a routinized expression of sexualised power. Nor is it in political interest to displace the use of rape as a form of social control. Rather rape becomes a means of doing competitive party politics or as a technique of consolidating power.

Sexual assault is used as a means to control dissenting bodies. Rape is a technique of terror that is used with impunity to control social mobility, stifle dissent, reassert social control, gain political control, and target ‘hated’ communities. There is no serious attempt to challenge this kind of rape culture, which inhabits the cultures of policing. It is a political apparatus of sexual terror, not to be confused with theories of male sexuality or as evidence of cultural predispositions. Rather this rape culture rests on a political apparatus, which has several organised features.

First, it rests on a system of policing and law enforcement, which makes rape look like consensual sex, and consensual sex look like rape. For example, the use of the rape, kidnapping and abduction laws to criminalize love across caste or community is rampant, whilst rape as a form of caste dominance is scarcely taken seriously.

Second, the political apparatus of rape deploys violence to produce the public secrecy of rape: while everyone knows that women are raped, we are told no one must talk about it.

Third, this political apparatus rests on a scripted representational regime that attributes the blames of rape to women, alcohol, literacy, poverty, public access and so on—everything but the structures of dominance in a globalising economy. It institutionalises a politics of forgetting—from the traumatic histories of mass sexual violence to caste atrocities—we are told that there is no connection between everyday and mass scale sexual violence.

Fourth, it denies the link between the dispossession of the marginalised from property or land, and the growing rate of sexual violence. In the Baduan rape and lynching case, the children went out to the fields of the dominant caste to relieve themselves. The subsequent demand for bathrooms for dalit women is an expression of this dispossession, which makes them vulnerable to brutal sexual violence, murder and lynching.

Fifth, such a political apparatus acts as a thought police. It denies the right to sexual autonomy and choice. And it rewards those politicians who rape, riot, murder, censor or humiliate.

All this means that there is complicity between state and society in privileging rape as the expression of male power. The state conserves and even stokes the desire to rape as the foundational tool of male power. This is a political trait, not a cultural trait. There is an ever-expanding indifference to sexual violence survivors, which seems to be in inverse proportion to the anti-rape protests. For instance, even today a spare pair of clothes is not provided to rape survivors when their clothes are confiscated as evidence in police stations or hospitals.

Sexual violence can be prevented and redressed if this political apparatus is disbanded. To destroy this political apparatus, the doing of politics—local, national and international must change. Rather than engaging in an aggressive and masculine competition over crime statistics, politicians must engage seriously with the nature of institutional reform and response to sexual violence.

In the context of the international laws and policies on violence against women, the new government must allocate generous gender budgets to provide essential facilities to rape survivors and institute measures to prevent sexual violence. This must accompany zero tolerance for rape of women, men, sexual minorities and children. The recommendations to criminalise marital rape; repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and legislate against rape as a mass crime must be implemented. Section 377 IPC, a colonial law criminalizing homosexuality must be repealed. In other words, sexual autonomy and sexual dignity must be respected. This means that the conventional notions of sexual morality, which regulate women’s sexuality, pathologize queer sexuality and celebrate violent masculinity, must no longer lay the foundations of the Indian polity. National and international politics must recognise rape as political violence rather than cultural violence; substitute the language of ‘rescue’ with repatriation and learn from languages of social suffering rather than vocabularies of power.

Pratiksha Baxi is Associate Professor, Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and author of Public Secrets of Law: Rape Trials in India (OUP India, 2014)

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5. Keeping Corner

Keeping Corner Kashmira Sheth

Remember The Edge of the Forest? I still have a few reviews that ran in that wonderful magazine that I'm reprinting here...



Leela was engaged at the age of two and married at the age of nine. Next year, when she turns thirteen, she will celebrate her anu and move into her husband’s house. Leela’s excited for her anu but when her husband is suddenly killed, everything changes.

Following Brahmin custom, Leela is forced to shave her hair, smash her bangles, and wear muddy brown saris. She will be unable to remarry and must keep corner—stay in the house—for a full year. Leela’s family is devastated by her loss and their grief permeates the household, making it impossible for Leela to imagine any sort of future.

But India is changing. Gandhi is leading the people to stand up to the English. Leela wonders how a small, old man in a dhoti can change the white men who sit so straight on their horses, but Gandhi is. Confined to the house, Leela is still caught in a struggle between the old and new as India stands on the brink of liberation—both from the English and from tradition.

Based on the true story of her great-aunt, Sheth paints a lush, vibrant picture of Indian home life. Leela’s story moves with the weather and seasons as she marks off her time before being allowed outside. Moving and honest, Leela’s tale of drawing inspiration from Gandhi to find agency in her own life is sure to strike readers and linger long after the last page.

ARC Provided by... a coworker, who picked it up at ALA (maybe? this ran back in 2007-- I don't quite remember)

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6. Storytellers: Escaping the Nightmare of Myth in Chaudhuri and Rushdie



Continuing on from yesterday's post about Amit Chaudhuri's A Strange and Sublime Address (a novella included in the collection Freedom Song), here's a bit more academic writing about the book. This time, my goal is to undermine, or at least question, the common opposition of Chaudhuri's "realism" to Salman Rushdie's "magical realism". The two writers have frequently been set against each other as polar opposites, but my argument here is that they have far more in common than might be obvious at first...

In his 2009 essay “Cosmopolitanism’s Alien Face”, Amit Chaudhuri tells of a conversation he had with the Bengali poet Utpal Kumar Basu:
We were discussing, in passing, the nature of the achievement of Subimal Misra, one of the short-story writing avant-garde in 1960s Bengal. ‘He set aside the conventional Western short story with its idea of time; he was more true to our Indian sensibilities; he set aside narrative’, said Basu. ‘That’s interesting’, I observed. ‘You know, of course, that, in the last twenty years or so, it is we Indians and postcolonials who are supposed to be the storytellers, emerging as we do from our oral traditions and our millennial fairy tales’. ‘Our fairy tales are very different from theirs’, said Basu, unmoved. ‘We don’t start with, “Once upon a time”.’ (91-92)
Chaudhury goes on to explore the implications of this statement, and of the desire to solidify an idea of pure cultural identity (“Our fairy tales … We don’t start with…”) against ideas of modernism and cosmopolitanism, but here I would like to take the statements in the above paragraph more on their surface and to explore the effect of the stated and implied Once upon a time…
   
Salman Rushdie’s Shame does not begin with exactly those words, but the sense of a fairy tale beginning is strong: “In the remote border town of Q., which when seen from the air resembles nothing so much as an ill-proportioned dumb-bell, there once lived three lovely, and loving, sisters.” The narrator quickly assumes the role of storyteller: “…the three sisters, I should state without further delay, bore the family name of Shakil…” (3), the narrative voice here asserting, for the first of many times in Shame, the kind of presence that most European novels of the 19th century sought to vanquish in the name of realism.

The idea of realism led to third-person narratives unburdened by the presence of a narrator, and the success of that style has created a sense that storytelling was a more primitive tradition, a tradition that the 19th Century European novel first refined and then progressed beyond. The realist European novel is inextricable from a particular idea of European progress, and the aesthetic is strongly located within a specific, and quite narrow, time and place. Storytelling may be universal, written narrative may have a long and multicultural history, but the realistic novel is a particular technology.

The first sentences of Chaudhuri’s A Strange and Sublime Address draw from that technology: “He saw the lane. Small houses, unlovely and unremarkable, stood face to face with each other.” The narration is submerged within the perception of the character, and in these first lines we don’t even know the character’s name — the character is nothing but a gendered pronoun, and the normal, sense-making syntax of noun followed by pronoun is reversed (there is no antecedent). The first name we encounter is not that of the viewpoint character, but rather what the viewpoint character sees: “Chhotomama’s house had a pomelo tree in its tiny courtyard and madhavi creepers by its windows.” Here, the unnamed viewpoint character possesses knowledge that is not allowed to readers: Who is Chhotomama? How do we know it’s Chhotomama’s house? We begin in medias res, but not so much in the middle of events as in the middle of perceptions. Perceptions are foregrounded, and we, the outside observer, build our knowledge from them. Only once we have perceived can we be provided with even some of the necessary information for ordinary meaning to be possible, but the importance of that information is de-emphasized: our viewpoint character’s name doesn’t appear until a parenthetical remark in the final sentence of the first paragraph: “A window opened above (it was so silent for a second that Sandeep could hear someone unlocking it) and Babla’s face appeared behind the mullions” (7). The technology of the realistic novel doesn’t require this technique; the technique emphasizes a decisive rejection of the storytelling tradition. Not only is there no narrating “I” situating the reader in relationship to the tale, but there is a determined lack of information about the character.

The first paragraph of A Strange and Sublime Address thus forces readers to make connections and draw conclusions, to connect that first “He” to “Sandeep”, while also showing us what may matter in the novel and what may not. Where Shame emphasizes storytelling, A Strange and Sublime Address emphasizes perception. The apparently radical differences between the two books — and the ostensibly opposite aesthetic approaches of Rushdie and Chaudhuri — diminish if we look at the novels’ types of storytelling and thus analyze both texts as metafictions that take different paths to similar conclusions about history, place, and representation.

Saikat Majumdar applies Walter Benjamin’s concept of the flâneur to Chaudhuri, but here we might draw on some other of Benjamin’s ideas, these from the 1936 essay “The Storyteller: Observations on the Works of Nikolai Leskov”, particularly section XVI, in which Benjamin writes of fairy tales:
The fairy tale tells us of the earliest arrangements that mankind made to shake off the nightmare which myth had placed upon its chest. … The liberating magic which the fairy tale has at its disposal does not bring nature into play in a mythical way, but points to its complicity with liberated man. A mature man feels this complicity only occasionally — that is, when he is happy; but the child first meets it in fairy tales, and it makes him happy. (157)
This view of the fairy tale as a tool for liberation from myth is one that aligns well with Shame, but it’s harder to locate the engines of “Once upon a time…” within A Strange and Sublime Address, despite that novel mostly being presented through the point of view of a child. To find the fairy tale, we must locate the pedagogical imperative of the text. Benjamin concludes: “…the storyteller joins the ranks of the teachers and sages. He has counsel — not for a few situations, as the proverb does, but for many, like the sage. … The storyteller is the figure in which the righteous man encounters himself” (162). Chaudhuri clearly wants to teach readers something about perception, materiality, and history, and his writing is determinedly anti-mythic. Further, the novel is strongly concerned with how stories represent the world, and how language and perception intertwine in narrative, which is why I call it a metafiction. To limn the liberatory magic of A Strange and Sublime Address, though, we should begin with the more obvious metafiction of Shame.

Though Chapter 1 of Shame is filled with asides from the narrator, it is Chapter 2 that truly breaks out of the established narrative, bringing us into a more recognizable reality with the first sentence: “A few weeks after Russian troops entered Afghanistan, I returned home, to visit my parents and sisters and to show off my firstborn son” (19). The narrative voice here is more straightforward and unified, and the details fit Rushdie’s known biography to such an extent that some readers and critics have confidently asserted that the voice is Rushdie. It is problematic to associate the writer with a textual effect in any book, and especially so in a book as wild, imaginative, and concerned with questions of history, identity, and representation as Shame, so here I will simply call this Voice 2, as opposed to the narrator of the more obviously fantastical sections, Voice 1.

Voice 2 is intimately related to Voice 1, however, and may logically be seen as the creator of Voice 1 (“I tell myself this will be a novel of leavetaking…” [22]). Voice 2 is an explainer and a ruminator, and the Voice 2 sections read like personal essays. But the genre (or mode) of the novel is remarkable in its ability to contain and recontextualize other genres (and/or modes) — the personal essay becomes embedded within the novel, and so its identity as an essay can no longer be trusted, because it is being put to use for novelistic purposes. It is thus rendered impure, and in a novel about impurities of identity and the translation of being and substance. “I, too, am a translated man,” Voice 2 says. “I have been borne across” (23), and this translation, this bearing across, is as true for the voice’s genre as for the character evoked by that voice.

The problem for Voice 2 is that the storytelling force of Voice 1 comes from a different age and place, and translating the form and tendencies of old aesthetics is, like all translation, a process that deforms and reforms the original, skewing the results. Even if the original could be moved perfectly into a new time and place, the result would still get skewed, as Borges proposed with Pierre Menard’s Quixote. Voice 2 must break in because Voice 1 is inevitably doomed to fail — or, if not fail exactly, to sputter unforseen effects all over the page. Voice 2 is forced to acknowledge this late in the novel:
I had thought, before I began, that what I had on my hands was an almost excessively masculine tale, a saga of sexual rivalry, ambition, power, patronage, betrayal, death, revenge. But the women seem to have taken over; they marched in from the peripheries of the story to demand the inclusion of their own tragedies, histories and comedies, obliging me to couch my narrative in all manner of sinuous complexities, to see my “male” plot refracted, so to speak, through the prisms of its reverses and “female” side. It occurs to me that the women knew precisely what they were up to — that their stories explain, and even subsume, the men’s. (180-181)
Voice 2 here blames the failures and fragmenting of Voice 1 (or, perhaps, Voice 1-1.∞, as the possible voices within Voice 1 are infinite) on “the women”, thus giving the characters an autonomy that might be better ascribed to aesthetic and ideological forces rather than to a plane of reality in which the characters are real people and not textual figures. (Voice 2 is a textual effect that ascribes blame to other textual effects for the shape of the narrative.) We might more productively say that the phantasmagoria is overtaken by what resists fantasy — the factitious overcome by the factual.

This would seem to be a triumph of realism over fantasy, but that would only be true if the fantasy were wiped out, and it is not. The majority of Shame remains phantasmagoric, but differently so, and differently in multiple ways. The reader cannot erase the knowledge of Voice 2 within Voice 1, and so, from Chapter 2 on, we read the phantasmagoria differently than we might were Voice 2 never introduced. Were the book only to include Chapter 1, we could assume a unity to Voice 1 as, simply, the narrator. The introduction of Voice 2 in Chapter 2 offers the reader another hypothesis: Voice 1 is really Voice 2, the controlling power from our own recognizable reality. Passages such as the one quoted above, though, demonstrate that Voice 1 is not entirely controlled by Voice 2, and that, rather than a single narrator, it should be perceived as an assemblage of narrators. As a textual function, then, Voice 1 is plural (though its plurality is often indeterminate) and Voice 2 is singular.

The passage I quoted above begins with the crucial phrase that is missing from the first paragraph of the novel: “Once upon a time there were two families, their destinies inseparable even by death” (180). That could have been the first sentence of the book, but instead Voice 1 fumbled around a bit more. By here, Once upon a time can begin the section, but the section it begins is one about liberation. We have located the liberatory magic. Once upon a time there were “destinies inseparable even by death”, but the past of this tale may not be — or may not have to be — the present of this novel.

We have here located what Fredric Jameson has recently called “the antinomies of realism”.  Jameson’s dialectical approach sets the récit against the roman, the tale against the novel, with the récit as, philosophically, a narrative form based on ideas of destiny and fate (crucially linked to the past) and the roman as a work that creates a narrative and existential present through the use of scenes. The récit relies on telling, while the roman subsumes telling within an overall strategy of showing. (Hence the common 20th Century command to aspiring writers of narrative: “Show, don’t tell!”) The difference between the two forms is, Jameson says, important “not as récit versus roman, nor even telling versus showing; but rather destiny versus the eternal present” (26). In Shame, Voice 1 is the voice of the récit (the [story]teller), Voice 2 is the voice of the roman, with the informational moments of telling subsumed within specific scenes, most dominantly the scene of writing. While the majority of the novel is written within a storytelling mode, the presence of Voice 2 infects that mode and inflects our reading, making Voice 1 into instances of what Voice 2 seeks to show.

Yet Voice 2’s will is a construction, and “what Voice 2 seeks” is itself an instance of “showing” within the text as a whole. The novel is the story of Voice 2 constructing and wrestling with Voice 1.

Jameson points out implications to his antinomies that may be useful as we return to Chaudhuri. In a discussion of the way that an aesthetic that constructs everyday existence as exterior/outside and an aesthetic that constructs existence as interior both avoid and resist genres that impose a prototypical destiny onto lived material, Jameson writes:
It is precisely against just such a reification of destinies that the realist narrative apparatus is aimed, which reaffirms the singularity of the episodes to the point at which they can no longer fit into the narrative convention. That this is also a clash of aesthetic ideologies is made clear by the way in which older conceptions of destiny or fate are challenged by newer appeals to that equally ideological yet historically quite distinct notion of this or that “reality,” in which social and historical material rise to the surface in the form of the singular or the contingent. (143)
In Shame, the two aesthetic ideologies clash through the conflict between Voice 1 and Voice 2, and the synthesis they achieve is literally apocalyptic — the entire dialectic is blown away, making space for something new. The apocalypse synthesizes, perhaps, a new voice. Who is the blinded “I” in the final sentence (“…I can no longer see what is no longer there…” [305]), Voice 1 or Voice 2? We could choose to see them as merged, and thus the new possibilities of Voice 3 — or Voice ? — are born into the blank space.

The two ideologies clash in A Strange and Sublime Address, too, but not as obviously, because the text avoids any first-person narration. Nonetheless, its perspectives shift and there is a strong authorial voice guiding readers through the novel’s paths, a storyteller. We are given information by this voice, for instance: “There are several ways of spending a Sunday evening” (16). The storyteller also provides commentary: “He would become an archetype of that familiar figure who is not often described in literature — the ordinary breadwinner in his moment of unlikely glory, transformed into the centre of his universe and his home” (20). At times, the storyteller presents us with interpretations of what we are reading that are nearly as prescriptive as the interpretations offered by Voice 2 in Shame: “This kind of talk, whether at the dinner-table or in the bedroom, did not become too oppressive: it was too full of metaphors, paradoxes, wise jokes, and reminiscences to be so. It was, at bottom, a criticism of life” (48).

These examples of storytelling clash with the expectations created by the first paragraph of A Strange and Sublime Address and highlight this novel’s heteroglossia. Its polyphonies are not only at the level of narrative voice, but also of perspective, and it is through shifts in point of view that A Strange and Sublime Address makes its case for the location of reality within perception. From the first paragraph, we are set to expect the viewpoint character to be Sandeep, and certainly Sandeep is the primary viewpoint character, but the text moves away from his point of view with some regularity. Early in the novel, a mention of dust moves the narrative away from the room and out of Sandeep’s immediate perception to a simple declaration: “Calcutta is a city of dust,” which then leads to a portrayl of the servants who clean the dust from the rooms (14-15). Later, the text shifts a couple of times into Chhotomama’s point view, sometimes only for a few paragraphs (97), but once he is in the hospital, his point of view is the strongest and most defining (e.g., “But there were times, in the afternoon, when Chhotomama would wake from a nap and find himself facing a bright, hard wall. At first, it surprised him with its sheer presence. Slowly, he came to realise that it was his future he was looking at” (113).

Soon after highlighting Chhotomama’s perceptions, the text unifies the family’s perceptions as they drive away from visiting him: “Watching the lanes, they temporarily forgot their own lives, and, temporarily, their minds flowed outward into the images of the city, and became indistinguishable from them” (115).

Like Shame, A Strange and Sublime Address ends with a kind of obliteration, and one that is, in its implications, nearly as apocalyptic. Chhotomama sends Abhi and Sandeep out to the garden to look for a kokil, and his command is described as sounding “like a directive in a myth or a fable” (120). The search for the kokil puts the boys into the discourse of the pre-novel, the land of the fairy tale. They get distracted, though, and only find the kokil by mistake while playing hide-and-seek with each other. The bird is real, not a creature of myth. It has details that can be shown; it can become a character and not an archetype. The boys watch it eat an orange flower (the sort of apparently meaningless detail that creates, in Barthes’ sense, a reality effect). The first sentence of the final paragraph gives us a representation of perception tempered by probability and inductive reasoning: “But it must have sensed their presence, because it interrupted its strange meal and flew off”, which both provides us with an idea of perception and limits that perception, for it highlights that the kokil’s own perception cannot be known. The sentence is not finished, however. A dash slashes us into a revision: “—not flew off, really, but melted, disappeared, from the material world.” It’s as if the bird goes back into the mythic discourse of Chhotomama’s command. We, the readers, are left with the characters in the material world from which the bird has disappeared. What is that material world, though? It is the words of the book itself, because that is the world we share with the characters. The final sentence is mysterious: “As they watched, a delicate shyness seemed to envelop it, and draw a veil over their eyes” (121). The “it” of that sentence is nearly as mysterious as the “He” of the novel’s first sentence, and much more uncertain, because here we have no subsequent sentences to clarify it. The antecedent could be either the kokil or the material world. (Grammatically, it would be the latter, which is closer to the pronoun.) The kokil, having melted back to myth, cannot be the material world. But the ambiguous pronoun makes the force that veils the children’s eyes uncertain: is it myth or is it reality? Is it the absence of myth within reality?

The “I” of the last sentence of Shame could also have a few antecedents. The indeterminacy is meaningful because it makes us reflect on the importance of the antecedent as opposed to other elements of the sentences. Both novels offer an uncertain pronoun and a certain statement of blindness. “I can no longer see what is no longer there” could be a statement from one of the children in A Strange and Sublime Address. The voices of Shame are united in the indeterminant “I” of the end, as are the children of Chaudhuri’s novel. Both groups are blinded, and the blinding suggests that the mythic and historical past have been obliterated in favor not so much of a meaningful present as for the potential of a future. (In Chaudhuri, our group is, after all, a group of children, who, for all their claims of materiality, can’t help but stand for some sort of future.) Destiny is gone, fate is unknowable. The storyteller’s tale of the past became present voices and present details of the material world, but the present is temporary, as is perception, even when it flows out toward images of a city.

Speaking to Basu, Chaudhuri said Indian and postcolonial writers have been characterized as storytellers “emerging … from our oral traditions and our millennial fairy tales”, and the tone suggests he is skeptical or dismissive of this simplistic characterization, just as Basu is skeptical and dismissive of fairy tales beginning, “Once upon a time…” Both Shame and A Strange and Sublime Address conclude by obliterating fairy tales, myths, the past, and the present. The storyteller is a figure of the present because the story is the antecedent of the teller. The reader is more free, and may be, in fact, freed by the storyteller to shake off the nightmare of myth and the weight of history, to speculate on a future, to see a blankness, a potential, a voice marked by the question of infinity.

The paradox of once upon a time is that the storyteller’s recitation of the past may unleash the liberatory magic that we need. Once the present is named, it is past. Cities produce and receive perceptions and stories, but though their materiality may flow more slowly than perceptions and stories of that materiality do, even concrete and steel bend, weather, erode, melt, disappear. This is what the storyteller teaches, the knowledge that, in Benjamin’s terms, the righteous person keeps hidden until the story pries it loose, pulling away the veil, providing sight. Whether récit or roman, myth or material, the future always looms, a blank space like the blank page after the last sentence of a book.


Works Cited
Benjamin, Walter. “The Storyteller: Observations on the Works of Nikolai Leskov.” Trans. Harry Zohn. Selected Writings. Ed. Michael William Jennings and Howard Eiland. Vol. 3: 1935–1938. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press, 1996. 143–166.

Chaudhuri, Amit. A Strange and Sublime Address. Freedom Song: Three Novels. New York: Vintage International, 2000. 1–121.
---. “Cosmopolitanism’s Alien Face.” New Left Review 55 (2009): 89–106.

Jameson, Fredric. The Antinomies of Realism. New York: Verso, 2013.

Majumdar, Saikat. “Dallying with Dailiness: Amit Chaudhuri’s Flaneur Fictions.” Studies in the Novel (2007): 448–464.

Rushdie, Salman. Shame. 1st Owl Book ed. New York: Henry Holt, 1997.

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7. Notes on A Strange and Sublime Address by Amit Chaudhuri


Here are some thoughts after reading Amit Chaudhuri's first novel, A Strange and Sublime Address, which I read in the collection Freedom Song (which is what the page numbers below reference). I struggled with Chaudhuri — his goals for fiction are not mine. Nonetheless, I found it to be a productive struggle, and enjoyed writing about the book for a seminar on postcolonial fiction from Southeast Asia.

Over the next few days, I'll be posting here some of the material I came up with during that seminar that I doubt I'm going to develop into something more polished, at least immediately, but which seems worth preserving, even if my ideas are based on false premises, misreadings, or other potential pitfalls of quick apprehension...


ASSEMBLING THE INSTANT OF THE CITY 


He did not know what to do with his unexpected knowledge. But he felt a slight, almost negligible, twinge of pleasure, as meaning took birth in his mind, and died the next instant. (117)
             
Here we have the protagonist, Sandeep, discovering the pleasure of meaning in a word and name (“Alpana”), but the moment could be extended to the novel as a whole and, in particular, its perspective on the city of Calcutta. If we accept Majumdar’s proposal that this novel presents a flaneur’s-eye-view of life and the city, then the cityscape of the novel is less a stable conglomeration of stone and steel than it is an ever-flowing multiplicity of sensations. It is a place full of objects, but the objects live in constant moments of being, and those moments of being are created within the perceptions of the people who come in contact with them. Thus, there is no one object, no one city; rather, there is a practically infinite field of encounters, and those encounters erupt and fall into memory within the space of an instant.
 


Gariahat Road and Rashbehari Avenue Crossing, 1993 (Wikimedia)
The city does not exist separate from its inhabitants, then: “they temporarily forgot their own lives, and, temporarily, their minds flowed outward into the images of the city, and became indistinguishable from them” (115). The images exist within their minds, and so the movement cannot be away from those minds (the mind cannot escape itself), but instead away from memory and toward present moments. The self, then, is something of the past — the self is created through self-reflection, and what is reflected is a body of memory from which the self is sculpted. The city offers a temporary escape from the self and its reflected past, a way to move into the present. The present, though, as Sandeep learns, is always fleeting. Once the present is noticed, it is past. 

In that sense, the city allows a play of signifiers similar to the play Sandeep experiences when he looks at Bengali letters he can’t, formally, read. As Sandeep turns these letters into “‘characters’ in both senses of the word” (75), he does not attach some immutable meaning to them, but rather lets them mean what they seem to mean in the moment, much as he allows the images of the city to mean what they will in the moment of perceiving. The city is not, however, an illusion or a solipsism. It is an assemblage of systems and relations. Like an alphabet, its individual pieces can be put together in infinite series of meanings

These insights are not merely the musings of a child. Chapter Thirteen moves us into Chhotomama’s point of view, and he has similar musings on the Bengali word sandeshin its Bengali letters:

The letters, curving, undulating, never still, curving into a kinetic life of their own, reminded him of Calcutta, of buying and selling, of people on the pavements, of office-goers in the mornings, and homecomings in the evenings, of children reading books, of arguments and dissensions in the tea-shops, of an unexpected richness of myriad rooms, all festivities of colour and light. He wanted to return to the city where all things curved and arched and danced like those letters… (111)
            
The letters evoke the city; the city mimics the letters. The letters, then, are the molecules of the city. This is perhaps, too, what distinguishes Calcutta for Chhotomama and, presumably, Sandeep — it is a city that resembles the letters of the Bengali alphabet (kinetic, curved, arched, dancing) rather than the letters of another alphabet, for instance the standardized, separated, impersonal alphabet they would associate with English texts. Such an alphabet might be more appropriate for Bombay.
             
The city is an assemblage, a text is an assemblage, and the city is a text.
            
Let’s consider, too, the ways that texts are structured alphabets. A Strange and Sublime Addressseems like an assemblage without a plot, a city without a story — and yet cities do not lack for stories. Sandeep feels that the “‘real’ story, with its beginning, middle, and conclusion, would never be told, because it did not exist” (54), and yet this is not exactly true; or, rather, it is true but not exactly useful as an insight, especially if we apply it to the text we are reading. A Strange and Sublime Addresshas a first word, a middle word, a last word, as it also has a first, last, and middle sentence, page, chapter. These linear arrangements allow patterns to become meaningful. Stories are told, and stories lead into other stories. This is much like a city. The concepts that we associate with the textual effect we call the character “Sandeep” are concepts that are advanced for a child’s mind, but not entirely unrealistic, and it seems to me that his perception that the “real” story of life could not be told because it is too big and overdetermined for narrative representation is unsatisfying. The desire for one story is the problem. Reality is not one story. Reality is an assemblage of infinite moments, actions, and perceptions. Reality is a system of relations. We can name some of these assemblages and systems — we can call them a city, a family, an object — and we can talk about the beginning, middle, and end of each. Calcutta began somewhere and sometime, and it will end somewhere and sometime. Calcutta cannot sufficiently be represented in a story, but it can be summoned in a million stories. Stories, like cities, are systems of instances. The fictive personality of Sandeep selects instances; the reader notes these selections, responds to them, assumes and imagines patterns of meaning from them, and thus keeps the textual effect we call Sandeep alive for the duration of the text. A fictional character is an assemblage just as a representation of a city is an assemblage: an assemblage of details within the text that are held in the reader’s mind and associated with each other. Sandeep is an alphabet interpreted. The patterns of that interpretation, that assemblage, can then form patterns with other interpretations, other assemblages of instants, other signifiers at play: ones called Chhotomamaand Abhi and the market and summer … and Calcutta. Letters lead to words which lead to sentences which lead to paragraphs. All lead toward and away from each other. Meaning takes birth in the mind, lives in the present, dies in the next instance, but the instances add up and echo, they curve and arch and dance.

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8. 2 picture books about world markets and universal child delights

Market_cover_LIt’s a familiar scenario from childhood; the thrill of setting off with pocket money to spend: What to choose with the coins in your pocket? Where to spend it? And yet, in To Market! To Market! by Anushka Ravishankar, illustrated by Emanuele Scanziani, a joyous, richly illustrated rhyme, what one little girl discovers is that the real fun’s not in the spending and buying at all.

Great fun to read aloud, especially if you let your voice mirror the playful typesetting, To Market! To Market! is also beautiful and exciting to look at. Vibrant, intensely coloured illustrations of various market stalls overflowing with goods evoke childhood fantasies of hoards of treasure.

To-Market-blog

Eye-catching and exuberant, To Market! To Market! will brighten anyone’s bookshelves, as well as giving a window onto another culture – the market stalls in question happen to be in India, but the fun and beauty in this book are universal.

offtomarketfrontcoverLikewise, whilst the specifics of Off to Market by Elizabeth Dale, illustrated by Erika Pal may seem a world way to many readers – following the problems one boy has on the bus to a market, this time in Africa – kids the world over will delight in seeing how kids just like them can be the ones to solve problems adults can’t seem to get their head around.

The market bus, overloaded with people, goods and livestock, has ground to a halt. The adults all complain, but no-one makes a move until young Keb shows them what they need to do. Where would adults be without kids, heh?

Click to see more illustrations from 'Off to Market'

Click to see more illustrations from ‘Off to Market’

With lively, rhyming text and bright illustrations mixing watercolour, print making techniques and blocks of bold flat colour Off to Market is delightful. My kids immediately remembered The No. 1 Car Spotter by Atinuke (my review here), a super early chapter book, which also features an African market.

Hoping our bus journey to the big markets in town wouldn’t turn out to be nearly as eventful as that in Off to Market we set off for a day out exploring the sights and sounds of all sorts of (Birmingham) market stalls.

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market1
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As we were out and about we didn’t listen to any music, but if you’re looking for a market-themed, kid-friendly set of songs you could start with these:

  • The African Market by African Treehouse
  • Let’s Go To Market by Frank Leto
  • And this great version of This Little Piggy Went to Market:
  • Apart from visiting your own local market, you could enjoy these activities alongside reading the books I’ve recommended today:

  • Making your own market role play area. This idea from Ikat bag might whet your appetite.
  • Playing with saris. If ever I see a sari in a charity shop I snap it up – they are not only great for dressing up, they’re also fabulous for den building being large, and light, and often very decorative.
  • Day tripping to India! It’s easier than it sounds… here’s how we did it without flying anywhere!
  • Giving your kids a small budget and setting them a task at the market – either buying ingredients for a meal, or treasures to play with. You could write a shopping list together and guess before hand how much you think everything might be. Whilst we were at the market we jotted down vegetable prices and then compared them with the prices in a supermarket – the kids were very surprised by what the discovered.
  • Have you a good market near to you? I’ve always wanted to go to a flower market or a spice market, but what about you?

    Disclosure: Both books reviewed today were sent to me for review consideration by their respective publishers.

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    9. India’s First 3D Motion-Capture Film Looks Like An Epic Trainwreck

    India's first 3-D mo-cap CGI feature, "Kochadaiiyaan," will open on May 9th. By Western feature animation quality standards, it looks unwatchable, but perhaps it's considered acceptable in India.

    0 Comments on India’s First 3D Motion-Capture Film Looks Like An Epic Trainwreck as of 4/23/2014 2:53:00 AM
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    10. Going Global



    I received some great news from my publisher that all of my books are going to be available for sale in China and other Asian markets.  Guardian Angel Publishing has finished negotiating with an agent to distribute English language books.  This is coupled with a mandate in China that all school children should learn English.  So I’m really excited that my books will be open to such a huge market.  Also in the works is distribution to India and other emerging markets where my books are not available.  I’ll keep you posted on any further developments.  But I couldn’t wait to spread the word.  How cool is that?

    0 Comments on Going Global as of 4/14/2014 1:43:00 PM
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    11. Interview with Varsha Barjaj, Author of Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] Good morning, Varsha!  Describe yourself in five words or less.

    [Varsha Barjaj] I am hard working, idealistic, optimistic, loyal and driven!

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood?

    [Varsha Barjaj] What thirteen-year-old Abby wants most is to meet her father. She just never imagined he would be a huge film star–in Bollywood! Now she’s traveling to Mumbai to get to know her famous father. Abby is overwhelmed by the culture clash, the pressures of being the daughter of India’s most famous celebrity, and the burden of keeping her identity a secret. But as she learns to navigate her new surroundings, she just might discover where she really belongs.

    [Manga Maniac Cafe]  Can you share your favorite scene?

    [Varsha Barjaj] My favorite scene is the one in which Abby and Shaan take a rickshaw ride to the beach in Mumbai. I loved writing the details of the rickshaw ride.

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] What gave you the most trouble with the story?

    [Varsha Barjaj] Striking the balance between the fun, playful aspect of the story and the deeper issues of cultural identity, belonging within a family and being in a city with vast disparities between the rich and the poor.

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?

    [Varsha Barjaj] My comb

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] Name three things on your desk right now.

    [Varsha Barjaj] A picture of my family, A Don Quixote card holder, and a sunshine yellow “I Love Mom” mug made by my daughter.  

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?

    [Varsha Barjaj] Michelle Obama. I love her charm, her look and her intelligence.

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] What are some books that you enjoyed recently?

    [Varsha Barjaj] I just finished re-reading Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck and it blew me away. I also read the ARC for School of Charm by Lisa Ann Scott and was charmed.

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

    [Varsha Barjaj] Readers can connect through my website or on twitter (@varshabajaj

    Thank you for this opportunity to “talk” to you and your readers.

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!

    About the book:

    What thirteen-year-old Abby wants most is to meet her father. She just never imagined he would be a huge film star—in Bollywood! Now she’s traveling to Mumbai to get to know her famous father. Abby is overwhelmed by the culture clash, the pressures of being the daughter of India’s most famous celebrity, and the burden of keeping her identity a secret. But as she learns to navigate her new surroundings, she just might discover where she really belongs.

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    12. If You Were Me and Lived in … India: A Child’s Introduction to Culture Around the World | Dedicated Review

    In her latest addition to the fun and educational series “If You Were Me and Lived In …,” award-winning author and former social studies teacher Carole P. Roman introduces young readers to the country of India.

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    13. The Power of Children’s Books to Change the World

    First Book Global: New books to 10 million kids worldwide

    In 2012, Malala Yousafzai, age 15, was shot in the face by Taliban thugs for daring to promote education for women and girls in her native Pakistan. She has not only survived, she has taken her cause to the global level. Her speech before the United Nations inspired the world: “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”

    One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”

    I think of Malala often; her words and the battle she is waging against forces determined to keep her away from a world of knowledge. We know that one child with one book can change the world. But millions of children are being held back from the knowledge they’re so hungry for, not only by violent fundamentalism but by relentless poverty. This is a battle, and we have to win.

    That’s why today at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York, I announced First Book’s commitment to reach 10 million children worldwide by 2016 with the books they need to read, learn and succeed.

    First Book Global: New Books to Kids At Home and Around the World

    Each year, First Book, a nonprofit social enterprise, connects 2 million children from low-income families in the United States and Canada with brand-new, top-quality books and educational materials. Over the next three years, we will expand our efforts globally, reaching classrooms, programs and NGOs in India, Brazil, Egypt and elsewhere.

    Let’s Bring New Books to 10 Million Children Worldwide Our efforts abroad will strengthen our work domestically. One of our core missions is to bring children here in the United States books and digital content that reflects the full diversity of the world. As we expand the market for books and materials in a range of languages, countries, and cultures, the array of content we can offer in the United States will also grow. More stories will be available to all children.

    We’ve been preparing for global expansion for a long time. Our team at First Book has already learned from pilot projects around the world with partners including Feed The Children, World Vision and Touch A Life Foundation. We have been in discussions with a variety of potential global partners who are eager to work with us to access new educational resources that have been so scarce for the children they serve.

    A Real and Urgent Need

    Make no mistake. It will be hard work. The demands on our staff, volunteers and partners will be staggering, and the fundraising needs are daunting.

    But we don’t have the luxury of waiting until it’s easy.

    Children in poverty around the world are waiting for us, and so are the local heroes working to educate them. They have no supply pipeline for books, calculators, educational games and digital readers. First Book is the missing piece, and they need us now.

    Over the next three years, we’ll be building our content, our partnerships and our outreach, and we’ll be asking you to help us fulfill this commitment to children around the world.

    Click here to sign up for occasional email updates about First Book and our global expansion, and to learn ways you can get involved.

     

    The post The Power of Children’s Books to Change the World appeared first on First Book Blog.

    0 Comments on The Power of Children’s Books to Change the World as of 9/24/2013 9:42:00 AM
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    14. Maggie Welcomes Thousands of Visitors Worldwide

    Maggie Steele, the storybook heroine who vaults over the moon, has been attracting thousands of visitors from around the world. So many visitors, in fact, that she’s using a time zone map to keep track of them all.* People are … Continue reading

    0 Comments on Maggie Welcomes Thousands of Visitors Worldwide as of 7/26/2013 4:42:00 PM
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    15. Owen Hurley Named Technicolor’s Animation and Games Creative Director

    Technicolor announced last week that they have appointed Owen Hurley to be the Creative Director of its Animation and Games group. Hurley will be based in Bangalore, India, at Technicolor Digital Productions’ animation studio.

    The company, which formerly focused on technology solutions for the entertainment industry, has been building its reputation as a content producer since 2010. Their Indian studio has a dedicated unit working on Rockstar Games

    including such titles as Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire and Max Payne 3.

    Earlier this year, Technicolor also announced plans to develop original content. Their current projects in development include Berkeley Breathed’s Pete & Pickles; Atomic Puppet, (a co-production with Mercury Filmworks); and a TV series adaptation of the graphic novel series The Deep.

    Hurley recently directed Technicolor’s Barbie in the Pink Shoes for Mattel. Prior to working at Technicolor, Hurley was the Director of Animation and Cinematics at Vancouver-based Relic Entertainment, where he worked on the games Company of Heroes and the Dawn of War series. During an eight-year stint at Mainframe Entertainment, he directed episodes of Beast Wars, ReBoot, War Planets and Weird-Ohs as well as the direct-to-DVD movie, Casper’s Haunted Christmas.

    0 Comments on Owen Hurley Named Technicolor’s Animation and Games Creative Director as of 4/10/2013 1:54:00 AM
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    16. Guest Commentary: The Life of an Indian Visual Effects Artist

    Within the last 6 months, two of the biggest U.S. visual effects houses—Digital Domain and Rhythm & Hues—have declared bankruptcy. Among the culprits responsible for their downfall is outsourcing and offshoring of VFX work to countries like India, China and Malaysia. This goes hand in hand with other reasons like foreign government tax subsidies and credits, corporate mismanagement, and Hollywood studio economics.

    But what exactly does it mean when work is sent to one of those other countries? Work isn’t sent overseas simply because it’s cheaper. The cold, hard reality is that work goes overseas because developing countries have lax labor laws that offer minimum worker rights and maximum opportunity for worker exploitation. It amounts to sweatshop labor, and in some cases, indentured servitude.

    We hear a lot about the perspective of Western artists affected by the outsourcing and offshoring, but nothing from the overseas artists who are the supposed beneficiaries of the work. It turns out, they’re not exactly enjoying it either.

    This commentary piece was submitted by Bhaumik Mehta, an artist who spent 7 years working in the rendering and lighting departments of many top Indian animation and effects houses. He has now left the industry to work as a freelance 3D artist for interior designers and architects, a field that he says is much less exploitative. Per Mehta’s request, I have removed the names of the studios he listed in his original piece to protect colleagues who may still be working at those places.

    Commentary by Bhaumik Mehta

    I read your story of recent layoffs happening at studios like DreamWorks and Rhythm & Hues. I wish to express my deep sorrow and concern for all those artists who have had to put aside their families, friends and health to finish the tasks that were assigned to them by the studios.

    Many bad things happen at studios in India, too. At one studio, artists are asked to work without salary for at least four months, at which point the studio can ask them to leave if they didn’t find their performance “good” enough. At another studio, they reduced their staff in the 3D animation department from 150 people to a mere 5 people. One studio takes Rs 30,000 (approximately $550) as a deposit from artists and only returns to the artist (without interest) once they complete two years employment at the studio. [Note: An average MONTHLY salary might be Rs 7,500 ($138 month) so the deposit is equivalent to nearly 4 months salary.]

    Every studio has adopted a hire-and-fire policy in which artists are asked to sign a contract of six months after which the studio has a right to either keep the artist or remove them according to the project’s requirement. One studio has laid off their most senior artists and shifted their base from Mumbai to Banglore; another studio will either delay an artist’s salary by two months or won’t pay at all; and yet another studio requires their artists to come to work on Sundays as well as on public holidays. All the while, animation institutes are taking fees like Rs 450,000 (approx. $8,300) but providing education and equipment that isn’t even worth Rs 4,500.

    It would be nice to raise this issue and let everyone know the condition that Indian artists have to endure. They are sacrificing their lives for their passion, but they are exploited by people who have no interest in art and whose only motivation is earning as much as possible by spending as little as they can.

    I left the industry two years ago. I am glad to have done so and have started working as a freelance 3D artist for interior designers and architects. I am not earning as much as I used to when I was in the studios, but I have no fear of someone asking me to leave their office once their project is completed. I choose to live with dignity and honor as well as giving time to my family, friends and health.

    I hope that by making others aware of these issue, I can save my artist friends from further exploitation.

    (Photo via Shutterstock)

    0 Comments on Guest Commentary: The Life of an Indian Visual Effects Artist as of 2/21/2013 3:45:00 PM
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    17. What does the future hold for international arbitration?

    How can we outline the discussion on the law and practice of international arbitration? What is the legal process for the drafting of the arbitration agreements or the enforcement of arbitral awards? Long-time international arbitrators Constantine Partasides, Alan Redfern, and Martin Hunters — co-authors of Redfern and Hunter on International Arbitration: Fifth Edition with Nigel Blackaby — sat down with the OUPblog to discuss the latest developments in their field. Watch the following videos to learn more about current views on international arbitration and what changes they expect to see in the future.

    How did the idea of writing a book come about?

    Click here to view the embedded video.

    What challenges are arbitrators facing now?

    Click here to view the embedded video.

    How do you view the future of international commercial arbitration? 

    Click here to view the embedded video.

    Nigel Blackaby, Constantine Partasides, Alan Redfern, and Martin Hunter are the authors of Redfern and Hunter on International Arbitration: Fifth Edition. Nigel Blackaby is one of the partners of the international arbitration group at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in Washington, DC. Constantine Partasides is a one of the partners of the international arbitration group at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in London. Alan Redfern is the barrister and international arbitrator at One Essex Court Chambers in London. Martin Hunter is currently a barrister and international arbitrator at One Essex Court Chambers.

    Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
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    The post What does the future hold for international arbitration? appeared first on OUPblog.

    0 Comments on What does the future hold for international arbitration? as of 2/18/2013 6:47:00 AM
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    18. Finders Keepers by Robert Arnett and Smita Turakhia

    Finders Keepers? by Robert Arnett illustrated by Smita Turakhia Atman Press 6 Stars Press Release:  A true story, Finder’s Keepers?  was inspired by the honesty of one young boy in India who found the author’s lost wallet and could not understand why he should be rewarded for returning to Arnett what was his.  The concept …

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    19. Male Monday: Irfan Master

    “In the world I came from it wasn’t cool to say that you wanted to be a writer or read books. I always wanted to be a writer but I just kept it hidden for 20 odd years which was a strange state of mind to be in.”

    One male author of color has a YA book released this month.

    “Irfan Master is project manager of Reading the Game at the National Literacy Trust. His father is from Gujarat, India where the novel is set, and his mother is from Pakistan. Irfan grew up speaking both Urdu and English.” He grew up reading The Count of Monte Cristo with his grandfather and developed a love or reading. He knew that sometime ago, there was a split in India, but no one could or would tell him about it. So, Ifran decided to written A beautiful Lie. He went to India and then Morocco, where he wrote most of the book. he says “Everything came from the first two words ‘Everybody lies’…”

    A beautiful lie has already been published in the UK and hit US shelves 1 August.

     

     

    Award nominations:

    North East Book Award

    Essex Book Award

    WE Read Book Prize

    Branford Boase Award

    Redbridge Book Award

    Amazing Book Award

    Waterstones Children’s.Book Prize

     


    Filed under: male monday Tagged: India, Irfan Master, Male Monday, Pakistan

    2 Comments on Male Monday: Irfan Master, last added: 8/7/2012
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    20. India cartoonist Aseem Trivedi's arrest sparks outrage

    India cartoonist Aseem Trivedi's arrest sparks outrage:

    luclatulippe:

    Once again, the absurd headline of “Politicians have cartoonist arrested” helps put things in perspective for the rest of us. All the best to Mr Trivedi during all this, and hats off to his courage and convictions and that of all political cartoonists.

    Mr Trivedi was arrested on Saturday for a series of cartoons lampooning politicians. He refused to apply for bail at Monday’s hearing, and said if telling the truth made him a traitor then he was happy to be described as one. In one of his cartoons the customary three lions in India’s national emblem are replaced with three wolves, their teeth dripping blood, with the message “Long live corruption” written underneath.

    0 Comments on India cartoonist Aseem Trivedi's arrest sparks outrage as of 9/10/2012 3:08:00 PM
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    21. The Tiffin by Mahtab Narsimhan

    A few months ago while at my local library I came across a copy of the children’s book The Tiffin by Mahtab Narsimhan. I was running late and didn’t have time to read the book flap but because I was so intrigued by the cover I checked the book out. Later that night I began to read The Tiffin and was instantly hooked! Set in India the book tells the story of the rare time when a tiffin (a box lunch delivered by a dabbawalla) goes astray. The tiffin contained an important note which when lost results in devastating consequences. The Tiffin is a book that can be judged by it’s intriguing cover and I was up until the wee hours of the morning reading it from start to finish.

    The next day, a wee bit sleep deprived, I spent some time on the computer researching the book and learning more about author Mahtab Narsimhan. Originally from Mumbai,  India, Narsimhan  now resides in Toronto, Canada.  The catalyst that started her writing career was a tragic one. In 2003, devasted by her father’s death she began to write down her thoughts and memories of their life in India.  These scribblings, along with her love for fantasy, morphed into the idea of writing a novel and her first book The Third Eye was published in 2007. Sequels The Silver Anklet followed in 2009 and The Deadly Conch in 2011. Narsimhan has also published two anthologies Piece by Piece: Stories About Fitting Into Canada (Penguin Canada, 2010) and Her Mother’s Ashes Part 3 (TSAR Publications, 2009).

    The Tiffin  has been nominated for several  awards and is shortlisted by the Canadian Library Association for the 2012 Book of the Year for Children Award.  If you haven’t already read it, I highly recommend you add it to your “Must Read” list.  Check out this wonderful review of the book by West Vancouver librarian  Shannon Ozirny (who you may remember was the MC at the VCLR Serendipity Conference that Marj and I presented at in Vancouver early this year). Shannon’s review was printed in the November 2011 issue of Quill and Quire and is partially reprinted here with Quill and Quire’s permission.

    The Tiffin
    by Mahtab Narsimhan
    (Dancing Cat Books, 2011)
    Reviewed by Shannon Ozirny

    In the context of children’s literature, the term “other worlds” often connotes places that are purely imaginary and only reachable by an enchanted cabinet or peculiarly numbered train platform. But Toronto-based, Silver Birch Award–winning author Mahtab Narsimhan (the Tara Trilogy) introduces children to the “other world” of the dabbawallas of her native Mumbai. Despite being very real and accessible by traditional modes of transport, this world will be just as awe-inspiring for North American young people as any fantasy realm could hope to be (click here to read more!)

    And here is the book trailer

     

    0 Comments on The Tiffin by Mahtab Narsimhan as of 9/25/2012 1:35:00 AM
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    22. PaperTigers’ Global Voices: Richa Jha (India) ~ Part 3 of 3

    It’s been our privilege to have Indian writer, editor and blogger Richa Jha as our guest blogger for the past two weeks. Today we present the final part in her three part series:

    Reader-less Books: Reading Habits of Indian Children ~ by Richa Jha

    If  you haven’t read the previous entries, you can get caught up by reading  Part 1 here  and Part 2 here. In today’s post Richa addresses some of the reasons on why Indian youth may not be reading books written by Indian authors.

    We can’t see them

    Our books get lost in the sea of international books on the bookshelves at the stores, especially when there are tens of series vying for attention. A single spine in the middle of it is no show. Some of the bookstores do have dedicated shelves or sections for Indian authors, but the traffic is thin there. Children’s books continue to figure low on most publishing houses’ agenda. The lack of the necessary promotional push for these books from their side affects their visibility. So does the media’s cool shrug at most of these books. The bookstores aren’t too enthusiastic either to back the Indian authors as they don’t see them moving off the shelf much. This chicken-egg situation only compounds the general feeling of apathy that the Indian authors sense towards their work, in general, from all sides.

    Let’s blame it on our parents!

    My generation of parents grew up on a staple diet of Enid Blyton and Edward Stratemeyer (creator of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew), and for most, that fodder lies frozen in time. An essential rites of passage, we expect to see our children reading these. Most parents shy away from even exploring the Indian-Author shelves at bookstores.

    At the same time, we do have a new (but small) breed of parents who are keen to introduce their children to the growing world of Indian YA fiction. But while the parents take care to buy these books, most children are reluctant to explore them. Buying, therefore, isn’t always enough. A possible way to get our kids interested in them would be to explore the book together. I remember sitting with my son a couple of years ago and reading aloud a relatively unknown gem by Ranjit Lal, The Red Jaguar on the Mountain. By the end of the first chapter, he was hooked and came back later to say, ‘The book is so cool!’

    Things can only get better from here. Last month, India’s first zombie fiction for young adults, Zombiestan by Mainak Dhar hit the shelves (the second one by him is due for a release soon). Payal Dhar’s There’s a Ghost in My PC, Oops the Mighty Gurgle by RamG Vallath and The Deadly Royal Recipe by Ranjit Lal – all for middle schoolers slated for release soon – promise to be a hell of an adventure-and-fun packed reads. There’s visible promotion around them and the publishers and the authors seem to be having fun talking about their books. Don’t stop me from turning up that bubbly voice inside me that’s humming now-these-are-what-our-children-will-go-grab. Out of choice. Ahem! Amen.

    Richa Jha is a writer and editor and, like many of us, nurtures an intense love for picture books. In her words:

    I love picture books, and want the world to fall in love with them as well. My blog Snuggle With Picture Books is a natural extension of this madness. The Indian parents, teachers and kids are warming up to loads and loads of Indian picture books beginning to fill up the shelves in bookshops. It’s about time we had a dedicated platform to it. The idea behind the website is to try and feature every picture book (in English) out there in the Indian market. Usually, only a few titles end up getting talked about everywhere, be it because of their true merit, or some very good promotion, or some well-known names associated with them. There are many other deserving titles that get left out in the visibility-race. This website views every single book out there as being deserving of being ‘seen’ and celebrated.

    0 Comments on PaperTigers’ Global Voices: Richa Jha (India) ~ Part 3 of 3 as of 12/5/2012 4:19:00 PM
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    23. Poetry Friday: I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail, illustrated by Ramsingh Urveti

    Illustrated by Ramsingh Urveti, designed by Jonathan Yamakami,
    I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail
    Tara Books, 2011.

    Ages: 8+

    The glorious blue and intriguing cut-outs on the cover of this truly stunning book just beg you to pick it up and explore its pages.  As you open the book, the feathered (or is it fiery?) eye leaves the peacock’s head behind, and you have to keep on turning until you find the whole bird.  From then on, each page reveals a half-line of the anonymous seventeenth-century English nonsense/puzzle poem that makes up the text.  The clever cut-outs mean you can read the poem in two ways – in its original tricky layout that offers a surreal, perplexing view of all the amazing things that “I saw,” or the more logical sequence created by joining the second half of the former line to the first half of the latter:

    I saw a peacock with a fiery tail
    I saw a blazing comet drop down hail
    I saw a cloud… [you can read the whole poem here]

    The secret is in the lack of punctuation throughout and the poem would make a fun punctuation task for younger children to work out – but the poem offers much more than a school exercise and is a delight for people of all ages to ponder the essence of poetry.  Joined here with Ramsingh Urveti’s combination of black on white and white on black art influenced by his Gond roots, and Jonathan Yamakami’s imaginative book design, I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tale is a veritable feast for any poetry lover.

    This is Urveti’s first solo book but he was a contributor to Tara Books’ much loved The Nightlife of Trees (New Horizons Award 2008).  Here, his artwork is extraordinary in the way it manages to convey all the twists and turns of the poem whether puzzling or logical.  He incorporates the recurring “I saw” inventively throughout.  The ebb and flow of the different scales alluded to, from a mighty oak to a tiny ant, are reflected in the intensity of the patterns that at times seem to froth from the page.  The book’s physical design is full of surprises right to the end: and this is a very physical book.  In the age of the e-book, this is an oasis for anyone who loves the physicality of the book.  If you think you know just the person you’d like to give it to, you might have to get hold of two copies – this is one of those books that would otherwise be impossible to give away!

    This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted byRobyn Hood Black at Read, Write, Howl - head on over.

    0 Comments on Poetry Friday: I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail, illustrated by Ramsingh Urveti as of 12/7/2012 11:13:00 AM
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    24. Classic Indian Tales

    Product Details
    Classic Indian Tales

    The gods and the demons come together to churn the ocean using the mountain Manthara and the serpent Vasuki to get the elixir of immortality. Uruvashi, the most beautiful woman in all the worlds, created by the god Narayana from his thigh, descends to earth only to fall in love with a mere mortal. Savitri tricks Death into doing something he has never done before. Emperor Akbar challenges Birbal to find the ten biggest fools of Agra. These and many other tales of boons and curses, love and betrayal, wit and humor, valor and pride, drawn from the Mahabharata, Ramayana, Panchatantra and traditional folklore of India, are brought together in this fascinating collection...

    If you liked this, try:
    The Magical Adventures of Krishna
    Twenty Jataka Tales
    Indian Tales
    One Grain of Rice
    The Drum
     

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    25. Week-end Book Review ~ The Great Race: An Indonesian Trickster Tale by Nathan Kumar Scott and Jagdish Chitara

    Reviewed by Charlotte Richardson:

    Retold by Nathan Kumar Scott, illustrated by Jagdish Chitara,
    The Great Race: An Indonesian Trickster Tale
    Tara Books, 2011.

    Ages: 3+

    With The Great Race, Tara Books continues its stellar presentation of picture books illustrated by talented indigenous Indian artists. Nathan Kumar Scott retells the simple Indonesian trickster tale, a version of the tortoise and hare story. The traditional craft of illustrator Jagdish Chitara, a Waghari textile artist from Ahmedabad, is painting ritual cloths that celebrate the Mother Goddess in brilliant white, red and black. He uses the same ancient techniques and colors to depict the many stylized animal characters in this endearing folk story, his first secular project…

    Read the full review

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