Archive for January, 2010

JAIPUR BOOK FAIR 2010: VIKRAM CHANDRA SPEAKS

Vikram Chandra spoke on 25 Jan 2010 at the Jaipur Book Fair, India.

Extract from the report in the International Herald Tribune, 26 Jan 2010, p. 9

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/25/books/25festival.html?hpw

(AT FESTIVAL IN INDIA, BOOKS ARE THE BUZZ – by Vikas Bajaj)

**

 

‘JAIPUR, India — A crowd, some members sitting on the floor, listened attentively last week as the author Amit Chaudhuri described the influence of writers from Ireland and the American South on his work.

Outside the tent where he was speaking, fans and photographers mobbed the Indian poet Gulzar, who shared the Oscar for the song “Jai Ho” in “Slumdog Millionaire,” blocking his exit from a hall. Elsewhere the Pakistani wunderkind Ali Sethi was fending off people who wanted to have pictures taken with him.

 

That was just the first day of the Jaipur Literature Festival, a five-day extravaganza that in only five years has become the official annual celebration of a vibrant and resurgent Indian and South Asian literary scene. By the time the festival ends on Monday, organizers estimate that some 30,000 people will have seen more than 200 authors and other speakers.

 

Indians might be known worldwide for being mad about cricket and Bollywood musicals, but they are also increasingly embracing literature in all its forms. Book sales have been rising as incomes and literacy have steadily climbed in recent years. Even the country’s once insular Hindi film industry, known for its formulaic song-and-dance dramas and thrillers, is taking notice of the boom and adapting popular novels into movies.

Vikram Chandra, the author of “Sacred Games,” said that when he was attending boarding school near Jaipur, few authors commanded the kind of celebrity that was on display at the festival, where schoolgirls — some from the elite Mayo College, at which he studied — chased him and other authors down for autographs.

 

Literature in India “was a cottage industry confined to the university,” he said. But in the past decade, and especially in the past five years, a booming economy has created big audiences for books, including genres like literary fiction, young women’s literature and children’s books, which were tiny niches earlier. Book sales here are increasing at about 5 percent a year, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

 

“What we see now is intimately linked to the economic growth,” said Mr. Chandra, who teaches creative writing at the University of California, Berkeley.

 

One indicator of the vibrancy of literature in India today was the presence of film stars from Mumbai and socialites from Delhi at the festival, Mr. Chandra said. “That itself is a sign of strength, when you can get the beautiful people in any culture to connect” with a medium, he added (…)’

 

Note added 4 March 2010:

 

On the subject of rising book sales in India, notably in English and in a context of diversifying markets (more demand and more supply in popular genres such as romance fiction), see this interesting article:

 

THE GUARDIAN, 3 Mar 2010
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/mar/03/india-english-books-millsandboon

‘Mills and Boon answer call of India’s new middle class for English
novels’
Publishers predict India will become the world’s biggest market for
books in the English language within a decade)

by Jason Burke

 

The author writes:

 ‘In the next decade, publishers forecast that India will become the
biggest English language book-buying market in the world. New
distribution networks and an increasing presence of chains of major
bookstores are also fuelling the expansion.


"At the moment the market is probably about 5 million people," said
Anantha Padmanabhan, Penguin’s director of sales in India. "That is
set to increase dramatically."’

 

 

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Satish Verma: launch (Ajmer, India) of book of poems, ANOTHER KURUKSHETRA

22 January 2010 saw the launch, at Dayanand College, Ajmer (Rajasthan), India (Fourth Biennial Interdisciplinary International Conference), of two books of poetry by the prolific and distinguished poet Satish Verma, "Another Kurukshetra" and "Footprints in Dark" (both – Ajmer: A.R.A.W.LII Publications, 2010). The first-named has three afterwords, bu Nathaniel Reilly (USA), Andrew Parkin (France, ex Hong Kong and Canada) and myself (France).

 

Here is an extract from my afterword (pp. 141-42). The full text is at:

http://yatrarollason.info/files/VermaKurukshetra.pdf

 

**

 

For all versed in Indian culture and storytelling, Kurukshetra, the great battlefield of the Mahabharata, is synonymous with warfare, conflict and carnage – and yet also of an ultimately meaningful universe, since it is on the eve of that same battle that Krishna bestows on Arjuna the great philosophical gift that is the Bhagavad Gita; the Gita itself, in its very first sloka, describes Kurukshetra as a dharmakshetra, a ‘sacred field’. The past poems of Satish Verma have walked us through a world of darkness and disintegration, yet have aspired to the light through the poetic process itself. Here in this new collection, as the title warns us, the ambiance grows darker and the groping for redeeming hope will become more urgent. Kurukshetra is no mere name from a mythical past: it is here and now.

 

The poems delineate a universe of chaos, destruction, civil war and what the poet darkly names as ‘collective guilt’ (…)  In Satish Verma’s darkened world, the public sphere is reduced to conflict and killing, while the private and personal has been degraded into cynical exploitation. The official discourse that seeks to justify oppression is mere empty rhetoric, the ‘floral tribute of words’. Man and woman can interact only through bodily gestures that have lost all spiritual meaning: ‘a huge umbrella of hot kisses / dissolving the contaminated beads / of musk, like fever’. Age brings on not wisdom but despair: in the particularly bleak poem ‘Breaking From Past’ the speaker watches his own loveless homecoming: ‘One counts the annual rings of / old trunks … / tasting one’s own decline’.

 

(…)

LIBRO “HISTORIA DE LAS MUJERES DE LA INDIA”, de ANA GARCÍA-ARROYO

 

Ha salido el libro HISTORIA DE LAS MUJERES DE LA INDIA, de Ana García-Arroyo (Barcelona: Laertes, 2009). Este libro goza de la subvención del INSTITUTO de la MUJER (Ministerio de Igualdad española), y fue presentado en el Instituto Cervantes de Nueva Delhi el día 8 de enero de 2010, por su director, Oscar Pujol, con la presencia de la autora y de la profesora Saraswati Raju de la Jahawarlal Nehru University (JNU) de Delhi.

 

**

Siguen unas precisiones sobre este libro:

 

"El desconocimiento del mundo occidental sobre la mujer de la India ha dado lugar a acentuados estereotipos y representaciones erróneas que la definen como pobre, sumisa, esclava de su marido o, por el contrario, estrella de Bollywood. ¿Pero quién, en realidad se aviene a creer que el total de la población femenina, más de 600 millones, se acople a estos parámetros tan mezquinamente simplificados?

 

El objetivo de este libro consiste en estudiar la diversidad cultural de las mujeres de la India a lo largo de su Historia. Las mujeres indias han participado en los quehaceres culturales, en los procesos históricos, en los movimientos políticos, en las subversiones artísticas, en los encuentros filosóficos y en los estados elevados de divinidad.  

 

Por una parte observamos que existen textos antiguos y medievales de la tradición hinduista, budista y musulmana que cantan las cualidades femeninas y humanas de su heroína y logran destituir la hegemonía narrativa del poder patriarcal. Ejemplos de éstos son el Devi Mahatmya, el Ramayana de Chandrabati, el Gita-govinda, la colección Therigatha, o las ghazals de Mahlaqa Bai Chanda. A la vez aprendemos que algunas mujeres forman parte de movimientos místicos para alzarse contra la tiranía brahmánica dominante, y que en el mundo artístico tradiciones como la de las devadasis y las cortesanas son respetadas socialmente por la sabiduría de estas mujeres y sus eminentes dotes intelectuales.

 

Por otra parte en la época moderna y contemporánea la mujer india ha intervenido en las transformaciones sociales, políticas, económicas, culturales y religiosas de la etapa colonial y postcolonial. Desde la independencia en 1947 las mujeres comienzan un largo camino hacia la legitimación de sus derechos y el reconocimiento social, emprendiendo campañas de lucha contra la dote, la violación o los abusos de la tradición. Sus esfuerzos han acentuado la relevancia de la educación como pilar esencial para el progreso del país y del espíritu humano. Se estudia también con especial hincapié el momento actual destacando temas que relacionan a la mujer india con la familia, la sexualidad, la literatura y el cine, y cómo se ha producido una evolución en el proceso de representación.

 

Historia de las mujeres de la India es, pues, un ensayo que podríamos llamar de ‘ética representativa’, al examinar el amplio abanico de diversidad idiosincrásica de las mujeres de la India, que contribuye a deconstruir parámetros eurocentristas procedentes del legado colonial, y cubrir de forma magistral el vacío cultural hasta ahora existente.

 

En un mundo global donde la sensibilidad de lo femenino, la shakti del cosmos, debe destacar frente al discurso dominante de la violencia y la guerra, un texto como Historia de las mujeres de la India nos ofrece las claves del conocimiento, del entendimiento, para sentirnos identificados/as y actuar respetuosamente; y crear conjuntamente."

 


 

José Saramago’s CAIM: a lost opportunity?

 

 

José Saramago, CAIM: Lisbon, Caminho, 2009

 

I offer some brief impressions on José Saramago’s latest novel, CAIM. Coming straight after the genial comedy of A VIAGEM DO ELEFANTE, CAIM reverses the mood altogether: it is one of its author’s blackest works, perhaps only to be compared with ENSAIO SOBRE A LUCIDEZ in its harshness. Saramago returns to the critique of Judeo-Christian belief-system that he began in O EVANGELHO SEGUNDO JESUS CRISTO, doing for the Old Testament what he did in the earlier novel for the Gospels.

 

Again as in O EVANGELHO, Saramago offers an atheist’s judgment on the Judeo-Christian God (‘o senhor’, ‘the Lord’), seen as a capricious and irrational tyrant. By focusing on the figure of Cain he places himself in a long line of writers who have, with varying degrees of orthodoxy or scepticism, revisited the myth of the primal murder from ‘Genesis’, among them Coleridge, Blake, Byron, Baudelaire, Victor Hugo, George Eliot, and, in Portugal, Jorge de Sena. The conceit that holds the book together is the appearance of Cain the wanderer as a character – onlooker or participant – in a whole sequence of Old Testament stories. Thus, Saramago revisits episodes from Genesis and other Old Testament books, such as the Tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham and Isaac, Moses and the golden calf, the fall of Jericho, the sufferings of Job, etc. The characters are virtually all scriptural other than the decidedly non-biblical Lilith, according to some Adam’s first wife, but here Cain’s lover.

 

The narrative stays fairly close to the biblical sources, until the culminating episode, a radical  rewriting of Noah’s Flood whose full details I leave the reader to discover. I will reveal that the book’s conclusion is bleak and despairing in the extreme. Meanwhile, however, I would draw attention to what Saramago has *not* done in this novel.

 

The biblical myth of Cain is ambivalent in the extreme. Cain sheds the first human blood, but humanity’s first shedder of blood as such is Abel, with his animal sacrifice. The mark on Cain’s brow is a sign of his crime but also a warning from God that no-one may lay hands on him. Cain’s punishment is not to wander forever, as many erroneously think, but to wander for a certain period until he becomes the founder of the first city, Enoch. His descendants settle there and invent and practise the arts and crafts of metallurgy, stockbreeding and music. Even if the Cainites are presumed to have perished later in the Flood, the arts they have invented remain. Cain and his family thus have a Promethean side to them, an aspect explored, ambiguously or otherwise, by Hugo and Eliot in their respective poems ‘La Conscience’ and ‘The Legend of Jubal’, but not taken up by Saramago. Equally, Byron, in his two dramas ‘Cain: A Mystery’ and ‘Heaven and Earth’, makes an eloquent case for Cain as cultural rebel and questioner of authority.

 

In CAIM, Abel’s brother and killer plays the role of eternal vagabond, not of founder of cities and arts. The city of Enoch appears in Saramago’s narrative, as does Cain’s son of the same name, but in this version the city already existed, presided over by its queen Lilith, when Cain arrived, and his seed through Enoch goes nowhere. Saramago has, quite simply, ignored the Promethean potential of the Cain-figure as rebel and founder of arts, and for all its eloquent critique of Judeo-Christian theology, his novel, I would argue, ultimately suffers from excessive stress on the figure’s more conventional wanderer aspect. Such a contention would, of course, require an exhaustive comparison with the biblical sources and with other literary representations of Cain. Nonetheless, my feeling is that Byron would win in the end.

 

**

Note added 18 January 2010:

A Portuguese translation of this review, by Cláudio Quaresma (Brazil),

is now on-line at: http://yatrarollason.info/files/SaramagoCaimPT.pdf

 

Note added 19 November 2010:

The Portuguese version of this review has now been published in FAROL (Viana do Castelo), No 16, 2010, pp. 81-82 –

see entry on this blog for 18 November 2010.

Note added 29 July 2011:

A slightly different version of this review has been published in:

IJOWLAC (Indian Journal of World Literature and Culture) (Kolkata/Calcutta, India), Vol. 5-6, July 2010-January 2011, pp. 137-139 –

see entry on this blog, 29 July 2011.

That version is on-line at: http://yatrarollason.info/files/SaramagoCaim.pdf