Why writers from Pakistan are looking to publish in India


Published on 9 October on Scroll.in

Indian publishers are readying to bring out a host of books by writers from across the border.

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That India and Pakistan share cultural similarities is not new. What is new, perhaps, is the fact that an increasing number of writers and translators from Pakistan are finding respite and respect with publishers here in India.

It began as a stream with well-known journalists and authors like Raza Rumi, Bilal Tanweer, Saba Imtiaz, Bina Shah, and Musharraf Ali Farooqi, among others, all of them publishing with Indian publishers. Now, the stream has almost become a flood.

A multitude of factors contributes to this increasing number. While some feel Indian publishers understand the nuances of their themes better, others blame the political history (or the lack of it) of Pakistan that has consistently and systematically destroyed the literary culture of the country by not investing in public libraries and shutting down independent presses.

Add to that the emergence of literary agencies in India who are matching Pakistani writers with Indian publishers, and the momentum is evident. Kanishka Gupta of Writers Side alone represents more than 22 Pakistani authors, almost a third of whom were added in the past 12 months.

New books in the offing

Lahore-based social scientist, book critic, and translator Raza Naeem has clinched a three-book deal with Speaking Tiger (to be published in 2017, 2018, 2019).They are all translations: a novella and a collection of long short stories by Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, and a novella by Abdullah Hussein. Both Qasmi and Hussein are regarded as giants of 20th century Urdu literature, who are woefully – and shockingly – under-translated.

Haroon Khalid’s third book, Walking with Nanak, is slated for a November 2016 release with Westland. The book describes Khalid’s travels across the length and breadth of Pakistan as he visits the many gurdwaras and other locales associated with Guru Nanak, delving into their history and musing about their place and significance in a Muslim country.

Pakistani columnist Mehr Tarar too has found herself an Indian publisher. Her book, Many Malalas: Ordinary People Fighting for Change in Pakistanwill be published by Aleph sometime in 2017.

Two of Sabyn Javeri’s novels – Nobody Killed Her and Hijabistan ­– are slated for a 2017 release from HarperCollins India’s literary imprint Fourth Estate. While the first is a literary political thriller centred on the assassination of a female politician, the latter is a collection of interlinked short stories exploring the world behind the veil. Then there’s Faiqa Mansad whose debut novel This House of Clay and Water is going to be published by Penguin.

“Publishing in Pakistan is a pretty slipshod business”

Ali Madeeh Hashmi, the grandson of Faiz Ahmad Faiz and the author ofLove and Revolution: Faiz Ahmed Faiz – The Authorized Biography (Rupa, March 2016) recounts his experience dealing with a Pakistani publisher: “Except for one or two (Oxford University Press for one, although they have their own issues), publishing in Pakistan is a pretty slipshod business. The way it works is that you write something (book, poetry, whatever), then go around looking for publishers, begging them to publish it. If one of them does decide to take a chance on you, forget about anything like a contract or money. You’d be lucky if you don’t have to pay them to publish your work. They make the author do all the work – including proof-reading, editing, even composing the manuscript and the cover – and then sell it to make money off it. The author will never see a penny unless you are a big name like Mustansar Hussain Tarar or Amjad Islam Amjad in Lahore. And if you are a first time author with no connections, it’s quite possible that your manuscript will be stolen and published under someone else’s name. You will have no legal recourse since there is no written contract. So, it’s a pretty depressing landscape for authors with little or no incentive to publish locally. We (Faiz Foundation) dug up Faiz’s translations of Iqbal’s Persian poetry from 1977, a rare treasure. I had the whole manuscript re-composed, proof-read and prepared and then we had to pay a local publisher Rs 1 lakh to publish it! It has sold really well of course but we haven’t seen a penny of the royalties.”

No country for picture books and baseless rejections

Karachi-based Ayesha Tariq, author of Sarah: The Suppressed Anger of the Pakistani Obedient Daughter (Penguin India, 2015) met with many difficulties when she approached publishers back home. “Most books published here are textual and coffee table books require the author to be well-connected (to be able to generate sales). My book required full page printing, which makes it expensive. Secondly, people usually avoid touching upon risky topics to avoid negative results. Since our publishing industry is young, the book to print may not have been financially viable for a lot of publishers.”

Similarly, Haroon Khalid’s first book, A White Trail: Minorities in Pakistan(Westland, 2013) came to be published in India only after an initial and complicated rejection. “I was in talks with a major Pakistani publisher forA White Trail and, as is the convention, I sent them a sample chapter and synopsis. Usually publishers either sign a deal after looking at the initial proposal or reject it, but since I was a first-time author I was asked to submit the whole manuscript. I was told that the manuscript was being vetted internally and would be sent to external experts for feedback. Later, they asked for my resumé. I think that’s where things didn’t work out. After almost a year of reading and re-reading they finally rejected the book without any explanations.”

Khalid doesn’t want to name the publishers, but mentions that they prioritise academic books and even though his book was academically solid and significant, he has been unable to put a finger on why things didn’t work out.

Delhi to Naldehra: When the hills beckon


Published on 10 June 2016 in Mint

Going that extra mile to revisit childhood memories, trying golf and walking among apple orchards

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We weren’t the quintessential Bengali family who had a home in Kolkata where ageing grandparents waited with gifts and blessings for grandchildren every summer. Instead, the vacation ritual comprised my father sitting and planning our nuclear family trip to the hills. This was the only way to escape the scorching heat of Delhi.

Back then—about a decade ago—Shimla was the most credible choice. A short train ride and a couple of hours’ drive was all that was needed to reach the erstwhile summer capital of British India. Those were the days when one didn’t have to climb cliff tops for unobstructed views of the mountains; snow-capped peaks shone uninhibitedly under the summer sun.

I am not sure how and when these annual family trips to the hills stopped. Perhaps it was around the time that people started complaining about how common and crowded Shimla had become. Like many others, we too bid adieu to the Mall Road, Christ Church, and the hall by Lakkar Bazaar where I learnt to roller skate.

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Last month, I found myself crossing the same route, dotted with familiar pines and deodars, on a weekend break. I was on my way to Naldehra, a hamlet that is just an hour’s drive from Shimla—offbeat travel, you see, is now in vogue and going a few extra miles for quieter terrain is considered the norm. The Chalets Naldehra, my abode for the next two days, was lavish. With more than half of the first day gone in travel, I decided to stay put in my room’s balcony, with a cup of tea and a book in hand. The view of the sun sinking behind the dark-grey ranges was the perfect way to end the day.

The next morning, intermittent drumming on the window panes woke me up. It was a troop of monkeys. Grateful for the ingenious alarm clock, I hit the road for my first excursion—the Naldehra Golf Course.

It was in the early 1900s that Lord Curzon, then viceroy of India, supervised the construction of this nine-hole golf course. Perched at an altitude of 2,200m, the ground is one of the oldest and most scenic in the country. It’s open to both locals and tourists for a fee of Rs.250-500, and the 30-minute climb up the ridge was worth a few teeing-off lessons. After several failed attempts, I was finally able to swing the club hard enough to make the ball fly over the net. Golf will not stay with me the way roller skating did, but I’m glad I tried.

The next thing on my agenda almost immediately superseded the excitement at my freshly discovered golfing prowess—the apple orchards, in full bloom, at the Regional Horticultural Research and Training Station in Mashobra, 13km from Naldehra. I found myself following the station chief down a rutted path flanked by fragrant fruit trees. He told me about 170 varieties of apple trees, both red and golden, were cultivated there. Shiny golden apples hung from branches that seemed to have grown tired of their weight. An hour’s walk with him, and I wanted my own orchard. In fact, at the end of the day, premature retirement to the hills of Naldehra seemed like a good idea.

Reluctant to return straight to Delhi the next day, I decided to spend some time strolling around Shimla, hoping to catch glimpses of the summer I remembered. I ordered lunch at a café overlooking the Mall Road. It was teeming with people—college students, young couples, office-goers and tourists. Noisier than before and a little less clean—things had most certainly changed.

Perhaps I was better off exploring new places and keeping intact my childhood memories of Shimla.

A short (and it cannot be long) survey of recent English erotic writing in India


Published on 29 May 2016 in Scroll.in

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Cinema, television and life itself have raced far ahead of what’s been written under the label.

It was about eleven in the night when a friend called up for a chat. He asked what I was up to and I cheerfully told him about the book of erotic short stories I was reading. He smirked at my response and asked me to “carry on”.

I am not sure what it is about erotic writing that, on the face of it, amuses people. The impulsive tendency to relate it to something perverse is rather strange and I wonder if it’s the doing of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy written by EL James, that has confined erotic literature to a space where it is perceived as kinky, and not beautiful. Of course, a good portion of that perception comes from how comfortable one is when it comes to talking, writing, or reading about sex. But it’s not for nothing that the trilogy sold over 200,000 copies in India which goes on to show that some readers are slowly embracing the genre, albeit shyly.

I don’t have statistics to qualify my point here, but most of the readers I have encountered reading the book – in trains, buses and offices – have been women and the slight smile forming on the corner of their lips appeared to symbolise their fascination and fantasies.

Formula sex writing

Making headlines in the world of book publishing are Sunny Leone’sSweet Dreams and Sweet Dreams Part 2. The former adult film actress has discovered the power of the written word, thanks to Chiki Sarkar’s Juggernaut, which has made her erotic short stories available for download at a most reasonable price of about Rs 6 per story.

Sadly though, the tales aren’t stirring enough. Regular episodes of a home or office situation, a predictable sexual tension building between two characters, some teasing here and there, eventually leading to you-know-what. Leone tries very hard to inject romance and emotion, but it just doesn’t work. Her prose is simplistic and the content is over-focussed on getting the scene right.

The two books are the top-sellers on the Juggernaut app, which helpfully lists the top of its own charts. But they only suggest that sexually stimulating writing is still pornography by another name for many – fortunately, not all – erotica writers. Not that there is anything wrong with pornography, but you don’t neither need the erotica label, nor the packaging of a book, to read as much of it as you want, thanks to the internet.

Sex as liberation

And yet, there were signs that erotic writing in India might have been coming of age, although whether readers are beginning to accept without preconceived expectations and moral judgement is another matter.

Take for instance A Pleasant Kind of Heavy and Other Erotic Stories, an anthology of nine short stories by Aranyani, the nom de plume of the Goa-based Amrita Narayanan. Published by the Aleph Book Company in 2013, the stories have women taking the lead, unabashedly expressing and being led by their sexual fervour. The act for them isn’t limited to penetration. Eroticism is synonymous with liberation here, and there are heavy undertones of arousal in ordinary household chores such as chopping and cooking.

These are everyday women and it is a relief to know they’re aware of their appetite for sex, which is not dependent on anything remotely phallic. Aranyani’s tales free themselves of definitive closure and deliberately so, for the purpose of leaving the reader feeling a pleasant kind of heavy is successfully achieved.

Sadly, the book has turned out to be more of an exception than the beginning of a rule. Sreemoyee Piu Kundu’s Sita’s Curse: The Language of Desire (2014) did try to take up the cause of the quintessential middle-class Indian housewife and her hush-hush sexual plight. This is traditionally fertile ground for pornographic fantasies, but Kundu’s book managed to hit the right spots and bring sex to the fore, though in an over-cooked and not really liberating manner.

Life or art?

Ultimately, it has to do with the success of the writing in provoking expectation and desire, in reaching out to parts of the body-mind combination that are not usually touched by the mundanity of everyday life, even of everyday sex. Graphic descriptions of checkbox sex are increasingly irrelevant for titillation in a world ruled by free video.

So, if erotica is really an upgrade of the commercial love story, with more explicitly depicted sex thrown in, it falls into the no-person’s land between merely entertaining and deeply affecting and disturbing. Ananth’s Play With Me is an example of a commercially-oriented love story packaged with a racy, narrative generous with sex.

It’s not often that you get to know the genesis of a book. Ananth’s idea started out as a conversation at the time when EL James was ruling the shelves. He said, “This genre was largely untapped, especially in terms of contemporary fiction. I had earlier written two erotic pieces for my own pleasure that I showed to the editors and that’s how the idea for the book got started.”

The question, of course, is, whether erotica is being written for a market or as a form to express an essential aspect of life. Says Ananth, “I didn’t approach the subject reluctantly and there was no back-footed approach to sexuality in the book.” He believes he wrote about pleasure in the context of a romantic – or not – relationship. “This is something that we don’t do in real life – approach the effect of pleasure on love,” he elaborates. “It’s dichotomous and one can’t say at what pleasure crosses overs to love.” But while that might be a fascinating literary approach, more often than not, erotica is commissioned, or accepted, with both eyes set firmly on sales.

To complicate matters, real life sexuality and sexual behaviour in India are far ahead of their literary depiction. It’s edgy, it’s multi-layered, it’s outside conventional moral standards, it’s even radical in many cases. At the same time, it also operates within the conventions of patriarchy, misogyny, homophobia and other forms of regressive orthodoxy. Capturing any of this is obviously a challenge.

Then there is the question of personal comfort in taking on a theme that isn’t widely written or depicted. There are hindrances and restrictions that we create for ourselves when it comes to talking, reading or writing about bodily pleasures.

Yet, there have been one or two inspiring projects. Electric Feather: The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories edited by Ruchir Joshi is one example of a bunch of Indian writers coming together to produce heartbreakingly real stories “about and around the erotic and the sexual.” In the book, Samit Basu writes about passionate seduction and voyeurism (The Wedding Night Or, Bachelor’s Boudoir), Abeer Hoque breaks all barriers of lust (Confessions), Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan puts to rest the curiosity about a man’s perfect first time (The First Time), and Rana Dasgupta unveils action in the swimming pool (Swimming Pool). The anthology has a total of thirteen effortlessly written stories that are provocative and interesting to read.

Perhaps that’s the thing about excellent erotica. It is devoid of boundaries. It is bereft of rules. It may or may not have sex at all. It may or may not have more than one participant. It may or may not have participants of different genders. It is meant to be fluid, powerful and intense. It should not tug only at your heartstrings, but pull at your very being. It should allow you the pleasure of your imagination. And it should satisfy you right upto the very end.

Room service


Published in May 2016 issue of Condé Nast Traveller India

Hyatt Regency Delhi
Hyatt Regency is centrally located at the hub of Bhikaji Cama Place.
Hyatt-Regency-Delhi-PRINT-16.jpgLong stays
Location: Centrally located in the commercial hub of Bhikaji Cama Place
Look: Native sandstone structure inspired by the Gupta age; interiors in cream, brown, purple and grey
Crowd: Mainly leisure and corporate travellers, hip young entrepreneurs
Rooms: All rooms and suites have free Wi-Fi; there are also fully equipped serviced apartments for long stays
Eating and drinking: While China Kitchen does excellent Asian, La Piazza offers Italian
Best thing: The instant feedback via the dedicated WhatsApp number
Worst thing: Some rooms need an update (ask for a newly renovated room)
Price: Doubles from Rs10,000
Website

JW Marriott Hotel New Delhi Aerocity
The 523 rooms help host large events.
Room-at-the-mariott-WEB.jpgEvents
Location: A few minutes’ drive from the international airport
Look: Steel and glass outside, an understated palette of light oak, dark wood and olive inside
Crowd: Think in-transit guests, large groups and well-known names such as P Chidambaram
Rooms: 523 rooms help host large events. Female guests get rooms near the lifts, in case of an emergency
Eating and drinking: K3 for Indian, Italian and Canton fare. Akira Back is a superb Japanese-Korean restaurant
Best thing: Watching planes take off and land from runway-facing rooms
Worst thing: There’s no neighbourhood to speak of, as most of Aerocity’s still being built
Price: Doubles from Rs15,000
Website

The Leela Palace New Delhi
The Leela Palace New Delhi is located in the high security diplomatic area, close to Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Leela.jpgShort stays
Location: In the high-security diplomatic area, close to Rashtrapati Bhavan
Look: Murano glass chandeliers, Turkish carpets, exquisite flowers, modern Indian art on the walls
Crowd: Those who like to work and play, and royals such as the king of Morocco
Rooms: The 254-key hotel has three suites with plunge pools, which overlook the city
Eating and drinking: French-Italian gourmet restaurant Le Cirque and MEGU for modern Japanese
Best thing: The Library Bar (for whiskies and cigars), which serves till 1am
Worst thing: Being popular for weddings, it can get crowded and noisy
Price: Doubles from Rs20,000
Website

Trident, Gurgaon
The Trident, Gurgaon is close to several major company offices.
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In transit
Location: Close to several major company offices in DLF Phase II and III, including TCS and Microsoft
Look: A blend of Moroccan, Mughal and Rajasthani styles; plenty of natural light and water bodies
Crowd: Corporate travellers, including young entrepreneurs
Rooms: The plush rooms and suites offer lovely views of the garden or the reflection pool
Eating and drinking: Three restaurants, including Konomi for modern Japanese; it stocks a range of sakes and shochus
Best thing: The heated outdoor pool, especially in winter
Worst thing: There are few dining or nightlife options in the immediate vicinity
Price: Doubles from Rs24,000
Website

Meet the four Indian writers in the running for 2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize


Published on 24 April, 2016 in Scroll.in

Over 4000 entries from across the world were narrowed down to just 26 stories from 11 countries.

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An Indian may have a serious chance of winning, first, the regional 2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, and then the overall prize. After all, four of the seven entries shortlisted for the Asia region are from India (two are from Pakistan and one, from Bangladesh).

If an Indian does win the regional prize, their story will be one of the five competing for the grand prize. The last Indian winners were Siddhartha Gigoo, who won one of the regional prizes in 2015, and, before him, Anushka Jasraj, who won in 2012.

While the regional winners (£2,500 each) will be announced on May 4, the overall winner (£5,000) of the prize will be announced in June 2016.

The jury this year is chaired by South Africa-born and London-based Gillian Slovo, who has authored 13 books, including five detective novels, a family memoir, and a thriller. The other judges: Helon Habila, Associate Professor of Creative Writing at George Mason University, USA; Pierre J Mejlak, a writer from Malta, who has been living in Belgium since 2004; Olive Senior, winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for her first short-story collection, Summer Lightning; Patrick Holland, an Australian writer who grew up working cattle and horses on the western plains of Queensland; and Firdous Azim, a Professor of English at BRAC University and a member of Naripokkho, the woman’s activist group in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Who then are the four new writers from India who have been shortlisted?

Dirty White Strings, Kritika Pandey
Growing up in a traditional middle-class family in Ranchi, Pandey ended up studying engineering even though she had a keen interest in books. Since Ranchi did not have big bookstores for a long time, this was a hindrance to her penchant for reading and writing.

Her first tryst with writing was in the seventh grade, when she wrote a poem on Naxalism. Life changed after she attended the Young India Fellowship at Ashoka University, where her training in liberal arts contributed greatly to her work.

Dirty White Strings is Pandey’s attempt to grapple with the idea of love. Having grown up in a family of conservative elders who dismiss the very idea of love marriages, she tries to dissect the word “love” for ordinary, middle-class people. And it’s not just any love. Her story is based in the Kathputli Colony of Delhi, where a 45-year-old puppeteer, who lives from hand to mouth, ends up falling in love with his only daughter.

The reader, Pandey says, may not be entirely comfortable with the protagonist’s situation, but will still find it hard to judge him for the choices he makes.

Pandey finds her inspiration in the works of contemporary writers like Rohinton Mistry, Zadie Smith, Jerry Pinto, Aatish Taser, and Anjum Hasan. She is currently working on a sequence of interconnected short stories.

Girdhar’s Mansion, Sumit Ray
Ray’s parents were in the civil services, and he spent his growing up years in Kolkata, Mumbai, and, most prominently, in Delhi, attending as many as six schools along the way! He studied English at Hindu College, Delhi University and wrote prolifically in spurts – a guide book on Delhi, comics, artist interviews, essays, a short play, and every other form in between.

Girdhar’s Mansion flows out of Ray’s love for South Asian writers till the 1950s, who wrote stories that are social in intent but universal in communication. In this story, Girdhar is a farmer who has come into adulthood after India’s independence, and is trying to keep his family’s dignity intact when a calamity robs them of their means.

South Asian writing, Ray feels, has an incredible impact on readers. There is something very real and yet very provocative about them – the works of Saadat Hasan Manto, Premchand, Banaphool, Ismat Chughtai, UR Ananthamurthy, and Rabindranath Tagore being cases in point. In building his story around a farmer facing personal tragedy, witnessing India’s Independence and the Partition from a distance, and trying to make sense of a world gone haywire, Ray feels his work is not just part of South Asian literature but also a story about South Asia.

Cow and Company, Parashar Kulkarni
From keeping scores on Star Yaar Kalakaar (the TV game show hosted by Farida Jalal) to hanging out on the sets of Movers and Shakers, Kulkarni went on to study commerce at RA Podar College in Matunga. After meandering through a few economics related programmes in New Delhi and Germany, and working at some financial firms and NGOs, he went on to a doctoral programme in politics at New York University.

Cow and Company is about four men in search of a cow. Eventually, they do find one and take her to their office. Kulkarni spends a lot of time in the archives or with archival documents, and his interest in fiction is related to his research. The cow issue in the early twentieth century could have been a go-to for an entrepreneurial politician. Things haven’t changed much over the past 100 years.

Kulkarni likes reading GK Chesterton, Oscar Wilde, F Scott Fitzgerald, PL Deshpande (a short portion of whose work he’s translating), Arundhati Roy, and Premchand.

Instant Karma, Vinayak Varma
Varma moved to Bangalore from Chennai in 2000 to study art, design and filmmaking. Some of his earliest memories of writing are horror/sci-fi stories, which he wrote as a child. After that there were several adolescent years when he would begin and immediately stop work on several series of science-fiction novels. Somewhere in between were a few poems and also some comedy sketches. He took to writing seriously only after having worked a few years as an editor.

Instant Karma is fluffy spiritual comedy told in three parts and a few interludes. While the story, avers Varma, won’t heighten the reader’s sensitivity to the human condition, or reveal deep existential truths about old age and death, it will teach them to temper expectations.

Varma, who is currently working on a novel, has a reading list that includes American comic book writer and cartoonist Ed Brubaker’s entire oeuvre. He admits to having discovered the writings of Dorothy Parker, Robert MacFarlane, Margaret Atwood and Amitav Ghosh a little late in life, and plans to re-read Rafi Zabor, GV Desani, Saul Bellow and OV Vijayan.

Mining collective history


Published on 13 February, 2016 in The Hindu Business Line – BLink

A Sri Lankan play delves into the common, conflicted past of two very different nations at the 18th edition of the Bharat Rang Mahotsav

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War footing A still from the play Dear Children, Sincerely. Photo: S Thyagarajan Ruwanthie de Chickera. Photo: S Thyagarajan Ruwanthie de Chickera. Photo: S Thyagarajan

Conflict doesn’t know race or region. The nature of war is such that it spares no one. Cities burn, people die, and that is how the pages of history are made. Countries miles away from each other share a common suffering; people with diverse skin colour identify with each other’s pain, for every nation has endured a similar pattern of war, and therefore, everyone’s history is collective.

Taking a slice of this shared history to build the foundation of a theatre project titled Dear Children, Sincerely…, the Stages Theatre Group from Sri Lanka aspired to bring to light the stories and experiences that transpired years ago, but are relevant today. The narrative unfolds through the eyes of this history’s witnesses — the elders of the society — at the 18th edition of the Bharat Rang Mahotsav theatre festival organised by the National School of Drama in New Delhi, Jammu & Kashmir, and Kerala respectively.

Under the guidance of director Ruwanthie de Chickera, a cast of 15 Asian and African artistes travelled to perform in India, and brought two diverse nations — Rwanda and Sri Lanka — together for an international collaboration of three performances, unveiling three different perspectives of the past.

While the first story, Seven Decades Deep compared the enormous Hutu-Tutsi community conflict in Rwanda with the Tamil-Sinhala crisis in Sri Lanka, and drew uncanny similarities between the exile of the Tutsi families to the ‘Sinhala Only’ movement in Lanka, the second story, Marriage, Sex and Loveintroduced comic relief by recalling the traditions when it was forbidden for a bride to be seen by a groom before they got married and when dowry was measured in cows. The last performance, Upside-down Land returned to remind of the horror of the bloody insurrections and sustained communal riots that scarred both countries for life.

Dear Children, Sincerely… made its debut at the Ubumumtu Arts Festival in Kigali, Rwanda, in July 2015; the project later travelled to Colombo for its second show in January 2016. In India, the team performed to a full-house in Jammu’s Abhinav theatre earlier this month, before travelling to Delhi’s Kamani Auditorium and Thiruvananthapuram’s Tagore Theatre.

The project, which is based on conversations with senior citizens, mostly public figures and a few ordinary people, delves into their memories, experiences, and reflections in order to create a bank of stories. These are then taken to young people through storytelling and live performances.

“Research into Dear Children, Sincerely… started in April 2015, when we began talking to people born in the 1930s in Sri Lanka. This remarkable generation, born in colonial times and now eight decades old, essentially grew up in parallel lines to their country. The idea of bringing Rwanda into the picture happened naturally. I had a friend there and we spoke about the common histories of both countries. Every scene has been created from a conversation with an elderly person. The idea is to create a number of short performance pieces that will focus on one aspect of history, one opinion, one story,” explains Chickera.

Commenting on the comparison of the theatre scene in India and Sri Lanka she says, “There’s a huge amount of infrastructure in India; the industry is massive and very powerful. India is what Sri Lanka can aspire to be in terms of support, training and infrastructure. Sri Lanka has very good talent, but the industry is very weak. Plenty of young people take to theatre, but they burn out soon because the industry cannot sustain them; there’s not enough money to pay the actors for their training. It’s a very vibrant and young industry, but unfortunately the actors don’t mature, many of them fade out.” And is her country too facing the brunt of intolerance and censorship? “The theatre space has always been under the radar. It continues to be. The previous regime was beginning to crack down on journalists and influencing the artists, but the present system is different. Censorship was very high. It’s no more like that. People are pretty outspoken,” she says.

In a very short span of time, Dear Children, Sincerely… has managed to impress the ARIADNE theatre makers — a group of female theatre directors working in countries of conflict and post-conflict — and through ARIADNE, the project is now being adapted in Ireland, Palestine, Rwanda, Burundi, Serbia, the UK, the DRC, and Belgium. With nine countries on board, the project is all set to go global.

Their stories are real events, witnessed by real people, and real comments that manage to etch the past forever in the chapters of today. The past, as they say, is never truly behind us; no matter how hard one tries to forget, it claws its way back. And perhaps that is imperative to remember.

OTT and loving it


Published on 12 December, 2015 in BLink – The Hindu Business Line

The fifth edition of the Delhi Comic Con brought with it fans, TV stars, socially-conscientious comics and plenty of good vibes

Kristian Nairn takes a selfie of his fans at Delhi Comic Con 2015

Kristian Nairn, aka Hodor, at the Delhi Comic Con. Pic courtesy: Comic Con India

A sunny winter weekend, plenty of excited (and painted) faces, and a zone full of superheroes: Comic Con India returned to the Capital with a bang and left fans wanting more. The NSIC exhibition ground in Okhla buzzed with action last weekend. Fathers carried their toddlers dressed as superheroes, teenagers pranced about as Hogwarts witches and a somewhat lanky, albeit enthusiastic Spiderman posed generously for every fan.

Founded in 2011 by Jatin Varma as an experiment, Comic Con India has grown with every successive edition: this one had more than 250 exhibitors. “Comics and most things nerdy have been a part of my life since I was a child. I’ve grown up reading what everyone else has — Tinkle, Asterix, Tintin, MAD, DC & Marvel — and later went on to lap up every local and international indie comic I could find. There are so many favourites, but if I were to pick one it’d be Superman,” says Varma.

The first edition, held in Delhi, was free and saw more than 10,000 visitors over that weekend. The footfall has grown massively since and keeps increasing each year.

Comic Con now attracts more than 35,000 visitors a day, with an average ticket price of ₹300 at each show.

Celeb showstopper

Northern Irish actor and DJ Kristian Nairn (who portrays the character of Hodor in the blockbuster television series Game of Thrones) stole the show with a jam-packed session on day two of the festival. With season six a few months away, it was clever of the organisers to have one of the GOT characters make an appearance for fans in India, where the audience for content-focused television has grown phenomenally in the past two years.

For the uninitiated, Hodor is a friendly giant, one of the nicest characters on the show, whose defining characteristic is that he can only speak a single word — Hodor. Fans queued up to catch a glimpse of Nairn as he politely dismissed all questions about the forthcoming season, and refused to reveal if Jon Snow was alive or dead. He humbly admitted to not having read any of the books, but hoped that George RR Martin keeps his character alive till the very end.

Nairn agreed that he wasn’t particularly impressed about being offered the role of Hodor. “The guy only said one word ‘Hodor’, which didn’t make any sense. It was crazy,” he said and added it was his mother who convinced him to take it up. It was only gradually that he started falling in love with the character. “The only way to play a part like Hodor is to have that connect. You can’t pretend: it has to be real. And apart from the size, we had a lot in common. I think I am just as nice as he is,” said an amused Nairn.

First-timers

Comic Con provides a platform for creators and publishers to showcase their stories and characters. But while the hero-villain duo of Batman and The Joker, made more popular than ever before thanks to Christopher Nolan’s films, take centre-stage every time, this year’s edition saw other interesting ideas as well.

Sharing space with established comics stars was a superhero called Shabash, who came all the way from Bangladesh with the Dhaka Comic Con team. The Dhaka team was in the Capital with their ‘Beyond Borders’ theme. The aim was to join forces with the rest of the comics world. Founded by Saadi Rahman in 2012, Dhaka Comic Con is Bangladesh’s first-ever official comic book convention. They’re all set to kick off their fourth edition later this week.

Standing out among the crowd was the ‘Share Good Vibes’ stall that sold merchandise with quotes on peace. “There is so much negativity around us these days. Everyone seems to be getting depressed because of so much wrong happening in the world. Our aim is to spread positive vibes and encourage people to become happier and more optimistic,” says Nikhil Sharma, one of the founders.

Books etcetera

Graphic literature has never really received the attention it deserves: not in the past and especially not now, when people prefer to watch a comics-based film or TV show over reading the original book. Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Iron Man, The Hulk and Jessica Jones: these characters were born in the pages of Marvel and DC comics. But perhaps it’s less time-consuming to watch TV than to read the pages of a book.

This year, along with the usual fare, there were also some books that featured serious socio-political themes. Cartoonist Sumit Kumar’s book Amar Bari Tomar Bari Naxalbari, which was originally published as a webcomic, traces the dark history of the Naxalbari uprising and the Maoist conflict in central India. Ram Devineni’s Priya Shakti features a superhero who is also a rape survivor. Malik Sajad’s Munnu: A Boy from Kashmir is an autobiographical book that mixes history with personal recollections to give an insider’s view of the Kashmir conflict and how it shapes the psyche of a young boy.

So the Comic Con had something for every taste of every reader: from the rippling muscles of American superhero comics to the gritty realism of political graphic novels.

The real challenge, however, is to boost comics sales throughout the year, and it will take several successful Comic Cons to pull that off. But we spotted one diehard reader spending ₹50,000 at a single stall. May his tribe increase and flourish.