Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Jump Start: Join the Dots

 Words of Wisdom. Now you know why publishers never lend and why people don't return. 

It was a festival of writers, editors, publishers, illustrators, teachers, librarians and children. The two-day Jump Start: Join the Dots fest organised in Delhi in August by the German Book Office had interesting workshops, interactions and seminars. The discussions included those on illustrations for children's books, graphic novels, e-readers and also contracts between editors and publishers. For me personally, it was an opportunity to meet up with new publishers as well as understand the industry moods and mechanisms.

That is story teller Paro Anand. She mesmerises children and spins tales too. Reading stories to children helps build mental and emotional images for them.

Why is it important to read stories to children? Because, it develops listening skills in children, increases their attention span, stimulates creativity and imagination, improves their vocabulary and they learn problem solving skills. Neel Chaudhuri from The Tadpole Repertory said: "A narrator's voice has to be friend. Repetition is the key to reading stories to children. That was something that Paro Anand, writer and story-teller agreed with: "Children read the same story again and again just because they like that story."

This is how a message board of the non-virtual world is.

Swati Mehta from Gali Gali Sim Sim (Sesme Street) said: "It is equally important for children to tell a story as it builds confidence in them, they learn to express themselves and present ideas in a linked-manner." It also helps them build vocabulary and improves diction.

Adults play games too. Story telling for children at the two-day fest. Watching them on the extreme left is Swati Mehta from Gali Gali Sim Sim (Sesme Street).

There was an interesting observation on the reading habits in children by a member of the audience. She said: "Parents now prefer activity books for their children and have started to avoid story books and fiction." Panelist Nina Sehgal said that even though the variety of books for children has been increasing, the variety for Hindi books remains woefully small. "It is here that a big audience exists which is not being tapped by the publishers." Judith Gueyfier, an illustrator from France who does children's books said that in her country there is a tradition to take stories from Africa and India. "I meet a lot of kids and I learn a lot from them."

This is one of Sekhar Mukherjee's works.

Teacher at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, Sekhar Mukherjee, who has filled up his home with doodles, is working on a picture book in collaboration with his daughter. "I am making the drawings while she is giving me the ideas." Writer Anushka Ravishankar said: "A picture book is all about balancing text and pictures. Even the illustrations have sub-plots and we as writers have to given space to illustrators for them to be able to add value to the book."

The audience at the session on rights and contracts between authors and publishers. The role of literary agents too was discussed. 

A piece of advice for authors while negotiating a price for their books. "Be selective about your rights and limit the terms and terrritories. The rights for printed books, e-books and audio books have to be negotiated separately. The selling of sub-rights to third parties can be in the original language or another language." says Renate Reichstein.

Don't go by the written word!!  The name plates on the panelists table are wrong thanks to the angle of the camera.

Writer and publisher, Urvashi Butalia from Zubaan Books tread the path cautiously as she listed out how publishers make money. "They get money from two sources. Through the sale of their books and also by selling the rights of books to other publishers and overseas markets." And how do publishers and their editors actually select books? India's first literary agent, Jayapriya Vasudevan who is now based in Singapore, says: "We look at books that are universally acceptable. Also, we withhold the e-book rights on the request of the authors."

Gautam John, Ameena Batada, Akshaya Pathak, Arti Jain and Binoo John at the discussion on new technologies. And I had thought that new technologies have by now become old.

Technology issues and digital divide too came under the scanner. As Ameena Batada from Gali Gali Sim Sim (Sesme Street) asked: "Should children's story books need batteries?" At the same time, her own organisation is moving into audio books, internet story books and even internet-based read aloud books.
But Gautam John from education NGO Pratham pointed out that digital books are being downloaded and printed. Their books are being read by children who are visually-challenged and technology is helping generate volume and content.

Wink, India's own second-e-book reader was represented by their content person Binoo John, whose company is looking at generating content through tie-ups with Indian publishers and also directly from the authors. "Books on e-readers are 25 per cent lesser than the printed versions. We will also ensure that the books on our e-reader cannot be forwarded," John said.

It is a comic. It is a novel. No, it is a graphic novel.

In the session on graphic novels, it seems nobody asked, and because nobody asked nobody tried explaining how are graphic novels different from comics, if at all they are different? We too will leave it at that. But we had interesting discussions as illustrators and 'graphic-novelists' dwelt on why they were doing what they were doing. Some used their illustrations to ask and explore, the others to repackage Indian mythical stuff into six-pack abs (to gain a universal audience) and some dwelt on the tenuous relations between man, environment and the society.
Actor Danish Husain from the movie Peepli Live

On creating stories that hold the attention of people, actor Danish Husain said: "You make a story with 10 per cent skills and 90 per cent passion." What he probably missed was that passion is the only ingredient that is de rigueur for any measure of success in any sphere.

These children made presentations on their reading habits, favourite books and their hobbies.
The event was as much for children as it was for the publishing industry and writers. Young book worms made a presentation at the Pecha Kucha evening on their W's of reading - what, why and also why they are not reading certain books and authors. What was noteworthy was their confidence and their wide range of reading.

Another story reading, but for the seniors this time. The Tadpole Repertory at work.

It was here, at the close of a two-day session, that I leant two things. Either that I suffer from an attention deficit disorder or that long book readings should be held only for children, povided they do not scoot out to play hop scotch.

This is called an APOLOGY. For those speakers, writers, authors, publishers and children, and of course the organisers, that I may have missed out in my writing or my photos. I am sure I have indeed overlooked many creative and excellent people as the event was not small and had many parallel sessions running alongside. Many times I wish I could clone myself.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

View-Cutting Ourselves

The places, three NGOs and about a dozen foreigners, over half of them volunteers. Over the last six weeks I had a chance to interact in substantial measure with three grassroots NGOs in three different towns, all working in different fields. One chose water conservation as its main work; the other had a 360 degree association with orphans – providing them with shelter, food, clothing, high-quality education and tuitions, while the third NGO is skilling girls in the tradition-bound boondocks of casteist north India.

At all the three agencies, I came across volunteers – mostly all foreigners and a large number of them women. Tarun Bharat Sangh, the one working on water, had recently launched a campaign to sensitise people about the River Ganga. As its people, led by Rajendra Singh, travelled along the villages and towns on the banks of the river, they had for company a five-member team of American documentary-makers filming their work. These five - a Sri Lankan-American, British, Swiss and two Americans – landed in Delhi after which they went filming the issues and struggles over water in the districts of Ghaziabad and Bulandshahr. Now their assignment will take them to the interiors of Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal.

I do not even wish to sketch the state – filthy, poverty-ridden, homelessness and non-existent infrastructure, all clearly visible to the naked eye – of our people that this US team is bound to encounter in the villages. They do not even have to get down from their vehicles to understand the absence of the State from people’s lives. It will be evident to them from the back seats of their made-in-India air-conditioned SUVs as they come across half-clad children and animals foraging dumps of garbage for food, or any other substance of value. But then villages are villages - stinky and filthy.

Therefore, as many of us associate more with the English countryside than our own, let me bring you closer to our capital city. Closer home, in my second visit, this time to Greater Noida, I met five German volunteers working with orphan children - many of them little girls who had been discarded just because they were girls. These volunteers had arrived in India just three weeks back and had generated enormous goodwill among the children.

The Germans were happy to be working here with the children and will stay put for another 11 months. The interesting part is that these five were not alone. They were a small part of a 60-strong contingent that landed in India last month and spread out to other Indian NGOs concentrating their energies on different concerns across the length and breadth of the country. By now they would be toiling on the scores of challenges that the Indian people face - environmental degradation, trafficking of children and women, floods in some parts and droughts in others, concerns over maternal and children health, illiteracy, discrimination and impovrishment, farmers suicides, unemployment, crop failures, indebtedness, not to mention corruption which has become the favourite pastime amongst many - in their daily living.

I am sure that no view-cutter, whether made of vinyl, board or plastic, worth the crores spent on it is capable of hiding either the conditions our people live in or the sad reality that our political leaders have not delivered. My point is, India has at least a million NGOs, and foreign volunteers possibly in their thousands tromping across the country taking photos with their little digital cameras, filming documentaries and writing back to their girl and boy friends, and parents, about the rich experience they gained in the development sector in India, will those handful of glossy and expensive vinyl view-cutters put up by the Delhi Government and the Commonwealth Games organisers hide the slums, the debris of their chaotic construction work and the run-down areas of our ‘world-class city’. So, what are we trying to hide behind those glossy sheets, which, with the winter round the corner, would be soon put to better use by the slum dwellers and the homeless as a roof over their heads.

Now we come back to the third NGO, PPES, educating rural girls in Uttar Pradesh. This one had American volunteers and they were putting in their mite at all levels – right from the headquarters in Delhi to strengthening administrative systems at the village and even teaching English to the village girls. Will they not go back to their countries with an astounding clarity about the country which cuts sharply through the India shining, Incredible India and the Indian Growth Story hypes. And also the sad tales of girls whose parents do not send them to a school because they are both - poor and hold a grudge against educating their daughters.

So, is the Government naive enough to think that the foreign tourists who flock to the city have descended onto India in sheer ignorance.

Or is it that behind the veneer of "tourists will see our poverty," our leaders themselves were trying to camouflage what they do not want to see - the hungry, smelly hordes? Out of sight is out of mind and if people with a begging bowl and a litany of demands can be kept out of sight it is a soothing thought.

Or is it that one of our politicians, or his friend, owns that factory which manufactures those pricey view-cutters? Public money is afterall meant for public servants.

So, whose eyes was the government pulling wool over when it ordered those pricey view-cutters – itself, for it does not want to see its own people; the tourists, who are well-acquainted about the country's conditions or the average Delhiite, whose nimble figures are better at keeping track of the stock market than casting a vote on an electronic voting machine.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Articles of Faith

A shop selling trinklets at Garh Mukteshwar, Uttar Pradesh, has these religious amulets dangling from its ceiling. With a good strong sun, I decided to play with the depth of focus.

The past few weeks, I found myself travelling to the banks of River Ganga twice. One of the trips was planned while the other was not, and I was so surprised to find myself standing on the submerged bank of the river in September when incessant rain caused floods across various parts of the country.

My planned trip to the river was courtesy waterman Rajendra Singh, a Magsaysay Award winner for his work in conserving water resources in the desert state of Rajasthan. His work over two-and-a-half decades resulted in the revival of many rivers that were dead and now some of those rivers have so much water that these have become perennial. Seems, I am digressing from my topic of the day, so more about Rajendra Singh in another posting later. As the TV networks say: "So, don't go away. Stay with us (me)."

Rosaries for a holier soul. The same shop at Garh Mukteshwar.

Only want to mention that my photos on the bank of a river that was in spate, have come out wonderfully well. Most are inspired, of course, either by the subject of water and pollution or faith which the Hindus show towards the river. The faith, mind you, does not make them clean the river, it just makes them pray to it undeterred by its filth and pollution.

I wonder that if the same unreasonable faith, I say unreasonable because people still bathe and drink that water thinking that it will cleanse them of their sins, could have been better harnessed, could that not have helped heal the river and revive many associated things with it - the culture, a sailing tradition, an alternative transport system, toursism and, maybe, adventure water sports. As of now, the only thing I notice, and so do other people, is an abundance of faith around the river.

One more trinklet (many can be worn as amulets around the arm as well) at the same shop.
Benaras, on the bank of the river, which is as much a tourist city as a holy city is the most photographed city in India. It was the city's holiness that attracted all varieties of photographers - from the amateur one to the cellphone shooter and the first-timer to the foreign professional. Photography, it seems, began here very soon after its invention. The underlying attraction - FAITH.

I have not visited Benaras as yet. I am sure not much has been left for me to click, I will probably still visit it to introduce its sights to my sensor. Till I do that, you will have to settle for these photos from various little-known untouristic destinations along the river. But do remember, these small towns and villages also contribute to the unending pollution as much as the cities do. Yet the intensity of faith remains the same.