John D. Batten illustrator

12 Folktale Collections to Read from India!

For thousands of years, folktales have been a medium for communities to narrate their stories and preserve their wisdom, their culture, values and traditions. We must have all heard of random stories and folk tales from our elders. If not heard, then definitely read tales and fables popular in India.

A.K. Ramanujan’s Folktales of India was a definitive collection of 110 folktales collected from all corners of the country and translated from different languages by an Indian. But if you are the one who wants to explore more folktales, the list below will come in handy!

The Seer presents 12 folktale collections to read from all across India. These collections will take you travelling from deep seas to the jungles of Central India and from the majestic peaks of the Himalayas to the dense forests of the North East.

 

Greatest Folk Tales of Bihar by Nalin Verma

Published this year in October, this collection of stories brings together intriguing animal and human characters that narrate the age old wisdom of the villages of Bihar. Buy the book here.

 

Seven blind men and an elephant is a parable found in Indian traditions. It is particularly used in Jainism to explain the doctrine of multi-sidedness (anekantavada) of Ultimate Reality, Absolute Truth. It is also called the theory of non-onesidedness, non-absolutism, manifoldness, many pointedness by scholars.
Romana Klee | Seven blind men and an elephant is a parable found in Indian traditions. It is particularly used in Jainism to explain the doctrine of multi-sidedness (anekantavada) of Ultimate Reality, Absolute Truth. It is also called the theory of non-onesidedness, non-absolutism, manifoldness, many pointedness by scholars.

 


Folk Tales from the Nilgiri Hills
compiled and edited by Madhavi Ravindranath

Folk Tales from the Nilgiri Hills came about as a result of All India Radio’s Ooty’s program head, Madhavi Ravindranath’s labour of love to collect folktales from the various tribes residing in the Nilgiris. They were first recorded and then broadcast as part of the radio show, ‘Malai Makkal Maanaadu’ (Gathering of the hill people). The book was published by Tamil Nadu’s Hill Area Development Programme.

 


First there was Woman and Other Stories: Folktales of the Dungri Garasiya Bhils
retold by Marija Sres

Dungri Garasiya Bhils live in northern Gujarat, southern Rajasthan and some parts of Madhya Pradesh as well. Marija Sres (originally from former Yugoslavia) came to India in 1974 and studied Gujarati in Ahmedabad, eventually completing her B.A. in Gujarati. This collection, published by Zubaan Books, presents folktales she has collected and translated over the years. The titular creation myth is a unique narrative of how the woman was created first by Kudrat (or Nature). The other stories also similarly capture the values and customs intrinsic to the Dungri Garasiya way of life. Get your copy here!

 


Around the Hearth: Khasi Legends by Kynpham Sing Nongkyrih

For centuries, Khasis have preserved their language by telling stories and passing them onto their younger generations. In this book, Nongkyrih brings alive the legends and tales that are part of the ethos of Khasi contemporary life till today. Buy the copy here.

 


Tales from the Kathasaritsagara
by Somdeva, translated from Sanskrit by Arshia Sattar

Originally written in Sanskrit, Kathasaritsagara was compiled by the Kashmiri Shaivite Brahmin, Somdev, in about 1070 C.E. Kathasaritsagara means “Ocean of a Stream of Stories.” Katha means stories, sarit means river or stream and sagara means the ocean. The frame story of King Naravahanadatta forms the outer narrative while including several stories within stories much like The Arabian Nights and Panchtantra. Yet, unlike many ancient fables, these stories do not preach moral lessons. Rather they portray lives lived through pleasure and experience.

Get your copy here or read an online version of a different translation here.

A literary tidbit: This style of using a frame narrative is often used by contemporary fabulists and writers too! For example, Salman Rushdie in his book, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, not only pays tribute to the title of Kathasaritsagara but also creates a whole new magical realist world that gives insights into the creation of stories and their purpose!

 


Konkani Folktales
retold by Olivinho J.E. Gomes

Konkani is one of the languages included in the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution. In 1992, with the 71st Amendment, three languages, Konkani, Manipuri and Nepali were included. Published by National Book Trust of India, Konkani Folktales is a rollicking collection of stories that depicts peculiar habits of Konkani speaking communities from their food to clothing to dances. Buy your copy here.

 


Speaking to an Elephant and Other Tales from the Kadars
by Manish Chandi

This is a must read for its interweaving of gorgeous illustrations and line drawings with the forest stories of the Kadars. Kadars are an indigenous people living in different parts of South India namely Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The stories in this collection narrate their utmost reverence to the forests they call home and emphasize their belief systems that revolve around forests and the spirits that reside therein. Grab this beautiful copy here.

 

The woman and the mongoose Panchatantra fable is engraved in many historic Hindu temples such as at the 8th-century Virupaksha temple at Pattadakal (the middle panel).
Ms_Sarah_Welch | The woman and the mongoose Panchatantra fable is engraved in many historic Hindu temples such as at the 8th-century Virupaksha temple at Pattadakal (the middle panel).

 


Where Gods Dwell
by Kusum Budhwar

From forests of the south, let us now move to the valleys of Kumaon. Kusum Budhwar brings together the folk stories that dwell in the mountains of Kumaon and Garwhal regions. Where Gods Dwell is divided into different sections based on varied themes. One unique aspect of this book is its inclusion of folk songs and romantic ballads of the region. This puts the spotlight on the role of folk music and songs in preserving our values and culture. Each story is also accompanied by detailed explanations given by the author. This helps us readers to know more about the context of each story. Buy your copy here.

 


A Girl Swallowed by a Tree: Lotha Naga Tales Retold
by Nzanmongi Jasmine Patton

Beginning with an insightful introduction to the Lotha Naga way of life, this is a collection of 30 folk tales that tell myriad folk tales from those that explain certain phenomena occurring around us to those that explain the origins of their world. All in all these stories mirror a society and its beliefs. This book is published by Adivaani, a publication house that publishes indigenous literature from all different parts of the country. Know more about their books here.

Get your copy of A Girl Swallowed by a Tree: Lotha Naga Tales Retold here.

Read an extract of the book here.

 

page1-695px-Puran_Bhagat_-_Qadir_Yar.pdf
Puran Bhagat is a Punjabi folktale by Qadir Yar.


Shehzadi Mircha: Folktales from the Punjab (Ruskin Bond Selection)
by Flora Annie Steel

This is an old colonial collection of folktales reminiscent of bygone North Indian cultures and customs, particularly Punjab. Beautifully illustrated by John Lockwood Kipling, the stories were collected in the 19th century by Flora Annie Steel. Read a charming extract here and then if you feel like it, buy it here.

 


Folktales of Odisha
collected by Mahendra Kumar Mishra

Published by National Book Trust of India, Folktales of Odisha comprises of 51 stories that form an integral part of the numerous communities of Odisha be it rural or coastal. All the stories impart useful lessons and morals on conducting one’s behavior and are a celebration of the state’s diversity and cultures. Get your copy here.

 

Illustration in Folk-tales of Bengal by w:Lal Behari Dey
w:Warwick Goble [Public domain] | Illustration in Folk-tales of Bengal by w:Lal Behari Dey


One Hundred and One Folktales from India
by Eunice De Souza

Curiously titled after Arabian Nights: One Thousand and One Nights, this folktale collection is vast and varied and like A.K. Ramanujan’s work, has stories from all across the country. Minimally illustrated, this book forms a comprehensive and magical introduction to the world of folklore. Buy your copy here.

 

Find More Online:

But what if you are not in the mood to spend now, what with the expensive festive season ending or you do not want to unnecessarily add to your ever increasing TBR pile? Yet you are still interested to know more folklore?

Worry not! Because there are several resources online where you could read these short folk tales any time and entertain yourself and along the way, learn a thing or two!

Talking Myths is an online repository of folktales from different states of India. Easy to navigate and the stories are published in big, readable fonts. You can navigate the page through the different categories of folktales or through location too! What’s more is that if you have a folk tale you want to contribute, you can do so by clicking here.

Storyweaver is a wonderful open source platform for stories and is created by Pratham Books. Primarily for children, this site hosts stories in different languages. A fun, interactive way to read and create stories of all kinds!

If you cannot get your hands on his other works, Ramanujan’s , A Flowering Tree and Other Oral Tales from India, is available online here. This collection boasts of beautiful Kannada folktales which were collected as a result of Ramanujan’s tireless work over a period of about 30 years from the 1950s to the 1970s.

 

References:

Albert Camus

Albert Camus was Born this Month!

Albert Camus was born on 7th November 1913 in Algeria. To mention the unnecessary, he would have been 106 years old this year! While he died young, at the age of 46 in 1960, his ideas surrounding the absurd have made him supremely relevant even today. So, in his birth month, let us revisit some of his ideas and question their importance today. 

Contrary to popular belief or rather popular misunderstanding, his works do not celebrate absurdity or worse, nihilism but rather provide meaningful answers to overcome the meaninglessness of life. His two most famous novels, The Stranger or The Outsider and The Plague look at the hopelessness of the situation the protagonists are in but also portray their rebellion against that utter lack of hope. 

In 1942, he published his essay, The Myth of Sisyphus. In this essay, Camus used the Greek mythological figure of Sisyphus as a metaphor for absurdity.

 

So who is this mythical Sisyphus? 

Sisyphus was the King of Corinth who tricked Death twice but could not do so the third time. 

The first time he was sentenced to death was when Sisyphus helped Aesophus, a river god, find his daughter, Aegina. Zeus had abducted Aegina. Aesophus promised Sisyphus that if he helped him find his daughter, he would create an eternal water spring in Corinth. Sisyphus thus told him about Zeus’ abduction of Aegina. This betrayal enraged Zeus and he banished Sisyphus to the Underworld. Once there, however, he was able to trick Thanatos by pretending to be unaware of how chains would chain him. Thanatos thus chained himself in an attempt to demonstrate to Sisyphus how chains functioned. Sisyphus was thus able to escape while Thanatos remained chained. While the latter was imprisoned, there was utter chaos in the world as no one died. Eventually, Ares, the God of War, found Sisyphus and freed Thanatos.

 

However, this time as well Sisyphus had a trick up his sleeve and before entering the realm of the dead he asked his wife, Merope, to not carry out any funeral rituals and to not give him the coin needed to pay the ferryman, Charon, to cross the river Styx. Using that as an excuse, he pleaded to Hades and Persephone that he be allowed to return to the world of living for three days to ensure that all the rites are carried out properly and then he would return. His wish was granted but he had no plans of returning ever.

 

Zeus was now thoroughly maddened by Sisyphus’ sheer insolence as he had cheated death twice. Eventually, Zeus banished him to Tartarus, the lowest region of the Underworld and punished him to repeatedly roll up a boulder to the top of a hill. Forever. Eternally. No escape. Zeus had finally managed to outwit the trickster with this punishment. Nobody would want to be stuck in such a never ending cycle. It is absurd and that is why it is such a cruel fate for Sisyphus who was always tricking others. Now he would have no time to fool anyone.

 

Sisyphus
Sisyphus | Credit – akrockefeller.com

Camus used this apt image, this myth to highlight Sisyphus’ constant rebellion against the world. He called him an absurd hero: “You have already grasped that Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is, as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth.”

 

But what is so heroic about Sisyphus’ eternal struggle? 

For Camus, it was Sisyphus’ scorn to be overcome by this struggle. He explains how Sisyphus’ walk downhill to push the stone up again is his “breathing space… hour of consciousness.” It is in those moments that he receives a respite, albeit short, from his arduous task. It is also in those moments that he is very much aware of that very task, yet he still moves towards it.

 

For Camus, being conscious of your own absurd condition helps you to contemplate about it and thus aids in surmounting it at the end. It may be tragic as well but Camus believes that it is better to know the full extent of your actions rather than being disillusioned by false hope. Sisyphus for him symbolises that strength to be aware and be willing to be able to overcome the nothingness of the situation by your own thoughts. Because Sisyphus refused to be bowed down by the task and instead chose to revel in his routine, Camus believed him to be “superior to his fate… stronger than his rock.”

 

The myth had become a well-known metaphor for futility, for nothingness in our lives. Yet Camus subverts this very myth and lets us know that you can overcome the absurdity present in your lives, we can each surmount our own boulders and routines: “The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious. Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent. The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.”

 

Camus does admit later that we are all at times overwhelmed by melancholy, grief and absurdity; when our boulders become too much to bear. Yet acknowledging that grief or the truth of the absurdity is the first step in acknowledging that there is meaning in life and that we can master the futility in our lives: “the absurd man, when he contemplates his torment, silences all the idols.”

 

At the end of the essay, Camus imagines Sisyphus to be happy.  And why not? Because, we all have our burdens to bear, yet not succumbing to them is surely a means to be happy, a means to infuse meaning in our lives. Let us all, therefore, not be overcome by our routines or the mundaneness of life but rather know that we all, each one of us, can do something constructive about it! 

You can read the essay here

Check out this School of Life video to know more about Camus’s life and philosophies. 

Here is a great conceptualisation of the Greek myth of Sisyphus by TedEd

 

 

References:

 

 

The Perseverance of Dream Catchers

Veena Baruah
Veena Baruah

The golden years… When life has become a blurry montage of experiences, often tempered by patience in the face of obstacles and compromise in the midst of complexities, a different breed of senior citizens decides that it’s time to chase unfulfilled dreams. Veena Baruah’s retirement from her teaching job at Juhu’s Maneckji Cooper School got her thinking, “What is my unfulfilled dream, what can I do, what will give me satisfaction?” For many, retiring after decades of working years brings about a lifestyle change combined with elderly ailments. The routine likely maintained daily for decades of professional life suddenly requires re-scheduling.

Surjit Kaur
Surjit Kaur

Surjit Kaur joined Terence Lewis Dance Academy’s senior citizen classes, “I really wanted to learn dancing, you know, properly.” Among her proudest moments among various public performances is an appearance in Shah Rukh Khan’s Happy New Year promotional TV show. Since retiring, Surjit has begun participating in marathons such as Mumbai-Pune marathon, and in talent shows such as Umang.

 

 

 

Sailesh Mishra
Sailesh Mishra

The Silver Innings foundation and its annual talent festival for senior citizens, Umang, has helped many to shirk their inhibitions and perform in front of a cheering audience. Silver Innings founder Sailesh Mishra says, “Since 2008, we found many seniors who have left their careers, or lived their lives for their families, their society or nation… But they did not get a chance to explore their talents, their skills, their hobbies. That’s why we started Umang.”

Sailesh’s “social keeda” prompted him to leave behind 17 years as a corporate marketing executive and volunteer for the Dignity Foundation. As he realised the paucity of social welfare organisations “working for seniors”, Sailesh founded Silver Innings for elderly support and services. Silver Innings’ Umang, the Senior Citizens Stage Talent Show, has “people from 60 to 92 years participating.” Among participants, Navanita Parmar (78) has moved on to professional choreography for other senior citizens and children with disabilities.

 

Vaishali Joshi
Vaishali Joshi

For someone like Vaishali Joshi, dreams re-surface before retirement. A classical singer and an ex-Senior Accounts Officer with the Central Government, Vaishali, “passed Visharad in Hindustani Classical Music in 2004, when I was working only.” With retirement, personal goals emerge out of the shadows, put aside earlier for the hum-drum of monotonous work routines. Vaishali, who joined organisations such as “Senior Sobati and bhajan classes” post-retirement, found that senior citizen forums also provide the opportunity to explore hidden talents and unfulfilled interests. And the silver lining appears…Time to finally focus on personal goals and dreams, without the baggage of family or children.

 

 

 

Shibani Bagchi
Shibani Bagchi

 

For Shibani Bagchi, it means having the time to pursue her Masters in Social Welfare towards her PhD dream: “I want to work for children and women from the disadvantaged communities, and try to contribute towards bettering their lives in whichever way I can.”

Those who are not yet ready to part ways with their careers often search for job opportunities with service providers such as HUM Communities and NotRetired.in. Familial pressure, which extends to being the family’s primary care giver, often drives life choices for many, and retirement offers the perfect spark to re-ignite unfulfilled dreams. As Veena reminisced about her youthful desire to act, she was reminded that “my parents, my father especially, wouldn’t allow it.” When she finally decided to send a few photographs to a model coordinator, it took nearly 6-8 months to receive a callback, and the offers began pouring in. Of course, she hasn’t looked back since.

According to the United Nations Population Fund’s “India Ageing Report” (2017), the global elderly population will be approximately 2 billion, accounting for 20% of India’s population. While organisations such as the Dignity Foundation have been working for elderly care since the 1990s, a recent spurt of senior citizen forums include community-driven platforms like Parikrama and Silver Surfers. With the support of social welfare professionals, retirees such as Ramgopal Cancherla (69) find new avenues to spend their time. The former Head Sales & Marketing at Sanofi-Aventis, Ramgopal, has become a laughter coach.

 

Hira Mehta
Hira Mehta

Spare time in post-work years trigger unexplored hobbies. Since retirement, podcaster and former Corporate Communications manager at ICICI Bank, Hira Mehta has already authored “Twisted Tales and More…” in her 50s, made short films like The Selfless Soldier, and even pursued her acting dream in short films including The Blue Helmet.

Sailesh says, “Life doesn’t end at 60! After 60, you just get retired from your job, not your life.” Many dream catchers will agree.

Takeaways from Tata Literature Live-2019

TATA Literature Live!: The Mumbai LitFest, 2019 concluded its 10th edition on 17th November 2019 (Sunday). It took place across in 3 locations across the city: Title Waves bookstore and the St. Paul’s Media Institute, Prithvi Theatre, and NCPA (National Centre for Performing Arts).

The literary festival began on 14th November and concluded with the presentation of Tata Literature Live! 2019 Awards on 17th evening at the NCPA, with the Lifetime Achievement Award being presented to Shanta Gokhale. TATA Literature Live! Book of The Year Award-Fiction was given to Raj Kamal Jha for his novel, The City and the Sea whereas TATA Literature Live! Book of The Year Award-Non Fiction was awarded to Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From by Tony Joseph.
This year’s literary event hosted numerous sessions that were grouped by subject matter from literary discussions to history, from current affairs to environment and much more. We present them here under three broad themes –

Comics and Graphic Novels

A History of Women and Gender in Comics

The talk was jointly presented by Aarthi Parthasarthy and Arun Prasad. Aarthi is the creator of the web comic, Royal Existentials and is also part of the South Asian feminist collective, Kadak that creates graphic stories. Arun is a comic book archivist who began his career as a journalist but now is involved in collecting Indian comics and has created an unparalleled comics archive.

This informative talk began with Aarthi presenting the history of comics by women in the Western world, beginning from how women used comics during the Suffrage Movement. She ended with chronicling of Indian comic artists, their work and contribution. Arun talked about how he collected comics from all over India and also spoke widely about the varied and rare comics in his vast collection.

Their research which looks at the history of comics in India is based on this archive. As part of the research, they are going through the archive to find connections between the content of the comics and socio-political context of the country. It was indeed a knowledgeable session that also highlighted the need to uncover female comic artists in India as well.

The Graphic Novelist as a Satirist

The speakers for this talk were Appupen, David McKean and Aarthi Parthasarthy. Each spoke about the need to satirise through their work and emphasised on the role of satire as a critique of the powers that be. It was truly a visual feast as the speakers gave a glimpse into their work as well.

Both the talks were held at Title Waves which was absolutely perfect as the bookshop boasts of having a good collection of comics, graphic novels and manga.

 

Language and Writing

Double Speak

Double Speak was a panel discussion chaired by Annie Zaidi and on the panel were Shanta Gokhale and Andrey Kurkov. The discussion revolved around writing in more than one language and what it feels like to be able to think, read, and produce literary works in many different languages. The session was quite lively as both the speakers regaled the audience with entertaining anecdotes about their work. Kurkov speaks six languages and he emphasised how the tone of his writing is dependent on the language he uses. Shanta Gokhale, on the other hand, spoke of how she received encouragement from Nissim Ezekiel, no less, to write in Marathi and to pursue prose rather than poetry! Several such engaging tidbits had the audience in splits while also throwing light on their writing bilingual and multi lingual works.

 

Miscellaneous

The Little Festival

For the first time, Tata Literature Live! introduced something special for the kids called The Little Festival. Its aim was to inculcate the habit of reading among children and included several workshops conducted on various interesting topics such as creating cartoons, writing poems, writing mysterious characters etc. The Little Festival also hosted retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth for children.


You Cheeky Devil

Who says literature and reading has to be an individual pursuit alone? Banishing the notion of reading as being boring, the festival also had a literary quiz to bring out the literary nerd in all of us!

You Cheeky Devil was hosted by 94.3 RadioOne host, Hrishi K. The participants were an eclectic mix: famed Sanskrit scholar, Arshia Sattar; the quirky Historian, Manu S. Pillai; Journalist, Peter Griffin and Senior Commissioning Editor at Penguin Random House India, Manasi Subramaniam. The four participants fought each other over literary quotes, literary dumb charades and even a bout of Pictionary!

 

We also attended this year’s Bangalore Literature Festival. Take a look here – BLF2019. If you want to jump to specific sessions, we have picked 3 for you to start- 

Wanjiru Koinange from Kenya, on her book The Havoc of Choice‘ .
Prasanna on his book Moola Ramayana.
Lisa Ray talks about her literary journey in Close to the Bone.

 

 

Interview: Artist Heena Shaikh

Heena Shaikh is an artist hailing from the western region of the country, pursuing the art of painting abstracts on her canvas. Having met her personally and seeing her works, I noticed a discreet charm and passion in her voice, which makes her and her journey astounding to listen, and hopefully for you to read. 

 

Tell me about your journey, how and when you began? 

As a kid, I and my family used to stay in a community where we used to celebrate all the festivals. These festivals had the circulation of images of gods and goddesses in the form of calendars or posters, this was fascinating to me and I used to copy-paint these images. And this is how I started, and while I have tried other forms of art, I have always been most invested in paintings. 

I studied fine arts from Bharti Vidyapeeth, Pune and filled my form for the college through the 300 rupees that I won in a Mehendi (Henna plant) competition during the Ganesh Utsav festival in our locality. My parents were never supportive of my choice of arts as a career. They believed that God or Allah is the biggest creator and artist, and we humans hold no right to create or profess art, and thus, being an artist is considered shameful and wrong by them. But, I wanted to be an artist and could do it because of the bunch of supportive teachers that I always had, and I am grateful to them. Whether it was during school or college, it was because of their faith in me, that I could develop the confidence to follow my dream of becoming an artist. 

 

You started as a realist artist, then how did you reach to now painting abstract?

Because I started painting at a very young age, so I had sort of mastered the realist and copy painting, and then later I shifted to landscapes, understating and painting the nature around me. This helped me master the two dimensional and three dimensional methods of painting. And to learn more and gain more knowledge, I would spend most of my time with older people or with people, who could guide me, help me improve and provide more knowledge for my growth. And during my trial and error of external learnings, somebody asked me a question ‘Who are you? Your name has been given to you by your parents, but as a person and as someone who is experiencing world through a varying lens, Who Are You?’ and that stuck with me throughout. And then when I started to create my own self or my experiences it came out as abstraction and thus, began my journey as an abstract painter. 

 

What are the challenges that you have faced and still face in the profession?

My gender and my faith have been the source of the challenges that I have faced, and this is very unfortunate. I have never been taught to discriminate, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been discriminated against. A lot of people have asked me wrong favours because I am a woman and that does affect my approaches and even the numbers of offers I am made. I haven’t sold any painting yet, but I have done many commercial works like murals or portraits, etc.  Currently, the market itself is in an all time low, and it is tough out there.

Right now I am pursuing Masters in Fine Arts in Mumbai University, and am also working. This does get tough. The life here is too fast and is still trying to cope up with the pace. And in the past month I had to get a surgery done for my elder brother and his son who were both suffering from brain haemorrhage and nerve damage. Since my time was distributed everywhere, I couldn’t gather enough money through my work so I even had to ask from strangers for money in the form of donation.  

Things are better now and I hope the conditions will improve. 

 

Have you tried selling your art online?

No, not yet. I do not trust the marketers online and neither am I aware much. So, I haven’t tried that platform.

 

Tell me about any of your work.

When I first moved to Mumbai, it was the peak of monsoon and I was stranded in heavy rains. During the time, all I could notice was the kai (algae) on the tall buildings of the city. They had accumulated, over perhaps years or months at various buildings and that was astonishing to me. And that was my first painting that I made when I first got to Mumbai. The kai gave me a weird sense of the place, and that is what I put on my canvas, in abstraction. 

 

Which Artist has been your inspiration? 

While studying, I have been fascinated by the story and growth of Artist M.F Husain. I think a bit of his influence has been a part of my journey as a student. But I personally believe that one must know about the others, but never follow them. As artists or as creators we must know ourselves and move as and how we want to.

 

Where do you see yourself heading, in the future?

I want to find myself, have varying experiences and bring them out on the canvas. I have this innate desire to create my own identity as an artist. Post my Masters, I would like to represent my beliefs and my good and bad days on the paper and hopefully everyone will appreciate how far I have come. 

 

 

 

Book Review – Abraham Eraly’s Gem in the Lotus

Abraham Eraly, noted author and historian, first began his history of the Indian subcontinent in 2000. The first book, Gem in the Lotus, begins in pre-Vedic India and ends with the Mauryan Empire. By all accounts, Gem in the Lotus is your typical history book. A plethora of information bundled together from fragments of Proto-Indo-History and a mix of reliable sources from later time; the book is a hefty tome, to say the least.

An Unusual Poetic History of Ancient India

The history of the Indian subcontinent is a puzzling, muddled affair. A quagmire of half-understood facts largely interpreted through the eyes of the many foreigners who have visited it through millennia. Even now, the country’s history is pursued further and further into the past with conclusive evidence stretching back at least six thousand years. But despite being contemporaneous with the Egyptians, the Mesopotamians, even the Greeks, knowledge of Indian history is only partially complete. Since written history is largely missing from Ancient India, the works of foreigners who visited Ancient India like Megasthenes, Scylax, and Fa Hsien (Faxian) are important to our understanding of our past.

Efforts to map and catalogue the history of India has been a constant endeavour. Partly successful, largely unsuccessful, this effort has nevertheless created a somewhat loose picture of our past. It is fragmented in many places, but quite focused in others. This fragmentation is a huge problem when it comes to history. People lose interest in such a history. But efforts have been made over the last few decades to reconstruct a history of India that is coherent and can be understood.

Gem in the Lotus is one such reconstruction. Here, Abraham Eraly has taken the help of the various travelers who had visited and written about the country and compiled their stories into one veritable whole thus presenting a very respectable, and largely complete ancient history of the subcontinent. Where the book shines is in its accessibility. There are no footnotes. All the information (or history) that the reader will enjoy, or seek, is placed in the text itself. There is a substantial bibliography that will help academic folk or readers who want to inquire further.

Following its somewhat biblical opening line, Eraly plunges deep into India’s geological history, rushing hurriedly through the glacial movement of the tectonic plates, establishing India’s geography while also referring to the origins of the island of Mauritius. Eraly also talks about the imaginative cosmographies of Ancient Indians (where Mount Meru is shown to be the Earth’s Axis) and then moves on to use scientific data to present the modern depiction of India’s geography more accurately. Here, the narrative focuses on early man and his rise towards civilization. Methodical in his approach, Eraly sometimes deviates in such instances from a straightforward telling of history to a more speculative, almost lyrical, storytelling of history.

Now, that the narrative is firmly established in the book, and India has been fully formed, Eraly takes on each aspect of the subcontinent’s history that was available to him and depicts their story. He doesn’t shy away from criticizing those who did not show regard for history, even commenting on Indians who (even now) didn’t care enough about their own history to preserve it, or even attempt it.

Eraly uses the Rig-Veda as an important argumentative tool to talk about the Aryan colonization of North India. But even in the Rig-Veda, the past is a forgotten memory because not even the Aryans remember what happened. The rise of Jainism and Buddhism proves such a challenge that even the most powerful gods of the Aryans, like Indra and Agni, later become lower entities against more powerful successors like Shiva and Vishnu.

Without a doubt, the most interesting section for the reader will be about Emperor Ashoka. Aptly named “The Forgotten Emperor,” it covers brilliantly the career of one of India’s most renowned Kings. Although well-known, Ashoka’s reign isn’t as exciting to read about now, after so much of his life has been unearthed. But Eraly is largely unapologetic and dedicated in his depiction of the Emperor, never swaying or becoming emotional even when stating that Ashoka “killed ninety-nine of his brother, sparing only Vitasoka, who later retired to a religious life, perhaps as the best way to save his head,” though he does maintain that, in all fairness, this information may have been a fanciful exaggeration presented in Buddhist texts. Unlike mythical accounts of Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism following the Kalinga War, Eraly presents a more relatable Ashoka who converted to another religion to find answers to the questions within. The Kalinga War did impact Ashoka, but he was already a Buddhist when the war happened; the War simply instilled in him the resolve to never wage any more wars.

On the subject of Greek Travelers who wrote about India, Eraly is largely appreciative of their efforts. Greek travelers like Megasthenes are revered for their contributions to our understanding of Indian history, but equally teased for their fanciful picturization of the land as seen through their eyes. Eraly doesn’t rely solely on the work of historians to create a picture of India. He even takes the help of varied literature from the hymns of Rig-Veda to the plays of Vishakhadatta. The book is littered with the poetry and songs of such works.

One of the highlights of the book is the Incidental Data. At the end of the book, there is a small section of “incidental” information that the author came across during research, and was not made part of the book due to its anecdotal nature. Among these incidental facts, the reader will find many tidbits of information like the fact that the word ‘Om!’ may have been originally nothing more than a spoken word that meant approval; or that the Buddha believed that birth does not make a brahmin, effort does, self-restraint does, and so does temperament.

The book does suffer occasionally due to Eraly’s extensive use of vocabulary. Leisurely readers will definitely find the 600-page tome daunting, even more so considering that it only covers Indian history till the Mauryan Empire. Eraly writes fluidly, never losing the reader’s attention, but some passages, where his fluidity is strained, require a second read. Thankfully, in the overall scheme of things, it is a minor inconvenience. Gem in the Lotus has stood the test of time so far. It is still an excellent book with which one can introduce oneself to the larger nuances of Indian history with ease.

Layers Upon Layers: The Art of the Graphic Novel-Amruta Patil

Junoon was established in Mumbai in 2012 by Sameera Iyengar and Sanjna Kapoor in order to celebrate the arts, its diversity, and to bring to the fore the artists associated with various artistic projects and engagements. 

 

While Junoon conducts a plethora of activities under its umbrella, it also strives toward greater engagement with the people. Mumbai Local is one such initiative that brings together artists and scientists three times a month at three different venues to deliver informative talks about their work. Their sessions are also video recorded and uploaded online. So in case you miss them, you are sure to catch them online. 

 

Layers Upon Layers: The Art of the Graphic Novel by Amruta Patil was one of the sessions for November conducted on 10th November, 2019 at the Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai as part of the Mumbai Local series, initiated by Junoon. Amruta Patil’s talk centred on themes underlining her works, her graphic novels and speaking about her latest work, Aranyaka, which was created in collaboration with Devdutt Pattanaik. 

 

Her presentation was divided into Six Layers as she called them. Through each layer, she explored personal and thematic aspects of her work which provided greater insights into what went into the making of her graphic novels. It was quite eye opening for fans of her work and would have definitely compelled others in the audience to read her works. 

 

Before going into the details of the talk, let us look at her books to get a better sense of her work. Her first graphic novel was Kari which chronicled the life of the eponymous heroine and delved into her relationship with Ruth and her city, Mumbai; though the city is not referred by its name.

 

After this initial book, she turned her attention to mythology and retelling stories. Her second graphic novel, Adi Parva: Churning of the Ocean, is a beautiful retelling of the Mahabharata. Her third book, Sauptik: Blood and Flowers is a sequel to Adi Parva. On the other hand, her latest book, Aranyaka, is a tribute to the Indian forests and Indian rishikas or female hermits. 

 

She began her talk with her first layer, describing the form of graphic novels and calling the medium itself queer. Her definition of this medium is an attempt to address the debate between highbrow and lowbrow literature. Graphic novels are forever stuck somewhere in between the categories of comics and literature. Hence, making the medium itself queer.

 

Her second layer spoke of the use of “Outlier Sutradhars” in her books as a means to “fill the missing gaps in who gets to tell the story.” In the first graphic novel, Kari, the protagonist, Kari, is an outlier in all senses because she is dreamy, hare brained and a lesbian. Her other graphic novels similarly engage with outlier narrators or sutradhars. The only difference is that they are mythic outlier narrators. This brings to focus the need to retell stories and interrogate ideas of who narrates the stories. It is also a part of the very contemporary interest among literary and other scholars to engage with different strands of Indian mythology. Her latter works are similarly involved in such a pursuit. Patil explained how her refashioning of stories not only involved choosing alternate sutradhars but also changing visual representations of characters commonly seen in Indian comics. Through this, she challenges the norms of our imagination and visuality that reflect our deeply embedded stereotypes and prejudices as well. For example, the dichotomy of fair and dark skin is ever present in our comics, advertisements, and movies. Dark skin is equated with evil and fair with goodness. She challenged such representation in her work. She gave the example of the representation of Hidimba in her work and how it was markedly different from how Hidimba has usually been portrayed in comics.

 

Her third layer focused on Prakriti or nature, stating the need to be in sync with the world around you and not to look at nature as something apart, as something to be experienced somewhere far away on a trek in the middle of the Himalayas. She detailed how all of her characters are deeply aware of the surrounding they belong to. She gave an example of Kari who documents the city through her senses and is deeply perceptive of it. 

 

Her fourth layer was a beautiful personal anecdote about how Patil has been bereft of any patronage and lineage in the arts and since there are very few people in India creating graphic novels, there is no literary or artistic heritage that you can look up to or pay tribute to. Thus, she went on her own journey in search of masterpieces and works she could connect and relate with. Through her presentation visuals, she showed the audience examples of how varied her artistic inspiration and tributes have been in her works from Frieda Kahlo to Nicholas Roerich to Indian miniature painting. 

 

Layers five and six described how her characters and artworks merged seamlessly with the world or ecosystem around them in her novels. She draws her visuals in such a way that the characters assert their connection with the ecosystem they are intrinsically part of. 

 

She also spoke at length about other artistic techniques in the talk such as the icon of the prominent elongated eyes (much like the ones painted on Buddhist stupas) used frequently in her novels. Through the emphasis on the eyes, she tries to focus on the idea of “darshan” or really “seeing” someone in totality. 

 

The talk was accompanied by stunning visuals from her graphic novels and their rough drafts, peppered with personal anecdotes and tidbits about the effort that goes into the making of these graphic narratives. Layers Upon Layers: The Art of the Graphic Novel was indeed a well layered session, much like a “baklava”1.

 

Footnote:

  1. https://www.bdlmuseum.org/explore/performances.html

References:

 

 

Close to the Bone

With the labelling of ‘Close to the bone’ as a cancer memoir by the literary world and the rest of it, Lisa Ray challenged this idea by speaking extensively about the trials and tribulations that she had to survive through the traumatic events that encircled her at the beginning of her professional career.

Mahesh began by speaking about the lifetime of work that Lisa put into the creation of this book. To emphasize, she’s lived through different lenses and in different roles, such as that of a model, actor on the big screens and on television and also as a writer. Before responding to the statement made by Mahesh, Lisa showed her gratitude to the audience and appreciated their personality as a bibliophile and was also very glad about the positive reception that her book has gotten from the public. She spoke about the storytelling style of the book and to put it across to the audience that hasn’t really looked into the book, Lisa took out her book and read from it.

Her narration began with a setting that’s homely in nature but it quickly transitioned into a metaphor that created a dichotomy within the life of Lisa, as she was deemed to be a “vamped seductress” and/or “virginal heroine.” The essence of the book lies in the fight to survival that Lisa put up against the bone-chilling ailment of cancer, as it is seen through different perspectives from different parts of the world. The misconceptions that she had had to face in the Indian media as a “diva”, “hottie” and many synonyms that induce and evoke the same promiscuous meaning had to be eradicated. As she recalled an account in which she was told by a fellow model that her looks and her body were to be intact and pretty because at the end of the day the commodity that Lisa was selling in the market was in fact, Lisa. This created an illusory perception of herself as she read from her book, “there was no refuge for me from this casual sexism.”

Mahesh commenced a “therapy session” as he spoke of Lisa’s childhood, specifically at the age of fifteen when she left her home in Canada and travelled alone to Croatia in pursuit of a boy and stayed with people she did not know and lived a nomadic life. A transition occurred when she was in Bombay, infiltrating the industry and its several layers at the age of sixteen. Lisa justified this with the existence of an inner philosophy that “life is for me and not against me.” This is a hereditary thing as she spoke about the nomadic and adventurous lives of her parents, a Bengali brahmin meeting and marrying a Polish woman in the 1960s where it was not only considered an unconventional practice but also one that was frowned upon. Their philosophy was to simply question their culture and “create a new one.”

She spoke about the traumatic incident which took place in Canada a week before the start of her university when her mother had gotten into a life-threatening accident, to say the least, but also at the same time she was being branded as an icon and a model at the other side of the world. Posters of her in bathing suits pervaded the Indian masses and she got offers that would set the trajectory of her life towards the stars occurred at her doorstep at the time her mother’s feet were almost out of the same door. This contradictory situation invoked a sense of quest in her. She wanted to beat the stigmatised version she called “the receptacles of men’s desire” and set out on a quest to unravel herself and the mysteries of her life.

She concluded by stating that though she is perceived as a celebrity, she is a human at the most basic level so she questioned the idea of the book being a celebrity memoir. She spoke of a connection between the mind and the body and how this cannot be quantified but must be delved into and embraced.

 

 

About the Author: A self-proclaimed meme lord that barely makes any but laughs at many, all Vishal Bhadri does is read, listen to music, and cry during both the activities.  Vishal has a poetry blog called Memory Palace that has all of his two poems in it.  He is doing his triple major in Communications, Literature and Psychology at Christ University. He currently writes for TheSeer.

ये रिश्ता क्या कहलाता है – Relationships in Contemporary Hindi Writing

The session ‘ये रिश्ता क्या कहलाता है – Relationships in Contemporary Hindi Writing’, explored the relationship between Hindi and other languages in India as well some undefined uncertain relations the characters form in the stories. The panel had Purushottam Agrawal, renowned Kabir and Bhakti scholar, Mridula Garg, veteran writer in both Hindi and English, and Anukrti Upadhyay, a lawyer turned writer. The panel was moderated by Sourav Roy, journalist, poet, and translator.

 

Sourav began with citing an anecdote from one of Purushottam’s Stories where he quotes a scene from the movie Guide. The villagers question Raju guide in Sanskrit while he answers in English. Both mock each other for not knowing the language each speaks. So Saurav asked, “…in the contemporary world, similar is the situation with Hindi versus English debate and why Hindi, when we have so many other languages too?”. Purushottam had an elaborate answer. Though a Hindi writer, he stressed upon the importance of learning English. “In the present world, one has to be bilingual, per say multilingual to be efficient and sustainable.” He frankly put that a lot of Hindi lovers would criticize him for supporting English but to uplift Hindi one should not disdain English. Usage of Hindi should not be the criterion of being patriotic. At the same time, he was very appreciative of some non Hindi speakers (not having Hindi as their first language) of past to promote Hindi like Raja Rammohan Roy, Ramanand Chatterjee, Subramanya Bharathi, Mahatma Gandhi. He also asserted that imposing a language will not promote it. It will be promoted when people readily use it like Bollywood and advertising industries, though of course for commercial purposes, it’s their voluntary decision. 

 

Mridula said that we should try to build a connection with all the languages we come across rather than belittling any. To the question that how does she choose the language to write in, she said that it’s the language the thought came in.

 

Sourav put in yet another concern that a lot of people in southern India know Hindi but it’s very difficult to find people of north knowing even one of the southern languages. Mridula agreed that it was utter ignorance and laziness that we are not learning them – “we go to French Alliance to learn French but never to Andhra Bhavan to learn Telugu.”

 

Anukrti from her experience of traveling in different countries said that people all around the globe know more than two languages. “A German is proud to say he knows Spanish, English, or any other language. We on the other hand do not even make an effort to learn various languages present in our own country.” Purushottam was quick to add that learning various other languages of our country could be a true sign of national integration.

 

Coming to the second segment of the session, the panel explored the undefined ephemeral relationship that their characters shared in the story. They talked of the relationships beyond the blood relations. For instance, Mridula talked of her story Hari Bindi where two strangers meet in a film theatre and later go for a coffee. Both of them love that experience without fostering any relationship. This is what she calls the beauty of the unknown. She did not forget to satirically put that now a days people have relationship with their phone and forget the people around them. Similarly, Anukrti remembered a story in her book Japani Sarai, where two people of different origins meet at a bar and affect each other so deeply with just a conversation.

 

The session could go on as the relationships around us are innumerous and can be explored endlessly but the clock was ticking and the panel and the audience both had to be content with whatever little they had of this wonderful session.

 

 

About the Author: Bhumika Soni is a literature enthusiast working in the field of data analytics, she has always found words more charming and powerful than numbers. Still searching for The Enchanted Tree created by Enid Blyton to travel to various magical worlds. She currently writes for TheSeer.

Today in Indian SF

This was a session of a different genre, with Gautham Shenoy, a Science Fiction (SF) columnist thanking Bangalore Literature Festival for giving a platform to have this conversation.

The panel comprised of Indrapramit Das (Indra), whose short fiction has appeared in publications including tor.com, Clarkesworld and Asimov’s Science Fiction, Sadhna Shanker, who has penned ‘Ascendance’, a science fiction novel and Sukanya Venkataraghavan, the author of ‘Dark Things’ and editor of ‘Magical Women’. These eminent authors were in conversation with Gautham Shenoy, an SF columnist (#IndianSF#scifi, #comics, #GGMU).

He introduced the panelists and went on to mention that 2019 has been an inflection point, an exceptional year for Indian science fiction. The panelists were optimistically looking forward to all the books coming up, especially the one by Samit Basu in April 2020. They evoke curiosity in the reader.

 

What is changing?

Sukanya gave the example of her journey from authoring Dark Things to Magical Women. When she wrote Dark Things, the question uppermost in her mind was, “Am I the only one writing fantasy?” Later, when she penned Magical Women, she had a community of writers supporting her and thus easing up the path.

 

Indra, having written 4 anthologies and a short future fiction series, spoke about the access to SF magazines and ease of submitting stories to them. He added on, however, that Indian SF has a long way to go before being considerably recognized by the Western world. The challenge is that, unlike other countries like China, there is not enough state support, nor is there is a press/medium dedicated to science fiction. He also felt that Indian publishers do not know how to tap into our audience.

 

Sadhna expressed more optimism on this aspect. “I’m here to stay”, she said. Science fiction just happened for her, and she felt fortunate to be in Bangalore, which is the hub and has a vibrant community. This is in stark contrast to Delhi, where the genre is not taken seriously, especially if it is a lady writing it.

 

Adding on to the optimism, Sukanya’s view was that science fiction is a genre that can generate a lot of interest, hence, properly tapped, it has a lot of potential to be very popular. Gautham responded to these perspectives with a satirical topic for an urban fantasy “Bangalore with pothole-free roads” and had the audience in splits.

 

Has the audience changed?

All the panelists agreed that the audience is gradually increasing, however, there needs to be more visibility to increase readership. Some points they gave are:

  • Publications, newspapers and magazines need to have exclusive columns
  • Writers should not just tweet only when their book comes out, but promote every book as a community
  • Reviewers need to do their bit as well; every review is a step in socializing a book
  • Readers can also write reviews on Amazon, as well as spread the word on social media

 

The audience was eager to know more about the last point, and sources of information about science fiction books. The panelists responded by mentioning #sff, #sciencefantasyfiction and #indiansf.

 

“Is India ready to bring out a Star Trek?” Gautham was ready with his response – it happened long ago; we have had series such as Antariksh, Space city Sigma. Also coming up is Cargo – a movie about the afterlife on a spaceship orbiting the earth, billed as India’s first ‘spaceship sci-fi movie’. The session ended with anticipation of 2020 and the promise of exciting times ahead!

 

 

 

About the Author: Usha Ramaswamy craves to get more creative in addition to being an avid reader, traveller, vlogger, marketer of events, mobile photographer. One day, she wants to write a book but for now, she pens her reflections at her blog and puts up photos on Instagram. She also works as a software process consultant and is a mother of two. She currently writes for TheSeer.

First Novels and Nation Building

Vanamala Viswanatha who is an award-winning translator, working with Kannada and English, introduced the first Kannada novel ‘Indira Bai: The Triumph of Truth and Virtue’ by Gulvadi Venkata Rao who hailed from south kannada region. This novel is about a child called Indira, who gets married at an early age and becomes a widow. It goes on to narrate how she tries to rebel against the four walls of the house, that denies her education. 

 

Shivarama Padikkal, a joint faculty at the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Hyderabad said there were two things opposed by upper caste especially brahmins in late 19th and 20th century, one being novel and the other coffee. There is a lot of literature opposing coffee and novel. The style of writing that was basically pursued during those times was opposed heavily by upper caste people. Also, there is a lot of discussion that revolves over nation and nationalism which the author has expressed in his novel. This novel also describes as to how a nation is conceived and perceived by elite people of the late 19th and 20th century.

 

Indira Bai demonstrates the social reforms and as a woman-centric text, it stages all the major debates of 19th century colonial India such as child marriage, widow remarriage, and women’s education. This novel constructs national identity, regional identity, and the idea of modernity. This book has texts in five languages, namely Kannada, Tulu, Konkani, Sanskrit, and English.

 

 

About the Author: Rohini Mahadevan is a political science graduate and works as a content writer. She likes reading books, drawing, painting, and writing short creative pieces. She currently writes for TheSeer.

Wasted

Manreet Sodhi Someshwar was in conversation with Ankur Bisen during the Bangalore Literature Festival 2019. Manreet Sodhi Someshwar is an Indian author. She is primarily known for her novels ‘The Long Walk Home’ and ‘The Taj Conspiracy‘. Someshwar is an alumnus of Indian Institute of Management Calcutta. She has also served as a sales manager in Gujarat and Mumbai. Ankur Bisen is Senior Vice President of the Retail & Consumer Products division at Technopak. He brings in over 14 years of cross-functional experience in strategy, marketing and business development acquired while working in India, China, and Europe.

 The panel discussion was about the issue of garbage management and sanitation in India. Ankur started off saying Urban India generates close to 3 million trucks of untreated garbage every day. If these were laid end-to-end, one could reach halfway to the moon. He clearly stated that the need for attention to sanitation and cleanliness is both urgent and long-term. He spoke about his book and said that his book takes an honest look into India’s perpetual struggle with these issues and suggests measures to overcome them. 

When Manreet asked Ankur how promising was his content to approach all mass, he replied that historically, we have developed into a society with a skewed mindset towards sanitation with our caste system and non-accountability towards sanitation. Through stories, anecdotes and analysis of events, this book seeks solutions to the current entangled problems of urban planning, governance and legislation, and institutional and human capacity building.

When Ankur was asked to reveal his idea behind naming the book Wasted, he added ‘Wasted‘ traces interesting relationships between urban planning and dirty cities in India; legislative and governance and the rising height of open landfills; the informality of waste management methods, and the degrading health of Indian rivers, soil and air.

 Ankur stated the book is more like an argument that all current solutions of India are extrapolated from flawed beliefs and structures and are therefore woefully inadequate.

Manreet concluded saying Bisen draws a benchmark from clean countries of today. The panel discussion mainly focused on the need for inclusive human clusters, specificity in legislation, correction of existing social contracts creating a formal resource recovery industry in India. It was said that the book is a guide to how these solutions could lead us towards a brighter future and better social development. 

 

About the Author: Bhuvanashree Manjunath is an Engineering student, also an avid reader, poet, and a blogger. She also works as a book reviewer. She currently writes for TheSeer.