Category Archives: Aleph Books

Interview with Sumana Roy

Reading Sumana Roy’s books only make you humble. The magnanimity and scope of her writing will only make you feel small and aspire to perhaps write, imagine and feel like her.

I remember reading, “How I Became a Tree” and it left me stunned and hapless. With her recent work of fiction, “Missing” – I felt so many feelings, that it became kind of difficult to contain them.  You can read my review of the book here

And that’s when I knew I had to interview Sumana to find out more about Missing and its writing process. Hope you enjoy the interview.

missing-by-sumana-roy

What made you write “Missing”? What led to its conception? Did you always have clarity about the plot or did you struggle with it? 

SR: I wanted to see, imaginatively, what might happen if a woman of my socio-economic class left everything and disappeared. I was interested not in the gossip and social repercussions but in the afterlife of love – what happens to those whom we’ve loved and those who love us? How do they continue to live?

The other trigger for writing this was to show the gap between the everydayness of our lives, its joys, and frustrations, and the artificiality of news that condensed time and turned it into noise. I reject news (its current mode of dissemination) and the artificial time of news. I also saw how time had become a very artificial thing in the novel – James Wood has called the last sixty pages (or was it fifty?) the most artificial thing in literature. I was interested in restoring the speed of our life into the novel – moment to moment. There is no climax in our life though we often delude ourselves into thinking of death as life’s climax. Why should the novel have a climax then?

No, I never have any clarity – I love the journey into unknowingness, not knowing where I’ll reach. I’m as clueless as the reader. The writer doesn’t know anything more than the reader – I’m certain about that.

To answer your question about the plot – the plot wasn’t my aim, Vivek. I was interested in communicating the experience of what it might feel to live through those seven days in Siliguri. Woh Saat Din, as it were. I think of the novel as an experience, not as a means of acquiring knowledge (like the writer rewarding the loyal reader with information about the identity of the murderer in a whodunit, for instance).

Kabir’s character is always in the shadows. Almost like he exists on the fringe. Was this intentional? Or did it happen organically as the book progressed? 

SR: I could be completely wrong in my understanding of this, but I have the sense – as an outsider of course, for I don’t have children of my own – that my friends and I were closer to our parents than children are to theirs today. It is also possible that our relationships were more embodied. Even when our relationships were difficult, there was more of ourselves, our bodies, our throats, our hands, our tears and our laughter. Even our indifference, whatever its duration, was visible – the closing of a door, not looking at them in the eye, turning away from them to look at the wall when sharing a bed, and so on. Today, because of technology and the way it has impacted relationships, there are more words, but something is ‘missing’. To use your metaphor of the ‘fringe’, children don’t realize how central they are to their parents’ lives – they choose to keep the parents on the fringe of their lives. Perhaps it was this that I felt when I thought of Kabir? Also, he’s far away, and his search can only be two-dimensional. Even the photograph, in the end, is two-dimensional, of course.

How tough or easy was the transition from writing non-fiction to fiction?

SR: I’d begun writing Missing in July 2012, as some of the events mentioned as news reports in the book were happening. I began writing How I Became a Tree the next year, I think. But it wasn’t really meant to be a book – I was making notes on my phone on my way to work. I began to see the shape of the book much later. I really don’t believe in the presumed distinction between genres. At any given point, I could be reading or working on a poem, an essay, or a story on the same day. For me, it is like having watermelon juice for breakfast, mutton curry for lunch, baingan bharta for dinner. I don’t need to change the settings of my tongue. I suppose, similarly with my mind.

So somehow in the first half, I never took to Kobita. In the second-half, I fell in love with her. Is that how it was supposed to be? Why is she so emotionally distant and yet seems connected? 

SR: But do we ever know Kobita? We presume we do, from recollections and semi-reportages from the people who knew her – husband, son, household staff, a student’s father, and so on. I suppose we’re not meant to see the poetic completely – something is kept away from us, isn’t it? We see her through the prejudices of people (and all of us are prejudiced, even about those we love) – all our impressions of her are formed from what men tell us if you’ve noticed. Her physical distance is turned into emotional detachment in a way that might not have been the case had a man gone on a work-trip leaving his blind wife in the care of household staff.

FB_IMG_1526844848891

Distance, absence, and loss of the self all come at a very high personal cost in the book. At some point was it cathartic for you to write it? Has all of it come from a very personal space? 

SR: All kind of writing is cathartic in some way, I suppose, though everything might not leave us ‘calm of mind, all passion spent’. Yes, it comes from a personal space, as did How I Became a Tree. I suppose I am a very passionate person – I can only write about things that affect me deeply and spiritually. In both, I was interested in the disappearance of the human from social life – whether by transforming into a tree, even on the level of metaphor, or disappearing from family and the familiar.

Nayan as a character, being at the center of it all is always under tremendous pressure. He knows he has to do something – anything at all and yet is always hesitant. At some point, it even felt to me that he didn’t want Kobita back. What does it take to write about such passive-aggressiveness and veiled emotions that can shatter in a moment? 

SR: As you said in your review of Missing, Kobita means ‘poetry’. Nayan is a poet. What could it mean for a poet to find the poetic gone missing from his life? Please don’t think I’m talking about it allegorically. I am not. The artist has a very complicated relationship with his or her chosen art form. A singer is always trying to tame their voice – they never seem to be satisfied. It’s like riding a tiger, a kirtan singer (whom you might know as Bimal-da from the novel) once told me.

I think all relationships are difficult, Vivek – the joy is in finding the right sur. It doesn’t come to us every moment, but when it does, it erases memories of all the tears and all the hard work, the sadhana. The singer smiles when he gets the sur right, the poet smiles though we can’t see it. This is not very different from the smile of the lover who’s loved and been loved back, a moment of synchronicity that justifies all the striving.

What is next on the cards? 

SR: I am trying to write something about the experience of reading.

Your top 5 favourite books and why? 

SR: This keeps on changing. George Eliot, Middlemarch; Amit Chaudhuri, A Strange and Sublime Address; Rabindranath Tagore’s songs (I don’t mean the Gitanjali); Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, Pather Panchali; Bangla poetry – Jibanananda Das, Shakti Chattopadhyay, Buddhadeva Bose (I like his translations of the European poets in Bangla more than I like them in English).

Do you think that the art is separate from the artist or are they interlinked? 

SR: Is that a kind of Yeatsian question – How can we know the dancer from the dance? J

I can perhaps guess the slant of your question, and I’ll be completely honest with you, even if it is not a politically correct answer. I think we live in an age where the artist has become more important than the art – it’s a cult of the personality, and it’s one that I find repulsive. It has taken away attention from the art, from the text and moved the locus to the person – what is this celebrity figure? We’ve forgotten that art was once anonymous. Whether that was a good or bad thing is not for me to say. All I’m trying to say is that we’ve forgotten that. Lok Sangeet – lok, people, people’s songs, composed by people, through generations. The songs are the autographs. They did not need to sign books. I studied in a small town with generous teachers – they were not celebrities of the kind you find in academic mafia circles (I use ‘mafia’ with irony, of course – why would anyone call an academic a don, tell me?). One thing I learnt from them was that everything was in the text and it was from this that I’d need to make my deductions. I continue to read in this way. Funny as it might sound, I try not to look at author photos on the jacket – I don’t want the face of the writer to be on my mind when I’m reading. That is also the reason why I don’t socialise with writers – I write about them often. I don’t want to be writing about a person whose voice I can identify. I want to be immune to everything except the voice in the book.

If you had one book to give to the PM of the country to read, which one would it be and why? 

SR: It’d be a DIY kind of book – the Constitution of India.

What is on your reading stand right now?

SR: Michel Serres, The Five Senses – a book I’ve been reading very slowly; Sonali Deraniyagala, Wave – a gift from a friend, and I’m looking forward to reading it; Debesh Roy, Teestapuran; Rohit Manchanda, In The Light of the Black Sun – a book published in 1996, which I’ve only discovered now.

That’s that then! I cannot recommend “Missing” enough! Please do read it, if you haven’t already.

Sumana Roy is the author of How I Became a Tree, a work of nonfiction, and Missing, a novel. She writes from Siliguri, a small town in sub-Himalayan Bengal.

You can follow Sumana Roy on Twitter:  @SumanaSiliguri

You can buy the book here

Advertisements

The Parrots of Desire: 3,000 Years of Indian Erotica: Edited by Amrita Narayanan

The Parrots of Desire Title: The Parrots of Desire: 3,000 Years of Indian Erotica
Edited by Amrita Narayanan
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
ISBN: 978-9383064090
Genre: Literary Fiction, Erotica, Anthology
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

If anything, we have to acknowledge that we are the land of the Kamasutra – the ancient and divine art of lovemaking and that would perhaps be the first step toward a more progressive future than a regressive one. This thought came to mind after I finished reading yet another supremely brilliant anthology from Aleph Book Company, “ Parrots of Desire: 3,000 Years of Indian Erotica”, edited by Amrita Narayanan. Amrita Narayanan is the one who has written “A Pleasant Kind of Heavy and other Erotic stories” which I loved, so I wasn’t surprised when I loved this anthology.

According to me, it takes a lot to edit an anthology. It isn’t as easy as it seems. To be able to pick the right pieces that fit with the theme is a lot of intelligence, empathy and hard-work at play, which reflects in this collection, maybe more so because it is erotic. It does what it must – the pieces liberate, titillate, make you want to engage in erotica, they make you want to be with someone in bed and explore each other’s bodies and maybe even read pieces from this collection today, before or after coitus.

The entire book is divided into 12 sections – right from why bother with sex to the art of seduction to men’s wish to be women (that’s India for all the regressive people) right to suspicion and confusion when it comes to bodies, Narayanan’s selection of pieces is also unique. The book covers parts of Kamasutra (but obviously) and writers such as Nagarkar, Kamala Das, Ismat Chughtai (Lihaaf but of course), Tarun Tejpal, Tagore, and so many more make this collection delightful.

What I found amusing at times was the looks I got on a bus or also while travelling in a rickshaw, at a signal as I was reading this one. Perhaps only when it generates curiosity will people bother to read and educate themselves on the art of erotica and love-making and not see it as a taboo.

As I said earlier, this collection wouldn’t have been what it is if not for the editor. Props to Narayanan for tracing erotica in India to 3000 years ago and collecting it piece by piece for this anthology. The writing is only richer because of the pieces and also the varied kinds of emotions – sexual and sensuous that are evoked through it. Read it for sure. Tease yourself a little. Give in to desire.

365 Stories: Day 7: Sandalwood by Tejaswini Apte-Rahm

these-circuses-that-sweep-through-the-landscape-by-tejaswini-apte-rahm

Sometimes a story just does nothing for you. Sometimes it does so much that you cannot handle it. Tejaswini Apte-Rahm’s story “Sandalwood” falls in the latter category. An unnamed narrator, a lady is told by her husband that he is homosexual after 17 years of their marriage. They have two teenage kids. He has decided that she cannot live with them anymore and that his partner Chandan (Hindi for Sandalwood) is moving in with them. The children also want to live with their father. Thus begins the story. There are no spoilers. So don’t you worry.

Apte-Rahm’s writing is brilliant. It doesn’t cut corners. It says what it has to and is stark and clean – like a knife after being cleaned. I loved the narrator. I wish there was more from her perspective – sure it seemed enough, considering it is a short story but more could have been said. Inner lives and thoughts are well-handled by the author and I love that in a good story.

Book Review : Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer by Cyrus Mistry

Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer by  Cyrus Mistry Title: Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer
Author: Cyrus Mistry
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
ISBN: 9788192328058
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are so many books to read. It will always be the case I guess. And then there are some books which you never thought you would read and end up reading them and loving them with a passion. There are also some books which you discover a little late and then wonder why you didn’t discover them earlier. For me, “Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer” by Cyrus Mistry is one such book.

It is about the world that we ignore. It is about societies and communities we overlook because it suits us fine to do so. And this has been going on for ages and the book only covers a portion of that discrimination.

“Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer” is about a marginalized society in the Parsi Community – that of the corpse bearers, known as the Khandias, the untouchables of the community. The son of a Parsi priest, Phiroze Elchidana, falls in love with Sepideh, the daughter of an ageing khandia. He marries her and agrees to change to a khandia. That in short is the plot of the book, and yet there are so many layers to it.

For one, the book is set on the verge of Pre-Independence India and in Bombay, a city bustling with activity and a community so small and so ridden with their customs and traditions, like any other community. Mistry with his writing has brought to life the very core of life – its hypocrisy, and the double standards we live by.

The writing is slow and takes its time to reveal what lies underneath. The characters behave the way they are meant to – from Phiroze to his father to Sepideh; there is this edge and restraint, both in good measure to them. I also think that comes from Mistry knowing the Parsi community inside out, of course, so you would expect a story by him based on the caste structure practiced there, with all the finer details. More so, because the story is inspired from a true story, it rings and stays with the reader a lot more than it would have otherwise.

To me, “Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer” not only brings to light the marginalized structure of the society but also, somehow makes you think and connect with lives at a deeper level. It is a book which will make you seek more books written on such topics and that says a lot about the author and his writing.

Affiliate Link:

Buy Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer from Flipkart.com

Interview with Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik

Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik and Modern Management infused with Mythological concepts seem to go hand in hand. He has always been at the forefront of exploring and breaking paradigms when it comes to looking at Mythology in the country or for that matter Management as well. With his new book, “Business Sutra: A Very Indian Approach to Management” he shatters all myths and at the same time urges you to look at management from a different perspective. The Indian perspective which cannot work sometimes on Western ideologies given the vast difference between Eastern and Western philosophies. Keeping this in mind, I decided to interview him and this is the result of that interaction.

Business Sutra by Devdutt Pattanaik

1. Myth and Management. How did you think of connecting the two?

Myth is subjective truth. Management is about people. Every person has a subjective truth. So connecting the two made sense. Of course, if you think of myth as something to do with fantasy and religion then this connection seems incredible. Myths of the world are maps of the human mind; they reveal how different cultures approach life. Reading them helps us understand different societies.

People are slowly realizing that management has long ignored the culture lever making it rather
mechanistic.


2. Modern concepts of Management do not seem to recognize Mythology and its importance. How do you tackle this in your role as a Chief Belief Officer?

Modern management is based on science and mathematics. So it is assumed to be rational and universal. Only an outsider knows that it is steeped in Western thought, which is strongly shaped by Greek mythology and biblical mythology, something the West will vehemently deny. You see, the fish never sees the water. The bird does. As someone who has been studying mythology for years, this was so obvious. When I mapped it to business, I realized all the problems of business could be traced to this mythical root. When I presented it to business leaders, the ones who always sensed the difference intuitively loved my work. Then at the 2009 TED conference, the popularity of my talk indicated that everyone in the world sensed the relationship of culture and management principles, hence the exclusion of non-western cultural ideas.

Image 2 (1600 x 1066px)

3. What was the motivation behind “Business Sutra”?

Modern Management follows the biblical paradigm of defining the Promised Land (target) and moving towards it by following Commandments (tasks) or the Greek paradigm of challenging authority and forging a new path as hero (innovation and leadership). I wondered what Indian mythology would reveal. And I saw a whole different approach to targets, tasks, innovation and leadership.

4. This book is very different from your other works. How much did the book take from you and in what sense?

This was tough as it meant making a journey from Western management to Western mythology to Indian mythology to Indian management. I had to explain basics of management to those familiar with mythology and basics of mythology to those familiar with management. Mythology was especially tough as most books on the subject are written by European and American writers whose understanding of the subject is rather poor because of the Western linear bias.

5. You have almost created a niche audience for mythological books. How do you think they are accepting a book about looking at Indian Management differently?

I have a good readership in Management because of my columns in Corporate Dossier (Economic Times) and my CNBC-TV18 show, Business Sutra.

Image 14 (1600 x 1004px)


6. “Business Sutra” breaks barriers all the time. Almost breaking paradigms. Was this intentional to the writing of the book? How did the book structure come along?

Well I did not seek to break barriers. I just wanted to draw attention to the incompleteness of current scholarship in matters related to management. Management today assumes that the military model followed by the Roman army and Jesuit missionaries is the ‘right way’ to do things. That sounds scary. At the heart of it seems to be about conquest (read growth) and domination (read leadership).

Something does not feel right about its spirit. Is an alternative discourse allowed? We want to propagate violent worldviews and there is a trend to dismiss alternate worldview as unrealistic and exotic. That is not healthy and not very wise either.

Structuring the book was very tough as I had to explain the meaning of belief, connect belief with mythology and then business, draw attention to Western mythology whose existence is for all intent and purposes denied, and then show how it was different from Indian mythology. One then had to enter the new world of Kama, Yama, Indra, Vishnu, Shiva and Daksha, and of Laskhmi, Saraswati and Durga. While most readers are sort of familiar with many of the words/ideas of the book, they do not either all the words, or understand it in depth. So there were challenges at every level.

6. Devdutt, the writer…

Writes every day for 2-3 hours…weeps at how little or how badly he has written….and struggles to make his ideas understood.

7. Devdutt, the Chief Belief Officer. How does he make sense of madness at the workplace? Where do the sutras then begin to show the way and how?

The workplace is not mad. We sign a contract which is essentially voluntarily domestication. For a payslip we do what we are told to do. But as humans we yearn for visibility; the organization is unfortunately not interested in our intelligence, only our obedience and our performance. So we feel invisible, restrained, frustrated and angry. We yearn for freedom and when that is not forthcoming, we
bitch about the organization, or indulge in politics, in order to feel special and powerful.

The sutras of the book aim to widen the gaze of the reader, understand what is actually happening at the workplace, the invisible currencies that are being exchanged. It is not just about target, tasks, rules and wealth, it is also about power and identity, something we rarely connect with the business world.

A workspace can become a battleground, if we don’t see what is happening beneath the superficial behaviour. Or, it has the potential to become a playground, where each one of us is growing as we do our tasks and reach our targets.


8. When does management begin and when does it take over what we have grown up with and believed all along?

Management today expects humans to give up all values they have at home and adopt new values in the office. This sounds bizarre but that seems to be trend. The assumption is that we have to articulate values; else we are value-less. We live in an age of political correctness where we have to say and do the right thing, whether we believe in it or not. This schizophrenic approach to work and life is supposed to make us more efficient, but it does not. It fractures us and the fault lines have started to show across organizations, industries and societies.

9. What is next on the cards?

I never interview and tell….:-) but we do have 330 million gods to write about and many more business practices to explore.

And thus ended, the fascinating talk with Dr. Pattanaik. It was truly a fantastic experience for me.

Affiliate Link:

Buy Business Sutra : A Very Indian Approach to Management from Flipkart.com