NATURE IN PERIL
How long the Nature will hold out and will not let us down? Why is tiger population shrinking in our country? Is self publishing more reliable than sending your stuff to publishers and wait eternally only to have it rejected? If Tolstoy, Pamuk, Oe, Szymborska, writing in their mother tongue, could be familiar all over the world, then why some of our highly evolved writers writing in vernacular are still unknown and therefore sadly underrated?
These are some of the topics that were debated and dissected over in the 2nd Annual Mussoorie International Writers Festival (7 Oct to 11 Oct) at Woodstock with 25 published authors from Australia, USA, Singapore, London and India and students from Doon school, RIMC, Welham, Woodstock and Tibetan Home Foundation School participating.
After the welcome address by David Laurenson, Principal of Woodstock School, and the introductory remarks by K Desiraju representing Govt. of Uttarakhand, the festival opened with a book release function at the lawn of Hanifl Centre: Freedom’s Child by Chandralekha Mehta, elder sister of reputed author Nayantara Sahgal who was present on the occasion. It’s a memoir that chronicles her growing up at a critical moment in India’s history. “I tried to capture the nuance of that long vanished age”, said Chandralekha.
The photographic exhibition of wonderful Uttaranchal landscapes, birds and of celebrated writers from that area, at Hanifl centre, by S F Ahmed, A Naurial and S Khullar, drew a large crowd.
In the first session titled ‘Writing about Nature’, Ullas Karanth, wildlife ecologist, basically a conservation scientist and Director of Tigers Forever at the centre for Wildlife Studies in Bangalore, talked on tiger preservation. It’s the decline of prey’s species rather than the poachers that has contributed to the shrinking number of tigers. At least an area of 15 sq km is needed to raise 3 cubs. Conservation is more a political decision than otherwise, he said.
Bill Aitken, the renowned travel writer, took the microphone next: “When I climb Landour’s slopes to meet my literary guru Ruskin Bond, I revel in the heartsease I share with him over the arching trees we have grown up with for fifty years. Faithful companions, their roots anchor the hillside while the canopy provides shade to Mussoorie writers-- as well as their publishers and book sellers. The message, at least to a writer, seems clear: If you must have shady companions, let them be trees.”
Mukul Sharma, a Senior Editor with The Times of India, who’s ‘an agnostic teetering on atheism’, spoke brilliantly on topics ranging from recreational mathematics and spirituality.
In the last session on the first day, poets from Uttarakhand: Narendra Singh Negi, Leeladhar Jaguri and Maglesh Debral were introduced by Padmashri Sekhar Pathak. The poems they read out touched the chords of the appreciative audience.
On the second day, Gabrielle Walker, award-winning science writer, who explored the coldest region on earth, swam in the Amazon, climbed trees in rain forest, and Gretel Ehrlich, Nature writer, poet, who visited Greenland more than once, enthralled the audience at Parker Hall, talking about their Polar Journeys.
The Antarctic has all the secrets of big bang buried in there. In the middle of the winter it’s -890C. Ice is more than 3 km thick. The deeper you go the older the ice you find. It’s the only way to calculate the age of the earth. Now there’s too much carbon heating up the earth giving rise to Green House gas. Ice is melting faster than ever. If the sea level goes up and up, places like London, Bombay, Bangladesh, New York are likely to vanish under the water soon. North Pole is frozen sea, no land there at all. But it’s drier than the Sahara desert! Yes, the South Pole contains land, almost a circle, isolated from the rest of the world. It’s the natural air conditioner on earth. Arctic ice has shrunk by half in just 15 years as a result of carbon emissions. The most miraculous stuff on earth is air which is born here. We live submerged in the ocean of air. It’s only who sees takes off the shoes.
In a discussion about editors and publishers at Media Centre, Woodstock Campus, Ritu Menon, co-founder for Kali for Women, and now publisher, Women Unlimited, said that theirs a publishing for social change. She stressed on precision and the danger of overstatement. One has to hammer home the message. She talked about the catastrophe that confronts the climate, about the tribal land appropriated by the Govt. for development. She said her publishing house wanted to be a small link in the chain of movement to generate a ripple effect.
Shamini Flint, whose crime fiction novels are to be published by the big publishing house Little, Brown in 2009, brought a whiff of great energy into the discussion. She said one can avoid standard rejections that sap the spirit, and go for vanity publication where one is at liberty to use recycled papers and actually get a bigger margin, but the stack at the backroom can be very depressing. The distribution, the reach, the way of getting books into a shop that’s what worries a self publisher.
Despite all this, Flint managed to make some money through self publishing. Her Sunbear Publishing House is still there, and doing brisk business. She publishes her own books when she does not find another publisher. Flint does not want the publisher to control what she writes. Moreover, some publishers take a long time to respond and this process of waiting involves frustration.
Neeta Gupta representing Yatra Books in collaboration with Penguin said: We publish creative writing and works in translation. We’ve so far during the last four years published some 50 books in Hindi, Marathi and Urdu. The ultimate translator’s tool is dictionary which will be published soon. A course in translation, said she, should also made compulsory.
In the fiction reading session at Vera Marley Library, Shamini Flint, Malaysian born who writes from Singapore, read out from Seeds of Time, an environmental fantasy. Its about a whale that swam up the Thames. Shamini has a knack of reaching the deeper layers of a child’s urges. Whatever she said was lapped up by the adults and the children alike.
According to Ken Spillman, a well-known Australian author, story telling is not something special. Every one of us has that power ingrained in us. The important tool a writer has is his/her sense, the receptor.
Now it was the turn of I Allan Sealy, a writer of great gifts. Introducing the story of his choice he said: “It’s basically a series of city in noir collections. This is the Delhi one. What happened was that each writer’s given the choice of a particular suburb, locality in which to set his crime. Mine takes place on a ridge. It’s roughly where the Delhi University is.” The story is told in the voice of an auto rickshaw driver. Sealy’s words wove a world of suspense, crime and mystery, taking the audience with him to the heart of the place where the actual crime happened.
The much-awaited poetry reading took place under the famed Lyre tree. Sampurna Chatterji, poet, translator, fiction writer who situates herself in the cacophonous world and makes sense out of it, recited some of her poems like Mother & Daughter: A Duel, Object Lessons from her debut collection “Sight May Strike You Blind” which carries an introduction by none other than Keki N Daruwalla.
Gieve Patel, one of India’s most distinguished poets, usually works on a poem for years. But one poem came and he hardly had to change anything. The poem ‘Killing a Tree’ was inspired by a huge peepul tree uprooted in monsoon blizzard. It’s prescribed for study in school. “I’ve lots of kids coming up to me. What’s the moral, they ask, what’s the hidden meaning? Horrifying questions! Was I writing a conservation piece, warning people not to kill? It was just a response…” Patel recited particularly those poems born out of his being a medical practitioner like Post Mortem, Hill Station, Just Stretch Your Neck, The Multitude Comes to the Man etc.
On 9 Oct, Advaita Kala read out from her maiden novel: Almost Single. It’s now in its sixth print. She started with a disclaimer: The heroine in the novel is not me! The adhoc selections for reading she made resonated with the audience.
Anita Jain read out from her memoir: Marrying Anita, an under-explored genre in India. In response to a question regarding the danger of writing about someone who is shown in a negative light in the book, Anita said: “People are actually dying to be written about…”
Later, at Woodstock farm, Sampurna chatterji talking on the mystery and madness of translation recounted how difficult it was to retain some of the originality through translation which was for her a kind of reverse journey, when she felt something was lacking in the existing translation. She recalled how the dark, imagistic surreal images in Joy Goswami’s poetry drove her to the wall. The rule is: “Possess the text not kidnap”.
Ira Pande, writer, translator, Chief Editor of the Publications Division of the India International Centre, stole the limelight with her graceful exposition on how to keep intact through translation the visual memory of a word which’s the greatest challenge. Her advice was: Get rid of the vanity of a writer. You’re just like a medium. The original author is speaking through you. What has killed translation in India is the presence of the official translator who lacks the emotional depth and the sense of music that reverberates in the original. Writers like Tolstoy, Pamuk…— the translation of their works has brought them to the doorstep of readers all over the world, whereas the works of our writers of the same calibre writing in vernacular are relatively unknown…
At the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, next day, Mukul Dev, from the second oldest profession in the world (Army) read out from Salim Must Die (releasing in Jan’09). It’s all about terrorist strike and the chin-wagging politician. Answering a question on terrorism he said: Terrorism is not solved with military. The responsibility lies with the civil administration. Any lack on the part of intelligence will always lead to disaster. The terrorist has the latitude. He is going to get you somewhere.
Poet Bruce Berger, a poet of great distinction, specializes in desert setting. He started with a poem titled “Transmigration” which he recited from the heart. It’s on the black spot, the Death Valley somewhere in California. He captured the heart of the audience with poems on money (money is mysticism), how to look at desert sunset, and on the way the water flows and the writing moves.
The event on the last day was all about tips for creative writing. Geoff Page, the renowned Australian poet, after reciting some of his interesting animal poems, said: If you want to learn the business, art, craft of writing, you must keep your eyes and ears open for ideas from dream, newspaper, conversation … everywhere. Idea happens but the work is hard, for the poem does not happen easily. You need to revise, revise and revise to make them better and better.
Advaita Kala, the young novelist said that she grew up reading Ruskin Bond stories and stressed on the need of keeping a diary.
Shamini Flint had the children on their feet when she narrated her story. At the end, she had this advice for the budding writers: Don’t do a book for a reason. Think about your life. If you find a moment straight from the core of your heart, eventually it’ll come out the other side…
Stephen Alter, writer of international repute, also the main organizer of this writers’ festival, said that the intention of the lit-fest was not to restrict itself just to Woodstock but to see that it spread right across the country. -- SWAPAN K BANERJEE
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