My Rite to Read

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Author Interview with Rahul Pandita (2011)


In my online interview with Mr. Rahul Pandita for another blog, he offered quick insight on his second book Hello Bastar. Associate editor with the Open Magazine, he is the co-author of The Absent State: Insurgencies and the Indian State, and has over the years, extensively covered conflict ridden zones from Bastar to Baghdad. Hello, Bastar has been hailed as a most compelling read about India’s Naxalite Movement today, and I was glad to have attended the book launch in Delhi's July of 2011. 

Also available as Ebook

1. What is India’s Naxalite Movement and what about it concerns you the most?

Well, it’s too difficult to talk about India’s Naxalite movement in an interview, but let me put it this way: it stemmed out of people’s anger, out of their genuine grievances. You see, what happened is that India set itself free from its colonial masters, but for the poor nothing really changed. Isn’t it a tragedy that while we are vying for a permanent seat in the UN, a majority of our people go to bed hungry! That is why the Naxal movement is spreading because more and more people are being left out of the India shining story. And that is what should be of concern to all of us.

2. When did the idea for “Hello, Bastar” germinate?

I have been covering the Maoist insurgency for many years now. I have travelled extensively through the Maoist-affected areas and reported on the lives of the poor and the marginalised adivasis. Most of the literature available on the Maoist movement talks of 1967 when Naxalbari erupted, but there is hardly any material available on what happened when the Maoist guerillas entered Bastar for the first time in 1980, creating this huge movement that New Delhi now terms as India’s biggest internal security threat. Also, most of the literature is too academic. I thought it is important to tell the story now, and I have written this book for an ordinary reader who often wonders what the hell is happening in his backyard.

3. As a journalist, you have travelled the great central geography of India’s Naxalite regions. Have you always known the stories you were after, or have you been stupefied by your findings often enough?

No, I mean, even after years of travelling in these areas, what I see sometimes leaves me dazed for days. This whole area is completely neglected. I have seen families who eat once in two days. It is shocking.

4. How long did you research for “Hello, Bastar”?

Like I said, I have been covering the Maoist insurgency for long now. But in all for the book, I’ve worked really hard for about two years.

5. Does your title suggest a more “friendly” experience with the Bastar Culture?

The title is basically a reference to about 45 Maoist guerillas who entered what is known as Dandakaranya—comprising parts of Bastar, Maharashtra and Andhra—in seven squads in 1980. They had no idea of Bastar; they didn’t know the language. And there was a lot of exploitation of the poor adivasis at the hands of businessmen and petty government officials. And they changed the whole scenario there. So “Hello, Bastar” refers to these squads who entered Bastar for the first time. It is their story, and of their other comrades.

6. Where did you halt during your travels?

I have halted at different places, depending on circumstances. Sometimes I have stayed in small lodges. Sometimes in adivasi huts. Sometimes in a school. Sometimes in the middle of a scary jungle. Last time I was in Bastar, we found a huge poisonous snake next to where we would sleep. The Maoist guerillas killed it immediately.

7. Who was the most impacting Maoist leader you’ve met and why?

The senior-most Maoist leader I’ve met is their supreme commander Ganapathi. I am the only journalist from mainstream media to have met him in person. There are other leaders as well, but it is best not to talk about them.

8. How much is religion a part of your identity as a writer/journalist?

It’s a timely question. (For a more detailed response, read this.)

9. Any role models from books you’ve read?

I am a big Naipaul fan, and that of Ryszard Kapuscinski.

10. What will your next project be?

My next project is a memoir about growing up in Kashmir.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Modern, Eclectic Horror Stories

The best horror stories are subtle surprises. Granta's Horror edition makes another bid for ghost territory: old-age, love, foreignness, noise. Horror is imagination retching up the old universe of possibilities and constraints. Granta came out with this gripping anthology of fiction and poetry that may not quite send you screaming into the night, but would leave you with a leaf or two from the grayer shades of existence. Several of these are from contemporary American writers I grew up on. Straddling the undercurrents of friendship, belonging, creation and rape, these tales haunt you from the margins. Although these short stories were not (graphically) horrific as I had imagined, they enjoy a velocity, compression and pace that's probably best enjoyed in solitude/silence/in the dark. Paul Aster's "Your birthday comes and goes" was a particular favourite, for the shadow he throws on growing old and losing people older than you in your oldage. Aster has etched out oldage with a sincerity and longing, rare seen in modern (Western) writing. Going by the rules of this genre as set out by Granta's Horror edition, I would go on to conclude that The Hours could very well be described as my favourite horror flick. All in all, this volume is a spooky pleasure read that lingers.

Ps- This is a post-dated review written last year at about the same time, which rather than delete, I post belatedly

Saturday, January 26, 2013

An Ebook Wing for every Independent Bookshop/ Posterise the Ebook

This article in The Globe and Mail, made me nod in agreement and familiarity, and so I present an excerpt:
I have been this 'good citizen' for far too long, this new year's resolution for me was to stop buying physical books; I want to normalise ebook culture.
For such bookstores as in the article, digital is the only way forward. Ebooks can only become the profit making wing of such independent bookstores, and something that these bookstores should ambitiously capitalise on. There should be book hubs, where all kinds of ereaders are sold along with ebooks. Gadgets should complement the e/books. In house customer service would create employment in  these ehubs within bookstores at the very least. Where do you find such pools of technically skilled workers? Everywhere, in mobile shops, SIM card booths, internet cafes, telephone service providers/kiosks, everywhere. Even technology could never rob a bookstore of its pristine charm, if that's our cultural memory/fear of it. The idea is to commodify/'make live' the ebook as much as its print counterpart has been all these years. Seperate the ebook from the internet; the ebook is as physical as it gets and not just a virtual entity in clouds. What better place to clarify this than at a bookstore, the shopfront? Whatever happened to the good old USB stick stocked with all the latest bestsellers?  

Every retailer is going to sell this differently. But if publishers are beginning to have their own 'digital agenda', I don't see why bookstores should lag behind on this front. This begs collaboration of course. 

Questions that bother me:
How many people are buying ebooks from retailers websites? (Landmark, Crosswords, etc.) Worldwide?
How many are buying ebooks from Amazon in certain countries? Worldwide? 
How are local online retailers doing with ebook sales? (What about publishers' online sales? minimal, I know, but still)
Isn't there a better marketing strategy (or market) for PDF format (non-ereader specific) ebooks?

And this one is not a question really, but how many independent bookshops are there in the country? (There are a ton of online retailers, but what about physical bookshops).