Category Archives: Author Event

Events! Tomorrow!

(Without a word of apology for the unannounced hiatus!)

Friday the 17th of May, 8 pm, at Urban Solace:

Meet Bangalore Writers workshop at Urban Solace!

Meet Bangalore Writers workshop at Urban Solace!

 

Yes? Yes.

Bangalore Writers Workshop (BWW) is a unique, effective, and interactive method of bringing a group of writers together and allowing them to study the craft of writing while simultaneously receiving constructive feedback on their own work. BWW runs intensive creative writing workshops with small groups in Bangalore.

 

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Lekhana: Day One

(This should actually be titled “Lekhana: A Literary Weekend – bits of Day One”, but that looks weird.)

The events started at 5 pm, but I walked in at 6 (or so), thus missing the inauguration and the recitations. I did catch most of the panel discussion:

“The City in Literature”

with MK Raghavendra moderating for KR Usha, Anjum Hasan, Saniya and Zac O’Yeah.

I must admit that I’m a little biased against the panel subject – I feel like there’s a lot that’s been said about cities that we’ve heard or read already. Somehow, undirected discussions about the city seem to miss the actual people in the city, treating the city like they are self-embodied things of concrete, dust and ethereal culture.

(Also, everytime I see KR Usha [whom I do love, in a wholesome sort of way] in a group discussion, she is talking about the city. Author typecasting!)

To sum up:

KR Usha talked about how fast Bangalore is changing, and how one evokes a city not through its buildings but through the quality of life and experiences of its people.

Zac O’Yeah finds Bangalore constant change disconcerting, but does find that the action sequences in a Kannada movie seem like they can only happen in Bangalore.

Anjum Hasan enquired whether it really is necessary to write about a place, whether the characters of that place are aware of themselves in connection with their location or not.  She reminded us (via Flaubert) of the displacement that is sometimes necessary to write about a place authentically, and asked, Why should we write about Bangalore? Sometimes we don’t have to!

KR Usha said that the panel topic limited the discussion a bit  and talked about Nabokov, who felt that an over-adherence to realism in placement is fruitless, and can lead away from the central objective of a novel, which is to describe the human condition. “But the modern novel needs context!” Conundrum.

Zac O’Yeah said that all this aside, one must still try to grapple with the city, as a way to show one’s love for the place, to create, to evoke an image of the place that you love.

MK Raghavendra said that “evoke” was the crucial term here – one must evoke a place, not necessarily describe it, in order to bring it to life.

Anjum Hasan admitted that she – after all – prefers the highly descriptive novel, but still loves, for instance, Jane Austen, who never really spent much time physically describing a place, but rather the mindset of her characters, evoking the culture of their times.

I didn’t take detailed notes for the Q&A session, partially because I was sitting next to a guy (a reporter?) who took notes and grunted/exclaimed his agreement and disagreement with everything that was said. It was distracting, and extremely annoying. But in all, the audience – the part that talked – seemed in agreement that Bangalore rarely leaps alive off the pages, that Bangalore is in transition, that Bangalore is not in frictionless coexistence with Bengaluru, tat maybe Bangalore/Bengaluru need not be enshrined in a single moment after all, despite how well people like Dickens managed to enshrine the dirtier bits of London, that Bangalore was once a series of villages with a strong located culture, that we have a unique weather.

Then there was a play.

Five Grains of Sugar

By Manav Kaul

(translated by Arshia Sattar)

Munish (I’ve forgotten his last name!!) plays Rajkumar, the “ordinary fellow” who talks to the audience for an hour about his life in order to explain his one, single problem. Ranjkumar’s simplicity and self-aware ordinariness and self-declared happy life contrasts with his rather lonely existence, dictated as it is by his small circle of family and friends.

Rajkumar is exaggeratedly simple, exaggeratedly ordinary. I’m not an avid theatre-goer (is that the term)? I suspect I’d’ve preferred to read Rajkumar’s heavy-handed monologue. Some of Munish’s actions on the stage seemed a bit heavily scripted, and one knew before hand when certain reveals were going to take place (penultimately). But Munish played this rather one-note character with surprising charm, keeping the audience engaged and interested for most of his hour.

I suppose the play is about the invisible possibilities for art in the seeming banalities of life. Rajkumar’s headaches concerning poetry, how to understand it, how to create it and how to manifest it weave together – for his audience but not for him – his life amongst the people he loved and who may or may not have loved him back. Art remains the (unappreciated) reward for Rajkumar’s average life, and he seems rather overly cheered to be done with it for good.

The play ends beautifully – one feels a bit as if the entire hour has been crafted for that last minute – and I don’t think any of us regretted the hour.

(I think I knew Munish when we were in school together. That part was strange. Irrelevant to this post, but strange.)

I’m hoping I’m in time for tomorrow – I intend to be there the entire day, though I might not attend everything. Here’s the schedule – maybe you’ll find something you’d like to see?

Lekhana – The Bangalore Lit Fest 2012!

So the Bangalore Lit Fest has been in the works for a while now, and finally the schedules are out, the logo is done, there are handy links I can handily link you to the website, which among other things, says:

Dear friends in the Bangalore literary community

We are delighted to announce that Toto Funds the Arts, Sangam House, Deshakaala and Reading Hour along with the National Gallery of Modern Art, have come together to organise Bangalore’s first literary weekend, Lekhana.

The dates are February 10, 11 and 12, 2012 and the venue is the NGMA on Palace Road.

The theme for the weekend is “The City.” There will be panel discussions, readings by local writers and by those from more distant lands, performances and a dedicated Lekhana bookstore at Smriti Nandan. And there are contests in writing and photography for young people as well…

Do join us as we bring together the many writers and the many literary cultures and languages that inhabit the city.

Admission is free and open to all.

… and also to the schedule, which is chock-full of city-style things you might want to be a part of!

Author Event: Minal Hajratwala at Swabhava

photo credit Bob Hsiang

 

Minal Hajratwala is in Bangalore for a few weeks – we mostly know her as the editor for Queer Ink‘s forthcoming 2012 Queer Ink Anthology (also here). I cannot currently remember who took dreadful advantage of whom, but Vinay (the guy who runs-manages-GrandViziers Swabhava/Good As You ) spread the word and a bunch of us gathered to meet her today (actually, by the time this gets posted, yesterday) at the Swabhava office.

Hajratwala’s Leaving India: My Family’s Journey From Five Villages To Five Continents explores her family’s

Excerpts from *Leaving India*

multigenerational movement across the world, contextualising her self against this century of transplantation and settlement.  It’s won at least four awards (one of them a Lammy!). Hajratwala is currently in India for research for her next novel and for her poetry – more on those later.

It rained quite spitefully on the latecomers today, but we began (mostly) on time. Hajratwala read out an excerpt from Leaving India, a section pertaining to herself and her early adulthood – Feminism, Queerness (“Feminism is the theory, lesbianism the practice.”) and the like. She’s not my favourite sort of reader – her tone remains too even – but she has a clear and soft voice. All in all, very pleasant.

Questions! Answers!    :

  • Hajratwala spent eight years (instead of the projected two) researching and writing this book. Her extended, very close-knit family is spread out over nine countries. She has thirty-five first cousins, and knows all their names – an impressive feat in and of itself. The book, in some senses, is her way of understanding the sheer scale of diaspora and finding a place for herself within it.
  •  Writing the novel changed her; it rebuilt her relationships with the family, allowed her time, conversation, communication with an older generation that would not necessarily spend time taking a young woman and her questions seriously. Diasporic narratives and histories have to encompass an extraordinary amount of movement: “It is the central trauma of our lives.” In some ways, it is the role of the queer family member, to have that displacement away and reconciliation back to the traditional family home – it gives the writer a dual, insider/outsider perspective.
  • The section in Leaving India which is about herself was written first, and partly as a response to the “naked honesty” she was getting from the people she talked to. She came out to her extended family on a case by case basis, and for the most part all is well. (She did remind us that it’s easier to be proud of a “famous lesbian” in the family rather than a boring old “regular lesbian”.)
  • Blogs! She likes blogs. (Who doesn’t?) They give you a personal space to write anything you choose, without an editor overseeing the process. You can control who sees your words and who doesn’t. It can be a space to have your private, intimate voice “connect to some bigger thing out there”. (She had contact with the damascusgaygirl hoaxer: See this and this.)
  • The Queer Ink Anthology! Queer Ink is going to be one of the first queer publishing houses in South Asia, and this anthology is going to give us stories that haven’t been heard before. About ten percent of the submissions were in vernacular languages. (Queer Ink is looking for people interested in editing, design, writing, the like. Contact them! Say you want in!)
After, there were cookies. After after, we went to Koshy’s. Life was good. 

Launch of Show Me A Hero

I was a bit leery of today’s event – for one thing, the book in question has a giant cricket ball on the cover, with a batsman silhouetted against it mid-stroke. I am one of those unfortunate bigots who not only does not like cricket but switches off intellectually every time it is mentioned in conversation. (It also doesn’t help that the author looks like a wee fresher in college and I wanted to pinch his cheeks, but I contained myself and didn’t mention it. At all. Ever.) But I feel a sort of TFA solidarity nowadays, and I do feel a little, well, like I should go and read and buy newer authors even if they’re crap or talk about cricket.

Cover design by "omendu"

Show Me a Hero is Aditya Sudarshan‘s second novel. It’s described as a murder mystery and a coming-of-age novel (my personal favourite sort), and follows two young men, just out of college, as they attempt to document the life of an excellent but unloved batsman. (Sudarshan likened him to Sachin Tendulkar in terms of skill, but his complete opposite in terms of respectability.)

There was some awkwardness with the “launching” – how does one launch a book, anyway? Arul Mani recollected someone who literally threw the book at the audience, which seems the closest to appropriate to me, but apparently will not actually do. Mani waved the book embarrassedly in the air, and that did for us.

Based on the two extracts Sudarshan read out, and the ten pages I have just read myself, I wouldn’t say that Sudarshan has fabulous prose – but he is functional, accessible, and peppers his otherwise slightly flat narrative with little gems of insight (someone help me un-cliché that!) that make the reading surprisingly enjoyable.

Arul Mani chaired the discussion, and we had some interesting back and forth. Mani points out that Show Me a Hero makes for a very good coming-of-age novel because its aging, its arrival, is based not on plotted epiphanies but on a more “normal, every day sort of reaching”.

There was some talk about dualities, both in the narrator and in The Writer – something about the common sensical balancing out the naïve, the unadulterated, and open-eyed, the searching for magic. Sudarshan made a Terry Pratchett reference: +5 points.

I’m skipping over a lot of cricket wittering. It was cricket, it was deep and shit, but made little to no sense to me, except for the bit where Sudarshan declared that people worship, romanticise cricket because they make of it a practically metaphysical conceit for their hopes and dreams for the nation as a whole. (I’m paraphrasing. It was cricket!)

Then there were audience questions, when I didn’t take notes – I did pay attention enough to note that Sudarshan has had two books published by two different houses, and has some but not much control over editing and packaging. Which is only to be expected.

Sudarshan gives me the feeling of someone who has read and absorbed a great deal of mature thought, and while intelligent, charming, witty and evocative, is not yet, well, old enough to be the best sort of him he could be. (With apologies to Sudarshan, I am probably the same age as he is.) I’m not sure how Show Me a Hero will appeal to me, but I’ll probably read him for the next few years. I certainly liked short stories of his [that I read just now].)

Anyway. C. K. Meena, ebullient as ever, wrapped things up, and I went home.

TFA meet yesterday

Sampurna Chattarji and Samhita Arni read out extracts from – wait, let’s start over.

Sampurna Chattarji read out poems from her latest collections, Absent Muses. I have bought said collection, and liked large portions of it, and so I link you here:

Absent Muses

Samhita Arni, who has an impressive writerly resume, read out an excerpt from a single short story, neither the beginning nor the end.

If you don’t see what my problem with this is, you probably don’t have the same problem, and wouldn’t even if I told you.

I like TFA, and Samhita Arni seemed to have oodles and oodles of fun reading her excerpt, and it seems likely she gave us exactly what she wanted to give us. So I am not complaining. What I shall do instead is pretend to redress the balance.

This is Samhita Arni’s website.

This is Samhita Arni’s blog.

This is Samhita Arni

I was not really thrilled with the discussion that followed, since it was not as rooted in the readings as I would have liked. I shall do a little research before the next TFA meet, and see if I can read the writers’ work before I get there, so I can ask them questions based in the text, as opposed to general questions about identities, labels, and the writer’s life, none of which I am more than mildly interested in, because in some ways they feel irrelevant or redundant.

But! Now I have two shiny new authors to stalk. Ill winds etc.

Author Event: China Miéville

China Mieville

Link to his Amazon USA page

Toto Funds the Arts arranged for China Miéville to give a reading at the British Council on Monday, the 1st of March, 2010. Of course we went. I was late, to be honest, and so came in at the tail end of the reading – an extract from Kraken. Miéville has a pleasant voice (a tenor? I do not ever ever know how to categorise these things) and I daresay if I had been there from the start I would have found it very fascinating. As it is we shall take it for granted that Miéville’s coolth came through here and it was awesome as awesome can be.

The TFA folks had arranged for some people to ask Miéville a few questions before he was thrown to the slavering audience, which shows an unexpected degree of organisation and general common sense. (I was at Usha K.R’s book launch for Monkey Man today, and the same sort of organisation was evident. My standards, they need adjusting!) One of them – I am assuming the student, had a very young-sounding, high-pitched voice. It set my nerves on edge, and I automatically assumed all her questions were stupid. (They weren’t.) So the rest of this post is going to be a meandering of the questions and answers, with no one but Miéville and myself identified. (I like myself.) This way, I cannot comment on the intelligence of questions. They were all good questions, and Miéville said later he thought he was getting interesting questions in general, in the Indian cities he visited. (Wooo, patriotic pride!)

So. The meat! It was meaty!

I wasted time hunting for a pen and paper, so I am going on gut instinct when I say this was about Kraken, which comes out in June 2010. KrakenKraken apparently began life as a short story, inspired by the magic brooms’ (and Mickey’s, I think) “pitiful working conditions” in Fantasia. What if they’d had a union rep? On the wow-factor note, Kraken is about cephalopods. “I love cephalopods… My favourite cephalopod is the octopus – I don’t have to make a case for that.” (And later: “Now you make it sound silly!” Well, yes. “Cephalopod” is a very silly-sounding word, and “octopus” is no better. These are, in any case, squishy sea-animals with the wrong number of legs and hearts.)

Mieville City 2009 UK.jpgI’ve only read the Bas-Lag novels, so if anything about The City and The City sounds hinky it’s probably because I’ve taken it out of context. tCatC is apparently a novel about two overlapping cities, and they… ignore each other? Miéville spoke extensively over the course of the entire session about fantasy, and the epic, and here he said, “People never know what stories they’re in.” So the protagonist, who is a police officer/detective, never tells us as much as we want to know about the city he lives in – he’s more concerned with the things more immediately apparent to him, and not the things he takes for granted.  Apparently the book was a present for his mother (awww!), who likes detective novels. Miéville apparently “auditioned” genres for the novel until he found one that fit, and then proceeded to tell the story according to the protocols of said genre. It was important that the novel not “cheat”.

King Rat coverSomeone asked about a connection with King Rat, and Miéville (some silly tall guy was right in front of me, and Miéville was sitting down, so I could not see his face, but he sounded shame-faced, so) shamefacedly admitted: “I only ever have about three ideas. As long as you don’t notice the repetition you’ll be fine.” *(Maybe it was good-humouredly instead. Stupid tall boys.)

Miéville tells us what I’ve suspected for a long time, by the way: he has a rather “combative relationship with readers”, and tries specifically “not to give readers what they want”. (Much is explained about the Bas-Lag novels, yes? I think the Bas-Lag novels were a tangent here.) As Miéville  went on writing, he found that he got “more disciplined” as a writer. Not that not being disciplined is a bad thing – Gravity’s Rainbow, he reminded us, was an undisciplined novel. Fantasy and SF tend to have an inordinate amount of info-dumping: the “look at that! and look at that!” – and one does that “hopefully with a certain amount of charm”. tCatC was/is “an argument to those early books.” A  lot was said about tCatC‘s structure, and I gathered this much: the narrator/protagonist starts off in this familiar location/geography, and is concerned with the everyday investigations and worries of his job; he moves, finally, to a sense os chaos and via him one has an exploration of cities, both his, the unknown he finds himself in, and I assume, cities in general. The novel, divided into three parts, has some “almost annoying” (I wish I knew the questioner’s name, really) shifts in language tone – my notes are freakishly messy at this point, I’m sorry.  Each section of tCatC  is  “mini-homage” to sub-genres (I hate all these categories, I am confused by them) of Crime Fiction.

A very long question came about whose essence was, “Do you ever create a system that works?” I’m not sure if this was in reference to The Scar, TheScar(1stEd).jpgbut I vaguely think it was. Miéville talked about SFF, about the vague idea that SFF is meant to be the genre of utopias and dystopias – that they must offer warnings or prophecies (can’t remember his exact phrasing) – he called this a reductive idea, far removed from the simpler,  freer concept of “sociological extrapolation”. The Armada, for instance, floats 7 different political systems, and none of them work as wonderfully as a complete optimist would hope they would. Of course this is “narratively more interesting.” “I’m not saying Utopias are boring – that’s attacking progressive thought.” He’d love to live in a utopia, “Bring it on!” (I dunno. I’d always be afraid I’d be Le Guin’s child in a dark basement [if I locate this story online I promise you I will link us there].) Harking back to the question of subverting, or frustrating, readers’ expectations, “The Scar has a very happy ending – a satisfactory ending.” “Being left frustrated is not ipso facto a bad thing.” (So. Many. Bad. Jokes.)

About characters, and authorial control over those characters as he writes them: “You know they don’t exist, right? … They’re not really there.” (You know, this practically begs for [already-written] shorts of characters who step out of the page and proceed to harass their authors bloody. Again, if I find this one online , I’ll link it.)

I do not know what he was talking about when he used the phrase “pornography of melancholy”. It is a lovely phrase. It might have been during a discussion of Literature with a capital L, whether or not Literature-with-capital-L should be “life-enhancing”. (Nope, it needn’t be.) But it is a lovely phrase, and I want to use it in real life, myself.

We talked – I forget how we got here, but Miéville spoke of “gritty” fantasy as opposed to “epic” fantasy. My notes are still messy, and Miéville did not change the world with what he said, but he was very sensible, so I shall summarise as much as I remember. The Gritty is an attempt to make Fantasy more “real”,  which makes it all “both more and less fantastic”. Much later, I have, “the oscillation – to contain the uncontainable” – which really was about things like D&D and Cthulu board games, but I think could grow fairly organically out of a description of Gritty Fantasy too.

Epic fantasy, while not in and of itself a bad thing, is more easily abused. “Any narrative is a lie – epics are bigger lies… they’re more baggagy”. I’ve got, in my notes, in all caps: “The Archetype – Licensed Cliche.” (And, in what I suspect are my own notes and not quotes from Above, “character-plot shortcut”.) The Archetypes (again, this is from later in my notes) that familiarity is in fact “a betrayal of the fantastic”. You know the kitchen boy will be a king. It’s predictable. (and nearing the end:) “Epics lend themselvexs very easily toUnUnDun(1stEd).jpgkitsch. Kitsch is a tool of the fascists.” There’s also the issues of who gets cast as demons? What the hell is up with there being a Chosen One, and why the hell does the Sidekick have to be the Sidekick? (Shout-out to Hufflepuffs, here. The spares.) Miéville says he has “a great libidinal draw to the Sidekick,” which apparently is fairly clear in Un Lun Dun I’m not sure I want to know.

More sensible talking: Marketing, it makes categories. It establishes “specific aesthetics” – or each genre has specific aesthetics – and as long as we remember that they’re “not hermenutical categories but a useful shorthand”, we’re okay. Literature, with a capital L, or “Lit-fic” as he called it (please someone tell me he made it up, it sounds terrible) – does the grave disservice of “making a hierarchy of compartmentalisation”. “Geeks talk about this all the time,” he said, and I thought, yes we do! (I’m looking at you. Yes I am.) “Should I be a bore or a wuss?” (He did fine, and was neither.)

File:PerdidoStreetStation(1stEd).jpgI am skipping loads of notes here, poor you, and poor me. Miéville does not pronounce “Garuda” right, but then again, his Garuda may be pronounced however he chooses. Miéville gets asked about the Garuda in India a lot, as might be expected. But it’s simple enough: “I love monsters.” It’s all very well, as someone who is interested in anthropology and culture, to see what the Garuda stands for to some people, but for PSS, and for story-telling, “I steal monsters and I don’t care what they really mean… Bird-Man: Cool!” The “radical naivety” of “forgetting what you know they’re about” is “more faithful” than if you stuck to the letter of the myths. “Fidelity can be an act of epistemological violence”.

Again, not sure how we got here: I think it may Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law (Historical Materialism Book Series)have been after I asked questions on behalf of Larry –  couldn’t take notes while I was listening attentively as he answered my question. (Listening Attentively is freakishly hard work!) In essence: Miéville does intend to do more non-fiction writing, and to continue his political work in the real world. (He stood for Parliament in 2001, and lost, and I told him that was very sad, which it is, but there is no way to tactfully, randomly, bring that up in front of an audience.) But “I cannot multitask,” and so for now there are no tangible, set-in-stone plans to do either. He wants to, intends to, and therefore will.

The Bas-Lag novels, I noted (I really, really like me) form a sort of historical triptych, with Iron Council ended on this really tense note. Events radiate outwards from New Corbuzon and fall back in – Miéville said that he would like to write more Bas-Lag novels, but right now has no plans to. Particularly because of the way Iron Council ends. He’d need to find a way to continue this history, this chronological mapping, without taking away from the suspension of that final event.

I think someone else asked him whether he intended to write political fiction, or whether he deliberately politicised his fiction – I forget the actual question. In essence, though, Miéville has been politically aware since he was pre-pubescent, and politically active since he was nineteen. He grew up reading fantastic fiction and being political. For him, the entire question is a non-issue. Which is good to know. But “realistic fiction can’t handle” the ramifications of a political aesthetic argument, whereas the “tools of the fantastic” can be very effectively deployed to do the same. “Political stories are quite exciting stories!” – he just doesn’t set out for that to be his be all and end all.

After we were all given the green signal to leave or hang around as we saw fit, Miéville spent some time signing things, talking to people, and generally being led outside. When I got my chance, I reminded him of the Wotmania –> RAFO changeover, which is when he remembered Ben. (Ben, China Miéville says you should put up the interview!) I forget what I said to make Miéville worry that Ben thought him mean. Gross misrepresentation of Ben, I suspect. (Sorry, Ben.)

Miéville has been touring India for days, but apparently has had no time to see the sights. This – this is a shame. I suggested he run, he said we wasn’t cool enough. I made mean comments about politicians, but apparently he’s “not that sort of politician”. How’re we supposed to know?

Apparently, TFA invited some people (Aditi was one, I was jealous) to meet Miéville for coffee before the event. You have not lived until you’ve heard a clean-shaven bald author with earrings referred to as “China”. (Sorry, China Miéville . I have watched too much bad tv.)

At this point, the TFA people took him away, hopefully to feed him, and Aditi and I went book shopping.

[Edited to Add (and link and proofread)]: As an aside – I think we never once mentioned The Tain or Looking for Jake. I’d be sadder if I’d actually read them, but it’s still a shame.)