Sunday, February 25, 2007

More about Kitab Festival, It Was about Regional Publishing Afterall!

Bit of a backgrounder about the Kitab Festival discussion I featured here.

At the foyer of Little Theatre, NCPA, who should I bump into than friend CP Surendran whose book of poems is going to be released the same day at the Oxford Bookshop. I tell him I will attend and that it is on my itinerary. He has just finished a session on The Role of the Writer.

I see two people, executive types, at the entrance. I make conversation as I have been shooed out by the comely and talented organizer of the function who is having lunch with the panellists. There’s nothing like a free lunch, I muse, as I move towards the pair of executives from Harper Collins who also are waiting for the session to start.

“Your boss PM Sukumar is one of the panellists isn’t he?”

“I am Sukumar,” says the young, affable and soft-spoken voice.

I can’t stop my jaws falling all the way to the floor of the ground outside NCPA. The reason is this: I had had a chat with Sukumar (picture above) on the phone regarding my novel “The Love Song of Luke Varkey” and had assumed that as a CEO he must be about fifty and might have a few strands of grey hair. I hadn’t expected him to be so young and dynamic looking. I am abashed. The profile of the Indian CEO is changing, methinks. With such youth and dynamism I guess Harper Collins is the publisher to watch.

You won’t believe this but this is my first visit to NCPA which I had presumed was the preserve of the Parsi intelligentsia, you know the sort who frequent plays by Dinyar Contractor and Bharat Dhabolkar. And Parsis were there in strength. A man with a great mane of white hair called out to a leading columnist of Times of India, “Ha tho mara masina dikri che,” meaning, “This is my aunt’s daughter.” The columnist promptly shushed him and came and sat by his side. Parsis are a loving people. My aunt’s daughter would have run a mile away if she had heard me calling her thus.

Inside the panellists decide to sit dangling their legs over the edge of the dais as the number of chairs and mikes are inadequate. (The mike produces more static than dynamic and often disturbs the speaker with loud wails.) Tee-tweeeee-peeeeee, it goes.

Seems my this post was misguided and way off the mark. Sorry folks, my apologies and contrite genuflections. The discussion though titled “Generation Next” was really was about “How regional language publishing is being affected by the growth of the English language publishers in India?” A mouthful, but that seems impressive, at least, to me. I had presumed that it was about young writers who will form the “Next Generation” alluded in the title, not about regional writers who would form the next generation. Clear?

Another thing I noted is that all – Indian participants and panellists - were at their Anglicized best, may be, to impress the firangs. What impeccable accent and diction! But didn’t they over do it, the way Simi Garewal, and sometimes Shekhar Suman do? At times they seemed more English than the English participants, if not in manners, at least, in accents. Ho hum.

After the event is over I meet Renuka Chatterjee, editor of Roli Books; Nicholas Pearson, publishing director of Fourth Estate/Harper Collins; Shakti Bhatt, former editor at Random House who is now starting the new imprint Bracket Books; and Alexandra Pringle, publisher, Bloomsbury, and, of course, PM Sukumar, CEO of Harper Collins India.

Pablo Ganguli the brain behind Kitab Festival was here, there and everywhere. He is young, energetic, cherubic and charismatic, and has a lovable accent, no, no fakes here, I can tell. With his sort of energy and dedication, he is the guy to watch.

In the evening I go to Oxford Bookshop where CP Surendran’s book of poems, “Portraits of the Spaces We Occupy,” is to be released and read from. CP’s poems are read by Brit poet Sean, and Nicholas Pearson and PM Sukumar are also on the dais. (Earlier when I asked PM Sukumar how was sales he says, “Good, touch wood,” and we go around hunting for wood in the metal and plastic Oxford Bookstore. Then we find some and he looks relieved.) Pearson says he has been carrying the book of poems in his pocket for the last few days and he is amazed by the work. PM Sukumar in his unfussy and natural style introduces CP who, before reading, thanks his editor VK Kartika for her help.

CP’s poems are wonderfully crafted words that at once strike you as personal, intimate details of his life, loves, and experiences. To a question of mine he says that he doesn’t know the present, perhaps, out of a poetic detachment, and only realizes what the present is after some time has passed. There is a lot of sadness and pain in this volume arising out of the recent passing away of his father, Pavanan, afflicted with Alzheimer, one of the more prominent figures in Malayalam literature with around eighteen books to his credit. I wished CP was there when the “Generation Next” discussion was going on. Also, I wonder why poets are vulnerable to Alzheimer, Nissim Ezekiel also suffered from it. May be it is because of an over-active brain that switches off.

A good day, wonderfully spent. Thank you Kitab Festival, or as the saying goes in Marathi, “Pudcha varshi lavkar ya,” come fast next year.

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