Profile: Amitav Ghosh

By Srinidhi Murthy 

Illustration: Amal C. Vijay

Born on July 11, 1956, in Calcutta, Amitav Ghosh has lived and travelled extensively across India, Bangladesh, Iran, and Srilanka. He completed his education in an all-boys boarding school in Dehradun. Prominent author Vikram Seth and historian Ramchandra Guha were his contemporaries at the school. In his student days, Ghosh regularly contributed to the fiction and poetry genre for The Doon School Weekly. He also founded a magazine called ‘History Times’ along with Ramchandra Guha. He received his degrees from St. Stephen College in Delhi and Delhi School of Economics before pursuing his PhD in Social Anthropology at the esteemed Oxford University under the supervision of anthropologist Peter Lienhardt. Ghosh also taught at several universities such as the University of Delhi, The American University in Cairo, Columbia University in New York City, and Queens College of the City University of New York to name a few. In 2004, Ghosh decided to pursue writing as a full-time career and split his time between India and the United States. 

Amitav Ghosh started his career at Indian Express during this period as a reporter and editor. Ghosh published his first book named ‘The Circle of Reason’ in 1986 and continued to write more books. Amitav Ghosh includes the themes of climate change, travel, history, political struggle, and communal violence in his novels and his narrative tends to be transnational in sweep and well-researched. His works have been translated into more than thirty languages. Amitav Ghosh also published his non-fiction works in the form of anthologies of essays such as ‘Imam and the Indian’, ‘Dancing in Cambodia’ and ‘At large in Burma’. Amitav Ghosh has written nine fiction novels and six non-fiction works.

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It is also interesting to note that Ghosh’s writings, mostly, revolve around his birthplace, Calcutta. In his first novel. ‘The Circle of Reason’, he narrates the misadventures of a young master weaver from Bengal who is falsely accused of terrorism and his journey through the Persian Gulf to North Africa. In his novel ‘The Shadow Lines’, the author traces the lives of an English and a Bengali family whose lives intertwine in tragic and comical ways. The writer also worked on the genre of thriller in his novel ‘Calcutta Chromosomes’ that narrates the story of people who are brought together by a mysterious series of events.

Ghosh has served as a jury in the Locarno and Venice Film festivals and has been facilitated with an Honorary Doctorate by Maastricht University and the University of Puget Sound. ‘The Shadow Lines’ gave him the two prestigious Indian Awards –  Sahitya Academy and Ananda Puraskar in the same year. He was also awarded the Arthur C. Clarke Award for the best science fiction novel. His novels ‘Sea of Poppies’ and ‘River of Smoke’ were shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. He was also honoured with the Padma Shri by the Indian government for his contribution to literature. Amitav Ghosh is the first English language writer to receive the Jnanpith Award, India’s highest literary honour. He was also named as one of the most important global thinkers of the preceding decade by Foreign Policy Magazine in 2019.

Profile: Bharati Mukherjee

By Srinidhi Murthy 

Illustration: Amal C. Vijay

Bharati Mukherjee was an Indian-American writer, born on July 27th, 1944 in present-day Kolkata. She authored several novels, short stories, and essays in fiction as well as in the genre of nonfiction. Her notable fiction works include Jasmine, Desirable Daughters, The Holder of the World, Leave it to Me, and The Tree Bride.

Born during the era of British India, Bharati Mukherjee belonged to a wealthy Bengali family. She travelled to Europe with her parents after the independence of India and lived in London and Switzerland for a short period of time. During this time, her father was able to pursue his research. She returned to Calcutta with her parents in the early 1950s. Bharati, along with her sisters, was taught English from the age of three and they attended Loreto Convent School in Calcutta. She later earned her Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Calcutta followed by her master’s degree in Ancient Indian Studies from the University of Baroda in 1961. She travelled to the United States to obtain her MFA from the University of Iowa and pursued her PhD in 1969. Bharati Mukherjee married Canadian-American author Clark Blaise when they were students at the University of Iowa. During their stay in Canada, Mukherjee published an essay in a Canadian magazine named Saturday Night.

Soon she settled in the United States and accepted a position to teach postcolonial and world literature at the University of California. She also taught at McGill University, Skidmore College, Queens College, and the City University of New York during her lifetime. She started writing her novels based on the lives of Indian immigrants in a foreign country. This was inspired by her own experience in Canada and the United States. Her first novel was named ‘The Tiger’s Daughter’, which was published in 1972. Bharati narrates the story of a sheltered Indian woman in the novel who finds herself shocked by her immersion in American culture. Four years later, she published her second novel titled ‘Wife’, in which she narrates the dilemma and thoughts of an Indian woman who was torn between the demands of Indian culture and the culture she witnessed in New York.

Bharati Mukherjee wrote various short stories such as ‘The Middleman’ and other stories that centred on immigrants from developing countries in the United States. The theme continued as a subject for her next two novels ‘Jasmine’ and ‘The Holder of the World.’ Jasmine was published in 1989 and was selected as Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times Book Review and considered as one of her famous and notable works. 

Bharati Mukherjee with her husband, Clarke Blaise wrote an account of their fourteen-day stay in India named ‘Days and Nights in Calcutta’, published in 1977. She also wrote about the assessment of leadership trends in India titled Political Culture and Leadership in India. Bharati Mukherjee died on January 28th, 2017 at the age of 76.

Profile: Rabindranath Tagore

By Srinidhi Murthy

Illustration: Souren Roy

Known as the Bard of Bengal, Rabindranath Tagore was a humanist and a universalist. He denounced the rule of British in India and supported the Independence of India from Britain. He was the first non-European to receive a Nobel prize for Literature. He received it for his most memorable work, ‘Gitanjali’. He was also awarded a knighthood in 1915 which he eventually repudiated to show his disapproval against the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre. Tagore is also known for modernising the art of Bengal by spurning rigid classical forms and resisting linguistic structures.

Rabindranath Tagore was born on May 7, 1861, at Jorasanko Mansion in Calcutta. Tagore wrote his first poem when he was only eight years old and was encouraged warmly by his brother Jyotirindranath Tagore. Rabindranath continued writing and created various musical plays which exhibited his talents to a larger audience. He wrote his first play named ‘Valmiki Pratibha’ at the age of twenty and it was enacted at Tagore’s own mansion. During his early years, Rabindranath Tagore also published his poems under the pseudonym Bhanusimha and elevated himself as the author of short stories and dramas in the later years publishing in his own name.

Tagore’s novels, stories, poems, songs echoed his personal and political views on various social and national issues. He questioned superstitions and various social issues such as child marriage, the dowry system, and widow remarriage in his novels. He was known for his strong women characters who were educated and made independent decisions. In 1891, during his visit to East Bengal, Tagore interacted with the village people and his sympathy for them inspired him to write on themes based on a humble lifestyle. During these years he wrote several poetries such as ‘Sonar Tari’ and plays, notably ‘Chitra.’ When Bengal was gripped by the wave of nationalism, he wrote several powerful songs and one of them named Amar Sonar Bangla eventually became the National Anthem of Bangladesh.

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Tagore wrote novels and novellas of various genres, among which Chaturanga, Shesher Kobita, Char Odhay, and Noukadubi can be considered to be his most memorable works. Tagore, from the age of sixteen, had written various short stories including known stories such as Kabuliwala, Adithi, Kshudhita Pashan and Bhikharini. Tagore was also a talented composer who composed around two thousand songs in his lifetime. His songs were known as Rabindra Sangeet as it merged fluidly into his literature. His composition ‘Jana Gana Mana’ was chosen as the National Anthem of India and the National Anthem of Sri Lanka was also inspired by his work. Around the 1920s, Tagore’s works were circulated in free editions with the works of Plato, Dante, Cervantes, Goethe, and Tolstoy.

Rabindranath Tagore died on August 7, 1941, six years before the independence of India which he dreamt of witnessing. His legacy was kept alive through the translation of his works by various authors to introduce Tagore to a wider and international audience. Various universities have been named to honour him in both India and Bangladesh. His works such as Chokher Bali, Gora, Ghare Bhaire and various others were adapted for big screens to familiarise his characters to more and more people to keep his memory alive forever.

Read the complete life story of Tagore in our title ‘Rabindranath Tagore’. Now available on the ACK Comics app, Kindle, Flipkart, Amazon, and other major e-tailers. 

Profile: Anita Desai

By Nitya Menon 

“Wherever you go, becomes a part of you somehow”

– Anita Desai

Anita Desai, who started writing at the age of nine, emerged to be one of India’s most respected novelists. Her achievements include being shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times and receiving the Sahitya Academy Award in 1978 for her book, Fire on the Mountain. She has indeed not only left her mark in the genre of fiction but also nurtured her daughter Kiran Desai in doing so. 

Born in 1937 in Mussoorie, India, Anita Desai grew up speaking German, Hindi and English. She was a student of Queen Mary’s Higher Secondary School in Delhi and later went on to receive a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Delhi. As a child, she always seemed to notice how her family was different from other families in the community in terms of culture and caste. Her mother, who was German, adapted and practised every Indian culture and tradition, yet she always felt like an outsider.

Illustration: Arghadeep Biswas

Anita Desai’s childhood days serve as a major theme in her novels. Her writing style is often poetic and descriptive, revolving around fiction and fantasy and the use of symbols and flashbacks. Many of her novels explore the state of middle-class women and the tensions that exist in these families. Anita Desai always believed in quoting the truth as it is,

“I aim to tell the truth about any subject, not a romance or fantasy, not avoid the truth”.

The characters in her novels are quite beautifully written and expressed and a special emphasis is given to female protagonists. The themes of her books are often associated with her own personal life experiences. 

  • The suppression of Indian women was the subject of her first novel Cry, the peacock, which is a poetic novel revolving around an incompatible marriage with the focus on the heroine’s psyche. This book immediately established Desai as an icon in Indian Literature.  
  • Her second novel Voices in the city is about her experiences in the city of Calcutta where she portrays Calcutta as an oppressive city.
  •  In Bye -Bye, Blackbird, the major themes are rejection and acceptance, nostalgia, and alienation. 
  • Fire on the Mountain, for which she received an award, is praised for its poetic symbolism and sounds. 

Her other novels include Clear light of the day, Where shall we go this summer, Fasting, feasting and In custody. 

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Anita Desai believed the art of writing can only emerge with good reading, she often starts her morning by reading, sometimes books on poetry that strikes the right note for her to begin her writing. She always says her first love was fiction and the motivation to start writing came from her family and the books she frequently read and loved, especially Thomas Hardy and D.H Lawrence who were big influences. She also took a great interest in Japanese and Russian literature such as Dostoyevsky that opened her sense of imagination and the discovery of a new part of literature. 

Her work is well-appreciated, and the major awards received were the Padma Bhushan in 2014, Sahitya Academy Fellowship in 2007, and shortlist for the Booker Prize in 1980, 1984 and 1999. She has also received the Royal Society of literature Winifred Holtby Prize in 1978. She is a professor of Humanities in the Massachusetts Institute of technology and once taught at Cambridge, Oxford. 

As an accomplished author, her message to young budding writers is that one would have to face several difficulties in the journey. It is important to be very persistent and stubborn to achieve what one dreams of. She suggests that writers first begin with short pieces and send them to magazines and newspapers, and once you are confident and it gives you a great sense of joy and delight you can go ahead and write novels and once you start you would never want to stop.

Writer Write-Up: Olivier Sanjay Lafont

Olivier Sanjay Lafont is an acclaimed author, screenplay writer and actor, with a very impressive body of work that appeals to all ages. You might also remember him from his big-screen outings in movies like 3 Idiots and Guzaarish. Originally from France, Olivier grew up in India and loves the country, something that shines through his work. His latest work is a fantastical piece of fiction for kids called ‘Oop & Lila: Lost in the Scarabean Sea’.

Talking about the idea for his stories, Olivier said,

“All stories are, in my mind, a seamless connection between fiction for kids and adults. Everything comes naturally. When I write, I am also enacting the story in my mind. ‘Oop and Lila’ has been written very cinematically.”

Having written fiction majorly, the author feels that fantasy is very important as it integrates adventure, fun and discovery. It aids in expanding imagination.

“It gave a whole new internal dimension to my life as a kid,” Olivier added.

He also believes that the quest is an essential part of fantasy writing as it helps to mirror every reader’s day-to-day life from a brand new angle. It shows how every reader views a particular situation or thing differently. 

Olivier has a long-standing bond with Amar Chitra Katha books.

“When I was seven years old, my family moved from France to Delhi and I didn’t speak English or Hindi. I was put into an English medium school. The culture in Delhi was so different than that in France and I also had to overcome the language barrier. We were living in the French embassy. Among the few books in the guest house, there were a couple of Amar Chitra Katha comics. In France, there is a huge comic subculture that we call bandes dessineés. Amar Chitra Katha Comics made me feel like this is something I know and I can access. The comics gave me an introduction to the people here, their lives, and their culture. That was how I connected with Indian culture.” 

Listen to hear more from Olivier and hear him read an excerpt from his book ‘Oop & Lila: Lost in the Scarabean Sea’ in the video above.

#ACKandFriends is an online talk show by our Amar Chitra Katha editorial team, where we connect with India’s top children’s authors and give audiences a sneak peek into the creative process behind writing books for kids. Watch Season 1: Click here

Stay tuned for Season 2 coming soon.

Krishna Speaks #8

Offering every action you do to the lord creates a sense of consciousness in everything. Dedicating oneself to the highest power refrains one from doing any kind of sinful act.

Illustration: ACK Design Team

5 Must-Reads for Eco-Warriors

Covers: Amazon | Design: ACK Design Team

We keep hearing more and more alarming news about climate change and its impact on our environment. There are some authors out there who have made it a point to use their works as a medium for change. Here is a list of five must-read titles for budding eco-warriors! 

Trash: On Ragpicker Children and Recycling

Based on the real-life experiences of street children in Chennai, Trash is a unique combination of fiction and facts. The story revolves around Velu, a runaway village child, who ends up as a ragpicker in a big city. While he makes ends meet, he must also face the harsh realities of life on the streets. ‘Trash’ breaks down complex issues such as child labour and rag-picking into much simpler terms and gets its readers to question their everyday habits and understand that which is invisible, collateral damage to their waste. The story is accompanied by facts and arguments, interlinking complex issues that collectively hamper society’s growth.

The book is written by Gita Wolf, Anushka Ravishankar, and Orijit Sen. It evolved from a series of workshops they conducted with ragpicker children. 

The Hungry Tide

Written by Amitav Ghosh, the story of ‘The Hungry Tide’ is based in the Bay of Bengal that is home to the Sundarbans, a collection of tiny islands linked by rivers. For settlers there, life is extremely precarious. Attacks by deadly tigers and other animals are fairly common. Unrest and eviction from home are constant threats. Tidal floods tend to rise and surge over the land without any prior warning. This water only brings with it utmost disaster and devastation.

The novel is narrated from two different perspectives; First from Piya’s perspective who is an American scientist researching river dolphins, and second from Kanai’s perspective who is a New Delhi translator on a trip to see his aunt. The Marichjhapi massacre of 1978-79 forms a backdrop for some parts of the novel, which explores topics like environmentalism and humanism, especially when they come into a conflict of interest with each other.

No Room for a Leopard

Narrated by the master storyteller himself, Ruskin Bond; ‘No Room for a Leopard’ first appeared in ‘A Bond with the Mountains’ in 1998. The story is about a group of hunters who set out to kill a very trusting leopard. Leopard skins are a rare artefact that sells for an exorbitant amount of money and hence is illegally traded due to the ban on its export. Due to such unscrupulous acts, the leopard, like many other members of the cat family, is nearing extinction in India. While the story is engaging, it also helps to understand the norms of the society in which we live, with many life lessons skillfully woven into the plot.

The Six Spellmakers of Dorabji Street

‘The Six Spellmakers of Dorabji Street’ by Shabnam Minwalla is set in a lazy gully in Mumbai. The story revolves around a young girl, Nivi, who moves to the gully with her family and soon befriends other children. Their favourite pastime is sitting in a large bimbli tree and watching the neighbors’ comings and goings. However, conflict arises when an individual from the neighbourhood declares that the children under the tree are troublesome and starts a campaign to chop it down. Now it’s up to Nivi and her friends to save their beloved tree. The book is a perfect mixture of entertainment and moral messaging. Magic can happen anywhere is perhaps the biggest takeaway of this story. Svabhu Kolhi’s black and white illustrations magnify the magical aspects of the story.

A Cloud Called Bhura

Written by Bijal Vaccharajani, ‘A Cloud Called Bhura’ explores climate change and the havoc it can create, as well as themes like friendship, trust, and community. The story is about four youngsters who are on a journey to decode a deadly cloud called Bhura that has apparently taken over Mumbai’s skyline. Bhura Cloudus, as the media calls it, contains noxious gases, causes scalding acid rain, makes birds flee the city, and suffocates every living thing in its path. It’s now up to the tweens to solve the problem of this gloomy cumulus nimbus! The book is filled with beautiful illustrations and the situations and characters are very relatable

 

The Story of the Silk Cotton Tree

Illustration: Ritoparna Hazrah

According to one version of Mahabharata, Bheeshma once narrated the story of a proud tree to Yudhishthira to teach him the importance of humility.

A long time ago, the silk cotton tree stood tall on the slopes of the Himalayas. It was extremely alluring. One day as sage Narada passed by the tree, he stopped to admire its size. He said,

“O Silk Tree, how mighty you are! Even the powerful storm cannot move your branches.”

Filled with pride, the haughty tree boomed out loudly.

“That’s because the storm is my servant.”

Now sage Narada was known for being a bit of a gossip, and told Vayu, the wind god, exactly what the proud tree had told him. Vayu was furious and went thundering off to see the tree himself. When he got there, he started screaming at the tree!

“Do you know why I do not blow on you? When Lord Brahma was creating the world, he stopped to rest on one of your branches. It is out of respect for him that I keep still, but I think it is time I teach you a lesson.”

An enraged Vayu then worked himself into a great storm and blew so hard that the silk cotton tree lost all its leaves and flowers at once! That was the price the tree had to pay for his arrogance.

India’s Many Superstitions

By Harini Gopalswami Srinivasan

Illustration: Arijit Dutta Chowdhury

What is a superstition? It is a blind belief that some happening, like seeing an elephant at the start of a journey, or action, like breaking a mirror, brings good or bad luck. Indians, like people everywhere across the world, have always had many superstitions.

Illustration: Arijit Dutta Chowdhury

Many superstitions are related to birds and animals. A crow cawing near the house meant an imminent arrival of guests!

The position of the sun, moon, stars and planets are also believed to predict future events. The Ramayana is full of omens like meteors falling, jackals howling, or deers crossing one’s path from the left. The jackals signified bad luck while the deers meant good fortune. Other Puranic texts were also full of such beliefs.

Some superstitions originated from the fear of the unknown. The invention of electricity banished a lot of such fears, especially about ghosts and other supernatural beings, stemming from the shadows cast by firelight and dim lamps.

Illustration: Arijit Dutta Chowdhury

Other superstitions were based on healthy practices. For example, housewives used to make rangoli designs with rice flour on their doorsteps to provide food for ants and keep them busy outside the house. Water was sprinkled around the plate or leaf, before a meal, to keep ants away. Similarly, it was believed to be dangerous to loiter under trees after dark. We know now that this is because trees release a large percentage of carbon dioxide at night. It was bad luck to ask someone where they are going just when they are hurrying out. The obvious explanation is that it would distract the person and he or she could trip on something and fall.

Illustration: Arijit Dutta Chowdhury

 

5 Must Reads By Rudyard Kipling

Illustration: Amal C Vijay

Joseph Rudyard Kipling was a poet, a journalist and a novelist. Born in India, the country’s influence can be seen in several of his works. Kipling gained fame due to his iconic work, The Jungle Book. However, his body of work goes far beyond the tales of Mowgli, and comprise some of the most notable pieces of modern literature, such as Kim, If-, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, The Elephant’s Child, and many more.

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The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book is a collection of seven short stories written by Kipling at the end of the 19th century. Much of the book focuses on Mowgli, a boy who grows up in one of the India’s many jungles where he is raised by a wolf called Raksha.

Mowgli becomes a member of the Seeonee Wolf Pack, much to the chagrin of Sher Khan, a cruel tiger who hates man. He plots against the boy,  eventually forcing Mowgli to go back to civilization when he grows up.

Mowgli briefly returns to the domain of man, but leaves after he learns that Sher Khan has been plotting against Akela. He defeats the tiger after a fierce battle, but realizes that the jungle will never truly be his home.

Captain Courageous

The story talks about Harvey Cheyne Jr, the spoilt 15 year old son of a millionaire railroad tycoon, who tumbles overboard from an ocean liner bound for Europe and is rescued by a group of a fisherman off the coast of  Newfoundland. He tries to buy his way out by promising that his father would pay for his trip back, but is forced to work with the crew after he accuses the captain of stealing his money.

Thus begins the boy’s journey of transformation; under the supervision of a sturdy crew of fishermen, and with the assistance of Dan, the captain’s son, Harvey understands the true value of hard work. He learns to respect each and everyone and changes his outlook towards life. After his return, he goes to Stanford to complete his education and readies himself to take over his father’s business.

Kim

Kim is a 13-year-old orphan, the son of an Irish soldier and his homemaker wife who died in penury. Kim earns his living by begging and running small errands for Mahbub Ali, a horse trader and a local spy for the British on the streets of Lahore.

Due to his upbringing in India, he is so immersed in the local culture that few notice that he is a white kid. He carries with him a packet of documents from his father entrusted to him by an Indian woman who cared for him. Along the way,  Kim befriends an aged Tibetan Lama, a monk who has embarked on a journey to free himself from the Wheel of Things by finding the legendary ‘River of the Arrow.’ An unconventional friendship develops between them, which continues even when Kim is sent away to a boarding school in Lucknow. Soon, Kim is recruited to be a spy by Mahbub Ali, while training to be a surveyor during his vacations. However, after schooling, he also sets out on his friend’s quest to find the fabled river.

How the Leopard got his Spots

Leopard used to live on the High Veldt, sand-coloured just like his surroundings. This made him very difficult to spot, which was really bad news for his prey, Giraffe and Zebra. The Ethiopian who lived there was also of a similar colour, and would hunt alongside the leopards.

One day, the weaker animals left the High Veldt to live in a forest and grew blotches, stripes, and other forms of camouflage and adapted to their surroundings. The Ethiopian and Leopard were hungry as their prey went away. Their search leads them to a wise babboon who directs them to the forest, but there, they are unable to spot Giraffe and Zebra, although they can smell them. The rest of the story sees them employing different ways to to track down their targets, eventually accepting that they would have to adapt to their new surroundings to survive.

The Elephant’s Child

This cute little story reimagine how the elephant got its trunk. The elephant originally had a short nose, flexible but useless for grasping things. One little elephant was insatiably inquisitive and curious, asking endless questions. One such question was what the Crocodile eats for dinner.

After running around the jungle and asking everyone he met the same question and not receiving any satisfactory answers, he finally comes face to face with a crocodile himself. When the little elephant repeats his question, he unfortunately finds himself to be the answer to the question! Don’t worry though, the little elephant does escape, albeit with a much longer olfactory organ than before. Featuring delightful characters, this book showcases Kipling’s amazing sense of whimsy.