Sunday, December 30, 2007

Updates and Downloads

Transitioning yet again from India to the US, it seems I can now blog in Hindi if I want to. Wait. Not on my Mac, I can't. Downloaded the little icon to my edit page and all, but nope, the PC-jinx turns my carefully crafted Namaste into a series of question-marks.
Children's Literature Association India is holding its second annual conference in Mangalore in January 2008. The theme is Politics and Polemics. An excerpt from the web site reads: "Children are told stories that would help them construct a world view, a cultural context, to define what they are and what they believe. Nevertheless, how much truth do we tell them? Do not adult politics and polemics creep in as dominant factors in children’s literature? Does children’s literature still promote racism, sexism, and class prejudice?" Great questions. The conference also sponsors a contest for young writers.

A late update: Pooja Makhijani on Cynsations. Pooja talks about her books and her work in bringing culturally specific writings into the common discourse. And mentions two biographies she's working on. One is of Dhan Gopal Mukerji, who won what Susan Patron's calling the Oldbery, back in 1928. More at the Newbery Project. I had to smile (while gritting my teeth, that is) at the caution: "The story does take place in India, and it's filled with lamas and monks and Hindu or Buddhist prayer and meditation." Um, yes. Such jittery concerns are why we need Pooja to do what she does. Pooja's other nonfiction interest is the life of Jean Bothwell, a Methodist missionary who worked in India, and wrote over 60 fiction and nonfiction books (The Mystery Candlestick, Omen for a Princess, and others) focused on that country. Omen is a much more robust, deeply felt rendering of the story of Jahanara, daughter of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, than a more recent version.

A question. When is Viking (or someone) going to publish a US edition of Vandana Singh's utterly delightful YoungUncle in the Himalayas? YoungUncle Comes to Town continues to gather accolades.

Hedgebrook (Women Authoring Change) will be 20 years old in 2008.

You had to not be on the planet if you missed the tragic assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Here's a biography for young readers by Libby Hughes.

Peace in the New Year is probably way too much to ask for.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Manuscripts and stories

At the Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad, visitors crowd around Benzoni's veiled Rebecca and gather on the hour to glimpse the bird in the century-old clock when it pops out to tweet between the blacksmith's strikes on his anvil. But the museum also holds a reputed 9,000 manuscripts in Arabic, Urdu, and Persian, including a 13th century Arabic Qur'an, and Urdu poetry by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah himself, of the Golconda dynasty, the founder of Hyderabad and builder of its famous Charminar.

On the way to the smoke-and-mirrors sound and light show at Golconda fort a guide attached himself firmly to us, refused to be shaken off, and proved to possess a depth of knowledge of the place that put us so-called educated folk to shame. When I went to school in Delhi we paid the south scant attention, so it was a treat to learn about the intrigues and successions, loves and losses of Golconda. As soon as I can get my hands on them, I plan to read Narendra Luther's books on Hyderabad.

At the Charminar, past rows and rows of bangle-sellers, an eight year old hawked cheap trinkets. He spoke to us, rapid-fire, in four languages we recognized (French, English, Spanish, Hindi) and was disappointed that we didn't know the others he could speak (Italian, Telugu, Arabic). Openmouthed, we asked how he came by his fluency. He shrugged and said in that lovely Hyderabadi Urdu with a cadence all its own, "Tourist-lok se boltha, ma." Silly question.

And finally I got to meet Katia Novet Saint-Lot who's taken classes with me off and on for three years. A real delight.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Teaching This Week, from Chennai

VC packets have begun to arrive this week which means I have to be chained to the computer for the next 5 days. No, it's fine. If I'm going to be the peripatetic writer person I want to be, writing across states and continents, perhaps even living in more than one place, I'd better get used to this. And really, once I started work, I did quit wanting to call a taxi to go somewhere, burying myself instead in viewpoint and dialogue and places in a character's journey. Still, it helps that my desktop now has these pictures: the trellis work in Humayun's tomb, Delhi, a memory of mine from childhood visits there; the Taj in marble looking as if it might float away if you untethered it; the gravestones of Company wallahs in St. Mary's Church, in the heart of the East India Company's Madras, a striking number of whom seem to have died at the age of 25; Cornwallis in marble at Fort St. George (was he really as uninspired as he looks? No wonder he lost to Washington); the rock walls at Mahabalipuram; and the goat mother and her babies by the trail. The babies pure velvet, all that newly minted life just there.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Writing with Children in Delhi

I'm visiting Delhi after nearly 20 years. It's changed beyond recognition but it's still bursting with stories, from the tombs of emperors to the remains of the Raj, to more personal family stories of houses lived in, schools attended, events and mishaps and memories.

Speaking to young readers at the India Habitat Centre and at Vasant Valley School, I found that while of course everyone knows Harry Potter (my son and I even found a Hindi edition in a book shop in Connaught Place) they were also eager to write and share their own stories.

We wrote together, and the students (mostly 2nd to 5th standards/grades) read their drafts. Many of the India Habitat Centre stories focused on the room, which was round and colorful and quirkily decorated with posters and polka-dots on one section of wall.

At VVS, we wrote about what might be hidden in this picture taken in the heart of Lutyens' Delhi. Who's behind the hedge? Where's the man going? Who's waiting for him? What if a squirrel were to shin up the lamp-post? How could you write this so your reader would care?

The only expectations worth holding about writing are those that relate to such story questions. The answers get more complex as you get older and more conscious of markets and audiences, but living with the questions is the whole point of the exercise.