& occasionally about other things, too...

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Marshall McLuhan's centenary

Earlier this week, I attended a panel discussion on Reading & Publishing: Paper or Screen organised by McLuhan Legacy Network to discuss the changing format of the book and the future of reading, publishing and libraries.

The panel comprised “authors, publishers and aggregators” and included John Cruickshank, Publisher, Toronto Star; Susan Caron, Manager, Collection Development, Toronto Library; Jian Ghomeshi, host of Q Radio One, CBC; Nathan Maharaj, Merchandising Director, Kobo eReader; Alana Wilcox, Editorial Director, Coach House Press & Carolyn Wood, Executive Director, Association of Canadian Publishers.

The discussion while insightful, was also a “a game of bluff and bluster, words and whimsy,” with everyone generally agreeing that even if technology changes reading habits, the habit of reading won’t disappear altogether. Not surprising, considering it was a congregation of believers in the supremacy of reading.

A similar panel discussion at the 2010 Luminato on Fiction in the Age of E-Books (authors Katherine Govier and Paul Theroux, publisher Sarah MacLachlan, bookseller Joel Silver and journalist Scott Stossel) had reached the same sort of conclusion of being “torn between hope and nostalgia.”

McLuhan Legacy Network had organised a series of events between July 18 and 24, to celebrate the centenary of Marshall McLuhan (July 21, 1911 – December 31, 1980). McLuhan was a Canadian.

McLuhan’s prophetic insights into the media and society have shaped our thinking over the last five decades. For instance, aphorisms such as the medium is the message, the global village, information overload, all advertising advertises advertising, the future of the book is the blurb, remain embedded in our consciousness, nearly five decades since they were postulated.

And his frighteningly prescient prediction about the Age of the Internet

“The next medium, whatever it is – it may be the extension of consciousness – will include television as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form. A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization, retrieve the individual's encyclopaedic function, and flip into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind.”

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Tiger Hills

Sarita Mandana being interviewed by Panorama India's Ajit Khanna
at the Consulate General of India in Toronto
Last month Panorama India organised a reading by Sarita Mandana of her debut novel Tiger Hills at the Consulate General of India in Toronto.

A surprisingly large number of people attended the event. The audience comprised many writers, and several other personalities - some known, others well known. 

The Indian Voices contingent was present in sizable numbers, and I met Wally Rabbani after nearly a year.

Panorama India’s co-chair Ajit Khanna interviewed the author; she also read excerpts from her novel, and spoke about the process that led to the creation of the novel.

The surprise of the evening was the Consul General Preeti Saran – her short introductory remarks were packed with references to Indian writing in English.

She referred to the phrase “two tight slaps,” in Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, and declared that there and more Indian using English than any other people. The proliferation of Indian writers has enriched English literature, she emphasised.

Image: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=232962840048097&set=a.232962650048116.70347.211453328865715&type=1&theater

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Mumbai Fables

Gyan Prakash
You develop a strong bond with a city after you’ve lived in it for a while. As the city becomes home, the bonds grows stronger with time and a sense of space and smell of the city envelopes you.

Somewhere along the way, it magically transforms into an object of admiration.

I love Toronto, my home for the last three years; although, as many immigrants to the city will confess, on several occasions that love is unrequited.  

Then there is your hometown. You are mostly indifferent to it. It’s a part of you in more ways than you want it to be. It shapes your thinking and it makes your mind. It grows inside you as you grow up.

Somewhere along the way, it magically transform into an object of loathing.

I’m Mumbai even when I don’t want to be; although, I leap to its fierce defence when anyone is even mildly (and objectively) critical of it.

We think we know our hometown, and often we don’t tolerate an ‘outsider’ sitting in judgement over its character, even when the verdict is favourable.

Gyan Prakash’s Mumbai Fables is a passionately written book by an ‘outsider’.

As someone who has lived all but the last three years of my life in Bombay-Mumbai, and worked as a journalist for 15 years in the city (including at Blitz, with the legendary R.K. Karanjia), Mumbai Fables is deeply satisfying because it is so familiar.

The book has many things going for it – for instance, a remarkable narration of the Art Deco revolution of the early 20th century that gave an architectural identity to the city’s cosmopolitanism. “...the curved and stamped form of Art Deco signified the dynamism and rationalism of industrial capitalism.”

The Cosmopolis and the Nation is strongest section of the book. The story of Manto and Chugtai and IPTA is one that needs retelling to a younger generation that is unaware and uncaring of the rich syncretic traditions of the city that is stereotyped as a business capital that has little patience with culture.

I also discovered Doga in the book; Prakash analysis of the comic book antihero and its quintessential Mumbai character is brilliant.  

On the other hand, Mumbai Fables is deeply annoying too, because it doesn’t follow the path that I want it follow.

For instance, there is next to nothing about Mountstuart Elphinstone or Nana Sunkersett, or the role of Bombay stalwarts including Sunkersett and Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy in the development of the Great Indian Peninsula (GIP) Railway, and even more surprising is the absence of Pherozeshah Mehta.

While narrating K. F. Nariman’s indefatigable battle with the city’s colonial rulers against the reclamation of land from the sea, Prakash misses the internecine squabbling within Bombay’s Congress party that led to Nariman’s sidelining by Sardar Patel in favour of K.M. Munshi; the Gujarati lobby in the Congress apparently argued that Nariman wasn’t completely clean himself.

Again, there is no mention of S.K. Patil, and GeorgeFernandes is mentioned once, only in the passing. And Datta Samant is referred to mainly in the context of gang wars over mill lands.

But to be fair, it’s Prakash’s book and he has the right to choose his direction.

Prakash’s style is interesting because he weaves the past and the present, combines history with reportage to narrate his story. I place it in the same category as Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City, although they are very different books.

Image: http://jaipurliteraturefestival.org/gyan-prakash/

Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times

The shocking phone taping and tampering scandal that has led to the demise of The News of the World in the UK augurs well for journalism everywhere.

However, at another level, it illustrates print media’s desperation across the West as it fights a losing battle to survive the ceaseless onslaught of the internet.

On the other side of the spectrum is The New York Times, arguably the best English language newspaper in the world.

The institution has embraced technology willingly, and has a sturdy web presence that is one of the best in the world.

Since The Atlantic prematurely announced its imminent death in 2009, the NYT has become a media institution that everyone who loves independent professional journalism wants to survive and grow.

Yet, as Andrew Rossi’s PageOne: A Year Inside the New York Times chillingly states, the internet has resulted in a quick and comprehensive collapse of the economics of the media industry where advertising paid for independent professional journalism.

The documentary – that premiered at Sundance Film Festival and is now showing at Cumberland in Toronto – raises several compelling questions.

It indicates that even as organised media is constantly changing and adapting to new technology, it doesn’t seem to be doing enough. The changes will be drastic and forced. And perhaps change the very complexion of organised media.

I hope that those who don’t see media (and professional journalism) as merely a technology-driven industry out-number those who do.