What do you do Mr Editor?

I

 

Let me begin with a broad overview

Of what this species called ‘editors’ do?

They compile, assemble, anthologize and curate too.

 

A delicate and unique relationship they do maintain,

With the author, in times of pleasure or pain,

And sometimes, all the effort put may go in vain.

 

An editor plays the role of a mediator,

Between the publisher and the reader,

Managing to achieve the best from the two together.

 

After a writer submits the manuscript to a publisher,

Reading it thoroughly is the job of a copy-editor.

Making notes, jotting down vital mistakes in punctuation,

Standardizing the writing style and checking each citation.

 

Sectioning, paragraphing, division of chapters,

Follow suit with end notes, footnotes and those of the editor’s.

 

So, without mincing words and being blatant,

It is a fact that editors are very important.

II

Alan T. from the University of Chicago Press,

Took a master class on independent publishing in U.S.

He explained its functioning in details,

And the several challenges that it entails.

From budget pressures and other fiscal constraints,

To exploring publishing in digital domains.

How Amazon and Flipkart with their pricing policies,

Kept competition at bay, but made enemies.

He told us how he chose his list of books and authors,

And calculated discounts for retailers and distributors.

 

When the editing classes started with full force,

The Chicago Manual of Style became our Bible during the course.

Samik Sir, our Dean, enlightened us about the parts of a book better,

That consisted of the prelims, the text and the back matter.

It was followed by discussions on the Publisher’s Agreement and letter,

Negotiable in areas of royalty, advances and any legal factor.

 

Coming to the concepts and syntax of Punctuation,

We learnt using the marks of the single and double quotation.

The hyphen, en dash, em dash and its entire family,

Are not linked with Phrasal adjectives and Compound words only.

They are used in place of commas or colons, as separators,

And, while omitting expletives and tracing illegible matters.

 

Suspension points, indentation and ellipsis,

Led to the functions of the Slash, that conveyed alternatives.

Apostrophes, Question marks, Italics and the Period,

Help in re-shaping the manner of the written word.

 

III

 

After the theory classes, we had to actually ‘edit’,

Term papers by M.A. students, that sent us into a fit.

Armed with pens of different colours, now, we could not quit.

 

Thus, it was a ‘major turning point’

In our newly appointed job, albeit,

We were ‘very curious’ about these unknown faces

Who had written such ‘beautiful, yet ugly masterpieces’.

 

So, we replaced, removed, rephrased quite a bit,

And used proofreader’s marks to the maximum limit.

It was an enjoyable exercise, but tedious,

As each paper threw up mind-numbingly hilarious ideas.

 

At present, everyone’s head is still reeling,

And is overcome with an awkward feeling

Of whether we will get something really interesting

For cutting, splicing and editing,

In this course at a later date,

But, all we can do now, is to pray and wait.

 

Hoping our future is not bleak,

For I believe, if we try, we will seek,

The elusive elixir, exclusive to an editor,

That will be our trademark forever.

 

Shaurya Sircar

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In Their Image

In her book, Freedom and Destiny: Gender, Family and Popular Culture in India (Oxford University Press, 2009), Patricia Uberoi brings a gender perspective to bear on the representation of the family in India, incorporating childhood, courtship, marriage and sexuality into an analysis of three different aspects of popular culture: calendar art, commercial Hindi cinema and romance fiction in magazines. She also offers some reflections on the wider contradictions and dynamics of Indian modernity and the concept of nation-building.

Calendar art is contrasted with the ‘fine’ art of the art gallery. It is a generic name for a style of popular, mass-produced prints in colour or black and white, although calendars can take up a variety of other forms. Uberoi argues that images of women and babies in calendar art objectify women, turning the female body into a commodity. These commoditized forms are conspicuous not only in this medium but also in other related media such as advertisements and film hoardings. Uberoi describes how, time and again, women become ‘othered’ and ‘controlled’, when being exhibited before a male gaze as objects of desire. This is emphasized by the association of images of women with a range of consumer products—a panoply of market goods. Further, Uberoi explains how this calendar art can also be characterized by a metonymical juxtaposing of sacred and secular imagery. A series of striking images serves to illustrate this.

Other common motifs of these media include cute pets, flowers and idyllic landscapes. Babies are particularly popular, she argues, and certain artists or studios are known to specialize in baby pictures, just as others specialize in women deities, film stars and other ‘beauties’ or scenery. She associates these calendar art images with symbols of nation-building, national modernity and social progress in the way that they evoke the idea of ‘Mother India’ as the protector of the land and its people and as the vanquisher of enemies. The work of late nineteenth-century salon painters are also of note in this regard, in particular Raja Ravi Varma (1842–1906), who is widely credited with establishing the representational style and pioneering the mass production of colour prints in India.

 

Many of the calendars that feature babies itemize the children into familiar adult roles, which in turn contribute towards building the image of a progressive, prosperous and secure nation. Furthermore, children are portrayed both as objects of desire and consumers in their own right. Calendar art thus rests on a plane of tension between ‘unity’ and ‘variety’, between tradition and modernity, while the images of women and children are specifically connected with that of the middle classes in India.

Turning her attention to commercial Hindi cinema, Uberoi describes how the images of the ‘perfect’ Indian family, its cultures, values and traditions seek to preserve a feeling of Indianness in the hearts of the Indian diaspora. She illustrates her point by referring to hit Bollywood films such as, Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and Pardes. Hindi cinema, as it is commonly recognized, compartmentalizes the conflicting dimensions of wifehood—procreativity and sexuality, love as duty and love as sexual passion—into distinct social spaces. Ultimately the woman is seen to maintain the traditional Indian values, ready to make a sacrifice for them wherever and whenever she is required to.

Namaste London (2007) is a more contemporary example than those provided by Uberoi, in the way that it endorses the Indian family values that are fast disappearing in the contemporary world. Shot in London and Punjab, the film focuses on a father’s wish for his daughter to learn the ways of western culture and lifestyle. Jazz, played by Katrina Kaif, has been born and brought up in London and thinks partying and drinking in pubs is all that there is to life. She also thinks that as an adult she has a right to do what she feels like, which shocks her dad. This is the generation gap that the director seeks to illustrate—the young are set free to follow their will in another country while the parents pine for a good Indian boy for their daughters, having initially encouraged their children to learn the ways of the West.

The challenge of being and remaining Indian in a globalized world is one that must be met equally by those at home and abroad. With reference to Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson, she describes how the images of the family in Bollywood films depict the sort of generic image, a utopia, with which anyone could associate. It therefore stands to reason that, whether at home or abroad, it is the family system that is recognized as the social institution which quintessentially defines being Indian. These films operate as a site from where the perceived problems in the Indian middle class diaspora are addressed. The traditional patriarchal authority and inter-family alliances of marriage are ultimately reaffirmed.

Uberoi finally addresses the subjects of ‘post-marital romance’ and the ‘tribulations of courtship’ as portrayed in romantic literature in women’s magazines. Stories about romantic relationships after marriage became common in the late 1980s and early 90s. Uberoi highlights the importance of these short stories as they demonstrate to what extent the woman has to adjust in a marriage whenever required. She also observes the significance of a third character that acts as a mediator during conflicts between husband and wife: ‘The protagonist immediately identifies with that person and accepts the advice implicitly or explicitly proffered.’

Compared to the stories of post-marital love, the tales of romantic courtship are less satisfying and analytically more intractable. The former begins with marriage and ends in love, while the latter is the reverse. Love relationships are rarely portrayed as sexual and it is not endorsed that such relationships result in enduring love or marriage. In such cases the only ‘happy solution’ is that the relationship becomes ‘formalized and sacralized in marriage—provided the parents are otherwise well suited to each other.’

As much as all these media threaten the institution of Indian marriage and the Indian family system, via feminist critiques, they also become the ground in which these traditions are compounded. This book is a valuable contribution to its field in the way its author achieves accessibility by avoiding sociological jargon without sacrificing disciplinary rigour or her underlying feminist standpoint. However, by focusing so much on popular culture, Uberoi has limited her argument to a critique of the moral economy of the family. She is much more concerned with disproving or approving the ideal, imagined Indian family than she is with examining the reality. Despite her ability to present popular culture as an effective resource for achieving new sociological insights into contemporary issues and process, Uberoi only shows one side of the coin. The other—hidden—face is where women in modern India are still suffering for being women and struggling for autonomy.

 

Roshni Sharma

Nostalgia

The evening casts its pallor of gloom

As clouds of pleasure dance crazily across the sky.

An old shop at the corner of the lane

Chants an emotional yet obsolete tune

While mortals trudge on drearily.

 

I see a reflection on the water

Of an ancient, pock-marked face

Deep in thought, lined with despair.

He lights a cigarette and the hazy smoke rings

Ripple away into the muddy obscurities of time.

A thousand feet shuffle in the darkness

As the last embers of light flicker and die.

 

With uncontrollable rage, the rain begins to fall

The light, now reduced to mere specks

Dazzles like diamonds on an oasis

Beautiful smells tantalize the nostrils

The Earth speaks in eloquent words.

 

Antique houses, sepia-tinted snapshots of by-lanes

Fill my memory with delightful thoughts of infancy.

 

The reservoir of water in Heaven dries up soon.

Countless people step onto the darkened path

The violet sky with the silvery moon

Illuminates the landscape

Shedding its pink tassels

Over the mystical mountain.

 

The fading puddles beckon

Nostalgic dreams in my confused mind.

 

The wind pulls my ears again

I listen to the plaintive tune, morbid as the night

I need a magical poet

Who will scribble lines on the undulating lane

Making dead souls rise again.

 

I stand facing the murky world

And all I think of is you

My auburn coloured Goddess with liquid eyes.

 

My life has come full circle

This is where I end and begin anew

My journey to eternity

After the candle is extinguished

And someone walks over the water

In which my image stands.

 

Shaurya Sircar

Hide and Seek: Perceived Being and Being Perceived in Beckett’s Film

02. 03. 1936

Monsieur,

I write to you on the advice of Mr Jack Isascs, of London, to ask to be considered for admission to the Moscow State School of Cinematography. Born 1906 in Dublin and “educated” there. 1928-30 lecteur d’anglais at Ecole Normale, Paris. Worked with Joyce, collaborated in French translation of part of his “Work in Progress” (NRF, May 1931) and in critical symposium concerning same (Our Examination, etc.) Published “Proust” (essay, Chatto & Windus, London, 1931), “More Pricks Than Kicks” (short stories, do., 1934), “Echo’s Bones” (poems, Europa Press, Paris, 1935). I have no experience of studio work and it is naturally in the scenario and editing end of the subject that I am most interested. It is because I realise that the script is function of its means of realization that I am anxious to make contact with your mastery of these, and beg you to consider me a serious cinéaste worthy of admission to your school. I could stay a year at least.

Vuilliez agréer mes meilleurs hommages.

Samuel Beckett

This is the remarkable letter that never reached its recipient—Sergei Eisenstein—which could have otherwise dramatically changed Samuel Beckett’s creative life (It has been published by Seagull Books in The Eisenstein Collection, edited by Richard Taylor). Evidently, Beckett’s interest in pursuing a career in cinema was serious, as in this letter he claimed he would dedicate at least a year of his life to learning the craft from Eisenstein. As it turned out, Beckett himself would only ever make one contribution to film: the 1965 short, Film. The fact that the occasion of the film’s making provoked Beckett to make his one and only trip to the United States (it is filmed in New York) in order to have an active role in its production is a testament to his enthusiasm for the medium. In contrast, he neglected to travel for any of his theatre productions (as Katherine Waugh & Fergus Daly explain), even the ones made by his favourite director, Alan Schneider, whom Beckett requested to direct this film.

Eisenstein himself had famously remarked upon the influence of nineteenth-century literature on early cinema, in terms of technique, theme and narrative. Later, modern fiction would in turn take formal influence from the matured medium of film. Cinematic effects such as montage, the fragmenting and re-threading of varied viewpoints and narratives, came to be common literary devices that would lead both literature and film to an ongoing mutual exchange of ideas. When questioned on his treatment of literary texts in his own films (in an interview for Indian State TV that has been long since lost) Satyajit Ray commented on his use of film not merely as adaptation or translation, but as critique. This suggests, beyond a mere exchange or pastiche, the possibility of a dialogue between images and text, as two distinct voices with corresponding ideas.

Beckett’s penchant for philosophy is clear in his literary works, which reflect upon certain epistemological concerns portrayed through his characters’ often playful, occasionally oblique, antics. In Film he formulates similar intellectual observations visually. The fact that it is silent (except for the instructive ‘Shhh’ at the beginning) emphasizes vision as the film’s subject and form. Taking his departure for the script from the words of the eighteenth-century Irish philosopher, Berkeley, ‘Esse est percipi‘ (‘to be is to be perceived’), Beckett uses film to address certain problems of perception, mainly how it is unavoidable, for no matter how hard you might escape the perception of others, you can never fully escape your own mind’s eye.

There is a tragicomic element to this state of affairs that is not lost on the film’s screenwriter, nor on its protagonist, ‘O’, played by the silent-cinema phenomenon Buster Keaton. Seen here in his later years, Keaton proves still to be an upholder of the absurd, although the humour, where it is noticeable (Simon Critchley has questioned whether the film is indeed funny at all) is less delightful (compared to The General for example) and more off-beat, unnerving even (an altercation with a puppy and a kitten in a sparse and shabby room is perhaps the exception to this).

The other key protagonist in Film is ‘E’, played by the camera itself. The camera is the ‘Eye’ with which we, the viewers, pursue O, the ‘Object’. Along the way, we encounter passers-by who are also disturbed by the camera’s gaze. O goes to great pains to avoid all exterior perceptions of himself, from animate and inanimate sources, that close in around him, literally walling him in. A segment of the film that features O sifting through an envelope filled with photographs provides a momentary but poignant divergence, as he tenderly handles a selection of images from his past, featuring significant moments and relations, before promptly tearing them to pieces and stamping out the remains. It seems there are some reflections that are harder to part with than others. Not only is perception subjective and discriminative but our rejection of it is too.

Throughout the film both E and O, the invisible perceiver and the elusive perceived, seem engaged in a mutual dance, spinning and gliding about as if in tandem. It is not until O lets down his guard by falling asleep that E gets to play the advantage. Here we are confronted with the irony that the perceiver O has been trying to evade throughout is actually himself. Furthermore, O only has one eye (depth perception is said to be reduced with one eye). The film begins and ends with the image of a blind, blinking eye, confirming that the eye alone is impotent without an object, just as the object is incomplete if it is not being perceived.

Becky Ayre

Nocturnes

Late one night, nearly 10 years ago, I discovered that the Calcutta night sky is fiery red. Disregarding the mundane laws of optics, I had stayed up all night on the terrace, marvelling at the sky, at the stars whose names I would never learn, and looking down at the sleeping North Calcutta para. I have been nocturnal as long as I can remember. Growing up in a little town at the foot of the Himalayas, where people were more diurnal in nature, I would read till late at night by the light of my night-bulb. By the time I moved to the city, the night-bulb had been replaced by a more luminous light. Yet there would be nights when I would switch off the lights, go to the terrace, and sit there, imbibing the faint sounds, and weaving stories out of them. My septuagenarian neighbour would sleep with the radio on, and the faint notes of vintage music would waft in the autumnal night air. It was then, just as I was beginning to stay alone, that I began to associate music with the night.

Most of my favourite associations of the nocturnal with the musical have been in autumn and winter. Monsoons meant being locked indoors with power-cuts, and I had learnt to equate the sadness of confinement with Sultan Khan playing Desh on the sarangi. Etta James’s ‘Stormy Weather’, listened late one night a couple of years later, would take on a completely different meaning. And on one late autumn, I listened to Bach’s Mattheus Passion for nights on end from Martinstag until Christmas, relentlessly repeating the aria ‘Erbarme dich, mein Gott’The seductive ‘Strawberries, cherries, and an angel’s kiss in spring’ sprinkled in Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood’s ‘Summer Wine’ made the long, heady, summer nights only that much more palpable and alluring.

Nights make one unapologetic and reckless, inducing a certain amount of flair and a debonair defiance. When Frank Sinatra sings,

‘We’d be sharing love before the night was through

Something in your eyes was so inviting

Something in your smile was so exciting

Something in my heart told me I must have you’

he makes sure that these two ‘lonely people’ are ‘Strangers in the Night’For Ella Fitzgerald, it’s only the ‘Blue Moon’ that would shelter the heart-broken. For, the days and the seasons of the sun are for the boisterous achievers. The nights are subtle.

Like O’Henry’s short story, I have often wondered about the voices of the cities I’ve lived in or visited. On that bright afternoon when I was sitting at the Piazza San Marco, I heard a local band playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. By late night, after most of the tourists and the workers had returned to the mainland, I imagined that the music that would live on in the alleys of Venice would be, however, of an immigrant softly playing the Godfather theme ‘Speak softly love’ on his accordion, and a distant, discreet splash of a gondolier as he manoeuvred on the canal. Although Audrey Hepburn’s Sabrina had written to her father that she could hear ‘La Vie en rose’ being played one night in Paris, the song that kept playing in my head when I had reached my hotel on the outskirts of the city, past midnight that autumn (yet again), was Sarah Vaughan’s 1954 version of ‘April in Paris’ with Clifford Brown on the trumpet, one that goes on for eight minutes. Ella’s I love Paris every moment of the year’ is just so diurnal, like those souvenir shops near the Eiffel Tower that only attract tourists. As Paris sunk in, the song that haunted my mind more starkly was Rod Stewart or Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong crooning ‘The nearness of you’. The version would depend on the Paris sky that night.

While driving through Tuscany late one full-moon night, I hummed ‘Killing me softly with his song’ (Roberta Flack’s version, of course), Don Mclean’s ‘And I love you so’ and ‘Starry, starry night’Nat King Cole’s ‘Unforgettable’Mme Edith’s ‘Non je ne regrette rien’ (and quite meant it), Eric Clapton’s ‘Wonderful tonight’, and rested my tired but contented mind with Doris Day’s version of ‘When I fall in love’I rediscovered Lara’s Theme from Doctor Zhivago in the heart of Schwarzwald when my friend and fellow-flâneuse found a wooden jewellery box which played the theme when its lid was opened; and the beautiful fall colours in the forest reminded me of Clapton’s soulful ‘Autumn Leaves’.

Yet, there are quiet nights, when you turn off the lights and listen quietly to Chopin’s Preludes, you think of such people as Rosemary Clooney and Fred Astaire, you travel with the ‘Rhinestone cowboys’, with Bobby Gentry, Glenn Campbell and Paul Anka, dream about Jamaican sunshine, of the Kingston Trio and Harry Belafonte, and know that the lady in you is a tramp, true-blue Lena Horne style. You move from Julie London’s ‘Days of wine and roses’ to ‘Cry me a river’, and end with ‘Around midnight’, ‘Twirl around’ with Mary Jane Carpenter, and travel to the top of the world with the Carpenter siblings. On certain nights Kenny Rogers willingly agrees to be ‘the knight in shining armour’ to his lady, and Perry Como catches a falling star while being a prisoner of loveOn some nights you listen to Márta Sebestyén crooning beautiful songs in a language you do not understand, and marvel at the vastness of ‘La mer’, and finally accept ‘Le Tourbillon’. You listen to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, are wooed out of your comfort zone by Beethoven’s 9th and seek respite in Connie Francis singing ‘Die Liebe ist ein seltsames Spiel’, because Billie Holiday just sang ‘I’m a fool to want you’. For nights, like Chopin’s Nocturnes, are ubiquitous, come rain or come shine, and despite Al Bowlly singing ‘Guilty of loving you’ the nocturnal will never be acquitted of their clandestine addiction.

At dawn a few days ago, I was in the twilight zone between sleep and awakening. I did not want to rise and greet the glaring sunshine, and my mind suddenly crooned after many months,

‘I thought that love was just a word

They sang about in songs I heard

It took your kisses to reveal

That I was wrong, and love is real.’

La Vie en rose? Really?

Samraghni Bonnerjee