Jestfully Yours: Masterclasses with Jerry Pinto


Considering the limited word count and a scientifically proven fact that a goldfish can retain a thought longer than most readers today, this piece of writing (ok, blog) will steer clear of Jerry Pinto’s published works as a journalist, author and translator as well as his involvement with various organizations and his noted achievements, all of which are widely known and documented in the print and virtual world, in a deliberate attempt to distil what could qualify as ‘Improvised Insight’—minus the theatrics, sounds and voice modulation that those present had the good fortune to experience. It will also resort to shorter sentence construction. Hopefully.

Trying to encapsulate Jerry Pinto’s Masterclass into a succinct blog is like pouring beer in a glass—from tilting the glass at a 45-degree angle, to slowly positioning it upright as you pour. No spillage. Controlled and contained. Unlike the two-day session I had the pleasure of attending. Some noteworthy excerpts:

Publishing—a conspiracy of the highly educated or so it seemed!

A younger Jerry had acquired a law degree and was a mathematics tutor. He wanted to be a writer but was fairly sure that no one would publish what he wrote. He felt that writers (back then) were all natural geniuses. The world of writing that got published appeared to be a closed shop, with no way to get in. Luckily his friends thought otherwise. Jerry was pushed and persuaded to write, which he did for a newspaper. The newspaper went on to publish the work and ushered him into their world. He settled in. Soon the fate of a piece of writing in a newspaper became very clear to him. It lived only for a day. He wanted permanency. He wanted a book with a spine that could sit on someone’s shelf. That, he imagined, was permanency. But when a book is discarded and winds up being sold on the streets for a quarter of the printed price, he sees its impermanency too.

A publisher’s silence—there is nothing more grim.

Based on personal experience, Jerry described the initial communication cycle between a publisher and a writer for a solicited manuscript:

Publisher sends a letter to the Writer, ‘We would like you to write this book.’

Writer sends in first draft to the Publisher, hoping to receive a response that reads—

‘Received your manuscript. Will get back to you soon.’

Instead, Writer receives no response. Not a word.

Writer has relocated to Outer Siberia, a cold and distant place with no communication.

In his head.

Publisher finally responds to the Writer, after one year, ‘Lets meet and talk.’

Research is not reading. Reading is what you do last.

Jerry gave us a reality check when he pointed out that paper research or online research through Wikipedia and Google searches was akin to reinventing the wheel. For him, authentic research is people, the streets and roads and lanes, the market, buses and trains, conversations, listening. He backed this with an incident involving the noted British author Graham Greene. The author was visiting someone at a hospital in Britain when a child in the ward died of a spasm. Greene ran to the side of the bed to see what happened. The father stood mute and dumbstruck, in utter shock, unable to express his pain in any form of language or gesture. The mother began to weep, lament, wail in agony. The other patients in the ward could not bear to see this, hear this, and so they all plugged in to the radio. But Greene kept listening to and watching the woman, recording in his mind the platitudes with which she spoke. He saw immense grief which was very Greek in its size and scope, but the words that were coming out of her mouth were commonplace. He continued to listen and observe because that is the job of a writer. To listen. To observe.

‘For a writer, any device that cuts you off from listening is your enemy. If you are travelling on buses and trains, with earphones plugged in, you are cutting out conversation, comments, the way people speak, the rhythms of their language. In the absence of these inputs, writing takes on a strange and strained form. It is only you and your world that you are drawing from.’

Is there any way of writing dialogues without resorting to stereotypes?

He had some very interesting examples and intriguing insights to answer this self-posed question. His favourite being women and men explaining colours. He observes that women and men never use the same words to describe colours. What men see as red or brown, women see as tan or cranberry or wine. To women, colours are complicated shades—teal, umber, pink with an undertone. If the same complicated (even if, accurate) description of colours were to be used by a man, people would assume he is gay. This is because we are thinking stereotypically. However, what if it is a painter who thinks of colour in interesting and different ways? Who invariably ‘sees’ it more accurately? What if it is Picasso, a heterosexual man who loved colour all his life, practically invented emotive colour for the twentieth century? Should there be a need to define Picasso’s choice of words for colours in terms of his sexual orientation? A writer may not consciously use stereotypes; yet, he/she needs to know the stereotypical notions.

He went on to explain how abstraction of tone in writing is important to be able to construct credible characters. For this, a writer needs to know how the character, depending on various demographic factors, is likely to talk and incorporate the misinterpretations and malapropisms of the characters in dialogue.

How does one deal with writer’s block?

For Jerry, it is rather simple. To him, writing is like any other profession in which one needs to be at it. He made a valid point by replacing the case of a writer with a plumber or a cook—nobody knows of a plumber saying, ‘I will not plumb,’ or a cook declaring, ‘I shall not cook,’—‘for I have a [plumber’s/cook’s] block!’ So if you are a writer, you write. You write when it is going well and you write when all’s falling apart. You write when it is dry and desiccated and you write when there are icicles around because you will break through into clear water if you persist. He also stresses the fact that it is equally important to cancel and throw out ‘bad pages’, keeping in mind Ernest Hemingway’s lines, ‘The first draft of anything is shit.’

It is evident that Jerry is a zealous reader; therefore, his advice—on how to detect bad writing—is reading. ‘If you have read enough and if you read every day and if you read more than you should, you will develop a sense of when you are writing badly.’

Ideally Jerry Pinto’s talks ought to be experienced and not read about. His topics are always new and relevant. Jerry’s second novel, Murder in Mahim, published by Speaking Tiger Books, will be launched in November this year.

Urvashi Bachani

Recipe for Well-Written Translation with Shanta Gokhale


  • 225g of trust between the Publisher and the Translator
  • 350g of sensitive treatment of the text by the Translator
  • 1 tbsp of the translator’s ability to retain the power of words when reproducing regional words into English
  • 5 tbsp of conveying the power of the spoken word, especially in plays
  • 25 g of capturing the speech rhythm of characters
  • 1 tsp of responding to unsaid things in the original i.e. translating subtleties along with words
  • A pinch of not taking any unfair liberties with the translation. A translation must remain a translation and not a recreation

CAUTION: Please avoid adding half-baked egg(head)s who run the risk of abandoning the entire project halfway after having agreed to bring out the translated version. Ms Shanta Gokhale recalls how one of her translation projects was stalled midway, owing to a major falling out between the editor and the publisher—after the translation had finished and the book had been printed. Printed copies were simply stored, with no plans of seeing the light of day on the publisher’s part. This case stands as a reminder of moral failure.

NOTE: Ms Gokhale also recollects with much enthusiasm and nostalgia an event which she fondly calls ‘the Jerry Pinto intervention in the Embers affair’ where the author of the famous Em and the Big Hoom pointed out to the by-then-exasperated translator that any contract made with the publisher stands automatically cancelled if the book isn’t out in bookstores five years after the manuscript has been received.


Depends on the agreement between the writer and publisher, and between publisher and translator.


May take approximately six months for a book to be translated. May vary from translator to translator, depending on individual taste.


Thousands of English readers across the world.


A sum of Rs 5,000.00 to be paid to the Author, Rs 4,000.00 to be paid to the Publisher and Rs 3,000.00 to be paid to the Translator. Again, may vary depending on the Author, Publisher and Translator.


  1. The publisher looks for a translator and commissions a translation.
  2. The publisher approaches an established translator—a name that will help sell as many copies of the book as possible.
  3. The translator goes from publisher to publisher till the project is accepted.
  4. The translator translates dead authors—the safest of all scenarios because the translator does not have the delightful pleasure of dealing with the author and can personally work on the book.


  • Academic translation: Often longer than the original, academic translations usually contain translations as well as interpretations of the words and themes in the original text. Such translations retain the risk of the loss of the author’s voice and may end up too ponderous, thus, flavourless.
  • Creative translation: Based on the translator’s intention, creative translations retain important aspects of the original, such as, sentence structure, rhythm of speech of characters, and preserve the writer’s style and voice. Ms Shanta Gokhale, the renowned mistress of Marathi and English translations, states that creative translations render ‘faithful justice to the original’.

CAUTION: Readers are strictly advised to follow any ONE of the above-mentioned methods. The fusion of the two might result in an explosion of bad and messy translation all over the pages.

NOTE: Do not attempt to use unfamiliar equipment while translating as it might result in undercooking or overcooking the original. Do not, under any circumstance, misplace the recipe. Ms Gokhale frankly says that being technologically challenged [something I can relate to] led to her accidentally deleting several pages of her translations. She humorously states, ‘I’m so hopeless with computers. They so defeat me.’ But she optimistically adds that she has rewritten all those lost pages ‘without batting an eyelid!’


A heart-warming and interesting conversation on translation interspersed with fun and charming anecdotes by Ms Shanta Gokhale.

Recipe by Sai Prasanna

© 2015 Seagull School of Publishing

All Rights Reserved

Decoding Publishing with Udayan Mitra

While every budding editor at the Seagull School of Publishing yearned, for days, to have an insight into the business aspect of the publishing sector, Udayan Mitra, associate publisher and head of rights of Penguin India, stepped in to decode how publishing functions. He had assembled our feedback to the questionnaire, which we were told to fill up a few days prior to his visit, in a compact and informative PowerPoint presentation. It listed some basic questions regarding our interests in books and authors as well as our opinions about publishing in general. With the help of his ingenious business acumen, he highlighted and discussed the ideas he felt important for us to acquire a basic sense of the trade. Here are some of the questions and the points discussed.

What First Got You Interested in Publishing?

We had expressed, in our answers, several viewpoints related to the nostalgia we share for books and bookstores. Some had shared their deepest affection towards the various parts of a book while others had professed their loyalty to the authors and the profession they are about to venture into.

‘For me, the copyright page!’ Udayan confesses with a glint of smile.

He makes it abundantly clear that though the editorial department takes the most credit for bringing out a book, one should always be grateful to the marketing and sales team in today’s competitive market environment.

The Life of Pie: The Publishing Pie!

The life of a book does not start with the manuscript nor does it end with the reader. It is an idea literally pressed between crude hardcovers, wrapped in a sterling amalgamation of paper and creativity. The book passes through many hands before it reaches the reader. The figures involved in making a book available to the masses are reflected in a simple list:

  • Distributor discount 45–60 %
  • Author royalties 5–15%
  • Production cost 17–20%
  • Marketing cost 6%

That’s 75–100% of the pie. A little more actually, if one counts the maximums. Should the publisher expect a profit then?

‘Publishing is a labour of love,’ Udayan answers simply.

What Do People Read? How Do Publishers Publish?

As much as one wants to publish the books of his/her choice, it is generally not the case. Udayan emphasizes that even though the literary segment occupies half of the backlist for Penguin, publishing in India cannot run primarily on that. Statistics suggest that ‘commercial’ sells the most whereas ‘business’ is the most profitable segment.

What is the need for the literary segment then?

‘It is the heartbeat of the company.’ Penguin is known for this genre. The quality of the books and a dedicated readership are what keep them on the A-list. The massive import list is the lifeline of Penguin.

Udayan seems wary of the growing price of the book and the effect it has on the market, which he ascertains is partially a reason for the gradual shifting of base from the world of physical books to e-books.

The Future of Publishing

The world of publishing and readers has been swept over by the e-storm after the release of Kindle by Amazon. Book lovers panic for they view it as a violation of the nostalgia they hold dear. Udayan is unperturbed by the change. He feels ‘every threat is an opportunity’, and so one should not look at e-books as adversaries, rather as a complement to printed books. He remains prudent. He aims at a much more advanced stage where he feels that ‘just like the vinyl records came back in a revamped fashion replacing the mp3s’, the physical book, after this metamorphosis, will return in a new avatar.

‘No one can predict the fate of publishing,’ says Udayan, assuredly.

Publishers Now

Because physical space can be dispensed with, transportation costs are almost nil and production cost is considerably lower, the e-books are looked upon as the publishers’ messiah. They generate greater revenues, which is why their proliferation and rapid growth in the advanced countries is spectacular—the e-book market is expanding fastest in countries like USA and UK, closely followed by countries like Germany and Australia, and finally India and France.

What Will Be the Next Step for India?

Udayan talks with great relish and excitement about the Kindle revolution. He says that the focus should be on the management for maintaining equilibrium between the two counterparts, mutually supportive of each other, which he points out, is what the advanced countries are currently trying to cope with.

He concludes the class propounding his futuristic ideas of what the world may be seeing from the publishing sector in the years to come.

Asmitabha Manna