Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Interview with Aravinda Anantharaman

A few posts back we had a review about Lama Mani Books. We sent a few queries to Aravinda Anantharaman, the author of the Lama Mani books and she was kind enough to reply back with detailed answers for them.

1. Tell us a little about yourself.
Aravinda: I've always liked reading and I suppose writing was never too far behind. One of my early jobs was as writer for an online magazine on Bangalore.

2. In the Lama Mani books, it is mentioned that your interaction with the Tibetans in exile started during a interview with some people selling sweaters. Can you let us know more about this.
Aravinda: As part of a feature series, we had planned to cover various communities here and I picked the Tibetans, call it karma. I had vague and assorted bits of information about them when I went to the pavement near the railway station to chat with the sweater sellers.

One of the sweater sellers was Dorjee. He was in his mid-sixties then, in early ’99. He was also the president of the sweater sellers association. He told me about leaving Tibet as a teenager, coming to India as a refugee and fighting in the Bangladesh war before becoming a sweater seller. Over the next few weeks, I met him often to hear his tale and over many cups of tea, he spoke about his life, about Tibet and about how difficult it was to sell sweaters. And as the interview neared its end and I gathered my books to leave, he said, "I want to go back home before I die." And I could see that he often thought back to the days when the Chinese invasion had just become official and the Tibetans were more hopeful of getting their country back. Days when idealistic young men enlisted in the guerilla army, days that held more promise.

3. How did the concept of Think Tibet come up? How long did it take to bring these books from the inception of the idea to final publication? and what did the process involve? Why did your team in Think Tibet decide to go and publish the books yourselves instead of going to some other established publications?
Aravinda: There were many Tibetans I met over the years in Bangalore and they spoke of things that I had never known in my world. And yet, most of the Indians I knew were as clueless as I was, and it’s still that way. I found it unacceptable that we had all this happening so close to home (Karnataka is home to the oldest and largest Tibetan settlements in exile) and people were not aware of it.

My friend Tenzin Jangchup Lingpa is a second-generation Tibetan in exile. We met through a Tibet support group. Being in Bangalore, we met often to talk about Tibet and exile and eventually, in 2006, he created Think Tibet. More Tibetan and Indian supporters came forward to join us and Think Tibet became a forum to take on various projects. We have had a theatre workshop for Tibetan college student, an art exhibition and regularly bring speakers as part of Tibet Talk, a lecture series.

One of the things I felt I could help with was in the creation of books and we started working on it. From the start, we felt that having our own publishing imprint would offer a platform for the kind of books we wanted to see. It may have been a naive decision but we did want to try it out. Around that time I also applied for the Indian Young Publishing Entrepreneur awards that the British Council offers and the rather long form that I filled allowed me to work out the details of the publishing idea. It was one of the shortlisted entries and I went on to present the concept to a panel in Kolkata. The response came as an affirmation and we felt we should atleast try and make a beginning. This was in early 2008.

Good fortune also came in the form of a small grant for one of our book proposals from the Foundation of Universal Responsibility of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and we now had a deadline along with a dream.

Can you tell us a bit about the other books that you are planning through Lama Mani publications?
Aravinda: I’ve always felt that stories must come from where we live and what we see and with the Tibetan life in exile especially. Which is also why our first stop was the Gyenso Khang or old age home in Mundgod. It was the first one to be set up in exile, in the mid 60s. We chose the sweater sellers because they are the ones who interact most with the local people, and who are most visible of the community.

The Dalai Lama arrived in India in March 1959 and this is the 50th year in exile for the Tibetan people. So we were keen to release the books at a significant date and we chose to do so close to July 6th which is also marked as World Tibet Day in honour of the 14th Dalai Lama’s birthday. So well, it took us a good year and a half to put it all together. What we are doing currently is having a Tibetan translation of the two books done.

We borrowed easily from real life - for instance, Zema the dog from Dolma Visits the City can be seen hanging outside the sweater stalls in Majestic. The sweater sellers call her Zema or ‘beautiful’ and she is very loyal to the Tibetans. When some of the sweater sellers saw the book, they immediately recognised her and enjoyed it. Similarly, in Mundgod we saw a Tibetan hoarding on the road and that made its way to the book. What we wanted to show was that life in exile in India is not unpleasant for the large part but there are underlying issues that make it challenging. That is also what we are trying to show here.

The lama mani’s of Tibet were storytellers and we feel that our books must be a tribute to those artists who could hold their listeners spellbound. With Lama Mani Books, we want to create contemporary stories that may borrow from tradition but speak the language of our times and lives while creating a thing of beauty. That, for me, is the function of art.

About your involvement with Hippocampus?
Aravinda: I joined Hippocampus when it started in 2003 out of a pressing desire to be around books. I’d been working the dotcoms and the IT sector as a writer of sorts and my heart was not in it. These last 6 years have been exciting in the kinds of books that come out in children’s literature and what better place to catch the fun than a children’s library! Our work has extended to government school and NGO-run libraries and I am involved in selecting books, recommending titles and whatever else around books. We have recently created something called the Hippocampus Book Council to bring together various aspects of book-related work that we do. I’m also been involved in organising our annual storytelling carnival called HOO’s Tales.

What kind of books do you prefer and what are some of the memorable books that you have read recently? Any favourites in kid literature that you would prefer that every adult should read?
Aravinda: I enjoy a good story in any form. My must-read list currently has Patrick Jennings’ The Beastly Arms, Ally Kennen’s Beast, Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Philip Pullman’s The Firework Maker’s Daughter, Maurice Sendak’s Higglety Pigglety Pop! Or, There Must Be More to Life, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series.
I love cross-over authors (writes of literary fiction writing for children) and have enjoyed Roddy Doyle (The Giggler Treatment, Wilderness) and Carl Hiassen’s (Hoot, Flush) books for younger readers. I absolutely love the work of Maurice Sendak and Mommy? finds a special place in my bookshelf. Other favourites are Irwin Shaw, John Steinbeck, Amit Chaudhuri. I am currently reading Marina Lewycka.

What are the other books that you were involved in?
Other books I have worked on:
Stark World - Bangalore & Karnataka (as Asst. Editor). Published by Stark World, Jan 2005)
Reaching for the Stars (co-author on the autobiography of Hella Mundhra, Founder, Shishu Mandir). Published by Shishu Mandir Jan 2008

Where can folks buy a copy of the Lama Mani books in India or abroad?
Dorje’s Holiday at the Gyenso Khang and Dolma Visits the City are available at
Blossom Book House, Church Street Bangalore
Tibet Store, Patrick’s Complex, Residency Road, Bangalore
Focus Book Shop, Malleswaram, Bangalore
and Tibetan stores in Bylakuppe, Delhi and Dharamsala.

In the US, one can place orders at :
Tibet Moon
47, Broadway
CA 94930
Tel: 510 390 6771

We are talking to the people at flipkart.com to see if we can sell through them. For now, email orders to info@thinktibet.org are also fine.

Thank you Aravinda.


Meera Sriram said...

Very inspiring indeed! And definitely an eye-opener! Thank you Aravinda. And Sathish, thanks for bringing this to us!

Poppy said...

That part of moving from IT to Books - a dream come true! Very inspiring and an excellent interview. Thanks Aravinda/Satish!

Choxbox said...

HI Aravinda!

utbtkids said...

In spite of being aware of Tibet and people living in exile, I have known about it in a different perspective.

When you read about Dalai Lama and the screening you have to go through to do the Manas holy trip, you get a different idea which is totally different from what you get by talking to what one can call 'the common man'

Thanks Aravinda and Satish.

Aravinda said...

Thank you all at Saffron Tree for supporting our small team at Lama Mani Books. It's great to be on the map as part of CROCUS 2009! And congratulations to you all for putting it together - it's absolutely fantastic!

sathish said...

Hi Aravinda, Thanks for the kind words.

Praba Ram said...

Fascinating interview!

What a story, Aravinda! Moved by the initiative you are part of. Wishing you the best in your journey. We are so glad to support the wonderful cause to help Tibetans in exile. Please let us know if there's anything more we could do. Thanks, Aravinda for accepting our invitation to be part of CROCUS.

Thanks Sathish for bringing this wonderful interview to our readers, and not to miss your review of Lama Mani!

DDmom said...

What an enterprising lady and an inspiring interview. To do what you want to do rather than what comes your way.
Storytelling carnival.. okay.. I need to figure out when and block my calendar.
BTW, we have a resident blogger who also chose education over IT, as that's where her heart was. I can very well see her writing books in future. Guess.. guess.. guess.. Boo is not allowed to answer.

Sheela said...

Inspiring, Aravinda! Thanks for introducing us to, Satish!

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