Thursday, September 23, 2010

Up and down the caddesis of Istanbul

Radhika and I were lucky to find ourselves in Istanbul early September enjoying the most fabulous weather – bright sunshine and a nip in the air, maple leaves whirling in the afternoon breeze, grass green, and the occasional blaring of songs on loudspeakers as truckloads of political campaigners drove past on Kazim Karabekir Caddesi abutting Bilgi University… I could go on.
“You’re lucky,” sociologist and writer Nilufer Narli told us. “It was 40 degrees until just the other day, and then it started to rain. That changed everything.” Well, we were grateful for the luck and for the opportunity to attend the second Writers’ and Literary Translators’ International Congress (WALTIC), at their invitation.

WALTIC, brainchild of the far-thinking and generous Swedish Writers’ Union, is an initiative that brings together writers, translators, publishers, students and others to talk about literature as a tool in creating opinion and achieving change. The first edition was held in Stockholm in 2008. The Istanbul edition was to focus on the impact of cultural translation, of the journey of the word across borders and between cultures, on literacy, freedom of expression and authors’ rights. A fascinating agenda, and Radhika and I were all excited – also at the chance to present Tulika in the context of copyright in children’s books.
While we soaked in Istanbul, and some of the presentations such as the opening keynote lecture by Renata Salecl, professor of law at the London School of Economics and researcher at the Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana, who brilliantly traced the connection between words and identity in a global context, and the closing keynote address by Korean poet, essayist, novelist and literary critic Ko Un who had us spellbound on the theme of language is life, life is language.
The disappointing thing was that since sessions ran parallel we couldn’t attend all. More disappointing was the poor attendance, and the absence of Turkish writers, translators, publishers, teachers, students, general public… The only Turkish publisher we met was Mehmet Erkurt, a young editor in a children’s publishing company. Children’s books editor – note! – and translator.
The copyright in children’s books session was poorly attended – no surprises since simultaneously Maureen Freely, the translator of Orhan Pamuk, was making her presentation and I myself would have so loved to be there. But there was an Icelandic children’s editor there, Ms Sigurdardottir, as well as Mehmet, and two Swedish writers Marie Oskarsson and Helen Rundgren (whose book with Tulika will soon be published), and Radhika of course, and a couple of other people. It was intimate, though, and conversational and interesting to find out how things happened in Iceland, Sweden and Turkey.
It made sense to contextualize the presentation. So: a profile of children in India, the place of languages and translation in Indian, the temper of multilingualism, the recent history of publishing, the more recent history of children’s publishing, the recent sense of urgency in government and non-government circles to get children to read, the fine line between literature and literacy, and how Tulika’s books demonstrate how persistence, innovation, creative choices and cooperation help us give children reading materials that lead to the strengthening of democracy, promote independent thinking, enchant, and entertain. (If you’d like to see what pictures helped tell this story, you can get a taste of them in this presentation. The photographs are from family albums and friends, and the illustrations are from Tulika books.)
Then came the discussion on copyright, and how it works for us, and for the team of writers, illustrators and translators. Some of the questions touched upon were: How does copyright work for expression, not ideas as is the international norm; what happens when we draw from oral and folk sources; how do adaptations work; what about photocopying then? Given the large population and the many languages, to what extent can control be exercised; in the context of literacy, how far can copyright claims go; is there a prescriptive argument here? What about free use on the Net and the wide world of animation, digital and cyber applications…
Putting the thoughts down on paper certainly clarified many issues for me. And once the presentation was made, I was completely free to soak in the charms of Sultanahmet, the Grand Bazaar, the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, sufi music and the sema whirling ceremony, a glorious ride down the Bosphorous and some fabulous cherry dondurma (ice cream in case you were wondering… What about caddesi? Now that you can guess!)

- Sandhya Rao

You can also find photos from Istanbul and WALTIC on Facebook.

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