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Photography Critiques (early-1990s) ~ Kamasutra Anew (mid-1990s)

It turns out I've done quite a bit of professional writing so far in life, but my archives pre-1991 (mostly travel writing on obscure and little-known trails and places in India, and some satire) are lost to me.

Doesn't matter perhaps, because some of my more important (but quite different) writings came after that. In particular, I'd put on record two of the three illustrated books I wrote texts for, and the series of commentaries on photography that I did for the Times of India (India's top english newspaper) through about 1991-93. The former are overviewed below, with the opening Kamasutra chapter invented by me linked to above. The photography critiques link leads in turn to the complete collection I'd promised to put up here a long time ago.

The Himalayas ~ Lustre Press / Rolli Books / India

Kishore Singh was executive editor at Cross Section Publications in Delhi when I first worked for him on assignment as an independent writer & photographer in the late 1980s. Coincidentally, this was the same company I'd first joined (as asst. editor & manager-PR) after earning my diploma of journalism about a decade earlier.

Sometime in the early-90s, Kishore shifted over to the post of group editor at Rolli Books,.. and fondly remembered me when it came time to assign someone to write the text for a 'coffee-table' book they wanted to do through Rolli's 'Lustre Press' division, on the Himalayas.

So he called up one morning and put it to me straight ~ would/could I write him a 20,000 word text on the Himalayas for this book in 45 days? Of course, I jumped at it!

Soon after signing the contract a couple of days later, I zipped out to share the good news and celebrate with my good friend Hemen Sanghvi (the incredible photo-documentarist, teacher and practitioner of vernacular Indian architecture), who solemnly first retreated into his library to emerge in a few moments with 13 book he handed over to me (on loan, of course) with the advice that I "might find them handy",.. before proceeding to pour a round of wine and and loosening up to enjoy my good fortune with me.

Handy? Boy ~ regardless of how much I'd personally travelled in the Himalayas before then, those books of Hemen's eventually yeilded me up much of the meat of my finished 20,000 words in less than a month from when I first got them. After reading them through, taking notes all the way, all I had to do was put it together with what I already knew, to figure out what exactly I wanted to do, and then directly hammer out the final draft in double-space on a typewriter (!!) with two fingers, just like I'd done all of my other writing till then. A quick once-over to jot in corrections and minor changers here and there, and the manuscript was delivered.

The finished book carries this text almost entirely unchanged and unedited except for one crucial word. I'd therefore like to put on record here that I have never, and would never, use the word "absurdest" to describe anything about any human subject of my writings,.. unless I really wanted to wallop someone, which was clearly not the case here.

The book also carries the fascinating background that for several very good reasons I pegged the whole thing substantially around Ladakh, which I personally visited for the first time only three years later. For the record, again: it was exactly as I had described it to be, thanks to Hemen's books!

The Himalayas went on to be translated, published and sold very well in 3-4 international languages around the world. My favourite review of the book in India, was by Bill Aitken, an almost legendary travel-writer on the sub-continent. My favourite line from it?

"... The author makes a confident swing across the spectrum of cultural provinces that reminds one of Madanjeet Singh's UNESCO classic now in great demand that the Buddhist border areas are beginning to shed their inner line restrictions...."

note: a lot of folks congratulate me for the photographs in The Himalayas, but they're clearly credited in the book to more than 30 photographers, not including me. My own photo-stock on the subject was long gone by then.

The Art of Kamasutra ~ Lustre Press / Rolli Books / India
[The Lost Chapter Reinvented]

Kishore called me over to his office one day and proposed that I do him the text for a humourous Kamasutra they'd been planning to publish. I agreed to give the idea a good think and carried off several earlier (serious) versions by other writers and publishers, which he'd kept handy for me to begin my research with.

Two days later, I got back to him with the counter-proposition that I would instead do a dead-serious rewrite for him, and that I would allow Rolli Books/Lustre Press the right to publish only one edition,.. for double what I'd been paid for The Himalayas.

The position I was taking here was that what little had come down to us of the original Kamasutra of Vatsyayana in the english language was essentially a quaint and very old translation of a very-very old vernacular indian text by a britisher!!,.. and so there certainly was space and some little need indeed for a serious re-rendering (even though I did the final text in a very formal and sort of quaint english).

Surprisingly, my counter-proposition was taken on pretty quick, even though Pramod Kapoor (owner/publisher of Rolli) tried to slip out of the "one edition only" part in all sorts of ways. In the end however, I even managed to educate him that he should gift each of his authors a fine pen to sign each of their book-contracts with,.. and accordingly took home for myself the trophy of one of the cheapest he could find in his desk-top collection at such an inconvenient spur of the moment ~ a "Rotring Artpen".

I should have suspected from the beginning that there something fishy about how easily Pramod took aboard my counter-proposition when it ran so counter to what had been proposed to me, as a book carefully 'planned'. After all, he was generally spoken of as a pretty slippery customer on several counts amongst a good part of the community of photographers and writers he fed off in Delhi.

So, what's to say?

Well, to begin with, I have good reason to believe that Pramod had in fact pre-sold a duplicate edition of this book with a different person's name on the cover,.. but in any case, he published it in at least 4 verifiable independent editions, as The Art of Kama Sutra (ISBN: 8174361766), The Art of Kamasutra (ISBN: 8174370072), The Art Of Kamasutra,. Bind : Hardback No. of Pages : 95 Date of Publication : 1995. Publisher : Richard Blady Publishing [ISBN : 1-898367-65-5], Die Kunst des Kamasutra (ISBN: 8174370145) and L'art du Kama Sutra ~ Publisher: G. Trédaniel, 2001 (Who is this?!?!) (ISBN 2-84445-312-0),.. and possibly a Spanish edition I've recently been told of!!

What do I do?

Well ~ this is India, where courts are choked up for years into the future!!

On a separate note: the diverse collection of illustrations originally meant for this book were all lost in transit to London for scanning/processing. The illustartions eventually used were desperately commissioned specifically for the book after this.

My favorite review lines:

  • "... interwoven with practical and informed text, retells the celebrated work in a jaunty, pragmatic style, and analyses the gamut of sexual relationships and modes - ranging from tender romantic love to conjugal concord."
  • "Shankar Barua's retelling of Vatsyayana's The Kamasutra is both jaunty and pragmatic, its analysis of sexual politics often chillingly realistic. The intention of this work was to provide instruction as well as enjoyment."

Pushkar ~ Lustre Press / Rolli Books / India

While I put this book on record here, it is not one I like to remember. And so I'm glad my name's not on it's cover.

What happenned?

Well, this was after Kishore had left Rolli. So it was Pramod who assigned me to do the text of this book according to a specific format, as it was to be part of a series on different places by different writers.

After I submitted the text, Pramod called me up and asked me to pad it up with an extra chapter or two that he had in mind. I refused, and instead asked him to do it himself,.. if he really felt it to be so necessary, and even had such a clear pre-visualization of what he wanted.

.... and that's exactly what the funny little fellow went and did, in addition to some pretty roughneck editing!

SO ~ the text of this book contains very subtantial inputs and alterations by Pramod Kapoor, and is put on record here only as a disclaimer of responsibility for any part of the finished text that resulted.

*** Not surprisingly, I avoided doing and have therefore not done any further assignments for this very interesting segment of the writer's market in India. Luckily enough at the time, I was also very substantially and most coveniently diverted away towards helping my wife Poonam launch and operate PAM, so these three are about all the books I've done.

H-o-w-e-v-e-r,... I did do one more manuscript on a back-burner, which I have not seriously ever put up to a publisher so far.

It is called "The Book of Rudra", and the position it takes off from is that:

[a] the Purans are the fount of all ancient Indian mythology from the Hindu stream, which traces all life, matter, time, the universe and everything up to the ultimate trinity and cycle of Creation, Continuance and Destruction, represented by Brahma, Vishnu & Shiva respectively,.. who in turn are just parts of the all-encompassing but utterly indescribable cosmic whole we refer to as 'Brahman'

[b] a third of the Puranas each hold one Lord of the trinity respectively to be paramount over the others

[c] stories in the Puranas are therefore often repeated from book to book,.. with characters changed around,.. and there is often very little semblance of sequence, order or continuum from story to story, after the similar ritual beginnings of each book

SO ~ my manuscript just draws out a select series of stories from only the Tamasik Purans (which hold Shiva to be paramount), and spins them into a sort of sequence stretched from the beginning of creation in our epoch, through to when Shiva gets fed up of all the goings-on on earth and departs to live in Shivaloka instead.

The text has been done in a very studied and somewhat dry manner which conforms to my vision of the finished book, in terms of layout, paper, illustrations (approx.), cover material, size, etc.

As you'd guess, Rudra is just another name of Shiva, amongst whose 1,000 names one also finds Shankar ~ my own name.

My plan for this manuscript is to eventually partner with a real good illustrtaor who gets turned on enough by the whole idea, to develop it with me into a finished book-package which I would like to only then put up to publishers (and bulk-buyers),.. from what would be a much better negotiating position. Needless to say, I may actually even try to develop the illustrations myself from original photographs and images in the public domain.

Lets see,... Till then, it's just fine on that ole back-burner.

Shankar Barua (april 2002)
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