Interview: Chandra Shekhar Balachandran

We got talking to Chandra Shekhar Balachandran, author of Geography, Everywhere!

Dr. Chandra Shekhar Balachandran is a geographer with over 35 years of teaching experience. In 2000, he returned to India and set up TIGS. He tells his students that he ‘eats, drinks, blinks, breathes … lives geography!’

How did you get interested in geography? What kind of books and people in the field interested you?

In 1971, when I was in the 8th standard at National High School, Bangalore, the Bangladesh war broke out. Our Social Studies teacher, Sri B Narasanna, held us spell-bound for the duration of the war explaining to us the geography and history of what was unfolding daily. We didn’t touch the textbook for all those days. The seeds of my interest in geography were sown then. However, I didn’t realize it until I started teaching geography as a doctoral student at Kent State University (Ohio) in the mid-1980s where I had come under the tutelage of my next geography guru, Dr Surinder Mohan Bhardwaj.

Before that, I don’t recall any books inspiring me to become a geographer. I did rethink many books from a geographer’s perspective and found new meanings and connections in them. In graduate school, of course, we had readings of geographers such as the legendary Dr. Yi-Fu Tuan, and others.

My own guru’s writings on pilgrimages and sacred geographies continue to be a huge influence both in my life and in my geography education work. My interests today are largely shaped by the latter.

Tell us about TIGS.

I started TIGS (The Institute of Geographical Studies) as a project in 2000 when I relocated to Bangalore, after having studied and taught in the USA for twenty years. When I returned I observed how dead school-level geography education is in most of the academic endeavors. Inspired and inspiring geography education was there, but very rare. Alas, it still is.

I wanted to share what my teachers (both Sri Narasanna and Dr. Bhardwaj) had taught me with pupils and teachers alike.

Under TIGS, I began offering workshops that showed how textbook concepts connect to our lives in many interesting ways.

Over time, TIGS has been offering a variety of other activities including field trips, lectures, documentary film screenings, non-formal geography education online (a course called G.o.D. – Geography over Distance), weekly geography essays published for several years in the Deccan Herald Student Edition, online readings, quizzes, assignment ideas, and our flagship annual event: International Geography Youth Summit (IGYS). IGYS is the only formal academic geography conference for school children (standards 7 and above) in India. It has become very popular with children because they get to explore geography by conducting a project on a topic of their choosing.

Why are you on a mission to educate children about this subject?

Every discipline we engage with comes with a set of ethics and human values. When school education goes from teaching subjects to teaching disciplines, children see the value of what they are learning, and how they should use their knowledge for making a difference for the better in the world around them. Far too often, school education is about getting high marks and becoming ‘successful’, not much about how to be a good citizen of the world at all scales ranging from the family to the world.

Every discipline can offer such frameworks. I just happen to talk about geography. It is not only interesting in and of itself, it is also a naturally integrating discipline. It helps us see how things are interconnected in this world. Recognizing and engaging with these interconnections make the discipline that much more powerful. This is called PDK (Powerful Disciplinary Knowledge). Geography’s PDK empowers children to be both critical thinkers and compassionate human beings.

There are many anecdotes and tidbits in the book Geography, Everywhere! Tell us about them.

Every waking moment, I keep reflecting on what might be teachable. Thanks to my gurus, my geography lens is always helping me see how beautifully geography connects with everything. So, no matter what happens, one track in my mind is always discerning the geography aspect of life. That is a joyous experience.

I just share that with anyone who is interested.

 Tell us about your writing process.

Generally, I work better when I have deadlines! I look at the goings-on in the world and in my own life to see things that illustrate geography concepts. I use these to introduce my readers to geography concepts. Through these, definitions of the concepts are tied to real-world phenomena. Sometimes, they are not real-world! I have explored cyberplaces, fiction, dreams, mythologies, psychologies, and so on through geography.

Nothing escapes the geography treatment!

I have done a lot of slice-of-life kind of writing (mainly online). Several of these have appeared in an e-zine. Here, I have to put in a lot of effort to keep the geography discourse out! These are musings from my own life.

In all cases, it is merely observing, not much digging.

How is the approach toward geography different in the west?

‘The west’ is a very broad term. Generally, in Europe, for example, teachers have a great deal more agency to develop, design, and deliver curriculums. In the USA, there is considerable political meddling in the social sciences curriculum. The effects of this are far less on geography than the other social sciences. There is much more hands-on learning because class sizes are usually small.

 You have talked about zoonotic diseases in one of the essays in your book. In pandemic times, what role do you see geography playing in the spread of COVID-19?

One of the subfields of geography is medical geography. It shows how place matters. Specifically, in the context of COVID-19, geography appears in many different ways. Starting with the place of origin of the various species and their interactions with their ecosystems, we look at where the species end up and how humans interact with them (e.g.wet markets). What are the characteristics of a place that facilitate zoonosis? For instance, poor hygiene, dense human populations, transportation connections (modes of transport, frequency, etc.), and so on. The characteristics of places matter a lot!

Check out some essays related to this crisis at the TIGS blog.

Tell us about your experience with Pothi.com.

I can’t remember how I came across Pothi.com It may have been through searching online about 1½ years or so ago, when I was compiling some of my essays into a book and was looking for possible publishing avenues. In the event, we ended up publishing it from TIGS in July 2019 at the International Geography Youth Summit-2019.

Subsequently, mainly due to COVID-19, we wanted to get an eBook version published with some corrections and updates to the print version. I returned to Pothi.com to see if they could do it.

They did it! And did it well. The sequence of production was very methodical. I had never published an eBook, so the learning curve was rather steep. However, team Pothi.com very patiently helped me through the process. And now there is an eBook version of Geography, Everywhere!

Future projects.

I’ve begun work on a book primarily for school children (class 7 and above) on how they eat and drink geography. Literally. I am hoping to have this out by end of 2021. I can’t say more at this time.

Seven of my online students are collaborating with me on a very interesting documentary that connects geography with the life and works of Karnataka sangītam composer of 18th-19th century. COVID-19 has really slowed us down, but we hope to have this completed as soon as possible when we are able to travel and work safely.

We are working to have an International Geography Youth Summit-2021 entirely online. TIGS’ students are helping with this also.

Finally, we are in the process of revamping our website to make it offer more interactive spaces for school children to explore geography in their own lives.

Thanks so much for talking to us about this unique subject and we wish you luck in your mission to spread the love of geography everywhere!

5 Success Tips for Non-fiction Authors

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Source: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/714869

Non-fiction is a genre that, despite its wildly successful nature, rarely gets the props it deserves in popular culture. Non-fiction is often seen as being dry and boring, but nothing could be further from the truth. And the sales speak for themselves – well-written educational books, textbooks and self-help books fly off the shelves. Unlike in fiction, where an author has to work extra hard to narrate a story that hasn’t already been told in some form, the topics and subtopics that can be covered under non-fiction are practically limitless. 

But having something important and informational to convey about a topic is only the first step. Here are five things you can do to increase the chances of success for your book:

 

  1. Tell a Story to Spread an Idea

    Remember, just because you’re not writing fiction doesn’t mean you can’t tell a story. Readers are always drawn to an interesting narrative, and you can use it to break down a complex topic and make it more accessible to readers.Ensure that the writing style is engaging and concise. Set out information in a way that is easy to read and remember. The use of visual aids such as tables, side bars, and bullet points will come in handy.
  2. Cite and Refer Generously 

    Be sure to include plenty of references to other works on the same subject. This way the reader gets to benefit not only from your expertise, but also from the work of other authors in the same field. Citations and references also boost the author’s credibility, increasing the reader’s confidence in the author’s knowledge.
  3. Nurture the Community

    An active presence in the community, both online as well as offline, is the most important asset for promoting your book. One of the ways you can get started is to read and review other books in the same genre you write in. Make sure to tag authors when you post the reviews publicly.You can also conduct discussions on the subject. Organize Ask Me Anything sessions on sites like Quora. This will reinforce your credibility with regards to your subject and boost the visibility of your work among your audience. Remember, a rising tide lifts all boats!
  4. Present it Well

    Unlike a fiction book, bad presentation can kill a non-fiction title. Typeset the book professionally to ensure that your visual elements and textual information are placed together neatly. Well-spaced books with a moderate amount of white space are easier to read. Ensure that standard fonts that promote readability are used. 
  5. Take your Book Out for a Test-Drive!

    Feedback from the intended audience is critical, and wouldn’t it be great if you could get it before your book is published?! 

    Find a small circle of people who fit the demographic you are writing for – students, professionals, hobbyists, etc. and release the early drafts of the chapters of your book to them, for free. Your beta-readers benefit from information about a topic they’re interested in, and you get valuable information on how to optimize your book’s potential! You can find interested readers among bloggers, and on social sites like Twitter and Instagram.Above all, your book is a labor of love. And with non-fiction books, the reward tends to be proportional to the effort, so spare no effort, and pour your soul into your work.

India Public Domain 2015: 13 Indian authors whose works entered public domain in 2015

Cross Posted on InstaScribe Blog

In keeping with our our tradition  (2012,2013, 2014), we have compiled a list of Indian authors whose work has entered public domain at the beginning of this year. The criteria for a particular work to enter public domain this year is for the author to have died in calendar year 1954 and the work to have been published before his death. If the work has been published after the author’s death, it will only come out of copyright after 60 years from date of publication.

We collected the data from various sources including Wikipedia, books on the history of Indian literature (brought out by the Sahitya Academy) and other online sources. While the sources for individual photos and pieces of information have not been attributed, we would like to acknowledge all these sources here. Many of the sources are linked below.

There are bound to be mistakes in this data. So please point out anything you notice. If you know of more Indian authors who died in 1954 and hence have entered public domain this year, do let us know and we will add it to the list with your reference.

Why should you as a writer or someone who loves books care? An author entering public domain means that most of his works are now free to be republished, translated, and converted to different formats and introduced to a new audience in any way you can imagine. It is possible to digitize these works and conserve them forever. So dig into the list and find some gems. And when you find one, let the whole world know.

Cornelia Sorabji(1864-1954)

 

Cornelia_Sorabji

She was India’s first woman lawyer. Born to a Christian, Parsi family in Nasik in 1866, Cornelia Sorabji had an illustrious career that spanned nearly sixty years. Sorabji’s writing reflects colonial India and her life as a woman and as a lawyer. Her stories like those in Love and Life behind Purdah (1902)  deal with the lives of women in the zenana and draw on the need for engagement and social reform. She was an active advocate of children and women as is evident in her books Sun-Babies: Studies in the child life of India and Between the Twilights : Being studies of India women by one of themselves (1908).

V.V. Srinivasa Aiyangar (b.1871-1954) This doyen of the Madras Bar used his expertise in writing the farcical to create a book called Dramatic Divertissements(2 volumes were published by 1921). This work is a series of playlets that exposes the weaknesses of the urban South Indian middle class: Blessed in a wife, The Point of View, The Surgeon General’s Presumption, Vichu’s Wife.

Lalcand Amard’inomal Jagatiani (1885-1954) At the age of 26, this versatile Sindhi author was the first Hindu to write a biography of Hazrat Muhammad entitled Muhammad Rasul Allah (1911), a work which won critical acclaim. Along with Bherumal Mahrichand and Jethmal Parsrum, he was a formidable doyen of Sindhi literature. He taught for a while at the Sind Madrasatul Islam where he studied Islam. His knowledge had no barriers- he was adept at the Vedas, Upanishad, Islamic philosphy, Theosophical Society literature, the Sindhi Sufi mystic thought (his work Sunharo Sacal published in 1916 deals with the work of Sacal Sharmast, a Sindhi Sufi poet) besides the poetic works of Tagore and the philosophies of Marx and Lenin as well as Gandhian ideals. He wrote sixty books including novels, essays, short stories and plays. His fiction Coth Jo Candu (1909) is well-known.

Kota Venkatachalam (1885-1954): A Telugu scholar, he is most known for his work Brahmanda Srsti Vijnanam(1949), an analysis of the Sanskrit puranas in nationalistic terms.
kota venkatachalam 1

(Source: http://sobhanaachala.blogspot.in/2014/04/blog-post_22.html)

Garuda Sadashiva Rao (1874-1954): He was a popular Kannada playwright.  This actor and supporter of the freedom movement wrote a new chapter in the history of professional theatre in India. He founded Sivasuta Prasadika Nataka Mandali (1907) and Dauatreya Nataka Mandali (1916). Garuda Sadashiva Rao has a famous story associated with him – he wrote a play about Jesus Christ and discussed it with his veteran friends- Karanth and Padukone Ramanand Rao. Although they were unable to stage it initially on religious grounds, it was a Christian scholar from Dharwad called Uttangi Channappa who supported the play, which later on went to become a success. The veteran dramatist also wrote many other plays including Sri Rama Paduka Pattabhisheka (1929) and Yaccama Nayaka (1949).

Rayasam Venkata Sivudu (1874?- 1954?): He was a writer and social reformer. He was most well known for his Telugu short stories titled under Cithrakta manjari.He wrote novels and biographies, and was the editor of Zanana Patrika, a magazine for women.

Lala Dhani Ram Chatrik (1876-1954): Known as the founder of Punjabi poetry.this much revered poet was the first to standardize the typeset for Gurumukhi script. He is famous for the use of traditional Punjabi poetic genre Kissa- famous works include Kaser Kiari(1940) and  Navam Jahan(1945). His work rings of realism and imagery straight out of the Punjabi countryside.

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(Source: http://www.poemhunter.com/dhani-ram-chatrik/)

Nalappatu Narayana Menon(1887-1954)- He was a noted Malayalam poet and translator, famous for his  elegy to his wife titled Kunnunirthulli(1924). It was so popular a poem that many fans were disheartened when he did marry a second time fifteen years after the death of his first wife. Nalapat was a formidable writer alongside his companion Vallathol.

His best known work includes Paavangal, a translation of Victor Hugo‘s Les Misérables.It has been said that Mahatma Gandhi advised this stalwart to rewrite Les Miserables as a transliteration, supplanting the characters and the plot in the Kerala milieu.  Yet, it was not to be and Nalapat created a translation that triggered off a social revolution in the the Southern state of Kerala.

Narayanamenon_Nalappat

(Source: http://www.keralasahityaakademi.org/sp/Writers/PROFILES/Nalappat/Html/NalappatPage.htm)

Ramanlal Vasantlal Desai (1892-1954): He was a very popular Gujarati writer in the 1930s and his writing primarily dealt with middle class life in Gujarat. He was influenced by Gandhian ideals and communism. His well-known novels are Divyacaksu(1932), Purnima(1932),Bharelo Agni(1935), Gramalakshmi in four volumes( astory of rural resurgence), Apsara(1933-1949)and Gai Kal(1950) ( a part of his autobiographical writing). Desai’s plays such as Samyukta (1915) were successful.

Teja Singh (1894-1954). A major Punjabi prose writer and educator, he introduced the litewrary essay in Punjabi on western models. Navian Socan(1949) and Sabiacar(1952) are his collections of essays. His autobiography Arsi is considered his best work and his Anglo-Punjabi dictionary is still considered useful.

Tejasingh

(Source: http://www.sikhiwiki.org/index.php/Professor_Teja_Singh)

Jibananda Das(1899-1954): Considered to be the most significant poet of the subcontinent after Tagore, Jibananda Das was often called the loneliest poet. He was a recluse and true to his introvert behavior, his poetry resonated with pain, seriousness and an interesting mix of the self-absorption leading to the knowledge of experience. He taught in various colleges in Kolkata. His poetic career began with Jhara Palak (Fallen feathers) in 1928. In his subsequent volumes of poetry, he cast off tradition and delved into complex metaphors and striking language that the more contemporary audience enjoyed.

Besides poetry, Jibananda Das has written essays, short stories and novels as well. Although he initially started his career with descriptions of the rural world, the later part of his short life was spent in analysing depression and loneliness, and the complexities of relationships.

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Some of his works include  Dharsar Pandulip(The Faded Manuscript-1936), Mahaprathibi(The Great Earth-1944), Satti Tarar Timir(The darkness of the seven stars-1948), Banalata Sen(1952) and Satti Tarar Timir(1954).

Prabhat Chandra Adhikari (1900-1954) An Assamese poet famous for his collection called Dohavali.

Harinder Singh Rup (1907-1954). A major Punjabi poet, he wrote in neo-classical style.  His Vars or collections were traditional poems imbued with a modern world view. His famed works include Nave Pandh (1945), Dunghe Vahin (1947) Punjab dian varam(1942) and Manukh di var(1952).