Q: Sir, how have you as a person evolve while handling Rabindranath Thakur and Jibananda Das?
Lal: See, Rabindranath is part of any Kolkata person’s life. So, I have grown up with Rabindranath in the house. My grandfather was a close associate of Rabindranath himself; Kalidas Nath, the history professor. So, it’s in our blood. Other people also have their own family connections. As a matter of fact, Rabindrasangeet was something I learnt. The life changing experience happened when I went to do my PhD in theatre, abroad. I had done my MA in English from Calcutta University and I had become much more interested in theatre. Over there, as you know that one has to make a proposal. My initial proposal was an ‘Absurdist Drama’ because here in Kolkata, we know the Absurdist theatre is ‘the big thing’! So, my supervisor there told me that you know that it’s brilliant, perfectly okay with us if you go ahead with that. But you know what, lots of books have been written on absurdist drama, why don’t you think of writing something on Indian drama/ theatre because hardly any dependable scholarship exists! Suddenly that was a complete sea change as I had never thought about it that way. And immediately I realised that he was absolutely right. I could actually contribute much more if I wrote in English on an Indian subject, pertaining to drama which I was going to do anyway! Then it came naturally. I began to read up more, and realised that on Tagore’s plays, no book exists in English! So I decided to write the first full length book on Tagore’s plays. Again that’s an unusual thing because normally a PhD dissertation does not involve translations but my committee was so open that they said that, “Okay, translations as well, because we want that too!” So it was a kind of 550 page book. Introduction to Tagore’s Plays, plus translations, plus the notations; every play by Tagore has songs that need to be rendered. We only have Rabindrasangeet’ in the swaralipi, how will that be read by someone in London or New York or Tokyo? So, transcribed into Western staff notation. So that was my beginning with translation from ‘Bangla’ and after that I did Tagore poems, Jibananda’s poems, etc. etc. That continues and I’ve been teaching that too.
Q: Coming to what you spoke in the session, why according to you does India have low percentages of female editors?
Lal: Are you sure? Is this verifiable? Because all the good editors I know are women. You have surprised me because, I for instance have dealt with publishers like Oyobe, as they have published my Tagore’s book. All of them have been women. In fact from the Managing Editor down to the Commissioning Editor, who is now a famous author, Anuradha Roy, was in Oyobe that time, have been women. In my experience they’ve been women and they’ve been very good, very meticulous. An editor has to be meticulous, that’s what I suggest, because I’m an editor myself in my editing house. The kind of knit-picking and care where even a comma makes a huge difference, the editor definitely has to be patient with that.
Q: How would you comment on filling the gaps between copyright awareness and publishing ethics?
Lal: Oh, this is extremely important. A lot of people actually don’t know what is copyright, so it’s a part of most publishers’ contracts. Even ‘Writer’s Workshop’ has a very small agreement form which stipulates that you must not impinge on somebody else’s intellectual property. If a work is within copyright, then you better not lift extracts from it because we can get into legal trouble. I have actually had a manuscript which had come to me despite that agreement form, which I was editing. It was fine but suddenly somewhere it strikes me that this doesn’t sound like the author. And it requires an editor with skills to kind of think like that. And I googled that sentence and I see that, that sentence has been lifted from a copyrighted book. The author who had sent us the manuscript would have had to face the consequences. So one must be very careful. If it’s a small extract, you can always acknowledge that you’ve taken it from here. But huge passages? We cannot do that! A lot of young writers are not aware that you cannot just lift stuff off the internet and pass it off as your own. It’s not original. You have to do your own writing, right? This actually constitutes plagiarism which should be taught at the college level, but in India they don’t know that. Very often it’s wrong. We are supposed to, as teachers tell our students that its plagiarism, because we’re learning by rote, everything goes into memory, and we think that it is our own, but it is not because we’ve learnt it from some book. So if you would put that down on a paper or book later on, that is infringement of copyright. It is the educational system’s fault that it is not taught. If you’re putting it into quotes acknowledging the source, then that’s fine; its research. But in original creative writing I found this happening. Obviously it’s shocking but, it happens. It is expected that you know what copyright is.
Interviewed by Astha Pramanik