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Rediff.com  » Getahead » Arundhati Roy's book gets a new avatar

Arundhati Roy's book gets a new avatar

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September 15, 2017 10:57 IST

1997 Booker winner Arundhati Roy's The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness didn't make it to the Booker short list.
Perhaps if the Booker jury had sampled Re:Reader -- a powerful companion to Roy's second novel -- they would have discovered it full of surprises.
Avantika Bhuyan finds out more.

Arundhati Roy

Sootirahubaua, bhakolabaiya
Naanigaam se angaa, siyaatabaiya

Nativity, one of the chapters in Arundhati Roy's The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness, features this beautiful Maithili lullaby.

While reading the book, I would often ascribe a voice and tune to it, wondering what it would feel like to hear it sung.

And now, courtesy the Re:Reader created by Itu Chaudhuri Designs, or ICD, one can hear Sootirahu and also experience the book in ways one could not have imagined before.

 

There are elegant animations that showcase the text in a new light, excerpts from the 12 chapters, often set to haunting scores, and portions read by Roy herself.

It is a dreamy, artistic and powerful companion to the book -- full of surprises with every click -- perfect to curl up with on a balmy afternoon.

Lisa Rath, the creative director on the project, who worked with a team of animators and coders, calls the Re:Reader, "the toy".

Roy terms it as 'utmost perennial'.

'It's a new, fun way of introducing a book to people who haven't read it. And another way of enjoying it for people who have. And it'll be out there -- everywhere -- without an expiry date,' she has said about it.

It all started when Rath met Roy, through a common friend, and got into a discussion about what could be done around The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness that would go beyond the book.

A film had already been made for her to play at events and readings abroad, so ICD's approach needed to be different.

"I work on the Web space a lot. It makes everything immortal," says Rath.

This trail of thoughts led her from one question to another, one of the critical ones being: Can the Web, which is a space where you impart and consume information at fleeting speeds, allow you to keep aside the impatience that comes with browsing, slow down and savour a text?

Once she realised that this was a possibility, Rath set down to work on the format of Re:Reader.

"It was a conscious decision to keep it typographic and not use images, so that the 'reading' experience remained pure," she says.

Once Roy liked the idea, Rath started extracting portions from the chapters, which evoked the essence of the book, but didn't give the story away.

Music plays a pivotal role in bringing the experience alive.

Rath, who decided to use sounds in a non-intrusive manner, says: "One had to think of how would a reader from Gorakhpur react to the music, and also how would a reader sitting in Ireland relate to it. The Maithili lullaby was recorded in our studio."

"We realised we had a wonderful talent amidst us, so we got her to sing. A friend sent the same piece sung by his mother, so we recorded again to get the accent right."

These melodies and small, humour-packed animations gave the Re:Reader a life of its own.

Though mapped in a linear fashion to ease navigation, the Re:Reader allows the user to engage with it on separate visits, start with Dr Azad Bhartiya (chapter 4) and move backwards to Khwabgah (chapter 2).

The reader, thus, weaves his own story, making his own connections and personalising his experience of the book.

The Re:Reader is available free of cost on www.ministryofutmosthappiness.com

Photograph: Kind courtesy Haymarket Books/Facebook

Avantika Bhuyan
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