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Raj Kamal Jha (born 1966) is Chief Editor of the daily newspaper The Indian Express and an internationally acclaimed novelist. He lives in Gurgaon.

Jha was born in Bhagalpur, Bihar, and was raised in Calcutta, West Bengal, where he went to school at St. Joseph's College.[1] He then attended the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, where he got his Bachelor of Technology with Honours in Mechanical Engineering. He was the editor of the campus magazine Alankar in his third (junior) and fourth (senior) years at IIT, where his first writing and editing skills got honed. After graduating from IIT in June 1988, he went to the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of Southern California to pursue a Master's program in Print Journalism; he received his M.A. in 1990.[2] Raj Kamal Jha is married to IIT 1990 (Chemical Engineering) alumnus Sujata Bose. They have one son called Rain Jha.

Contents

JournalismEdit

Since 1992, Jha has been working full-time in newsrooms, a fact that deeply informs and influences his fiction.[3]

He was an Assistant Editor (News) at The Statesman in Kolkata between 1992 and 1994, a Senior Associate Editor at India Today, New Delhi (1994–1996), and since 1996 has been with The Indian Express first as its Deputy Editor, then as Executive Editor, Managing Editor, Editor and now Chief Editor.[4] The newspaper, known for its high-quality investigative reporting and provocative opinion section, has won the Excellence in Journalism Award from the India chapter of the Vienna-based International Press Institute four times.[5][6]

As a member of the "International Consortium of Investigative Journalists", the newspaper, in April 2016, investigated The Panama Papers and revealed details of Indian names and companies related to offshore accounts in tax havens. Following the revelations, the Government set up a panel to probe each account.[7] For his "exemplary stewardship" of The Indian Express that saw a "focus on investigative journalism," Jha was named Journalist of the Year by the Mumbai Press Club at Redink Awards, 2017.[8] Besides investigative journalism, Jha has expanded and strengthened the newspaper's explanatory journalism backed by its network of national correspondents and specialist editors. The Indian Express's Editor (Investigations) Ritu Sarin won the fourth IPI award for the newspaper in 2018 for her investigative work including the Panama Papers.

The newspaper's fierce independence has earned it critics from both the Left and the Right -- the Communists once called it The American Express -- but both sides accept that it is non-partisan and, therefore, the media group readers can most trust. It was under the Congress regime that the newspaper's editor was sent to jail during The Emergency for standing up to press censorship. The Indian Express vs the Union of India[9] case is one of the seminal cases that define the contours of press freedom in India.

Delivering the vote of thanks at the Ramnath Goenka Memorial Awards in 2016, Jha underlined that questioning those in power and holding them accountable, inviting their criticism, was the hallmark of good journalism, an obvious truth that often gets lost in the age of "likes and retweets."[10] The next year, Jha said that the only counter to fear in the newsroom was to get up and switch the lights on rather than find a safe blanket to hide under.[11]

In 2017, for his "outstanding contribution" to journalism and literature by telling stories about a changing India with "honesty, compassion and courage," Jha was awarded the Distinguished Alumnus Award by his alma mater Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, at its annual convocation.[12] Past recipients of this honour include Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Arvind Kejriwal and Harish Hande.

NovelsEdit

Jha's fourth and latest novel She Will Build Him A City[13] is published by Bloomsbury in India, Australia, UK and US. Actes Sud in Paris will publish it in French. It was shortlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature in 2016.[14] Pankaj Mishra has called it the "best novel from and about India I have read in a long time." Writer Neel Mukherjee has said its "revelations about the New India are explosive."[15] Describing its writing as "gorgeous," Kirkus Reviews says it uses "magic to illuminate violence, poverty and loss" and shines light on the "ugly highs and lows of modern India.".[16] Writer and critic Alex Clark writes in The Guardian: "Everywhere, scale is out of whack: tiny dwellings are dwarfed by teetering towers; choked roads are closed by massing protesters and water cannons; spiralling sums of money are set against almost unfathomable deprivation. The sense throughout is of inescapable oppression. No wonder the characters – both human and animal – occasionally break the bonds of earth and fly across the sky in search of less constrained lives.".[17]

Jha's first novel, The Blue Bedspread[18] won the 2000 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book (Eurasia region) and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. His second novel If You Are Afraid of Heights[19] was a finalist for the Hutch-Crossword Book Award in 2003. He has also been shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and the Guardian First Book Award. His third novel, Fireproof,[20] debuted in German at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2006 (published by Goldmann). It was published to wide critical acclaim by Picador in India in December that year and in the United Kingdom in February 2007. Actes Sud published it in French in 2008.

Jha's novels have been translated into more than a dozen European languages, including French, German, Italian, Dutch, Greek, Hebrew, Turkish, Spanish and Finnish. His short stories have appeared in French and German anthologies as well. His work has been featured in several international literary festivals, including Hay-on-Wye, Munich Writers' Festival, Berlin International Literature Festival, Ubud Readers and Writers Festival in Bali, Frankfurt Book Fair, Jaipur Literature Festival, Melbourne Writers' Festival and the Los Angeles Times Book Festival. To mark 200 years of the Grimm Brothers' Fairy Tales in December 2012, Jha, with five German writers, including Uwe Timm and Ingo Schulze, was invited to "rewrite" a fairy tale at the Munich Literaturhaus.

Jha is represented by London-based literary agent David Godwin.[21]

Themes In FictionEdit

Called the "novelist of the newsroom," Jha's fiction is known for its stark simplicity and ability to evoke emotion through attention to detail. "Not everyone’s kind of tales, they are dense and surreal, contain dark, brooding, even repugnant elements," said OPEN (magazine).[22] John Fowles described The Blue Bedspread as the "Coming of age of the Indian novel." His fiction is strongly grounded in contemporary themes around change, often taking off from newspaper pages. From domestic violence to the urban-rural divide, from inequality and intolerance to vulnerability of the marginalised, Jha's books engage with disturbing subjects unusual in Indian contemporary fiction in English. His writing, simple as it appears, calls for a lot of reader participation which evokes sharp, divided reaction.

Wrote Alfred Hickling in The Guardian: "Readers are left to formulate their own theories and connections. But Jha's writing functions more through power of association than sequential narrative. His prose has the febrile, cold-sweat quality of the most vivid waking nightmares. He suspends his work in a realm of improbability, where it is possible to think the unthinkable...Perhaps the biggest taboo that Jha seeks to breach is the sacrosanct, hierarchical structure of the family.[23] " According to writer and musician Amit Chaudhuri, Jha's writing is more in the tradition of cinema than literature. Referring to the works of Tarkovsky, Luis Buñuel and Pedro Almodóvar, Chaudhuri says just like their films are "destined to be foreign even to those who speak the language they are made in," Jha's novel speaks a "foreign language."[24]

Fireproof is set against the backdrop of the 2002 Gujarat violence, the first attack on Muslims (In retaliation of attacks on Karsevaks in Godhra) after 9/11. The novel is a chilling tale of a father and his deformed son on a journey across a city where the ghosts of those killed have decided to seek justice.[25] Commenting on Fireproof, India Today said: "Here is a chronicle for the 21st century, then, a bildungsroman that tracks the education of the crime-infested soul, completed when the soul cries 'I am guilty' and acknowledges that the burden of this enormous guilt will darken the rest of his life. And that will be his punishment, not the release of the noose or of public abasement in prison."

Reviewing Jha's fourth novel, "She Will Build Him A City," The Saturday Paper, the Australian cultural weekly, called it "conceptually daring and important beyond entertainment." The importance of the novel, it wrote, is the fact that "if the Indian economy is a tiger on the verge of roaring, the world should hear the stories of the people who have fed it with their blood."[26]

Other mediaEdit

Japanese video artist and photographer Noritoshi Hirakawa created four video art installations taking scenes from Jha's three novels for an exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi in 2007 as part of a special exhibition of contemporary Japanese art called Vanishing Points.[27]

TeachingEdit

Jha was a visiting professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley where he taught a course on reporting on India.[28] He was also a fellow at the Yaddo Residency in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 2005. He was selected as Artist-in-Residence (Literature) in Berlin by the German Academic Exchange Service for 2012–2013 under the Berliner Künstlerprogramm,[29] offering grants to artists in the fields of visual arts, literature, music and film." Recent Berlin fellows include writer Kiran Nagarkar, artist N Harsha and Academy Award-winning filmmakers Asghar Farhadi and Sebastian Lelio.

Books, AnthologiesEdit

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

External linksEdit