Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Bill and Belinda’s excellent adventure

That cad has gone and done it again. It's Bill Clinton I mean here. His wife is seeking Democratic nomination for presidency and he is allegedly having an affair with the rich and glamorous Belinda Stronach (The First Post : Bill and Belinda’s excellent adventure). Guess some men will never give up old habits. The names rhyme too!

What does Hillary have to say? Or is it a go at writing a "kiss and tell" like Monica Levinsky did? One never knows.

Which civilization is longest and continuous?

This is John Oliver Perry, academic, and long time observer of India. I am quoting him from the SASIALIT discussion group and find the following observation thought-worthy. betrays such a passionfor Chinese culture and overlooks so much of
India's own unremitting and continuous efforts for civilized living (despite many
flaws and failures). Altogether, however, I suspect either the Sumerian-Iraqi
and/or the Arya-Iranian civilizations are the longest continuous ones... since
continuity itself is such a flexible term. Western efforts pale beside such
eons of human struggle....

Thanks for clarifying. Does it mean that Indian, Sumerian-Iraqi and Aryan-Iranian civilizations overtake Chinese and western civilization in the characteristics of length and continuity?

Anyone who can enlighten further?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

More about Kitab Festival, It Was about Regional Publishing Afterall!

Bit of a backgrounder about the Kitab Festival discussion I featured here.

At the foyer of Little Theatre, NCPA, who should I bump into than friend CP Surendran whose book of poems is going to be released the same day at the Oxford Bookshop. I tell him I will attend and that it is on my itinerary. He has just finished a session on The Role of the Writer.

I see two people, executive types, at the entrance. I make conversation as I have been shooed out by the comely and talented organizer of the function who is having lunch with the panellists. There’s nothing like a free lunch, I muse, as I move towards the pair of executives from Harper Collins who also are waiting for the session to start.

“Your boss PM Sukumar is one of the panellists isn’t he?”

“I am Sukumar,” says the young, affable and soft-spoken voice.

I can’t stop my jaws falling all the way to the floor of the ground outside NCPA. The reason is this: I had had a chat with Sukumar (picture above) on the phone regarding my novel “The Love Song of Luke Varkey” and had assumed that as a CEO he must be about fifty and might have a few strands of grey hair. I hadn’t expected him to be so young and dynamic looking. I am abashed. The profile of the Indian CEO is changing, methinks. With such youth and dynamism I guess Harper Collins is the publisher to watch.

You won’t believe this but this is my first visit to NCPA which I had presumed was the preserve of the Parsi intelligentsia, you know the sort who frequent plays by Dinyar Contractor and Bharat Dhabolkar. And Parsis were there in strength. A man with a great mane of white hair called out to a leading columnist of Times of India, “Ha tho mara masina dikri che,” meaning, “This is my aunt’s daughter.” The columnist promptly shushed him and came and sat by his side. Parsis are a loving people. My aunt’s daughter would have run a mile away if she had heard me calling her thus.

Inside the panellists decide to sit dangling their legs over the edge of the dais as the number of chairs and mikes are inadequate. (The mike produces more static than dynamic and often disturbs the speaker with loud wails.) Tee-tweeeee-peeeeee, it goes.

Seems my this post was misguided and way off the mark. Sorry folks, my apologies and contrite genuflections. The discussion though titled “Generation Next” was really was about “How regional language publishing is being affected by the growth of the English language publishers in India?” A mouthful, but that seems impressive, at least, to me. I had presumed that it was about young writers who will form the “Next Generation” alluded in the title, not about regional writers who would form the next generation. Clear?

Another thing I noted is that all – Indian participants and panellists - were at their Anglicized best, may be, to impress the firangs. What impeccable accent and diction! But didn’t they over do it, the way Simi Garewal, and sometimes Shekhar Suman do? At times they seemed more English than the English participants, if not in manners, at least, in accents. Ho hum.

After the event is over I meet Renuka Chatterjee, editor of Roli Books; Nicholas Pearson, publishing director of Fourth Estate/Harper Collins; Shakti Bhatt, former editor at Random House who is now starting the new imprint Bracket Books; and Alexandra Pringle, publisher, Bloomsbury, and, of course, PM Sukumar, CEO of Harper Collins India.

Pablo Ganguli the brain behind Kitab Festival was here, there and everywhere. He is young, energetic, cherubic and charismatic, and has a lovable accent, no, no fakes here, I can tell. With his sort of energy and dedication, he is the guy to watch.

In the evening I go to Oxford Bookshop where CP Surendran’s book of poems, “Portraits of the Spaces We Occupy,” is to be released and read from. CP’s poems are read by Brit poet Sean, and Nicholas Pearson and PM Sukumar are also on the dais. (Earlier when I asked PM Sukumar how was sales he says, “Good, touch wood,” and we go around hunting for wood in the metal and plastic Oxford Bookstore. Then we find some and he looks relieved.) Pearson says he has been carrying the book of poems in his pocket for the last few days and he is amazed by the work. PM Sukumar in his unfussy and natural style introduces CP who, before reading, thanks his editor VK Kartika for her help.

CP’s poems are wonderfully crafted words that at once strike you as personal, intimate details of his life, loves, and experiences. To a question of mine he says that he doesn’t know the present, perhaps, out of a poetic detachment, and only realizes what the present is after some time has passed. There is a lot of sadness and pain in this volume arising out of the recent passing away of his father, Pavanan, afflicted with Alzheimer, one of the more prominent figures in Malayalam literature with around eighteen books to his credit. I wished CP was there when the “Generation Next” discussion was going on. Also, I wonder why poets are vulnerable to Alzheimer, Nissim Ezekiel also suffered from it. May be it is because of an over-active brain that switches off.

A good day, wonderfully spent. Thank you Kitab Festival, or as the saying goes in Marathi, “Pudcha varshi lavkar ya,” come fast next year.

Why Is Indian Publishing Like This Only?

How could one write about a panel discussion called to discuss “Generation Next” where the discussion veered toward everything but generation next? Actually though it said "Generation Next" it was subtitled rather ambitiously as, "How regional language publishing is being affected by the growth of the English language publishers in India?" Since the panelists were all from the English writing and publishing industry (with impeccable accents, I may add), there wasn't much interaction about regional publishing in India. But with my familiarity with Malayalam publishing for instance, I know that regional publishing is a thriving industry that cannot be ignored for long.

But the sad fact is that no writer is taken seriously in India unless he/she is published abroad. So it is a no-win situation, you see. If you don’t get published abroad, you aren’t good enough, and nobody is interested in your work, and you can’t make a living by writing (which often is the case with most Indian writers). But to get published abroad you need local recommendations and how do you get local attention if it isn't a very paying proposition, as many writers have realized. So hold on to your day job, don't quit it just yet.
So the audience, I note, includes several long-haired, bearded men who look sufficiently frustrated in their attempts to get published by Indian publishers and foreign ones. The hair in addition to being long is also white as snow. Rejection slip after rejection slip has that magical property, fellow wordsmith, of turning hair grey prematurely, such as this writer's. One even said, "I am a poet in search of a publisher."
Can an Indian writer live by writing alone? To this pat came the answer that even in the UK writers do not make a living by writing alone. Meaning there too writers have a day job, a recent instance being a dentist.
Read this post about what sells in India.
One panellist said that she saw that at the Frankfurt Book Fair there was a lot of interest in a Malayalam writer who had written on the life of a prostitute. So regional literature must be good. A lot of interest was also generated by Baby Haldar's "A Life Less Ordinary," which was originally written in Bengali.

Another panellist points out that small presses are really encouraging towards new writers. Here again there is a quip from another panellist. “Most publishing houses entrust the job of researching the market to small publishers.”

During the question time there are a lot of questions that seem like answers themselves – as is usual in India. We like to talk don’t we? It seemed that the questioners were providing the answers to their own questions and all the panellists had to say was, “Yes, um, ah, I think so,” or, “I agree with you.”

Amen! Another discussion on regional literature draws to a close. Yawn! It's been a hard day. I am sleepy.

Friday, February 23, 2007

My Son Is Everyone's Father!?

So what's new in Indian publishing? The rumour mill has it that Ritu Beri's (the designer's) autobiography is going to retail at Rs 1 lakh a copy. It is named "firefly" or some such thing.

I think this is what is wrong with Indian publishing. Instead of publishing in the traditional sense, a few people get together, ask friends to buy the book at Rs 1 lakh each, and then publish the book and make a neat profit. Seems to me as if it's exquisite furniture and art canvases they are selling. This is crass commercialisation of publishing, which one likes to believe is supposed to bring out books of excellent quality for the masses. Or, rather, it used to be that way.

An hour ago I went to a book shop to see what actually sold over the counter. You won't believe this, really. Some of the books displayed there were titled thusly:

1. Mera Beta Sab Ka Baap (My Son is Everyone's Father, some oedipus complex this?)
2. Tantra Shastra aur Sadhana
3. Asli Khiladi
4. Tandav
5. Simultaneous Orgasm ;)
6. Mind Power for Students

Hm, so, er, that's what sells? I don't believe it. I thought we were a learned and erudite people with a literary tradition going back to Kalidasa of the fifth century. I like to believe so. But who can tell? I am no observer of reading habits, at least such reading habits.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The IBM Defective Parts Story

This is a rage. They're still laughing about this at IBM. (I have been accused that my blog is not particularly amusing, and is droll, at best, so there.)

Apparently IBM decided to have some parts manufactured in Japan as a trial project. In the specifications, they set out that they will accept three defective parts per 10,000.
When the delivery came in there was an accompanying letter:

"We, Japanese people, had a hard time understanding North American business practices. But the three defective parts per 10,000 have been separately manufactured and have been included in the consignment. Hope this pleases you."
Got it? The Japanese deliberately made three defective parts to satisfy the Americans. hehe
Imagine what it would be like in India, we would have probably had 300 defective parts in 10,000, a tolerance of 3 per cent!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Seven steps to remarkable customer service - Joel on Software

Read Joel Spolsky's seven steps to remarkable customer service (click here: Seven steps to remarkable customer service - Joel on Software). This is the stuff that our customer support companies have to learn from A.

Phone any phonebanking outfit and what you get is rudeness, engaged tones, canned music, and sudden disconnection. My short story Computerben deals with such an incident.

Monday, February 19, 2007

kitabi Keeda’s Blogs Mentions My Story in Short Story Collection "India Smiles"

Kitabi Keeda's review of "India Smiles" mentions me (click on this link: kitabi keeda’s Blogs Page, Rediff iLand). "India Smiles" was a global short story contest organized by Sulekha. It garnered a whopping 5,000 entries from around the globe. They where shortlisted to around 60 and the best 30 or 40 were published in a short story collection.

The jury included: Khushwant Singh, Faroque Shaikh, Ashok Mahadevan, Ruskin Bond, Anita Nair, Susheela Ravindranath, and Geeta Doctor. My bio-data appears in Sulekha thus.

Reasons to be proud, I guess.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Pratap Sharma "The Voice" at Kala Ghoda

He was known as "the voice," the smooth, syrupy voice in theatres selling toothpaste as you sat beside the pretty young thing wondering if the slight grazing of our skins would turn into a holding of hands at the office movie outing. (Ah, those were the daze when sitting in a movie holding hands was considered the bold thing to do in prudish Bombay!) He was the voice the PYT was in love with, not you, stupid. But the images on screen and the voice did have a goose-pimple giving effect, nevertheless, even to one in a perpetual state of denial of girlish attention.

Pratap "the voice" Sharma was the suave actor in documentaries, the writer of fiction, in addition to being the voicethrob of the millions in the age when this writer was graduating from dreaming of writing to actually writing. It was touching to see Pratap Sharma with oxygen cylinder in tow at the release of a Sahitya Academy publication featuring a collection of plays written by himself, Vikram Kapadia, Ramu Ramanathan, etc. Anju Makhija, poet, moderated the session. Also present in the audience was Dolly Thakore.

Pratap Sharma is undergoing treatment for some ailment, ergo he has to take the cylinder along with him. I hope it is nothing serious. But he still looks strikingly handsome and made a valiant effort at reading his play to the accompaniment of a Hindustani vocalist and recorded music. He actually sang a ditty in the play in his inimitable husky tenor voice. I guess in his station in life he can take chances and care two hoots what people say. Ahem!

Also read was Vikram Kapadia's play Equal which was a hilarious take on a building society's board meeting descent into the worst of all name-calling and community stereotyping. The discussion was the death of a christian member of the society, and somebody calls him, "that converter," meaning religious converter, meaning that all christians are religious conversion fanatics. God, almighty, please forgive that character's tresspass, as I have forgiven his/her's. Is that how people see Christians? As religious conversion fanatics? Well, I have never tried to proselytize anyone in my four decades and more on this earth. Thanks Vikram for pointing this out.

(Sorry, Blogger just wouldn't upload the photo, so another time!)

Friday, February 16, 2007

Power cuts! Power Cuts!

Power cuts, power cuts, in Vashi information technology park (picture above, now I just get off the train climb the stair, or, elevator, or, whatever it is that goes up and comes down, and am in my office, cool, isn't it?) where I work! Can you believe it? I thought we were exempt, the elite bread and butter earners of the economy, the spoiled brats, the thick-in-the-head-with-ego numbskulls who milk the outsourcing holy cow! Whew!

Yes the technology park where I work has four hours of power cut. So when I came to office after bathing, dressing and shaving in the dark (my face has a patchy look, my shaving is done in the dark, you see, pretty young thing), I see a dark office, and some face in the gloaming of early morning tells me there is going to be four hours of power cut today. Four hours of power cut in a software technology park? You must be kidding, right? No, not kidding at all, says the hazy face in the indistinct shadows. So that adds up to eight hours of power cut for me, four hours at home and four hours in the office. I guess I am powerless.

Sorry for the bad pun, and all that. Couldn't resist. Alas, I don't know what it is to wake up to a wan light of a fluorescent tube anymore. What I see is poor wifey making my lunch in the light of a candle. Poor thing! Life is tough isn't it?

Well, blame it on that monster the state-owned electricity board. It distributes power like it is it's father's business. A slum which has political patronage gets free power around my locality, power is stolen by all and sundry and it's we who pay. My bill runs to around a thousand hard-earned rupees. I guess India will have a heavy price to pay for these power cuts. What with production losses and stoppages of work.
And what about buying some expensive power? Yes, we are willing to pay. After all, can beggars be losers?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Son Ronnie, Up Close and Personal

This is my son Ronnie, clickekd from close up. But my hands shook a little and you can see the shaky lines. Only learning to shoot with my Nikon L3, which is good camera as it has a Nikkor lense, though a bit too small to be handled without shaking.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Caferati Night at Kala Ghoda

Now what have I missed about Kala Ghoda festival now that it is over? Yes the caferati night. It was full of poets and writers who needed to win. My God, what talent! Aiyyo, as my south Indian friends would say. You must see it to believe it.

Especially at the first Poetry Slam organizied by Caferati. A few rants, nevertheless. There were a few glitches like the moderator himself arriving half an hour late (after asking all of us to come at 6 p.m.). And his computer failed to start up for the announcement of the winners of the SMS, graphic fiction, and flash fiction contests. Anyway, these things happen.

But it was enjoyable on the whole, gives one a good feeling to see so much talent. Met a lot of people, was recognized (by Rujuta Paradkar, thanks Rujuta, much honor indeed), met Dan again, this time in his usual attire of glasses on his head (I do that too!). That's a cool look, glasses on the head, isn't it?

Former boss Anil Siqueira turned up and so did Archhana, Ravi and Maya. Met Jane Bhandari who won India's first Poetry Slam. Congrats, Jane! Rohinton won the second prize and I forget the name of the third ranker. Shiladitya won a lot of prizes and he is a guy to watch out for. "I am not a people person," he confesses.
Oh, yes, Suniti, Arjun, Indira, Hemant were there. So were Peter, Manisha, Ranjit, Arundhati and Sampoorna. Oh, what talent in such a small space of the David Sassoon Library garden.

Yakshagana at Kala Ghoda

Saw a performance of Yakshagana at the Kala Ghoda festival. This ancient art form was performed to the accompaniment of singing and instruments, with the role only being enacted by men. Yes, even the female roles are done by men as no woman would dare to perform those dare devil acts. Hmmm. The acting is emphatic and the actors even walk to the rhythm of the tabla beats. I don't know which part of the Ramayana was being performed or I would have enjoyed it much more.
I don't know why but the language seemed to have so much in common with Malayalam, and at one point I even imagined they were reciting in Malayalam.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Dan Performing Dastangoi

Saw friend Dan Hussein performing Dastangoi, the extinct oral story telling tradition that has been revived after seventy years. He along with friend and fellow performer Mahmood Farooqui have revived this art form from extinction and are performing it around the country where they can get sponsors. Those interested in sponsoring can contact Dan on his blog:

Dan is really a treat to watch. He has an amazing range of histrionics, a powerful voice and can express anything just any emotion with his mobile face and body. See in the picture how he rises from his seat (he was seated on a matress, nawabi style), gestures with his hands, his face in the moment of the story, his eyes fully in the character. Such a powerful performance I have rarely seen. Dan, has power, depth and amazing grace (I am not saying this only because he is a friend). He is also an aspiring film artiste, struggling to get roles. It's a cruel irony of fate that he has remained undiscovered while lesser talents have gone to make hay while the sun shines. Keep at it Dan!

The only parallel Dastangoi has with a Kerala art form is the "Katha Prasangam" where the story is told by two narrators to the accompaniment of music, which I had seen as a child in Kerala.
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Friday, February 09, 2007

Are writers that cheap, and Dan's Dastangoi

How cheap can writers get? Or, rather, be?

Read the following from the back of beyonds where writers are considered cheap. Some days back a man from Coimbatore would phone me persistently to do articles and he would pay something like Rs 100 an article.

I would say, "Go away cheapo, do you know what you are talking about?"

I will GIVE YOU about 100 articles to each of these sites (to start
with) *Please read the following carefully:* This job, to begin with can be EITHER
full-time OR part-timeI am interested in building a relationship with
someone. Please tell me your hourly rate. I will most likely choose the
CHEAPEST person..

Writers of the world unite and don't let this Cheapo get you down!

I am covering the Kala Ghoda festival on my own as my request for covering it for the official blog fell on, um, deaf ears. I am attending Dan Hussein's Dastangoi performance today, and, yes, I have brought my camera along.So watch out for Dan performing the Dastangoi right here.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Darryl D'Monte, Shyam Chainani, Neera Adarkar and Vikas Dilawari talk on conservation

It was a pleasure listening to Darryl D'Monte, a hero of my childhood, who moderated a session on heritage conservation. (He edited the Sunday Review when I was a teenager and every Sunday I would look forward to this very, very intellectual and cerebral newspaper supplement. He is to me an icon of those days of idealism, courage of convictions and fearless journalism.)

He still is intellectual and commited, and calls himself an environmental journalist, though I would classify him as much more than that. He recalled somebody calling Bombay "a very interesting but exasperating city," which it is. Pointing out that not only dilapidated office buildings are heritage, he said the mill buildings are part of heritage, though it is not treated as such. What a pity.

Also part of the panel was fearless crusader Shyam Chainani who said ascerbically that the fight for the mill lands was fought half-heartedly and that they deserved to lose. Chainani is the founder of Bombay Environmental Action Group which has won many an environmental battle for Bombayites. His book "In Defense of Heritage - A Bombay Diary" is expected soon, and I would love to lay my hands on it. No, not much of a heritage person, but if Chainani writes with as much wit as he speaks, then it would be worth it.

Chainani said that in these times of globalization ("globalization is rubbish") we should learn from cities like London where 25 per cent of the buildings are heritage and cannot be touched. At one point he vent his ire at a greedy businessperson and quite succintly said, "expletive deleted," to describe that person. haha (this is my version of canned laughter!).

Many more witty sayings followed, "I refuse to manufacture anecdotes," was one, obviously referring to writers' predilection towards making up anecdotes in their books. Oh, God, this man is inimitable. Hope his book sells.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Writing about Sport - Discussion at Kala Ghoda

This is Soumya Bhattacharya (left, author of a recently released book on cricket, name of which escapes me as I came in late!) and Dileep Ramachandran (right, in discussion on "Writing about Sport" at the David Sassoon Library as part of the Kala Ghoda festival. The panelists decried the death of excellence in sports writing. Names invoked included the late KN Prabhu and Rajan Bala, both veteran sports scribes who had legions of followers. Cricket columns today are ghost-written by someone exactly that - a ghost - for a celebrity ex-player and sponsored by a corporate entity. So can there be any fairness? No, methinks!

Today sports has been hijacked by the glamor brigade, wearing - sphagetti tops, what else? The panelists felt that the quality of sports writing, especially cricket writing has gone down. Television coverage is partly to blame, as reporters and commentators are told to get the juicy bits of gossip into their coverage. Well, they have TRP rates to maintain and that's why they are in the business after all.

Also there is a humungous amount of cricket being played at the risk of life and limb of the players. Recently I saw a huge picture in the newspaper showing where all Sachin had fractures, poor chap! I certainly wouldn't want my fractures, and injuries (especially those around the heart) to be part of newspaper readers' daily fix at the breakfast table. But with stakes so high, can we blame the players or the people who keep the game going?

While we raise sportsmen on a pedestal, watch a nation go berserk over a single win, though we lose the series, let us ask if we are encouraging other sports such as football, volleyball, hockey etc. Bureaucracy is also to blame as where in the world would one find a politician heading a sports governing body, except in India. Sharad Pawar and Jagmohan Dalmia, please note.
Soumya Bhattacharya reading from his book.
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Portuguese Chair at Kala Ghoda - Not for Sale

This beautiful chair is a part of William Lobo's exhibit at Kala Ghoda Festival. The design is distinctly Portuguese and, in fact, William will not part with it, but promises to make me a replica. He offers to let me sit in it and I do. What a bliss! Here's something to want to die for!

William restores old and dilapidated chairs to newness and exquisite beauty, such as this one and the one in the background.
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Friend and Neighbor Achyut Palav's Stall at Kala Ghoda Festival

Friend, neighbor and internationally renowned calligraphist Achyut Palav has a stall at the Kala Ghoda festival. He is seen here with his wife Shraddha and son. Achyut is widely travelled and has trained under world-renowned calligraphists. He also owns an art gallery in Artist Village where we both live. He has also authored two books on calligraphy one of which is available at his stall. Shradha helps Achyut run his design studio in New Bombay.
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Che at the Kala Ghoda festival

Che Guevara on the back of a guitar at the Kala Ghoda Festival. Importing a revolution?
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Monday, February 05, 2007

The picture says it all. Cidco installed the garbage bins all over New Bombay on the left and within days it was neatly incised and taken away!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Shabana reading Javed Akhtar's poems

The occasion was the reading of screenplay writer and poet Javed Akhtar's urdu poems and their translations at the Kala Ghoda Festival. Javed read the original urdu poems and Shabana in a red saree with beads and lipstick to match read the English translations. My say the translated poems did capture the nuances of the original. A record crowd had gathered at the David Sassoon Library garden where the reading was held and we (me, Asheeth, Archhana, Maya, Anil, Ravi)had to balance ourselves on the garden tiles, planted vertically. Ouch!

It was a pleasure listening to these two professionals. They had a good stage presence and gelled rather well. Javed was his usual affable and humorous self, and his humbleness showed. I have always been a great admirer of this artistic pair. Shabana besides acting in movies is involved with the rights of the people living in slums around the posh Cuffee Parade area of Bombay, where an internecine battle is going on to evict the slum dwellers, ostensibly, to put up more sky scrapers.
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Thursday, February 01, 2007

This Is the CCD Restaurant from Where I Blogged in Delhi

Some fallout of the blogposts from Delhi. I am so terribly sorry for those observations that have caused hurt, for those people who got hounded for Turkish tea, for those people whose new looks were noticed, etc. Prostrations of apologies, bows of obsequiousness, trembling contriteness, and all that. But then, what the heck, I wrote what I wrote.

One friend had a steady stream of visitors who wanted to drink her Turkish tea, thanks to my post. She has promised to bring a crateful of it next time.

Another friend was literally blackmailed with the allegation that she was being partial to me. God! How can this be? Can people be so petty and cribbing? In all my forty-eight years in this world, I have never come across something so peurile. God help me!

Another friend's new hairstyle was noticed on my picture blog.

Okay, okay, enough said and written, I hope I am still in you people's good books to enjoy your friendship next time. I will love you my dear friends, always, you are such sweet people.