Friday, August 31, 2007

Rant of an Unpublished Writer

I am in the mood to grouch, ouch! One question that was asked of a publisher during the “Kitab” festival in Bombay was whether the “looks” of an author is important in publishing him/her. And the answer was rather telling on the publishing successes that have made it to the top of the slush pile and failures that dot the publishing world like carrion in a war. Looks does matter. People look at the artistically modeled photograph on the blurb for the “celebrity factor” before buying a book, or, so it seems. The acid test to pass to be published seems to be: be a celebrity already, or, be good looking.

I refer to a recent conversation with a published author, and she said she received positive feedback for her book within three months and her book was published in six months. Now this author is attractive, has a nice smile and is young. What if an author isn’t any of these and still manages to write well?

What part does looks play in being published? Face it, ours is a very looks oriented culture, where looks (here I also mean the color of the skin, the arch of the eyebrows, the curve of the nose, and the shape of the lips) are everything. And a person who has looks takes on the conceit of good-looking people and develops a sort of aura around themselves.

It is this personal aura that the movie, publishing, sports and television world is trying to propagate, to bring viewers, and readers in. Let’s face it, it’s a characteristic that the managers, the book packagers are looking for, and actively promoting. But, can looks be equated to the success of a book? Isn’t the intellectual content and depth what makes a novel stand out? Or is it the way the author reclines and the way light kisses his/her hair in profile? I don’t know; I am confused.

Gone are the days when a writer had to prove his/her talents at the primary level by writing book reviews, short stories and poems and then graduate to bigger things like writing novels. The shape of the nose, lips, eyebrows, etc. was not that important so far as the writer could do what he ought to do, i.e., write well. Nowadays if raw talent is spotted then the minders take over and groom them for their day of reckoning. And then what happens? The writer becomes conceited and fails the real test of a writer: to keep at one’s art as a carpenter does with his carpentry and a mason does with his masonry, i.e., to write even when one is lost and uninspired.

To be published or not to be published doesn’t matter now, sadly, after so many rejections. The only down side is that I have lost faith in the process and the maxim, “Great nations and civilizations produce great books and produce and nurture authors to greatness.” The playing field isn’t level anymore, to use a clichĂ©, and today not many novels that have been put through the get-famous-first-and-then-publish books would merit a second look. I have abandoned such books after the first few pages. They are unreadable. No wonder their authors don’t have the guts to attempt a second book, and resign to the tag of “one book wonders.”

As for “writers aspiring to greatness” I would counter, “Are there any writer in this category in the modern world?”

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Is There Justice in the Online World?

The biggie websites such as Google don’t have a system of administration to redress complaints. They can’t. How can they; when there are billions of disgruntled guys all over the world sitting before their computers and saying “Hey, this sucks,” and “Hey, that sucks.” They – the biggies – are so big that they would get mail by the billions and no call center would be big enough to handle all that traffic, or, so I guess.

Update: Actually it isn't Google but Blogger [their subsidiary] and then got back to me and cleared my gadget blog. Yay! But now I find that some self-seeking and obnoxious squatter has taken over my blog. Scum, get out of my blog space, now!

Recently a blog of mine was under the weather from Google’s spam blog guys. Google is meticulously checking each blog to find if blogs fall under the spam category. One of my carefully nurtured blogs was under threat of being cancelled thus, research, links and all. I appealed to them, er, by replying to an email they sent me, but got no reply. By now my mail must have been (oh, damnation!) been buried in the billions they receive each day.

So is there justice in the online world, eh? Wait!

The other website I have a grouse with is I had, with a lot of pain (no, pain, no gain, hahn?) compiled a list of Shares and Mutual Funds I am watching on my portfolio page on, as I found their interface was quite good.

And one fine day, my login to doesn’t work. Believe me, I had spent hours feeding all the data, and now I am a blubbering mass of indignation, unable to retrieve my data. I surf to their home page and exclaim, “Ah, let me see their feedback works.”

Well, I fed back. The next day I get a reply, and I am overjoyed. Maybe they have rectified my account and I can access my Mutual Funds data once again. Oh, no, too early to celebrate. It is a polite “Form Letter” saying all nice, nice things such as: “Thanks you for contacting us ” and,“ We will get back to you,” etc.

As Anthonybhai would say, “Dis online world, only no? Justice-ich not there, men!


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

“Lekar Yaad Theri” from Bas Ek Pal

The song “Lekar Yaad Theri” from the movie Bas Ek Pal sung by Atif Aslam is really an emotion packed song. It has such depth of emotions and feelings that one is wafted along, into a sentimental journey, along with the singer’s powerful voice. Here it is for all ye connoisseurs of Hindi film music, which has been doing very well of late. Atif, you will go very far, indeed, if this is your kind of music. Desperation, longing, loneliness, irrevocable loss all are reflected in the lilt of his powerful voice.

Tere bin main yun kaise jiya
Kaise jiyaa kaise jiyaa tere bin

Lekar yaad teri raatein meri kati
Lekar yaad teri raatein meri kati
Mujhse baatein teri karti hai chaandni

Tanhaa hai tujh bin raatein meri
Din mere din ke jaise nahi

Tanha badan tanha rooh nam meri aakhein rahen
Aajaa mere ab roobaroo jeena nahi bin tere

Tere bin main yun kaise jiya
Kaise jiyaa kaise jiyaa tere bin

Kabse aahkein meri raah mein tere bichi
Kabse aahkein meri raah mein tere bichi
Bhoole se bhi kahi tu mil jaayein kahi

Bhoole naa mujhse baatein teri
Bheegi hai har pal aakhein meri

Kyon saas loon kyun main jiyoo Jeena bura saa lage
Kyon ho gaya tu bewafa mujhko bataa de wajah

Tere bin main yun kaise jiya
Kaise jiyaa kaise jiyaa tere bin

No, Onam Isn’t Over Yet: Today Is Chatayam

It seems I am a bit out of touch with traditions of Kerala (for a person who claims to be an expert on all things Malayali). However, my knowledge about the traditions of Kerala is more than made up by my wife’s who studied in Kerala. It seems Onam isn’t confined to a single day’s celebration, but is a virtual procession of festivals that showcase Kerala’s culture in gourmet, performing arts, martial arts, ancient traditions, etc. I can only wonder how this birthplace of mine can sustain and keep up all these traditions without break and without much confusion.

Those wondering how we do this – this fact I say with pride – is that Malayalis are a people who are brought up on the oral tradition of learning. Most of the wisdom and culture of Kerala is passed from one generation to the other through oral recitation and pithy sayings. What is most amazing is that the old traditions of Kerala are followed and kept up by Malayalis everywhere. That’s why a Malayali can hold a lot of information in his head, and can multi-task so well in the demanding work environment of today.

Take for example Kerala architecture. The master architect of a Kerala house – also called a Perumthachan – doesn’t need drawings or a calculator. He draws a concept in his mind and can execute it from memory. For calculating he uses a very advanced system of mental calculation which even has a multiplication table for 0.125. I have seen this happening when our house in Kerala was being built. The traditional architect would tell his assistants the dimensions from memory and the complicated woodwork for the roof of a Kerala house would be constructed without a fault.

I digress. While on the subject of Onam my wife who is familiar with the traditions and customs of Kerala tells me that today is Chatayam, the third day of Onam. According to her Onam extends for at least a week after the actual day of the festival. Thus the day preceding Onam is called Uthradam, to be succeeded by the big day Thiruvonam.

The day after Thiruvonam is called Avittam, which was yesterday. And after Avittam comes Chatayam - today - the third day of Onam. Chatayam is followed by Puthirithathi and then by Uthrithathi. That makes it six days, and there is more, about which I have more to learn from wifey. It seems all these days have their own particular ritual of celebration and feasting.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Land of the Unread - US of America

Sadly, as one addicted to reading and writing the following is what I have come across in the Guardian's Arts Blog about that great unipolar democracy across the seas, which I assumed was so full of people who loved books. Oh, misery!

From this article it seems finding a book in the land of William Faulkner is as difficult as finding ice cream in hell(Land of the book-free). Excerpt:

"At the same time, the industries which support reading have been ground up and fed through the increasing corporatisation of American life. Book publishers and newspapers have been bought up by giant conglomerates. Publishers, once mildly profitable, have been forced to keep up with blockbuster driven media; newspapers, once wildly profitable, have been used as cash cows. And now that the media companies are done with these newspapers, those same owners are cutting back on all forms of news, including book pages. And all the while reading is under assault from new forms of technology. At what point do we halt and do something drastic? In fairness, some attempts are being made to counteract these trends. The National Endowment of the Arts has started up a program called The Big Read, which turns entire cities into book clubs. Online sites and journals like The Complete Review and the new and improved Bookforum have started up to counteract the loss of book coverage in the media. On television, shows like the Colbert Report and the Daily Show dedicate half of their entire program to conversation with an author. And Dave Eggers has turned his McSweeney's journal into an empire of generosity, starting up drop-in tutoring centers like 826 NYC and 826 Seattle. Visit one of these and it's hard to doubt the lure"

Sad, ain't it?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Happy Onam!

This, sort of, gives ammunition to what I had suspected all along, for a long, long time. When I got up this morning, since it is Onam, the Malayali’s festival of harvest today, I wished my wife:

“Happy Onam!”

She said, “Just a minute, I am a bit busy with the breakfast.”

Then I understood. What she heard (Oh, God!) was this:

“Kappy Venam” (I need Coffee!)

See what I am driving at? We don’t listen to people, we just gloss over the words and register only a few rhyming words in our mind (“Happy Onam” and “Kappi Venam”), and from that we construe or misconstrue our own ideas and thought.

There’s great hidden danger in doing this. Because “Happy Onam” is a pleasant greeting, whereas “Kappy Venam” is a demand, which could be misconstrued as bullying and unreasonable, and quite possibly, the start of a domestic fight.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Three Takes of a Feverish Mind

A few takes as I am recovering from a bout of the “viral fever” that is currently circulating in the satellite city of New Bombay. The mind is comfortably and serenely numb, the senses are still keen and the mouth feels as if has been rubbed with wire gauze made of untempered steel. It feels good though, to be away from the office. Most of my time was spent before the telly, watching news channels, game shows, and CNN.

TAKE ONE: Hindustan Unilever Advertisement

Seen the latest ads on television? You should. There’s this Surf Excel ad that says “Daag Ache Hai.” Honestly, are stains that good? Our politicians would love these words. The merits and demerits of this statement can be debated endlessly but that isn’t what I am trying to focus here. Having been the executive secretary of the Advertising Standards Council of India (the self-regulatory body of the Indian advertising industry), I have more than a passing interest in advertising. I still can quote the ASCI Code of Self-regulation from memory, and it certainly offends the bit about ads not offending public decency.

But after the abovementioned Hindustan Unilever ad that says “Daag Ache Hai” comes another ad of the company’s (incidentally, one of the biggest advertisers in India) for Fair and Lovely cream that has this opening line “Ooohh, yeh daag dhappe….”

Some paradox this? Is “Daag” (stain) good or bad, please, please, Hindustan Unilever make up your mind.

TAKE TWO: Sanjay Dutt’s release from jail, and the media overdrive

I am a great admirer of Indian media, and the men behind the news, as I was one in an earlier avatar. But, I must say, one thing that gets on my nerves is the way news channels, how should I say this, “tooth pado-ing” on celebrity news. The release of Sanjay Dutt filled the newscasts with the media going into overdrive, as expected, even the repeated relay of same footage. The virtual frenzy to get a quote from the traumatized-looking Dutt was obvious as the mediamen covering the release kept shouting (in between jostling each other) “Baba bath kar baba, Baba bath kar baba, Baba bath kar baba, [Baba (Sanjay) say something]” while the tired looking star could only say reply, “Bad mein, bad mein [later].” Tut, tut.

Perhaps, much as the media creates the darlings of the public, they are the first to expose them when they stray from expectations. This is the advice I received from a former boss, a politician himself, “Never, fight or insult a journalist, never.” They may dress badly, look scruffy, be manipulated and harassed by their business managers, but they know too much about what is going on. I only wish they would cover more droughts.

TAKE THREE: Christianne Amanpour’s “God’s Warriors”

While on the subject of journalists, watched CNN’s Christianne Amanpour’s “God’s Warriors” trilogy which is an in-depth analysis of the extremism that has penetrated three world religions – Christianity, Islam and Judaism – that worship one God, the God of Abraham. Yes, all three religions worship one God, the God of one patriarch they consider as their father – Abraham. So my question is why not co-exist and try to attain syncretism [as India has done, to some extent] instead of going for each other’s necks in the Middle East, especially in Israel?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Another Independence Day

Ah! Another Independence Day has come and gone. The fact of it being the sixtieth, or, actually, the sixty-first didn’t evoke many feelings. I looked forward to some rest, sleep and some work. Alas, not to be. A party of fund-raisers landed up from church and robbed my sleep and my deep meditative stasis. Hmmp! I am poorer by Rs 1500, which the smart marketers literally extorted from me.

What does freedom and independence mean to me? I was asked this question by a local news channel, as I was waiting for wifey and sonney on the way to meet a relative who had just returned from the USA. There I was standing at the bus stop and this man and his cameraman – who were being avoided as if they had the bubonic – came to me and asked if they could interview me. I couldn’t believe this, or, is it just me. Usually I would love the chance to let off some steam, and here the young boys and girls, were running away from saying a few words. Of course, I said I would speak and some words came naturally to my mouth and I said them.

Those words were, “I don’t feel free, how can I be free when I am scared and afraid. In fact, you saw these people running away from you when you asked to interview them? They are afraid, afraid that someone would beat them up if they saw them on television. They don’t have the courage to say that they are free. How can they be free when they are afraid, really afraid?

“Jo insan dara sa hai, he cannot be called free.”

Goodness gracious me! I hadn’t even thought of these things, and these very words tumbled out of my mouth, half in Hindi, half in English, as I always speak. I don’t know when it was broadcast, or, who all have seen it. I would switch to Navi Mumbai Television now and then on Independence Day, but drew a blank.


Another Thought on Independence Day. One of history biggest migration of people took place during independence, which can be seen in the picture I have selected to display above. Many people died in this huge transference of people across an arbitrary line drawn across a country. How could anyone draw a line across a country and say that such and such area is Hindu and such and such is Muslim? How can a country that swayed over its colony merely as a trading hegemony, divide a country and grant them independence? The division was done by a man who knew nothing about the regions he was dividing. The following excerpt from Wikipedia illustrates:

“The border had already been roughly drawn up by Lord Wavell, the Viceroy of India, but the final version was set out by Sir Cyril Radcliffe. Radcliffe had never visited India and didn't know anybody in India before his arrival. Thus, he was considered to be unbiased. However, he was ignorant of realities on the ground and this caused avoidable gaffes in the division. For example, there were instances where the border was drawn leaving some parts of a village in India and some in Pakistan. There were even instances where the dividing line passed through a single house with some rooms in one country and others in the other.

“Radcliffe's justification for such a casual division was that no matter what he did, people would suffer. He also had to work in a very short time period so there was little point in being careful where exactly the border lay. He made no real attempt to ensure that the border skirted villages or was drawn between thickly populated areas instead of right through them. Radcliffe has been accused of being completely unconcerned about the sufferings of the Indians. The division was done in secret, and the British government allowed no Indians to review it, since disputes were bound to have arisen then and it would delay the Partition.”

Part of my feeling of insecurity could arise from the thought that the independence and freedom we have is tentative, it can be snatched away, revoked any time. Every citizen feels constricted by the lack of proper implementation of laws. Police atrocities have shown that the country is not ruled by law, but by some other tacit arrangement, too complicate to enumerate here. A man can be killed – his freedoms terminated for ever – by giving a “supari” in the north and a “quotation” in the south. And that isn’t much – around Rs 50,000 would do. Because we have proved to be unable to govern ourselves, we are at the mercy of powerful intra- and inter-national economic forces that can take away our freedom.

So, the thought I would like to take away from this blogpost, dear reader is: We wouldn’t be really free unless we are economically and politically free and governing ourselves with a confidence of a nation that is sixty years old. What I mean is many of our brothers working as outsourcing agents and laborers in the Persian Gulf and other regions aren’t free though they belong to a free country. They still are under the hegemonic rule of the white masters who left the country a long time ago.


Just as I write this, there’s a riot going on in the place I live in New Bombay. Miscreants have smashed private car windows, burnt public transport buses, and shattered window glass of government corporations. There aren’t any private or public transports available and I wonder how I will reach home. My wife reached home safely from school, thanks to the generosity of a rickshaw driver who lives in our locality.

Their anger is directed against the government for approving a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in New Bombay which is to buy land from farmers. Now, what exactly are Special Economic Zones? They are stagnant backoffice backwater zones where a foreign company can set up its outsourcing unit and employ the cheap labor that's in abundance, for a fee of course. The government gets a lot of investment, the common man employment, all benefit except the people from whom the land was seized. If we are a democracy, why create these isolated pockets of affluence where only a few people (that too, highly qualified, young workforce consisting of the best minds of the country) would benefit. Why create a green patch in the middle of an arid wasteland? Why couldn't progress be equal for all, if we really are a democracy and wish to uphold democratic values.

The situation is the same as what happened in Nandigram and Singur. The villagers fear that they will not be adequately compensated for their land by the government. And that’s a genuine grievance (see this related document regarding compensating for land submerged under the Narmada Hydro-Development Corporation). In most cases the buying of land for government projects are done with some force, and compensations, if at all, are inadequate. The villagers are not only protesting the taking away of their land but also the loss of their traditional, centuries-old way of life. But is their violence justified? Isn’t there a free and democratic way of addressing their problems in the free country they belong to?

A good question to ask in the aftermath of another independence day.

| |

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Technical Content I Wrote

Stumbled upon some technical content I wrote, as in here - Technical content I wrote - when I was outsourced writer/editor/quality controller for the said website.

Problem is I can't figure out what the heck I wrote is all about. I just can't figure out the highly technical balderdash I wrote, I swear. But I did understand it at that point of time, when I wrote it. I swear (again) that I knew well about it when I wrote it. But now I know nothing of what I wrote(mumble, mumble!).

There's some psychological barrier to the stuff I wrote. Think it's what they call selective amnesia.



Rant on being called “Sad” and Told to “Wallow”

I guess being told one is “sad” and to “wallow” – in one’s sadness – isn’t very nice. But I guess I had it coming: the critical inputs, I mean. I am a regular poster of my short stories, poems, and essays in Caferati; and to this book review of the Maximum City, one of the members said these fine words to me in a personal message. The way these message boards operate, it’s open season. Anyone can sign up for free and call you an “a*hole” with impunity.

But the way it came, when it did, was what shocked. That too from someone who I didn’t know even existed. What must have been the provocation? Is it just the fact that I wrote a critical review of a book? What happened to fair comment and intelligent discussion; is it no longer valid today? Is it enough to name the reviewer as “sad” and told to “wallow?” Just because I criticized a book he liked (and I didn’t) doesn’t give him the right to call me “sad.” Arrrrgggggh.

The last thing I wanted to do was get too much angry and take it into overdrive, which would have resulted in a flaming war on the board, with he and I getting enough supporters to thrust our bayonets into each other and take it to a bloody end. The bloody end in this case would mean: quite a lot of well-meaning people would quit the board. I have seen and participated in such bloodletting on the board before, so I refrained. I didn’t want it to happen again, so I called up the moderator and asked him to delete a certain post that had offended and hurt me. Luckily for me, the moderator saw my point of view and did as requested. End of affair. Phew!

Jabberwock has this post about someone responding to a post on Kiran Nagarkar on his blog:

“hey mister kiran com on now grow up, you also know if cows are not used for eating than they will increase and after words u will only complait to the municipaly and government that the cows are blocking the roads, are man, do u know that what ur ancestors use to eat? the blood which u have in ur body is it of true vegiterian? just grow up and think and dont waist ur life dear, i think u also know the truth but u hide for ur profit wont u? this all tress, food earth, sun, animals are for humans dear,”

Read the above? Can you believe it? Internet forums and blogs are where the present generation of Yuppies and Techies are fighting out their wars. “Hey mister com now grow up,” is all I can say like the poster of the message above, though minus the awful spelling. He, he!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Booker Long List Is Out

Here it is: the Booker longlist The absence of Rushdie, a certain Naipaul, Ondaatje and other big names is noteworthy, methinks!

The list:

Darkmans by Nicola Barker (Fourth Estate)
Self Help by Edward Docx (Picador)
The Gift Of Rain by Tan Twan Eng (Myrmidon)
The Gathering by Anne Enright (Jonathan Cape)
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (Hamish Hamilton)
The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies (Sceptre)
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones (John Murray)
Gifted by Nikita Lalwani (Viking)
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, (Jonathan Cape)
What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn (Tindal Street)
Consolation by Michael Redhill (William Heinemann)
Animal's People by Indra Sinha (Simon & Schuster)
Winnie & Wolf by AN Wilson (Hutchinson)"

  • Digg
  • The Eagles, and Being Glassy Eyed, and All That

    Last Sunday (August 5, 2007) I sat through a recorded performance of one of my favorite bands “Eagles,” misty-eyed and a lump in my throat. I am sure wifey was wondering why I had gone glassy eyed, of a sudden. Nostaligia for an age that had passed, a phase that had ended made me very sentimental as they crooned numbers I closely associated with the process of growing up in middle-class Chembur in Bombay.

    Don Henley and Glenn Frey [they are the guys squatting in front of the picture] were, and still are, my favorite singers, since a long, long time. The others are equally good and include: Don Felder, Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner, Timothy B. Schmit, Joe Walsh, etc. were icons.

    The distinction of their music with that of the present generation was made painfully apparent by these ageing heroes of my childhood. They were mostly above fifty, wrinkled, with finely lined faces. However, their music and their skill shone through their age, their faltering attempts at jauntiness, now, looking a bit jaded. It was obvious they believed in something, even that music could change lives, and isn’t just a means to let off frustration.

    They weren’t rock stars of the generations that came after them, but musicians who knew what melody and harmony meant. (Ahem, most bands today don’t know what harmony means, for them making screeching vinyl sounds, or, thumping beats is all that counts.)

    The song they sung? “A New Kid in Town”, “Peaceful Easy Feeling”, “I Can’t Tell You Why”, “One of These Nights”, “One Day at a Time”, “Lying Eyes”, “Tequila Sunrise”, “Love Will Keep Us Alive”, “Take It to the Limit”, “Heartache Tonight”, besides others. Oh, how can I forget their evergreen hit “Hotel California” which plays everyday, each time and every time I visit my favorite pub – CafĂ© Mondegar in Colaba.

    I can shut my eyes and visualize the smooth harmony and soft guitar chords of these songs and bring back those days of juvenile sentimentality, when the rushing of adrenaline (due in part because of these songs) seemed to promise much more than the later years delivered. Amen!

    | |

    Tuesday, August 07, 2007

    This Blog is Four Years Old and is in the running for the “Longest running solo blog at the same URL” in India!

    This Blog is four years old this month. Yaaaay!

    According to the Limca Book of Blogging Records edited (or, is it abandoned?) by Zigzackly this blog is in the running for the “Longest running solo blog at the same URL” having started on August 23, 2003 which is well before most of the other contenders for the position (see the link of blogpost on Limica Book of Blogging Records).

    Anyone to uncork the bubblies? Actually I will celebrate with wifey (Mercy) and son (Ronnie) over a cup of coffee, I guess.


    Thursday, August 02, 2007

    Harry Potter and Me!

    I am not a great Harry Potter fan, but I must confess I am a fan of Julianne K Rowlings, how she struggled against odds, et al. Probably because witchcraft, wizardry, and the process of initiating young boys and girls into these repel me (maybe, my Christian upbringing is responsible).

    I tend to agree with this poll on Orkut. The publisher is charging more than they should for the Harry Potter books. Guess they have to pay the bills for the big launches, the news coverage, the literary agents, the publicists, the hype-creators, the fluff agents, and the public relationswallahs.

    However, one niggling doubt: Is Rs 900 (I presume) for a book justified when you can get three books for that sum of money in India? Isn’t this going into overdrive? See the poll, the majority thinks the book is overpriced. The public knows!

    I know book publishing is big business and that only big books sell. I was told to cut down my novel to 60 to 70 thousand words because the editor said 100 thousand words won’t sell for a new author (and I am still waiting for the publisher’s verdict). Wonder how many authors have been rendered starving and penurious by the money that has gone into the hype and hoopla surrounding Harry Potter series of novels?

    I, for one!
    | |