Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happenings in Literary Fora - My Take

One drawback of being in literary forums is that criticism and critiques come from unexpected corners, from unexpected people, whom you trusted thinking, well, um, huh, so-and-so is a fellow word warriors in the fight for literary recognition. But some of them are motivated; some of them are just plain weird. And, some blurt things without even thinking of the consequences, they just want their shrill and complaining voices heard above the general hubbub of voices. I speaketh the truth!

Recently I was hauled up for writing as if I was a youngster, a young adult, rather. Write about someone who is older, you know, act your age, the criticism alleged. So, haven’t I been through all that, earlier in my mis-spent youth? Don’t I understand what my colleagues (most whom are younger than me) are going through in their lives? What got my goat was something I perceived as being personal comment about my age and my writing. If the aim was to discourage me, I am made of sterner stuff, let me warn them.

And if those comments came from extremely talented writers – you know the Arundhati Roy types – I would have been obviously worried. But the comments are coming from people who haven’t attempted a single short story (at least, what I would call a short story, not some hazy situation or character sketches), and so-called writers whose attention span isn’t long enough to listen to a short story or poem without scratching their heads. I wonder if they have the patience to finish a novel. Or, they may be reading the first few pages just to claim they have read the book! It take all kinds, hmm!


Literary Acquisitions - October 31

Following are the current acquisitions made by publishers from literary agencies around the world, through the kindest courtesy of



London Observer's New York correspondent Paul Harris's Freetown, about a journalist covering the conflict in Sierre Leone, who, in search of answers to the mysterious and sudden murder of his aid-worker girlfriend, unearths a web of conspiracy and corruption -- pitched as in the spirit of John Le Carre, and inspired by the author's own first-hand experience as a war correspondent, to Trena Keating at Dutton, in a very nice deal, by Elizabeth Sheinkman at Curtis Brown UK (NA). Translation: Dutch rights to De Bezige Bij, in a pre-empt.


Ira Berkowitz's Old Flame, a gritty noir set in Hell's Kitchen, in the vein of the author's debut Family Matters, to Julian Pavia for Three Rivers Press, in a two-book deal, by David Larabell at David Black Literary Agency.Rights:

Malla Nunn's A Beautiful Place to Die, set in South Africa at the time of the introduction of apartheid, to Emily Bestler at Atria, at auction, by Catherine Drayton at Inkwell Management, on behalf of Cameron Creswell.


International bestselling author Ken Follett's The Century Trilogy, focusing on personal dramas set against the looming background of world-changing Twentieth Century historical events up through the Cold War, now officially sold, again to Leslie Gelbman at NAL and Brian Tart at Dutton, for hardcover publication in 2010, 2012, and 2014, by Amy Berkower at Writers House (US).


The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen author Syrie James's new novel, in which Charlotte Bronte, en route to becoming a famous author, reveals the truth behind her turbulent relationship with the man she finally came to love and marry, again to Lucia Macro at Avon, by Tamar Ellman Rydzinski at Laura Dail Literary Agency (World English).


Nicholas Drayson's A Guide to The Birds of East Africa, set in contemporary Kenya with a very unlikely hero, who falls in love with a woman on their monthly guided bird walk but has to compete for her affections with his old school bully, in the form of a competition to spot as many separate species of birds in a week, to Jane Rosenman at Houghton Mifflin, in a nice deal, for publication in July 2008, by Peter Robinson at Robinson Literary Agency (US).

Nelson Algren Literary Award winner and author of Hairstyles of the Damned Joe Meno's The Great Perhaps, the story of an eccentric family in the weeks leading up to the 2004 presidential election: two bumbling professors, two strange daughters, and a grandfather limiting himself to thirteen words a day, then twelve, then eleven -- one less each day until he will speak no more, to Tom Mayer at Norton, by Maria Massie at Lippincott Massie McQuilkin.


Rights to Natalie Robins and Steven Aronson's out of print SAVAGE GRACE, first published in 1985, to tie in with the release of a film version starring Julianne Moore in December 2007, the story of the epic downfall of the heirs to the Bakelite plastics fortune, a tale of money and madness, incest and matricide, to Amanda Patten at Touchstone Fireside, by the authors.


Edgar nominee Megan Abbott's Die a Little, to Jessica Biel and United Artists, by Shari Smiley at CAA, in association with Paul Cirone of Friedrich Agency.

Christopher Rush's Will, the fictional autobiography of William Shakespeare, to SBK Pictures, Sir Ben Kingsley's production company (World).

Children's: Fantasy

Inara Scott's Delacroix: The Choice, in which a high-school freshman must deal with a new school that may or may not have something fishy about it, two very different boys, and her own superpowers, to Jennifer Besser at Hyperion, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal, by Tamar Ellman Rydzinski at Laura Dail Literary Agency.

Children's: Young Adult

Screenwriter Andrew Klavan's Homelanders, pitched as Twenty Four meets The Bourne Identity; homeless, broke, and unable to find his parents, a teenager has to outrun both terrorists and the law with only a few days to stop the murder of the Secretary of State in a race against time that brings him face-to-face with a master assassin, to Amanda Bostic at Thomas Nelson, in a four-book deal, by Alyssa Eisner Henkin and Robert Gottlieb at Trident Media Group.


Why Most Men DIE before women!

Time for a laugh. And women would laugh really good and hard at this:

Laughing my ASS off!: Why Most Men DIE before you women!


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Half Marathon – Delhi

It was a strange juxtaposition of images on the television. They riveted me to my seat. Consider these two scenarios:

Scenario 1: On the one hand the wealthy designer-track-suit wearing, health conscious city slickers from Delhi (which included film stars like Priyanka Chopra and Gulshan Grover and sports stars such as Rahul Dravid), running to shed a few kilos of the fat they have accumulated from conspicuous eating. The event: The Half Marathon in Delhi on Sunday the 28th of October 2007 where they ran for 21.1 kilometers. These were the people who had money and material wealth and bred expensive dogs in their houses to which they would feed food worth thousands.

Scenario 2: On the other hand, on the same day, 25,000 impoverished tribal people - original inhabitants of India - who marched 340 kilometers on foot to demand a “National Land Reform Policy.” This marathon of foot was called “Janadesh Yatra.” Increasingly they have been isolated in their under-developed areas, and even evicted without compensation for building dams, roads, power plants, and Special Economic Zones (SEZs), which benefit the class of people mentioned in scenario 1. They came with plastic sacks on their heads, in clothes that were hardly designer, and slept on the streets, where the rich man’s dog would do poo-poo.

They held aloft flags. The desperation was visible on a man’s face as he said:

“खाने को रोटी नही, खेती नही, पानी नही.”

No rotis to eat, no land, no water.

Considering these two scenarios, considering the tragedy that India has become, where every man is supposed to be free and given the inherent rights to a home and a decent way of living, I weep tears of despair.

What happened in Nandigram and in Singur is being repeated in many part of the country. If India is to be divided into Special Economic Zones for the rich and wealthy, and the impoverished villages where only a few buses stop every day, one might as well divide the country into two: the rich India (let’s call it Amir India) and the poor India (let’s call it the Garib India).

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Monday, October 29, 2007

A New Mall. I Am a Mall Fall-guy!

A new mall opened just opposite Vashi Infotech Park where I work. There’s already another mall – Center One – right across towards the right. The new mall is named “Raghuleela” and the design that seemed odd from outside made sense when I visited it today. It has a huge atrium which is crowned by an inverted-funnel-shaped structure which is actually its glass ceiling (see picture). It could be glass or a composite of glass and plastic, but the view of the atrium made me catch my breath. It’s so huge! At least, that was my first reaction.

Then I visited Big Bazaar inside, which is actually BIG, and has a virtual bargain-basement array of goods on display. The prices are cheaper than I found at the other mall across the street, a good formal shirt for just Rs 399! It could also be an opening day discount, an incentive for the first-time shopper.

I am told that another mall is opening shortly in the same area, a part of the Inorbit Mall chain. So that would be three malls within a few hundred feet of each other. Guess, Vashi is going to boom in the coming few days. Already a lot of software companies have moved into the Infotech Park, and real estate prices have soared.

Now with so many malls opening will the smaller shops survive? Would the local kirana shop owned by the bania survive this onslaught of discounts? A question I would have to wait before answering.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

An Appeal from Citizens for Peace

This request comes from The Griff who is also managing the Citizens for Peace website and Citizens for Peace blog these days.

Citizens for Peace (CfP) is a Mumbai based non-party group of volunteers committed to working for communal harmony and a vibrant secular polity. The Trustees of CFP are: Julio Rebiero, B.G.Deshmukh, Titoo Ahluwalia, Rina Kamath, Tariq Ansari, Dolly Thakore and Cyrus Guzder. The Managing Committee consists of: Titoo Ahluwalia, Tariq Ansari, Dolly Thakore, Dilip D’Souza, Gulan Kripalani, Pervin Varma, Rajni Bakshi and Devieka Bhojwani.

CfP has issued a press statement following the expose that Tehelka featured on the Gujarat carnage and its aftermath. CfP has issued a press statement the text of which follows:


"The expose showing perpetrators of the 2002 carnage in Gujarat boasting about their crimes is an open challenge to all citizens of India. It is an urgent reminder that we must renew efforts to prosecute those who commit such crimes against humanity.

"We, Citizens for Peace, in particular appeal to the people of Gujarat to break silence and oppose the politics of hatred and terror. It is possible that many residents of Gujarat may have been unaware of the enormity of crimes committed in their state with open state support in 2002. Others may have hesitated to confront a truth so bizarre. Now, after the confessions, silence is equal to endorsement of the chilling crimes.

"Justice delayed is better than justice denied altogether. It will make a difference if citizens from all walks of life, across India, stand emphatically opposed to the continuing miscarriage of justice in Gujarat.

"We urge all citizens to:

"1. Write to the Prime Minister and Union Home Minister demanding that they take immediate steps to prosecute the culprits of the carnage.

"2. Write to all national political parties in India asking how and why the constitutional crisis, of a dysfunctional judicial system in Gujarat, is allowed to persist and urging them to address this grave threat to the idea of India with utmost urgency.

"3. Write to the BJP, impressing on them that this is their chance to dissociate themselves from those responsible for these crimes, and to help this country make a new beginning towards justice for all.

"For the text of our letters please see these posts (on Gujarat carnage) on our (Citizens for Peace) website."


Friday, October 26, 2007

How Google Got It's Name, Really!

Interesting bit here. About how the online world's giant of a search engine, which decides on the future of this and every other website and blog, got it's name (Why, it even owns Blogger on which this blog is hosted!). It was actually a spelling mistake, Sean Anderson typed "Google" instead of the originally agreed upon name -- Googol -- in the website name registry, and history was made, mistakenly. That spelling mistake is today a 160-billion-dollar business, dictating the future of online search. (Story in Valleywag, Silicon Valley's Tech Gossip Rag). Excerpt:

"Sean and Larry were in their office, trying to think up a good name -- something that related to the indexing of an immense amount of data. Sean verbally suggested the word 'googolplex,' and Larry responded verbally with the shortened form, 'googol.' Sean was seated at his computer terminal, so he executed a search of the Internet domain name registry database to see if the newly suggested name was still available for registration and use. Sean is not an infallible speller, and he made the mistake of searching for the name spelled as ',' which he found to be available. Where does Sean currently work? Microsoft."

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Anthonybhai and Artistic Purview

“The arts are not merely the purview of practitioners of the arts. They are, fundamentally, the purview of any civilized society.” I am quoting but I don’t know who.

“Wot is this men, poetry-shoetry? Don’t you buggers have something better to do, only? Who attends poetry readings, men? Tell you one thing, only, no? This poetry all waste of time. Tell me one thing, can poetry feed you? First, you all earn one naya paise with your poetry, then come talking, talking to Anthonybhai.”

Anthonybhai is upset with all those people who go to poetry readings. Because he says there is no money in poetry and, if at all, poetry could burn a big hole in your pocket, as I realized when I went to the Kritya Poetry Festival in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.

I thought the Vylopilli Sanskriti Bhavan would be packed with poetry-loving people from the land of Vallathol, Kumaran Asan, Ulloor Parameshwaran Iyer, and Mahakavi Puthenkavu Mathan Tharakan (my great uncle, and a good friend of my grandfather). But alas, not to be!

There were only fellow poets in the Vylopilli Sanskriti Bhavan, and their close relative to hear us read. Where are the adoring public, the great audience we were all writing for? Where is the adulation? Why doesn’t an International Poetry Festival get ten per cent of the screaming fans a concert by Snoop Dogg gets? (See what I mean, can’t spell dog!) I heard this guy is hot, at least, my son thinks so! But his verses, um, sort of, fail to impress.

Poetry is not merely the purview of poets. They are, fundamentally, the purview of any civilized society. A society that neglects its writers is heading for trouble, big trouble. That’s why our country is not going according to rational thoughts (such as mine!) but by the skewed thoughts of madmen who preach violence and fundamentalism, or Snoop Dogg who has this text on his website: “Checc out tha 1st sneak peek of my next album EGO TRIPPIN' - "Sexual Eruption" produced by tha homey Shawty Redd - chuuch!”

Similarly, at a book launch there are only the want-to-be authors in the audience. Okay, okay, let’s include the want-to-be-but-failed authors, too, if you please. “The arts are not merely the purview of practitioners of the art….” “Oh, shut your face, men, before I shove your poetry down your troat, sala, men,” says Anthonybhai. He can’t say “throat,” instead, says, “troat.” Whose fault is it? Snoop Dogg’s?

Blending the Brew and a Lesson in Bad Business Logic

It was a nice evening with my Aap Ka Nazrana (AKN) friends J and M, last night. The only thing that spoilt it for me was the noise level in the rather quizzically-named restaurant Blending the Brew in Chembur.

There we were AKN and friends catching up on life on the net, in real. J was ecstatic about the bike ride she just had had with M. M had gone to pick her up, considering that she now lives in Doha and doesn’t know her way around Chembur. We are all Chembur regulars, me, J and M. M lives near my school, Adarsha Vidyalaya, and J’s son lives in the Maitri Park area.

The quote of the evening from M was: “Morality is a simple attitude which we adopt toward people we dislike.” Oh, goodness gracious, there’s a deep truth hidden there somewhere.

So, the evening wore on, swapping stories about our networks and friends while we sipped on poisons, and J and M smoked. The selection of songs was the best in retro that I can imagine: Elton John (evergreen hit: Sacrifice), Foreigner (Ah, said M when “I Been Waiting, for a Girl like You,” and its unforgettable music score came on), and only Jim Morrison was absent from the repertoire. Jim would have made the evening more pleasant, verily I say unto thee. Can you imagine “The End” with its muted guitar chords playing softly over the haze of rum and Thums Up, with Jim’s rich voice like a whiplash above the minimal music score? I was so carried away by the concoction of nostalgia music and warm company that I what was in store came as a shock. Such are the ways of life!

I had finished my first, and then J had to leave, as her flight was in the wee hours of last night. A car came to pick her up, so she missed the ride back on M’s Hero Honda Splendor. We saw her off, said goodbye, and M and I decided to carry on.

When we came back tinny Hindi music was screeching from a computer device, in full blast. I like Hindi music, but the sound quality was loud and jarring. So I asked the waiter to turn down the volume, as it was affecting our conversation. Oddly, he turned it up further. The reason: “That gentleman requested it be played at high pitch,” he said pointing in the direction of a group. It seemed, from his self-important swagger, he was quite popular in this restaurant. Could be the owner’s family, quite possible, who knows! I saw several other visitors asking for the volume to be lowered, but, no, no thanks. The minions were eager to please one customer and displease all the rest. So I and M sat dazed and finished our drinks, as I couldn’t hear him, and neither could he.

That ruined the evening. But what is it that makes a restaurant want to please one customer, and displease ten others. Bad business logic, isn’t it? Those ten other customers could give them more business than the one. “This is India, don’t you know? The powerful here misuse their powers and the rest are supposed to fall in line,” I mutter as I leave with M, disgusted.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Blogging Is Big Business, Ask Me!

Who says blogging doesn't pay? Says who? Here's an article in CNN Money which says that blogging is indeed a multi-million dollar business.

"With Internet-like speed, blogs have gone from self-indulgent hobbies to flourishing businesses. Real businesses, with real revenue streams from real advertisers--not overhyped next big things with pick-a-number valuations based on selling out someday to some overenthusiastic big-media sugar daddy. Boing Boing, a four-person operation that bills itself as a directory of wonderful things, is on track to gross an estimated $1 million in ad revenue this year. The digital-media news site, headquartered in the second bedroom of a Santa Monica apartment, is set to post even more than that. And, a site packed with sophomoric humor run by a lone guy in Lexington, Ky., is on pace to become a multimillion-dollar property. In short, some of the most popular blogs, long the bane of the mainstream media, are themselves becoming mainstream."

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Recent Publishing Acquisitions! , that veritable repository of all things literary has some interesting sales by literary agents to publishers, with kindest courtesy of the aforesaid market place, of course! Excerpts:

Diana Paxson's Sword of Aavalon, a posthumous sequel to Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon, dealing with the origins of Excalibur, to Anne Sowards at Roc, in a good deal, for publication in Fall 2009, by Russell Galen at Scovil Chichak Galen Literary Agency (NA). Foreign:

Brunonia Barry's originally self-published debut supernatural thriller The Lace Reader, about a woman who can see the future by reading patterns in lace who returns home to Salem, Massachusetts after her great-aunt goes missing, to Laurie Chittenden at William Morrow, in a major deal, reportedly for $2 million (NY Mag), at auction, by Rebecca Oliver at Endeavor (world English).

One for Sorrow author Christopher Barzak's The Love We Share Without Knowing, pitched as Murakami meets Dan Chaon, set in Japan, in which the lives of several strangers -- including a Japanese suicide club survivor, an American teacher of English whose lover was killed in 9/11, and a man mysteriously struck blind -- are gently linked and interwoven by love and loss and fate, to Juliet Ulman at Bantam Dell, by Chris Schelling at Ralph M. Vicinanza (NA).

German rights to journalist and arts critic Peter Murphy's John the Revelator, to Suhrkamp Insel Verlag, in a nice deal, by Lisa Baker of Faber & Faber.

Janice Y.K. Lee's The Piano Teacher, a historical novel set in Hong Kong, at the outbreak of WWII, and 10 years after, following two love affairs linked by the events of the war, to Kathryn Court at Viking Penguin, for publication in 2009, by Theresa Park at the Park Literary Group (NA).

UK rights to Clare Smith at Harper UK, in a good deal, by Julian Alexander at Lucas Alexander Whitley, on behalf of Park.

Emily Fox Gordon's novel It Will Come to Me, a comic tale set on a southern college campus, about a faculty wife trying to recapture her early literary success and reclaim her identity, for publication in spring 2009, and an essay collection, THE PRODIGAL RETURNS, including pieces that have appeared in the Best American Essays and Pushcart anthologies, with an introduction by Philip Lopate, to Julie Grau at Spiegel & Grau, by Elyse Cheney at Elyse Cheney Agency (US).

Children's: Young Adult
NYT bestselling author of Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy and I'd Tell You I Love You but Then I'd Have to Kill You Ally Carter's next Gallagher Girls novel and the first book in a new YA series pitched as Ocean's 11 meets Veronica Mars, about a girl from a family of high-end conmen who must choose between leaving the family business or saving her art thief father by pulling one last heist, again to Donna Bray at Hyperion Children's, by Kristin Nelson at Nelson Literary Agency (NA).
UK & Translation: Asian:


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Security at the Mall

Just now returned from Center One, the local mall. There’s threat of bomb blasts in malls, so I wanted to check out, death wish or, um, well, love of malls, the glittering facades, the lovely women to ogle at. It’s that way, so let it be, mall lover!

Yes, there is a bunch of policemen at the entrance, sitting to one side of the entrance and gawking, swinging their legs. Their boss, an inspector with his intestines and stomach bursting out of his belt is going around the mall, visiting each shop and asking prices. Seems, you know, this is their idea of “plum posting.” And nobody near the metal detector, which curiously is named portal detector, he, he, har! har! har! As if it’s some web portal. The ignorants!

The whatever detector gives a loud beep, I pass through, and nobody from the protectors of law and justice come forward. I could have been carrying RDX or a Mauser pistol. They are badly trained; I have seen people pass through airport security without being checked, then what about malls? Kisika baap ka kya jatahai. What does it go of your father, eh?

As I am wont to do, I walk into a store selling expensive diamonds. I ask the price of a cross pendant, Rs 12,000. I feign interest. I have with me a shopping bag inside which is Johnathan Livingston Seagull, freshly bought from the Mani Bookstall, a wall of a shop. The idea is to appear cool, look into their faces in a condescending sort of way. Sensing a buy, all the salesmen crowd around me, “Hey this guy is a shopper, see his Mani Bookstall bag he is proudly flaunting? I look at them, and am laughing inside, “12,000 bucks, man, my wife would kill me so that she can inherit the diamond pendant! He, he!”


My New Writing Bureau

my writing bureau
Originally uploaded by johnpmathew
I have always wanted a writing bureau such as this. So I got myself one. It is made by a company named "Axiom" that has a showroom in Vashi. It is a bit expensive, but I have wanted such a bureau for a long time where I can store my laptop (in the center shelf), my notebooks, and assorted files and manuscripts. Now this is where I would be writing my next novel, my poems and my short stories. So fans, please make note, for posterity's sake! Good Lord! How can I forget my critics? Critics, do pliss to be taking note!

How Sick Can You Get?

Funny thing happened. I saw something very provocative on Yahoo answer similar to what appears below (not verbatim!), thought of writing this blogpost, copied it, sorry, first reported it to Yahoo answers, and then came to post it here, and, damn!, nothing happened. The blasted thing didn't copy and, therefore, didn't paste.

So here's what provoked some bile secretion from my pancrea, or whatever produces bile, serotonin, whatever:

For girls only: What is the best two ways to insult a guy, when you really want to hurt him bad, and make him stay that way for ever.

My God! How sick can you get? No doubt, the net is full of mentally sick people such as the above. I guess young people call this "attitude." But this isn't attitude, dudes and dudettes, this is sickness in the mind. Go, get yourself examined.

Now for something that made the dopamine surge. When I went back, after having reported the above sick person's request for immediate medical help, Yahoo answers had (you won't believe this!) deleted the question altogether.

Good work Yahoo answers. Good that you are so vigilant about sickness on the internet. Let's keep it that way. Or, is it a programming interface, built into the coding of your page?

Monday, October 22, 2007

More Shit on My Outsourcing Staircase Landing!

Interesting discussion on my this blogpost about outsourcing in India, the message board Shakespeare and Company, and my original blogpost on my ranting and raving blog is here!

I quote myself:

My question is "Unless you give them (outsourcing employees) comparable working conditions (on par with those in the US) and give them a career path they could follow, how will you know that they would stick around and make the new economy sustainable? How secure are jobs for oursourcing employees when they don't have even medical, social, and retirement benefits?"

Agree with Ravi and Avinash that outsourcing has moved service from nowhere to somewhere. But its the technological godzilla that has hauled service (kicking and screaming, I guess!) to the backoffices of Gurgaon and New Bombay.

The progress the world is making through the new economy of outsourcing is like a two-headed snake feeding on its other head. It's generating income from vanity products and feeding it to the offshoots of it's own vain manufacturing endeavors, while leaving a big section of the citizenry untouched by its benefits.



Sunday, October 21, 2007

It’s over! Phew! The veritable orgy, the assault of the eardrums, the swirl of colors, swirling dervishes, the imitation of Bollywood’s dance moves, the pulsating beats of the drums, the off-key singing of cinema hits, the sweating housewives enjoying their once-yearly opportunity to shake their legs and derrieres.

The nine days of navratri leading to Dussehra (which is today) is over, and so is the dancing that goes for garba these days. Garba as seen in my childhood in Chembur was a lot different. It was danced by women in a circle around a ceremonial pot, the women performing the dance steps with a gentle and graceful movement of their bodies, singing, “Rang tali rang, tali rang, tali re rang ma, rang tali,” (at, least that’s what I remember) quite a treat to watch. But these days it’s more of break- and disco-dancing than anything else.

Times were when I used to take Ronnie in my hands to give him a better view of the dancers in Sector 6 of CBD Belapur. But now, he is a big boy and is in the crowd somewhere, dancing, having fun, I think, as I wait on the outskirts with wifey. We are not able to see anything in the sea of bobbing heads and sticks held aloft. The music is too loud, the lights too strong, so we decide to leave. The concept of having fun, too, has changed. It’s all loudness in music, in dress, and talk, I think as we walk back to our flat.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Manini Chatterjee on This Year’s Booker Winner Anne Enright

Writer, columnist Manini Chatterjee writes about Booker Prize winner Anne Enright (who was her classmate at the Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific, a small pre-university college nestled among giant Douglas firs on Vancouver Island) thus in this article in The Telegraph:


“Anne, I must confess, was not my best friend. Her fellow Dubliner, Fiona Healy, was. And Fiona’s world was divided neatly in two — those who came from the north of the Liffey (the river that flows through the centre of Dublin) and those who were residents of the south. The rich spoilt brats of Dublin all lived south of the river that cut through the city; the working class peopled the north.

“Fiona, daughter of a feisty postman, was quintessentially north. (As a young girl, she once asked her father the meaning of the word plutocrat. “A plutocrat,” he replied, “is someone who is stinking rich. We, my dear, merely stink.”)

And further on…

“Except in Theo’s English literature class. The Liffey disappeared for a few hours every day as Fiona and Anne and I — the Irish and Indians were also considered the most “literary” since the word “nerdy” was still some years away — had furious arguments about Virginia Woolf and Keats, T.S. Eliot and Shakespeare.”


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Thursday, October 18, 2007

And Yet, No Shame!

Huff, huff, eyes averted, fingers on nose, a bleary-eyed glance through bi-focals towards left, without actually turning my head. Oh, thank be to ye, God! The ugly mass (mentioned in this post on this blog) has disappeared. But the staircase to my office still stinks. People use it as a toilet at night. No shame! A puddle of urine gives off a distinctly hydrogen-sulphide smell. I know, I was a chemistry student and my laboratory used to stink similarly.

A heritage structure such as the Gateway of India is misused thusly. I have seen it with my own bi-focal-ed eyes. There are toilets everywhere, even a hideous structure near the Gateway of India. But still people prefer to sit under the grand arch through which King George the Sixth once passed. Their claim to immortality.

We had this game we played when we were sub-editors of a magazine, early in our career. After the issue had gone to press, there being not much work, we subs had to relate our worst toilet-going nightmares. Mine was an excruciating journey in one of Kerala's Fast Passenger Buses running between Ernakulam and Kottayam, at a time when it was raining rather badly. It’s some sixty kilometers to Kottayam and I was traveling with luggage, and suddenly I had this urgent call of nature, and it didn't seem to subside whatever ways I tried. Fast Passenger Buses don’t stop at the intermediate bus stations, and if I get down, and if the bus leaves without me, my luggage would also go with it.

So I held on, and held on, and held on, at each passing milestone, painfully counting the numbers written on it. When it came to Kottayam bus station, I ran frantically all the way to the enquiry, and from there, wildly flung myself at the crowd, and when I entered the foul-smelling, cobweb-hanging, puke-inducing urinal, it was like heaven. Aaaaaaaah!

Women colleagues related how they rang door bells and usually a woman - understanding as they are of such dilemmas - allowed them to enter their homes and use their toilets. They related how they had to crouch over dirty, unwashed toilet seats, only to find there was no water, et al. Ha… ha… ha…. My advice: check the water supply first!

Once, when I had to, had to, go, I went to the nearest five-star hotel and did it in comfort and luxury. Nobody stopped me, not even the liveried attendant wearing spotless white gloves. That’s the reason why I am reasonably formally dressed on most days except weekends. You don’t know where you are going to land up and want to use the toilet! Do you?

What are your stories? Leave a comment your highnesses!

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

There’s Shit on My Outsourced Stair Landing!

There’s a lump of shit on the landing leading to my office in the Vashi Infotech Park, the home to myriad outsourced backoffices of the world. It has been lying there for nearly a week on the expensive marble and nobody bothers to complain or, hmm, wash it away. I see the sweeper everyday sleeping at another landing, exhausted by the life of a sweeper, the malingerer, neglecting his duty. He should have cleared it long ago. What can I do? I don’t like to wake him up and receive a scolding. I am a bit verbally challenged, wide, flabby lips, you know, inherited from father. In most such situations I have become the acquisitioned, rather than the inquisitor.

I don’t know whom approach, or, to complain to. So I hold my nose as I climb the stairs, carefully avoiding the lump, which has turned from yellow, to brown to almost black in a week it has been lying there. There’s a toilet a few meters away from the offending lump. The person who shat there could have used the neat facility we all use to commune with nature, but he (always it’s a “he”, not a “she”) didn’t use it. The need must have been that urgent!

The staircase leading to my office is in the Vashi Infotech Park is owned by the City Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO), and they have outsourced the cleaning to another company. The outsourced company apparently doesn’t care if their employees, eat, sleep, or shit (it could be them, who knows!) when they are on duty. But the problem with finding their office and lodging a complaint is that I could go to CIDCO, who will direct me to another department, and then finally when I have found the work-shirking-malingering nasty fellows, unwittingly the ugly lump would have disappeared. Pfffttt! So everyday I do the “holding nose” bit, though the offending black lump doesn’t smell now, carefully pivot my eyes thereto, and recoil, yech!, the shit is still there. Oh, God!

Outsourcing, you see. Outsourcing is still like the shit on the landing. But whatever is outsourced is difficult to control, as I, a denizen of the outsourced world knows. There are no immediate controls, and a lot of shit gets deposited on consumers’ doorsteps, not to talk of stair landings. And it stinks! There are scarce controls, and scarce responsibility, try any customer support call center and you will know (read my short story Computer-ben). Because they are in a hurry to sell you something, not to give you service. Meaning they are in a hurry to sell space in Infotech Parks, not to clean shit from stair landings.

We, who are the outsourced backoffice of the world, can’t get rid of a lump of excreta from our own Infotech Park’s stair landing? Oh, misery! What’s your excuse, hahn?


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

It’s All “Setting” Now!

They have a new word for corruption. It’s all “setting” now. Consider this out-of-teen-shadow-mustachioed collegian in the train saying boastfully. His voice isn’t broken; it is indignant and incredulous.

“अरे, मैने तीन तीन जगह सेटिंग कियाथा, पता है? फिर भी पास नही हुआ.”

“I had made “setting” in three places. You know, still I didn’t pass.”

Guess these geezers know the corruption game even before we knew about it around forty years ago. Every Indian is born into the lap of corruption, right from the time his mommy stopped washing his ass. Because Papa couldn’t afford the donation for his admission into the fancy nursery school, he sent him to the English section of a vernacular school, where the misses changed every month. (Poor misses were paid two students’ monthly fee as salary. So they left.)

That was the first “setting.” The next “setting” was when he went into tenth standard and the private coaching class principal had to be done some “setting” and paid a sum as big as a privy purse only to teach Physics, Chemistry and Maths. Why? Because the vernacular school didn’t teach properly, no (what with misses changing every month)?

Then came this big “setting” for a degree college. Another big-big setting, patha hai? Then the bacha (child) went and flunked the classes. Papa tried “setting” in three places: at the college, at the university and at the education ministry. All three “settings” failed.

What is the need for his degree anyway, if all he has to do is attend to calls as a “Voice Support Executive” or, to put it more simply, a call center employee?

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Monday, October 15, 2007


He is not a young daredevil, no, he is not. He is middle-aged, paunchy, wears the clothes that a clerk in a government office would wear, which is a white shirt hanging outside a polyester trouser, and is carrying a bag on his shoulder, his lunch bag.

He would easily pass off for the thousands who pass through the station everyday and every night, on the way to the office, planning their day, planning what they would do after dinner, maybe, a walk with the wife in the nearby park, or, maybe, some television, or a music talent show with his children. He may like talent shows, they are a craze these days, isn’t it, and he must be rooting for Anik Dhar, or, maybe, Raja Hasan, in Saregama talent show.

But that’s not the reason I look at him. He is standing on a three-inch ledge in between two compartments of the Harbor line train to Panvel, holding on to an equally thin ledge, a metal piece jutting out of the compartment’s frame.

Several things could happen. The train could jerk over a turning and he could lose his grip, fall down, and it would be a sudden end. It could pick up speed a bit abruptly and send him flying outwards, in which case, too, it would be a sudden end. Or, he could look down and in a momentary vertiginous spell lose his mental bearing, in which case, too, it would be a sudden end.

Why? Why, is he taking such a big risk? If the compartment is too crowded why doesn’t he wait for the next train? Hasn’t he ever seen the mashed up bodies, their heads like pulp, breathing their last, lying dismembered near railway tracks? What is the hurry, now that he is on the way home? Does his wife and children know that he is taking such a big risk with their lives?

Why? I just saw him and feel like screaming at him, why? Can he even imagine what I have seen only a few days ago?


New Zealand Author - Biggest Gamble

New Zealand author Lloyd Jones is emerging as a hot contender among betting circles for the Booker Prize (New Zealand Author Biggest Literary Booker Gamble - New York Times). Exerpt from a New York Times article:

"New Zealand writer Lloyd Jones, target of the biggest gamble in the history of the Booker Prize, is hot favorite to land one of the world's most famous literary awards on Tuesday. Literary punters plunged on Jones when he first came into contention as a 20-1 outsider and his odds have now plummeted to a slim 6-4. He displaced as favorite British author Ian McEwan, bidding for his second Booker with the novella 'On Chesil Beach' about a catastrophically shy young couple's wedding night.

"Graham Sharpe, spokesman for bookmakers William Hill, said: 'There has never been a betting plunge like this on the Booker.' 'If Jones wins on Tuesday night, we will be making a six-figure payout to happy literary punters,' he added. Much to his own bemusement, Lloyd Jones was thrust into the limelight when shortlisted for 'Mister Pip,' set at the start of Papua New Guinea's bloody 10-year civil war. It tells the tale of the eccentric Mr Watts, who takes over as village teacher on the island of Bougainville in 1991, using Charles Dickens' 'Great Expectations' as his one and only text for the children."

If there's "betting" for the Booker Prize, could there be "fixing" also? Just asking!

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Duh! What Was I Writing About?

Following are six tips that Lisa of Intrinsic Life Design has to give to writers who have started the creative ideation process and then suddenly ask, "Duh! What am I writing about?":


1. Title your book. Go ahead, just make one up.
2. Write a headline. This should be a grabber, and a great place to start is to pose a question, the million dollar question.
3. Paragraph One: Answer the question. Provide a thumbnail of the plot through the eyes of your main characters, and their core conflicts. What are they up against? What's in their way?
4. Paragraph Two: Describe the outer world. Give us some context. Create the bigger world your characters live in--time, place, sensibility.
5. Write in the language and feel of your novel. Think of yourself as an actor trying on a costume. As a writer, your costume is the nature and feel of the language.
6. Write a closing sentence. This sentence can allude to the resolution of the book. Because this is an exercise and not the actual back cover copy, don't worry about giving away the store.


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Friday, October 12, 2007

Train Rage and Its Aftermath

Further to my train rage blogpost, traveling on Harbor Line of Bombay’s train lifeline has become easier. Both yesterday and today were a breeze as there was enough legroom, not to speak of handroom in the trains. Air did circulate in the compartment, breathing became easier and the grinding of flesh against flesh was, at least, at a minimum.

A man missed his morning massage in the train today, “What? No Massage?” he asked his traveling partner. A comic on “The Great Indian Laughter Challenge” of which I am a great fan, had once got into the train and found a man scratching his leg. He asked “Why are you scratching me?” And prompt came the abashed reply, “Oh, sorry, I thought I was scratching myself!”

He… he… he…! A gag, of course, well, that’s Bombay’s rush hour for you. But I wonder how long it will last, as more skyscrapers are coming up at Kharghar near CBD Belapur where I stay and already property prices are shooting through the roof, to use a cliché.

That makes me wonder who can afford a flat or a house in Bombay these days unless it has been willed by a parent? How can an ordinary middle-class couple moving into Bombay think of buying a one-bedroom flat at prices ranging from Rs 20 lakh to Rs 30 lakh? With a loan of course, but what will be left for eating and living after the huge monthly installment has been paid? Even a child’s admission to an ordinary school costs as much as Rs 50,000 these days. And not everyone works in information technology, outsourcing, and media fields where salaries can be assumed to be enough to pay for living an ordinary life.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Dearest Friend Mr. Dube Marcel

Dearest Friend Mr. Dube Marcel,

Till now I have received emails with entreaties from widows and orphans of tin pot rulers asking for help in transferring the obscene amounts their husband/father had accumulated from his starving country people.

Now this email from you (Are you our own Dubey by any chance?) tells me that the sordid deed has already been accomplished, the money transferred, and I can breathe easy. All I have to do now is to transfer the commission I earned (for doing nothing!), which is free money, the sort that every internet venture promises, knowing that in this beautiful world; a sucker is born every second.

Let me assure you, I will forward this email to all my friends, and if anyone desperately wants this princely sum, they can, with my permission, write to you, but please remember to transfer a small commission of $ 12,000 (10 per cent of $ 1,200,000) to my account. At least I deserve that much, don’t I? I find these lines of your letter very, very convincing:




$1,200,000.00 FROM HIM:


EMAIL: ( )


However, dearest Mr Dube, for your kindest information, I am not able to take your offer directly. There may be billions of foolish people on the net, but I have become wiser after many of your, and your brothers’ offers, so, perish the thought of ever getting me as your next fall guy. So I will forward this email and see who among my friends was born a sucker, which I had no way of knowing.

Tell me Mr. Dube, looking at the spelling gaffes and lazy capitalization in your above communication; I don’t assume you have ever seen the portals of the local primary school. Then how can I tell my friends to trust you, Mr. Dube? If they spend money and come to your country, I am sure they would be murdered and fed to the wild animals of your country.

In that case I won’t forward your email! Sorry dearest friend!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

On Rekha Turning 53 Today!

So Rekha turns 53 today as the Bombay Times tells me. Jabberwock has an interesting article on stars’ birthdays on his blog. That would make Rekha 16 and a minor when she shot for Sawan Bhadon and only 26 when she shot for Silsila.

The article quotes her as saying:

"Can't people see beyond the physicality? I am real, my motto is not to allow myself to stagnate in any which way, be it emotional, mental, physical and practical, I feel I have conquered the deep recesses of my life."

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Artists of the Governmental Realm

I have had it with government offices. Finito! Khatam! Never am I going back there into the dusty, upswept government offices after having been in it on Saturday. What I see there nauseates, um, makes me cringe.

On Saturday I had visited two government run auditoriums to see if I could book them for the Kitab Festival starting in February 2008, as the organizer had requested my help to find a venue for the festival. And I was told - hold your breath - that the organizer had to pay an astronomical amount in advance to book the hall, and in addition a deposit of another princely sum. Why an astronomical amount (huge by any standards) and a deposit? The deposit was to see that no seats were torn or upholstery stolen by stealth. NO concessions for booking the auditorium for three days and NO concession for literary events. Niceties are definitely not followed for promotion of the arts in this hallowed precinct, was my guess as I dejectedly left the premises where some sort of talent hunt contest – of the Indian Idol variety – was in its incipience.

Next stop was National Gallery of Modern Art where the obsequious clerk clearly told me that they don’t do bookings in advance and that it could only be done a month in advance as it is owned by the Central Government, and they are all central government employees (this said with no mean pride!). If the government needs the auditorium for a function on the date we have booked, they will have to override our bookings and shift us to some other date.

The irony of it all. The government in its noble aim to promote arts takes over this huge three-storied heritage building using the taxpayer’s money with the purported aim of promoting art and culture. And what happens to this so-called temple of culture? They turn it into a quasi-government, officer-chaprasi affair in which anyone with government authority can treat them as their doormat. The drone there said, “If we make bookings and the government decides to hold a function on the same day, we have no alternative but to cancel your bookings.” Can they hold a full day program? No, there is only one auditorium attendant and he works only in the evening, I am told a bit abashedly.

So that’s that? The government spends taxpayer’s money to make the National Gallery of Modern Art (it has lacquered wooden floors and close circuit television cameras) for the public to appreciate art and they dominate the auditorium with their parties, or, whatever. No wonder as I roam the gallery there are not more than a canoodling couple (yes, since most of it is empty, it’s the best place for necking!) and a few drowsy gallery attendants in the premises, and me, of course. I thought such a place should be swarming with people on a Saturday with cultural shows and exhibitions. And the gallery in the dome of the NGMA was empty. Don’t we have any art or artist to display there? Read this article about the goings on behind the galleries of the NGMA.

Sad to say, what was on offer at the gallery was not even the works of an Indian painter. Nothing “National” about this exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern Art as the show was a collection of paintings of a South American artist. Sad to say, I forget which artist, but his sketches were good. The reason the South American artist was chosen was that the president of that country is visiting India! As if we didn’t have enough artists of our own.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The colander said to the needle, "There's a hole in your tummy!"

Seeing as to how much I am fond of age old wisdom distilled in a few words, here's one from friend Rakesh (

चचलनी बोला सुई से "तुम्हारा पेट में चेचेध है"

It translates thus:

The colander said to the needle, "There's a hole in your tummy!"

Or in other words, "The pot called the kettle black," which isn't the same, but almost. If you don't understand the wisdom of the above saying, do please ask in the comment box below.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

Writer MN Vijayan Dies Live on Television,

Now this is a death that happened before me, as I was watching the news on the television screen. (On a morbid note, this adds to the several deaths I have witnessed including my own parents'.)

Noted Malayalam writer, social critic, and Marxist MN Vijayan was speaking at a press conference in Trissur, and as he was speaking, I saw him drinking several glasses of water. Then he quoted George Bernard Shaw (I don't remember what that quote was), and as he did so, his eyes rolled, his frail body collapsed, and he died (Social critic, writer M N Vijayan dead).

It turns out that George Bernard Shaw himself was a socialist and according to wikipedia "wrote many brochures and speeches for the Fabian Society and became an accomplished orator in furtherance of its causes." Wonder if some socialist message passed between these two souls in the ultimate moments of their lives.

May Vijayan's soul rest in peace!

This Week's Book Deals Include One on Bombay!

This week’s publishersmarketplace weekly has a few interesting book deals to report. I go through these deals every week, a bit grumpily, since I have submitted to some of these literary agencies, and fondly hope they would take a second look at my re-written novel. They are worth a look, if only for the aspiration value, I guess:


Debutante John Pipkin's novel Woodsburner chronicles the lives of a lovesick Norwegian immigrant farm hand, a struggling bookseller, a fire and brimstone preacher, and a pencil maker named Henry David Thoreau as their stories intersect over a fire Thoreau accidentally set which burned 800 acres near Walden Pond, to Janet Silver at Houghton Mifflin, in a pre-empt, by Marly Rusoff at Marly Rusoff & Associates (NA).

MacArthur fellow, National Magazine Award and Pulitzer-winner, and New Yorker writer Katherine Boo's book On the Western Express (obviously, the Western Express Highway in Bombay’s west side), chronicling the lives of families in a Bombay slum as they struggle to find a niche in a fast-moving global economy, to Kate Medina at Random House, in a two-book deal, by Amanda Urban at ICM (world).

Nafisa Haji's The Writing on My Forehead, the story of a free-spirited and rebellious Muslim-American of Indo-Pakistani descent who finds herself caught in a struggle between her family's traditions and her desire for independence, to Laurie Chittenden at William Morrow, by BJ Robbins at BJ Robbins Literary Agency (World).


Social Networks: Mother of All Rumors

This is the mother of all rumors (he, he, remember Saddam fighting the "Mother of all wars"?). And, you read it here first, okay? ITBusinessedge's Ann All reports this about what Google and Microsoft are planning to do in the social networking realm (Social Networks: The Few vs. the Many - The Visible Enterprise. Excerpt:

"If you like rumors — and who doesn’t — Google is reportedly creating a monster mash-up called My World that will be a cross between MySpace and Second Life — though the details are vague (natch) and unreliable to boot, opines Datamation columnist Mike Elgan. Meanwhile, Microsoft is said to be angling for a stake in Facebook.)"

Being a networker myself, I love these rumors! And truth be told: I also write content for a social networking site. But then what would be the fate of existing social networks? The article says that instead of a few mammoth networking sites, everyone will have their own favorites. That mean the likes of Ryze (a favorite) will survive.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Beauty of the ग़ज़ल

I know poetry doesn't belong here, but I will post it here nevertheless because I have nothing else to post today, and I am tired from slogging all day. This is a comment I made on poet David Israel's poem "Gazal for Modigliani." The Gazal is a beautiful Indo-Persian-Arabic poetic form that is difficult to adapt and David is doing his bit to popularize in the literary boards of which we are members.

"Seeing as how fond you are of the ghazal, I don't want to sound rude but ghazal is a form that is difficult to adapt in English, and am sure you are making great efforts to discover the true elements of this poetic form.

"See the Kaafiyaa and Radif scheme here:

"Say I sit a while for [radif] Modi [kaafiyaa]
not exactly smile for [radif] Modi [kaafiyaa]

"However in the ghazal the kaafiyaa should comes first and then the radif as in:

"aafat kii shoKhiyaa.N hai.n tumhaarii nigaah [kaafiyaa] mein [radif]
mehashar ke fitane khelate hai.n jalwa-gaah [kaafiyaa] mein [radif]

"So actually the first line should read something like this in Hindi:

"Baithi hun mai Modi keliye
Muskurahat liye Modi keliye

"Now translating this:

"Say I sit a while Modi in his service
Not exactly smile Modi in his service

"See how odd it sounds!

"However, I would urge you to keep experimenting and perfecting this poetic form. I am sure a way can be found.

However, David turned out to be right as this discussion on Shakespeare and Company will show.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

On Hugging Myself!

Among social networking sites my current obsession is Facebook. Mark Zuckerberger’s invention has so many little-little add-on programs added by other members like “Wall,” and “Super Wall,” and “Poke” and “Super Poke” and so on…. They have this unique feature of being embedded on your page, and in turn can be transmitted to your friends’ pages, and I am still experimenting and finding what it is all about.

And, oh, yes, you can support a cause, give a friend a flower, write a note and share it with friends, ad nauseum. These small-small programs can get so addictive that you don’t know how time passes, and your concentration is affected. It is also stupid at times. Consider this: I got a message “Someone hugged you” and I went to that program, all mushy (after all, being hug-worthy feels so good, sometimes, when you are so down and out about how you will survive the month till the next pay check), and hugged this mysterious person back.

That done! I go back to my page only to find this message at the top of my page: “You have hugged yourself!” What? Was I so lonely in this online community that I had to hug myself? God! It must have been some programming glitch by some novitiate, wet-behind-ear programmer. Grumble, grumble!

Off with that offending message. What will my online friends think?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Martin Wagner on literary agents | News | Guardian Unlimited Books

So what does a writer do when told by his agent to "Write what you know"? He writes a play "The Agent" based on how shabbily he was treated by literary agencies. Writer Martin Wagner's play The Agent premiered at the Old Red Lion this spring and transferred to the Trafalgar Studios for a movie version in the summer (Martin Wagner on literary agents) Excerpt:

"As far as agents were concerned, I was unashamedly promiscuous as a young writer. Like most budding writers I had been hoping for instant success, spurred on by endless headlines of first books getting improbably huge advances, but, for me at least, reality was invariably very different: there was the agent who reluctantly agreed to send out three chapters of my first novel to two publishers to prove to me that it was no good (one got on the phone straight away, wanting to read more); there was the agent who kept forgetting the title of my screenplay (The Writer, is that so hard to remember?); and there was the agent who has yet to find time to read an 80-page novella I sent them some years ago. So when yet another ineffectual agent suggested that I write about what I know, I decided that the thing I know most about is ineffectual agents."

And Wagner's advice: If you are a writer you have to get things moving yourself, instead of waiting endlessly for agents to act. Sigh! And to think that they haven't yet replied to my submissions!

A Line in a Poem...

This comes from online friend Daya Dissanayake from Sri Lanka, and is a quote from Asgar Hussein who won The State Literary Award for his poetry collection "The Termite Castle."

'English poetry in Sri Lanka needs a new vigour. One problem with our poetry is that we must move away from domestic matters and beautiful scenery and be more broad in our perspective. A line in a poem should explain a thesis but a thesis should not be needed to explain that line'.

Guess, it applies equally for Indian poetry.