Saturday, April 30, 2011

Interview with Author of Book Love on the Rocks

An interview with author Ismita Tandon Dankher, author of Love on the Rocks, a thriller, is here on Friends of Books blog. Excerpt:

FoB- What made you write this book?

Ismita- The real deal happened when I was just married to a Merchant Navy guy; took
a break from work and joined him on sea. But suddenly there was a realization of self
worth. A lesser known poetess as I call myself craved to pen down her own creations
and imaginations. Calm soothing environment made me do something really interesting
and the blue sea just helped to bring out the best.

A thriller written on the sea is interesting. I am a great lover of sea adventures including Herman Melville's Moby Dick and recently Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies.

Rushdie's Book Midnight's Children - 30 Years on!

Can't believe it's 30 years since Salim Sinai was brought to our collective consciousness by Salman Rushdie, says this article in Outlook. The article was written by Anvar Alikhan a contemporary of Rushdie in Cathedral and John Connon School in Bombay (the Anglican school in which we Anglicans couldn't find admission, contrary to what people accuse us: of being clannish). Cathedral is an elite school in which only industrialists' children study.

Midnight's Children liberated Indian English fiction. We thought we were free. But the take off was aborted after Rushdie until Arundhati Roy and Vikram Seth came along. But the momentum was lost, we didn't have anyone to fill the gaps and what remains is a stunted literary scape where a few feeble attempts at novel are made, but nothing substantial. That's my opinion. Then we became busy in social networking sites, instant messaging, 24-hour movie channels and reality shows. (They need reality shows to show them reality these days, a job done by novels in our days. **smirk**)

The failure of India to be something in the literary firmament with so many speakers of the language still puzzles me. A hundred million people speak English (the largest number in the world), don't they need a shared history of their own? I sometimes wonder.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Anuradha Roy's Book The Folded Earth

Here's Manju Kak's review of Anuradha Roy's The Folded Earth. When I saw the word Roy I thought the other Roy had come out with another novel. Alas, alack, not to be. Excerpt:

As with An Atlas of Impossible Longing, Roy unravels the small-town terrain with certitude. At one level, her prose is a dirge for the Kumaon hills. At another, a Pickwickian humour infuses it with robust charm.

Williams and Kate: The Prince Weds a Commoner

I write this as a witness to the Prince Charles Diana Spencer wedding in 1981, well almost. Our kind boss arranged for a recording to be shown to the staff on a saturday with a lunch thrown in. We liked the Royals. I liked them. They looked so regal, so white-skinned and pretty. They both were from royal families. They made a nice couple and we thought Charles would become king and Diana would become Queen. We rooted for them, cheered for them. We wanted them to be happy and together for ever. Endless love. Long live the Royal family of England. Well, what happened? That dream ended in well documented extra-marital affairs and cheating that need not be elaborated in a nice and thoughtful blog such as yours truly's.

Things we plan and hope never happen, isn't it? What happens is something totally different and far removed from the dreams we harbour in our hearts. The Royals aren't immune to that. So says the history books.

That said, it's thirty years later. Prince Charles' son is marrying a commoner. Again people are raising a toast for the future king. One should also remember that he is the third in queue for kingship. His father is next and then only him. So why this big ruckus? Again a common event is being milked for its commercial value: sponsorships, advertising, tourist income, the works. Who knows what will happen to the wedding. Will English promiscuity over-ride Church of England's Anglican vows of "To serve... in health and sickness...? Heaven knows. 

There once was a princess. She died a mysterious death under the glare of publicity and cameras. What will happen of this princess? Royalty is such an uncertain business these days. However, we love the Royals, the richest people in the world, holder of estates and palaces, focal point of the dreams of a lot of commoners. But incorrigible and intransigent nevertheless. Kate Middleton is lucky. She should thank her stars to remain so.

Why is the Casio's F-91W watch the favourite of hipsters and the Extremists

Why is the Casio's F-91W watch the favourite of hipsters and the Al-Qaida, asks this article in Guardian. The article infers:
On the one hand, the model is consistent with a diehard 80s revivalism, the wrist-based equivalent of a pair of Ray–Bans and a taste for Kraftwerk – and, yes, there is even the requisite touch of irony in sporting a 20-year-old digital watch alongside an iPhone 4.
Further it conjectures that though we love new gadgets and new gizmos the mass really loves tradition and a certain solidity:

We are intoxicated by technological potential, but it's the primitive devices we reward with longevity.

How Has Cell Phones Changed the Way We Communicate?

A man was shouting on his cell phone this morning when this thought struck me. (It's in packed trains I get inspiration to write my blogs.) How has cell phones, the SMS changed our lives, the way we talk and behave.

Well, er, for example, the way young people write has changed irrevocably. Or, so it seems. "Whr r u," seems standard for "Where are you?" "Wat r u dng" is now standard for, you know what. A whole generation has changed their outlook and their way of communicating. It's us old fogeys who stick to grammar and old-world charm of full words. Not SMSese. Poetry in SMS has been attempted by Caferati. I was shortlisted, didn't win. SMS stories have been attempted by Caferati. Again, didn't win. So there.

More interesting is the way it has changed conversations. Invariably, we shout these days. And there aren't niceties such as:

"Good morning, may I speak to Mr. Matthew," has been replaced by:

"Mr. John I am calling from BCICICI bank we give personal loans at affordable rates our rate for 1 lakh is 12 per cent only Mr. John, you just have to sign a form, Mr. John, our executive will visit your home or office Mr. John do you want to sign Mr. John?"

Ugggpffffffff!!!!! I can hear him/her exhale stale breath.

I have given spaces between words because I am more generous but there aren't any pauses, breaths, or full stops. He/she wasn't talking he/she was singing. We talk/sing without stop. Mark Tully (the BBC's India correspondent) is right. We don't use full stops in India. Why waste time?

On the other hand we use the cell phone in a mercenary way if we are in love or we miss someone deeply. There are men/women so much glued to their mobile phones that they don't see where they are going. You can see them walking distractedly in train stations, on streets, in airport waiting areas.It's not until they collide against the pillars and outcroppings around them that they realise that their sweet love isn't near them but far, far away.

So, that it for now. Has the phone changed the way you communicate? Let me know.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Writer Stewart Binns: I Came to Fiction Slowly

Says Stewart Binns who became an author of fiction at the age 50 - he has written the historical novel "Conquest" - in an interview with Helen Lewis Hasteley published in
I came to fiction slowly, having worked in television most of my life. Coming from a visual medium, words weren't a major part of my training, but I realised how powerful they could be. I started writing non-fiction connected with the television series I made, and that got me scribbling. Through that process, I thought: I really do like words. By that point I was almost 50, and I thought: could I do some fiction?

So all is not lost. There is still hope for those in their fifties. Hm. Vindicates my belief that one can be a published author at any age.

The Annie Zaidi Interview: I feel satisfied when a stranger writes to me to say she/he likes my work

Which book/books inspired you to become a writer?

I don't recall any particular books making me want to become a writer. I was just an avid reader who started writing in college (mostly as a form of venting) and after a few years, when I had enough material that seemed ready to publish, I began to think of putting together a manuscript.

When you look back what gave you pride and satisfaction as a writer?

I feel most satisfied when a complete stranger writes to me to say she/he likes my work.

What led to the publication of the Known Turf?

My blog (which drew heavily on my reportage for Frontline magazine at the time) caught the eye of an editor at Tranquebar. She wanted a (non-fiction) book that would reflect my blogging voice. So I got signed up.

Describe your creative process?

I am not sure I have a definite creative process. I write poetry and fiction and scripts as well as non-fiction, so the process has to be different for each genre. But for all genres, I draw heavily on what I see and the people I meet. I usually begin with just describing what I have witnessed or heard and then allow the rest to follow. I draft and redraft, edit and then edit some more.

Annie Zaidi non-fiction book "Known Turf" has recently been published by Tranquebar to public acclaim.
What is poetry according to you?

A collision of image, narrative and metaphor. Imagine a beast made of these three parts and imagine it riding a roller-coaster of emotion. That's something like poetry.

You published a book of poems. What’s your advice to unpublished poets?

Don't get your hopes up. Don't worry about being unpublished. Publishing is often an accident.  And poetry doesn't usually pay, so don't worry about where you're getting published. Submit to many different journals. Listen to feedback from peers or mentors. Keep honing your craft. When you get good, you'll get noticed.

Do you think poetry is a dying art? What can be done to revive it?

I don't think it is a dying art. It is an art in transition. It is seeking new platforms, new cousins, new costumes, new homes. The market for poetry is suffering though. Far too many people write poetry and far too few read any. Most people who want to get poems published don't even bother to read famous dead poets, let alone their contemporaries. The crisis is as much of quality as quantity.

One way to revive it would be to make poetry books available cheaper. Actually, just 'available' would be an improvement. Most stores squeeze all the poetry in the world into one tiny shelf, and seventy percent of those books will turn out to be Tagore or Pablo Neruda.

It would help to have live, read-aloud sessions in schools and colleges.

Do you think materialism and craze for money is killing art?

I don't know. The answer to that would depend on what you call art, and how you define materialism. Buying paintings as a financial investment is a kind of materialism. It feeds some living artists. And I don't know if that makes the work more or less artistic.

Non-functional, non-decorative arts have never had it easy in any era. I don't know if they are being killed in a special way in our times. The next generation might have a better perspective on this.

Do you think India is a secular country?

No. At the very least, a secular country should have the courage to divorce state policies and laws from religion at all levels. Religion permeates our administration, our legislation, the use of public resources etc.

You have done a bit of relocating to different cities. How do you compare Delhi and Bombay?

I will probably get into fights because of this question. I don't want to compare the people or their attributes. But in my experience, I think Delhi is a little more livable, especially for writers who don't have much money. The city allows you tiny patches of refuge and aesthetic relief.

Bombay's materialism is of a peculiar, grinding kind. It lets you survive, but it extracts a high price. Particularly for writers. Besides, whatever infrastructural advantages the city had in the past are well and truly in the past. All new 'development' seems geared toward the elite in this city.

Also, the golgappas in Delhi are better. And the sweets. And the fruit.

What’s your experience as a blogger? When you write you write detailed blog posts with a lot of research, how do you find time, resources for all that?

Most of my research is done for magazines or newspaper articles. I use the same research for the pieces I publish on my blog. I managed to find the time to blog between assignments.

Has blogging helped in your writing career?


You are an editor of Caferati. What’s the future of Caferati?

God knows. Caferati is a forum, a network of writers. So its future depends on how much time, energy, skill and trust its members can invest in the forum. 

Anything other than the above you would like to share?

Not really. Just that I cannot overstate the importance of editing for a writer.

Book Exposes America's Top Liars

In his book Tangled Webs James Stewart explains how Barry Bonds, Martha Stewart, and others built houses of deceit—and how America lost its innocence to habitual lies. Excerpt from a Newseek article:

That's not the only delectable line in Stewart's epic. Through three decades, eight books, and countless articles, the gentleman scribe has made exposing liars the leitmotif of his career. Just don't ask him to explain why. "It's in the Ten Commandments!" he exclaimed recently over a plate of candied-almond pancakes. "Do you want to see what a society looks like where everyone lies? It's horrendous! It's corrupt!" It's also America, at least as Stewart presents it, sounding the alarm on "a surge of concerted, deliberate lying" at all levels of society. When done under oath, it's a felony punishable by up to five years in prison (downgraded from the old English preference for cutting out the liar's tongue or making the offender stand with each ear nailed to the pillory).

How about writing one on "India's Top Liars?" I am sure it would be an endless tome of gargantuan proportions.

The Rickshaw Episode This Morning

Noticed how hot the past few days have been?

This is about a smart rickshaw driver. And heat. I engaged him near my home this morning to the CBD Belapur station from where I entrain to Victoria Terminus (not Victoria's Secret, silly, that's a lingerie manufacturer about whom a ad joke is circulating the media). This guy is the smart sort from his talk. They come in all sizes and shapes and social backgrounds. But this one (no, I didn't see his face) was a smart one. Read on.

When I came to the station I noticed that I had no change. All I had was a few 500 rupees (the ATM gave me all 500 notes) and Rs 9 in loose change. So, since the train was about to leave, and since I will be late and lose a half day's leave if I miss this crucial train (I am in the habit of cutting too fine with all my schedules, you see) I give him Rs 9 and say I will compensate him Rs 6 when I next meet him.

No way!

He says I am his first client, so I am his "Bhoni." So, he can't make a loss on his Bhoni, can he? I think, "Damn, there goes my train and my half day leave."

What followed then is rather excruciating. In the heat of the morning we went to the State Transport Depot, then to a couple of pan sellers, shop keepers, then to some roadside vendors. The last one gave me an idea. Go to the petrol pump, you will get a lot of change. I we drive in the rickety rickshaw to the petrol pump. There I get change.

"You would like to go back to the station?"


He drives me to the station. I ask him what fare it is. "Rs 25" he says smugly. I incurred a loss of Rs 10 and a half day's leave (which is substantial in my estimation) and suffered a few sun burns on my back in the white-hot heat. Grumble. Swear. Mumble. But I must admire his resourcefulness. He didn't compromise his fare though he put me to a lot of loss and inconvenience. There's something quintessentially Indian about his behavior. I must say I admire that.

But then, I have in the past tipped rickshaw drivers with Rs 5 and more. I have given them clothes, Boo... hoo!

Amitabh's Tirade Against Times Journalist

This is the post in which Amitabh Bachchan rails against Bharti Dubey of the Times Group. Not for nothing was he called the "Angry Young Man." He is chagrined because the journalist published a story titled 'Bbuddah co producer apologizes to Raj Thakeray' in yesterday's newspaper.

I would say he has a right to defend himself. The blog is his private space and when he feels attacked he has a right to clarify things on his blog. However the report (from a neutral unbiased point of view) seems to be an opinion piece, not an analysis of the situation, or, one that gives the complete picture. Emotions should not over-ride objectivity (as if newspapers are objective these days!). I feel more clarity was called for instead of just accusing a journalist of having a bias against the entire Bachchan family.

I think both Bharti and Amitabh are at fault. Here's the report in Times of India. Journalism is all about balance of viewpoints and the reporter should have contacted Amitabh for his quote. True, she mentions that he was not available for comment. However, in this day of multiple channels of communication why is a newspaper disadvantaged when it comes to contacting somebody as prominent as Amitabh. And, on his part, Amitabh also didn't clarify the issues with MNS and Raj Thackeray.

What we see is the media in a mad rush to make the story and of the aggrieved target to make a refutation.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Life Is for Living and Not for Gloating

Feeling a bit down about several things. Oh, that's nothing. Actually an article I read. Never mind. These things never can be resolved just like that. Easter came and went without much fuss. The Sunday Easter sermon in church was good: simple, declamatory, direct, and to the point. A good orator at his best. He could make us smile, laugh and weep, all a the same time. But weep we do most of the time. Misery abounds more than happiness, as always.

The deaths I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog around our smallish community. Ex-boss Karl Mehta is no more. Can't believe that gentle tall man is no more. Can't believe that one bit. How is his wife and family taking it? Two childhood friends - the most jolly of the lot, dead. My father and mother, both dead in a span of three years. People whom I have known. Sister-in-law's sister-in-law dead because of a sudden illness. Brother-in-law saying, "this is what is going to come to all of us." No I am not a necrophile. I am sort of a necrophobe. There's something in death that upsets but the living has to go on.

But one sets goals, smiles at the mirror, sings in the bathroom, trues to play badminton, writes blogs, does what one is told to do without much argument or protestation. After all is this what life is all about? This watching of a generation passing away without being able to do anything. This crying over people with whom one was not in touch, or, couldn't be. Anyways. 

Life is for the living and not for the gloating.

Author John Baker on Telephone Callers

Author John Baker (writer of the book: Winged with Death) writes a regular blog. He is one of my earliest blog friends. Our blogs have known each other for a long time. Here he rants about a telephone sales person named Julie. For all I know the call could have originated from India (24-hour call centres and all that you know). *Wink*

Jeffrey Archer's New Blog and the Launch of Only Time Will Tell

If you are a fan of Jeffrey Archer and has been following his regular blog, there's news. His blog has moved. The new blog is here.Here's Jeffrey waxing eloquent on the launch of Only Time Will Tell.

Sixteen cities in 27 days.  Never more than two consecutive nights in the same hotel, with flights often at 6am or midnight...a hell of an opening for a promotional tour of Only Time Will Tell.  It all began when I touched down in Mumbai, and ended four weeks later when I flew out of Adelaide to return to England.  I was thrilled when the book went to No.1 in India, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Australia, and I'm now preparing for the launch here in the UK on May 12th.

Sixteen cities in twenty-seven days! Hm. Some people have all the luck.

An Absent Generation Parenting an Absent-minded One - Are Social Networks Responsible

A spate of deaths in our community. All of them are of youths, boys emerging from their cocoon into adulthood as a larva emerges into a butterfly. Then I think whether it's the frustration of the young, whether it is a sign of the times, whether they aren't getting any advice passed to them by their parents, or, if it is a fault of their parenting.

I think it is all combined. Let me first refresh your memories about the incident of a few days ago that shocked me, of the death of three youngsters due to drunk driving while on a trip to Goa.Then a youth committed suicide by hanging himself. Then last night a young man breathed his last from some mysterious illness. That's four deaths, all young people.

I guess we (I mean the old doddering generation) have let our youth down. We have not been the vigilant generation we should have been.We saw our world being torn down but we didn't act. We saw injustice but didn't raise our voices. When our children don't get it from parents they look elsewhere for advice. It's the wrong advice they receive. Mostly we were an absent generation: absent on work, absent in a foreign land, absent in mind, absent in mindless entertainment. When we were absent our children were surfing 24-hour music, porn, movie sites. We don't know.

What I am slowly and insidiously waffling towards is that we may be on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Orkut, etc. but don't know where our children may be. We communicate less and less at home and more and more online - on social networking sites. The advantage is that it can be done everywhere, on mobile, at work, in the train. I only speak a few words a day with my wife and son while they speak mostly to colleagues and on social networks. I confess my son is so much like a stranger after I persuaded him to use Facebook. Really. I am the one who persuaded him. I think I shouldn't have. Grumble. Mumble. Can't help it as I am the online person, the evangelist for technology. Social networks are addictive and they are also depressing. We wonder why some people avoid you, we may feel cornered at times. We wonder why such and such person responded the way he/she did. We don't know the technology which is playing havoc behind the scenes. Facebook for example has an interface by which they show only the status updates of only people with whom you network on a regular basis, no one else. This makes you wonder what happened to that friendship, why they have grown so remote over time. That's the reason for our disillusionment and depression.

What does this indicate? A breakdown of families as units of society? An alienation of closely related people.What is the remedy, what is the solution? I don't know, please edify and enlighten this poor hack.

PEN Organises Writing Wrongs, Righting Wrongs in NY

PEN is organising The Seventh Annual PEN World Voices of International Literature, where authors discuss the core truths of coming-of-age in New York. More details here. The theme happens to be an engaging play of words, "Writing Wrongs, Righting Wrongs." Hats off to that. A lot of books would be discussed, I am sure.

The authors in attendance is also the creme de la creme: Lemon Anderson, Michele Carlo, Major Jackson, Tayari Jones, Rachel McKibbens, Jacqueline Jones LaMon, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Salman Rushdie, Kyung-sook Shin, and more. Hat tips: Denton Taylor, moderator, SASIALIT.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Is India's Internet Control Rules Final?

Our babus bungled it. They had all the opportunities of showing to the world what a democratic country we are and how we value freedom of expression. Instead they have gone and made things difficult for us internet intermediaries - the bleary eyed persons who keep awake all night to blog on their favourite subjects because no newspaper would touch those subjects with the end of a long pole. Shall I call it the revenge of the babus? It also shows how we happily accept what is foisted on us without complaint.

Reading Nikhil Pahwa's article India's Internet Control Rules Finalized sent a shiver down my spine. I couldn't believe it. I thought I am living in the most vibrant democracy this side of the Suez. Not that all countries this side of the Suez believe in anything democratic. Most of them are dictatorships of a few or oligarchies at the best.

Now it seems I could be acted upon for blasphemy. Oh, God! Is it Saudi Arabia or Pakistan where the religious police can cane a person in public for blasphemy? With the number of religions we have how can we find a common thread for the very term blasphemy? Doesn't this leave things more muddled than before.

Hm. Need more introspection.

Am I Still a Fan of Anna Hazare? I Don't Know

I am an admirer of Anna Hazare, indeed, till I read this article by Hartosh Bal.Now I am not too sure.

This is a perfect example of how the Anna Hazare movement has been operating for a while. There is little confusion about what Anna Hazare means: when he says "hang them", he means "hang them"; when he says "cut their hands off", he means "cut their hands off". Kiran Bedi did interject to put a palatable spin on these words, but what she said was clearly not what Anna meant. The accompanying profile in this issue clearly shows these words are in keeping with his past. As a result of Anna's reformist zeal, the people of his native village Ralegan Siddhi have witnessed the public flogging of those who dare to drink, a ban on all intoxicants, and restrictions on cable TV. It does not take much to see how closely this resembles the ideals of the Taliban, especially if you factor in the idea of a few hands being chopped off. Which is why it is no surprise that the sympathy he has long displayed for the Hindu Right has culminated in his endorsement of Narendra Modi.

If all this is true (I don't know about that) then Hazare turns out to be not a non-violent Gandhian. So where does that leave a till now ardent admirer like this blogger. I was there at Azad Maidan where people gathered to support his movement. Again, I don't know.

Palin's Daughter's Boyfriend to Write Book Telling It All

What's with the U.S. of A? It's presidential aspirant Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol's former boyfriend is writing a tell-all book about the family, which came into the family way. He is father of Bristol's illegitimate child. His name is Levi Johnston and he has already appointed a manager to conceive the idea and deliver it. Hm.

I hear the U.S. is the land of opportunity. So is it that illegitimate fathers can make money by writing about their not-as-yet in-laws? Heard the little bird whispers lately? He is also in the running for Mayor of Wasilla. Where the hell is that?

There's trouble plenty for coming your way, Palin girl.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Makara Deepam of Sabarimala Is Man Made

Oh! This is a disappointment and a surprise. The Travancore Devaswom Board, which runs the Shabarimala temple of Lord Ayyappa has said in court that the Makara Deepam - which light mysteriously and is believed to be a divine phenomenon - is a man made contrivance. I had an ulterior motive in sustaining this belief because I hail from Pathinamthitta where Sabarimala is situated.

Many people had asked me about it in Bombay. I had replied that it was an act of the Hindu Gods. According to P.R.Anitha, secretary of the Devaswom board, quoted thusly in Outlook magazine:

"This is incorrect. The TDB or any of its officials have not at any time conducted such a propaganda. They have never stated any where at any time that the light seen at Ponnamabalamedu is on account of any super human intervention," she said.

Warren Buffet the Aloof Investor

Warren Buffet is the symbol of reticence in the financial world. So when the David Sokol Affair - in which an executive of Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway was caught in an ethical situation - there was no rebuke forthcoming from the financial wizard. Which was surprising. Buffet who was in India recently  said that people should invest in his companies.He is quoted to have said according to this article:

"I don't consider India as an emerging market, I consider it as a very big market," Buffett said, adding that emerging (smaller) markets cannot absorb investment in billions."

Now I am left wondering where all his billions will go. Take a guess. Obviously to tech start ups and software outsourcing is my guess. According to this article in Newsweek Buffet is known to live a very frugal life, and doesn't give much away even to his favorite causes. His biographer Roger Lowenstein writes in the above article:

When I was writing a biography on Buffett, in the early '90s, the trait that most distinguished him was his searing independence. Buffett was a brilliant, socially responsible investor, who engaged with the world only on his terms. He refused to be co-opted or recruited, whether with regard to stocks, philanthropy, or politics. His aloofness often caused associates to suffer disappointment. He zealously protected his time and his money; even his children suffered from the billionaire's reserve. In a not atypical incident, he could barely lower his newspaper to listen to his teenage daughter's tearful rendition of how she crashed his car. Friends described how Warren had rebuffed their requests for even small donations, and to causes with which the liberal billionaire sympathized. More fundamentally, associates yearned for a closer emotional connection.

Buffet's investment can mean only that he sees India as a stable and growing economy where his business interests would be protected. Believe him, the man has sound business sense.

What is Endosulphan?

I decided to check out what Endosulphan is. Having heard it mentioned many times in Malayalam news television, I did a casual search. This video is what I found. I find that it is an insecticide that has been sprayed widely in Kerala. Now even though it has been banned it is still being used. It causes a lot of damage from what I found.

Spread the word about its harmful use. Most people still don't know.

Best Place to Surf Porn in New York

Best place to surf porn in New York - you won't believe it - happens to be public libraries.Says this article in nypost. Provided you are an adult of course.


Because, the electronic smut falls under the heading of free speech and the protection of the First Amendment, library officials say.Here's what the Wiki has to say about the first amendment:

The amendment prohibits the making of any law "respecting an establishment of religion", impeding the free exercise of religion, infringing on the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.

Hugo Award Nominees

The Hugo Awards (source: Wikipaedia) are given every year for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements of the previous year. For a short list go to John Scalzi's Whatever blog post. There are categories for novel, novella, novelette and short stories. There's more. So, go thee there.

Artists, Writers, Film Makers, Musicians, Activists Come Together for Binayak Sen

Friend and dastango Dan Husain informs on his collaborative blog ( that artists, photographers, film makers, musicians, performers and activists are coming together for the cause of Dr. Binayak Sen. For details of the program go here. Excerpt:

Justice on Trial is a collaborative programme put together by leading contemporary artists, photographers, film makers, musicians, performers, and activists to commemorate struggles for democracy, freedom and rights. An exhibition of photographs and art works, talks performances and screenings all are directed at drawing renewed attention to the trial of Dr. Binayak Sen, who has emerged in recent times as a symbol of courageous resistance, and a reminder of the many injustices that surround us. Our aim is to provoke a dialogue with the colours and sounds that emerge from the idea of what Dr. Sen represents.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Twitter and Blogger Founder Evan Williams Accused of Buying Back Shares of Odeo

Evan Williams, co-founder of Blogger and Twitter was accused by this piece of buying back shares of Odeo ( so that he could own more of Twitter. Twitter is today a 5 billion company, soon to be 10 billion. I would call this business savvy. 
Ex-Googler Evan Williams had a startup called Odeo. It was going to be a podcasting platform. Evan asked his friend, another ex-Googler named Biz Stone, to join him. When Apple launched iTunes podcasting, and made Odeo's podcasting platform irrelevant, Evan and Biz and an Odeo employee named Jack Dorsey decided to create something called Twitter instead. Odeo's investors didn't like Twitter, and Evan did them a huge favor by buying back all their stock and making them whole.

Interesting since I am a user of both Blogger and Twitter and thing both are great applications in the social media sphere.

Swearing Is Actually Good for Health, Sayeth Study

So, my doubting mind has been put at rest. For long I have wondered whether swearing and a bit of scatological bad mouthing was bad for the mind. Actually it turns out, it is good. As sayeth this article in why not swear your way to a clutter-free mind. Excerpt:

Researchers from Keele University in Staffordshire, England, asked test subjects to put their hands in icy cold water, and see how long they could stand to keep them immersed. (This is a common practice to test pain, because it leaves no mark and does no physiological harm.)
They then had the study participants either say a swear word or a neutral word. They found that those who invoked foul language were able to withstand the pain better than those who kept it clean.  

Review of Stilettos in the Newsroom

Here's a review of Stilettos in the Newsroom.The book is priced at Rs 95 and is the new school of novel writing in India I guess. The author is Rashmi Kumar. Interesting title one must say. Hm.

This blogger only wonders whether it is about the new kind of journalism contained in our newspapers (you know the ones that write "minister son" instead of "minister's son". Why are they so shy of the possessive case?) or is it about the new publishing trend where the argot of the misled young with lot of "da" for "the" and "r" for "are" are displayed without even a little abashment. I guess it would be both. I don't know. I would like to check out. Hope to get hold of a copy soon.

Writer Madelyn Pugh Davis, Writer of "I Love Lucy" Passes away at 90

Those of you who love Lucy may not know that the brain behind the script was Madelyn Pugh Davis, who passed away this week at 90. See this video and decide if you love Lucy like millions of my time and age used to. (That was a different age, of course, when reality television meant a few documentaries broadcast once in a blue moon.) I used to look forward to "I Love Lucy" shows when I was a kid because that was the only laugh riot we had in addition to Charlie Chaplin movies and Yeh Jo Jai Zindagi (remember that serial starring Shafi Inamdar, Rakesh Bedi and Swaroop Sampat?). 

Teenage Lives Extinguished Because of Drunk Driving

They were children of the neighbourhood in their teens, friends of Ronnie. They went for what they call a "picnic" to Goa. A friend whose father runs a car renting agency gave his jeep. They had their holiday, or, "picnic" in Goa. One of them was a good dancer who appeared in dance shows on television. One of them a national level basketball player, another, a promising footballer. On the way back, driving at 120 kmph on the Goa highway, things went wrong, horribly wrong. The driver lost control (he is said to have been drunk) the jeep plunged down the road, killing two of them. The above mentioned three are in a New Bombay hospital fighting for their lives, their bodies subjected to multiple surgeries. One of the dead is an only son of his parents whose father never allowed him out of the house. He died on the spot.

The dancer will never dance again. (His uncle who recounted their story is an acquaintance.) His spinal cord has been injured and his very life is in danger. The footballer and basketballer will never play again.  A simple incident has been magnified into a devastating catastrophe for parents, friends, indeed, the entire community of CBD Belapur. There is silence in their homes. An ominous silence. Their own lives have been ruined. Not for nothing is it said, "Don't drink and drive." 

I tell Ronnie this is a lesson. Youngster live in a wild world where they have been provided creature comforts by their hard-working parents. They imagine themselves to be the heroes of the screen doing stunts and enjoying themselves. But life isn't that hedonistic, it is not all enjoyment and no pain. Rash acts can bring pain and certain death. A harsh reality made real by the accident. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Regions of the World Facing Nuclear Risk

Nature News and Columbia University has collaborated to produce a Google Earth Map of areas facing nuclear risk, reports Fastcompany. What I saw with alarm is that a small country such as Japan has the highest concentration of nuclear plants. How this be? Excerpt:

The world has 211 nuclear power plants. They fleck the map, clustered in predictable places: America (the northeast, mostly), Europe (all over, including Eastern Europe and Russia), and much of Asia and India. There's just one if Africa (South Africa) and two in South America (Argentina and Brazil), from the looks of it. In some places, the numbers that underlie the dots are harrowing. The Guandong plant not far from Hong Kong has more than 28 million people living within 75 kilometers of a dual-reactor plant. One hundred fifty-two plants have over a million people within 75 kilometers. Even constricting the radius to a smaller number, 30 kilometers, the numbers are still frightening: one Taiwan plant has 5.5 million people that close by, while another has 4.7 million. The city of Taipei could be within the fallout zone if either of those plants had a meltdown. In Karachi, Pakistan, 8.2 million people live within 30 kilometers of a nuclear plant (albeit a relatively small, 125-megawatt plant).

You can find the interactive map here (you may need to download a plug-in).  

Karl Mehta R.I.P.

I knew Karl Mehta when I was executive secretary of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) and he was, sort of, my boss. Well, he had quite a reputation as the publisher of Blitz, Cine Blitz and the group publications founded by Rusi Karanjia. In fact, he was Karanjia's son-in-law. He was a shrewd businessman and it was due to his efforts that ASCI was revived when they were thinking of closing it down. I was the man entrusted by him to revive ASCI. 

He had his typical Parsi quirks and once when an employee hesitated at the door to ask him permission to come in, he said, "Either you come in or you go out." He was a good boss to work for, but an exacting one. He saved my ass a few times when the then managing director of Times of India, and a few other industry biggies were out to whack my misshapen behind (meaning out to get me, do not take in literal sense, pliss!). Those were hard days for me. He used to smoke continuously and being the gourmet he was, used to instruct the cook at home what he wanted for lunch and dinner and how to cook it. 

Once while on our way to a meeting in Worli his car rammed into another one and I was thrown against the windscreen. I was shaken. Luckily no injuries resulted. Then whenever we would pass that spot he would remark, "John, you will have unpleasant memories of this place," and laugh his deep laugh. I met him a few times after that. But the news of his death in yesterday's paper was a shock. 

Karl Mehta, Rest in Peace.

After Border Book Chain's Closing, Waterstone's Under Cloud

With Border chain of book stores already gone and Waterstone's (the bookshop chain) up for sale, there's bad news for publishers and writers. This article argues that along with the disappearance (or rather dumbing down) of these chains a set of readers (read book buyers) could also vanish says this article.

Certainly, publishers are worried that books may be becoming less visible as we go about our daily business. There are fewer chances for us to catch a shop-window glimpse of the debut novel by the exciting new author they're desperate for us to discover, or to stumble across the cult writer on the table inside. And if we're not seeing books as often as we did, there's a fear that out of sight is out of mind. When Borders went, publishers believe that while some of the sales they made migrated to other retailers such as Waterstone's and Amazon, some simply disappeared. The people who really liked Borders, or happened to have a convenient one nearby, simply stopped buying as many books after the chain collapsed. Not good news.

Translation of a Book Depends on Recreating a Voice Says Alain Mabanckou's Translator

Says Helen Stevenson about Alain Mabanckou's writing in the Guardian article here. Excerpt:

When I was translating his novel Broken Glass – a novel with no full stops, no sentences, in which a variety of characters relate their stories to a scribe in a downtown bar – I kept thinking of the African voices I heard around me in London. It was only after I had finished that I heard Alain speak for the first time. He was speaking French, but with an accent – actually, not even an accent so much as a rhythm – that made sense of the beat of the prose I'd been translating.

Today is World Book Day. Six Reasons Why Google Books Failed

Today is World Book Day. It feels nice. I would like to remember all the books I have read, the characters I have read about, forgotten now, or, well, almost. Meanwhile, the New York Review of Books lists six reasons why Google Books failed here. Excerpts:

First, Google abandoned its original plan to digitize books in order to provide online searching. (They scanned the books instead.)

Authors of out-of-print books who failed to notify Google of their refusal to participate in its project were deemed to have accepted it. (This sounds arbitrary.)

Third, in setting terms for the digitization of orphan books—copyrighted works whose rights holders are not known—the settlement eliminated the possibility of competition.

Foreign rights holders objected that the digitization of their books would violate international copyright law, particularly in the case of out-of-print books, which Google proposed to market unless it received opt-out notification from the authors or their estates.

Fifth, the settlement was an attempt to resolve a class action suit, but the plaintiffs did not adequately represent the class to which they belonged. The Authors Guild has 8,000 members but the number of living writers who have published works during the last half century probably amounts to far more than one hundred thousand.

Sixth, in the course of administering its sales, both of individual books and of access to its data base by means of institutional subscriptions, Google might abuse readers' privacy by accumulating information about their behavior.

All very valid points these. I guess the project was doomed from the beginning. Let me tell you why. There is an important lesson to be learnt here.

Till now businesses were run with the sole purpose of serving customers, giving them service. The business that gave the best service always survived because they had loyal customers. Read The IBM Way for this. Why did IBM survive inspite of all odds? They gave service. Likewise, why is Walmart so popular? It gives service. Why are the best cars so popular? They give good service. Why are Japanese products selling so well? Because they have a culture of good service.

Look at the new economics that are sweeping like a typhoon across business organisations. These days none of the new internet start-ups believe in giving service, including Google. If you want to complain, you will be taken to a page with a list of questions (called FAQs) and told to fend for yourselves. In effect, it is saying, "You have a problem? You search it out here. We won't spoonfeed you." However, this is the big mistake they are making. A customer likes to be spoonfed because a customer expects it. Somebody famously said, "The customer is your wife." She understands nothing of the modern world and you have to explain things to her and do it for her. For all you know your customer may be short sighted, handicapped, old and infirm, anything.

Go to any customer support of telecom companies. I have blogged about this often. You will hear canned music, their sales pitches, and a hundred and one options. But not a single live voice will talk to you and understand your problem. So when a hearing-impaired person calls what happens? He quits in frustration. Don't forget that he is a customer.

The world of technology has taken a big leap from analog to digital. However, it hasn't resolved the issue of servicing its customers. In other words it hasn't found a solution to the problem of keeping the huge database of its customers in a happy state and coming back. A disgruntled customer is a bad thing for business. In case of Google Books the authors and their estates were customers. So were the readers of the books. In effect Google didn't see or enlist authors as its customers or client base.

Okay, okay, I won't make it out to be a laundry list of problems but the problem out there is: how to give service for your digital online products. Any ideas?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Writer Profile: The Compulsive Confessor

Heard about the compulsive confessor? That's Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan who writes a blog about the same name. I met her at the Kitab Festival and the Kala Ghoda Literary Festival. Here's she confessing about a break up. I like her style which is no-holds-barred and full of the angst of growing up as an independent and liberated writer in cities like Bombay and Delhi. She has talent and oodles of it and a voice to go with it. She is the author of "You Are Here," a novel (which I couldn't get my hands on thus far, and, which which I mean to read some day). I can say that she captures the zeitgeist of the times as only a woman can. In some ways I equate her with Shobhaa De, another engaging writer. Maybe, it's the left brain right brain thing, maybe it's in their genetic make up. Women are far better writers than men because they are perceptive and intuitive, whereas men are rational and systematic (I almost wrote system-driven, something which is a hangover of the corporate writing I do.). 

Some Ranting on Africa and Its Literature on Good Friday

I am interested in African literature a lot. Whenever, whatever, I lay my hands on, I have devoured with passionate enthusiasm. So I was rather taken aback when I read this from Excerpt:

"Even in 1987 when Serpent's Tail published it things were different. On the cover a young Egyptian man is standing by a billiard table smoking. The window behind him overlooks the Nile with its feluccas and pine trees. The implication is that Ghali is one of us, but is able to open a window to the beautiful other. With the escalation of hostilities between the Arab and western worlds and hardening of Muslim-Christian binaries things went steadily downhill."

The article lists a number of book covers to show how mindsets have changed during the time when there was a hardening of the religious stand. As everyone knows Africa has two major religions: Islam and Christianity. The liberalists in the newly liberated nations were hoping for a secular Africa, but their hopes were belied. That's when as the article notes "hardening of Muslim-Christian binaries went steadily downhill."

I have often said (sorry, written!)  in this blog that economic imperialism and corporatisation was what was pushing people to religious bigotry. However, nobody raises a voice against this, assuming it is harmless. Today corporates control massive chunks of the economy not to speak of land and other resources. Mining is rampant in Africa and in India. Corporations are laying the landscape bare and causing death of species and global warming. Yet, nobody seem to mind. Hm. Enough ranting for a day. Today is Good Friday a day for introspection.

Here's Why We Haven't Heard a Lot about Libyan Literature

When Libya is hitting the headlines why don't we hear a lot of Libyan writers. Agreed, we have been hearing a lot about them these past few months, which is a crawling (in a manner of speaking) from the crevices in which they have been hiding from torture meted out by an autocratic tyrant's acolytes. Now we know.

Here's Shakir Noor writing in Gulf News about their trials. He writes:

"When there is talk of Libya, you hardly hear anything about its culture. That's because many writers and intellectuals have lived there for years in a state of fear and afraid of being tortured. We hear nothing about Libyan culture because of the existing system in the country and also the total boycott of cultural activities."

Book Lady Who Lives in a 90 Sq. Ft. Home in Manhattan

The lady in this video (she is a writer), sure has a lot of guts to live in a 90 sq. ft. apartment, something most of us would feel repelled to do. The constant refrain is "I need space." After I moved from my 500 sq. ft. house to a 1000 sq. ft. one the wifey is constantly complaining that we don't have space, in spite, of having two storeys and a terrace. That's life. 

But come to think of it a lot of space can be saved if we really try. We don't need to be always so expansive about our arms and legs. The lady I mentioned above has all the comforts she needs near her: the best cinema, the best galleries, the best libraries, the best restaurants, and all she has sacrificed is a little leg room. 

I wish the lady all success.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sale of E-books Triple Last Year

I got the link from Rasna Atreya's blog which led me to this article in Stacy Schilling's blog. The news is that the sale of e-books have tripled in the past year. And, with more and more e-book readers on the market and people snapping them up along with iphones and Samsung Galaxy Tabs it should be hunky dory for e-book publishers, no doubt. 

Nowadays, with Amazon offering to publish your books in electronic format I guess the future of books is charted. The days of mass-marketed best-sellers are over, I guess. The future is not very promising. Consider for example somebody such as Lonica Mevinsky having an affair with the president Cill Blinton and then writing an e-book, making her millions and then retiring to the Hawaii islands. That would leave the wannabe classic novelists all writing porn and Rs 0.18 paise per word content. God bless the publishing industry. 

Recently I saw a Samsung Galaxy Tab and it took my breath away, literally. Ah, what  a machine. I would like to possesses it, use it, exploit it, cherish it, love it. Hm. No such luck. It costs bl**dy 30 thousand quids. Why are all good things so unattainable? Eh?

Jessa Crispin a.k.a. the Bookslut

Jessa Crispin a.k.a. the bookslut has this to say about living in infinite worlds and about string theory on Barnes & Noble.

"I better understand now why so many of the mathematicians who put their hands on theories of the infinite hanged themselves in hotel rooms or were carted off to the asylum. Faced with an infinite number of myselves, I did not feel expansive and infinite. I felt trapped in a tiny fragment, one that was perhaps getting everything wrong. It felt unfair that I couldn't check in with the others, do a little side-by-side comparison."

And then she goes on to add another thing that seems pretty much like a split personality:

"We all carry around what the poet Eavan Boland calls our "anti-history," "a place where some turn was taken that seemed to put the future in doubt." If that turn was traveling beside you, in human form, chatting you up, living your unrealized potentialities, disabusing you of the self-delusion that helps us live life without regret constantly bursting through our membranes, you'd stop returning his calls, too."

Hm.... Agree or not agree? I am still wavering. But this sure is a bit slutty. Hm. 

It's Nabakov's Birthday Tomorrow. He Was Also a Lepidopterist.

Vladimir Nabakov's (one of my favourite author's) birthday is tomorrow. He was born on 22nd April 1899. What is not well-known about the author of "Lolita" is that he was a lepidopterist (a person who studies butterflies). Here's what this wikipaedia article has to say about him:

"His career as an entomologist was equally distinguished. His interest in this field had been inspired by books of Maria Sibylla Merian he had found in the attic of his family's country home in Vyra.Throughout an extensive career of collecting he never learned to drive a car, and he depended on his wife Véra to take him to collecting sites. During the 1940s, as a research fellow in zoology, he was responsible for organizing the butterfly collection of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. His writings in this area were highly technical. This, combined with his specialty in the relatively unspectacular tribe Polyommatini of the family Lycaenidae, has left this facet of his life little explored by most admirers of his literary works. He described the Karner Blue. The genus Nabokovia was named after him in honor of this work, as were a number of butterfly and moth species (e.g. many of the genera Madeleinea and Pseudolucia).In 1967, Nabokov commented: "The pleasures and rewards of literary inspiration are nothing beside the rapture of discovering a new organ under the microscope or an undescribed species on a mountainside in Iran or Peru. It is not improbable that had there been no revolution in Russia, I would have devoted myself entirely to lepidopterology and never written any novels at all."

To think that the world would have lost one of its best novelists to Lepidopterology is unthinkable. Hm.

Salman Rushdie on Ai Weiwei's Incarceration

Salman Rushdie has this to say about the incarceration of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in New York Times:

"The lives of artists are more fragile than their creations. The poet Ovid was exiled by Augustus to a little hell-hole on the Black Sea called Tomis, but his poetry has outlasted the Roman Empire. Osip Mandelstam died in a Stalinist work camp, but his poetry has outlived the Soviet Union. Federico García Lorca was killed by the thugs of Spain's Generalissimo Francisco Franco, but his poetry has survived that tyrannical regime."

In this well argued article he points out how totalitarian governments have tried to suppress free speech and expression of writers and artist. He further states about Mr. Ai's release:

"His (Ai's) release is a matter of extreme urgency and the governments of the free world have a clear duty in this matter."

What After the BP Oil Spill?

What have we learnt from the BP oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico? Who has been caught in their act? Read this article in Fast Company.


It has been a year since BP helped make the ultimate oil company screw-up: blowing up an offshore oil rig, killing 11 workers, and then unloading 170 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. As tempting as it is to pretend this never happened, we have to survey the wreckage. Because without a clear understanding of what has changed since the disaster, we will be blindsided when a similar accident happens in the future--and if you thought the Deepwater Horizon incident was vaguely apocalyptic, just wait until the next time around.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What Is a Business Organisation?

Confused of Calcutta is not a Bong but a near-Bong South-Indian named J P Rangaswami who writes a blog. The blog expounds mostly on technical subjects too complex for my simple mind to understand. However here's what he says about what a business is:

"To paraphrase Peter Drucker, the primary purpose of a business is to create customers, people who are able and willing to part with their money to buy goods and services from you.

"To paraphrase Ronald Coase, the primary purpose of a firm is to reduce business transaction costs, principally the costs of information, search, contracting and enforcement."

The statements seem congruent with each other. Reducing transaction costs: cost of information, search, contracting and enforcement is creating customers who will buy from a business. 

These days how many business organisations fail because they don't bother to create customers. I came away today from my fruit-seller feeling cheated and aggrieved. The reason is that instead of his usual amiable chat, he was chatting with another man when I came to buy some apple from him. Then when he weighed out the apple it seemed as if he was cheating me. One thought led to another. My irritation had become a constant reminder of how badly I interpreted the situation. I vowed not to buy fruits from him anymore for the reasons mentioned above. In that case he had lost a customer. 

However according to what Ronald Chase states did it reduce transaction costs? I don't know. I mean to ask someone who knows about management one of these days.

Siddhartha Mukherjee's Book "The Emperor of All Maladies" Wins Pulitzer

Siddhartha Mukherjee's book "The Emperor of All Maladies" won the Pulitzer for non-fiction. This New Delhi born author is an oncologist and has written a book about cancer. The New York Times has this to say about him:

"Dr. Mukherjee, an oncologist and assistant professor of medicine at Columbia, known as Sid by his friends, is married to the MacArthur award-winning artist Sarah Sze and looks less like a scientist than like the leading man in a Bollywood musical. He belongs to that breed of physicians, rapidly multiplying these days, who also have literary DNA in their genome, and his first book, "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer," comes out from Scribner on Nov. 16.

"The book tells the stories of several cancer patients, and also of heroic researchers like Sidney Farber, who pioneered the treatment of childhood leukemia. But its main character, as the subtitle suggests, is the disease itself as it has been diagnosed, treated and thought about over the last 4,000 years."

I haven't read the book (not yet) but hope it sheds new light on this mystery disease that has no cure (not yet). Another writer to watch out for.

Ghost Writer Lynn Vincent Makes It Good - She Wrote Sarah Palin's Book - Going Rogue

They were once the pariah dogs of the publishing world. They worked in anonymity, were grossly underpaid and were treated as, what else, zeros with no halos to speak of.

But Lynn Vincent has changed all that. She is a ghost writer and ghost wrote Sarah Palin's Going Rogue. But now people are queuing up to sign her on. Says this article in Newsweek:

"This makes her (Lynn Vincent) something of a walking contradiction. In a profession full of beggars, Vincent can be a chooser, picking books that match her own conservative and Christian worldview. Usually ghostwriters are paid to stay out of the picture. But a string of staggering successes has dragged Vincent into the spotlight. With her latest, Unsinkable, about 16-year-old sailor Abby Sunderland's unsuccessful trip around the world, out this month, the professionally anonymous collaborator could achieve a rare publishing hat trick: having three books on the bestseller lists in one week—and that tally doesn't even include Going Rogue, which sold more than 2 million copies."

Now that Lynn Vincent has made it good, will the lot of ghost writers improve? There are hundreds of ghost writing opportunities on elance for which I have done work some time ago.

Naked Man Supine on Platform No. 2 (Part II)

That's not the end. Read my previous post here and then read the sequel below.

When the water was poured over him, the naked man got up. He reached for a white loin cloth and proceeded to wind it around him. From his features he seemed well kept except for his beard. I knew he was of a good upbringing from the way he arranged the fan-like folds of the soiled loin cloth. He wound it around his fingers expertly so that it formed the shape of a Japanese fan, which was then tucked in at the waist. A wastrel would just wind it in a rather perfunctory manner. This showed he was a man of a good upbringing. Then he began walking away. That's all I saw of him.

It's scary and it's upsetting. This shows our callousness to our elders. We never acknowledge the fact that we will also grow old one day. Couldn't it have been handled without crudity and the vulgar profanities? Has the uncouth man who poured water heard of Alzheimer's - the syndrome of which is forgetfulness of one's own whereabouts including ones own home? Sufferers wander away and don't return, they become derelicts. Maybe, this man is one such.

I had visited SEAL an organisation that works for destitutes and learnt about a man who had Alzheimer's who was re-united with his family after a few years. Maybe, the man's best years are behind him, but is anyone justified in treating him thus? Can crudity and vulgarity replace love and compassion that he needs.

I know I am asking a rhetorical question that begs no answers. But the issue needs to be addressed.

Naked Man Supine on Platform No. 2

It's morning rush hour. First thing that happens when I get down is that my eyes seek out the man lying supine on the platform. He is old and has a beard and his body is thin and lean, emaciated. Apart from that he has nothing on him. Not a piece of cloth. His nakedness is stark. It's shocking. People inside the train, standing at the door, thousands of them stare and turn their faces away. Nobody makes a move. There are women on the platform who seem embarrassed. Some look out of curiosity. A naked man is not a pretty sight. Can anything be done?

I call a railway helpline I know. A woman police constable answers it. I state the situation. Naked man: platform no. 2: Chunabhatti station. Since it is a woman I am talking to she is compassionate. A male constable in her place would have been apathetic. "Do something please." She says she will do something.

A man comes with a water bottle. Has he been sent by the station authorities alerted by the woman constable? I don't know. He sprinkles water on the sleeping naked man and says:

"Ch*du, la*dey, chal bhag yahan se. Hat! Hat!"

I don't know what to make of this episode.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Why Do We Need Celebrities to Launch Books?

Why do we need a celebrity to launch our books? Jasmine D'Costa an FB friend has this to share on the SASIALIT group:

"I was asked when launching my bookCURRY IS THICKER THAN WATER in Bombay last year, when seeking a booking in Crosswords bookstore who is the celebrity I intended to invite to the launch so that the press and the audience would come. Now call me vain, but I think I am the star of my own book launch and so I said I did not have any celebrity available. I found it hard to get a date for when I was in town. So I took control of the situation and booked the Press Club.

"I was told by Journalists, friends, other writers etc. that I would not get any press out if I did not have a celebrity and served booze - both of which I did not do. I was also asked by some of the press who dropped by thinking that there would be one, who the celebrity was. Me, Me, me I wanted to shout, but thought better of such impulses. As it turned out the first 5 rows were press, three cameras for t.v. and sold over 100 books.
So let us stop this celebrity culture in books and take the shine back on the the authors rather than everyone who is really unconcerned about books,(possibly will expect a free copy and not read it) and say no to this kind of situation unless the celebrity is your friend and would be there by
virtue of it."

I have seen this trend of inviting celebrities to launch books. I have this to say about this. The author is the star of the launch and should remain so.

Amitabh on Bhavani Singh Jaipur

I read Amitabh's blog quite regularly on my RSS feeds imported on google reader. Here's his report of his friend the last king of Jaipur Bhavani Singh Jaipur who expired recently. Bhavani Singh or "Bubbles" was the last in the lineage of Jaipur kings. He, it turns out, was the great, great grandson of Jai Singh who established Jaipur.

"A humble man, caring and considerate, pet named Bubbles by his family, because of the very large amount of champagne that was opened by his Father, at the time of his birth. A handsome attractive prince, who lived a charmed life. For sometime he served in the Indian Army and was posted in the Presidents Bodyguard at Rashtrapati Bhavan. When we lived in Delhi at 13, Willingdon Crescent, a road that ran along the boundary of the President of India's house, Bubbles would often drive past in his Ford Thunderbird convertible - a most favored car with the young of those times. And as I would be walking across to South Avenue some 100 yards away to catch my college bus for University, I would see him impeccably dressed in his uniform, driving along and would wonder if I would ever be able to someday get a ride in it - not imagined ever that I would be in a situation where I would be able to acquire similar facilities - mostly the car !

"But time and circumstance changed. After joining the movies I happened to be shooting 'Ganga ki Saugandh' an early years film in Jaipur and met up with him and spent quite a bit of time in his company and his polo buddies. A smaller palace of his that had been opened and refurbished for the Queen of England's visit, had now been converted into a private Hotel and we were staying there. One evening he invited us over to a party at his friends place and graciously offered to drive us there. Yes … you got it … it was that Ford Thunderbird that I used to see him in with envy, that he pulled out that day and I could not but marvel at the wonders of fate and allied coincidences.

"Bubbles, great great grandfather, I think, Maharaja Jai Singh founded Jaipur the city. It got its name Jaipur from him. Jai Singh was the one that planned the Pink City, as it is now referred to. It was so modern in concept and geometric in its presence that many town planners after copied his ideas. The way Los Angeles is planned, with long stretches of roads and systematic streets is something inspired from Jaipur, because that is how it was first designed, planned and executed."

Just imagine this: a middle class youth seeing a prince in his resplendent (though, I hardly consider it that, but nevertheless) chariot aspiring to sit in it and fulfilling it, albeit later in his life. I think Amitabh's life is the story of how humbleness can grow to fame and fortune in India. His is a classic study of struggle, many ups, many downs and still being humble about it. The man is humble. I would give that to him in addition to all other things. In fact, some events in his life may have humbled him. Anyway, I wish him well.

At Last, I Am among the Top 1000 Books Bloggers in the World!

At last, I am among the top 1000 book bloggers in the world. I am ranked in 929th position in the world by, yes, the world. Below is the proof. I can't believe it. That's as of today. Cheers! Open the bubblies!

However, a lot of hard work has gone to come to this ranking. I mean to improve this blog from this day on, make it a one-stop reference source on all things literary. On entertainment I am in the vicinity of the top 3,000 and moving up fast. Overall, I am in the region of the top 21,000 bloggers in the world. Isn't that nice?

That means as of now I will be working very hard and featuring the following on this blog:

1. Detailed interviews with authors (I will go behind the scenes for views and opinions you will not find in traditional media)
2. More coverage of literary events both in India and abroad
3. Live blogging of events from my supposedly powerful laptop and internet connectivity
4. More pictures. (Sorry, my camera has conked off, but I will be buying a new one soon.)
5. Blurbs of books that will be in the market very soon, including the authors' photographs.

Thank you readers for making this blog what it is.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Beauty and the Geek - Give Me a Teeny-weeny Break, Pliss

I am not a great watcher of reality shows. But Ronnie loves them, which I attribute to a certain naivety of the age. After all, I have been through that age and when we have lunch or dinner watch it for a bit of entertainment, because it is sometimes hilarious without attempting to be. Get it? 

The show airing is "Beauty and the Geek". So there's this Prof. Andy who looks not like a professor but a woman with a beard donning a suit and pretending to be a professor in bow tie and baggy trousers. As for his standard phrase, has anyone heard a professor say "Wow," repeatedly, in a high-pitched tone? The idea is to match a geek with a beauty except that the geeks don't want to share a room with a beauty! Can you imagine that? Jumping jacks, what am I hearing? Geeks in the show do not want to share a room with the beauties because, as they say it, "what will our parents say?" C'on geek grow up, any geek would give his right hand to be with a beauty in India, you bet.

Furthermore, geeks don't mean ugly lot who are anyway rejects. All the guys have pustules, beards, long hair, and plenty of shyness. Yes, I thought geeks would at least be an articulate lot. Not these geeks. Sorry, boys, wrong choices. Geekdom doesn't mean freakdom. Give me a teeny-weeny break wilt thou? 

Then there is this outdoor set with a lot of books kept in a book shelf. The shelf looks odd. What books do these people read? Certainly Chetan Bhagat novels. The professor shouts and the geeks all nod their heads. They are shy Mamma's boys, you see. No, no, I am not very intelligent, a beauty says but the geek she got hardly knows anything except his physics and chemistry books she confesses to the camera.

The result is a maha bore, as Shobhaa De would say. Left the drawing room immediately to write this blog because what I was seeing was extreme intellectual vapidity unlike the intelligent conversation I heard on... I forget that serial about geeks on ---- television channel. Somebody fill this gap for me please.

Postman Suspended for Doing Weird Thing

A postman in Oregon has been suspended because he took a shit behind a suburban home's garbage can.Hehe. He was caught in the act when pulling his pants up. He came to deliver mail but left behind poo. Hm. We in India would only look away if a postman shat outside our home, we are used to all sorts of shit. But in Oregon there are strict shit laws. So they photographed him pulling on his pants and complained. Poor chap might even be dismissed from service.

So what do we call this episode? A "poo scare" or "shit hit the garbage can" or "suburban shit."

Dr. Binayak Sen Out on Bail

The Supreme Court has granted bail to Dr. Binayak Sen and veteran writer and blogger Dilip D'souza has a valid comment to make on the whole episode on it on his blog. Read it here.

It seems four Nobel Prize winners campaigned for Dr. Sen's release. The judge observed, ""Sympathising with Maoists is no ground for Sen's arrest [and] possession of literature is no proof of Maoist involvement."

My take: the laws of the land have been so misinterpreted by the high and mighty (for their own benefit) that they thought they could get away with a conviction in this case. Combating terror and violence is okay by any ordinary individual, but making hasty decisions in the name of security is inadmissible. It's a sign of our awareness that so many people have campaigned so actively. I know a FB friend and activist who mailed me regular updates of the case since I supported the cause. A vigilant public has come to Dr. Sen's rescue. It is Binayak Sen today, tomorrow it could be me or you, the reader. Simply finding a book by Marx in your home is no ground to brand you as a Naxalite.

Remember Lokmanya Tilak's famous words when he was convicted for sedition by the British, "There are higher powers than this tribunal that rule the destinies of beings and it may be the will of Providence that the cause I represent will prosper more by my remaining in jail than my remaining free." Remember this: the charge was the same: sedition.The case was also built on very flimsy grounds that Tilak demanded "Swaraj".

I think Dr. Binayak Sen stand for the personal freedoms that our democracy guarantees to all its citizens.

Egyptian Uprising Was Triggered by a Facebook Page "We Are All Khaled Saeed." Inkwell Signs Him for Book Deal

At the recent London Book Festival New York literary agency Inkwell made waves by signing Wael Ghonim he Egyptian Internet activist and Middle East and North Africa manager of Google.

Inkwell place Ghonim in a conference room in the Right Centre where he made presentations on his life story to some 120 people including the media.

Earlier Ghonim set up the anonymous Facebook page "We Are All Khaled Saeed" on the youth (Khaled Saeed) beaten to death by the police in Alexandria last June. The Facebook page is said to have launched the Egyptian uprising in January 2011.

Ghonim was freed on Feb. 8 after 12 days in prison and became famous after his emotional interview with Dream TV.

So the trend according to this blogger seems to be to become notorious (whatever the cause), appear for an exclusive interview, and then travel to the London Book Fair land a book deal. Hm. Imagine an anonymous Facebook page fomenting an uprising and overthrowing a government! That's the power of social media. As a practitioner I would advise caution and a lot of soul searching. Is this the right way forward?