Friday, June 29, 2012

Progress on My Novel, Just So That I Don't Hit a Slack

Covered a major portion of editing Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard, over the last few days, though I was in pain (gentle reader see this). Now the ankle is healed. I think the ankle had twisted and the ligaments were tearing with pain. Commuting in Bombay is fraught with one risk or the other. It's a nightmare as all the sidewalks are occupied by vendors, greedy merchants who encroach, and beggars. So, you walk on the road, the risk of which is more drastic and dramatic. I don't know when the ankle twisted: on the road, or, while getting out of the train. But I had swelling and pain the next day, on waking up. Mercifully, that is over. Healing happens slowly, subtly. One has to bear the pain in silence. That means I am back to my morning walk, yoga, and weight training. Light weights, of course. Writing is what is keeping me going. Sometimes I wonder if I have anything else. I have discovered recently that close relatives are the most ungrateful because they think they have a right to. They indulge in loose talk because they think they have a right to.

Ahem, to all that! Be that as it may. I am working on another short story that would be about the love of a young couple in Bombay. It will have among other things: social taboos of a city that acts like a small town, the narrow confines of middle-class morality, and the asphyxiating aspects of life in an economically corrupt city where the rich hold on to their riches at the expense of the poor.   

Meena Kandaswamy's Poem on Gandhi Lands her into Trouble with the Literary Establishment in Kerala

Meena Kandaswamy's book of poems -- translated into Malayalam -- has been stirring up a hornet's nest in Kerala. It happened thusly. Meena Kandaswamy, poet and writer, who wrote this poem on Gandhi was invited by her publisher for the book's launch in Kerala. Eminent litterateur Sugatha Kumari was to be the chief guest at the book launch. Unfortunately, the whole gory details are still not with me at the time of writing this, she refused to attend as she found the Gandhi poem in bad taste. This has upped the ante of the literary establishment of Kerala, a state in which books of poetry are published prolifically and discussed and critiqued. Is there any other state, I don't know, please enlighten me. Thank God I was born in this state.

Now, there's a congress government ruling the state. Therefore the literary establishment is leaning a bit towards the centre, i.e., Congress. And any denigration of Gandhi would not be acceptable to the party which sees Gandhi as their patron saint. I have nothing against Gandhiji, whose writings I do admire and venerate.

Now for my considered and somewhat jaundiced point of view. I also don't have anything against Sugatha Kumari. (These admissions are getting a bit tedious. I really hate to do this.) I have respect for her poems. Well, Meena Kandaswamy (disclosure: she is a Facebook friend and we have exchanged a few comments) has a right to her artistic freedom to write a poem about Mahatma Gandhi. If someone has an issue with the poem it should be critiqued in a literary format, not by having abuses thrown at her, her morality, and her sexuality. Just my point of view.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here. View my Youtube Channel Page. Read about my novel Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard.

Is Grammar Dying in the Workplace?

Sue Shellenbarger writes in this article in Wall Street Journal that grammar is fighting a losing battle in the workplace. I remember the time when I joined as a rookie in a publishing house in 1980 (32 years ago) that the publisher went through every letter and blasted us if there were grammatical mistakes. His opinion was that if you aren't careful in your personal communication, you will be careless in what appears in print in your publications. Very true. Also the receiver of the letter would get a bad impression since the letter comes from a publisher. Correct, on that score, too. Therefore even his stenographers and typists had to watch out and refer to dictionaries while typing a letter. Who does these things in this day of Facebook and Twitter where thoughts have to be expressed in 140 characters, that too, at a speed rivaling the speed of thought? Where smartness of repartee gets the "comments" and "likes".

To quote from Sue Shellenbarger's article, Bryan Garner author of "Modern American Usage" and a usage expert, "Twenty-five years ago it was impossible to put your hands on something that hadn't been professionally copy-edited, today, it is actually hard to put your hands on something that has been professionally copy-edited."

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here. View my Youtube Channel Page. Read about my novel Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard.

Suman nagar

Despite a flyover and road widening suman nagar still remains congested. Seen above is a traffic jam at the spot.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Bombay in the rain

It's been raining heavily since morning. This is what bombay looks in the rain. Well, almost, since the glass through which it is taken is obsured by falling rainrops. This will go on for another three months: sporadically, unannounced, wetly, making me cringe at times for warmth.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Digital Power Index Is Out -- Who's on Top?

Here's to Digital Power. And, to geek power. Hm.

The Newsweek Daily Beast Digital Power Index is out and here are the results. The categories include: Visionaries, Innovators, Evangelists, Angels, Personalities, Revolutionaries, Builders, Opinionists, Navigators, and Virologists. To me, it conforms to what the computer geeks in the office would come up with, if asked to pick their categories.

Topping in visionaries is Jeff Bezos of Amazon. In the other sections: Bill Gates gets lifetime achievement in Visionaries and Tim Berners Lee in Innovation. What appalls the absence of any Indian-sounding name. And we thought we were tops when programming and geekery were concerned.

Oh, by the way, Mark Zuckerberger ranks third in the Visionaries category.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here. View my Youtube Channel Page. Read about my novel Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard.

Monday, June 25, 2012

James Hadley Chase -- One of the Great Thriller Writers

I have not been able to write much these days because of several reasons. For one, the novel is entering the final few pages of editing and it needs my complete attention, the professional life is also under the weather, and, and, and, some health problems too. Nothing serious and not something that can be ignored. Don't know if it is too much to handle, I have handled such situations before. I have always wanted a little breathing space at work, at the most a five-day week, or, a five and a half-day week. A six-day week (which is common here) exhausts me. I have no time for myself. 

Yesterday I immersed myself in a James Hadley Chase thriller. Just for the joy of reliving the hours I had spent poring over his oeuvres in my youth. I was hooked immediately. Today, at night, I hope to finish it. What will happen? What will happen next? This is what is going on in my mind. On searching the net I find that James Hadley Chase was actually RenĂ© Lodge Brabazon Raymond and his father was a colonel in the colonial Indian Army. 

Another fact that made my jaws dawdle near the floor was that he never lived in the U.S. where most of his stories are based. He wrote from maps, slang dictionaries, and guidebooks. WTF! Contrary to what I had thought all along, he was British not a Yankee. He was also a friend of Graham Greene, who had praised his writing. (So, his writing isn't absolute trash as some people think! In school only the bad boys read his novels. The good boys stuck to Enid Blyton.) During the war he worked in the Royal Air Force rising to be a squadron leader and co-edited the RAF Journal. He wrote 90 thrillers, most of which have been made into films. His novels were popular in France, Europe, and Asia, but not in the U.S., where the stories are based.

Why am I writing all this? Darn! Go to his wikipedia page (link above) and read!

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here. View my Youtube Channel Page. Read about my novel Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Passing throgh Chembur

Passing through Chembur, which, dear folks, brings back memories of: school, college, football in the rain and, of course, heartbreaks.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

It's raining

This is the bicycle clip I am talking about. Nobody uses it anymore. The clips are attached to the bottom of the trouser so that the trouser doesn't get wet and when it is removed your creases still remain. Sigh! Even the creases have now disappeared with side-stitch creasing!
Live blog: it's raining in Bombay after a brief lull. The umbrellas and raincoats are out. My dad used to wear bicycle clips during the rain. Know what it means? See picture and explanation above. Okay, okay some other time.

Guess Who's Coming for Dinner

Ever since we started live blogging photographs and their badly written descriptions, we have lost interest, so to say, in writing thoughtful articles in this space. Sorry! This is an attempt at making amends.

We were reading this article about Spencer Tracy. We have not seen any films of his (at least, not that we know of) except "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." Now that was a thoughtful and humdinger of a movie and we enjoyed it thoroughly. It's all about a girl who is bringing her black boyfriend (played by Sidney Poitier) to dinner. And, Spencer Tracy is the girl's father. In its day the movie created a ruffle because of its unusual theme and story. I remember it distinctly as a celluloid narrative told lucidly and with much drama. 

Regret to say we don't have actors like Spencer Tracy anymore!

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here. View my Youtube Channel Page. Read about my novel Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard.

Travelling by air-conditioned bus today

Every time I enter Dadar Parsi colony it feels as if I am entering another country: no hawkers, no pan, no destitutes, no groundnut vendors, no haphazard parking, no road romeos, no litter, no spit on the walls, and above all no faeces lying around. Hm.

Now for the "yes's". Nicely laid out lawns (can you believe? lawns?), five gardens in a space of around a football field, painted buildings, no hasty and ugly extensions, no plastics (there I go again with the "nos"), good solidly maintained buildings that look good for another 200 years. Couldn't see a single Parsi bawaji though.

I took this picture after I had passed Dadar Parsi Colony. By the time I got it ready it was too late. Will make it a point to give you a good picture next time.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The hills in the rain

The hills turn from a dusty brown to muddy green in the first rain. A view from my terrace.

Puttu for Breakfast

Breakfast is the Kerala sspeciality of Puttu with a banana kneaded into it. Look forward to some rest and healing of the indisposed foot.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Healing of Injury

Live blog: was injured in the train yesterday. It's a part of our everyday commute. Hope it heals soon.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A three storeyed slum in Sewri!

John Steinbeck's Tips for Writers

Here's John Steinbeck's tips for writing. The man himself claims there aren't any short cuts, formulas, whatever. I have been a great fan of his since I read "Grapes of Wrath" and "Travels with Charlie." Then I read his book about how he wrote "Grapes of Wrath" with graphic illustrations and photographs of his manuscripts. That book, on hind sight, is one of the reasons I chose to be a writer. Now the profession has given me a livelihood, as I find nobody can write decent English in the organisations where I have worked. Yes, nobody. Even from the higher echelons people don't know the difference between "lose" and "loose" and "there" and "their". The younger lot of executives write the most atrocious English.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here. View my Youtube Channel Page. Read about my novel Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Poetry Should Be Subversive

Here's Simon Armitage averring that poetry should be subversive. Thank God! In the poetry soirees and meetings I have attended I got the distinct impression that poetry should be strictly traditional, follow rules, and should be grammatically perfect. A lot of poetry I write is experimental poetry, things I fiddle with, say, as I do with my musical instruments, or, admit it, with my prose. Like this blog, for example. 

What happens when people have a lot of say but don't have the skills or the models or mechanisms to say it. It often leads to confusion and disorientation. One starts repeating film dialogues, or worse still, advertisement jingles. How many times has this jingle passed through your mind and you have actually sung it?

Washing powder Nirma
Washing powder Nirma
Doodh ki safedi
Nirma se ayee
Rangeen kapda bhi khil khil jaye!

Actually the situation demanded something more uplifting from the classical books of poetry. How many times has conversations in groups veered off to imitation of Ajit's "loin" and Jagdeep's "Surma Bhopali?" When we don't have loftier things to quote we descend to the pits. Sigh!

Don't look only unto Shakespeare - here I mean classical poets - for poetry. Look up local writers, attend poetry readings, encourage poets. I have been approached by students who have written papers on my poems. (My poems are all on my poetry blog.) Some teachers have approached me for help in teaching my poems in schools. I have smilingly assented to all this. Poetry is an art and art is for the masses. So there!

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here. View my Youtube Channel Page. Read about my novel Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Launch of Jerry Pinto's 'Em and the Big Hoom'

Sorry for posting this so late. At the launch of Jerry's novel Em and the Big Hoom are on stage: David Davidar, Jerry Pinto, Anil Dharkar and Naresh Fernandes.

Looks Like Rain

It has been raining sporadically. The fury hasn't hit the city yet. All hell is waiting to break loose: stoppage of trains, flooding of areas, traffi snarls, the works.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Kanda Poha for Breakfast

It's the Maharashtrian favourite Kanda Poha with a dash of lemon for breakfast. Poha is called Aval in Malayalam, and is eaten with coconut and jaggery.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Is US the Land of Opportunities It Was? Is India?

Contrary to what one had been thinking all along, America is no more the land of opportunity it was. Immigrants had to just land on its shores to get rich, as evidenced by the richly perfumed relatives - nurses mostly - one encountered on one's trip to Kerala. These people - I remember - are terribly stingy also. They never let any money go waste, counting and pinching their pennies like we never do here. Joseph E. Stiglitz a Nobel laureate in economics has another viewpoint.

It seems from the article that US is the most unequal of societies with one per cent controlling ninety-three per cent of the wealth. The same situation we have in India except that the one per cent maybe 2 per cent here. It also states that the rich don't need essential services, so they deliberately cheat, corrupt, stultify governments to curtail on essential services. In India apart from doing all that, the businessmen also connive with government to take away the fruits of essential services. 

As proof what should I share here. Take Kannimozhi's case. The benefits of the shady dealings went to her television channel. A minister who has interests in quarrying is in charge of environment in Maharashtra. The result is that that the hills under his charge for protection and nurture are rampantly quarried at all times of the day and night. Another case is of the chairman of BCCI being the owner of the IPL team Chennai Superkings. I was shocked to realise this from the press. Is it me, or, can't anybody see the clash of interest in all these cases?

The rich accumulate wealth at all costs using their power while the poor exist a subsistence level existence: watching cricket, movies, reality shows, and shows where crores are handed out in cash. Capital stays in the hands of the rich, and any usurper of this capital is sternly dealt with. Who says India is a land of opportunities? Just as Stigliz avers, India is no better at equality of opportunity than France during the French Revolution. Remember: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity? 

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here. View my Youtube Channel Page. Read about my novel Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Me and My Guitar

Back to my guitar, after a brief illness. The chords sounded a bit wonky without practice.

Highway in India and Highway in the U.S. (Presumably)

Here are two pictures of contrasts by way of social and economic commentary. Judge for yourself which one is from India and which from the U.S. (or, elsewhere). This is what I call a genuineness of purpose which, I don't know, may be what we are lacking. 

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here. View my Youtube Channel Page. Read about my novel Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard.

Political Killings in God's Own Country

That political killing is a reality in India is a fact. It's an occupational hazard one could say. In India, it's common to find political rivalry being settled with a knife or a gun. However, it's strictly hush-hush in Kerala, the state I come from. If the party is in power, no investigation is carried out and no case is taken up. Only the dead man's wife and children feel the pain, the silence, and suffer the ignominy. But when a Communist Party (Marxist) politician declaims from the stage that his party has killed people, it becomes an unbelievable oddity, a gaffe even a village idiot cannot commit in his right mind. Whether Mani who said this on stage was inebriated you will have to judge from this video on youtube.

He also graphically states how the murders were done. "On was stabbed, another was short, another was beaten to death," so he claims. How gruesome such admissions can be? How heartless can leftist politics be? I don't know.

I just returned from my summer holiday in Kerala. A short one. On the superficial level Kerala is beautiful: swaying palms; thick jungles of mango trees, jackfruit trees, cashew trees; endless paddy fields; limpid rivers; striking shadows that cast the blackest of shades; everything feels like, well, God's Own Country. But does God's country have a sordid history of political killings? Would justice be done to those killed now that first-hand evidence exists from the person of Mani?  


I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here. View my Youtube Channel Page. Read about my novel Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Progress on My Novel, and, Publishing Prognostications of a Weary and Bored Writer

After a recent bout of illness, dear friends, not to talk about many doubts about the novel, I am back to editing Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard. I have made good progress in the past few days. When doubts assail me and I want to flop in front of the television, I think of what I have achieved all these years. Nothing much, except, perhaps, a house of my own and completing my son's engineering studies. I want the novel to be something about me and the way I was.

Is it worth it to write a novel in the environment of today? Is there hope for the novel. Today I observed a man reading a novel in train - an Indian novel - and after two or three minutes he closed the book and put it back in his bag. Are Indian novels that boring? Why don't Indian Writing in English (IWE) grip readers? Why doesn't the reader base grow except for Mr. Bhagat's books? Where are we going wrong?

I will examine some of the issues here:

The Agent Publisher Nexus
Today publishers don't have the time to sift through the thousands of book manuscripts they receive. So they depend of agents to spot talent and recommend their work. Actually, some of these agents aren't great literary scouts. They have either been at the bottom of the corporate pile with a publisher, or, even worse are copyright lawyers who think the money is in 'agenting'. (There may be exceptions, of course, I know of many.) So if you send your hard-worked manuscript to an agent you will be rejected outright because you don't have the standing among your peers, you aren't a pretty woman with drop-dead-picture-perfect looks, you don't have the public relations pizzazz, or worse, you aren't presentable. I once read that if you submit to a foreign agent, the agent checks with friends back in India about you. It's normal for the literary scene to be a bit vitiated in India and, if, suppose, something negative is said by this friend (out of spite, revenge, getting back, backstabbing, all common occurrences), you find no chance of being published.

The Literary Merit Versus Cheap Sensationalism Issue
I have seen lavish coffee table books published on actors. Hagiographies mostly, these are sold to a select audience at a sky-is-the-limit price and the publisher makes a good profit. Nothing about the actor or the social milieu in which he/she worked comes out. Everything is dipped in rose-tinted nostalgia. Do these books serve a purpose? Are they valid as works of literature?

Again a man/woman can sleep with a celebrity and write about it. Publishers will jump at the opportunity to publish it. In fact, I hear, they will even auction for it, promising to pay impossible amounts a la a certain Levinsky. These are the days of "use and throw." These are also the days of "read and throw." Books used to be read and displayed in drawing rooms in my times. They no longer find a place in the glass and chrome houses of today. In fact, a bookshelf doesn't even exist. If this goes on, serious writers of literature would find it hard to be accepted by publishers. And, much of the human condition you would find in Dickens, Austen, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Steinbeck, Hemmingway would be lost to the world. Their loss, not ours (writers').

Self-publishing and E-book Publishing
Well, well, what do we have here? I was offered the option of self-publishing. I will have to buy back around 100 copies of my own book. Why should I buy my own book? It's so humiliating. What will my friends think?

E-book readership has been growing, I hear. But, that's because it is cheap and people do it on impulse. I have seen people with kindle readers and e-book readers in train during the commute. They hold their devices at odd angles and then after a few minutes, close them. Are they too tired? Are their eyes aching? I can read fifty pages of a novel for an hour of commuting time, even if the said book is boring. But these hand-held-device readers can't even go beyond the first few pages. A book is a book, is a book. It can be held any way you like, and still you can read. It can be dog-eared (how can you do that to your e-book). It doesn't need to be plugged and re-charged. It has a sense of wholeness, which e-books can't give. It can be thrown out of the window if it is revolting. Try doing that to you e-book devices. 

I don't mean to be pessimistic, but that's how I view the publishing situation. It's something we have brought on ourselves, so we better deal with it.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here. View my Youtube Channel Page. Read about my novel Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard.