Thursday, November 29, 2012

Read My Latest Short Story "The Roads of Artist Village"

Diwali is gone and the wedding fever grips Bombay. Yesterday a newspaper – don’t remember which – reported that there will be three thousand weddings this season. I have attended two weddings and am going for a third one today. It is also getting cold in Bombay as never before. Then there will be “I am dreaming of a White Christmas,” and Santa Claus.


Read my latest short story The Roads of Artist Village. It’s about bureaucratic apathy and its attendants. The way we care about our roads show how much concerned we are about the people and their welfare. Well, the protagonist is a person similar to me, but not quite. There should be a personal space between character and creator. I am reading Nikolay Gogol’s Deal Souls and realize what a great talent he has been.


The road outside my house is dug up. What can I do about it? I have given up trying to correct things. Now I let things flow. The machines came in wheezing and snorting as usual and I said, “There goes the neighbourhood.”

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Book Preview: Bitch Goddess for Dummies and Love Stories 1-14

Feverish editing is going on on my novel Mr.Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard seeing that my friend Maya Sharma Shriram has completed her novel and has also signed up with a publisher. (Like her book Bitch Goddess for Dummies here.) Thanks Maya for showing me the way and giving me encouragement to go on. She came to the launch of my book Bright Lights and was the first to get an autograph from author me. Hehe. It felt nice.

Meanwhile Annie Zaidi's Love Stories 1-14 is also out and it looks to be a good volume. I had heard her read some the stories in Caferati readings and I think she has a wonderful style of writing.

Both the above writers are close to my heart, and being women, they write well and sensitively. So buy their books read them and pass them on. After all, literature is to be savoured and spread around, isn't it?

John is @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. He blogs here. His Youtube Channel Page. His novel Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Sixties and the Seventies in Bombay: For All Those Who Want to Immerse in Its Nostalgia

I am often asked by young people how growing up in the sixties and seventies in Bombay was. I can't express to them the intellectual ferment and the portent of great things that growing up in this period entailed. It was heady times, as I recollect it with fondness. Those people and institutions exist now (except a few who have died or dissipated) but in a very jaded and compromised form.

Disclaimer: this is by no means an exhaustive list, I don't want to be exhausted by a blog post, so I will put here what's top of the mind. So here goes:


The All India Radio auditorium used to screen art films.

Shyam Benegal and Muzaffar Ali used to make art films and Shabana and Naseeruddin used to act in them.

Shobhaa Rajadhyaksha (Kilachand, De) used to edit Society, the society gossip magazine.

We used to use beat terms like: squat, grub, cool, groovy, bread, et cetera. Go here for the whole glossary.

Khushwant Singh was editor of Illustrated Weekly (Double spread for poems each week edited by Pritish Nandy)

Pritish Nandy used to write poems and edit them.

Anil Dharkar was working in Debonair and Imtiaz Dharkar was editing its poetry page (this was the time when no magazine or sunday newspaper was complete without the poetry page).

Adil Jussawala was writing poetry and writing learned articles in Debonair.

Salim Peeeradina was conducting poetry appreciation classes.

Rohinton Mistry used to play Bob Dylan songs in clubs and hotels and as opening acts.

Pop/Rock concerts used to take place at Rang Bhavan. If you reach late you get a seat on the last row. 

Nandu Bhende played Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar and used to play with Savage Encounter and Atomic Forest.

Alyque Padamsee wrote copy and directed Jesus Christ Superstar.

Kamala Das was writing poetry and conducting readings at her residence

Nissim Ezekiel and Dom Moraes were writing poetry that could change literary stereotypes.

MF Hussain was painting his canvasses which later became controversial.

Samovar was the meeting place for bohemians. Much happened here. What, please don't ask.

Arun Kolhatkar has a permanent place inside Wayside Inn restaurant.

Russi Karanjia was editing Blitz.

Gulshan Ewing was editing Star & Style and Eves Weekly.

Radicalism and revolution were in the air. We were all radicals in a sense.

Desmond Doig edited Junior Statesman, a newspaper that was as much Bombay as Calcutta.

TOI group had a magazine targetted at youth called Youth Times.

Rajika Kirpalani brought out a young people's newspaper called Hi.

Baburao Patel was editor of Mother India.

Everywhere, on sidewalks, you could find books and Indian magazines. You could read them even if you didn't buy.

Dhirubhai Ambani was a struggling textile manufacturer.

Bal Thackeray left Free Press to start his own magazine Marmik. Dizi replaced him as cartoonist in Free Press.

Behram Congractor or Busybee worked in Evening News of India (TOI group) and wrote his column Round and About.

Mario Miranda also drew cartoons. 

Monginis was a restaurant on Veer Nariman Road.

Old Mr. McDonnald ran a dancing school in Colaba called "McDonald's."

By no means exhaustive, but that's the gist, guys. Hope you get the tremendous impact of the intellectual churn of those days. 

John is @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. He blogs here. His Youtube Channel Page. His novel Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Book Review: A Mysterious Death at Sainik Farms

A Mysterious Death at Sainik Farms, as the title makes it obvious is a detective novel set in Delhi. What makes the novel unique is the way it is told without much embellishments and theatrics. Author Rukmani Anandani has a lucid style and a mellifluous voice that lets the pace build up on its own and climaxes rather nicely. I wouldn’t dare give the plot away, for its for the reader to enjoy.

Detective GP Iyer has his flaws but is an endearing investigator. He is a brainy South Indian with a droopy moustache and is not as old as he seems from his name. He is fond of reciting Kural poetry, some of which are featured in the novel:

Inordinate desire destroys the home
And leads to crime at once.

Goes with the mood set by the novel. It’s good to read an Indian detective novel written in the tradition of Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot. And, how can I forget Sherlock Holmes?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

With My Wife and Picture of Class of 1973

Here's a picture of me with my wife of twenty-eight years clicked by my son
Ronnie. I am wearing a traditional Indian dress while she is wearing a
traditional Kerala dress. My wife is the principal of a school in New
Bombay. We had just returned from our friend Ganga's son's (Akash's) wedding
reception in Chembur, Bombay. It was a happy occasion where many of our
classmates were present.

At the same wedding reception the other photo in this post was taken, which
shows us, classmates in the class of 1973 of Adarsha Vidyalaya, Chembur.
Almost 40 years have passed and the changes in us are manifest. I am also
appending a photo that was taken 40 year earlier (in those halcyon days of
innocence and ingenuity) in the compound of Adarsha Vidyalaya. Notices the

Yes, we are older, wiser, richer and more affluent but at the same time we
are afflicted and troubled by what the future holds for us. Have the choices
taken been right? Have done the right things? Where will all this take us?
Don't know. I am waiting for answers.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Aranmula International Airport to Be Operational by 2014

This news is something I cherished for a long time.

I was born in a small village in Kerala called Kidangannoor which falls in the Aranmula panchayat. News is that an international airport is coming up at Aranmula which has been going through various environment clearances and opposition from certain lobbies. The good tiding is that the Kerala government is investing in ten per cent of the equity of the new airport. 

Why I welcome Aranmula airport? My chief argument (for which many may call me a traitor and an opportunist) is that I will be able to reach home faster. There was time when, in my childhood, that is, to reach home it took four full days by various modes of transport (coal-driven trains, buses, taxis, walking-on-feet), and by the end of it I was dead tired. Today it takes two days to reach my village from Bombay, that too, after spending a lot of money en route.

Another thing is that it will bring some modernity to this rural village. I, as a city dweller, I expect some basic necessities to be available in my home town, which wasn't there till now. Basic things like noodles, a packet of biscuit, a refill for the pen, etc. Having to go five kilometres to fetch these is a tiring task and takes the whole day.

The downside could be that there will be the roar of jet engine, as the runway is situated close to my house. But I think I can live with that.

The Aranmula International Airport intends to be functional by 2014. Hope it brings cheers to those who hail from this area.

John is @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. He blogs here. His Youtube Channel Page. His novel Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Diwali Is Here. Hope Diwali Is a Blessed Time for You!

So, the festival of lights - Diwali - is here. And here's a picture I took on my evening walk yesterday in Belapur, New Bombay.

Anywhere I turn on my usual walk there are coloured lights, shimmering, coruscating,  winking, bursting, evanescing, disporting mirthfully and the whole area has a suffusion of light. It's Diwali, the festival commemorating the return of Ram to Ayodhya after winning back his wife from Ravana. Legend has it that people waiting with lighted lamps to welcome him back after the tiring battle.

Be that as it may, Diwali is the festival of lights, and I will remember it as such. It's joyous fun time when people exchange gifts and sweets and I hope I receive my usual quota too. I hope I won't be disappointed by a bad economy and the disturbing scams that surfaced recently of which I have written here. is a website published in Germany by my friend Hans-Jurgen John and I have a regular column in it and I am their India Manager. Now that I have the time I am doing something productive. So, please read the article.

Here's wishing you all, my readers, a Happy Diwali. May this be a bless Diwali to all of you. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Diwali is here!

Here's a lantern I saw on my  evening walk which is a symbol of the advent of Diwali the festival of lights.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

At the CCD Lounge Belapur

We are a great fan of CCD. But the new CCD Lounge is even better having unlimited wi-fi (CCD only allows 45 minutes of connectivity).

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

We Are Transforming from a Market Economy to a Market Society, Says New Book

What we have been writing on this blog and talking about till we have been told to shut up. Yes, now we have proof that slowly the world is becoming a market society where everything is for sale. (So, maybe, a newspaper that we know that sells editorial space need not worry, but that’s a worrying thought.)


This was said by not a less worthy personage than Anne T. and Robert M. Bass professor of Government at Harvard University Michael J. Sandel. His book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets is out. What he says in an interview in DNA to Vivek Kaul is that today we have migrated from being a society governed by market economy to a market society. Money has the power to buy and sell services such as direct check-ins for first class passengers, queue-less entry into amusement parks, and preferred waiting lounges for a certain category of people. In India we call it influence but in the West it is a kind of industry in itself. So if you want to be at a hearing of the Congress at Washington DC you can get a “queue standing company” to send a person who will camp overnight at the relevant place so that you can get in when the door opens.


Rather nice, no?


You might dismiss it as “we know it, it happens in India.” Now that’s a reaction from a man in the street. But the ethical implications of this transition are rather grievous. Today money can buy everything and one can buy ones way into power, and, also, more money. To purist it might seems like the ultimate Armageddon. Yes, it is. In India we put a price on everything even relationships are based on what monetary value it can bring in the long run. So, is the selling of editorial space as alluded above wrong? It seems Indian newspapers these days are surviving on that source of revenue, while all over the world news establishments are closing down.


Alas, this process isn’t reversible. So more and more people are being pushed down into the category of the poor dependents of the rich ones. This is particularly noticeable in the corporate sector. We have seen managers and directors enjoying vacations, foreign jaunts while poor sloggers (like us) work all day to complete their jobs. And the very prospect of giving a day off on Saturdays sends them into a tizzy. Actually it’s so very unfair, but what can we do about it? Today our youngsters know this fact and that’s what’s giving rise to most crimes.


So the mantra is “Get into the big league and stay there by hook or by crook.” So be prepared to deal with crooks.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Literature Live Bombay - Day Four - A Green Poet and His Performance

Being a writer of poems, performance poetry is close to my heart. However, my performances have been restricted to singing the songs I have composed. So, it was a pleasant surprise when I went to Martin Kiszko’s program “Green Poems for a Blue Planet” at Bombay Literature Fest. (I think the organizers have to decide whether it is Litfest, Literature fest, Litlive, or, Literature Live, because all these names cropped up in a muddle in all announcements and programs.)


The show had already begun and there was this poet on stage who recited his poems from memory appropriately demonstrating each with masterly dramatic ease using props and background projections. All his poems were based on the environment and its protection. In the UK he is also known as “UK’s Green Poet” which is a name given him by a member of the audience. In fact, he was so dramatic that the audience was taken up with his style and was engrossed. Same here. Here are some samplers, which I noted, though I was busy taking pictures.


“Ode to Broccoli”

“Though you are Italian Da Vinci never painted you.”


“Recycle Me”

“Recycle me into a super plastic hero who would swallow all the garbage around.”

“A great Hoover that vacuums all the gunk.”



“When I go to bed I say, perhaps I have been overgreen.”


These are only vignettes from his performance, and by no means exhaustive. His book, published recently, has over 56 such poems. He gives performances at schools, colleges, and even at parties. Later in the foyer I meet him again and he was very charming and personable explaining some of the techniques he uses. I think I will adopt those techniques to do performance poetry, when, I don’t know. As UK’s only green poet, I guess this poet is going places with his socially relevant message.

Wild flowers gathered on my morning walk

Wild flowers gathered on my morning walk in artist village. Proves that in India plants flower in winter too!

Sunday, November 04, 2012

With the UK's Green Poet Martin Kiszko

Me and the UK's green poet at Litfest Bombay.

Day Three Bombay Lit Fest - David Godwin and Breaking 80

It’s day three of the Bombay Litfest and I am there to meet super agent David Godwin. I am excited. David Godwin is God for all aspiring writers (pun intended). After all, the man who discovered Arundhati Roy must be no ornery chap. I notice him almost immediately. He is tall, has a ruddy complexion, has a head full of blonde hair, and something very youthful in him though he claims to be sixty. He is here to launch his book Breaking 80 which according to him is his first and only book and is mostly about golf. I don’t golf, no, I don’t know a put from a caddy. I would think a caddy is something you put in those small holes on the patch of grass called greens. As for handicaps, I don’t have any except a bulging beer belly, a reminder of the beery days of yore.


So what do I talk to him about, I wonder, as I inch towards the God animatedly talking to his circle of female admirers. How do I tear him away? I guess, seeing me waiting to talk to him, he does the tearing away himself (no wonder, having handled umpteen such circumstances), turning away from all the “shawashwashaw” of the feigned upper class lisp of the “growing-old-baby-log” to face me. I introduce myself as a writer and his Facebook friend. I ask him about Bombay and how he likes it. “Well, it’s a fascinating city.” I say I am working on a novel and he says, “You mean you have submitted a novel to me?” I say, no, I am editing my novel. “Then send it to me, also mention that you met me here.” It’s too brief. But I have connected with God. Then the army of female admirers takes over and I make a dignified retreat and, now, I can go home content.


Inside, Anil Dharkar does the book launch. David in his preamble before he reads from his book says that he finds his job interesting, “You get the privilege of seeing the book in its purest form.” The man likes what he is doing. Why don’t I also say I love writing a novel and finish the editing soon, eh?


He also say, “I like helping writers on the journey to get their book to the audience.” Which is what he did to Arundhati Roy’s book. “I had heard of her and she sent me the novel in a neat package. I read it and I was fascinated.” The man has described his entire work in so few words. He takes a manuscript to the ultimate consumer, the audience. And here I am stuck with merely not being able to get my manuscript in shape, leave along taking it to the audience. Bah!


And what does he look for in the writing? “I look for the tone, the voice of the writer. Then something clicks.”


And to sum up, “It’s an immensely rewarding experience, discovering new people, voices, cultures, which is what all literature is about.”


During question hour a gentleman sitting beside me asks him what sort of haggling he does for advances to his authors. “I haggle. Yes, I haggle for around three-and-half million.”


Another gentleman mentions that he has been rejected by God himself. The God just smiles to this. Guess, to be rejected is also a privilege as far as God is concerned. For hadn’t God rejected the Israelis many times in the Negev desert?   

Friday, November 02, 2012

Day 1 Bombay Literary Festival

(From Left: Peter Griffin, Naresh Fernandes, Benjamin Law and Annie Zaidi)

Ah, well, we will use Bombay instead of Mumbai.After all, the Tata's (organiser's) headquarters is still Bombay House, isn't it?

Litlive 2012 has had a, sort of lukewarm reception so far. Most events are going to half empty seats. One hoped a better interest in the proceedings from Bombaywallas. Or, was it lack of advertising and promotion? One sees a measuredly cynical reation to the festival from  the crotchety old lady at Victoria Terminus. No coverage, no programs of the day, and no hype that only the wily old lady can generate. 

Ah, well, there we go again. 

We walk into "The Definite Article" where our friend Peter Griffin is moderating. Other friends in the panel include Annie Zaidi and Naresh Fernandes. (We get acquainted with Naresh only this day though we are in touch on Twitter.) The subject is Long Form journalism, though the discussion also veered into Twitter journalism.

Peter's taxi caught fire on the way to the festival. He came late, his usual air of calm unruffled, coiffure (he has waist-length hair) well maintained.

Annie started off by saying that these days a 750-word article is considered long form. A gasp went up from the audience. Anyway, the statement set the tone for the discussion. Annie mentioned Dilip D'Souza's blog and kind of journalism, which we also follow. Dilip does these longish articles on his blog and then wraps it up with a long-form article for the medium that has commissioned his work. His work is always very perspicacious and his research is exhaustive. So, Dilip has Annie's approval as the appropriate long-form journalist. She knows, she has done a good many long-form articles when she was with Frontline.

Has Twitter made us write less? This is what Peter has to say. No. With twitter people are writing and reading more, all the time. "I skim a lot, read a lot, may be, in small parcels." 

Benjamin Law is a writer from Australia and we have heard about his book Family Law, which people say is immensely funny. We haven't read him yet but mean to. He teaches long-form journalism and is of the view that the whole face of journalism is changing. Newspapers in Australia are downsizing and he says by the end of this year many newspapers would be cutting on staff and expenses preferring to go dital, as Newsweek has done recently. He says people will depend more on digital news and existing newspapers may be converted into  weekend newspapers carrying views and analyses. (Oh, that would mean an end to an hour of bliss on the terrace with the morning cuppa for us.) People will look for news from the digital media: Twitter feeds, news aggregators, social media, online newspapers, etc. 

So what does all this portend? Is long-form journalism dead? No. It's still alive in the online form as here it is not constrained for space. An online journalist can write as much as he/she likes, besides he/she can also blog about it. Naresh is strictly against blogging. He is of the view that one should write only when one gets paid for it. Also, as Annie pointed out, there are magazines like Caravan in India which are oriented towards long-form journalism.

John is @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. He blogs here. His Youtube Channel Page. His novel Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Ambani's billion dollar Architectural folly.

Saw this monstrosity while travelling to Litlive. Then realised it is the Ambani's billion-dollar architectural folly, yeah, now memory strikes, it's Antill, isn't it?  (Didn't remember its name the first time.)