Friday, November 02, 2007

Friday afternoon

I stare at my monitor and yawn. My eyes water and I wipe away a tear. I look at the clock – it’s 4:17. I lean back in my chair and stretch, trying to get some blood flow back to my cramped muscles. The allergy medicine I took some hours ago has wrapped me me in a foggy cloud of numbness. I pace up and down the corridors, refilling my mug with endless glasses of water. The mug carries a lingering aftertaste of the coffee it usually holds and I grimace as I sip the water. I have some pending work – three or four urgent tasks to complete. This industry has left its mark – I think in the same language now - pending tasks TBD, EOD, FYA. Acronyms and jargon have overtaken my vocabulary.

I get two phone calls – two more tasks to complete. I really should be getting back to work. I stare at my monitor and start tapping out an email. The phone rings again. And then again – query after query. I look back at my email and find I have forgotten what I wanted to say. I have no will to work. I start at a spot on my arm, scratch it, go back to the cooler to get another glass of water. Someone’s phone goes off and the jarring ringtone breaks the silence around me. I turn on my ipod, plug in my headphones, hoping that the music might inspire me to action. It doesn’t. I rummage in my bag, smear on some lip gloss, suck on a mint.

4:40 – two hours to go before I can leave for the day. I look through the picture windows on the far end of my floor. Even though it is a clear, blue day outside, someone has drawn the shutters across the windows. Thinking back, I realize that I can’t remember when the shutters were last left open. In all the buildings this organization inhabits, regardless of the view outside, the shutters are always drawn. I wonder if there is some unstated organizational policy manadating that, while at work, employees completely shut out the outside world, including wind, weather and everything else that doesn’t pertain to work. Or maybe someone’s just forogtten to draw the shutters for the last year and a half?

It’s 5:33. Time to get a cup of coffee, time to get back to work, one hour before I can leave.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007


Ok, I'm finally going to try this. Let the games begin.


Monday, October 29, 2007


The man settles down in the seat across from me, oblivious or unmindful of our hostile glares. There are several seats available, so it is unclear why he chose this one. Placing his light-mauve backpack on his lap, he pulls out a foil-wrapped sub and eats it furtively, biting off mouthful after mouthful. The lingering smell of his BLT sickens my aleady travel-sick friend. She rolls her eyes violently in his direction and pointedly drinks Pepto Bismol. He dabs at his mouth effiminately, trying to catch any stray crumbs. Why doesn't he just take care of this with one manly swipe of a sleeve across his mouth? That's unlikely to happen - he is too fussily dressed for that.

He wears a caramel corduroy jacket, a striped shirt and an oddly bight, mustard tie with a hideous, self-coloured floral print. His pants are check flannels and look like pyjamas.He leafs through the complimentary tourist magazine supplied by Eurostar. He looks just like the kind of person who wouldn't carry something of his own to read.

I look out of the window as we cross an apartment complex and I see a woman dying her clothes on her balcony, the only one in the building to do so. Loking more closely, I see that the turquoise blue polyester garments hung over the balcony are a salwar kurta and the woman is Indian.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007


He sat in the shadow of the palazzo, strumming his guitar. During the day, he was a doctor, an architect, a lawyer. His mornings were marked by neccesary routine - the mundanity of paying school fees and filing tax returns.

He came to the square in the late afternoons. He set up his equipment as the masses of tourists trickled away, seeking out restaurants and cafes around the square, drawn by their aromatic warmth and the promise of a hot meal.

He began to gently strum his guitar, cradling it to his person like a child, slipping into the melody, playing only for himself. In the dappled afternoon sunshine, pigeons pooled around him, milling restlessly and hopping away in little alarmed ripples as an American tourist bounced a basketball nearby. Swarms of visiting high school students hooted and caroused, indifferent to the historical significance of their surroundings. Unmindful of all this, the musician played on, caressing the strings of his guitar, familiarly, like a lover; intoxicated by the whispered secrets he coaxed out of it.

Dusk turned to night and the square emptied. As the evening lights came on, the archway under which he sat became a dramatic backdrop, framing him in a halo of lumination. A sudden cold breeze ruffled his air. He played on.

The night deepened. The guitarist's music echoed across the empty corridors behind him, heightening the grandeur of the setting. The hordes of tourists, stultified by heavy dinners of pasta and wine and trudging wearily back to their hotels and hostels, paused for a few minutes to listen to him play, mesmerized by the strains of his Spanish guitar. They murmured in appreciation, pulled a Euro or two out of their pockets to drop into his open guitar case, took a photograph, and then drifted away. Oblivious, the guitarist played on.


Saturday, March 17, 2007


I've been sitting in front of my monitor for twelve and a half hours without a break, searching for single-pixel misalignments.

Eight hours ago, one of my sandals broke. And then the other pair, the pair that I wisely keep stashed in my car for days such as these, gave way as well. I have been limping around the office for the last four hours, dragging one foot painfully behind the other like Quasimoto.

For the last three hours, individual regions in my body have slowly started to grow numb - first the back of my arms, then the base of my neck and shoulders and now, inexplicably, my tongue.

This is what a stroke must feel like.

Monday, March 12, 2007


Is there anything on Earth that more closely resembles Purgatory than the terminals of international airports? Particularly African international airports? The fluorescent lights and stale recycled air; the bleary eyes and two - day old stubble of other marooned passengers; the endless cups of bad coffee / local beer in a vain search for a stimulant; the aimless rambling through cookie - cutter shops?

A contemporary interpretation of Dante's Purgatorio could quite easily be set in the Nairobi international airport. The slothful would be purged by running endlessly between departure gates as their gates got constantly rescheduled; the gluttonous would be consigned to a ceaseless supply of airline food; the wrathful would be reformed through an endless wait for a connecting flight.

While on the subject, I decided to let this hitherto unpublished post see the light of day.

Sunday, 6th November.

I am now officially ensconced in Hell. Which is to say, I am in a cyber-cafe in the Jomo
Kenyat(t)a International Airport on a day when the powers-that-be considered it judicious and desirable to set the thermostat at a toasty 43 degrees celsius. Suffering this heat after Lusaka has just turned 'cloud to cloud', in the words of the inimitable ZNBC weathermen, makes me bitter, oh so bitter. Lusaka has been unseasonably warm for the last few months, and the highs are now between 5 and 6 degrees higher than they were a few years ago. The unbroken warm weather over the last few weeks also means that I have now lived through an eight - month long summer. And after that long, long, dry summer, the rains finally broke in Lusaka last night, on the eve of my departure. Meaningless, of course, because instead of sitting in our courtyard with a steaming cuppa, I am seated in an over-heated, under-staffed internet cafe in the middle of Kenya, despondent that the warm weather seems determined to adhere so lovingly to me and never let me go.

What I should do is wander over to the Kenya Airways transfer desk and make enquiries about my connecting flight. However, I'm not sure where the KA transfer gate is, exactly. I only know that it is up a flight of stairs, and I have no desire to lug my forty-kilos-or-so of hand baggage up forty stairs, so I'm wandering around the lower levels of this particular Inferno, waiting for an announcement about my departure gate.

Once the departure gate is announced, I drag my weary self to Terminal B16, only to be informed that there is a change in gates and the flight will now depart from Gate 2c. Once I cross the stampede at security, I manage to nab one of the last few available plastic bucket chairs at the gate. In doing so, I find I have positioned myself next to a couple who are intent on fornication. I avert my eyes and try to think pure thoughts.

Close to the scheduled time of departure, a delay is announced. There were technical difficulties and the flight had to stop in Lilongwe for an hour before it could come to Nairobi. The huddled masses at the departure gate are served assorted nuts and beverages to keep them quiet.

Six hours later, we have finally departed from Nairobi. Shortly after, lunch is served. I find myself presented with a fish meal. When I object, the steward removes the fish entree with a flourish and disappears into the depths of the plane. I devour my roll of bread and dessert (a cup of pudding) and hungrily await further developments. I realize the folly of this ten minutes later as the steward slides the vegetarian option in front me - airline-patented "yellow-powder curry" and rice that resembles old nail clippings. I avert my eyes and try to sleep.

Through the duration of the flight, I am marooned next to a lady who is irate because is unable to stretch out across all three seats and sleep. She mutters angrily every time I fidget. I am a fidgety person in general, so her protests last through most of the night, but fall on deaf ears. I have no intention of moving, and she can't make me.

Upon landing in Bombay, however, things start to look up. There is a rather kitschy Indian spin-off of the American Idol show that I have been following for weeks now and , over a period of time, I have started to nurture a minor crush on one of the participants. My delight knows no bounds when I find that self-same participant sitting barely a few seats away from me . So delighted, in fact, that when I go to pick up my luggae from the carousel, I cannot tear my eyes off him long enough to pick up the right suitcase.

As I wheel someone else's Samsonite suitcase toward the Jet Airways counter, all un-mindful, I reflect that many moons ago, I was a salaried member of society. Then I travelled the world chasing a dream. Now I am back where I started, except a little higher.


Saturday, March 10, 2007


As the plane circled downwards, I looked out the window. I felt suffocated by the weight of all my failures. There was so much I had run away from - a broken engagement, an abandoned job, an untold number of projects left incomplete. It had been a period in my life when everything I had essayed turned to ashed under my un-Midas touch. My family attributed it to planetary misalignment. They visited temples, lit lamps, said prayers to ward off the influence of Saturn in the seventh square of my astrological grid. They asked me to wear an amulet. They consulted dozens, scores of astrologers. Each astrologer without fail predicted one exact day in the coming months and years when my luck would turn. My friends explained my problem away as a quarter - life crisis. A well - meaning co-worker told me I was suffering from depression. I didn't know what to call it - I just knew that a chasm was opening before me that refused to be breached by the mundanities of daily routine. When the pressure of living from one day to the next became too much and the loneliness started to eat a cavity into my soul, I decided to leave. Looking down out of the window of ther plane, I felt soothed by the barren landscape. Looking down at the dusty trees, the scattered handfuls of dry grass and the impossible remoteness of this foreign country, I felt like I had come home.


Friday, March 09, 2007

*Daily rant*

I'm sitting here drawing on a large, cold coffee, trying to slurp past the ice slush, trying to alleviate this boredom.

So what do I write about?

Describing the pangs of guilt about my long, long overdue set of video library DVDs? ("Yes, I'll bring them back this weekend. I'm sorry, I've been out of town.") And the set of books that my lending library is resigned to never seeing again? ("Yes, I received your reminder. Yes, I'll bring them back this weekend. I'm sorry, I've been out of town.") Writing about it will only induce further pangs of guilt.

Writing about my joy at downloading the five final episodes of the teen TV show that I watch furtively, obsessively? This will just deepen the pangs of guilt about the overdue library books and overdue library DVDs.

Writing about the creeping caffeinated bliss of my most excellent cup of coffee? Analyzing it will only ruin it.

So, casting all this aside, I'll do what comes best. I'll rant.

Here's a question for the pedestrian proletariat that flood the streets and bylanes of this fair city.

When you attempt to dash across a busy four-lane road, occupied by seven-and-a half lanes of traffic, and you hold out your hand, indicating that the oncoming traffic should stop and allow you to cross, what exactly are you hoping to achieve? The drivers you are trying to hold off are people who are dismissive of traffic lights, and indifferent to road rules. These are drivers who will swerve dangerously around a wobbly cyclist and then rant at him for occupying even that modest space on the road. These are people who are venting the pent-up, accumulated frustration of their collective lives by stepping on the gas. People like me, who are impatient and jaded and need to get wherever they are going very, very quickly. So, pedestrian, do you really hope to check this wild impetus by sauntering across the road with your hand extended?

And should the drivers choose to ignore you, as they often do, then what? When a large body of steel and glass is hurtling at you, horns blaring, are you really that willing to trust your life in the hands of the driver behind that wheel? As I ply my way through the relentless chaos by IIT Madras every morning, this leap of faith never cases to amaze.

*End rant*

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

New Yorker fiction

Papa lands the machete on Maman’s head. Her voice chokes and she falls off the bed and onto her back on the wooden floor. It’s like a dream. The knife tumbles out of Papa’s hand. His eyes are closed, his face calm, though he’s shaking.
Maman straightens out on the floor as if she were yawning. Her feet kick, and her chest rises and locks as if she were holding her breath. There’s blood everywhere—on everybody around her. It flows into Maman’s eyes. She looks at us through the blood. She sees Papa become a wizard, sees his people telling him bad things. The blood overflows her eyelids, and Maman is weeping red tears. My bladder softens and pee flows down my legs toward the blood. The blood overpowers it, bathing my feet. Papa opens his eyes slowly. His breaths are long and slow. He bends down and closes Maman’s eyes with shaky hands.
“If you let any Tutsi live,” they tell him, “you’re dead.” And then they begin to leave, some patting him on the back.

Another excellent selection of fiction from the New Yorker


Friday, March 17, 2006

Stupid Friday fun

Ten Top Trivia Tips about BlueSummerNights!

  1. Contrary to popular belief, BlueSummerNights is not successful at sobering up a drunk person, and in many cases she may actually increase the adverse effects of alcohol!
  2. Two thirds of the world's eggplant is grown in BlueSummerNights!
  3. Only one child in twenty will be born on the day predicted by BlueSummerNights!
  4. A BlueSummerNightsometer is used to measure BlueSummerNights!
  5. It is bad luck to light three cigarettes with the same BlueSummerNights.
  6. Native Americans never actually ate BlueSummerNights; killing such a timid prey was thought to indicate laziness.
  7. The smelly fluid secreted by skunks is colloquially known as BlueSummerNights.
  8. The liquid inside BlueSummerNights can be used as a substitute for blood plasma!
  9. BlueSummerNights can eat up to four kilograms of insects in a single night!
  10. In the kingdom of Bhutan, all citizens officially become BlueSummerNights on New Year's Day.
I am interested in - do tell me about

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Carpe Diem, or whatever

I just realized that Blogger has been messing with me. My most recent posts and all but the title of my last - but - one post seem to have vanished into nothingness.

I originally posted this poem by Ernie Morrison, obtained via, on a morose Tuesday morning when I was in a funk and the end of the week was nowhere in sight. Now, even though the feeling has passed, the poem's too funny (juvenile, yes, but funny nevertheless) to ignore. Take THAT, Oprah!

Cärpe Diem

Believe in yourself, my friend,
There is nothing you can't do,
That is, until the Dark One rises,
and tears your soul in two.

Make the most of today, because tomorrow,
You will burn with the mark of the Beast,
Prepare your head for the Qrown of Thornz,
Inherit death like the rest of the meek.

It's time for Cärpe Diem,
Get lots of stuff done real fast,
Satan: you can't flee Him,
Seize the day, because today will be your last.

Suffer. [repeat X 36]

For more of the same, go here.

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

Hello World, again

It's been months since I loitered past this little outpost of the world wide web, and now, blowing the dust off this blog and wiping away the cobwebs, I find a sudden itch to write. But what's good enough to write about after a four month hiatus? I've written, deleted, re-written and tweaked several potential posts over the last few weeks because the content was too outdone, too trivial , or designed to induce massive pangs of guilt ( god, I have to return those library books).

But maybe I'll set the bar low and ease back into posting with this fleeting observation:

What weirder way to start the day than to watch two roaches mate in the office cafeteria? Ugh. Monday, bring it on.


Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Year of Spaghetti

I came across a lovely piece of writing by Haruki Murakami that was definitely worth saving.

Nineteen-seventy-one was the Year of Spaghetti.

In 1971, I cooked spaghetti to live, and lived to cook spaghetti. Steam rising from the pot was my pride and joy, tomato sauce bubbling up in the saucepan my one great hope in life.

I went to a cooking specialty store and bought a kitchen timer and a huge aluminum pot, big enough to bathe a German shepherd in, then went around to all the supermarkets that catered to foreigners, gathering an assortment of odd-sounding spices. I picked up a pasta cookbook at the bookstore, and bought tomatoes by the dozen. I purchased every brand of spaghetti I could lay my hands on, simmered every sauce known to man. Fine particles of garlic, onion, and olive oil swirled in the air, forming a harmonious cloud that penetrated every corner of my tiny apartment, permeating the floor and the ceiling and the walls, my clothes, my books, my records, my tennis racquet, my bundles of old letters. It was a fragrance one might have smelled on ancient Roman aqueducts.

This is a story from the Year of Spaghetti, 1971 A.D.

As a rule, I cooked spaghetti, and ate it, by myself. I was convinced that spaghetti was a dish best enjoyed alone. I can’t really explain why I felt that way, but there it is.

I always drank tea with my spaghetti and ate a simple lettuce-and-cucumber salad. I’d make sure I had plenty of both. I laid everything out neatly on the table and enjoyed a leisurely meal, glancing at the paper as I ate. From Sunday to Saturday, one Spaghetti Day followed another. And each new Sunday started a brand-new Spaghetti Week.

Every time I sat down to a plate of spaghetti—especially on a rainy afternoon—I had the distinct feeling that somebody was about to knock on my door. The person who I imagined was about to visit me was different each time. Sometimes it was a stranger, sometimes someone I knew. Once, it was a girl with slim legs whom I’d dated in high school, and once it was myself, from a few years back, come to pay a visit. Another time, it was William Holden, with Jennifer Jones on his arm.

William Holden?

Not one of these people, however, actually ventured into my apartment. They hovered just outside the door, without knocking, like fragments of memory, and then slipped away.

Spring, summer, and fall, I cooked and cooked, as if cooking spaghetti were an act of revenge. Like a lonely, jilted girl throwing old love letters into the fireplace, I tossed one handful of spaghetti after another into the pot.

I’d gather up the trampled-down shadows of time, knead them into the shape of a German shepherd, toss them into the roiling water, and sprinkle them with salt. Then I’d hover over the pot, oversized chopsticks in hand, until the timer dinged its plaintive note.

Spaghetti strands are a crafty bunch, and I couldn’t let them out of my sight. If I were to turn my back, they might well slip over the edge of the pot and vanish into the night. The night lay in silent ambush, hoping to waylay the prodigal strands.

Spaghetti alla parmigiana

Spaghetti alla napoletana

Spaghetti al cartoccio

Spaghetti aglio e olio

Spaghetti alla carbonara

Spaghetti della pina

And then there was the pitiful, nameless leftover spaghetti carelessly tossed into the fridge.

Born in heat, the strands of spaghetti washed down the river of 1971 and vanished.

I mourn them all—all the spaghetti of the year 1971.


Friday, October 28, 2005


Being a lurker on various blogs, I got tagged to do this:

7 things I want to do in this lifetime:
1. Adopt a child, or two

2. Own a floor - to - ceiling library of 10,000 books, including a *complete* collection of Wodehouse (articles, lyrics and plays included)

3. Take Norman Murphy's Wodehouse Walk

4. Meet V.S.Naipaul (which I came so very close to doing once)

5. Skydive

6. Get through In Search of Lost Time, Ulysses and the Lord of the Rings trilogy

7. Take a long and leisurely vacation through southern Europe

7 things I can do:
1. Stay awake for 60 hours at a stretch

2. Reread and reread and reread every book I own

3. Speak four langugaes

4. Shower and dress in 7 minutes flat

5. Multitask with 22 windows open simultaenously

6. Obsess and lose sleep over trivial little nothings

7. Be a good listener

7 things I can not do:
1. Leave home without a book

2. Curb my addiction to mindless Hindi tele-serials each time I visit home

3. Drink milk

4. Kill roaches and/or clear away their carcasses afterwards

5. Make small-talk

6. Stop and smell the roses (or most other flowers, for fear of triggering raging allergies)

7. Use SMSese (think 'U R Gr8!')

7 things that attract me to another person:
1. Well-read without being pedantic

2. Dead-pan humour

3.Shell-framed glasses


5. Curly hair

6. Fixation with grammatical correctness

7.Predilection for Polo mints

7 things I say most often:
1. ..don't you think? know?

3. That's ridiculous!

4. umm, uh, and other fillers

5. How's it going?

6. Absolutely

7. (And I cringe as I type in this final one) It's, like,...

7 people I'd love to do this:
1. InAustin and Blue dragon

2.Aru, who should start a blog

3.The lurkers who never leave comments

4.My non-blogging friends, Sonali and Shweeth and Anita and Raz and Rev and Bondhu

5. Priya, who regularly sends me this kind of forward on hotmail, even though I'm too lazy to respond

6. The WI crowd, most of whom can feature 'Quote large tracts of RH,J from memory' high up on their lists of 7 things they can do

7. (This is random, but...) Anthony Lane

Another Friday, Another 55, of a sort


The clock ticks loudly, as seconds and minutes drag on.

Time seems to stand still. I wait, breathlessly, anxiously, endlessly. I rant, I plead, I cajole, I threaten. All in vain.

The suspense kills me slowly, as I try to check my email on a 7 kbps (7!) dial-up connection. All hail Zamnet, ISP extraordinaire.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Another Friday, Another 55 (give or take a few)

As it starts to drizzle, the brick pavement glistens and green streetlights are reflected off puddles. Across the street, two Chinese people stop and look admiringly at a flowery trashcan shaped whimsically like a teddy bear. An African American man walks past the window and then bends down to do his namaaz.

I look at the rosy-pink cover of ‘The Crazed’ that I have laid aside for a few minutes. At the next table, a young Indian man smiles briefly at me before turning back to his laptop. Tired and a little cold, I sit inside the warm yellow interior of the café, sipping a vanilla latte and savouring possibilities.

In defence of the extra 55 words here, I present the following:
"... brevity has the cardinal virtue of preserving time for advertising. I don’t see it as the concern of literature to perpetuate or enshrine this" - W. Paul Anderson

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Intelligent Design

So I missed the boat as far as finding this online, but it was worth the effort of typing it out just to put this up.

Intelligent Design (Or, as this blogger dubbed it, 'Queer Eye for the God Guy')

By Paul Rudnick

Day No. 1:

And the Lord God said, “Let there be light,” and lo, there was light. But then the Lord God said, “Wait, what if I make it a sort of rosy, sunset-at-the-beach, filtered half-light, so that everything else I design will look younger?”

“I’m loving that,” said Buddha. “It’s new.”

“You should design a restaurant,” added Allah.

Day No. 2:

“Today,” the Lord God said, “let’s do land.” And lo, there was land.

“Well, it’s really not just land,” noted Vishnu. “You’ve got mountains and valleys and—is that lava?”

“It’s not a single statement,” said the Lord God. “I want it to say, ‘Yes, this is land, but it’s not afraid to ooze.’ ”

“It’s really a backdrop, a sort of blank canvas,” put in Apollo. “It’s, like, minimalism, only with scale.”

“But—brown?” Buddha asked.

“Brown with infinite variations,” said the Lord God. “Taupe, ochre, burnt umber—they’re called earth tones.”

“I wasn’t criticizing,” said Buddha. “I was just noticing.”

Day No. 3:

“Just to make everyone happy,” said the Lord God, “today I’m thinking oceans, for contrast.”

“It’s wet, it’s deep, yet it’s frothy; it’s design without dogma,” said Buddha, approvingly.

“Now, there’s movement,” agreed Allah. “It’s not just ‘Hi, I’m a planet—no splashing.’ ”

“But are those ice caps?” inquired Thor. “Is this a coherent vision, or a highball?”

“I can do ice caps if I want to,” sniffed the Lord God.

“It’s about a mood,” said the Angel Moroni, supportively.

“Thank you,” said the Lord God.

Day No. 4:

“One word,” said the Lord God. “Landscaping. But I want it to look natural, as if it all somehow just happened.”

“Do rain forests,” suggested a primitive tribal god, who was known only as a clicking noise.

“Rain forests here,” decreed the Lord God. “And deserts there. For a spa feeling.”

“Which is fresh, but let’s give it glow,” said Buddha. “Polished stones and bamboo, with a soothing trickle of something.”

“I know where you’re going,” said the Lord God. “But why am I seeing scented candles and a signature body wash?”

“Shut up,” said Buddha.

“You shut up,” said the Lord God.

“It’s all about the mix,” Allah declared in a calming voice. “Now let’s look at some swatches.”

Day No. 5:

“I’d like to design some creatures of the sea,” the Lord God said. “Sleek but not slick.”

“Yes, yes, and more yes—it’s a total gills moment,” said Apollo. “But what if you added wings?”

“Fussy,” whispered Buddha to Zeus. “Why not epaulets and a sash?”

“Legs,” said Allah. “Now let’s do legs.”

“Are we already doing dining-room tables?” asked the Lord God, confused.

“No, design some creatures with legs,” said Allah. So the Lord God, nodding, designed an ostrich.

“First draft,” everyone agreed, and so the Lord God designed an alligator.

“There’s gonna be a waiting list,” Zeus murmured appreciatively.

“Now do puppies!” pleaded Vishnu. “And kitties!”

“Ooooo!” all the gods cooed. Then, feeling a bit embarrassed, Zeus ventured, “Design something more practical, like a horse or a mule.”

“What about a koala?” asked the Lord God.

“Much better,” Zeus declared, cuddling the furry little animal. “I’m going to call him Buttons.”

Day No. 6:

“Today I’m really going out there,” said the Lord God. “And I know it won’t be popular at first, and you’re all gonna be saying, ‘Earth to Lord God,’ but in a few million years it’s going to be timeless. I’m going to design a man.”

And everyone looked upon the man that the Lord God designed.

“It has your eyes,” Zeus told the Lord God.

“Does it stack?” inquired Allah.

“It has a naïve, folk-artsy, I-made-it-myself vibe,” said Buddha. The Inca sun god, however, only scoffed. “Been there. Evolution,” he said. “It’s called a shaved monkey.”

“I like it,” protested Buddha. “But it can’t work a strapless dress.” Everyone agreed on this point, so the Lord God announced, “Well, what if I give it nice round breasts and lose the penis?”

“Yes,” the gods said immediately.

“Now it’s intelligent,” said Aphrodite.

“But what if I made it blond?” giggled the Lord God.

“And what if I made you a booming offscreen voice in a lot of bad movies?” asked Aphrodite.

Day No. 7:

“You know, I’m really feeling good about this whole intelligent-design deal,” said the Lord God. “But do you think that I could redo it, keeping the quality but making it at a price point we could all live with?”

“I’m not sure,” said Buddha. “You mean, what if you designed a really basic, no-frills planet? Like, do the man and the woman really need all those toes?”

“Hello!” said the Lord God. “Clean lines, no moving parts, functional but fun. Three bright, happy, wash ’n’ go colors.”

“Swedish meets Japanese, with maybe a Platinum Collector’s Edition for the geeks,” Buddha decided.

“Done,” said the Lord God. “Now let’s start thinking about Pluto. What if everything on Pluto was brushed aluminum?”

“You mean, let’s do Neptune again?” said Buddha.

Saturday, September 03, 2005


Since it is my first free Friday in weeks, it seemed time to jump on this bandwagon.

His nervousness increased as the plane began its descent into the Dark Continent, and his ears rang with all the dire warnings he had heard about the hardships that would beset a hapless and unsuspecting TamBrahm in sub – Saharan Africa: poverty and AIDS and uncivilized natives. And an utter and total lack of Udupi restaurants.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Travails of Moving

"I'd like to reconfirm my reservation for travel. Yes, I made a reservation two weeks ago. No, I am not travelling six months from now, I am travelling next week. No, I would not like the halaal meal, I would like the vegetarian meal. No, they are not the same thing." And may I mention in passing that you are not the first person to wittily drawl that it surrrre must have taken me a looong time to learn to spell that 15-letter-long last name when I was in kindergarten.

Heartache, heartache and more heartache as I try to thin out my oh-so-precious collection of books and decide which ones I can bear to get rid of.

A flood of tears as I deposit my priceless collection of Wodehouses, painstakingly collected over the last fourteen years, into a flimsy and frayed USPS sack and send them off into the unknown, to be delivered to darkest Africa eight weeks hence.

Yes, I still have my car for sale. And no, I cannot trade it in for a used laptop and $200. Or for $800 and a free ride to the rental car store. Nor can I accept a money order three times the value of the car and wire the balance back to the sender. Not even if God blesses me if I do. Oh, and if you do not have a drivers' license, you CAN NOT drive my car over to your mechanic, desi-desi bhai-bhai notwithstanding!

Packing, packing, endless packing. Is that all a suitcase can hold? WHY do I own so many clothes?

Even though you are a poor Asian post-doctoral student, I am an even poorer Asian ex-doctoral student. For this reason, I cannot sell you my fairly-new printer for $30 and throw in the microwave for free. I also will not do home deliveries on the assorted goods that I am giving away.

The woeful sight of watching the first car I owned being driven away for good. The very small compensation of flying down the interstate in a dazzling rental car that I could not afford to own.

And finally, the forlorn emptiness of vast tracts of carpet in a bare apartment, with the few, scattered remnants of my year here lying strewn across the floor.

C-13, Village South, I'll miss you.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

How many have you read?

For all of you who have been waiting with bated breath, as I have, the list is finally out!

The eleven writers selected for this year's Man Booker Prize longlist are (the names with the * have won or been nominated for the prize before):

The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw
The Sea by John Banville *
Arthur & George by Julian Barnes *
A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry
Slow Man by JM Coetzee *
In the Fold by Rachel Cusk
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro *
All For Love by Dan Jacobson
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka
Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel
Saturday by Ian McEwan *
The People's Act of Love by James Meek
Shalimar The Clown by Salman Rushdie *
The Accidental by Ali Smith *
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
This Thing Of Darkness by Harry Thompson
This Is The Country by William Wall

Some surprising exclusions, in my opinion, are Shantaram and Magic Seeds. Well, maybe not Magic Seeds, so much, since its author has declared on numerous occasions that the novel, as a literary form, is dead.

Do you have any predictions about the outcome? Care to stake some money on it? Ladbrokes has picked Julian Barnes as a favourite, and William Hill has its money on Ian McEwan. So do I. I haven't read Saturday yet, but I read an excerpt a few months ago, and I loved it.

The Guardian has this to say about this year's selection.


What you said: "....I'm sorry"

What I said: "...I'll live"

What you said: "You'll probably need me right now, right? So I'll come"

What I said: "Come if you want. If not, don't worry about it. I'll manage"

What I should have said: "I need you so much right now. Please, please come and tell me that things will be okay"

What you should have said: "I want to be there with you right now and that is why I am coming. I am coming because I love you. You will be alright. Everything will be alright"

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Bridget Jones on Dumbledore

Or rather, Hermione on Dumbledore. I thought this was amusing because I am one of those obnoxious members of the many-headed who are disparaging of all popular fiction, including the HP saga and Bridget Jones, even though I secretly enjoy reading both.

Dumbledore's death in the style of Helen Fielding

Hermione Granger's Diary
16th July 2005

Spells cast: 33 (bad, but v. extenuating circumstances)

Number of deaths: 1 (v.g. except note v. v. key character)

Portents of doom: 12,204 (& counting) (v.g. all things considered)

V. bad day. Dumbledore keeled over right in middle of Gryffindor turkeygriff buffet. Everyone being v. British, milling about discussing Hagrid's chrysanthemums, until Neville came out with what all were thinking: Old Dumbo had "kicked bucket".

Draco Malfoy wandered over, all sympathy. Rather outrageously tried to chat up yours truly over corpse of dearly departed mentor. Note to self: must not be attracted to charming, rakish but doubtless somewhat evil Slytherin types, especially DM. Been there, done that, got commemorative broomstick.

Harry looked v. v. distressed re Old D. Is v. unlucky w/ father figures (e.g. see previous diary entry Summer 2003 re Sirius Black, previous diary entry near beginning somewhere re fate of HP's actual father, etc etc). DM noted HP is magnet for sudden tragic deaths. HP v. angry, threatened to knock DM's pureblood block off, etc etc. Had to cast multitude of restraint spells on HP to prevent HP throwing DM in lake. Sometimes HP v. v. infuriating!

DM v. good about whole thing, suggested dinner at little coven by coast. Took deep breath & was v. empowered & questioned appropriateness of dinner invitation with grandfatherly wizard headmaster still lying amongst buffet, barely as cold as turkeygriff slices. DM referred to longstanding ability to cheer up grieving witches such as self especially when witch as damned bewitching as self is. Almost persuaded but took v. deep breath & declined & told DM busy this evening washing cape.

Note to self: must remember DM is Slytherin scoundrel! V. v. important not to fall for charms of servants of evil (remember New Year's resolutions!)

Also: must select appropriate length skirt for Dumbo's funeral. Wonder if DM will be there?

Courtesy: Linda Whittle ,,10761,1527766,00.html


I have been wide awake since 2:18 this morning, after dozing off at 10 last night, and the world feels out of kilter for the following reasons:

1) My air conditioner is on the fritz and intermittently bursts into muffled roars and then subsides into ominous silences. It has been doing this all night. It looks sullen and brooding, and I fear that it may burst into a ball of flames at any moment now.

2) The aforesaid air conditioner has also developed a leak. It drips, audibly. This is not good for my fevered imagination that has been incited to flights of fancy by my recent glut of Agatha Christies. Lying wakeful, I can visualize a body lying in my living room, stabbed in the back with an Oriental dagger, blood dripping onto the carpet. Drip drip drip. Damn the air-conditioner!

3) I had my first microwave fire earlier this evening, as I absentmindedly microwaved something without remoiving its foil covering! I am convinced that senile dementia is setting in early. Give me a month or two, and I'm sure I'll be forced to wear my name and address on a placard round my neck, so that some kindly soul can direct me homewards when I am found alone and palely loitering on a city street at 3 am.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Calling all ye bookworms


Could you read 20 books in 28 days? Would you like to take part in a new BBC Four programme?

We’re looking for six enthusiastic, energetic and dedicated people to take part in this book marathon for a programme called Bookered Out. You don’t have to be a book worm or a literature buff to take part. Novice readers are more than welcome!

You'll need to read every book on this year's Booker Prize longlist and decide which six you would shortlist. In addition to reading the books, you must also keep a video diary of your month (cameras and training provided).

You have until Thursday 4 August to tell us why you think you're the perfect candidate. The Booker Prize longlist is published on Wednesday 10 August, and we will announce who has been selected shortly afterwards.

Go here to apply:

Feeding on his damask leg, like a worm i' the bud

Another little bauble from David Sedaris, the master of self-deprecatory humour.

He was eight years old and living in the Congo, when he noticed a red spot on his leg; nothing huge—a mosquito bite, he figured. The following day, the spot became more painful, and the day after that he looked down and saw a worm poking out.

A few weeks later, the same thing happened to Maw Hamrick, which is what I call Hugh’s mother, Joan, and though her worm was a bit shorter, I think it’s much worse in terms of trauma or whatnot. If I was a child and saw something creeping out of a hole in my mother’s leg, I would march to the nearest orphanage and put myself up for adoption. I would burn all pictures of her, destroy anything she had ever given me, and start all over because that is just disgusting. A dad can be crawling with parasites and somehow it’s O.K., but on a mom, or any woman, really, it’s unforgivable.

As a fellow survivor of the worm-nesting-in-flesh syndrome, I can sympathize with this. It really is more creepy than it is painful. And it is more commonplace than you would think.

The setting: A semi-tropical country in sub-Saharan Africa

The scene: The lord of the manor (although it's more of a smallish townhouse than a manor, really) casually tosses his shirt into his laudry basket, confident in the knowledge that the resident maid will wash it and iron it and return it to store, duly sanitized. Ah, little does he know!

The maid does indeed wash and dry the shirt and then, while ironing it, thinking of this and that, no doubt, she omits to iron a little corner by the collar.

Three days later the master wakes to find an impressive, swollen-looking red bump growing under his collarbone. Alarmed and despondent, he rushes to the nearest medicine-man who surveys the bump grimly and informs the lord-of-the-manor that he is now host to a putsy-fly worm. Thr l.o.t.m's options are twofold:

1) He can ignore the bump and allow the resident worm to grow and mature till it becomes a fully formed fly that will, unbidden, burst forth into the world (I kid you not!) . Or,

2) He can cover the bump with Vaseline petroleum jelly (a product with multiple uses, if you are a denizen of sub-Saharan Africa) and an adhesive plaster and wait till the larva, starved of oxygen, worms its way to the surface of his skin and attaches itself to the adhesive plaster.

Chances are that he will select option # 2. While in the middle of a tense business meeting or a languid lunch with friends, it is always difficult to explain away the fly that just flew out from under your skin.

I too, in my youth, played host to just such a putsy fly. And while the bump itself didn't ache that much, the thought of putsy fly eggs under my skin was indescribably gruesome. The seven day wait to be divested of them was possibly the longest week of my life. I carry the scar to this day - just your everyday battle scar from life in sub-Saharn Africa.

For the rest of the Sedaris article, go here:

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


I've been musing about last weekend and why it was such an emotional maelstrom. The call came at 6 something in the am, a mere 3 hours after I had gone to bed after glutting myself on 6 back-to-back episodes of Rumpole of the Bailey. It was my father, calling to inform me that pati had passed away.

If all of us are truly honest with ourselves, it must be admitted that we have all been sort of waiting for this to happen for a while now. There have been increasing rifts in the lute of our little family circle arising from the strain of taking care of pati. Noone was willing to move back to Madras to look over a problematic old lady for whom they felt only a tepid affection. Emails and phone calls of an increasingly nasty tone flew back and forth across the globe as everyone accused everyone else of either negligence or interference.

So when the news of pati's death finally came, why was it so painful? I felt like such a hypocrite for feeling any kind of grief. I can't deny that it was only a sense of filial duty and TamBrahm guilt that pushed me to go see her for a couple of hours once every fortnight or so. Yet I can't quite assimilate the thought that I will never see her again, this person who has been such a constant in my life. Despite all the wonderful Sify memories, my strongest associations of India and Madras will always be 258 Lloyds Road, and pati sitting on a bench in the hall ( surely that room with its 1.5 chairs and dusty, dusty cabinets cannot be described as a living room?)

When I think of pati, I think my primary emption is guilt. That I wasn't a better granddaughter, that I didn't love her more, that I didn't go and spend more time with her during the year that I lived in Madras. What must it have been like, living the life that she did? Living out the last few years of her life confined to three rooms because she wasn't able to walk out beyond them, outliving her daughter and the son she loved best, unable to eat the foods she loved because her body was failing her, getting to see the occasional family member only once every few months, and nothing but a few shrill Tamil programmes on TV to keep her sane.

And then I wonder whether my life now isn't in some way a reflection of hers?

I associate her with all the most personal, most painful facets of me that I need to keep hidden from the world. My closest family has always compared me with her. And even though I have always denied these similarities, I know that of all her children and grandchildren, I am the one who resembles her the most, in physique and temperament. And I can't help but wonder whether, in my old age, I will grow into the same sort of person she was.

Which is why as I now grieve for her, I wish I had taken the time to understand her better. I wish I had spent more time with her, to ease her loneliness. I wish I had been less impatient of the times when we sat togther for an hour with nothing but banalities to say to each other. I wish she could have known how much I identified with her. And I hope and hope that after these last few agonizing years, her soul has finally found peace.

You know that you have a caffeine problem when you find yourself sipping simultaneously on a hot and richly caffeinated latte and an icy-cold Diet Coke. So much for any hopes of sleep tonight. *Sigh*

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Wooster on Wodehouse

Hugh Laurie Wodehouse Saved my Life
The Daily Telegraph 27.5.99

With today's reissue of PG Wodehouse's books, Hugh Laurie tells how the comic genius made him clean up his 'squalid' existence To be able to write about PG Wodehouse is the sort of honour that comes rarely in any man's life, let alone mine. This is rarity of a rare order. Halley's comet seems like a blasted nuisance in comparison. If you'd knocked on my head 20 years ago and told me that a time would come when I, Hugh Laurie - scraper-through of O-levels, mover of lips (own) while reading, loafer, scrounger, pettifogger and general berk of this parish - would be able to carve my initials in the broad bark of the Master's oak, I'm pretty certain that I would have said "garn", or something like it.

I was, in truth, a horrible child. Not much given to things of a bookey nature, I spent a large part of my youth smoking Number Six and cheating in French vocabulary tests. I wore platform boots with a brass skull and crossbones over the ankle, my hair was disgraceful, and I somehow contrived to pull off the gruesome trick of being both fat and thin at the same time. If you had passed me in the street during those pimply years, I am confident that you would, at the very least, have quickened your pace.

You think I exaggerate? I do not. Glancing over my school reports from the year 1972, I observe that the words "ghastly" and "desperate" feature strongly, while "no", "not", "never" and "again" also crop up more often than one would expect in a random sample. My history teacher's report actually took the form of a postcard from Vancouver.

But this, you will be nauseated to learn, is a tale of redemption. In about my 13th year, it so happened that a copy of Galahad at Blandings by PG Wodehouse entered my squalid universe, and things quickly began to change. From the very first sentence of my very first Wodehouse story, life appeared to grow somehow larger. There had always been height, depth, width and time, and in these prosaic dimensions I had hitherto snarled, cursed, and not washed my hair. But now, suddenly, there was Wodehouse, and the discovery seemed to make me gentler every day. By the middle of the fifth chapter I was able to use a knife and fork, and I like to think that I have made reasonable strides since.

I spent the following couple of years meandering happily back and forth through Blandings Castle and its environs - learning how often the trains ran, at what times the post was collected, how one could tell if the Empress was off-colour, why the Emsworth Arms was preferable to the Blue Boar - until the time came for me to roll up the map of adolescence and set forth into my first Jeeves novel. It was The Code of the Woosters, and things, as they used to say, would never be the same again.

The facts in this case, ladies and gentlemen, are simple. The first thing you should know, and probably the last, too, is that PG Wodehouse is still the funniest writer ever to have put words on paper. Fact number two: with the Jeeves stories, Wodehouse created the best of the best. I speak as one whose first love was Blandings, and who later took immense pleasure from Psmith, but Jeeves is the jewel, and anyone who tries to tell you different can be shown the door, the mini-cab, the train station, and Terminal 4 at Heathrow with a clear conscience. The world of Jeeves is complete and integral, every bit as structured, layered, ordered, complex and self-contained as King Lear, and considerably funnier.

Now let the pages of the calendar tumble as autumn leaves, until 10 years are understood to have passed. A man came to us - to me and to my comedy partner, Stephen Fry - with a proposition. He asked me if I would like to play Bertram W. Wooster in 23 hours of televised drama, opposite the internationally tall Fry in the role of Jeeves.

"Fiddle," one of us said. I forget which. "Sticks," said the other. "Wodehouse on television? It's lunacy. A disaster in kit form. Get a grip, man." The man, a television producer, pressed home his argument with skill and determination. "All right," he said, shrugging on his coat. "I'll ask someone else." "Whoa, hold up," said one of us, shooting a startled look at the other. "Steady," said the other, returning the S. L. with top-spin. There was a pause. "You'll never get a cab in this weather," we said, in unison.

And so it was that, a few months later, I found myself slipping into a double-breasted suit in a Prince of Wales check while my colleague made himself at home inside an enormous bowler hat, and the two of us embarked on our separate disciplines. Him for the noiseless opening of decanters, me for the twirling of the whangee.

So the great PG was making his presence felt in my life once more. And I soon learnt that I still had much to learn. How to smoke plain cigarettes, how to drive a 1927 Aston Martin, how to mix a Martini with five parts water and one part water (for filming purposes only), how to attach a pair of spats in less than a day and a half, and so on.

But the thing that really worried us, that had us saying "crikey" for weeks on end, was this business of The Words. Let me give you an example. Bertie is leaving in a huff: " 'Tinkerty tonk,' I said, and I meant it to sting." I ask you: how is one to do justice of even the roughest sort to a line like that? How can any human actor, with his clumsily attached ears, and his irritating voice, and his completely misguided hair, hope to deliver a line as pure as that? It cannot be done. You begin with a diamond on the page, and you end up with a blob of Pritt, The Non-Sticky Sticky Stuff, on the screen.

Wodehouse on the page can be taken in the reader's own time; on the screen, the beautiful sentence often seems to whip by, like an attractive member of the opposite sex glimpsed from the back of a cab. You, as the viewer, try desperately to fix the image in your mind - but it is too late, because suddenly you're into a commercial break and someone is telling you how your home may be at risk if you eat the wrong breakast cereal.

Naturally, one hopes there were compensations in watching Wodehouse on the screen - pleasant scenery, amusing clothes, a particular actor's eyebrows - but it can never replicate the experience of reading him. If I may go slightly culinary for a moment: a dish of foie gras nestling on a bed of truffles, with a side-order of lobster and caviar may provide you with a wonderful sensation; but no matter how wonderful, you simply don't want to be spoon-fed the stuff by a perfect stranger. You need to hold the spoon, and decide for yourself when to wolf and when to nibble.

And so I am back to reading, rather than playing Jeeves. And my Wodehousian redemption is, I hope, complete. Indeed, there is nothing left for me to say, except to wish, as I fold away my penknife and gaze up at the huge oak towering overhead, that my history teacher could see me now. Text © Hugh Laurie/Daily Telegraph Layout © R.D. Collins 2004

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Only Disconnect

Unedited version of an interview (conducted via conference call) with V.S. Naipaul that ran in Harper's Magazine, courtesy

Warning: not for the faint of heart

Akash Kapur (Pondicherry, India): "Can you hear me?

V. S. Naipaul (The Surrey Hotel in New York): "Yes, I can hear you. Can you hear me?"

AK: "Yes. Were you able to look at the questions? Did they fax them to you?"

VN: "Yes. Some of them we are going to skip."

AK: "OK, that's fine. Just let know..."

VN: "They're.... If a man says
'I am walking down the street,' you will say, you will say, 'why do
you say you are walking down the street?' They have quality of
obviousness. You know?

AK: Okay --

VN: You should --

AK: Okay --

VN: Yes, yes --

AK: Okay, let me know whichever --

VN: Yes, yes --

AK: Ones you want to ignore --

VN: Yes --

AK: Can we start with the first one?

VN: No. I think we can ignore all these, these early ones--yes.
Because they really shouldn't be asked, the questions -- the answers
are all contained in what you've been reading. I can't- -

AK: Mmhmm --

VN: I musn't repeat my books. There'd be no --

AK: Mmhmm --

VN: end to this kind of thing, you know --

AK: Mmhmm --

VN: I write the books five times over.

AK: Mmhmm--

VN: You must ask questions --

AK: So ah --

VN: which genuinely interest you. You know, you musn't just ask
things which you think sound nice.

AK: Mmhmm. I think that the, I mean, the first one in particular, I
thi --

VN: I don't want to deal with that, I've told you, it's already
contained in the text you've been reading --

AK: Okay --

VN: And it's up to you -- to -- to, um, to make that clear.

AK: Okay. Ah, which -- are there any of them that you would like to
start with?

VN: (Grunt. Long pause. Sigh.) I don't know. I really don't know.
The first page I think is pretty awful actually.

AK: Really?

VN: Ah, yes.

AK: How about the um, the one about the ah, I think it should be
listed as number three or four, about your knowledge, the security of
your knowledge as a writer. How often have you had that feeling?

VN: Um. I've written about it. It's contained in so many sources.
Please don't ask me to talk again about these things. That's a fact
about me. It's very well known, so don't ask me to do it again.

AK: Mmhmm --

VN: Do you see?

AK: No, I know. The -- the security of knowledge. But, but, ah,
whether you've -- you've --how often you've wondered about "the job,
the wife, the family."

VN: Don't um -- please, please don't ah -- please don't. Ah. Let's
leave that out. Let's talk about something serious.

AK: Okay.

VN: Yes.

AK: (Beat) Do you have any suggestions?

VN: (sigh) Ah -- Well, I want to know, I want to know. You see the
thing about questions is they should reveal the interviewer's
interests. You know --

AK: Mmhmm --

VN: And I don't -- I can't pick your interests out in anything. I
can't understand why you want to know anything apart from the sake of
doing an interview. You know? Which -- I don't play that kind of
game. I send people away.

AK: Mmhmm. But --

VN: They wish to waste my time. Or just get me to repeat things
they've read elsewhere and things like that. So I wish, in a way,
this was more original. I could get a true mind making a genuine

AK: Mmhmm. I think, um -- Would you like me to tell you what I --

(At this point the line starts to break and the connection is cut off.)

Editor2: Hello?

VN: Yes?

Editor2: Did you get disconnected?

VN: Yes, we got disconnected.

Editor2: Okay. Hang on. Let me just try -- I'll reconnect you.

(Editor2 runs down the hallway in search of Editor1 who returns to
make the second attempt.)

Attempt Two

VN: Hello?

Editor1: Hello. Okay. This is [Magazine Name] again. Are you ready to be

VN: All right. Let's see. Yes. Let's see if the questions are ah
-- have improved.

Editor1: Okay. Okay. Akash?

VN: Yes?

AK: Hello? Yes. Sorry about that disconnecting. It wasn't done on
purpose. I didn't. It --

VN: Are you there? I mean -- can you hear me?

(The line is very crackly)

AK: Yeah -- I can hear you. I'm in India. That's why --

VN: The line is a bit -- um, a bit crackly.

AK: Yeah.

VN: I think you --

AK: Well, I thought we were talking about --

VN: I think you -- The line is so bad.

(More cracks)

VN: The line is so bad. Something has to be done to make it better.

(More cracks. No Akash.)

Editor2: We are going to try to connect this line again. I'm really

VN: You want me to put the telephone down?

Editor2: Um. Yes. We'll try one more time.

VN: Okay fine. Right. Good.

Editor2: Thank you.

VN: Right.

(Editor2, again, runs down the hallway to get Editor1. Editor1 returns to
the office and connects the line again.)

Attempt Three

VN: Yes?

AK: Um. So Picking up on --

VN: Now let me know what interests you --

AK: -- where we were --

VN: -- what truly interest you --

AK: -- particularly with the lack of inquiring minds --

VN: -- and what you'd like me to --

AK: -- in the questions. Um.

VN: Which is this?

AK: What -- what would you say to me. Um. I mean, as someone who
obviously does have an inquiring mind and who has been a unique
writer. What would you say to me? Where would I begin with looking
for an inquiring mind?

VN: Repeat it again. The, the -- repeat the -- the query again.
What would I say to you?

(No answer)

AK: Hello?

VN: Have I lost you?

AK: I think we have just been disconnected again.

VN: Yes. Now tell me. Now tell me. What was the question?

(long Pause)

Editor2: Can you hear each other?

VN: I don't know. I think there is a kind of -- a lack of --

Editor2: Akash? Hello?

VN: I think -- I can't hear him.

Editor2: I am terribly sorry about this.

VN: Yes.

Editor2: Akash? All right we will try --

(Dial tone.)

Editor2: Hello? We will try one more time. Okay.

(Running down hallway. Geting Editor1. Editor1 returns.)

Attempt Four

VN: Hello?

Editor1: Hi. Okay. Could we try this one more time?

VN: Let's try it. Let's try it one more... one more time.

AK: Yeah. We'll try one last time, I think.

Editor1: Okay. All right.

VN: Have you got -- you have the questions now, the questions that
truly interest you? Can you hear me?

(No answer.)

VN: I think he's --

Editor1: Akash?

VN: I think we've lost it.

AK: Hello?

VN: I think we've lost it.

Editor1: Akash, can you hear Naipaul?

AK: (sigh) I don't. I don't think that this is a problem
with the line to India. I think this is something weird with your
conference call -- problem.

(Someone hangs up. Silence.)



Here is something that we never thought to see. Something that exists beyond the bounds of logic: a scary Elijah Wood. Presumably, the actor looked around, seeking a film that would dispel the ripe aroma of Frodo Baggins, happened upon “Sin City,” and found the role of Kevin—a mute, bespectacled type who removes the heads of young women and dines upon the rest of them. Wood is ominously good at the stillness of this maniac, which only doubles the shock. It’s like discovering that Gandalf used to lure young hobbits into a shed and show them his special wand.

From The New Yorker, of 04-11-2005



By Salman Rushdie

Does writing change anything? A butterfly flaps its wings in India, and we feel the breeze on our cheeks here in New York. A throat is cleared somewhere in Africa and in California there's an answering cough. Everything that happens affects something else, so to answer "yes" to the question before us is not to make a large claim. Books come into the world, and the world is not what it was before those books came into it. The same can be said of babies or diseases.

Books, since we are speaking of books, come into the world and change the lives of their authors for good or ill, and sometimes change the lives of their readers too. This change in the reader is a rare event. Mostly we read books and set them aside, or hurl them from us with great force, and pass on. Yet sometimes there is a small residue that has an effect. The reason for this is the always unexpected and unpredictable intervention of that rare and sneaky phenomenon, love. One may read and like or admire or respect a book and yet remain entirely unchanged by its contents, but love gets under one's guard and shakes things up, for such is its sneaky nature. When a reader falls in love with a book, it leaves its essence inside him, like radioactive fallout in an arable field, and after that there are certain crops that will no longer grow in him, while other, stranger, more fantastic growths may occasionally be produced. We love relatively few books in our lives, and those books become parts of the way we see our lives; we read our lives through them, and their descriptions of the inner and outer worlds become mixed up with ours — they become ours.

Love does this, hate does not. To hate a book is only to confirm to oneself what one already knows, or thinks one knows. But the power of books to inspire both love and hate is an indication of their ability to make alterations in the fabric of what is.

Writing names the world, and the power of description should not be underestimated. Literature remembers its religious origins, and some of those first stories of sky gods and sea gods not only became the source of an ocean of stories that flowed from them but also served as the foundations of the world into which they, the myths, were born. There would have been little blood sacrifice in Latin America or ancient Greece if it had not been for the gods. Iphigenia would have lived, and Clytemnestra would have had no need to murder Agamemnon, and the entire story of the House of Atreus would have been different; bad for the history of the theater, no doubt, but good in many ways for the family concerned.

Writing invented the gods and was a game the gods themselves played, and the consequences of that writing, holy writ, are still working themselves out today, which just shows that the demonstrable fictionality of fiction does nothing to lessen its power, especially if you call it the truth. But writing broke away from the gods, and in that rupture much of its power was lost. Prophecy is no longer the game, except for futurologists, but then futurology is fiction too. It can be defined as the art of being wrong about the future. For the rest of us, the proper study of mankind is Man. We have no priests; we can appeal to no ultimate arbiter, though there are critics among us who would claim such a role for themselves.

In spite of this, fiction does retain the occasional surprising ability to initiate social change. Here is the fugitive slave Eliza running from Simon Legree. Here is Wackford Squeers, savage head of Dotheboys Hall. Here is Oliver Twist asking for more. Here is a boy wizard with a lightning scar on his forehead, bringing books back into the lives of a generation that was forgetting how to read. "Uncle Tom's Cabin" changed attitudes toward slavery, and Charles Dickens' portraits of child poverty inspired legal reforms, and J.K. Rowling changed the culture of childhood, making millions of boys and girls look forward to 800-page novels, and improbably popularizing vibrating broomsticks and boarding schools. On the opening night of "Death of a Salesman," the head of Gimbel's department store rushed from the theater vowing not to fire his own aging Willy Lomans.

In this age of information overkill, literature can still bring the human news, the hearts-and-minds news. The poetry of Milosz and Herbert and Szymborska and Zagajewski has done much to create the consciousness, to say nothing of the conscience, of those great poets' time and place. The same may be said of Heaney, Brodsky, Walcott. Nuruddin Farah, so long an exile from Somalia, has carried Somalia in his heart these many years and written it into being, brought into the world's sight that Somalia to which the world might otherwise have remained blind. From China, from Japan, from Cuba, from Iran, literature brings information, the base metal of information, transmuted into the gold of art, and our knowledge of the world is forever altered by such transformational alchemy.

[Last week we honored] the memory of Susan Sontag and Arthur Miller, great writers, intellectuals and truth-tellers. The old idea of the intellectual as the one who speaks truth to power is still an idea worth holding on to. Tyrants fear the truth of books because it's a truth that's in hock to nobody; it's a single artist's unfettered vision of the world. They fear it even more because it's incomplete, because the act of reading completes it, so that the book's truth is slightly different in each reader's different inner world, and these are the true revolutions of literature, these invisible, intimate communions of strangers, these tiny revolutions inside each reader's imagination; and the enemies of the imagination, politburos, ayatollahs, all the different goon squads of gods and power, want to shut these revolutions down, and can't. Not even the author of a book can know exactly what effect his book will have, but good books do have effects, and some of these effects are powerful, and all of them, thank goodness, are impossible to predict in advance.

Literature is a loose cannon. This is a very good thing.

Salman Rushdie, the author of nine novels, including the forthcoming "Shalimar the Clown," is president of PEN American Center. He gave this speech April 18 at the PEN World Voices Conference: "The Power of the Pen: Does Writing Change Anything?"

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Interview with Sir Vidia


March 3, 2000

I've been taking snapshots of cultures in difficult stages, or civilizations in difficult stages. I'm doing it purely in human terms, seeing the pressures worked out in people's lives. That's what I've been doing a lot of since I began traveling, especially those Islamic books and the books about India, exploring that side of one's inheritance, because although I come from the Caribbean-- Trinidad-- I'm of Indian origin, and the Indian experience has always been interesting to me and necessary for me to explore and to come to terms with. You see, my interest begins with my community and my place of birth. My community commits me to an exploration of India and the Islamic world. My place of birth commits me to an understanding of the new world, the Spanish invasion, slavery, revolution in the new world. It also commits me to an attempt to understand Africa. So from that starting point, I have looked at the world, or tried to look at the world, and this is the venture I've been engaged in. It's lasted a long time.

The thing about the novel is that you carry only so much experience in yourself, so you quickly come to an end of the material because to write imaginatively, you do a kind of intimate processing of your own experience, if you're a serious writer. But the person who, as it were, converts experience into imaginative adventure, he can only do a limited amount of work. I did my own background. I did about people moving around the world. Then I was interested in the world. I have a great interest in the world and I had to find ways of expressing my interest in the world, so that's why I turned to doing these travel books. It didn't... they were not strictly about me traveling. They were about the people I was among. And they weren't about great characters, they were about cultures, civilizations.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

From "The Misanthrope"

ALCESTE: Sir, these are delicate matters; we all desire
To be told that we've the true poetic fire.
But once, to one whose name I shall not mention,
I said, regarding some verse of his invention,
That gentlemen should rigorously control
That itch to write which often afflicts the soul;
That one should curb the heady inclination
To publicize one's little avocation;
And that in showing off one's works of art
One often plays a very clownish part. ...
You're under no necessity to compose;
Why you should wish to publish, heaven knows.
There's no excuse for printing tedious rot
Unless one writes for bread, as you do not.
Resist temptation, then, I beg of you;
Conceal your pastimes from the public view.

from "The Misanthrope", by Moliere (1666)
Translated by Richard Wilbur (1965).

Friday, December 17, 2004

Cannes Bertie Speak Nice French?

Cannes Bertie Speak Nice French?
By Tony Ring

You recall that young Bertie's a Magdalen man
And the idea of work left him cold.
Though the subject he studied was never revealed
I'll try now if I might be so bold.

If you re-read the words that appear in the texts
Of his French he knew more than a jot.
And you'll see from my choice of quotations below
A mot juste with sang-froid's what you got.

If the Code of the Woosters is noblesse oblige
And he'd seek to be preux chevalier,
When a lady upset him he'd be heard to sigh
Tout comprendre and c'est tout pardonner.

An amende honorable he'd be likely to give
To an aunt he'd annoyed, faute de mieux,
And to calm himself down he'd go out with ses gents,
Son chapeau et whangee de monsieur.

If the odd objet d'art became lost or perdu
And Sir Watkyn and Spode were, en masse,
On the trail in his chambre or dans son armoire
You'd hear "Voilà, it's just une impasse".

At the Drones or at home he was never alone
But from Jeeves he received most critiques,
For when Bertie proposed an idea that went wrong
He stuck firm with the same idée fixe.

You'll find all these French words in the speech he was given
Except one, which I've put in today.
But I hope that I've proved what I argued at first:
There's no doubt Bertie took a B. A.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

"All of us are born with a set of instinctive fears--of falling, of the dark, of lobsters, of falling on lobsters in the dark, or speaking before a Rotary Club, and of the words "Some Assembly Required."---- Dave Barry

Thursday, November 25, 2004


Razors pain you; Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you; And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful; Nooses give;
Gas smells awful; You might as well live.

-Dorothy Parker

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Was it all destined thus -
That this kepypad be so caressed?
What rough, aquatic beast
Trudged on land, then lost its slouch,
Then grew its thumbs opposable,
So as to molt away its days
Hunting, pecking,
Punching, jabbing
Its freakin' Blackberry?

- David Friend