Wednesday 26 March 2008

Gon Out Backson*

We're off to Kanpur, where we're a guest at Alfaaz. We shall meet old friends like Urvashi Butalia and Mita Kapur, perhaps get to know a few more who we've had a nodding acquaintance with. We shall also be visiting Lucknow, where we intend to eat kababs and meet up with Caferati folks there. And then we detour to Delhi, where we shall eat pie, read books and faff for a few days.


Friday 21 March 2008


Thanks to the Daily Mail's poll on the greatest fashion invention ever (the push-up bra won; Hello Boys!), and some information from a lady we know, we now know what a chicken fillet is.

Hint: Only some of these can be found at your local cold storage. The others, ladies and transvestites, you can find here, among other places.

Peace be unto you

Image from Wikimedia.
The Beeb tells us that the peace symbol just turned fifty.
It started life as the emblem of the British anti-nuclear movement but it has become an international sign for peace, and arguably the most widely used protest symbol in the world. It has also been adapted, attacked and commercialised.
The logic behind the design was news to us. The designer, Gerald Holtom,
considered using a Christian cross motif but, instead, settled on using letters from the semaphore - or flag-signalling - alphabet, super-imposing N (uclear) on D (isarmament) and placing them within a circle symbolising Earth.
Holtom later explained that the design was "to mean a human being in despair" with arms outstretched downwards.
American pacifist Ken Kolsbun, who corresponded with Mr Holtom until his death in 1985, says the designer came to regret the connotation of despair and had wanted the sign inverted.

Wednesday 19 March 2008

Goodbye, Arthur C. Clarke

The Associated Press: Writer Arthur C. Clarke Dies at 90.
"Sometimes I am asked how I would like to be remembered," Clarke said recently. "I have had a diverse career as a writer, underwater explorer and space promoter. Of all these I would like to be remembered as a writer."

Monday 17 March 2008

More Indra

Sandhya of Sepia Mutiny has an excellent interview up.
Our own effort palls in comparison. We can only claim, in our defence, that we had very limited interview slots. Wish we had managed to tape Indra's informal sessions with Caferati members in Bombay and Delhi, or his excellent chat with Nilanjana at Kala Ghoda. Great stuff.

Sunday 16 March 2008


2. If you really have no choice in the matter, and have to go it alone, then seek attention blatantly, with loads of make-up and attitude, and outrageous clothes, declaring that you are alone because most people bore you, and it’s so mediocre to hang around in mobs. Be sure to carry expensive accessories, a designer handbag and the latest cell phone. Don’t wander down to the corner chai wallah with the hordes, but buy the ridiculously expensive coffee inside the multiplex as that is all you drink. In short, do everything you possibly can to underline how exclusive you are.
Go read Banno's guide to surviving film festivals.

Old Love*

The joint suicide of André Gorz, the French philosopher and founder of the magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, and his British-born wife Dorine, who was suffering from a fatal disease, has turned the love letter that he wrote to her into a surprise bestseller.

Gorz, 84, a friend of Jean-Paul Sartre, and Dorine, 83, committed suicide by lethal injection at their home in the village of Vosnon, east of Paris, on September 22. Two days later a friend found them lying side-by-side in their bedroom.

Gorz’s 75-page Lettre à D. Histoire d’un Amour (Letter to D. Story of a Love), published a year earlier, was a tribute to his wife. One French critic described the work, which won him a wider audience than his essays on ecology and anti-capitalism, as his “intellectual and emotional testament”.

The couple met by chance at a card game in 1947 and married in 1949. “You will soon be 82. You have shrunk six centimetres and you weigh just 45 kilos and you are still beautiful, gracious and desirable,” the book starts. “It is now 58 years that we have lived together and I love you more than ever.”


Link from Darpana Athale via email.

* That's the name of a short story by Jeffery Archer, one of our favourite short stories ever. Yeah, yeah, it's not cool to like Archer's writing. Sue us.

Portrait of a Bureaucrat Playing With Himself

Thursday 13 March 2008


Did an interview with Indra Sinha last month. Wound up editing it into two pieces, one of which appeared in the Times of India last month, the other in this month's Outlook Traveller. This is the unedited transcript.

PG: You left India as a young man, and made a life for yourself in the UK. Do you have any fond memories of travel around India as a child and as a youth?
IS: Lots. The beauty of the western ghats in the monsoon, visiting the lake palace in Udaipur before it was a hotel, rowing across the lake to the other palace, where Shah Jehan had stayed, to find its empty dome full of pigeons, I miss my grandfather's village in UP near the Nepal border, smells of straw, woodsmoke, an old travelling cinema kept in a hay barn . . .

PG: How often have you visited India after you moved?
IS: Regularly since my association with the Bhopal survivors began in the mid nineties, but before that there was a 15 year gap when I didn't visit. The children were young and money was short. I love being in India. The pace of change is amazing, but I love to see things I remember still from the old days, like an old fashioned bullock cart trundling along, and it was good to see that the forest is still thick on the ghats in places along the Goa road. If there is anything I can do, any organisation I can join or support to help protect the Western ghats, I would like to do it.

PG: How often have your travelled around India? Could you tell us about your most memorable experiences?
IS: Arriving by air from Kathmandu, with Vickie, daughter Tara then aged 2 and a lot of suitcases, to a tiny airstrip on the Nepalese side of the border. We had gone to Kathmandu airport to find that our flight didn't appear. On enquiring about its status we were told it had been cancelled. "When was it cancelled?" I asked, "there's been no announcement." The man scrutinised our Royal Nepalese Airline tickets, bought in London. "Two years ago!" Two days later we boarded a tiny plane that whirred into the air like a metal grasshopper. As it rose higher, the high Himalayas rose up behind the foothills, white and shining, hundreds of miles on view at once. We flew to Nepalganj in a series of large hops and at each stop, a few passengers departed. When we got to Nepalganj we were the only passengers left. Nepalganj airport was a grass field — the terminal was a hut that had two doors, one saying IN and the other OUT. Being conventional people we went through the IN door to find that both doors actually opened into the same space, which was completely empty. Nor was there a fence at either side of the hut, so you could actually have just walked past it. There was no one in sight. A small road ran past the place and vanished into fields of sugar cane, but there were no vehicles in sight, much less the taxi I had promised Vickie. After a while I noticed a boy with a bicycle. He leant it against a tree, came forward shyly and said, "Are you Indra? I am Shobha. Grandfather sent me to fetch you home?" "With a bicycle??!!!" But Shobha flagged down a bullock cart that had hove into view and negotiated passage to the border. The luggage was piled onto the cart, Vickie sat on it and Tara on Vickie. Shobha sat on his bike and held onto the tail of the cart and I walked alongside. In this way we passed through the thick sugar cane fields (into which Nana Saheb and his defeated army had vanished 125 years earlier) and came to the border, marked by two square brick buildings. The Nepalese side was empty and shut up, but on the Indian side stood an amazed customs officer. "Who are you and where are you going?" he asked, adding that ours were the first overseas passports he had seen in six months. "We are going to my grandfather's in Nanpara." On hearing my grandfather's name he said, "But I know him!" He went inside and telephoned Nanpara PO telling them to send a boy to run and tell Iqbal Bahadur sahib that his family had come and were safe. Then chairs were set in the shade outside the customs building, tea appeared, as did a photo album of the offier's family. We passed a pleasant hour before the bus came and took us all away to grandfather and new adventures. I want to tell this story properly one day in a book of travel writings.

PG: Two of your books are set in India—well, four, to count Tantra and your Kama Sutra translation. Written, as they were, in Europe, did the distance aid perspective, or did it get in the way? How did you do your research?
IS: I write, I am in my imagination. It neither helps nor hinders to be in the place I am writing about, however I like to know the places about which I will write, even though the imagination transforms them. One tries to catch a reality, a feeling, that lies just beneath the skin. Lawrence Durrell was a genius at doing this. He was a favourite and formative influence when I was young.

Indra Sinha near his home in France. Picture by Dan Sinha.PG: Did a busy advertising career, and the strong online addiction you describe in The Cybergypsies, leave you much time—or inclination—for travel? Or, to put this another way, where does a British advertising star take his time off?
IS: We never had much money for travel when the children were young, but I guess over the years we've seen quite a bit of Europe and of course the dear old UK. I loved living in England and love living in France. Our best family holiday was a six week tour of France, Switzerland and Italy ending with two weeks in the Lot, where we now live. In fact it is directly because of that holiday that we are now there.

PG: As someone born in India but living elsewhere, and a writer to boot, do you find yourself expected to be the font of all information on the country? And while on the topic, how much of what friends and associates in Europe think and know about India is true? How much is elephants on the street?
IS: I used to be expected to be Encylopaedia Indica, but that is less true nowadays. People's knowledge of India varies enormously. Many people have been here and many more have some family connection. I think people's ideas are formed largely by the television. Don't forget there is also a huge Indian population in the UK, so Indian culture, Bollywood, "Indian" restaurants, are all pretty much part of everyday life.

PG: You've just been wandering around the typical western tourist's favourite destinations in India: Rajasthan and Goa. You were born here, though, and your books show knowledge of many of the other facets of the country despite your many years abroad. What's your take on those two states, arguably the most 'touristy' destinations one could find in India?
Could you tell us a bit about the places you saw on the trip?
IS: A lot of people I know in Rajasthan are turning their houses into heritage hotels and there is a sort of build-your-own-haveli emporium where you can buy ancient carved doors, jharokas, silver furniture, rugs and hangings, basically everything you need for instant Rajasthan. The Jaipur festival was Rajputana Disneyworld style complete with elephants, fire-eaters. The old Rajputana would have been dancing girls and opium. Goa is wonderful, when you get used to it, but walk along the strip from Candolim to Calangute and you are offered the same tourist tack as in Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaipur etc. All that's missing is Goa. However the old Goa is still there, but an outsider has to work a little to discover and get into it. Having loved John Berendt's books about Savannah and Venice (and loved being with John too and learning how he came to write them) I keep thinking there is something to be done either on Rajasthan or Goa. Or both. But I have a number of novels to write, so I don't know when I might get time for travel writing.

PG: When you visit India now, after long absences, how much change do you see? Do these changes surprise you? Are they good or bad changes?
IS: pace of change is huge and the wealth in the country is enormous. What is sad and in fact sickening is that the well off seem to have closed their eyes to the vast majority of the population, who do not benefit from globalisation the booming stock market, etc. The long term result of this can only be fascism and repression, it will be the only way to preserve the continuing luxury of the wealthy at the continuing expense of those who have nothing. Writers have a duty to speak out about this and Arundhati has recently written an excellent article on this very point.

PG: Have you seen any great writing from India? And travel writing in particular.
IS: I haven't seen any travel writing. I loved Siddharth Dhanwant Shangvi's The Last Song of Dusk, it was arch, amusng, knowing, entertaining - and underneath ran a tale of deep sorrow. The writing about sex is some of the finest I have read.

PG: And what about great writing—travel included—about India?
IS: I am rather sick of books about India. I would rather read books about Brazil, or Cuba, or the Congo, or somewhere I'd like to visit.

BarCamp and BlogCamp Mumbai - 29th March

This just in from Netra Parikh
BarCamp returns to Mumbai again - Third Edition – 29 March at IIT Bombay

BarCamp Mumbai 2 was a big hit with over 200 attendees and a day full of discussions on many interesting topics and ideas. BarCamp Mumbai 3 is now on the cards for 29th March at School of Management at IIT Mumbai. In the true spirit of BarCamp it's an open platform which anyone can make her own. Anyone can participate, anyone can speak, agenda is drawn collectively at the start and any topic is welcome as long as you have others interested as well.

This time the infrastructure has been extended in view of the overwhelming participation last time. The venue can accommodate around 400 people. In addition, the open spaces within the building will have mattresses which can be used by groups of people to discuss or to just take a break.

This edition will also host a BlogCamp which will have people talk about all things blog and also other aspects of social media and marketing. There is also FireTalk where you can talk about your idea and exhort like minded people to join you – it can be a cool app or a full scale business plan. The people gathered thus prepare a broader blueprint offline and then present it to larger audience later in the day.

Come and make this your own BarCamp. Over a 100 people have already registered.

Register your participation for free at the wiki:

Register your topic at the wiki:

Thursday 6 March 2008

So, you didn't come to our last reading either, right?

At the Bombay launch of 50 Poets 50 Poems, attendance was low; Priya Sarukkai Chabria says there were more press than audience members there, I counted a dozen people, aside from the eight people on stage, the young man who was helping sell the books, and the chai lad.

The principals in this discussion have agreed to put this up on the Caferati blog and invite a larger discussion. We're hoping that you folks could bring in your take on the topic; your opinions, your perspectives from different events in different cities. Feel free to comment, or to mail any or all of us.

Go read: Priya Chabria's original mail, Annie Zaidi's reply, a short reply from Priya C, in which your correspondent drones on and on and on, Sampurna Chattarji's take, some more thoughts from Annie, Vivek Narayanan's view. (All links will open in new windows or tabs.)