Monday 14 November 2022

Jolene, this is just to say

You took the grapes you took the limes
But you went too far this time
You stole my only breakfast

You know that this is zero-sum
Yet you went and ate the plums
And left a poem on the fridge

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
I'm begging of you please don't be William
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
Please don't take my cold sweet plums

Sunday 16 October 2022


I saw a post on Twitter (screenshot below, but I blurred out the OPs’ handles and display names because what I have to say is not about them) which provoked much comment. And I had some thoughts.

I’m single. I’ve aged. Parties haven’t died out: they’re just different kinds of celebrations and gatherings now, some raucous, some have dancing, some are quiet. Health issues? Hell, yes.

And friends have taken turns sitting beside my hospital bed, paying my bills once when I was broke and could have died. Friends have helped me bury me entire immediate family, stretched out their hands when I was weak and needed a pull or a push, fed me when I couldn’t feed myself. Friends have held me through loss, through heartbreak, through penury.

I’m not single because it is some inviolable credo of mine. I’m not against marriage and stable long-term relationships and romantic love and all that — close friends have those things, and it’s lovely that they do, and I see that it works for them and a true partnership is a beautiful thing — it just never worked out that way for me. I have never lived with a partner long-term and planned a life and home loans together, never raised children or even took responsibility for a pet. These are not doors I have closed, but neither am I sitting there waiting forlornly for someone to walk through them.

And I’m also not denying that being alone and single can be hard for some, and that there are many people who would not have the kind of friends I do, or inhabit the privilege I have.

You can be miserable and lonely in a family, or you can be held and nurtured by them. You can be happy and content alone, find companionship in an animal, find peace and purpose in the wilderness, or it can drive you to despair.

All I want to say is that none of these is the only truth. Most of us live on the spectrum between them; some of us may spend long periods at different points in the course of our lives, sometimes the exact same equations change when you and the others in them change. We search, sometimes we don’t succeed, but sometimes we find our tribes, our meanings, our comfort levels, our selves.

Sunday 18 September 2022


Your friend the ceramist, who you regularly pester with n00b questions, has suggested making a plaster slab as part of your clay sculpture tool-set.

For this, you will need to make a frame to pour plaster in to set.

You remember that you have a bag-and-a-half of plaster of Paris. You go look for it, and in the finding, you spot the polystyrene sheets you stored away from the last house move, thinking you might have a use for them. That day has come, and with it vindication for your habit of not throwing stuff away you might one day find a use for. Jolly good, Jeeves.

You retrieve these, and also your long steel ruler and cutter. In doing so, you spot a bottle of glue you bought three years ago and haven’t used up. you shake the bottle to confirm that the glue has not dried. Praise be: it has not. You were going to merely assemble the pieces on this night, and go get glue tomorrow, but now you can finish the whole thing here and now, and it will be ready to use tomorrow. Hallelujah. The slight sleepiness you felt at a respectable time has also evaporated, which may or may not have something to do with the cup of tea you absent-mindedly drank not long ago. Never mind. Come, Watson, the game is afoot.

You look for paper to put under everything, to collect spills. Though you have not purchased a newspaper in two years and ten months, you find some. A modern-day miracle! Minus 10 points for bad housekeeping, plus 10 for project.

You assemble the materials. You cut the base, and then the strips for the sides. There is a flurry of polystyrene flakes, but you shrug philosophically; there are brooms in the house; there are dustpans; there is tomorrow. You will not be deterred at this glorious moment.

You place the parts together to check for fit, make minor adjustments. you swear as one of the side-walls disintegrates. Perhaps these sheets are too thin? Now is not the time for questions, Sancho. Onward and upward.

You cut another strip of polystyrene, and more snowflakes surge upwards. Never mind. Onward, Tenzing.

You shake the glue bottle again. You open the cap, upend the bottle. Nothing comes out.

Perhaps the nozzle has clogged. Maybe you could clean it out. Or maybe you could just give it a gentle squeeze. No one has won a battle they have not fought, troops. Carpe diem!

Seize the bottle. A gentle squeeze. No luck. In for a penny, and all that. More elbow, Rafael.

The bottle is clearly an Indian cricketer; it cannot take the pressure.

It disintegrates.

(A pause here to have you note that plastic crumbles past a certain point, and to urge you to curtail your use of this material for the sake of our planet.)

It disintegrates.

Glue, imprisoned 32 months, erupts, eager to fulfill its dharma and find things to stick together.

You are cross-legged on the floor. The glue, yielding to gravity, descends from mid-air, and falls. On your hand. On the inside of your knee. And the outside of your knee.. And your calf. And on the bit of exposed skin between lower hem of shorts and knee. And some between hem of shorts and thigh. And on the bit of floor between you and the newspaper you had spread out. And on the polystyrene pieces you had cut. And the cutter. And the steel ruler. And the cutting mat you had put aside after cutting the polystyrene.

Fuck, you say. That’s another fine mess you got me into, Stanley.

Fuck, you say, with more feeling. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. You channel Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuckity fuck.

You take a deep breath. Never mind, Sundance. This glue comes off easy; remember how one would play with a similar glue in school, letting it dry and then peeling it off like dead skin to the delight of one’s classmates? (It was a boys’ school.) And the floor, well a wet rag will do the trick: it is a water-soluble glue, after all.

You feel the beginnings of an urge to pee, but you push it aside; there are things to be done first. You use one of the ice-cream sticks you have on hand for carving, armature-making and similar arty-crafty things to scoop up dollops of glue from leg, shorts, floor, cutting mat, ruler, remnants of bottle, and put the frame together. There is now glue on everything within a one-kilometre radius, so you say fuck it, throw the ice-cream stick aside, and just use your fingers. One leg is going to sleep, as its owner should have hours ago if he had any sense. You uncross your legs… calf and thigh are lightly stuck together… careful now… and cross them the other way. The glue now gets on to the other leg. Never mind. Everyfuckingthing is sticking to everyfuckingthing anyway. One of the fucking sides is too fucking long, so the fucking box will fucking warp. There is fucking glue on the fucking cutter anyway, so you use your gluey fucking hands to pick it up and trim it. Fucking snowstorm. And now it’s too fucking short. You cut another fucking strip from the big sheet. This works. But the other three fucking sides are fucking sagging a bit. You cut small squares of fucking polystyrene to use as reinforcement for the fucking joins. It sort of works. Language, Timothy.

You sigh, lean back. The other leg, you now discover, is lightly glued to both floor and its counterpart. You gently separate all of them. Good job, Batman.

You begin peeling off the ‘skin’ anticipating reliving the innocent joys of schoolboy years.

You did not have hair on your legs when you were a schoolboy.

You are preternaturally calm.

You pause to reconsider.

You now also really need to pee.

This is a dilemma.

You reconsider the pause.

You saunter to the loo, turn on the tap, hose down hands while doing Kegel exercises and then proceed to take care of urgent business, hoping that body parts thus far protected will not acquire adhesive coatings. Whew. All done. You flush.

Then you turn the tap on again, and wash off the glue from legs and shorts. You give thanks to what gods there may be for the fact of the glue being water-soluble.

You come out, muttering a few dark oaths, and are cheered by the fact that you can mix plaster of Paris powder and water tomorrow and make the slab.

With this frame you made as a mould. A frame held together by glue. A glue which is, as you have noted, water-soluble.





So, how was your night?

Saturday 10 September 2022

Lessons from comedy

I was thinking the other day about the arts and making a living doing art. And I went from there to thinking about stand-up comedy as an arts and culture ecosystem that has taken shape right in front of our eyes.

Not too long ago, stage comedy was mostly slapstick or mimicry, often by people who were the comic relief in Hindi cinema. On TV, there was the great Jaspal Bhatti, and for Hindi comics, a platform in the raucous Indian Laughter Challenge. Shekhar Suman had a talk-show, Movers And Shakers which was, um, I guess, kind of funny. The Week That Wasn’t with Cyrus Broacha was, IIRC, the first proper TV satire show in English. But stand-up as the art form it is in the USA wasn’t really a thing.

Arguably, bootlegged Russel Peters videos played a role in showing aspiring Indian comedians that a brown man — even if one who had grown up abroad – could make a career in stand-up. And the Comedy Central channel brought some of the best talent in the world to our screens.

Comics like Vir Das and Papa CJ made their bones abroad, doing the grind of performing at open mic after open mic, tiny gig after tiny gig. When they came back to desh, they hired writers, trained them, and played a crucial part in creating a new generation of comics, who then helped create a stand-up scene. In Bombay, the erstwhile Comedy Store played a big role too; for aspiring Bombay comics, it was stage, refuge, home.

We now see comics in multiple languages, doing Netflix and Prime specials, online talent shows coming back with more seasons, genres of comedy taking shape.

Its nice to see early comics paying it forward too, teaching, hiring people, mentoring them, promoting them.

Of course the comedy scene isn’t mature yet. There aren’t enough venues or audiences, or enough people training and mentoring new hopefuls. (And there is the little matter of free speech, comedians getting arrested for jokes they never made, threats, y’know…) But that so much has happened in the space of around 15 years is remarkable.

And food for thought for me, for one, as I think about ways to make other arts commercially viable occupations.

Wednesday 7 September 2022

Making art, making a living

The problem with artistic / creative pursuits is making a living doing them, especially early in a career.

A few, very few, will make it to the top and earn good money; many others will get better over time and make a decent living, but starting out is tough.

The rest of the world does not value the labour of early-career artists, by and large. Which means that only people who inherit some privilege can afford to persevere through to the times when they can get by on their own. (And it’s not that arts education is cheap.)

Things have changed a bit, and there are, of course, grants, fellowships and other kinds of support. Often, though, the pursuit of these can take up inordinate amounts of time, time that could have been spent being creative.

And yes, privilege still counts, not just in who gets this kind of support but even in just hearing of what is available, getting one’s foot in the door.

For the rest who are driven enough, it means making far less money than their peers in other walks of life.

Or working in some other — hopefully allied — field and creating in one’s free time. And, maybe, later, with savings banked away or spousal/family support, try again.

Nothing wrong with working in an allied field; one can pick up extra skills, build networks, all that. And a world view, experience in life, which is invaluable, possibly informing one’s creative vision, making one a better artist. (In the creative world I know best, writing, I know very few people who were able to get a novel or volume of poetry published early in their lives. Most writers had — and many still have — day jobs.) And nothing wrong with working in a non-allied field either. For some people, in fact, it actually works better to have that unconnected day job.

It’s just that… wouldn’t it be nice to devote oneself to an art and make a living at that art, starting modestly, as in any other profession, but at least making a decent wage?

In other words, wouldn’t it be nice to have a decent arts ecosystem? An ecosystem that gave creative practitioners the choice of working and growing within it?


It is hugely encouraging to see the work people I know and am proud to call friends are doing. Rashmi Dhanwani, who with her team is doing the kind of work too many creative people consider unsexy, like research and documentation, aside from the more visible work of building community and platforms and necessary conversations; Arundhati Ghosh, Menaka Rodriguez, and Darshana Dave raising funds and seeding work; Hemant Divate and Smruti DIvate who are doing the unthinkable and publishing books of poetry; Ranvir Shah growing a foundation and platforms for the arts and also growing people like Meera K, who are the glue that binds the arts without ever taking centre-stage themselves, more and more smaller venues, from ones that have been around while like Prithvi Theatre, the ones that host events aside from the other work they do, like the British Council and Alliance Francaise branches, to new places coming up all around us.

I’m sure I’m forgetting lots of people and things — and also oversimplifying the work of people I have mentioned — but I am not an authority on the field, and this is not a speech, so I can come back and edit it.

Tuesday 6 September 2022


I just realised that one of the things I miss most about Chembur, where I lived between ten years old and mid-20s, is the number of people I could hang out with who lived within walking distance, or, when we moved a little further out, a cycle ride away.

College and work expanded my circles, the online world expanded them even more, and over the years I have found many who are my tribe, who matter deeply to me, so I don’t regret these for a second.

But there is something to be said for having friends whose homes you could stroll over to on a whim, to play a board game, watch a movie, have a snack, just chat and lounge around, and then walk back.

The more scattered friendships of choice all require some planning and coordination, some effort, some expense, just to hang out. Of course Chembur has changed, my old ’hood is almost unrecognisable, most pals have moved elsewhere.

Besides, there was much about life there that was very… narrow, many of the ‘friendships’ were really just because of proximity, some of those folks were really rather toxic.

You can’t really go back; ‘home’ is both a place and a time.

Monday 5 September 2022

Thinking about conversion

There are four reasons (that I can think of) why people change religions.

1. A change from within, a new belief system.
Faith change is deeply personal and the business of nobody but the person converting.

2. To-be spouse of different faith wants religious marriage ceremony.
Often just for convenience, an on-paper conversion that is only of concern to the hopefully-happy-ever-after couple, and the spiritual advisor from the religion being converted to, and maybe their families.
Basically, also not the business of the rest of the world.

3. Being at the wrong end of something sharp and/or pointy.
This has happened often enough historically, as religions and kingdoms warred with each other. Obviously, it is reprehensible, and right-thinking people must oppose it, condemn it if it happens now. (Yes, if you know me at all, you know I am anti-religion, and loathe organised religion and its stakeholders, but I support the right of people to find comfort and safety in religious belief.)
The problem, though, is that this cause is being ascribed these days to what is a very different reason, the fourth item in the list.

4. A better life.
That is, someone sees advantage to themself, their family, if they espouse a new religion. Maybe education, food security, acceptance. Those invested deeply in the religion being converted FROM must ask themselves why they did not provide this former faith-mate with a better life when they could; they must ask why they could not feed her family well, educate them, make them feel cherished and part of the community.
Agnostic, anti-religion me also wants to add this: if corporeal things like food, education, jobs, etc., can attract people to another religion, perhaps your religion — any religion — really isn’t very strong at all.

(That last bit also applies to anyone who takes offence on behalf of their god. How weak is your divine being that anything a mere mortal human could say or do could endanger or harm it? How weak is your faith that a non-believer’s non-belief could threaten your all-powerful icon?)

Monday 15 August 2022

An idea of India

Whatever your opinion of the politics or policies of independent India’s first crop of leaders, the ones who had fought for independence, you would have to concede this: against all odds, they brought together an unwieldy mix of peoples and ethnicities, languages and cultures, aspirations and enmities, and made it work.

For there was no India as a country before the Raj, not any more than an Africa or a Europe is a country. Over the millennia, foragers, hunters, warriors, traders, seekers, and refugees, came and melded in. Kings fought each other, as is their wont, territories ebbed and flowed, as did the hold of various religions, with no single one of them ever controlling the entire subcontinent.

And these extraordinary leaders, they realised the wisdom of unifying against a common foe, their occupier, they worked to bring people together, and they dreamt up a nation.

Their only failure — and I do not mean to point a finger at any individual, but to that crop of leaders as a whole — I think, was in ultimately not being able to hold together in that unity the people of what we now know as Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Tuesday 9 August 2022

Less-known musical directions

(Taking off from this list.)

Alcapone: Percussion with a baseball bat.

Aldente: Signal to the soloist to just noodle a bit while the rest of the orchestra takes a breather.

Allego: Just put the pieces together.

Alpacino: Chorus: take a deep double exhalation similar to ‘Hoo ha!’

Cappuccino: Play this quickly so we can break for coffee.

Capricioussimo: I’m just changing the entire mood and temp here because I’m the composer and I can, so keep up.

Commando: Without inhibitions. Like you’re not wearing undies.

Con biro: the composer made some hasty corrections to the score here with a ball-point pen.

Egotismma: Extend the solo like there aren’t several dozen other musicians on the stage.

Fortyssimo: Yes, you once dreamt of being the soloist, but here you are, middle-aged, sixth violin with no hope of making even fifth, so just crank it out, dammit.

Glitzando: Make it sound like the theme song of a celebrity reality show.

Louisvuittoni: Sing this note with repressed emotion. Like, emotional baggage.

Mezzanino: This part is designed to please the people in the cheap nosebleed seats.

Namotissimo: Play the same note repeatedly in a grandiose way.

Pizzacato: Violins: play using the fingers like how you steal the pepperoni from someone else’s slice.

Simpere: Coyly.

Tuttifrutti: Trumpets: dream of candied fruit.

Vibratoro: Take matters into your own hands.

Tuesday 2 August 2022

World Anglo-Indian Day and all that

This a more-links-added, lightly edited, slightly rearranged version of a Twitter thread I made, which starts here.

My parents Clarice ‘Clarie’ M Griffin (in spectacles) and R. James ‘Jimmy’ Griffin (in the dark suit) at a dance in Vizag in the early 1960s. Probably in the Railway Institute and also probably hosted by the Anglo Indian Association.

There aren’t many AIs (one way the community likes to refer to themselves) left. There were roughly 500,000 at Independence, and since the community hasn’t been counted after the 1941 Census, one can only estimate the current population; guesses range as much as from 150,000 to 400,000. You’ll find AIs concentrated in what were railway junction towns, the former Presidencies, and hill stations. having felt never British enough for the British and never Indian enough for Indians, many AIs migrated to Commonwealth countries in the years after 1947 — over a 100,000 immediately after Independence — and today, the diaspora — mainly in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, USA — is estimated to be around 500,000.

(In my family, my father’s father served in the British army, but felt too rooted in India to migrate. Two of his daughters, my aunts, migrated to Canada (and from there to the USA) and Australia. My father’s mother’s family was Burma-based, or at least her brothers were. My mother’s father was a senior official in the Indian Railways, but he died young, before Independence, leaving my grandmother too poor to consider migration. One uncle continued the family tradition, spending his life working in the railways, but none of that generation migrated, though most of mother’s second cousins moved to either the UK or Australia. Most of my parents’ friends from their youth eventually migrated. My parents did try to move — not because of lack of roots in India, my dad told me, but to ensure better medical care for my brother — but that fell through for complicated reasons.)

The community organises a world reunion every three years, moving between diaspora countries and India. It was at one such event — in New Zealand in 2001, according to this page — where it was decided on 2 August as a day of celebrating Anglo-Indian culture, which became World Anglo Indian Day. Why that date? I haven’t a clue.

What is an Anglo-Indian?

In the 1800s, the term described British people working in India. Another sense of the term was for British residents of British ancestry who had been born in India (this usage too is outdated). The Indian census of 1911 defined the term to mean persons of mixed British and Indian ethnicity — people sometimes referred to as Eurasians — and this has come to be the prevailing definition. The Government of India Act of 1935 defined an Anglo-Indian in the patriarchal way of its times as “a person whose father or any of whose other male progenitors in the male line is or was of European descent but who is a native of India.” This definition persisted, more or less, in the Constitution of India, including the bit about the paternal line — it too being a creature of its times — which defines Anglo-Indian thus:

[An] Anglo Indian means a person whose father or any of whose other male progenitors in the male line is or was of European descent but who is domiciled within the territory of India and is or was born within such territory of parents habitually resident therein and not established there for temporary purposes only.
In practice, other communities of part-European descent who had or have a presence in India — Goans with Portuguese ancestry, Armenians, folks with French or Dutch ancestry — mostly do not call themselves Anglo-Indian.(Though I am told — and knew some folks, friends of the family — that in parts of the country further from Portuguese, Dutch or French colonies, some folks of those ancestries do identify as AI.)

AIs are defined in the Constitution because of reserved seats for the community in the Lok Sabha …

Article 331 of the Constitution of India “Representation of the Anglo-Indian community in the House of the People.”
Notwithstanding anything in Article 81, the President may, if he is of opinion that the Anglo-Indian community is not adequately represented in the House of the people, nominate not more than two members of that community to the House of the People.
… and in some state legislatures (Article 333) (similar to reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in some states (Article 332)) …
Article 333
Representation of the Anglo Indian community in the Legislative Assemblies of the States
Notwithstanding anything in Article 170, the Governor of a State may, if he is of opinion that the Anglo Indian community needs representation in the Legislative Assembly of the State and is not adequately represented therein, nominate one member of that community to the Assembly.
Why were these provisions made?

Frank Anthony, lawyer, educationist, community leader, and member of the Constituent Assembly, made the case that since AIs did not have a state, and were too small and geographically spread out to get a community member elected to represent community interests in parliament or state assemblies, AIs needed reserved seats. (Anthony himself was one of the nominated members in the Lok Sabha eight times, five times as an independent, and thrice as part of the Indian National Congress.) This was supposed to be for ten years, but like the similar reservations for SC and ST seats, has been routinely extended. (Until 2019, when the 104th Amendment to the Constitution effectively ended this reservation, while extending the reservations for SCs and STs. There go my chances of ever being an MP or an MLA.) These seats were in the gift of the government in power, so nominees tended to be supporters of that government. The only times this made the news is when there were floor test with tiny margins. I wrote about this the last time it happened.

Incidentally, Derek O’Brien is the first-ever Anglo-Indian MP not to be nominated under these constitutional provisions. So, for the first time, there are three AI MPs. George Baker and Richard Hay, both BJP members, nominated to the Lok Sabha, and O’Brien in the Rajya Sabha.

(Lots of folks know that O’Brien was, among other things, a quiz host on television, but many younger people may not know that he has a quizzing legacy: his father, Neil O’Brien, was a legendary quizmaster, besides, among other things, also an MP, in one of the nominated seats in the Lok Sabha.)

But, back to the community at large. Though ‘large’ may not be the correct term, since there are so few of us left. : )

You’ll find a lot of AIs still in railway towns, because that was one of the occupations that the Brits preferred to have them in. (I’m told that AIs had job reservations in the Indian Railways until the 1960s, but I have only anecdotal evidence and no source to cite.) You’ll also find clusters in hill towns, many of them descendants of Brits who liked India too much to leave post-1947. Like Ruskin Bond’s and I Allan Sealy’s families.

Oh yes, there was one attempt to create a sort of Anglo-Indian mini state, a homeland; a town, more accurately. McCluskieganj. Among others, writer and former Granta editor Ian Jack wrote about in his book Mofussil Junction (an extract here), Shamik Bag wrote a piece in Mint. Filmmaker Paul Harris also made a documentary and photo book about McCluskieganj, Dreams of a Homeland.

Several film stars are/were AI: from Helen and Cuckoo in yesteryears to more recently, Diana Hayden and my pal Denzil Smith. Stand-up comic and actor Russell Peters is a member of the AI diaspora. Writer friend Madhulike Liddle reminded me, “Incidentally, Hindi cinema owes a lot (though it invariably goes unacknowledged) to AIs. An overwhelming number of dancers — all those 'club dancers' in 50s-60s films — were AI. People like Edwina and her brother Terence Lyons; Herman Benjamin; Oscar; Teresa; Abe Cohen.” (Benjamin and Cohen were Jewish, though.) And there were lots of Anglo Indian musicians, particularly in the big cities, and most notably in Calcutta.

On the global scene, some celebrities: Cliff Richard, Engelbert Humperdinck, Vivien Leigh, Merle Oberon, though I think they all either denied this or did not identify as Anglo Indians. I think they’d fall under the now mainly historical usage of the term, people of British ethnicity born in India. Authors Gerald Durrell and Laurence Durrell would also fit this definition.

There were also significant contributions from the community to the armed forces. One I remember straight off is Admiral Stanley Dawson, Chief of Naval Staff, who was a family friend. (One of my aunts, who never married, would joke about Stanley being her boyfriend. Dawson never married either.) And Air Chief Marshal Denis La Fontaine, who served as Chief of Air Staff of the Indian Air Force.

And, in sports, Indian hockey had quite a few AIs. (Many diaspora AIs contributed to Australian hockey.) Roger Binny played cricket for India, was part of the team that won India’s first world cup, and his son Stuart also played for India. And Wilson Jones, a world billiards champion, India’s first, before Michael Fereira. And, if I’m not mistaken, Jennifer (Dutton) Paes, who captained India in basketball and played in the Olympics, and is Leander Paes’s mother, is AI too (Vecce Paes, his dad, was born in Goa before India took over, if I recall right).

In less prominent walks of life, the native English speaker advantage meant that a lot of AI women became teachers (like my mother, and her mother, and the mothers of several of my friends, and as replies to my original Twitter thread told me, people all over the country have fond memories of AI teachers) and secretaries, and a fair number found work as nurses. Anglo-Indians played a significant role in education, running a number of schools. And if you happen to be proud of passing your ICSC and/or ISC exams, Frank Anthony played a role there: he was the founding chair of the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations, which operates the ICSE board of Education.

Links you might find interesting.

A lot of history and context, famous AIs, and further reading, if you are interested, in Wikipedia (or this Wikiwand adapted page).

A list of Wikipedia links to famous AIs here.

International-Journal of Anglo Indian Studies for some scholarship and research.

For a sensitive chroncile of ordinary AI lives, see the fabulous photo book by Dileep Prakash, The Anglo-Indians; there’s a web site and his blog with more info, and the book is available on Amazon.

There used to be a forum, back in the day called Pepperwater. The site does not seem to be active now, but here are some archived versions. (Pepper-water — a cousin of rasam, I would say — is another quintessentially AI dish.)

Special mention of one person who has done a lot to document and preserve Anglo-Indian cuisine: Bridget White Kumar, in her books, and on her site and blog, where I go frequently, because I didn’t learn from my mum when I could have.

A film by Paul Harris (the fim-maker mentioned above, in connection with McCluskieganj) on AI cuisine:

Also by Paul Harris, Anglo-Indian-isms:

And this Sahapedia film by Basav Biradar on Kolar Gold Fields, an AI stronghold:

The All India Anglo-Indian Association has a web site, but it yields an ‘under construction’ message as of this writing. There is a Facebook page, though. There are a few AI groups on that platform too, but I won’t link to them because they are infested with dad jokes and sexist jokes.

Just found this original from the AI diaspora. It’s a life I only heard a bit about, never having really lived the life, but I did go to a few dances at a Railway Institute. : )

Pepper Watcher, a YouTube channel by the magazine Anglos In The Wind. …

p.s. There were, of course, Anglo Indians in the parts of undivided India which became Pakistan and Bangladesh. I know very little about them, except that the community has almost vanished in Pakistan, but has stayed somewwhat stable in Bangladesh. (I learnt recently that there are almost 200,000 AIs in Bangladesh. That’s higher than the lower-end estimate for India.) In Sri Lanka, where there was stringer Portuguese and Dutch influence in addition to British, people with part-European ancestry who have retained European customs are called Burghers. There were also AIs in Burma (my father’s mother’s family was from there, for instance, and my father’s father, who was in the British Army, was posted there until World War II and the Japanese incursion) and many intermarried with the Anglo-Burmese community, but that population also mostly left the country when it first went under military rule.

p.p.s. Thanks to someone on Twitter, I just read this poignant piece by Derek O’Brien, about his family, in India and Pakistan.

p.p.p.s. This piece by Mitali Parekh in Mid-Day about reactions from AIs to the end of reservations for the community, in which I am quoted and which used a picture of my parents and their friends.

p.p.p.p.s. An excerpt from Barry O’Brien’s The Anglo-Indians: A Portrait of a Community (2022, Aleph Book Company).

Friday 29 July 2022

Women loitering

Last night, I went for a walk pretty late; it was midnight when I started out.

The roads were almost deserted, as is natural in a residential neighbourhood which is also a dead-end (in the sense that no one needs to pass through it on the way to somewhere else). A couple of people walking dogs, the occasional autorickshaw ferrying some poor sod home from a late night at work, the odd food-app delivery person whizzing by on a motorbike, small groups standing around cars in a stretch where there are two restaurants and a bar. A few more folks further from home, in a designated walking/skating/cycling area, but just a scattering.

And I saw three women who I see often at night; I first noticed them because of the way they dress: one is always in one of those kaftan-style nightgowns, one usually wears saris but now and then a salwar kameez, and one is always in the tight-jeans-and-T-shirt ensemble that is common among younger people today. I’ve never looked closely at them for decorum reasons, but I get the impression they’re in their thirties. They walk side by side, taking up space on the road so that I have to walk around them when I pass them, and the stray words that drift to me as I do are in Marathi.

Further along, at a brightly-lit I-❤️-Navi-Mumbai selfie point, two young women, mid-twenties, perhaps, had parked a scooter and were taking pictures. Not of themselves with the sign in the background, but using the raised letters to stand their phone on, while they made — I’m assuming — Instagram Reels. I’m assuming this because there was much hair swishing and hand gesturing and general hamming. These women looked to be from the north-east, and they were in short shorts and T-shirts. They were talking loud and laughing loud and generally having a good time.

On the way back, on a stretch of road which had a few non-functioning streetlights and so was a bit dark, three girls, who seemed to be of college age, were hanging around a bus-stop. One was standing next to the raised road divider making a dramatic hands-reaching-out gesture, a second, facing her, at the bus-stop, mirrored the first, and the third had her phone raised to record them and was calling out instructions. Two wore jeans and T-shirts, the third wore a T and a track suit bottom, or maybe they were pajamas. They stopped their shoot, waiting for a couple of vehicles to pass between them, and were about to resume, when they saw me approaching, and they paused again waiting for me to pass.

I wanted to smile at all three sets of women, because it made me happy to live in a neighbourhood where women feel safe enough to be out at night with no purpose other than to be out at night, dressed however they like. What Sameera and her co-authors call loitering, what Jasmeen and the Blank Noise movement call unapologetic walking, with the second and third sets, what I like to think of as as innocent shenanigans.

Of course I didn’t, partly because I mask when I go out for a walk, but also because while it is a nice place to live in, I can imagine that having a scruffy half-bald-half-long-haired man grinning at them as he lumbered past would not contribute to their feeling of safety.

And so, instead, I’m smiling when I tell you this story.

Tuesday 7 June 2022

Indie bookshops in India

Welcome to a little crowd-sourced project, mapping and listing indie bookstores in India. There are 131 of them so far. (Last edit: 7th October, 2023.)

This was prompted by an online exchange with Leonard Fernandes, co-founder of The Dogears Bookshop — who also did a disproportionate amount of the heavy lifting — and put together by me. Both map and list are embedded below, but you can also see them indpendently, on Google maps at, and on Google sheets here.

How you can help

Go through the map and/or the list and check if I missed bookshops you know and and give me their names and addresses and web sites, if available, or even better, a Google Maps link or latitude-longitude or even an Open Location Code (OLC). As you will see, vast swathes of the country are missing. (As of this edit, all of Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattishgarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Ladakh, Lakshadweep, Nagaland, Punjab (not counting Chandigarh), Tripura, and pretty much all of non-metropolitan India.) And, since my social media circles are more likely to include folks who read in English, there are probably lots of shops selling books in other Indian languages that I missed. Also, if I’ve included shops that you know are not primarily booksellers (see below), let me know. (If you’d prefer not to comment here, you can find my social media links here on the sidebar. Specific posts: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Mastodon) If you know the people who own these stores, or happen to visit them, ask them if they know about this map, and if they don’t, show it to them. : )

What the map and list include

Brick-and-mortar shops which are solely or mostly sellers of trade books. (Simplistically, not textbooks or academic publications. Though, of course, books you and I buy for leisure reading can find themselves included in syllabi and all books educate us.)

What they do not include:

• Shops that primarily sell stationery, or textbooks or educational books.
• Shops that sell books that promote only one religion, or one organisation, or one political party.
• Shops owned by a publisher or distributor which only, or primarily, sell books by that publisher or distributor.
• Shops which are part of large chains (more than two shops in more than two cities, to draw an arbitrary line). Nothing against these — I’ve done a fair amount of book-buying from them — but this is to support the indies.
If the shop also runs within the same premises an unrelated for-profit business — say a café — then we’ll only include them if their primary gig is book-selling.

Also, you should check out Independent Bookshops Association of India which is still building its membership.

For the record, I do not own, run, or have a financial stake in any bookshop — though I do know several owners personally — and no one has paid to be included in this map and list.

Support your local small and indie bookshops!

You can mess around with this embedded map here, zooming in and out and clicking on the icons and all that, but you can also choose to see it on Google Maps, where you can do things like get directions.

This list is sorted by state, city, locality, name (with the ‘the’ parts moved to the end, for example, ‘The Bookshop’ becomes ‘Bookshop, The’), and, where possible, with links to web sites. You can also see this spreadsheet here, where you can choose to sort by any of the headers.

Friday 11 February 2022

Caferati Listings

The essentials.

Caferati Listings carries opportunities for writers — calls for entries and submissions to contests and anthologies, assignments, jobs — since October 2006 (but with a gap between 2012 and 2019) via email on Googlegroups and since April 2021 a Telegram channel (update: and since September 2023, an experiment with a Whatsapp Channel). You subscribe to the Telegram and WhatsApp channels via a cellphone number, but you can also see them on a desktop browser and desktop apps. All versions of these Listings are absolutely free for subscribers. Anyone can send a tip-off or a submission; there’s a form embedded at the end of this post.


The Google Groups emails are collections, compiled whenever I have the time to put together an edition. The Telegram and WhatsApp channels send out individual opportunities as and when I see them. Email and channel updates are not identical: sometimes, something I’ve posted to Telegram may have a deadline expiring before I send the next email compilation; mostly, though, everything in the email will have appeared in or will appear in the channels, unless I forget. One difference between Telegram and WhatsApp is that posts to WA subscribers will disappear after 30 days.

Important: all are one-way; that is, I can post in the group, but you, or anyone else, cannot. So the only chatter you will hear is from me. If you’re worried about clutter, the email never goes out more than once a week; the Telegram and WhatsApp channels may sometimes see a bunch of updates. Usually, the email has fewer typos. The Google Groups and Telegram channel archives are available online, but WhatsApp retains only the last few months before they vanish.

A note on privacy.

When you subscribe via Google Groups, no one else can see your email address except admins.
With the Telegram channel, no one else can see your details, except the admins, they can only see your phone number if they already have you in their personal Telegram contacts and/or if your own privacy settings permit it. (Telegram privacy is very granular, and you should see your settings before subscribing to any channels, joining groups, or even adding anyone you don’t know to your contacts there.)
On WhatsApp, no one else can see your details. Even the admins can’t see folk that are not already in their contacts. (More about WA channels.)
In all these, I will only contact you through them to send you Listings and, very rarely, a promotional note for other Caferati stuff or other writing-related things I am personally involved with, which might appear as a note within a Listings email or as a separate Telegram or WhstsApp post. I will never contact you individually unless we already correspond and have each other’s contacts. I do not give anyone else access to your contacts, and never will.

A note to people who have opportunities to share.

The email newsgroup has over 1750 subscribers; the Telegram channel, set up more recently, has around 250 (these are as of September 2023, when the WhatsApp version has just been added). Every single one of them has opted in to receive Listings. And they are there because they want to see these opportunities. So, if you or your organisation have a requirement, or if you come across opportunities and want to share them with the community, please do get in touch. If you know me personally, email me with ‘for Caferati Listings’ in the subject line, but preferably, please use this Google form for submissions or tip-offs (the form is also embedded below), because it helps me keep organised.

I don’t charge to carry a Listing. But what goes into the Listings is my call. As a general guideline, I don’t include anything that requires a non-trivial entry or submission fee and work that doesn’t offer pay. I may sometimes include zines and things like that that do not pay which I think are interesting.

Wednesday 19 January 2022

Table Talk with Varun Deshpande

The flyer has a portrait of Varun Deshpande over the logo Table Talk, which flows into their name. The text: Headline: ‘Growing meat’ Subhead: ‘Planet-friendly protein’ Below, ‘Sunday, 23 January, 9 p.m. IST’

Table Talk with Varun Deshpande
Date: 23 January, 2022
Time: 21:00 IST

In India, contrary to some western belief, most of us aren’t vegetarian. True, our per capita consumption of animal protein is nowhere near as much as in some more developed economies, but there are a lot of us, so we wind up eating a fair amount between us. I’m a meat eater too, but not one with an untroubled conscience. I’ve tried over the years to reduce my consumption of meat, eating it maybe once or twice a week, but I like it too much to quit entirely.

So, a few years ago, when I was with The Hindu, I was intrigued when my friend Lynn de Souza forwarded some material to me from the Good Food Institute, which had begun operations in India, and suggested I meet up with them. I did, and I have followed their work since. GFI is an international network of non-profits that works towards sustainable ways of giving us our protein, allying with scientists, foundations, governments, entrepreneurs, and corporations.

Our guest this Sunday is Varun Desphande, MD of GFI Asia. Varun has been deeply immersed in healthcare and technology from a very young age, studied chemical and biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon, and has worked on implementing digital health in India and the USA.

We will talk, as we usually do on Table Talk, about formative food memories, and from there we will go on to his journey to GFI and why he chose this work to focus on and more about what GFI does. Along the way, we will learn about the two main streams in this field, lab-gown meat and plant-based meat substitutes, and what the latest developments are. We will chat for a couple of hours, more if Varun and you folks are amenable. And, as ever, there will be plenty of time for audience questions.

Giving back

Table Talk is free to attend, but we ask our guests to name a charity or cause they support, and we ask those attending to make a donation to that cause, Varun has two choices, GFI itself — it is a non-profit, as I said above, and this is their donation page — and Fortify Health Foundation, which works on anaemia and neural tube defects in India, through flour fortification. You can find out how to donate via this page.


You will need to go to the Zoom link and register with a valid email address, after which you will get the link to join the event.

To get notifications of new episodes and links to past episodes, please subscribe to:
- this Google Group:
- and / or this Telegram Channel:

(About Table Talk and past guests.)

Tuesday 18 January 2022

Chances are…

There was a time in advertising, when a lot of ad copy started with ‘Chances are…’

And back when I was a junior trainee dogsbody in Lintas, my reporting boss, Cherian Varghese, reacted to copy we showed him with either ‘Chances are there’ or, more often, ‘Chances are lesssss.’

These things are important for context.

So, one night, we were all up late in Express Towers, finishing off stuff for the weekly meeting at our big client in Pune. Our creative director and the client servicing team would be at VT in the morning to catch the Deccan Queen to go present stuff to the client’s top brass. There was a lot of work, print ads, hoardings, TV scripts, and below-the-line stuff like leaflets.

Cherry kept bouncing our ideas, our headlines, body copy even. We heard ‘Chances are less’ many times that night. At some point, in one of the smaller items, one of us put dummy copy in the layout as a place-holder. Only, instead of the usual Lorem Ipsum, we filled up the available space with ‘Chances are less, chances are less, chances are less,’ and ended with ‘Chances are there.’ We were mighty amused with our wit.

We ordered dinner. The night wore on. We were tired. We took printouts, made mock-ups, packed envelopes with the creative that the junior AE would ferry to the station.

We forgot* to change the dummy text.

The next day, Adi Pocha, our CD, was presenting the creative. When it came to this leaflet, glancing down seeing copy starting with ‘Chances are,’ which, as I said, was a bit commonplace, he didn’t tell client that the layout had placeholder copy which would be worked out later, as he would have normally, and began to read.

The next day at the agency, Adi, to his credit, didn’t chew us out. He just said, ‘You bastards.’

* Or did we?

Saturday 8 January 2022

Table Talk with Kurush Dalal

The flyer has a portrait of Kurush Dalal over the logo Table Talk, which flows into their name. The text: Headline: ‘Digging in’ Subhead: ‘What lies beneath’ Below, ‘Sunday, 9 January, 9 p.m. IST’

Table Talk with Kurush Dalal
Date: 9 January, 2022
Time: 21:00 IST

Kurush has been our guest before, so I won’t re-introduce him. We will chat this time about the same broad area: the intersections of food, cooking, archaeology, anthropology, culture, and also what he’s been doing since we chatted back in May.

We’ll chat for at least a couple of hours, including questions from and discussion with the audience, and may go on longer, if Kurush and you are willing.


You will need to go to the Zoom link and register with a valid email address, after which you will get the link to join the event.

To get notifications of new episodes and links to past episodes, please subscribe to:
- this Google Group:
- and / or this Telegram Channel:

(About Table Talk and past guests.)