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I'd write more, like you said I should. If only, there was more to me.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Much as I'd like to avoid writing about it, the urge is simply irresistable. Here was India - the star-studded batting team. We had a spectacular Pathan showing, a hat-trick no less. The total was the entirely surmountable 245.

And we crumbled. Just how does one explain it? Not Sehwag, not Sachin, not Dhoni. Some saving grace came in the form of the Sourav Ganguly-Yuvraj Singh partnership. Then Pathan followed his five-wicket haul with an aggressive 40 with the bat.

Together with Zaheer Khan, they helped team India close the gap by adding a respectable 56 for the ninth wicket and taking the total to 238.

Pakistan wasn't going to repeat their first innings performance. Openers Salman Butt and Imran Farhat then scored half centuries to help seize control against India. Both openers fell within the space of 23 runs, but stand-in captain Younis Khan (25 not out) and Mohammad Yousuf (30 not out) ensured the hosts did not let their lead slip away.

At the end of the second day's play not only had Pakistan established a commanding lead of 180 runs with 8 wickets in hand, they simply played better cricket when it came to the crunch.

Action on Day 3 gets underway soon, I have no lilt in my stride, should I just sleep through this match that is increasingly shows signs of slipping away?


This is a couple of weeks too late, though still in time to plug Ustad Zakir Hussain's upcoming concert in Singapore. It's just one show. It's happening at the Esplanade Concert Hall on Sunday the 5th of Feb. The tickets as always are available through SISTIC. Rocking the show together with the King of Percussion will be Terry Bozzio, Giovanni Hidalgo, U Shrinivas, Fazal Qureshi, Salim Merchant, Kala Ramnath and Vijay Chauhan - all of whom got a mention during the presser. And for the benefit of those who are unwilling to scroll down to the earlier post and keep asking me – Does he still looking the same (as in the Taj days) – the picture speaks.

So here's more from my one on one with the living Indian legend:

Q : Zakir, tabla is no longer the fringe instrument it once was. It's all over the place right from hip hop, jazz, pop music, television commercials to films. What do you make of that?
A : If you look at all kinds of music that exist now whether it is trance or Asian underground, hip hop, folk music from India or even bhangra- they are all rhythm based music. Suddenly, there seems to be an awareness of or liking for rhythm based music. It's no more just a melody or a song by Madanmohan with a little rhythm behind it. I feel there is an interest in rhythm that is growing widely and globally. I feel that has something to do with the popularity of tabla because it is a very versatile instrument. It can play melodies as well as rhythm. The technique on this instrument allows you to play with any kind of music, be it folk, classical, light-classical, jazz, rock, pop - anything. So the tabla fits in with any kind of instrument in the world. Therefore, it has become an instrument of choice, when it comes to importing mysterious rhythm sounds into any music.

Q : You've been performing since the time you were 12. From then to now, what's been the kind of acceptance for Indian music?
A : I think Indian music has grown by leaps and bounds. I feel it has gone from being just a chamber kind of music where a 100 people would come and listen to something where 10,000 people come and listen to it. Now, that is a rarity because most other forms of music have stayed in the area. Take a look at rock music, you still play it in a stadium, just like you did 30 years ago or film music or Western classical music. But Indian classical music going from 100 to 10,000, that's a big leap in interest and popularity. I feel this is the type of music that has flourished and there is a great future for it. Now, it has even become the sound source for many genres of music right from rap to hip hop to world music and so on. All these forms of music are using Indian sounds and tones.

Q : Your father's generation was taking this type of music to audiences beyond India. Given the global acceptance that you just mentioned, you can now experiment with various styles, beats and rhythms. Do you think this has given you more freedom as a composer, as a musician?
A : That's interesting. You see during my father's time music was still a second level profession. I still remember people asking me when I was 20 years old - 'what do you do?' I'd say I play the tabla. The next question would be 'so what do you do for a living?' It wasn't like you like you play music for a living. I mean music was never considered something through which you could make a living. It was a second class thing to do.

In the last 25 years or so there has been an awareness about Indian art and culture and it's not just awareness, a sense of pride has also developed in being able to connect yourself to a certain culture source. This happened with the popularity of great artistes like Ravi Shankar, who popularised Indian music beyond Indian shores. Then the Beatles were influenced, Peter Gabriel started to do Indian music. Suddenly, India realised that there must be something special about this art form because everywhere in the world they love it, they want to study it, they want to come to India to hear and explore it. That made this shift and acceptance possible. It's almost like Indian cricketers when they win outside, they come back home as heroes. Similarly, Indian musicians had to become well known outside of India to be accepted as heroes and great masters in India. It's sad but it happened that way. But now the music is accepted by everybody as something very special, unique and culturally important. Everyone supports it, listens to it and it has become a very respectable art form and that's good.

Q : You grew up listening to a lot of Indian film or what's now better known as Bollywood music. How did that impact your work?
A : It allowed me to be a little bit more free in my experimentation of tabla. If I had not done Bollywood, I would have probably stayed strictly with what I had learnt about this instrument, not actually ventured to find out what this instrument is capable of. When I was working with people like R D Burman, I saw how they used the tabla to inject energy into a song, to make it more lilting, watching that helped me experiment a little but more. So, yes Bollywood helped me a lot, it enabled me to be more open-minded about my creativity.

Q : You have 145 albums, thousands of concerts to your credit. From movies to television commercials you have done it all. You are composing music, teaching it at Princeton, then travelling all the way from Manipur to Ukraine. Having achieved all of this, what's the next big challenge for you?
A : As you just mentioned, finding those musical voices is the big challenge. I want to find more voices from India. I take pride in being an Indian and in all things Indian. I brought Vinayak Ram to America, to Europe and introduced him to the world as a great percussionist from South India. I brought his son Selva Ganesh and many other drummers who I found in so many parts of India right from the South to the East. I am looking for more talents like them. I believe the drum culture hasn't been explored fully. We have been so tied up in sarods, sitars and violins that we haven't fully explored our drum culture. I feel that's what I want to do: discover it, explore it, find it and expose listeners across the world to it. I hope that will create a whole new way of looking at it.

Q : I know we are running out of time, but I'd like to quickly get an answer to this one....
You usually go to a concert without a script of sorts, there are no rehearsals

Zakir (interrupts and laughs) Sounds like a Bollywood movie, doesn't it?

Q : Absolutely. Now when you perform in say Tokyo or Singapore or Mumbai or Dubai, how do you gauge the audience reaction and give them what they want?
A : Indian music is a very interactive form of music, so within the first five minutes we know what the listeners want. Eye contact with the audience helps determine what the audience wants. In India, we don't have to worry about that. There we get connoisseurs and students of Indian music, whereas when we perform abroad, we establish a connection with the audience and then experiment with the style.

Q : I assure you this is the very last one - would you also say there is this universal sound of music that audiences everywhere respond to?
A : I think the universal sound is the throb of the rhythm, everything else just sits on top.

Monday, January 30, 2006


Never mind, the Rang disappointment (see post below), at least the third day of the cricket test between India and Pakistan seemed to make up for some of it.

Looks there never will be any semblance of balance, when India take on Pakistan. If the pitches sounded the death knell for the bowlers in the first two test matches, the one in Karachi reversed that to make just about everything impossible for the batsmen.

So it was that the bowlers look set to smash some records along the way. Having won the toss, India elected to field first and really there couldn't have been a better start than this.

Irfan Pathan became the first bowler to take a hat-trick in the opening over of a Test match.

He simply ripped through the Pakistan top order. If you missed the action, here's how the wickets fell.

Salman Butt was caught by Indian skipper Rahul Dravid off Pathan's bowling. He was gone for a duck off just the fourth ball of the day.

Then the free-scoring Younis Khan was trapped leg-before-wicket for a golden duck by Pathan off the very next ball. Then, Pathan went on to create history as he bowled Mohammad Yousuf for another golden duck with the sixth and final ball of a very special over.

Pakistan nought for three and in serious trouble.

Even, the swashbuckling crowd favourite Shahid Afridi was bowled for just 10 by Zaheer Khan and the hosts moved deeper into the mire at 37 for five.

However, wicket keeper Kamran Akmal smashed 113 to rescue Pakistan from a disastrous 39 for 6 to take the hosts to their seemingly respectable score to 245 in the first innings. He was ably helped along the way through two partnerships - one with Razzaq who kept the scoreboard ticking with his contribution of 45 runs and another with Shoaib Akhtar who also added a valuable 45.

When it came to batting, India too had a disastrous start.

First to go was Dravid who was caught behind by Akmal after scoring just 3 runs. 9 for one soon became 14 for two as Virender Sehwag was undone by a delivery that lifted and left him as Akmal took the catch off Shoaib's speed bowling.

Just when things looked like they were settling down, Pakistan struck again as opener VVS Laxman went for 19. India too in trouble on 56 for three.

The biggest prize of them was to come next. Master blaster Sachin Tendulkar gone for just 23.

It was advantage Pakistan, when beleagured former Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly took to the crease with Yuvraj Singh. India ended the day's play on 74 for four.

Some would say lots more cricket ahead, but with the way the wickets have been crumbling, who really knows? One thing's for sure though, either way, there's bound to be a winner and a loser.

And that finally is good news for a rivalry that's supposed to be more intense than the Ashes.


A R Rahman's sound track and then the superbly edited trailers had me all exicted about the release of Rang De Basanti. If you weren't able to catch them on telly, there's the brilliantly done website to fall back upon -

Clearly, the marketing wizards had done a great job of promoting this film. What else could explain the Indian crowd that turned up at Jade (a new home for Indian movies in sunny Singapore) on a Sunday morning.

True, the long Chinese New Year weekend loomed, but there was the decisive Third and final cricket India-Pakistan Test match in Karachi - one that will hopefully prove to be a decider of sorts. Never mind that, many of them, just like us, put cricket aside to see the colours of passion which would hopefully unleash in their weekend movie of choice.

I, for one, wait for the VCD releases to watch the select Hindi movies in the comfort of my home. Something has to be truly exciting to spur me into action to get to a theatre on time. In fact, the last movie that drew me to the movie hall was Parineeta and that didn't disappoint. So you get the idea!

Rang De Basanti, had me truly excited. In fact, I even wrote up the story pre-release, once the publicity pictures were out on a Reuters feed. So it was on a beautiful Sunday morning, hubby and bachchas in tow, we made it to what we sincerely believed would be a rocking good movie.

Since I don't like criticising things all out, let me begin with the great parts.

Even before we had made it to the show, Rahman's music and Harshdeep Kaur's lilting rendition of 'Ik Onkaar' had rejuvenated interest in the Jap Ji Saab in my half Mangolarean (read Hindu), half Sikh home. To the extent that my three year can now recite it in his pidgin Punjabi before lulling himself to sleep. For that spiritual awakening in a little one, I shall remain eternally grateful to the makers of this show.

Then there is Daler Mehndi's title song, that has even the most rooted people wanna party. And Rahman and Naresh Iyer's Roobaroo lingers long after the movie is over. The music rocks!

Speaking of the actors, Alice Patten as Sue makes an impressive debut in the Indian film industry. Wonder where those Hindi night classes were held! Kirron Kher, the stellar mother, who most recently gave a heart-rending performance in Khamosh Paani, shines yet again as Aamir Khan's Sardarni mom. Watching Kunal Kapoor as Aslam in the movie, made it hard to believe this was the same guy who did that entirely forgettable role in an even more forgettable movie - Meenaxi. Page 3 journo Atul Kulkarni makes the switch as the hardliner Laxman perfectly. Sharman Joshi as Sukhi was endearing, though at the end of the day, this was clearly an Aamir Khan movie.

Playing a character that was a good 15 years younger than his real self, Aamir as D.J. was exceptional.

The movie made a fabulous start. I enjoyed the audition bits, the campus scenes and the parallels between Indians ruled by the British and Indians ruled by corrupt politicians today. The transition of the five college friends from a meaningless to a meaningful existence was done brilliantly. The settings were fabulous, it was almost like seeing Punjab in all its mustard finery. The lead up to the interval almost had me on the edge of my seat. The candle lit procession to mark Air Force pilot Ajay's death brought tears to my eyes, but what followed after that rapidly turned out to be an exercise in futility.

At a time, when the pen is rocking India, when it takes the creative genius of minds like Aniruddha Bahal to expose all that is wrong with the Indian polity, the killing of a Defence Minister to make a point makes absolutely no sense, at least to me. To think these are students of Delhi University who heed to the call of 'Maar Dalo' uttered by none other than the pretty Sonia (Soha Ali Khan) and that none of the other friends can rationalise against it seems simply insane. And from then on the script rapidly loses its focus. Added to that is the fact that Sue who was stuck like glue to the group, conveniently goes amiss when that call is made and then re-appears with a bad feeling in her heart.

Yes, we need a revolution to stir things, battles need to be fought, but what we need is a revolution of the Bahal, Cobrapost kind. True, there are no parallels, but as Bahal rightly highlighted in his article in India Today (Jan 2, 2006), it was questions like these that made it to Parliament and shook the very core of our Parliamentary ethics:

- Has the Ministry lifted the 1962 ban imposed on the book 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' by Ernest Hemingway and the 1975 ban on Ken Kensey's book 'One Flew over The Cuckoo's Nest' and Hunter Thompson's 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' and if so when?

Given that, stuff like this is happening in modern day India, makes it heard to digest what goes on in the contemporary world that unravels in 'Rang'. I agree the system is far from perfect (though one could argue no system ever is), but no longer do battles need to come stained with blood of the literal type. As the question is rightly raised in the movie itself - what makes these guys different from terrorists? The answers provided by the script writers are far from convincing.

After all, as the lesson was preached so many years ago - blood only begets more blood, violence more violence.

And so by the end of the show, the message of the movie was totally lost on me. I wanted to leave the theatre with the same passions that had moved my heart when I saw 'Lagaan'.

This time round, I was merely shaken, not stirred. Pity about that!

Thursday, January 26, 2006


International cricket umpire Rudi Koertzen ranks India-Pakistan tests ahead of the Ashes rivalry for their sheer intensity. "Nothing gets bigger than this," he said when asked to rate the competitiveness of the two famed rivalries.

But what pray is the point of this intense rivalry when match after match is turning out to be countless drone of runs on increasingly lifeless pitches.

Sure records are being re-written, to what purpose though?

By the end of the second high-scoring draw in Faisalabad here's what the record table looked like:

- A new record for sixes in a match.
- Pakistan chalked up a match aggregate of 1078 runs which was the highest by a single team in a five-day test.
- The combined match aggregate of 1702 was the fourth-highest in five-day tests.
- Younis Khan completed his 11th test match hundred with a record-breaking fourth century in four consecutive tests against India.

Way to go guys, but would you really call this entertaining cricket?

For once, the Ashes like rivalry lulled me to sleep, even while the match was on. I woke up a good two hours later to see Younis Khan still at it. More hours later, the game looked as dead as the pitch itself.

Things picked up only when Shahid Afridi swaggered out in true Afridi fashion hoping to hit another knocker. It was a hysterical welcome, one which for once was destined to be brief. Barely had he settled into the field that disaster struck. He chased a wide one from Zaheer Khan and got an edge off the bottom of his bat that went straight into Dhoni's gloves.

What happened after that was even more hilarious. More than half the crowd deserted the Faisalabad stadium as their hero walked back dejected. Were all those seats free? I would have waited to watch more drama had I paid for my seat.

And then the domino like crumble began.

Man-of-the-match R P Singh finally trapped the record-breaking Younis Khan l.b.w. for 190.

Soon 490 for six became 490 all out as Zaheer Khan bowled Mohammad Asif first ball for a golden duck before also bowling Danish Kaneria without scoring.

The third and deciding test starts in Karachi is on Friday. One can only hope that the team that cleaned up England 2-nil will have the guts to take us back to some of that glory!

Time alone will tell, till then enjoy some of the bouncers and beamers currently doing the rounds off the field:

Shoaib to Dhoni, when the latter walks in to bat: "Yeh Pakistan hai, India nahi!"

After Dhoni hits his first boundary: "Pakistan ko khelna itni jaldi seekh gaye?"

Tuesday morning, the Dhoni-Irfan partnership showed no signs of being broken.
Akhtar bowled a beamer at Dhoni (at 140 kmph). "It might have slipped from his hand", Dhoni later said, but we so far there has been no apology from the Rawalpindi Express, looks there never will be!

When Kaneria began sledging Dhoni on Monday, the batsman hit him for two straight sixes.

What can I say?
Keep those comments flowing guys, they are more than just fuel for Dhoni's bat.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


An APTN feed this morning got me thinking.

Thinking about what I was doing when I was 10 years old.

I have a vague re-collection of running around the neighbourhood with the not quite adorable young gang that I then had. Playing stapu (that game where you draw boxes and getting that flat piece of stone kicked into the next one while doing a crane kinda jump with one leg - you get the idea - it's a carzy enough game) even in the rain, we simply put our rain-coats on, but nothing ever interrupted play. Barely finishing my homework despite the gazillion reminders from my stern teacher mom. Cat-fighting with my sister.

And when our house was being constructed we discovered the joy of jumping from the roof onto the sand that lay in a nice little heap for purely construction purposes. Buoyed by the success of that first jump, we soon started making some hard landings from the roof to the concrete floor right below another neighbour's house. It went on till one of the fierce neighbourhood uncles complained to our respective parents. That put an end to all our flights of fancy, we were grounded and the endless speeches on broken jaws, arms, legs with grim pictures that followed ensured that we never strayed from terra firma after that. Sometimes I wonder, if we really believed we could fly even without any wings of fancy!

For most of my childhood years, I didn't think there was a life beyond Dehra Dun's grand old Turner Road, where most of my wildest adventures were enacted and lived. Often the bunch of us cycled right up to the tunnel that demarcated the onward journey to Saharanpur. And our wildest adventures merely took us to the small stream beyond the Army Cantonment where I once lost my slipper. Sometimes on a Sunday, imagining ourselves to be straight out of a Famous Five book we even went fishing in the nalla behind our house. And some inspiration from Krishi Darshan saw us surging through the wheat fields with the angry farmer in tow. That was pretty much where the adventures began and ended.

Children these days are doing so much more. My six year old girl can swim, play tennis, sing Shubha Mudgal songs, jive to Salaam Namaste. My soon to be three old boy knows more about Thomas & Friends on the computer than I probably ever will in my living years. My daughter's brilliant pals often surprise me by reading National Geographic in one breath and at six I hadn't even got discovered Noddy!

But these are normal kids. I don't know what they will be doing four years from now.

I say that because a ten-year old in India is re-defining the very definition of a young film-maker. While most children are busy grappling with their home work and the innumerable enrichment lessons their parents sign them up for in the hope of making geniuses out of them, Kishan Srikanth is making his directorial debut with C/o Footpath.

When I first read the script, I was in a state of disbelief - yes, I frequently lapse into such states. How could a nine year old do it?

Here is someone who is directing none other than Jackie Shroff. One look at the pictures and the confident statements by the young one clearly showed this young one was seriousness personified.

The pictures (which are copyright protected) show that the actors can't help but look down on him - only because of the height differential. But make no mistake about who's in charge on the sets of C/o Footpath.

On first glance the story might sound simple. It is that of a poor orphan who dreams of studying but cannot afford to go to school. Kishan plays the lead himself and the story was inspired by conversations he had with children selling newspapers on the streets.

The story of how it all evolved from there is a tale in itself. With help from local journalists, he turned his short story into a screenplay. In fact, Jackie Shroff was so impressed when he first of it, he apparently asked for a role in the film, and waived his fee.

Guess that is what keeping the production costs down to US $180,000.

While the costs may be down, the pictures do speak a thousand words, Kishan who is no stranger to the film industry having acted in 24 movies and 1,000 episodes of a popular soap opera, is a boy clearly in control.

The fact that he researched the art of directing by reading books and watching DVDs on direction from the Hollywood film institute, makes his story even more impressive. While he might soon find a place in the record books, this budding auteur has his eyes set on being a full time film director.

And while C/o Footpath is being made in Kannada and will then be dubbed into several other languages, Kishan says his next movie will be in Hindi. Considering he has been inspired by 'Jurassic Park' and 'Kabhie Khushi Kabhi Gham' expect more than just songs, dance and action.

Bollywood, time to get that carpet out and get ready to roll in another new face of resurgent India!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


It always starts like this. Bala subscribes to the cricket channel (its a pay per view in Singapore) and since he's stuck in the office for the better part of the day, I end up being the official score tracker.

Despite constant reminders to over-worked self that I shall not skip the afternoon siesta - I need it since work begins at the twilight hour of 2am - it's something that's invariably forgotten, particularly when something like Dhoni happens.

Sleep is a far cry. Food fades to the realm of an after-thought. Stay glued to the screen becomes a pre-occupation.

Though some things do follow a pattern....
Watching India's dismal middle order collapse, I paced just like my better half does, when Team India is so in trouble.

In the past, we would collectively vow not to look at the screen, take that walk, which always ends up being around the idiot box and our wails would jolt our neighbours when yet another cricket collapsed.

Now, the times they are a changin. It's no longer a case of the cookie crumbling when Sachin and Sehwag walk off the crease. There is a lower order that is equally impressive as the top and the middle order. We have the fighters that rise to the fore, the minute the pressure is on. What else could explain even so called bowlers like Harbhajan hitting five stunning boundaries and two towering sixes to take India past Pakistan's total.

Irfan Pathan, who played an amazingly mature knock of 90 even though for 49 runs he was merely second fiddle to Dhoni. And the verbal duels weren't too far behind. But each time Shoaib Akhtar had something to say, Pathan merely flashed some of his close-up smiles, enough to melt some snow, not Akhtar though.

All of them, our so called young ones, were heroes in their own right, but stealing the thunder and saving the match was our lad from Jharkhand. Taking to the crease with an overnight score of 116, Dhoni hit speedster Akhtar out of the attack with four boundaries in the sixth over of the day. He took his total to 148 before being stumped by Kamran Akmal after missing a leg spinner from Danish Kaneria.

What a knock that was! Even though the match is headed for a tame draw, watching Dhoni's fearless batting saved India not just the blushes but did all of us proud by surviving not just the bowling but the sledging too.

Sentiments that were best expressed by none other than former skipper Kapil Dev:

"Dhoni is my hero. We talk a lot about Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, but this boy has as much as talent as anyone in the game. He is an unbelievable talent. He has good technique and strikes the ball very hard..... Look at Shahid Afridi, he always plays attacking shots, but he always looks out of place. This is not the case with Dhoni, he is just outstanding."

Time to raise your doodh ka glass and say cheers to that!

Sunday, January 22, 2006


By Tatjana Schantz Johnsson
Words by Marion-Bravo Bhasin
Photography by Alan Lee and Edward Hendricks
Pages : 138
Published : 2006 by Marshall Cavendish Editions

Review by Deepika Shetty

If you are a coffee table traveller and like to journey through cultures without having to leave the comfort of your home, then this would be just the book for you.

Drawing from 20 celebrations from around the world, 'The Global Table' offers contemporary, original and creative ideas for your celebratory table.
Each celebration is presented with interesting facts on its history and traditions. And just in case you are thinking, that these pictures would be impossible to recreate, the stylist and the author tell you how small touches can yield big results.

Inspiration can come from the bright oranges that mark the Lunar New Year, the flowers and candles that are customary during the Indian Festival of Lights - Diwali or the fabulous yellows and greens that mark Hari Raya. All of these happen to be traditional festivals but they get a refreshingly modern twist in 'The Global Table.'

Things don't quite begin and end at the festivals. For parents who are annually strapped for ideas about ways to organise the next children's birthday party, the spectacular riot of colours will definitely give you some welcome ideas. The amazing setting is just the stuff that would make the little ones want to party on forever. It certainly has given me some ideas for my next little bash.

For children, who want to make their parents days special, just flip to 'Your Southern Belle - Mother's Day' on page 62. And for those of you who want to spark, rekindle or ignite some romance in your life look no further than 'Island Love' which unravels a whole lot of ideas to mark Valentine's Day.

My favourite section in the book though is the 'Mediterranean Miracle'. The spectacular blue chairs, the absolutely stunning candle-stand, the blue and white inspiration makes these stylish settings seem as simple and fresh as the Mediterranean breeze.

Visually stunning, this book as the jacket says with confidence is bound to unleash your creative streak. Something that's bound to make your parties and celebrations a talking point long after they are over.

Friday, January 13, 2006


Thursday, January 12, 2006


A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka
Publisher : Viking, an imprint of Penguin Books - 2005.
Pages: 324

Problematic father, feuding sisters, disputes over a will or lack thereof - that might sound like a script out of any typical family melodrama. So apart from the title what really sets Marina Lewycka's 'A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian' apart you might wonder.

For starters, it's just the way the story is told. Love makes a fool of the best of us. But in this case it is bringing out the Peter Pan in 84-year old Nikolai Mayevskyj, a Ukranian born widower. With a gold-digger at his heels and the pronouncements of re-marriage, sisters Vera and Nadezhda quickly need to put a lifetime of feuding aside to save him. That's largely because the new love of his life, is not only half his age with a fetish for cars and cash. But she is driven in her single minded determination of getting the best of life in the West, even if that means driving love-struck Nikolai to the grave.

Having survived the tough life in Ukraine, he almost sympathises with the 36-year old Valentina. With that he draws on his last reserves of savings, even stoops down to taking loans from his daughters to ensure that his new wife has nothing but the very best in life. So it is that when Valentina hollers:

"In former Soviet Union all cookers are white. Crap cookers . . . For civilised person, cooker must be gas, must be brown," Nikolai goes scurrying into his hidden treasure troves and when those run out, he simply finds a new-found joy - of a life lived on credit.

For Valentina nothing less than a new life in the West will suffice:
"A good life, with good job, good money, nice car - absolutely no Lada no Skoda - good education for son - must be Oxford Cambridge, nothing less."

In return for all of this Nikolai is to get a caring housekeeper coupled with the heroic sense of having rescued a beautiful woman from tragic cricumstances and poverty and of course access to the contents of those devastating D-cups.

As the novel progresses, he gets none of that. Watching his steady decline is the milder Nadezhda, a sociology lecturer married to a kind man. She has spent the better part of her life, saving every penny, helping her mother save every scrap, put her wardrobe together with all the seconds at Oxfam. All of that merely to see it all being shattered quick time by the every hungry Valentina.

Watching the rapidly deteriorating state of affairs, she unravels another known fact: "Marriage is never just about two people falling in love, it is about families." With that there is a re-connection of sorts with her sister. Together they embark in what is seemingly mission impossible - to make their father fall out of love.

Even as these battles play out pretty much in Nikolai's own backyard, he remains almost focused on his masterpiece - 'A History of Tractors in Ukrainian' - in which he speaks of the the larger ideals that show absolutely no signs of lasting around him.

This novel is not just fun but absolutely entertaining as well. No surprise that it made it so many award short and longlists including the Man Booker Prize 2005, The Orange Prize and bagged the SAGA Award for Wit and the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction last year.

For a novel that makes you re-visit so many family truths in one go, the long list of awards for this stunning debut are only likely to grow in 2006.


When you start reading a memoir, you know you are stepping into territory that is going to be an intensely personal account of an even more intense personal journey.

I don't know how many Smoking Guns have revisited past memoirs to get at the truth. But they did go all out to find out the truth about James Frey's best-selling 'A Million Little Pieces."

As the controversy unfolded, as only controversies do, I wondered if this had something to do with success? After all Frey's memoir of alcohol and drug-induced mayhem sold 1.77 million copies last year. This was after getting the much coveted slot that so many authors can only hope for. The book had made it to Oprah Winfrey's book club in September 2005. That made it instantly grab the distinction of being the best-selling non-fiction book in 2005. Only J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince sold more copies.

Central to Frey's book which was published in 2003, is his assertion that he was charged with assaulting an Ohio police officer with his car. That's not all, there is also the admission of inciting a riot, possession of cocaine and drunk driving. These charges, he wrote, resulted in a three-month prison term.

But the investigative Web site 'The Smoking Gun' reported the book, published by Random House's Doubleday division, was full of exaggeration and inaccuracies. It added that most of those claims were not borne out by police records or by interviews with police and court officials. The Web site published the police officer's report of the key 1992 incident which shows Frey was found drunk in his car without a driver's license but did not, as he wrote, serve time for the incident or behave in the outrageous manner portrayed in his book.

What followed soon after was a series of reports and counter-reports. The first of the media reports said Random House was going to offer refunds to readers - something almost unheard of in the publishing world. Then followed the clarification that appears expected on Frey's website too. It clearly states "contrary to erroneous published reports, Random House is not offering a special refund on A Million Little Pieces." The author also clearly spells out his stands, mincing absolutely no words, "So let the haters hate, let the doubters doubt, I stand by my book, and my life, and I won't dignify this bullshit with any sort of further response."

Though of course, there would be further responses. Even as I write this, Frey is set to appear on Larry King LIVE on CNN, where he will expectedly spell his stand. With a Hollywood movie in the works, the debate that pretty much rocked the publishing world this week, is bound to stay. As the questions and counter-questions are raised, we are soon to discover that fragments of the truth may lie somewhere between the smoking gun and a million little pieces.

With both sides, sticking to their version of events, what the controversy has done is inevitably or inadvertently helped the book sales. The book remains the Number One selling book on

So that raises so many more unanswered questions: if so many people are buying the book in the first place, where did the question about the refunds arise? As a serious reader, I for one, would re-visit the book to check the veracity of events instead of lugging it to the publisher for a refund. And as a last word, isn't a memoir supposed to be a personal history in the first place which by definition would be a recollection of events as the author remembers them. Since the process of investigation is on, I'd like to see how many memoirs really stand the test of 100% accuracy. Writing after all, has always been about imagination and a little bit more. That's what takes readers on some rather exceptional journeys and a 'Million Little Pieces' just might be one.

Now, the ink has barely settled on this one and there's yet another issue rocking the literary circles. This time the US cult author JT LeRoy is being accused of something even bigger - a gender hoax. The writer's true identity has long been a cause of speculation and investigative journalists are now pointing out that the author of several critically acclaimed works is not the 25-year-old rent boy he claims to be. Rather he is a 40 year old man. Phew! I can already sniff another best-seller on the charts.


First it was my shawl. Now it's my faded, jaded jacket, which once sported the colour olive green. My shawl has on several different occasions doubled up as a table cover, a backdrop for filming books, a skirt to cover the guests blue jeans, an Indian designer's (Kavita Bhartia's) gorgeous blue skirt. But my jacket has had to wait patiently.

But what a debut it made on the airwaves this morning!

For the viewer everything might see seamless (I certainly hope it does coz when I watch television all I end up doing is spot the flaws!), but there is so much going on behind the scenes to create that illusion of on-air perfection. Working in a TV station, is pretty much the equivalent of being part of a large orchestra - the only difference being no man or woman alone can be a conductor. It is team work, on a scale that rarely gets mentioned even in the best of the team building books - but that's another tale I'll save for later.

So it is that when things don't quite go according to plan, everyone chips in. That's the real beauty of this job. So it was today.

The breaks were barely two minutes long, during which one had to seat the guests, get them wired and then get them talking. Often during these two minutes, some serious colour coding flaws are spotted. Our guests are constantly told not to wear blues - coz of our bluer than blue wall, something that's invariably forgotten. When the blues appear on the screen, they appear invisible.

That's precisely what happened when Singapore Idol judge Gurmit Singh appeared on the show in a bright orange T-shirt with a blue logo to promote the show. Trouble was the logo covered the chest and that was invisible. A quick look around for jackets showed that I had the only one that would work on air - I'm sure he didn't want to be seen in pink! It sure did, sporting Gurmit carried it off to perfection.

And now together with my shawl, there is some serious conversation about the real potential of my jaded jacket. Time to run on and find that lock and key.

Monday, January 09, 2006


It's a rainy Sunday morning. Just the kind of day when you want to take your cuppa chai, grab your paper and snuggle right back into your comforter. Thoughts that would have been on my mind, if I didn't have an appointment to keep.

This one happened to be with none other India's tabla maestro Ustaad Zakir Hussain. Coming from a generation that's grown up watching the hair swing to the tabla beats and "Wah Taj!", this one is worth taking that walk in the rain.

The setting is most non-press conference like, it's at an Indian restaurant aptly called 'Kinara'. It rests almost on a Kinara. On a sunny day the backdrop would have been picture perfect, but the rain seems to have unsettled the tide and all you see is a muddy Singapore river.

I meet a couple of friends old and new, do a quick run of the place to find the perfect spot for all the lights, camera and action. And then we wait for the maestro to arrive.

He isn't too late. For someone who just got off the flight from Mumbai and has another one to board at 5pm, he is amazingly relaxed. No signs of jet lag here. But if one is accustomed to doing 120 concerts a year, teaching at Princeton, recording jingles, composing music, acting in movies (yes, he's done and with none other than Shabana Azmi) and a whole lot more, maybe this look of inner peace just comes naturally. Or could it really be Taj ka kamal?

Soon as the introductions are done, he's ready to roll. It's a quick fire round. The questions are flowing just like the rain : Hollywood vs Bollywood music, fusion music, retaining the form, experimenting with styles - he takes it all in his stride and impresses us all. And then comes the real quotable, Indian music he points out, is a "sound source" for just so many forms of music. From there it is a journey into all things proudly Indian.

An hour of this and he goes "So have I spoken enough?" It's a reluctant no from me, I could have heard more.... but there's a concert coming up next month. He's promised us it will be one rocking show (I don't doubt that for a minute) and that we should all be there - wouldn't miss it in the world!

And even after all that talking, he's ready to give me a one-on-one. Soon as we are done with that, he's about to tuck into his lunch, the restaurant owner tells him about his daughter's birthday and how delighted all the kids would be if the maestro joined them for just a bit. Next, I see the maestro hurriedly finishing his lunch.

10 minutes later, he's joined all the lil boys and gals. When I step down, he's busy posing for pictures. The young ones are in awe and he's not a guy who believes in disappointing anyone.

There's a flight to catch - but looks like that can wait. For the moment, its all flashes, lights, smiles and a whole lot of pictures. I hear a little boy go : "I just shook hands with him, can you believe it?"

Yes, I certainly can. Of course, I want to add those little fingers are going to be drumming away soon. There's no doubting the Ustaad is doing what he does best - inspiring a whole new generation to take up an art form that's here to stay - now that's something to raise your Taj Toast to.

Sunday, January 08, 2006


Three, they say, is a crowd....
That doesn't hold when you are having so much fun!
It's hard enough to get the kiddoes to sit still for a moment, but to get them grounded like this with the foliage and all, takes the skill of a true blue professional. I'm sure you'd agree....


They are the undisputed Kings and Queens of Bollywood. They might keep you entertained through their song and retinues on screens. Off it, they are warm, personable, remarkably grounded and uncannily intelligent. Their answers pack punch, and no they didn't come scripted. They look as gorgeous in person as they do on screen. It's little surprise then that when they sweep the red carpet, the security covers simply give way. Here's my little Salam Namaaste to the King Khan, Rani and Pretty Preity!


IT used to be said that writing and architecture are the main carriers of culture and civilisation. Now that books are being put on celluloid, one can safely add movies to the list.

Take a look at some recent and upcoming blockbusters: The Harry Potter series, Da Vinci Code, Memoirs of A Geisha, Brokeback Mountain and The Legend of Narnia—the list goes on. Closer home, Chetan Bhagat will soon don the hat of a script-writer for the movie version of his own best-seller, One Night @ the Call Centre. Q & A by diplomat turned author, Vikas Swarup, had the industry buzzing not just about the book rights but also the movie rights.

The world of movies is so in thrall of what’s been written, about to be written or going to be written that often book rights are snapped up even before the book gets off the press. Good news for authors and book sellers, since books invariably see a revival in sales as soon as the movie is out.

Are we then soon likely to see more books that will resemble movie scripts or the stuff that I detest (movie scripts that get re-hashed and sold as books)? As I explored more of these bookish celluloid thoughts, I came across this brilliant letter posted on the literary website ( Here was my hero, author C.S. Lewis, immortalising his views on what he thought of a live action version of the classic children’s Narnia books.

"Anthropomorphic animals, when taken out of narrative into actual visibility, always turn into buffoonery or nightmare—at least with photography." That is something he was absolutely opposed to. In another note, he suggested he could possibly consider a cartoon version, but would have definitely flipped had he seen the film version complete with its computer-generated God-like Lion Aslan.

Despite those apparent differences on how the author felt about his work, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, has already risen steadily in the box office charts. That’s not all, sales have also made this Christmas season truly merry for booksellers.

As it happens, a movie revives book sales, though one can argue C. S. Lewis was never out of fashion. The rush to buy the box-set of the Chronicles or even the re-packaged film-cover book had the cash registers ringing.

In the case of the Chronicles, the treatment has been as good as one would expect from Disney. If you’ve read and seen The Bridges of Madison Country or even Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair or Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, you’ll know how the stuff in the movies can be so different from the characters or themes of the books.

While some may enjoy that journey, for me, spending two or three hours inside the cinema house is never enough. I like to snuggle up to my books, hide in my little corner, end up looking and feeling like a Hobbit or travel through Turkey and the Snow. Now, that’s what great books can do to you, something movies just can’t. Call me a purist, but give me a book any day.

Friday, January 06, 2006


We always remember first days. The day the baby was born, the day he or she smiled. The day they grinned, the day they said 'Mama' followed rather quickly by 'Dada' or vice versa. The day they took their tiny first steps, in the indeterminate way that only babies who are rapidly learning to walk can. The day they first put their pen to paper and wrote their first A.

Like the first date, it is a moment etched in one's memory. But there is one first day I'd really like to forget. And that was my son's first day at school. Now, Dhruv is no longer a baby. He is soon going to turn 3 and as a mother should have been more than prepared for his big steps into Nursery-hood.

Yes, the lil tyke was excited. He wore his Spiderman bag to the playground, on the bus when we were going veggie shopping and if he had it, he'd be a Spiderman in the loo too. There was that huge excitement about wearing the bag, boarding the bag and then heading to school.

But on the day, it was all supposed to happen, the pieces were to mysteriously fit in like a perfect jigsaw puzzle resolved, everything fell out. Since he hadn't been to play school, I decided to ease him into the whole process by accompanying him to school. Somehow, he knew something strange was about to happen. In the taxi he snuggled up really close to me and as I tried to build all the excitement about heading to school, he became increasingly drawn. By the time, we reached the school, my usually chirpy fella was all quiet and didn't even want to look out of the car window.

Things got progressively worse, when we got close to the class-room. First he refused to get in. After much coaxing and showing him a giant plasma screen, that didn't quite do the trick, he rather gingerly stepped in. The teacher gave us her broadest smile, but it wasn't quite helping. He still wanted to get out. Somehow, he knew, soon this journey with Spiderman is going to turn solo.

With that he held my legs in a way he's never held before. He gave me a look at tugged at more than just my heart strings. I tried to remember, but I couldn't. Was this the same look my mother would have encountered almost 32 years ago? Maybe that's why they say your babies never grow up.


I like my cutlery set in a particular way. I like sitting in a particular seat. I don't change my water glass till it gets smashed and when it comes to food, I just don't like experimenting. So if I've discovered a rosti and a kiwi cooler, I can keep going back to the same restaurant and eat the same meal, as if it were my last. Essentially I'm pretty much a daal chawal paratha dahi types. Most days are spent eating at home and on the rare occasions that I venture out, I stick to my closely guarded favourites.

On the rare occasions that I do get brave and start to experiment, my husband's food invariably turns out better tasting and better looking than mine. And of course, it raises more than a couple of eyebrows.

There is this coffee shop I love to frequent for their perfectly brewed cappucino and each time I stick to my cuppa and complement it with a perfect quiche. Though on one rare occasion, not too long ago, I got carried away with this delectable looking dish of baked potatoes. As the stuff was being overn baked, I had these visions of an amazing dish heading my way. So imagine my disappointment when a rather sad looking dish of almost shrivelled looking potatoes shows up with not even half the cheese covering the top. Angry with myself for having strayed from the regular path of non-experimenting, and spending $6 (not a fortune alright!) on something I could have certainly lived without, I hit the oven with a vengeance not known before, to come up with my own version of:

All you need to get started
5 Large Potatoes
1 Onion (Chopped Fine)
2 Tomatoes (Chopped Fine)
1 Teaspoon Garam Masala
1/2 Teaspoon Curry Powder
Salt according to Taste
Cheddar Cheese (as Cheesy as you would like it to be)

Getting Started:
1) Boil the potatoes, peel them and then cut them into slices. Keep half a potato aside.
2) Butter a baking dish and lay the sliced potatoes. Top it with some cheddar cheese.
3) Mix the chopped onions, the tomatoes, mash half of the remaining potato and throw in all the spices, if you'd like a more spiced up version add some chopped chillies too.
4) Top it all with a generous dollop of cheddar.
5) And then let the oven do the magic. Pre-heat it for 10 minutes. Set the oven on medium heat and let it bake for 20 minutes.
6) Once its done, let the simmering cheese settle down a bit sprinkle it with some oregano or if you are into freshly done stuff, then some fresh corainder would do the trick....
Lo and behold, dinner is served!
Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


She is our little angel. She stepped into our lives in circa 1999. Life as we know it, changed for the better. We learnt to be parents and in the process more caring human beings.

She taught us love should be unconditional. She taught us it was ok to be angry. She taught us life is a journey filled with tantrums and apologies. She taught us it was ok not to freak out when a child was throwing up while one was headed for a dream vacation. She taught us the virtues of patience. She taught us it is time not money that defines life.

Frank, forthright and every bit our special child, Aneesha is now six and the lessons that she has taught can't come packaged even in the best of books. Here are some of her special moments through this journey that we call LIFE!


Don't tell me you weren't warned!

I am so thrilled with myself, did manage to post the pictures after all. Coming from a tech nincompoop it does mean a lot. Ubud was one of the high points for me in 2005, as I am sure, it was for lots of other folks as well. Here are some moments, re-lived as they can only be through pictures. There is Booker Prize winning author Michael Ondaatje (a dream to moderate), noted Indian author Amitav Ghosh, Linda Spalding, the one and only Janet de Neefe - the one who dreamt of the Ubud Writers Festival and made it happen and of course, yours truly.

I am sure, you have already read about the festival (how could you not?). Well, if it slipped your radar screens, here's the link again, no more excuses:

It's also online on Zafar's fabulous site:

Visit it even if you don't want to read my piece, its a great way to track all things literary, particularly Asian writer.
Happy viewing and reading!


This was taken at the IIFA Ceremony in Singapore. What a week that was. The best of Bollywood royalty descended on our sunny shores. Many charmed us with their wit and intelligence. The Kings and Queens of Bollywood proved to be just that. Shah Rukh Khan was humility in motion, accepting all those gifts that his fawning fans had brought in especially for him. The Badshah, Amitabh Bachchan, had nothing but words of praise for the people who supported him in so many ways. There were others - charming us journos, but the ones who impressed me the most were - Rani Mukerji, Abshishek Bachchan, Vivek Oberoi (don't believe everything the media tells you about him, he was amazingly grounded), Jaya Bachchan, Javed Akhtar, the late Yash Johar (he gave us all the time in the world), Mani Ratnam and Shekhar Kapur. All of them proved why the Indian film industry is one of our finest exports - I'm not getting into the IT bits yet.

Literary Journey & Other Thoughts

Bala helped me post this article, but somehow without the book covers, it merely has half its charm, so here goes the link, given the propah look by the one and only Fizz - what would be do without her.

The updates may be last minute, but once it's outta your outbox you can rest assured, it's gonna be up and looking good at that....Take a look:

I presume, you have taken the time to read that magnum opus....
If you haven't, as we love to say in telly speak, 'stay tuned', 'we have more updates headed your way.'

So thanks for staying tuned to this space. Coz I do have something to say this morning. The other day someone asked me "why are all your reviews good?" Excellent point!

Being in the business that I am, being swamped with books is inevitable. And not all of them are brilliant! So what do I do. I make the choices. After so many many years of reading, often the back of the book and the cover is a key indicator of the content that awaits me. I'm not claiming to be a genius, but I can often tell a bad book from a good one. With that, the inevitable follows - I choose not to review the bad ones. I mean, come on, after I've wasted my energy on it, why first review it, then get you the reader to read it only to let you know "sorry buddy you wasted your time, the book is really crap."

And there is so much good literature coming out, that it is pointless wasting your time and energy on the bad stuff, almost as bad as being stuck with friends you can't count on in times of adversity.

Speaking of which, I was reading an article (about books of course) on one of my favourite Indian websites. And what do I find - one of my favourite Indian authors - Vikram Seth being panned. He wasn't alone - also getting hammered along the way were diplomat turned author Vikas Swarup, none other than the distinguished Amartya Sen and a host of others. I'm not gonna name names, but if you follow Indian writing, you'll know who I am talking about. As an aside, I enormously enjoyed 'Two Lives', 'Q&A' and 'Argumentative Indian'.

Sorry about side-tracking, getting back...
now, that's what I call criticism for the sake criticism. Also one of the many reasons, that authors say critics aren't taken all that seriously after all. I mean, why not try and do a Vikram Seth yourself first and then claim "he was all seth and went nowhere." Let me assure you, I'll be listening, even if the others aren't.

Time to run on, but I do promise some posts, soon.....
That's one of the many 2006 resolutions....
In addition to figuring out how to make the blog more jazzy....
Anyone with any ideas, do help!
Cheers & A Merry 2006

Monday, January 02, 2006



By Deepika Shetty

My lament at the end of each year. So much to read, so little time.

February 2005, saw the launch of our book segment 'Off The Shelf' and that's taken me on an even more rewarding journey into the fascinating world of books.

With more books being turned into movies, books rights being snapped even before works went to press, and this year saw more books flying off the shelves.

2005, like most other years, turned out to be yet another exciting year for book lovers everywhere.

One which culminated in a slew of exceptional books - both fiction and non-fiction.

Some of which, you as a reader, are bound to love more than the others. I read a lot of brilliant work, right from first-time authors to the established ones.

While it's impossible to mention all of them, here's what made it to the list of my memorable list for 2005:

'Two Lives' by Vikram Seth

With this book, he can be truly dubbed the master of suspense. Just when I thought there would be something along the lines of 'A Suitable Boy' or 'An Equal Music', Seth sprung a mega surprise with this touching memoir about his great-uncle and his German wife. There are letters that speak for themselves. The prose is vintage Seth and as I have been telling everyone I know, this is one book that you must have on your book shelf.

'Kafka on the Shore' by Haruki Murakami

This one clearly wasn't lost in translation. And it led me to a journey into all literature Japanese. What an amazing journey that turned out to be. This one is a real page-turner in addition to being a metaphysical mind-bender. It's 436 pages long, not always an easy read, has a man who has problems communicating with humans but can talk to cats. The journey of the 15-year old boy running from home may seem arduous at times, but this is one book that is definitely worth the trouble.
'Snow' by Orhan Pamuk

Orhan Pamuk is a literary genius, a phenomenon, actually. His books have won several awards. His sixth novel "My Name is Red" walked away with the 2003 Impac Dublin Literary Award, his latest book 'Snow' walked away with the prestigious French Foreign Literature Prize - the Prix Medicis this year. That happens to be yet another useful addition to a long, long list of richly deserved awards. In fact, the New York Times picked it as their 'Best Book of the Year.' It's a pity I discovered Pamuk's work so late. But I couldn't have hoped for a better starting point than 'Snow'. This work of fiction, that more often than not, reads like fact turns on the conflict between the forces of 'Westernisation' and 'Tradition'. On the one-hand it seems like the story of Ka - the poet and at a deeper level it deals with all the troubling issues confronting our times. You can't afford to miss out on 'Snow' which has been dubbed "essential reading" by none other than the celebrated Canadian author Margaret Atwood.

'Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince' by J K Rowling

In the early hours of July 16th, something changed. The world awoke to the hype of yet another Harry Potter book. Deserted bookshops opened at midnight catering to the crowds screaming for the sixth book of the 'Harry Potter' series. The television footage spoke for itself. And even though some British critics dismissed it as 'mediocre in the extreme', one of the fastest selling books this year clearly proved the critics wrong. Even if you are not a Potter fan, you must read this - at least to figure out what the hype is all about.

'The World is Flat' by Thomas Friedman

When the New York Times columnist, Friedman talks, the world listens. And then they either love his work or hate it. I clearly fall into the first category. I entirely agree that "while we were sleeping, something happened." Just take a look at the amazing stories right from Bangalore in India to the various cities in China. As the economic growth, spurred in part by the IT industry, the call centers, continues at a rate never seen before, it would be hard to disagree with this Pulitzer Prize winning author. So if you ignore this timely report on globalisation at work, it would have to be at your own risk.

'Beyond the Age of Innocence' by Kishore Mahbubani

The reservoirs of goodwill towards America are gone - that's an argument we've heard before. But what makes Mahbubani, who's also been called 'Asia's Toynbee' argument compelling is that he points to a structural problem that has evolved due to the size and scale of American power. His book is a message of love not fear and that's part of the reason why its appealed to readers beyond foreign policy specialists and analysts. Part of that appeal for me lies in the way personal experiences unravel to provide a broader take on American Foreign Policy. As Fareed Zakaria, the Editor of Newsweek International points out 'America needs more friends like him and the world needs more minds like him'.

'The Argumentative Indian' by Amartya Sen

This book by the Nobel Prize winning economist is full of provocative ideas, dry wit and fresh insights into ancient Indian texts. The author tracks the long history of the argumentative Indian and tells us why it's relevant and essential for the growth of democracy. An engaging read, though not always an easy one.

'Not Quite the Diplomat: Home Truths About World Affairs' by Chris Patten

This frank and vivid memoir takes you through Patten's rich personal experience of British, European, American and Asian politics. It is a learned account of some of the key lessons of a life in politics. One can't ask for more than that in a book.

'Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything' by Steven D Levitt & Stephen J Dubner

Steven D. Levitt, a teacher of economics at the University of Chicago, is a data detective. And he digs up startling yet simple data on many things that we take for granted. His far-reaching vision illuminates this highly entertaining, infectiously readable, and ultimately profound book. This book is an absolute delight - one that educates and entertains at the same time.
Amidst all these great books, four engaging debuts cannot be missed.
Marina Lewycka's 'A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian' hilariously records the fall-out when an elderly Ukrainian widower, long resident in Britain falls for a flamboyant Russian gold-digger in search of a passport to prosperity. The book was short-listed for the Orange Prize and won the SAGA Award for Wit.q
Suketu Mehta's appropriately sprawling evocation of 'Bombay, Maximum City' starts with a search for the author's home as he had known it. Almost as overpopulated as the great Indian megalopolis itself, the book has a broad range of themes, characters and issues that are bound to leave you breathless for more. This one bagged the prestigious Kiriyama Prize.
'Sightseeing' by Rattawut Lapcharoensap is an accomplished debut of short stories. All of them will touch you and unlike many other short story collections they won't leave you with that sense of incompleteness. This is definitely an author you want to watch out for in 2006.
Tash Aw made it to many literary short-lists including the Booker and the Whitbread with his sensitive 'Harmony Silk Factory'. Aw takes the reader to Malaysia - a relatively unexplored terrain when it comes to writing in English and makes the most of the stunning settings. The prose is in one word 'beautiful', ok let's make that two - and 'intelligent' too. This one's bound to keep appearing on the award lists