Books, Lit Fests, News, Movies, Art, Fashion and TV of course... "I must say that I find television very educational. The minute somebody turns it on, I go to the library and read a book." - GROUCHO MARX

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

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Ok, there are times when you just can't help but shoot yourself in the foot. I've just done that with the Doyenne of Pakistani Fashion Design. You see she has come draped in this lovely purple, bluish bandhini dupatta - a spectacular style statement that I would under normal circumstances, have raised my hat to. But with a blue chroma wall, standing betwixt me and the one and only Maheen Khan, I can't but help tell her it won't work.

We could try experimenting, perhaps during the break but the risk that we run is a part of Maheen's neck being invisible - the parts where the dupatta is draped. Maheen is forced to change her scarf to a white one and phew are we off. My heart that had been pounding away while Maheen went from blue to white, is pacing down to some signs of normalcy.

After all, Maheen is no ordinary guest. She is the woman who has played no small part in Oliver Stone's 100-million-pound epic creation 'Alexander The Great'. For those of you who can't quite remember - the skill of her exquisite hand was evident in the tents, banners, wall-hangings, Babylonian drapes in the . The sets included elaborately embroidered and embellished panels for Alexander's tents, his war banners, massive panels for the Babylon set, intricate bed covers, huge punkhas and even life-size embroidered pillars - all if which were created in little factories in and around Karachi.

And we have only just begun. 'Alexander' happens to be just one of her many brushes with big budget stuff. She also has to her credit other massive productions like 'Mozart', 'Peter Pan', 'The Aristocrats', 'Elizabeth', 'Napoleon' and 'The Three Musketeers' to name just a few.

Beyond costumes and period theatre sets, Maheen has showcased her designs in over 21 countries in the last two decades. It has been some journey from the time she founded 'MAHEENS' in Karachi in 1983 to the launch of her 'Diffusion' Line that caters to the broader international market.

Part of the huge charm of her clothes is that hers are 'real clothes for the real woman'. Nothing goes untouched by Maheen's skilled hands. Bridal jodas too get a make-over too through her fusion style that blends the very best of modernity with tradition.

Something that is typified through her look which spells comfort, sophistication and glamour - all in one breath. Her personal style as she defines it:
"is stark, bordering on classic, with a touch of madness and glamour." And the one thing she would never be seen in is a "museum piece of embroidery draped all over me, like tinsel town."

Winning words from a truly heart-warming designer, who rest assured will never make a Christmas Tree out of you.


He has dressed the very best. His client list is a veritable who's who. One that includes - the Late Princess Diana, Jemima Khan, Princess Sarvath of Jordan, the First Lady of Lisbon, the royalty of Jordan - the list goes on. His name rings a bell all the way from Paris to Milan to Karachi.

But one look at Rizwan Beyg - one of Pakistan's best known design exports - will put all fears of royalty and ivory tower attitudes at rest.

The man is grounded, blessed with a fabulous sense of humour and a genuine concern for all those around him.

Perhaps, it is the journey into the world of design that explains why his feet seem firmly planted on the ground. Often it takes lesser mortals with half the achievements to be flying right off terra firma.

His life reads like fiction itself. Like all scripted starts it began with the Asian parental aspiration of making a doctor out of their son. One dissection and Beyg decided this was a profession certainly not meant for the faint-hearted.

From there he drifted into architecture, going on to major in it. Lines, structure and planning in the sheer architectural sense though didn't draw him in.
And what started as a simple experiment with the ghar-ka-darzi (in-house tailor) brought out the hidden designer in him.

When fun comes infused with passion, it's virtually impossible for it to go unnoticed. Well, something like that happened for Beyg. His collection demanded attention and that's just what it got from a magazine of note. The rest as we all love to say, is history.

His first fashion show was held in 1989. Since then he has traversed to all parts of the globe rubbing shoulders with stars, royalty and celebrities.
Through his journeys both on and off the ramp, he has been credited with pretty much transforming the fashion silhouette of Pakistan. His collection may be called 'Limited Editions' but it is only limited by the sheer bounds of his creativity.

Beyg has been called Pakistan's "most effective ambassador for fashion", something I certainly wouldn't disagree with.

Apart from putting his best foot forward for fashion, he does his bit for charity, has helped establish Pakistan's Fashion Design Guild and among the various other things that he dabbles in, he also serves on the board of the Indus Valley of Arts and Architecture.

And Indus, it is that brings him to Singapore. He is here for 'Colours of the Indus' - a fashion show that has set out to raise money for the survivors of the deadly Kashmir earthquake.

An unforgettable cause, that is bound to be made unforgettable by Rizwan Beyg's sheer presence.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Ok, so not everyone is bullish about India. A couple of positive quotes down the line have ruffled a few feathers. A particularly angry note flying straight in hotter than a breaking news wire. And I quote:

"I was quite amused to see this on the same day that the International Herald Tribune talks about "Destitute and Dying on India's farms" on its front page. This is of greater importance for this crucial issue from a foreign newspaper than any Indian newspaper, obsessed with fashion and filmstars, has seen fit to give it.

All these comments are from a very, very small group of people who are only looking at a very, very thin sliver of India. You still have millions of people dying of hunger every year (yes, millions), private armies and caste killings in Bihar, and corrupt politicians everywhere. India still has a long way to go, and I would think people should be focusing more on that than on these feel good comments from the second wave of colonialists.

And all those jobs in out sourcing -- who in the West wants to turn day into night? No one.

They are just another form of the T-shirt and sneaker sweatshops in the Third World in the '80s. Pardon the rant, but it is very difficult to keep one's composure when faced with this sort of Mammonistic mumbo-jumbo."

Phew, and we have only just begun.

I, do not, for one disagree with the problems that persist. The red tape, the bureaucracy, the nepotism is there. Yes, 'Apaharan' - the Bollywood version is pretty much a take on stuff that is happening for real in parts of Bihar.

Not everything is alright. But name me one society, one country that has got everything all right. If corporate governance is perfect, the issue of freedom of expression takes centre-stage. If it's a free for all, outsourcing becomes a talking point. If the economy is opening up, protectionists want a say... either way you win some, you lose some.

I spent a week, celebrating all things Indian in sunny Singapore and what a week that turned out to be. The news makers, movers and shakers were all here, thanks to the vision of an event dreamed of and executed with a phenomenal degree of success by the Indian High Commission.

The confidence that I saw around me in the week that went by gave me more reason to cheer but more of that later.

Of course, the cynics won't be satisfied with just that.

So for those who like something substantial, a sheer look at the statistics proves that what is happening in India is no mere 'Mammonistic mumbo-jumbo'.

It would take a life-time to crunch all the numbers, so here are the key ones-
- Over 125 Fortune 500 firms now have Research and Development bases in India.
- India's consumer market stands at an estimated 300 million people.
- Its luxury goods market is estimated to rake in US $14 billion.
- Retail sales are rising at a whopping 28% per annum.
- The price of Indian art is shattering more than its share of records (the numbers saved up for another post).
- World leaders are paying attention to it in a way that they never have before. In fact, it's said that in New Delhi it is not just the foreign ministry but the airport itself which is deluged with dignitaries.
- This is the India, that Fareed Zakaria, Editor, Newsweek, hailed post Davos.

Apart from film stars, designers, authors, writers, artists, playwrights, dancers, just about everyone is putting their best foot forward to project the new face of a resurgent India. And if that isn't a cause for celebration, I don't know what else is.

Agreed we have miles to go, but this is no time to sleep.

PS: My night has been turned into day for over four years and I'm quite happy to keep it that way! And no one in the West forced me into it.


Last year, it was Michael Ondaatje and Amitav Ghosh.

This year it shall be William Dalrymple, Madhur Jaffrey, Su Tong and Eric Campbell - to name a select few.

The race to get Orhan Pamuk on that plane to Denpasar is still on.

Janet, Karen, Finley and the rest of the team are working round the clock to ensure the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival rocks this time too.

The theme this year is 'Desa Kala Patra' or Place-Time-Identity. This theme will address the ties that bind us to place, ancestry and identity in modern times.

So dudes and dames, if you need another reason for a cerebral party, don't go anywhere without checking this out -
It's all happening end September. Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


The curtains came down on the fabulous Celebrating India week with a chat with Indian icon Sharmila Tagore on Saturday.

There was nostalgia in the air and a tinge of regret. I'd worked on a week long special, interviews were planned, researched, then thrown out of the window, often coz the schedules didn't match.

But what a week it turned out to be (more posts are on the way). The bullishness about India was to be seen everywhere, right from the opening dinner to the art exhibition to theatre, dance and movies.

And if you are still wondering if the optimism is warranted, here are some thoughts to put all doubts at rest.

The pick of the best from the IBEF website:

"Like people study political science, culture, public health, economics, law and medicine, students in Harvard will now study India as a subject."
Lawrence Summers, President, Harvard University

"Our (India and US) relations ship has never been better. We will work together. There is no limit to what we can achieve."
George W Bush, US President

"India has a fantastic pool of software professionals. The world needs to benefit from this."
Bill Gates, Chairman, Microsoft

"The dynamism shown by India in the last 15 years is phenomenal."
Paul Wolfowitz, President, World Bank

"Never were our relations ever more exciting."
Tony Blair, British Prime Minister of Britain

"Today, there is a greater willingness internationally to work with India -- and to build relationships of mutual benefit."
Dr Manmohan Singh, Indian Prime Minister

"I believe India could be the fastest growing economy in the world one day. It would be foolish for Virgin not to embrace India."
Sir Richard Branson, Chairman, Virgin Atlantic Airways

"Ratan Tata's $14.3 billion family conglomerate is a picture of what was and is India Inc."

"We want to bring to the world various facets of this extraordinary country, its people and progress"
Chris Cramer, International Managing Director, CNN


This one just caught my eye. How couldn't it?

Just when you thought fish were meant for eating, a Japanese spa has come up with an unusual beauty treatment. One that has rare fish nibbling at your dead skin cells. And here I am thinking, the secret to eternal youth, lies in that expensive little bottle.

The Japanese, of course, taking us right back to nature.

Women who have been swarming to the "Doctor Fish" experience, as it's being hailed, are already swearing by it. Some even call this rather strange bathing experience a 'unique beauty treatment'.

The fish trace their antecedents to the hot springs of Turkey, where they are thought to have healing properties for skin complaints.

No such claims in Japan though, where they are being promoted only for their beauty skills.

Certainly, not a treatment for the faint-hearted, not one for me at least.

But if your idea of a hot bath includes being nibbled by fish, unroll your map, get your Lonely Planet ready. Your next holiday should take you to Kowakien Yunessun hot springs in the mountain resort of Hakone. It's some 100 kilometres west of Tokyo.

And don't say you weren't warned!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


My first taste of Pakistani design and fashion came in the form of a stunning black and orange outfit gifted to me by the affable Pakistani High Commissioner to Singapore - Sajjad Ashraf. Lest you read this wrong, I'm not in the habit of name dropping, but this much is a fact.

Getting back to the outfit now. The cut was fabulous, made just for the average South Asian woman - read endowed in all wrong places - well, that's me. Beyond the cuts, it was the embroidery. All hand work, beads and baubles, worked in a seamless balance of what can only pass as aesthetic sensibility worked to perfection.

So when the High Commissioner mentioned a fashion show, I was all ears. After all, we keep hearing and seeing so much of Indian fashion - which barely covers all and increasingly seems to have a shorter shelf life than the ramp itself (but that's another post).... and how often does one hear of Pakistani fashion?

Not that often for sure. So it was that touch of delving into the unknown, researching about designers I'd barely heard of, that had me drawn to the 'Colours of the Indus' - a fashion show being put together by a dedicated bunch of women who form the Singapore Pakistani Association, who send me emails in the still of the night - a sure sign that sleep is a far cry away till the show is over.

And this morning, I got my first real taste of what to expect when the show rolls out in on the 25th of April.

Stunning fabrics replete with embroidery from the best of Pakistan's fashion world. That would be Maheen Khan, Imran Kureishi, Faiza Samee, Rizwan Beyg and Shamoon Sultan.

As Maheen Khan puts it "I like real clothes for the real woman." I like that too and while I'd like to tell you all about Maheen, I can't. If I did, you wouldn't watch the show would you?

So as we love to say, stay tuned and watch this space to see the 'Colours of the Indus' unfold.


He was born with the proverbial silver spoon - into royalty that is. But at the age of 15, he ran away from home, as his dreams of being an artist were simply not being nurtured. It didn't help that life's tough lessons were made tougher still by the loss of his parents. Though he clearly is not one to be deterred by adversity.

Meet painter, print maker, sculptor, writer, art critic and poet Yusuf Arakkal. When he tells the story of his early life, you can almost see parts of 'Shantaram' come alive. Arakkal has been there, done that. Lived in the slums, worked on construction sites, survived on water, but lessons from those days, he frankly admits, have stood him in the grandest stead.

Today, when he conceptualises and presents something as deep as 'Children of Conflict', he draws on just the conflicts of our time, the conflicts of the past come up as well.

In his skilled hands, 'The Book' goes from the visual to the narrative.

Not one to shy away from the constant experimentation within the defined form and the space, Arakkal's work has made its way into several collections all the way from India to the United States to Japan and Singapore. It is, as always his intimate revelations and forceful outpourings through his various art forms that scream for attention and make you sit up and take notice.

Definitely an artist whose life's work is as rich as his life itself.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


Her signature style is uncluttered yet stunning. Her label - closely associated with style, innovation and impeccable sensibility. In fact, many critics say it captures the 'very heartbeat of fashion' by bringing the best of the East and the West in an intricate embrace.

Having honed her skills at the world renowned fashion house, 'Polo Ralph Lauren', Ranna Gill today owns boutiques in Mumbai and New Delhi and her collection retails at stores in the US, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Germany, the Middle East and even Turkey!

Quite an achievement for someone who had it all in the US but left it to draw inspiration for her designs from the wonder that is India.

She has just wrapped up her show at the Wills India Fashion Show, got on to the next flight to Singapore to be a part of 'Celebrating India'. And no sooner has she landed that she is in the studio to do yet another live interview. Now, if you didn't know all of that, it would be impossible to tell that this talented young designer has spent a couple of sleepless nights.

Her energy is boundless, her take on the resurgent Indian economy spot on, her dismissal of critics simply proves she just takes everything in her stride. And her pitch for her own brand makes her even more endearing. Asked about the three must haves in a modern woman's wardrobe, she starts off "A Ranna Gill top, a pair of nice jeans and dream shoes."

Just the thing you need, before you go looking for her designer threads which retail in Singapore at the high end design store Mumbai Se.

Be sure to get your hands on one of them soon, 'coz Ranna isn't in the habit of repeating herself. She's gone from kaftans to gypsy skirts to her latest collection "Elizabeth" - through which she conjured a Victorian look.

Another new look is being worked on - though what it is, remains a tightly guarded Ranna secret... at least for now.

Friday, April 07, 2006


After months of intense speculation, it's now official.

Katie Couric, host of US television's most popular morning programme , the 'Today' show has resigned. She leaves NBC end May to join rival CBS.

Now why is this significant? After all this is a world full of anchors.

For one 49 year old Couric, spent 15 years anchoring "Today" -- longer than any other anchor of the 54-year-old morning show. 'Today' has ranked as the top network show in morning ratings for more than a decade, making it one of the most important assets of NBC. Staying consistently on top for all those years is a huge achievement. More so in an industry where eyeballs skid quick time.

What's even more impressive is that Couric heads on to anchor CBS's evening newscast, "Evening News" and "60 Minutes". With that she becomes
become the first sole woman anchor of a major US network evening newscast.

Widely tipped to take Couric's place is 52 year Meredith Vieira. How NBC handles the transition from Couric to Vieira will be crucial in protecting a business that delivers over $200 million a year in profits on some $600 million in ad sales (we're talking US $).

It is NBC's most profitable programme and the network, which has been suffering a slump in its primetime schedule, simply cannot afford to let 'Today' skip a beat say media watchers.

The CBS though is clearly hoping its investment in Couric will pay off. The network has agreed to pay her US $75 million over five years to anchor the 22-minute "Evening News" and contribute to "60 Minutes" with bonuses tied to ratings gains.

Now, if you are losing your breath over that, hold it right there, coz that is just slightly less than what NBC now pays Couric to co-anchor the three-hour "Today" broadcast.

Ok the money she's making is disgusting, it could feed half the world in one go, but for the sheer sustaining power of a show and the ability to make her mark on an evening newscast as a sole female presenter - that too in the US, I can't resist saying : HAIL KATIE!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


The irony couldn't have been more stark. The men in blue had sweated it out. It was buckets of sweat - literally - on that sunny Goa pitch.

Yuvraj Singh was exceptional as was 19 year old Raina. And there never was any doubt about who the man of the match would be, never mind Irfan Pathan's superb bowling spell.

Team India meant business, if you were willing to ignore those missed catches and a couple of mis-fields. After all the weather, even the commentators agreed, was inhospitable - that's putting it mildly.

So after that running, sweating and the consistent winning ways - for those of you of you keeping the records - it was India's seventh straight win.

Playing with that incessant drum beat and the unprecedented fan support - Dhoni's pleas have worked - takes a special something - I am sure you would agree.

Which is why when you see the winning team, the winning runs and the guy who really swung the match being honoured - you just expect so much more. Which is also why the contrast at Goa yesterday couldn't have been more stark.

Yuvraj gets the man of the match, Atherton proudly announces he's got a cheque of 50,000 Rupees, which my currency convertor today tells me is US $1,238.50, I'm not even going to get into the Pounds, it's way too embarrassing.

This is coming from a Board that lacks no amount of sponsorship, where 30 second commercial spots can run into lakhs of rupees, where we can always dish out more than enough to honour glories past, but fall woefully short of the recognising those truly deserving in the present.

And to think this is happening in an India where salaries are rocketing through the roof. So isn't it time to reassess what we officially give the men who of late, have been making our hearts swell with pride.

Or else it's time to stop seeing green over those seemingly over the top endorsements. After all, with 18 and 19 year olds competing for room on the Team, the shelf life of even the best cricketer is bound to get shorter. But that's another post.....


Enough ink has been spilt on this. The MMS has done the rounds. It's made Prime Time News - surely there are better things to talk about in India - but that's quite another story!

One would have thought the offending video would be taken off web links. No such thing. It stays. Guess at the end of the day, its the eyeballs that count.

So as the moment lives on, as law makers start discussing obscenity in fashion shows, here are my thoughts on the woman caught in that state of undress.

She is brave. Many would have walked right back if their shirts came undone. Carol held it with her hands, kept a straight face, walked as if nothing had really happened. Some reports say she broke down the minute she got off the ramp - so can we please put those conspiracy theories to rest.

And while many were happily clicking away, hoping for another wardrobe malfunction, Carol was back in another outfit to walk the ramp again. I salute your spirit, Carol. GRACIAS.

Monday, April 03, 2006


It's the 10th anniversary of the annual Byron Bay Writers Festival in Australia. Jill Eddington, the Festival Director is promising a feast for the senses. I don't for a minute doubt that. In August, it will be my first time there and I am looking forward to meeting all the exciting writers who will making an appearance here.

The Festival has already chalked up a stellar line-up of writers will be exploring 'place' and the role of 'place' in literature and writing.

Between people and places, there sure will be lots to talk about come August.

So if you are looking for a holiday that will give you something to write about, don't go anywhere without taking a look at this:


There are places you visit and they never go away. I've been to Bali thrice, to Ubud twice. And this October, it will be trip number three to Ubud. I just can't seem to get enough of the paddy fields, the fabulous art work, the warmth, the food and just about everything else that is part of the package that is Ubud.

The biggest attraction though is Janet and Ketut's fabulous Honeymoon Guesthouse. It makes any trip to the island paradise well worth it. The pool comes treated with sea salts, the food is mind blowing, as are the settings. Imagine tucking into a Balinese paella right smack with the sights of Mt Agung for company. Then there is the most awesome brownie that comes stashed with dollops of vanilla ice-cream. Visions of the treat come to mind, so I have to leave you with some pictures.

And I'm not saying all of this, because Janet is a pal. Of course that helps, but when you create something like the Honeymoon Guesthouse, Casa Luna and Indus in Ubud, even the foes would have something nice to say.

It's all child friendly, so if you have you have appetite whetted, your bags packed, do check out - - before you make your next booking at Bali.

There's also the Writers Fest coming up end September - if you need two good reasons to visit Ubud this year -