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.

Friday, March 30, 2007


Ok, ok, not the book, not the plot, not who will perish, but the covers.

You still have to wait until the 21st of July to lay your hands on the seventh and final book in the enormously successful Harry Potter series. Though if pictures tell a story, expect lots of dark action.

Between the two and considering both the adult and children's edition will weigh a modest 0.663 kilograms, I'll settle for the kiddie version. More colour in the drama thanks to Jason Cockcroft's cover illustration. He's done the covers for the previous two books, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The adult edition has a photograph by Michael Wildsmith, who has photographed all the adult editions.

While you countdown to the 21st, feast your eyes on these and bookmark Bloomsbury for all the updates.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007


The last time I did a lot of red carpet waiting, watching and interviewing was during the IIFA in Singapore. Since then, there's been a fair share of Bollywood heading in and out of our shores, but nothing on the mega scale that Bollywood fans are getting used to.

Malaysia which had rolled out the red carpet for the Global Indian Film Awards or GIFA earlier is set to host the 10th Zee Cine Awards this weekend. With the A list - Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta, Priyanka Chopra, Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai - in attendance temperatures are bound to be sizzling at Genting.

There will be performances, starry speeches and the awards of course. I've taken a look at the footage from the past years and having rubbed shoulders with Lydia and Tripta in the past, I know it'll be a slick affair. After all, they set the bar with the Zee Night in Singapore.

It's interesting to see how the award ceremony has travelled so far. It went international in 2004 and since then its travelled to Dubai, London and Mauritius, drawing in packed crowds everywhere.

Several awards will be announced in what promises to be a night of glitz and glamour. Though if the technical awards, which were announced earlier this week, are any indication films like Krrish, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, Lage Raho Munnabhai and Rang De Basanti will be the ones to watch out for. It's bound to be a close race to the finish and it's something that I'll be watching closely to bring you all the updates.

Some star-struck days lie ahead, so if you witness blog inaction, you'll know what happened.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007


The only saving grace of India's pathetic show against Sri Lanka was watching at least part of the game in Harsha Bhogle's presence. For those of you who know your sport, the voice of cricket needs no introduction. He's passionate about the sport and it clearly shows.

When we booked a table at The Grand Copthorne Waterfront's Piano Bar we certainly weren't expecting celebrity. And with our collective brushes with celebrity (between our table we had a fair bit of media and a fair bit of PR covered), when Harsha was doing the introductory rounds, we just weren't sure how this was going to turn out. In fact, we thought he's do his Hi's and his handshakes and move on. So when Tripta asked Harsha to join us we half expected him to say no. Some folks take celebrity status rather seriously, Harsha clearly doesn't.

He's like your friend next door, the expert who stays grounded and doesn't brusf off any question as stupid enough. A lot of experts in his shoes definitely would. So the questions flowed through the night:
- Why is India batting first?
Pat came the analysis about the pitch and how it would work to our advantage.
- Can Sri Lanka last through the game?
Yup, the cricket line goes all the way down to Russell Arnold.
- Is our fielding good?
No, not when you compare it to the other teams, its just that our standards have been lowered.
- Why are cricket commentators always kissing their mikes?
Sure they seem like they are from another age, but they still have the best sound quality and don't pick up background sound.

Thus, it went through the better part of the night. We had our own live analysis as the did the table next to ours. Such was the charm of his personality that you could see people walk through with a warm smile and a handshake, some of course resorted to donning fake Amrikan accents - quite a spectacle that sounded. There were crazy comments all round, as can only be expected when winners fail to work that spell. In the midst of all of that, Harsha remained perhaps the only oasis of sanity.

What impressed me most about the man was the fact that he sat through it all. I'm pretty certain he did because when we called it quits, soon after Yuvraj's inexplicable run-out, he was still there alert (despite a morning flight), making mental notes of what would go into his show the same morning at 11am. How often does one see that kind of commitment these days? Which is why when you hear him talk you already know that this is one voice in a class of its very own. The kind of voice you hear when passion and vision come together. The insights then can never be better than Harsha Bhogle's.

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Friday, March 23, 2007


All week, I've been at the edge of my PC, hoping not to hear the worst. Sadly it was not to be. The official statement released by the Jamaican police tells us his death was due to "asphyxiation by manual strangulation." I shudder to think what his last moments were like. Here's my remembrance:

BOB WOOLMER (1948-2007)

For the longest time, we have been taught sports is about team-building, partnership, winning, losing and taking it all in our stride. Not any more.

After well-publicised reports of match-fixing, cricket - the sport that I love - has seen its image take the biggest blow of all. Murder. Strangulation. Asphyxiation.

Sadly, these are the terms that are being associated with the tragic death of one of the greatest coaches of our time, Bob Woolmer. And just what was his fault? That his team lost and badly at that to debutants Ireland.

Yes, it was shocking. How could the early favourites, Pakistan, be the first to bow of the world's finest cricket contest? How could the 1992 world champions be dumped out of the World Cup by Ireland's part-timers? How did it come to this?

But it couldn't just be blamed on Woolmer. The Pakistan Cricket Board has been roundly criticised for its failure to come up with a World Cup winning strategy in the running up to the contest. Two keys players including bowler Shoaib Akhtar were caught in the midst of a doping investigation. Pakistan had a run in on the pitch in England. One of the images that has been replayed over the past few days is that of Akhtar pushing Woolmer during a training session and Woolmer standing firm.

That was what Woolmer did in the time that he was the Pakistan cricket team. He put a team together. A team that like all teams has its good days and equally bad ones.

Quick with his analysis even while the match was on, Woolmer never once minced his words. Ironically, just days before his death, he had talked about the stresses of his coaching job: "doing it internationally, it takes a toll on you - the endless travelling and the non-stop living out of hotels."

In last media conference following Pakistan's World Cup exit, he said, "I am deeply hurt and cannot tell you how it is going to affect me."

Hours later, he was found unconscious in his hotel room and pronounced dead with an hour of being taken to a hospital in Kingston, Jamaica.

Initial reports that came out on Monday morning (in Singapore) said the 58 year old former England test batsman could have died of a heart attack. But the traces of blood and vomit in his room made this sound suspect. The rumour mills went into over-drive soon after. Five days on, it was made official this morning (Friday, 23rd March 2007) that Woolmer had been murdered. The Jamaican police stated the official cause of death was "asphyxiation by manual strangulation."

An end that sounds even more horrific than it reads. And to think this came to a man who took the sport of cricket to great heights. A man who coached South Africa from 1994-1999, who took the hot seat in Pakistan in 2004, who worked on three continents to help develop cricket across the world. A man who lived his life for the love of cricket.

Fate brought him to Pakistan as coach. Many didn't expect him to last. After all the country's hottest post had seen five changes since 1999 until his arrival. But Woolmer was known for taking on jobs that weren't reserved for the faint hearted. His Vaio laptop in hand, he pioneered the use of computers in cricket, he forged a strong relationship with skipper Inzamam and he didn't let anything get in his way as he steadily strengthened his position as coach.

He was busy at work on a book that could have possibly told us all about the inner workings of cricket. If Woolmer's death is any indication, the details might have been murky. The story must have been about more than just sport. Sadly, we will never know.

Whoever silenced Woolmer's voice, silenced something that was bigger than just his coaching brilliance and his presence on and off the pitch. They silenced the spirit of a sport and for that there should be no forgiveness.

This piece appeared here.

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Friday, March 16, 2007


A comment made by American media pundit Tom Plate has made me thinking for the past couple of days. When I first met him, his comment was "I'm touched you've read my book." The book in question was his recently launched 'Confessions of an American Media Man.' Deep down, I thought it can't be any other way, when one has an interview to prep. Look at the people who are serious about their books, they read their stuff, they tell you about the good from the bad, they tell you what worked, what didn't. Yes, their opinions are subjective, but you can't deny they are often spot on.

Going back to Plate, in his recent column he spoke of "neglected authors" and their books being read. The question I have is, why is it that some authors are neglected, others ignored while still others continue to grow? You can't always blame the publishing machinery for it. To be fair to the publishers, they try their best to push the books and authors take on. But there is only so much that the spin doctors can do for a book and for authors at large.

To borrow Tarun Tejpal's phrase, publicity overdrives are all the "fluff of art." In an interview I'd done with him when 'The Alchemy of Desire' was launched, he'd said: "The only real judge is time - if three years from now or five years from now, it still resonates with readers, then you can be sure you've got something there."

That's the thing about great books, they need to resonate, only then do they work. One of the books (and my favourite) that has travelled this way has been 'Shantaram.' It was an Australian couple who I'd met for the first time at Janet's place who first told me about the greatness of the book. It's one of those things that stayed in my end and that word of mouth did it for me. True, it took me several months before I actually got down to reading it, but the nuances, the turn of phrase, the spirit of India that we'd talked about by the poolside is something that had stuck in my head.

The conversion to the book had been so subtle that I hadn't even noticed it. And that's way it is with great books. The true test is in making that connection that will withstand the test of time. The internet may have made its demands, online books made their way but the hunger for the real thing persists. As long as that remains, great books will continue to be read and great authors will continue to born and reborn.

As I mull over all of that, I'm going to start my own little journey that'll take me back to some of the books that have moved and touched me over the years starting with Ali & Nino.

Bala first read about this book, in where else but The Economist, of course. He launched a mammoth hunt for it, before finding success online. He surprised with a copy of the book - at that time I hadn't even heard of it. Soon as I started reading it, I knew this was going into my stash of 'can't borrow' books. Let me try and explain, briefly I can, why....

Kurban Said's Ali and Nino, was first published in 1937. It went out of print for a couple of decades before being reprinted in 1999. At 282 pages, its not too a long read.

Said's masterpiece is a timeless classic of love in the face of war. It's a captivating novel that is as evocative of the desert landscape it's set in as it is of the passion between its two central characters - Ali and Nino.

This relatively short book with an epic sweep has been hailed as one of the enduring romantic novels of the century. Often compared to Romeo and Juliet, Gone with the Wind, Dr Zhivago and the story of Laila and Majnu - it is as much a story of love as it is a portrait of two exotic cultures.

It attracted rave reviews even when it went out of print:
"One feels as if one had dug up buried treasure... an epic of cultural change that seems more immediate than this morning's headlines," said a review in The New York Times.

It's a book that like all great literature retains its appeal years after it was first published. Set in the years surrounding the Russian Revolution and the rise of the Soviet Union, Said's tale of an Azerbaijani Muslim boy in love with a Georgian Christian girl is both tender and disturbing. The novel, begins as Ali Khan Shirvanshir is finishing his last year of high school:
"We were a very mixed lot, we forty schoolboys who were having a Geography lesson one hot afternoon in the Imperial Russian Humanistic High School of Baku, Transcaucasia: thirty Mohammedans, four Armenians, two Poles, three Sectarians, and one Russian."

The multi-ethnic Baku, stands at a crossroads between West and East. As the smug Russian Professor informs his pupils, it is their responsibility to decide "whether our town should belong to progressive Europe or to reactionary Asia."

For Ali Khan there is no doubt--he belongs to the East. His beloved Nino, however, is "a Christian, who eats with knife and fork, has laughing eyes and wears filmy silk stockings" - in short she epitomises the best of the West for Ali.

But in the far away West, there are rumblings of war. When the Russian Revolution begins, Ali chooses not to fight. While the Czar's fate is of little interest to him, the young man senses that another, greater danger is gathering on his country's borders. It is that of an "invisible hand" trying to force his world into new ways - the ways of the West.

As those disturbing developments continue, he courts Nino and eventually marries her despite the growing scandal and opposition to the match. This union of the East and West is a difficult one as Ali Khan finds himself lured increasingly into more European ways. When Soviet troops invade, however, he must choose once and for all whether to stand - to back Asia or Europe.

One of the many pleasures 'Ali and Nino' offers is Said's portrayal of different world and cultures. Another is his compassionate portrait of the protagonists' difficult but profound relationship. There are cautionary moments in this little chronicle of cultures colliding and a way of life brutally destroyed. It is all of this that works collectively to lift Said's only novel into literature's highest ranks.

To avert a spoiler, I'm not even going to go into the ending, all I'll say is, it's one that lasts forever.

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Between prose and poetry, I'd stick to prose anyday. Somehow, the draw of the poem works for me only when I'm seeing it performed. Poets at slams, at performance poetry session make their words come alive in a way that often exceeds my imagination. I feel a part of the experience, part of the words, Beyond that point, once it's all over I don't make a dash to the book store to buy the said book of poems.

All that's about to change thanks to British poet of Punjabi descent Daljit Nagra , who I heard on the BBC today. Not sure what show it was, was channel hopping, when I saw someone reading. It was my introduction to Nagra and his work and the effect was mesmeric. Enough to tempt to make that long overdue trip to Borders.

More than the sheer power of his words, which stood out in their own right - even on TV - it was the story of his life that had me all ears. He spoke of capturing the Indian experience, his own years growing up poor in London, fighting racism, his parent's shop, where they went from poor to rich to being robbed and his 'Indianness' (or is it Punjabiness) that speaks out loud and clear in his work.

He read parts of his poems to demonstrate that, flitting charmingly between his British accent to a Punjabi one back to the British one, making the interview a viewer's delight.

Nagra spoke of the absence of poetry when he was in school, how he got started, why he refused to go on even when recognised critics like Martin Dodsworth believed in him. He continued mixing English with Punjabi while he was at University and only started taking his work seriously in the late 1990s. Things changed when he started getting published and won the Forward prize for Best Individual Poem in 2004 for 'Look We Have Coming to Dover!'

His book has been published by Faber and Faber this year and garnered a five star rating on Amazon. That's some start considering this slim volume was only out on 1st February. Despite the success, Nagra, the poet has no plans of giving up his day job as a teacher.

His students may be wondering why a published poet is still around but the lure of the job, he pointed out, is bound to keep him going. As Nagra spoke about how much he loves teaching, it was hard to imagine him giving up on teaching. After all, his words seemed enough to inspire a whole new generation of poets who perhaps would be as willing to take risks with the form, as he has and with that draw a whole new generation of readers.

Even if you don't enjoy poetry, it's hard not to love this.

Raja's Love Song

All the girls say they love me
all their mums say I'm lovely -
ever since I lived in the clouds.

Ever since you left me
I've been raining on the road
where you first said you loved me ...

It's enough to draw me back to my long forgotten Milton, Browning and Keats.

If it's Nagra who'll get you started, then head here to read more.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007


"It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that things are difficult."
- SENECA (Roman Philosopher, Dramatist, Statesman)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


For all you diners like me, who when dining out, get impressed by that sublime sliver of something topping your foie gras, and look at the drizzle of sauce imagining chefs are culinary artists in disguise, hold it right there.

Veteran chef, columnist, food lover and television presenter Anthony Bourdain spills all to shatter that view in his immensely readable 'Kitchen Confidential'.

That elegant concoction you may have just swooned over, he tells the impressed reader is the collaborative effort of a team of "wacked-out moral degenerates, dope fiends, refugees and a thuggish assortment of drunks." And that is only the beginning.

Bourdain leaves no stone unturned to reveal the gritty details, he remains unapologetically opinionated from start to finish. All of which strangely comes together to make Kitchen Confidential a rollicking read. A large part of Bourdain's charm is his honesty that spells itself in the opening caveat:
"There will be horror stories....But I'm simply not going to deceive anybody about the life as I've seen it."

And then there is the story itself, that among other things, teaches you why it pays to look at your waiter's face:
"He knows. It's another reason to be polite to your waiter: he could save your life with a raised eyebrow or a sigh. If he likes you, maybe he'll stop you from ordering a piece of fish he knows is going to hurt you. On the other hand, maybe the chef has ordered him, under the pain of death, to move that codfish before it begins to really reek. Observe the body language and take note."

Why you should be careful when it comes to seafood:
"I have had, at a very good Paris brassiere, the misfortune of eating a single bad mussle, one treacherous little guy hidden among an otherwise impeccable group. It slammed me shut like a book, sent me crawling to the bathroom. I prayed that night. For many hours. And as you might assume, I'm the worst kind of atheist. Fortunately, the French have liberal policies on doctor's house calls and affordable health care. But I do not care to repeat that experience."

And is the kitchen all blood, no gore?
"I'm not even going to talk about blood. Let's just say we cut ourselves a lot in the kitchen and leave it at that."

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Monday, March 12, 2007


He is a poet, writer, playwright and educator. A former Poet-in-Residence at the BBC London, Jacob Sam-La Rose is currently a touring writer with the British Council. Something that's taken him to Botswana then Singapore, followed by Malaysia. In addition to teaching creative writing internationally, he's found himself emerge as an "ambassador of poetry." He headed down for a recording recently and had this to say.... Needless to say, I was pleased to read about the Richard and Judy comparison:

"Television studios are strange, maze-like places. I sat on a couch feeling like a guest on the Singaporean equivalent of the Richard and Judy show, except the presenters were younger and much more attractive."

Read more here.

If it's pictures that draw you more than the written word, he's an avid shutter bug as well. Enjoy these.


Friday, March 09, 2007


Sharon Bakar's been dishing out immensely useful information on the art of shorts, including all you need to know about writing contests - if it's contests that get you going.

I haven't got to short stories but have been trying my hand at short reviews. I didn't realise how hard it would be say all I wanted to say about a book I truly loved in less than 300 words.

It took several rewrites before I thought I'd got it right. The book in question was Mohsin Hamid's 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' and the short short appeared in Today newspaper. Can't seem to find it online, if you read it, email ( me and let me know if it worked.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


She finds out the truth and refuses to walk away from it. The moment that changes the columns she pens comes when she sees children in the dark lanes of Dublin play with the remains of syringes used to inject drugs. That sees Veronica Guerin, the high-profile Irish journalist mount a war against Ireland's drug barons.

The movie has its fool-hardy moments, the classic one when Cate Blanchett starring as Guerin utters the line "nobody shoots the messenger. Journalists never get shot." Really?

Her reporting methods appear questionable. At one point, she gets a tip from a source. It's a criminal - John Traynor (Ciarán Hinds), identifying the perpetrator of a recent murder. Without counter checking the story, she rushes it into print only to realise she was being used as a pawn in deadly game between rival drug gangs, that's followed by a quick sorry "I've come to apologise if I've got it wrong." Her fellow journalists deride her methods, though the way they are shown doing it is entirely forgettable.

But as Jerry Bruckheimer tells us in the DVD extra, the idea was not to make 'a documentary'. So, some parts have been glorified and pretty obviously adapted for the big screen. And who better to do it than Blanchett? She heads to the mean streets, walks the talk with the guys and gals alike and refuses to give up even after she is shot and beaten. She brings out the fear as well as insecurities of a wife and mother after receiving threats targeting her family. She is willing to put her life on the line, compromising the safety of her family is out of the question. One couldn't have asked for an actress more accomplished than Blanchett to evoke the fear that strikes the very core of Guerin's being as she delves deeper into her story.

The treatment of the movie is clever. The end is at the beginning, then the story unravels making it a gripping ride through a seemingly impossible battle against drugs.

(The Real Guerin: 1958-1996)
The tide changes with Guerin's murder which galvanises Ireland. As we are told, "everyone in the Republic of Ireland remembers where they were when Veronica Guerin was murdered."

The war on drugs took on a life of its own after her death. People got on to the streets, legislation was altered, assets of drug barons frozen and many of them were driven out of Ireland. Traynor, who did Guerin in, escaped to Portugal but another key player John Gilligan was extradited and his assets frozen.

Her editor had asked her to write about anything "fashion, football" but Guerin stuck to her guts. As her screen avataar Blanchett tells us "I don't want to do this, I have to do it." That alone makes the cinematic version of Guerin's life to my watchable list.

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"Killing a journalist is easy and people get away with it. Most killers are never found and certainly never prosecuted." - Richard Sambrook, Global News Director, BBC World.

Sounds shocking, yet it is true according to this timely report by the International News Safety Institute.

Over 1,100 journalists have been killed in the last decade and the report says only a quarter of the those died covering wars or other armed conflicts. Most journalists were killed reporting the news in their own countries.

The deadliest country named in the report was Iraq, where the death toll has risen 2003. The media toll so far - 138. Russia and Colombia took second and third sport as countries where media workers faced the most dangerous situations.

One of the highest-profile case in recent years was the brazen killing of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a prominent critic of the Kremlin's policies in Chechnya.

This highlighted a key point of the report raised by Rodney Pinder, the Director of the Institute: "The main casualties of conflict, and of targeting of journalists, are not the international journalists who parachute into the big stories. They are ordinary journalists doing a daily job, under sometimes the most appalling dangers in their own countries. And when they're killed, nobody cares. Nobody follows through. Nothing happens as a result."

Ironically enough, while many of the murders were ways to silence troublesome reporting, the reporters who started the stories never got the coverage they deserved in death. Speak of fact being stranger than fiction.

The report Killing the Messenger hopes to change that. For starters, it is calling on media groups for better training of their staff before sending them into conflict zones and for the media to start telling the stories of the people who bring us our real life stories.

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It's made its presence felt with a vengeance. It's seen on every channel attempting to be serious about its news. But is it a good thing?

No one's said it better than 'the sexiest man alive' - George Clooney, in this brilliant interview in Newsweek:

"We have fallen in love with the 24-hour news cycle. But 24-hour news does not mean that you get more news, it means you get the same news more. We came back from China and Egypt and it hit the news cycle very quickly, and for about five minutes it was getting a lot of play. And then that afternoon three hikers got stuck up on a mountain in Oregon, and it was 24 hours of three guys stuck up on a mountain. A tragedy, but it is three guys who chose to go out on a mountain for sport and had a terrible accident. Yet there were hundreds and hundreds of people dying in vicious attacks in places all around the world; there were tons of news stories that day that were so much more important to what was going on in the world. I just worry that we have lost our balls for reporting. We constantly underestimate the intelligence and interest in the audience."

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Ok, now that I've got the troubling bits off my chest, here's what really irks me about the recent string of disasters.

In the recent past, Indonesia has seen its share of ferry and air disasters. The recurrence of these incidents puts the entire question of the will to change things in the spotlight.

The country's flight safety record had come under renewed scrutiny when an Adam Air Boeing 737-400 crashed into the sea off the island of Sulawesi on New Year's Day. That air tragedy is bound to be best remembered for the series of conflicting reports it generated. Of the 102 people on board, no survivors were found. Only small fragments of the plane as well as the black box, washed up.

The following month, the fuselage of another Adam Air plane cracked during a hard landing. It caused what appeared to be a massive vertical split, leaving the rear section of the plane hanging downwards. Fortunately, none of the 148 passengers and six crew were injured.

Following that incident, Indonesian authorities grounded all Boeing 737-300 aircraft operated by Adam Air.

Is it likely to do the same for national carrier Garuda whose plane crashed this time? After all the airline has suffered 14 fatal accidents in its history. These include an incident in September 1997, when a Garuda Airbus A300 -- flying from Jakarta, crashed near Medan airport killing all 222 passengers and 12 crew members on board.

Just last month, a flight bound for Semarang collided with a Saudi Arabian Airlines at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta. Though all 96 passengers survived.

The steady stream of accidents and safety scares involving Indonesian airlines, forced President Yudhoyono to form a team to evaluate and improve transport safety. Its recommendations and more importantly their implementation would go a long way in restoring confidence in the country's carriers. Hopefully, it won't be too late.

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Floods. Tsunamis. Riots. Plagues. Quakes. Blasts. Terror strikes. Icons demolished. Lives destroyed.

13 years in the tragic business of news, one imagines one has seen it all. So that the next time, one looks at the blood and the gore and the senseless violence, one shall not be numbed into disbelief.

Natural disasters one can understand. Though their recurrence in some parts of the world simply confounds the story. Indonesia being the case in point. Yes, it sits on the Ring of Fire. Yes, the tectonic plates are prone to move, but must the country and its people suffer so much?

Yesterday, another quake struck the island of Sumatra. In one deadly shake it left over 70 people dead. That story was just about unravelling itself when a plane burst into flames at 7am local time in the popular town of Yogyakarta.

As the first pictures came in, the raging ball of fire was all one could see. There were no numbers of the people on board. One look at the plumes of smoke and you knew surviving it was difficult. After an hour of waiting, it was confirmed 140 people were on board. Among others, the passengers included Australian journalists and diplomats who were on their way to Yogyakarta to cover part of their Foreign Minister Alexander Downer's visit to Indonesia. They were in the business class section - the worst part of the plane as the fire spread there first and they were the last to be evacuated.

As I pen this I dare not look at the death toll which now stands at 49. I've seen pictures of the charred bodies being pulled out of the wreckage, some of the survivors remain in critical condition. The look of pain on their faces is enough to break the hardest of hearts. The thought of the stories they planned to tell, the stories that will remain untold, the stories that should not be forgotten but will be the minute the next disaster strikes.

They don't call life a 'ring of fire' for nothing.


Monday, March 05, 2007


17 publishers turned down his first manuscript before it was accepted by Cape. Since then there has been no looking for Jeffrey Archer. He's spent several years in the House of Lords and two years in Her Majesty's Prisons which spawned the three volume Prison Diaries.

Since I'm reading 'Cat O'Nine' tales (entertaining though not his best), this is as good a time to post some thoughts about the engaging writer who continues to stay on bestseller lists despite the lack of awards:

"The Washington Post calls me the new Dumas, the New York Times says I write short stories better than Somerset Maugham--that's not too bad, is it? Anthony Howard writing in the Times says the Prison Diaries are better then anything Dostoevsky did."

Is he bothered that he will probably never win the Man Booker? "I always say to people, which would you rather have: 10 million readers or the Booker? I'd take the 10 million readers, thanks very much, if that's the choice." His favourite Booker winner is Life of Pi, "a damned good read and beautifully written", perhaps because it is so narrative-driven. "

I always say to audiences: 'Have you read Patrick White?' 'No,' they reply. 'Got the Nobel prize,' I reply . . . 'Have you read Nadine Gordimer?' 'No.' 'Got the Nobel prize.'"

He still writes in longhand, he doesn't "come cheap", he told me pointedly when I asked him if Writers Festivals interest him. What does interest him is Jane Austen as this piece in The Bookseller reveals.

Link courtesy the untiring Sadie-Jane (who having discovered my Archer weakness) has gone to Fiction Sales at Pansing after a stellar run of connecting writers and readers. I'm sure she's on to bigger and better things and for that, I wish her the very best.

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Too busy for all the festivities in March? Then block your diaries, calendars, gadgets or gizmos or whatever else you use to block dates for some other fine festivals.

In July, its Byron Bay, tons of coffee and stimulating conversations in wind-blown marquees.

In September, get ready for 'The Seen & Unseen' or 'Sekala Niskala' at the Ubud Writers Festival. Lots of vocal writers have confirmed their attendance. Let me assure you any festival that gets the likes of Catherine Lim and Shashi Tharoor has a lot to talk about. That's not all, they've also got nods from Mohsin Hamid, Kiran Desai, Peter Goldsworthy. More names are likely to follow, so keep watching their seen space.

In December, Singapore hosts its own festival. The website isn't out but it will be soon. Lots of exciting venues are being explored as I pen this. So here's as good an excuse as any to visit us, even if you don't want to be part of the legendary shopping extravaganzas.


Sunday, March 04, 2007


Closer home, two lit fests get underway this month. It never does rain.

The Kuala Lumpur Literary Festival celebrates the 'Nation at 50' and brings together the likes of Tash Aw (Harmony Silk Factory), Camilla Gibb (Sweetness in the Belly), Dina Zaman (I am Muslim) among a host of others from March 28th-30th. It's got the nod from star lit blogger - Sharon Bakar . That alone calls for attendance. Early birds have special discounts, so get set to click online here.

The Hong Kong Literary Festival has made more news for the sacking of their best known literary export - Nury Vittachi. I've appeared with and behind Nury at festivals all the way from Byron to Galle to Ubud and find it impossible that people find him hard to work with. The timing of this ill-timed move couldn't have been more inopportune coz now the minute you mention Hong Kong, the next thing you hear is 'Nury' and his ridiculous sacking.

That's a pity for the festival as they have, as always, got some great names. This year, the stellar lit cast includes Gore Vidal, John R Saul, Jan Morris, Amy Tan, Simon Winchester, Uzodinma Iweala and two of my favourites Kiran Desai and Pankaj Mishra. Also in attendance Baby Halder who is bound to charm with 'A Life Less Ordinary.'

The festival kicks off on the 12th of March and goes on all the way till the 21st. A fairly long drawn affair, if you like your festivals tightly packed. On the flip side, it does allow for various combinations of travel plans.



For the longest time, Janet de Neefe and I did a 'shall we, shall we not' head to the Kitab Lit Fest in Bombay/Mumbai? Sure, we'd had our dose of the sub-continent at the Galle Lit Fest in January but Kitab sounded sorely tempting. That was till we learnt that Kiran Desai - whose mug stayed on the front page of the website for the longest time was not going there, nor was MJ Akbar, whose name appeared on another panel. Then another panel had one moderator and eight panelists - wonder what they said in the span of an hour. All of this meant - take your chances.

In this brilliant report, Jerry Pinto pens an intensely personal account of the festivities or lack thereof:

"In the morning, the discussion on the veil was equally arbitrary. Everyone spoke about veils. Except for Kamila Shamsie, no one made any sense. A feminist friend was startled by the complete arbitrariness of the remarks. “Did they come for a holiday?” she asked. "

Looks like we missed nothing.



So we can't afford a Raza, though there's nothing stopping us from getting one for the home. Never mind that the trademark circles have been blocked. It still makes me happy.

Seen here with our budding artist, Aneesha, who has been trying a Raza with her geometry box over the weekend (we shall assess the success a couple of years later) and Harish Nim. We go back a good 8 years though of late Harish and our paths only seem to be crossing at art exhibitions.

Picture courtesy Geeta Kripalani , who put together the fantastic exhibition.

And for those of you had questions about the 'I'd like some more of that' finger food, if it's that good, it's got to have some connection with Urvashi Sood. This time it was from Samarkand.

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