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

Monday, June 11, 2007


Ok, fine it should be plane. Nah, it doesn't have the ring of a jet plane. The kids like it that way. "We're leaving on a jet plane, yeah."

Heading home is always about dealing with your emotions. And for that we couldn't have picked an airline better than Sahara, emotionally yours. It's already knotting me up.

It's been close to two long years since I visited India last. I often wish things could be different. That Naniji could be her usual nagging self, force feeding us, reminding us not to walk on her grass, to water her plants gently and not to do too much khee, khee, hah, hah.

After a nasty fall, she's been bed ridden. An operation on her hip has been ruled out as being too risky. She won't even know me, I'm sure. She'll hardly feel the joy, sound and laughter of her grand children - the one thing she wanted so badly at one time.

It's hard to see her like that. She, who built her life from scratch in India. She, who took that train from Pakistan. She, who lost her Dad, then her husband when everything seemed to be going right, then her eldest daughter (my mother). She, who stood there like a pillar, holding the family, their home and their land together.

Could you blame her for her demons, for her constant bickering to be careful, her reminders of the big bad world, her general sense of fear, of losing it all?

What are her thoughts now? I can't read them any more, all I can do is try.....

I will not be blogging or looking at my emails. It's a break to bond with my family starting with my Nani, my Masi - who has been painstakingly taking care of her, my Dad and my sis.

Speak to you all early July.



Next month.

Haven't decided?

Then Bryon Bay may hold the promise of a stimulating holiday.

Yes, the Writers Festival is back with even more names and rib tickling titles. Among other things I'll learn how not to be a part of the furniture when I Chair the next panel. Another theme is close my heart is Home and Away. Blogging as well.

There will be several old friends - Janet de Neefe, Nury Vittachi, Shalini Akhil, Eric Campbell - it's almost sounding like Ubud once more and the promise of new friendships.

There's a Writers Retreat, Poetry Prizes, book launches, literary lunches. Take your pick.

While you are it, don't forget your winter wear. I wore six layers of whatever I'd taken last year (which wasn't much), held coffee for comfort as the wind blew over, under and within the marquees. I lived to tell the tale, my general state of frostiness notwithstanding, but that chill is something I wouldn't wish upon myself again. Nor would you, I'm sure.

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On Page 173, The Last Nizam takes you to my adopted home town. This is where I studied (not Doon School, that's for the lads, St Mary's, it was), this is where my Dad and sis now live. This is where I will be tomorrow (June 12th 2007). And this is just one of the zillion reasons that this book is such a superb read. Let me allow you to hear it from the writer's pen:

"Durrushehvar was determined that her son stick to the rules and achieve no special treatment, but she also took the precaution of renting a house in Dehra Dun in case he had difficulties settling in. Foot reported that the princess was 'a great addition to the rather provincial society of Dehra Dun and we all got on very well with her.' But he was not impressed with (Mukararram) Jah's performance in his entrance test which showed that 'even if understood a sum, he had always been accustomed to have a tutor to do the tedious business of working it out.'"

Which is why it's not surprising that "for a highly pampered prince like Mukarram, Doon School was a boot camp. The daily routine started with a rising bell, and continued with exercises, breakfast, assembly, classes, lunch, rest period, sports, extra curricular activities, bathing time, evening meal, study time and finally sleeping."

Not much different from the packed life of any other boarding school. When you are living through it, its more fun than anything else. If anything, the packed life makes you truly appreciative of the one outing a month. That one day when you can walk the streets of Paltan Bazaars indulging in Kumar ki Kulfi, Sunrise ke Biscuits, Aloo ki Tikki, Kwal Toffs and whatever else your rupee can stretch to buy.

But that's the world of lesser mortals, not one inhabited by Prince and Princesses and the Ottoman Empire that at its height covered northern Africa and the Middle East. It is this empire that Mukarram Jah's mother Durrushehvar has known. The only child of 'His Imperial Majesty the Caliph Abdul Mejid II,' she had seen her world crumble when she was only 11. Her family was sent into exile, though her father had sealed the fate of generations to come by nominating his grandson Mukarram Jah, who was at the time only a school boy, the next Caliph.

All that happened when Durrushehvar wedding was arranged with Prince Azam Jah. She was 17, "the epitome of Oriental beauty, fluent in six languages and a 'thoroughly modern woman', while Azam was billed as the 'heir to more wealth than that held by all the Fords, Rockefellers and Morgans'. The event was described as the merger of the mightiest houses of Islam."

As we learn a couple of pages later, the marriage was a disaster. They were mismatched physically (the pictures show that much) as well as in their social status. Azam is established as no gentleman and the differences between the couple are for all to see. Then comes the Second World War, which lays rest to the best laid plans including that of the education of the five-year old son of Durrushehvar and Azam.

"Durrushehvar was in favour of sending her son to Eton while the Prime Minister Akbar Hydari favoured Winchester, but the Nizam was steadfastly opposed to any education abroad."

With her plans thwarted, she found "the atmosphere in Hyderabad stifling" and set out to change the course of her son's education.

It is into this fascinating world that John Zubrzycki draws you. Piece by stunning piece he establishes the fall of a dynasty, which in the end goes for a sheep farm. From palace intrigues, illicit affairs, doomed weddings, circle of sycophants, its mind over machine in the fall of Hyderabad and the end of India’s great princely state.

This extraordinary story takes you, like good stories do, to places you imagined. You can almost picture the Hyderabad book store Zubrzycki describes. The kind where you should look, choose to buy but refrain from attempting to pull any book without the express the help and consent of the propreitor.

Zubrzycki has a 30 year old long association with India and it is his ability to capture subtle nuances like these, that make this book such a superb read. There are moments when you feel you are meeting the characters too fast, too furious, that moment passes fairly soon. The history of the passing of an era is captured in a concise 334 pages (not counting the end notes, biblio and acknowledgements), for those of you who have survived the 1,000 page tomes, this is a huge relief.

The author provides superb insights through his research, his personal interviews with so many people who have watched Hyderabad's royalty's fall from grace. A rare personal interview with Mukarram Jah, who now lives in Turkey, puts his life and that of a dynasty in perspective.

Was his life doomed from the start? Could he have been lucky in love? Should he have stayed in Hyderabad and changed the course of history? Could diplomacy have been the answer?

You have to read 'The Last Nizam' to decide.

And remember to add it to your book shelf, even if its already crumbling under the pressure of so many good ones.

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Friday, June 08, 2007


"There is war....
There is conflict....
There is...."

So listened, she nodded, she smiled that wonderful smile of hers, then she responded:
"You forgot love."

The speaker was the author of Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. A book that will be in the news, the Orange Broadband Prize notwithstanding.

The interview was on the BBC. She spoke of the story behind the book, the personal connection with the war, the research that went into it, what it took to write and how unexpected the prize was.

"Unexpected, all authors say that," the interviewer interjected.

She broke into that smile again and in that instant you know she meant it when she said unexpected.

I haven't read her book, but her superlative style spoke long after time ran out, as it always does, when someone with depth graces the air waves.

So I did what I do best and spent the better half of today reading all there is to this outstanding literary voice. And it all starts with this.....
"I grew up in the shadow of Biafra. I grew up hearing 'before the war' and 'after the war' stories; it was as if the war had somehow divided the memories of my family. I have always wanted to write about Biafra—not only to honor my grandfathers, but also to honor the collective memory of an entire nation. Writing Half of a Yellow Sun has been my re-imagining of something I did not experience but whose legacy I carry. It is also, I hope, my tribute to love: the unreasonable, resilient thing that holds people together and makes us human."

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Thursday, June 07, 2007


Immense anticipation in the days ahead.....
Several exciting books by some of my favourite authors are about to hit your shelves.

Starting with none other than Booker Prize winner Michael Ondaatje's, first novel in six years - Divisadero.

Jhumpa Lahiri dubs it Ondaatje's "finest novel to date" though Publishers Weekly has mixed feelings about it - "Ondaatje's first fiction in six years lacks the gut punch of Anil's Ghost and the harrowing meditation on brutality that marked The English Patient, but delivers his trademark seductive prose, quixotic characters and psychological intricacy."

My fellow blogger and friend Sharon Bakar picks an interesting fragment of a story as does Zafar. It's enough to set me book hunting.

David Davidar has given several deserving writers their first break. He turned around Penguin India, then went on to make a superb debut with The House of Blue Mangoes. Now, get ready to flip the pages of The Solitude of Emperors. Shobhaa De gave it a resounding stamp of approval, Farokh of Pansing told me the proofs have arrived, all I've got to do now is to go a-flipping.

If you liked The Kite Runner, your wait is over. Khaled Hosseini is back with A Thousand Splendid Suns no less. Publishers Weekly has dished out its coveted starred review saying "his tale is a powerful, harrowing depiction of Afghanistan, but also a lyrical evocation of the lives and enduring hopes of its resilient characters." Two women and two cities dominate the narrative which has been earning just the kind of praise, I think it deserves.

He's got the presence of an actor, complete with the voice. Those of you who have heard Kunal Basu speak, you know what I mean. He also has an unpublished story, which will be out soon. I'm not talking about the book alone. Basu's The Japanese Wife had film maker Aparna Sen excited. A school teacher in Sunderbans in love with his Japanese pen pal. Can their relationship survive? The film, which has been shot in three places, including Japan and the soon to be released book promise to tell all.

The film stars Rahul Bose, who is planning to go on a directorial venture of his own. And guess what he's picked? Mohsin Hamid's Moth Smoke. So get ready for more novels to sizzle on the big screen.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Years before, 'citizen journalist' became the buzzword, my then Editor, Tushar Bhatt had a dream.

He wanted to hear ordinary people speak on the pages of the newspaper. True, they could be heard if they wrote in to the 'Letters to the Editor' column, but those weren't the type of voices he wanted to hear. With that in mind, he launched a column aptly titled 'VOICES.'

Four newbie Sub-Editors had made their entry into the hallowed precincts of The Times of India on Ashram Road at Ahmedabad. We'd survived a harrowing written test, an interview and expectedly felt on top of the world when we finally held the official letter of appointment.

The world was truly within our reach. So when Mr Bhatt spelt out his plans for the column, it was a resounding yes on our part. After all, how difficult could it be to pick a topic, head out to the streets to get four comments with pictures to go.

Ah, the heady confidence of youth!

What I, for one, hadn't fathomed was the fact that I had arrived in a new city. I barely knew a soul. I was desperately seeking a roof over my head and a way of buttering my daily bread. I imagined cracking this assignment would take less than half a day. After all, don't people love to talk? You bet they do. The minute you tell them about a proper quote and a picture to go they go into freeze frame instead. The neighbours didn't want to do it, the shop owners of Vastrapur didn't want to do it, nor did the folks on the street.

With no luck on my side, I decided to cycle through the educational parts of Ahmedabad. Somehow, the IIM seemed too forbidding, the Architecture college too linear and that's when I came across St Xavier's College. This looked like just the place I was searching for. My kind of students, a casual ambiance, nice canteen. I felt perfectly at home, so I started my spiel. In true college style I was pointed from one name to the next to the next, till I reached a rather intense looking guy with glasses.

"Hi, I work for TOI and I'm looking for a voice, would you mind talking?"

With that I got my first voice and met Robin David. The year was 1993.

I had no clue who Robin was. It was only when he came to drop his picture in the newsroom that the whispers started.

"You know who that is?" Someone on the desk asked
"No. Why? Should I know."
"Yes, his mother is a fierce critic. His grandfather started the zoo. You've never heard of them,"
came the answer laced with a bit of shock and awe.
"Now, I have."

So I got my propah introduction to Robin and his mum - Esther David. But more of that later.

Robin and I kept in touch. He told me he was interested in photography, dropped by with his impressive black and white portfolio one day, which was just as well. I'd started writing for another Bennett & Coleman publication 'Femina' and was desperately seeking a photographer who could thrive on the love for work. There would be a credit, some money and he was game.

Robin brought life to so many of the features I wrote. The most memorable of which was a picture of Kiran Sethi, wife of India's Billiards Champion Geet Sethi. Kiran was into designing restaurants at that time. She'd just lent her creative touches to the wildly popular restaurants Mirch Masala and Tomato's. Interviewing Kiran was delightful, photographing her a tad tricky. She was expecting a baby and didn't want the bump to be that obvious. Robin played around with the angles, shots and got it just right. Kiran looked radiant, the picture spoke louder than my words and certainly lit up some feature pages.

Several months later, Bala and I tied the knot or should it be signed the paper. Bala had already made his way to Singapore, I was counting my days in Ahmedabad. That's when my landlady dropped a bombshell. She wanted her house back. Not the kind of news one wanted to hear when you are straddling through worlds. Again Robin came to my rescue, boldly offering me possession of his Guptanagar home. He, in any case, was off to France to work on his photography, among other things. Having seen that treasure trove of a house, the offer was irresistible. I was happy to pack my bags and move in there. Any offer of a token rent were shunned and I was embraced by Ora, by Lilaben and everyone else who made their way in and out of that amazing home.

Pages of history were everywhere. Every book you pulled out of the packed bookshelves had a story to tell. There was the shrink's lounge chair, the dining table with the mooras, the pleasing sight of green grassy fields that you woke up to in the morning. The smell of the earth when the rain drops fell. It was in a word - perfect.

I hadn't met Esther yet but when she returned from Paris, the first thought that came to my mind was "fierce."

For a couple of days, I avoided going home, staying over at various friend's places, till she decided to call the newsroom and put me in my place:
"Why haven't you been home?"

Expectedly, a lot of humming and hawwing ensued. No answer sounded convincing enough. By the end of it, I felt stupid and decided it was time to come face to face with the formidable Esther David.

They say, you shouldn't always believe what you hear about a person. It couldn't have been more true for Esther. As she fed me my first dinner, I felt her warmth, in that moment when we talked about the Aloos, the way they had to be browned, I knew we'd be friends for life, even if I never learnt to cook the aloos her way.

Over the next couple of months, we poured over the covers of her first book The Walled City, which was to mark the beginning of her literary journey as an author.

Making another journey of his own was Robin who was steadily veering from photography to print. He did put up a photography exhibition backed by Alliance Francaise till the demands of his journalism job took over. After a stint with The Indian Express, he moved over to The Times of India.

I left India way before so many upheavals happened in Esther and Robin's life.

It all hit me when Esther emailed me last week:

"Dear Deepika,
The house is gone......"

Before it could even sink in, I was already on to the next bit of news:

Robin has come out with a novel. It is called 'City of Fear', by Penguin, it is all about leaving Gupta Nagar.

I quickly googled it and found a piece done by Naresh Fernandes in Time Out:
In City of Fear, David, an assistant editor at the Times of India, comes to terms with having to discard several generations' worth of memories and attempts to make sense of the altered geography of the metropolis in which he's spent his life.

On his blog, Robin writes:
I did not expect an earthquake and a bloody riot to define me. But it did. City of Fear is my first book.
Am I mad or am I surrounded by madness?

Now, if that hasn't got you rushing you to the book store, I don't know what else will.

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Sunday, June 03, 2007



No answer can beat this superb video.

Friday, June 01, 2007


It was love at first sight when I saw these on the Anthropologist Wannabe, Lotus Reads, other brilliant blog.

Soft Surroundings they call themselves, tunics they re-define. The best part is you can shop for them without having to leave the comfort of your home. If, that's the kind of thing you like for your weekend. Speak to you all on Monday.

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Thank you all for your comments, feedback, bouquets, brickbats to the Amitabh Bachchan 'India Poised' post. All it took was a Bachchan....

Now, for my responses to all your questions:

Did you produce it?
How I wish!
It's a Times of India initiative (you obviously didn't get to the end of it...)

Did they really need Amitabh Bachchan?
There are several others in the campaign, but Bala pointed me to this one and I liked it the most.

Are you an Amitabh Bachchan fan?
And I thought three posts in a row was proof enough. If I may add, I'm also an Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan fan.

Must we always have Bollywood stars going on about everything?
Would you rather have cricketers instead...

All this sounds fine, but are you bullish about India?
You bet. I was and I still am and for that let me take you back to an earlier post I'd done on this issue. Alright then, I'm ready for the bricks, bats and all.

This one from Zafar Anjum aka Dream Ink in the blogosphere:
"Yes, this kind of argument is always there: That all of India is not shining. It’s true also. But the point is, as you have rightly mentioned, at least some are doing better than before. And the whole situation cannot be put in words better than those used by Mr Bachchan in his video. The acknowledgement of two Indias is realistic but let the success be the motivation behind the "follower" India to take a flight from the precipice of opportunity with the "leader" India.

It is one of the most inspirational national videos I have ever seen. I actually had goosebumps and my heart went dhak dhak while I was watching that video…

BTW I like the English version. In the Hindi version, he is in supreme control over the medium as he does in the films. In the English one, he is almost perfect and that little bit of imperfection reflects the gap (for me) between the rich and the poor Indias."

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