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.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Byron Bay

Set on the most eastly point of Australia, Byron Bay is beautifully situated for a Writer's Festival for this year, 2007.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007


It's cold, they tell me. I'm better prepared this time. Coats, woollies, even gloves. Haven't quite forgotten what it meant to brave the chilly winds to get my jaw moving the last time. Looking at the size of my bag, I know it'll be warmer this time.

Looking forward to conversations in the marquees, panels, workshops, sessions. Meeting old friends and making new ones. It's back to the discovery zone once again.

If you've missed out on this year's Byron Bay Writers Festival, fret not. Mark your calendars for September. The Ubud Readers and Writers Festival returns with all the promises of 'The Seen & The Unseen'.

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The Cult of the Luxury Brand : Inside Asia's Love Affair with Luxury
By Radha Chadha & Paul Husband
Pages : 341
Price : US $35
Published : 2007 by Nicholas Brealey

This book could have been anything. A serious academic treatise on branding in Asia that could have rested well in the dust covered shelves of a library of a management school perhaps. A statistical discourse, crunching some numbers that would have been beyond you and me. When I first heard of the title, I thought that was it would be.

'The Cult of the Luxury Brand' is nothing like that at all. The first book to explore the 'luxeplosion' in Asia it has some numbers. Like 94% of women in Tokyo own a Louis Vuitton bag, that Japanese tourists are the largest LV buyers in Paris or that India has a three month waiting list for the choicest brands. Beyond that, there is a whole lot more.

If you think all of this has happened overnight, think again. Authors Radha Chadha and Paul Husband argue that the "forces that created Asia's cult of the luxury brand were in set in motion around 100 years ago." Really? Get ready for a quick history lesson in branding starting with a century of world fashion unfolding through the Chinese cheongsam. India in the early 1900s saw royalty on the move in Europe. Shopping trips took them to London to Paris to specially commissioned pieces from the likes of Vuitton to Cartier. "The famed Patiala necklace was made by Jacques Cartier for the Maharaja of Patiala in 1928 - it's a show-stopper with 2,930 diamonds totalling 1,000 carats, including the 234-carat De Beers diamond, the seventh largest in the world."

You are only on Page 11 of this hedonistic ride and dying to know more. So when did all of this change? When did the wave actually start? What explains the Herme-tic explosion in Asia. The authors get to that. From the study of the rise and rise of the Japanese markets to the Chinese, to the South Koreans to the emergence of India. It's one spectacular story after the other. As the markets keep growing, the Asian luxury goods market takes 37% of the global pie which is worth US $80 billion.

With several interviews and quotes thrown in for good measure, its interesting to go through the emergence of the various luxury types. I enjoyed the 'Popcorn and Caviar' section in particular. This shows the ultra-luxe brands are being mixed and matched with street wear or sometimes even the impossibly hard to detect fakes. Speaking of fakes, there's a whole chapter on the 'Advent of the Genuine Fakes,' where it all begins with catalogue browsing. Who would have thought of the new levels of sophistication? And just who is faking it? Just about everyone from the super to noveau to the wannabe rich. As the authors point out, "everywhere in Asia, people are faking it with few pangs of conscience."

Though that isn't going to slow things down for the real luxury market. In Japan, luxury has become a way of life. Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and China are rapidly getting there. And not too far behind is India with its emerging brand consciousness. The future of Luxe, it may safely be said rests in Asia.

Source: The Cult of the Luxury Brand
1837: Louis Vuitton starts making trunks at the court of Empress Eugenie and goes on to open his first store in Paris in 1854. A century and a half later, his brand conquers the hearts of the Japanese and its brown monogram become de rigueur for Asia's noveau riche.

1895: Thomas Burberry creates the trenchcoat. First worn by British officers during the Boer War, it is now so well entrenched in Asia that 'Burberry' is
often used as the Korean word for raincoat.

1915: The beginning of Burberry's long and checkered history in Japan.

1956: The rise of the to die for Hermes bag. Waiting lists for the bag costing US$5,000-US$10,000 are indefinitely closed in Asia.

1978: The triangular Prada symbol emerges as one of the hottest in Asia.

1999: It's Burberry fever in Asia after Kate Moss sports the signature checks on a designer bikini.

2001: Hermes 11-storey glass-brick retail extravaganza opens in Ginza, Tokyo. It's hysteria all round.

2006: Armani and Chanel stage haute couture shows in Hong Kong, signalling the opening of a lucrative ultra-high-end-segment in Asia.

2007: India enters a new phase of luxury retailing with the launch of DLF Emporio in New Delhi, the country's first luxury mall with a "who's who" roster of top brands.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Open your eyes, pack your bags, head to some part of Asia, get your pen, then write the tale.

It's called 'Asia Through My Eyes', it's part of the inaugural Singapore Sun Festival and it promises a chance to get your travel tale noticed. The region-wide writing contest wants to showcase the work of aspiring writers and also celebrate travel writing. The organisers say any perspective goes as long as the subject is Asia, the format prose and the story has not been published previously.

All it has to take is 800 words to provide an insight into life in Asia in the 21st century. Judging your prose, among others will be Frances Mayes, author of 'Under The Tuscan Sun' and the celebrated Neil Humphreys.

For more visit
Or email

Go on, flex that pen or punch those keys to get cracking.

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When I read the inaccurate reports that I decided to turn my hand to writing out of poverty, I feel indignant. When I had the idea for Harry and when I started writing the (first) book, I was working full time, as I was for my entire adult life, and I was not a single parent. I finished the book under those conditions. But it obviously does make a better story. It sounds more like a rags-to-riches tale.

Hermione is loosely based on me. She's a caricature of me when I was 11, which I'm not particularly proud of. She's quite annoying in a lot of ways. I like her as a character, but I'm very aware that some people wouldn't.

The books are getting darker, and that's inevitable. If you are writing about Good and Evil, there comes a point where you have to get serious. This is something I really have had to think about.

Came across this, while researching the Potter and reading interview I did this morning. With the opening line, it's evident, this interview has been done by someone deeply passionate about books. Roxanne Feldman, who did such a superb job, is a middle school librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. The interview with J K Rowling was done way back in 1999, but that doesn't stop the truth from ringing true.

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Monday, July 23, 2007


The cover is enticing, as is the opening text.

Its no surprise that Rajaa Alsanea's insight into the world of Saudi women and their disappointments in love caused a literal storm. The book which was published in Beirut was banned at first.

The novel goes on sale in English this month and its success is putting the spotlight on Saudi Arabia's literary output.

From 26 in 2005 to around 50 in novels in 2006, may not be too large a leap of faith.

But big things are known to start small.

Read more here.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007


Who kills what? What we can do reverse it? An engaging case to go 'Out of Our Minds' by Sir Ken Robinson.


From the greeting of the chimps to satelitte imagery to laptops. Jane Goodall makes imagined places real.

Friday, July 20, 2007


Pages: 367
Price: US$18
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Year: May 2007

Parallel lives. One in a kolba, a rambling little shack in the fictional Afghan village of Gul Daman, another in capital Kabul. Love, friendship, betrayal and boys. Khaled Hosseini told us that tale in The Kite Runner.

This time he returns to his familiar setting, albeit with very different characters. It is a study of the human condition, of resilience, of love when all is lost and it is told through Mariam and Laila. Two women from two entirely different worlds. Mariam is the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy cinema owner in Herat. It's a fact her mother never lets her forget. She is told the day she walks out of the kolba, her heart-broken mother will be dead. Rules are meant to be broken, Mariam does it in search of perfect paternal love. When she gets a disappointing taste of the real world, her mother is dead and life as she has known it ends for Mariam. She barely has time to come to grips with what's happening around her. Before she knows it, her father's family has got rid of her by hurriedly marrying her off to the much older and widowed Rasheed and packed her off to Kabul.

Mariam sees her world fall apart several times. The day she realises, her father wouldn't own her, the day she loses her mother, the day she becomes pregnant and loses her child. The cycle of loss keeps repeating itself when she knows she can never be a mother again. By the time the war is upon them, Rasheed has lost all interest in her and Mariam's spirit has been fully crushed. Till Laila arrives.

Unlike Mariam, Laila is a legitimate child. Babi, her father has insisted on giving her an education and she hasn't disappointed:
I know you're still young, but I want you to understand and learn this now, he said. Marriage can wait, education cannot. You're a very, very bright girl. Truly, you are. You can be anything you want, Laila. I know this about you. And I also know that when this war is over, Afghanistan is going to need you as much as its men, maybe even more. Because a society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated, Laila. No chance.

So Babi believed before the war transformed the entire landscape. Laila lost her brothers, her mother lost her sanity and when they eventually decided to pack their bags and leave for Pakistan where she hopes to reunite with the love of her life - Tariq, it's all a little too late. A bomb shatters their house, her parents are killed instantly and a badly injured Laila is pulled out of the rubble of her home by Rasheed.

With that, the various strings that bind this novel so adeptly come together. I like the way Hosseini keeps you guessing, the way he gets into the skin of his characters to capture every little nuance. One of the lines that's stayed in my head is the one which shows Laila and Mariam accepting their fate and bringing themselves to terms with being Rasheed's wives.

An unguarded unknowing look. And in this fleeting, wordless exchange with Mariam, Laila knew that they were not enemies any longer.

With that the novel takes on a whole new spin. Once the enmity is forgotten, new truths are discovered. On the one hand, Hosseini captures their lives in the house and in another broad sweep you get glimpses of an Afghanistan rapidly falling apart.

Spanning from the 1970s to 2003, A Thousand Splendid Suns, is a window to Afghanistan starting with the good years, the Soviet occupation, to the rise of the Taliban and eventually into its conversion into a war zone. It's a tough job and for that one couldn't have asked for a better narrator than Hosseini.

To some the novel may sound overly sentimental, but when a war transforms a human landscape, there are bound to be tears. Hosseini knows that.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Are book groups ruining reading, questions this article in The Herald.

Karin Goodwin adeptly covers the different facets of the story.

And I'll add my two cents worth to it.

My aunt hadn't stepped into a book store for years. An avid Oprah fan, she shed the tears, that millions like her did when Elie Weisel appeared on the show. She made the trek from our family home to the Sector 17 market. Trust me, it's a big deal as she takes care of my bed ridden grandmother. And books have been the last thing on her mind.

The first time she was told the book wasn't there. She left her name and number and didn't hear from the book seller for almost a month. She went back a month later and still no sign of the book, so she picked up another book. She got lucky the third time round and was back home with three books in hand.

Oprah may have got her to the book store, but she made her choices.

Which is why I'm tempted to agree with this comment posted by Benita Auge, New Windsor of New York:
"What I see most beneficial in book clubs is that it promotes reading. It's getting people to buy books and discuss ideas."

Wouldn't you celebrate that?

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Nicholas Negroponte's vision of 'One Laptop per Child.'


Founder, President, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the board of, Jeff Bezos spells out what lies ahead.


If you are a die hard Potter fan, this bit is for you.

You can hear J K Rowling read from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in a live webstream from the Natural History Museum in London when it is released worldwide.

The time is 12.01am BST this Saturday, 21st July.

Bloomsbury says the launch event is "completely oversubscribed" and fans are being encouraged to log on to the webstream.

What would we do without technology on hand?


Monday, July 16, 2007


It's Byron, so it can be nothing short of exciting.

I'm looking forward to all the discussions whether as a participant or as an observer. Though there's one in particular that's got me at the edge of me seat.

For one, its an exploration of the rise and rise of the media circus. Something I'm deeply interested in, being somewhere in the middle of it. There are several issues that I want to discuss and the festival organisers have unwittingly bestowed those powers on me, by asking me to moderate the session.

Couldn't have asked for more. It's the perfect platform to get the writers take on a host of issues. Topping my list are:
- Is the rise and rise of the media too much of a good thing?
- Is there a 'literary media'?
- Do writers miss the days when they wrote the book and it did the talking?
- Do they have any control over their appearances here, there and everywhere?
- What about the rigour of literary criticism?
- How often has their work been mis-read?
- Why do some critics only like the bad stuff?
- The Potterisation of the media. Great phenomena, but how much other stuff is ignored?
- The rise of the blogs. I'm all for them. I think several blogs do a superb job as they have the ability to go beyond the constraints - word limits et al - imposed by the traditional media. What do writers make of it?
- What about authors who blog? Demand on their time versus connectivity with their readers.

I've got a long list and my initial email to the panelists has got me all excited.

I can often tell how a session will turn out, by the sheer energy of the email exchanges prior to the discussion. And if this one, is any indication, it's going to be rocking.

There's actress and writer Barbara Ewing. Born and brought up in New Zealand, she trained at the Royal Drama Academy in London and is a familiar face having appeared in several plays and on television. Her first book Strangers was out in 1978. Since then she's gone on to write The Actresses (1997), A Dangerous Vine (1999), Till Murder Do Us Part (2001), The Trespass (2002), Rosetta (2006) and her latest The Mesmerist. Read a superb conversation with her here. What's got me intensely eager about the meeting is her comment that "a great deal of my life I have been an actress and see the two areas looking more and more alike!" Wouldn't you want to hear more on that?

Joining Barbara on the panel will be James Phelan. He's cracked me up with his opening salvo. He warns me its only the beginning. He's got a book load of tales to tell both as an author and a journalist. Get your note pads ready.

Telling tales comes naturally to dear pal Nury Vittachi. Expect the unexpected when he's on your panel. I can already hear the marquee reverberating with the sound of laughter. It will be music, trust me.

Completing the script will be Elizabeth Best, whose debut Eli's Wings was an instant best seller. It's got a four and a half star review on Amazon. And it's the message of the book that resonates with readers. She was inspired to write the book because she wanted to show other sufferers, their families and friends that anorexia can be beaten. She co-founded SHINE and has gone on to write her second non-fiction book The Year We Seized The Day.

I take the liberty, on behalf of the panelists, to invite you to this no holds barred chat. Get ready for the punches and make a date with us:
On Sunday, 29th July at the Petrac Marquee
From 10:15-11:45am

And don't go anywhere without checking the rest of the festival schedule. Lots happening, do make the time.

Well, if for some compelling reason you can't make it to the Fest and there's something you are dying to ask the panelists email me at

I promise to get the responses to your questions.

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Four white marquees playing host to words and ideas for the 11th year in a row.

Many big names, many new names, many names you should be watching out for.

Meet Miles Franklin award winner Alexis Wright, acclaimed poet turned novelist Rhyll McMaster, master of Australian literature Robert Drewe and the enormously talented Gail Jones. From Tasmania, two iconic legends of literary fiction, Richard Flanagan and Robert Dessaix.

That's only the beginning. Catch them all here.

I'm looking forward to catching up with old friends and discovering a host of new voices. Nothing like a literary festival to do that. I'd suggest you stop thinking about it and start looking at ways to get there.

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Still thinking of Byron Bay?


All it takes is you...
Your room....
Your camera....
Your steps....
Your type of music....
And get it out on a tube.

Friday, July 13, 2007


A Dreamer....

I dream of staircases, ladders and a room full of books.

A dramatic table in the middle, a lamp to complete the picture.

A Mac if you insist.

Shelves organised by genre, authors, years.

Of the day when the book shelves I pre-order look like the book shelves I want.

When the bric-a-bracs will stop fighting for space with books.

Of pictures of books that look just the way they should.

It's happening slowly but surely.... the last bit I mean....

Armed with a shiny new Nokia N73 in hand, I've been trying a couple of things, like sharpening the Nazar adorning the Balinese lamp sitting pretty on this chest from Gujarat....

Blurring out the Maharajas on this Chinese one....

Adding a dash of light to this one....

Fading it out here....

Toning down the orange here.....

And reminding myself to get organised here....

Clicking, uploading, writing is merely a click away. It's Carl Zeiss optics at work, so even if you have butter fingers, there is hope.

I love the way the 3.2 megapixel camera opens a world of possibilities, giving you the gorgeous display, telling you to get on with the action. There's an auto-focus, making capture everything on the go a breeze. Perfect, when you are attempting to pace the lil ones on the run. I've only just begun and I can already see the world of visuals unravelling before me. Truly couldn't have asked for more.

There's a whole lot more to it, though it'll take me a while to figure it all out.

For now, I can assure you of finer pictures on this blog and this one too. As they say, keep looking.

An enormously huge thank you to Miguel Bernas for getting me wired into Nokia's world.

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Sort of.

"In his house in Jamaica, Ian Fleming used to write a thousand words in the morning, then go snorkelling, have a cocktail, lunch on the terrace, more diving, another thousand words in late afternoon, then more Martinis and glamorous women. In my house in London, I followed this routine exactly, apart from the cocktails, the lunch and the snorkelling."

So says Sebastian Faulks author of the new James Bond novel, to be published next year by Penguin Books in the UK and Doubleday in the US. The book, titled Devil May Care, is to mark the Ian Fleming's birth centenary which falls on 28th May 2008.

Fleming's last Bond book, Octopussy and the Living Daylights, was published in 1966. 42years later and in keeping with tradition, Devil May Care is set in the Cold War and the action is played out across two continents and several of the world's most thrilling cities, including Paris.

Penguin007 tells you a whole lot more.

My introduction to Sebastian Faulks came through Sir Alan Collins, the former British High Commissioner to Singapore. In the Ambassador's take on books that have moved them the most, he spoke at length about Birdsong together with the other two books that complete the French trilogy The Girl at the Lion d'Or and Charlotte Gray. The book's weren't immediate bestsellers but giving up his job as a journalist to do writing full time paid off Faulks.

Like Fleming, who was a journalist for Reuters and the Sunday Times, Faulks was a journalist for the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, he was the first Literary Editor of the Independent and later became Deputy Editor of the Independent on Sunday.

Looks like the number crunching is just about to begin....

- Over 100 million Bond books have been sold and over half the world's population has seen a Bond film

- Ian Fleming wrote fourteen James Bond books. These include:
Casino Royale (1953)
Live and Let Die (1954)
Moonraker (1955)
Diamonds Are Forever (1956)
From Russia with Love (1957)
Dr. No (1958)
Goldfinger (1959)
For your Eyes Only (1960)
Thunderball (1961)
The Spy Who Loved Me (1962)
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1963)
You Only Live Twice (1964)
The Man With The Golden Gun (1965)
Octopussy and the Living Daylights (1966)

- Fleming's other works include the children's favourite, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1964), which was made into a film and stage musical, The Diamond Smugglers (1957) and a collection of travel writings called Thrilling Cities (1963)

- Previous authors of official James Bond novels include Kingsley Amis, John Gardner and Raymond Benson

Another hat tip to the ever reliable Zhi Wei, for this Friday post.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007


I remember when I was asked to produce the cover artwork for ‘Harry Potter And The Order of The Phoenix’ I was very busy with a number of picture books. I’d holed myself up in the workroom, and wasn’t answering the phone. My agent, Eunice Mcmullen, left an urgent message on my answer-machine, telling me that I had an offer for a cover and that I should drop whatever I was doing, because: ‘YOU WILL WANT TO DO THIS!’ Now there’s plenty of very desirable jobs in children’s publishing, but when your agent tells you to drop everything and call her back immediately then you’ve got a pretty good idea what job she’s talking about. I think my first reaction was excitement. That lasted about thirty seconds. Then the fear kicked-in.
Jacket Illustrator, Harry Potter Books 5,6 & 7

Thanks again Zhi Wei.

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Want viewers to talk back?
This is thee way to go....


Then keep it simple....
Keep it straight....
Never imagine you are bigger than the story....
Habits of effective journalism spelt out by the worthy of emulation Mark Tully.
Do take a moment to listen in.


The not quite a boy wizard is everywhere. He is flooding my inbox, making it impossible for me to keep speed. The numbers are astounding. Expecting nothing less, it's Harry Potter, Dudes and Dames.

The Nielsen BookScan reveals since 1998 - that's when Nielsen began measuring book sales in the UK - the six Harry Potter books have sold more than 22.5 million copies in Britain. Since 2001, more than 27.7 million Harry Potter books sold in the US.

The last book of the immensely popular series 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' will be out on July..... - oh you do know that!

As you sit there, at the edge of your seat to find out if book seven will really spell the end, get ready to crunch some fun facts that have headed my way courtesy Loi Zhi Wei of Penguin Books.

- If all the Harry Potter books ever sold were placed end to end, they would go around the equator over 1.6 times.

- The total number of all the Harry Potter books ever sold is more than the population of the USA.

- On its first day of sale in Britain, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince sold at a rate of 23 books per second.

- Since the publication of the first book, the books have sold at an average rate of 90,000 per day.

- Just as you finished reading this fact, 15 more books would have been sold.

- And I like this best. If all the words in all the Harry Potter books ever sold were distributed evenly among everyone in the world, each person would end up with nearly 8,000 words.

That sure is a mouthful....

So, while you may have your quibbles, you can't get away from the fact that they've got the world reading. From 5-50, 6-60, 7-70, 8-80, 9-90 - they've covered them all. And that, my dears, is a darn good thing.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Pages : 213
Price : US $21.95
Publisher : Cyan
Year : 2007

They arrived a suitcase in their hands with the men they'd fallen in love with. It was to a land they'd soon grow to love. It was a journey, they hadn't quite imagined. There were no potatoes. Unthinkable. Like so many others, they were journey women. Is it an ordinary story?

Not when you put two Englishwomen in an Iraqi landscape, one that in the years to come would be marred by war, violence and conflict.

Pauline and Margaret's journey into this world began when they fell in love, got married and followed their Iraqi husbands back to Mosul, which was their home for almost 30 years when journalist Lynne O'Donnell met them.

It started with a High Tea, served with love, hope, anticipation. It blossomed into a friendship, sounds familiar? Then like a true friend Lynne narrates this story that could have easily run the risk of being a mushy surviving the war tale with the deepest conviction.

She goes all out to protect the identity of one of her characters and that of her family because freedom has meant Iraq is no longer a safe place to live.

With the access she has, Lynne takes you into their world, a world that sounds so much like yours and mine:
Sometimes they would make cakes, whatever was their speciality.... and they'd brew pot after pot of tea while they bellyached, and moaned and gossiped, and laughed....and play Scrabble, drink coffee, smoke cigarettes and reminisce. And at the end of the afternoon, they'd go back to their own homes, in time for their children to come in from school, to get them started on homework.....knowing that no matter how tough things got or how lonely they sometimes felt, they weren't alone; they had friends who saw things the same way they did, who would look out for them, who loved them. And so, for a little while every now and then at least, the burden of being a foreign wife had been eased and everything felt better.

It is details like these, it is in those fleeting moments of normalcy captured in a time when everything else is falling apart, that make High Tea in Mosul stand out. The war changes everything, death threats, kidnappings, ransoms, movements curtailed and the final straw inflicted by Operation Iraqi Freedom - all of this is evocatively captured.

Lynne was among the first Western journalists to enter Mosul after it fell to US troops in April 2003 and she takes you through the most sweeping changes there through this story.

It's impossible not to love it. Her characters are strong, they are resilient and they teach you almost everything there is to life along the way:

I do not regret anything. Life is what you make of it. You have good and bad experiences and you learn from both. I think regret is a wasted emotion.

If you think that resonates, then go ahead, read the book and don't leave without without heading to this blog.

In this post on June 20th, Pauline tells us:
Jamal had a scare when his taxi turned towards Mosul

At last Jamal has finished his exams.

He had a scare on Sunday — he took a taxi from the college and the driver headed for the turn off to Mosul. Panicking and scared, Jamal asked the driver what he was doing and he told him he had to go to a nearby village with some business. Jamal demanded he stop the car, paid the fare and got taxi. He said he thought he was being kidnapped and the thought of being taken anywhere near Mosul was enough to put the fear into him.

Only goes to show, some battles can never be won, whatever they may say about that thing about hearts and minds.

Coming up soon, a review of Mark Tully's latest - the reading of which has been interrupted by the arrival of Khaled Hosseini's 'A Thousand Splendid Suns'. 200 pages into it, all I can say is unputdownable. My panda eyes are proof.

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Monday, July 09, 2007


The girl
Have you seen that girl?
Which one?
The one with the big eyes?
You mean the one who can't walk?
Can't walk, what are you saying, she is only limping.

That limp
She'd got a new bike. She'd never been on one. Her friend persisted, she took her for the ride. Barely were they on their way, than they hit the stretch of sand. Before the moped got stuck, her leg was on the silencer, sizzling with the heat of the darn engine.

Things would have been alright, she would have walked faster if only she knew the uses of Savlon. That the stuff the doc had asked her to use was meant to be diluted. So the wound sizzled yet again, this time with the Savlon, the scar got bigger, the limp worse, she covered it well, only the hobble showed. That's all the guy saw.

The guy
A streak of bleach in the 90's was bound to speak. Neon coloured T-shirts were bound to stand out. A bobbing Adam's apple, a wiry frame made him distinct. He walked in, brimming with that bob, ready to take on the Luddites. He was noticeable darting from one PC to another, with a bunch of subs following his trail with a load of expletives starting with 'bloody computers'. Who knew.

The computer
She was hired - the young one - to figure out that bloody machine. It wasn't easy but rejection is easy when you've just about turned 20. Headlines
disappeared into cyberspace, sub-heads failed to appear, the para idents never showed up. She wanted to shout, yet she refrained. She punched her frustration into yet another feature.

A feature
Saw them bumping. She'd interviewed a glass artist, the pictures were perfect, a reflection it was. She was rushing, there was a deadline looming. He saw those shots, he wanted one of those, he asked if he could buy one. She had a better option, meet the artist, then pick the best piece. It was all fixed, set in stone you see.

The lunch
She waited and waited. 30 minutes later, she was off, he hadn't shown up. They didn't see each other again for sometime. Then another accidental bump. She asked him what happened.
Actually I went to your place, I was a little late.
I needed to get some money.

It broke her heart. Like these things always do. She wanted to make up for it.

The movie
The Editor occasionally dispatched her to the movies. She had an extra ticket, she asked him out. Then she waited and she waited, no sign of him again. After the interval, he emerged.
Got stuck, you know.
She knew, weren't they at the other ends of the same newsroom?
He was quiet, then he startled rattling off, here's what next.
How do you know?
I've seen the movie?
Then why didn't you say so?

The beginnings
They are always like that.

It's another year, so many interludes later. It's time again to remember all the good stuff, to celebrate another special day, to join me as I wish him Happy Birthday, Shets.

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Sometimes, in that rarest of rare moments it helps to be that Timex in the digital age.

Technology has its limits, we know that already. When evil strikes, its always at the heart. The stabbing must hurt. And it does.

You are pushed to the edge of your seat as Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) takes one hi-tech blow after the other. He fights, his good old fashioned fight.

As you bite your nails dying to know the finish, you know you are watching one of July's finest movies.

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Graham: It's the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We're always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.

There are no good guys or bad ones. Those can only be defined by the moments in our lives.

That's one of the many lessons you take back from the 2005 Oscar winner Crash.

Multiple characters and story lines come together to weave the complex stories that define life.

View the clip here and make the time to watch the movie - it's never too late.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007


Ever wondered what happens when you diss a book without reading it? Wonder no more....

Friday, July 06, 2007


If you think, this looks familiar, you are right!

You've seen it before, remember?

Misha is back on her vineyard, tempting me with these pictures yet again. I know the wine from this fabulous vineyard will take sometime to hit our shelves, yet I can barely wait.

That shouldn't stop me from saying cheers to Misha.

She celebrates her birthday on 9th July as well.... as does Bala. What can I say? All creative geniuses seem to be born on the same day.

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The race for the new seven wonders is on. Organisers say 90 million people have already cast their vote and the deadline draws to a close at midnight today.

India's Taj Mahal is among the top 20 contendors. If you still haven't showed your support for it, here's a picture to tempt you.

Janet de Neefe and her husband Ketut visited it in December last year and fell in love with India together with the Taj Mahal. It happens. So here's a vision of loveliness all round.

I also post this to tell you about her birthday on July the 9th. Wish her, not me, by supporting the festival that she presents with love each year. Visit the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival website to find out more. For now, enjoy the picture...

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Pages : 256
Price : Rs 275
Publisher : Penguin
Year : 2007

On Page 167:
The sun was starting to dip. The golden light had already begun drawing elongated shadows on the floor of the house. Dusk. The dried neem trees without their leaves slit the yellow light into larger portions than they had before. Light was bounced off the Formica dining table, reflected on to the glass cabinets and coated everything from mother's snow-white hair to the dull-black wooden chairs with a golden glow......

She was sitting at the table and sipping hot tea as golden as the sunlight. Mother told me later that she felt as if all outlines around her were slowly smudging into one large, golden ball that day. The beer mug with the golden tea was melting into her hand, her golden skin melting into the Formica of the table which was......

Even as day and night played its own song and dance of shadows, everything around them was being re-defined.

An earthquake, a bloody riot - in two years their lives, like that of so many others living in Ahmedabad and in Gujarat would be changed.

They'd made several efforts to move in the past but never before had their Guptanagar home in Ahmedabad been seen as the reason to flee.

It was just that we needed to flee. And because we were in Guptanagar, we had to flee from Guptanagar.

The riot changes that for Robin and his mother Esther who had the capacity to conjure up distress on demand. I disagreed but Robin redeemed himself with his evocative explanation of the phrase together with Esther's six o'clock syndrome.

Some of these fears take you through the Teen Darwaza area, children growing up, others like Esther's fear of heights come to the fore after the riots.

Riot survivors tell you of the images that haunt, the reality that confronts, the relationships that change and often the home that you lose.

Robin takes you through that journey. It is extremely painful in parts, vivid in others. When courage comes under fire, friends turn into foes and when Robin gets clipped by his barber Rameshbhai, several things fall into place, the identity of a car parked in front of their home is questioned, a bloody photograph emerges, Robin knows what he has known for sometime - it is time to move on.

Robin and Esther's search for a new house to call their home, the call of Guptanagar, the riots, the people they left behind and the people they meet, losing their family heirlooms and their lovely dog Ora. City of Fear is an unforgettable journey of what happens when it all comes undone.

The book is not available here yet, though you can order it here.

Robin also joins the growing number of writers who blog. More on the book and some of his thoughts are on his City of Fear blog.

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Pages : 197
Price : Rs 295 (Hard Cover)
Publisher : Penguin
Year : 2006

TILKUT KE ALOO (Tilkut Potatoes)

Ingredients: Potatoes, onions, tilkut, salt, oil

Method: Tilkut is made with two cups whole red chillies and one cup sesame seeds, ground in a mixer and bottled for six months.

If you do not want to make tilkut, cook potatoes with red chilli powder and sesame seeds.

Take six big potatoes, peel, cut into halves and then into thin slices. Cut two big onions into halves, slice and keep aside.

Take a big karhai or wok-style open-mouthed heavy-bottomed pan and heat seven to eight tablespoons oil. Fry potatoes on a high flame, sitrring continuously till half done, lower flame, cover and cook for five to ten minutes. Add sliced onions, two teaspoons tilkut powder and salt, cover and cook till done. Drain excess oil and cook for five minutes till crisp but soft.

I can almost feel the taste. It's meant to be served hot with chapatti, khichdi, bread or plain dal-rice, I could eat it by itself. When I stayed at Esther's place, it was love at first bite. If she called the office and mentioned there was tilkut for dinner, I'd be out of the door in no time.

Esther made several attempts to teach me this fool-recipe, though being the kitchen shirker that I am, found a substitute in the canteen version of chee cheong fun. No sooner do I make my walk to the canteen stall, than the lady tells me, "all the sauces, extra sesame?" Mondays to Fridays, it's an affirmative. It's the crunchiness of the mildly toasted sesame that does it for me.

The minute you pop it in your mouth, the taste of tilkut comes right back. As children always say - 'nobody makes food like mom' (ok mine aren't about to say that anytime soon, they'll deservedly hand that credit to their Dad), I can safely say no one does tilkut aloos like Esther. The mere thought of it tempts me to get on to the next flight to Ahmedabad, which is why it was great that Esther did the next best thing and ensured I had Book of Rachel in hand.

Set in Danda, a village off the Konkan coast, it tells the story of India's Bene Israel Jews through Rachel. An aging matriach - her children have migrated to Israel, she is widowed - Rachel finds her faith in the village synagogue that she is determined to save at all costs.

For the resort developer who is eyeing it, the synagogue may only have symbolic importance, for Rachel it is a representation of her faith, a memory of her ancestors and life as she has known it.

Beginning each chapter with a recipe and drawing you into the story, Rachel takes you into her inner world, where there's a little romance, lots of politics, some conflicts, though in the end it is the food that wins them all.

Yes, you've seen this style of story telling before but in Esther's deft hands nothing in Book of Rachel seems contrived. The simplicity of Rachel's life, the food she cooks, the people she effortlessly wins over teaches you how to overcome the complexities of life and look for "the perfect recipe for new beginnings".

Can you ask for more in a book?

Also by Esther David:
- Book of Esther
- By The Sabarmati
- The Walled City

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007


One post, 1130 comments and counting.

Does it happen often enough?

Yes, if you are one of Bollywood's most sought after actors. Aamir Khan is one of them, he's got a blog, where he writes about several things including his latest project - Ghajini. I like the stuff. Straight from the heart.

Several admissions as well:
As you can see the paragraph problem has been solved, so no more going squint eyed.

Thanks a ton for the imputs on casting and title, some of them are really interesting and I've passed them on to the director.

Guys, Mira, its MEMENTO not MOMENTO!!! Relax just kidding, I know I need to do a spell check but I'm really lazy and at 3am I'm not at my best.

Hi Guys, this is Aamir. Its been 6 years since LAGAAN released in theatres across the world, and while the DVD has been released all over, in India it has only just come out. Reason?
Head here to find out....
In a day and age when DVDs release within weeks of the theatrical release do you'll think people will be interested in LAGAAN?

Go add to his comments to tell him what you think.

I exit, because you imagine I do. Film maker Shekhar Kapur believes in that.

Since my primary focus is as a story teller and communicator, I would like to share stories, ideas and films that I am dreaming about. Some of them will get made, and some will remain dreams. But then who said that dreams were not valid on their own?

Dream a little dream, then head on to read his posts here.

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Some people write when they are stressed, others read. For some reading is an escape, for others it is as real as it gets. Spending two weeks away from technology in most of its forms - no cell, no email, few phone calls, sitting with my Nani, I did what I could only do best. I read.

These books went with me to the lawn, when the day got cooler, to the drawing room when the sun was at its peak and to the bedroom in the still of the night.

There were some wonderful stories, some sad ones, some happy ones, some forgettable ones. I will be reviewing some of these books at length, though what worked for me was (in no order of merit) High Tea in Mosul, Book of Rachel, Home, City of Fear and India's Unending Journey.

I've yet to get to Life of Pi - don't even ask how I missed out on this Booker winner.

I was expecting more out of Shashi Tharoor's Bookless in Baghdad (turned out to be a collection of articles, thoughts, pieces) and Pankaj Mishra's Butter Chicken in Ludhiana. I enjoy Mishra's writing though the journey through small town India didn't push me to the edge of my seat.

That's what Manju Kapur's Home did. I'd enjoyed her debut Difficult Daughters, only to be disappointed with Kapur's second novel A Married Woman. For the longest time, I'd put Home on my 'attempt to read' shelf. I took it along just for the heck of it. Found it impossible to put down. Read it in one sitting, through the night, only to be admonished the next morning -
When will you learn to take care of your eyes and your health?
It was a great story, Masi. Ok I won't do it again, I promised my aunt half-heartedly.

And the next morning, I had Esther David's Book of Rachel in hand. Whoever said work breaks were for sleeping?


Tuesday, July 03, 2007


As a child, I could never quite define where home was. I was born in Jammu, purely due to circumstances. My Nanaji was posted there at that time and the Army Hospital there and the rest of the family embraced me warmly. I've re-visited the place several times since. When Dad was posted in Rajouri, when my Aunt was there and then when my Uncle was there. While I enjoyed all my Jammu holidays, it never quite felt like home.

Often life on the train seemed like home. At other times, two years in Binaguri, Shillong, Cuttack, Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Ferozepur, Deolali, Mhow, Meerut or wherever Dad's job took him gave us the temporary feel of home.

I've often wondered what makes cities click, why some stay in your being longer than others. Is it the so-called soul of the city, is it family, friends or the way the city is?

When I was in college and in University, I never imagined I'd ever long for a city or even get myself to say - I miss Chandigarh. After all there was a sense of permanence to this home.....

For as long as I can remember, this was the place we headed back to for our holidays. In the middle of summer, we'd pack our bags, home-baked cakes, canteen cookies, gifts for Nani and get ready to impose our impish selves on Naniji.

At that time we thought she was beyond strict and she was. Walking on her front lawn was strictly barred. You could do that in the back lawn, though skipping and running was out of bounds too. We could play with friends as long we kept our selves out of the house. That was something we loved. Soon we'd devised a game of hide and seek and the best place to hide was her double hegdes neatly divided by the wall in between. There were all of three and exit points in the hedge, so you needed nifty feet before the catcher counted 20. Then you crawled to a part of the hedge where you imagined you were undetectable - not for long though. Once that was over, it was Scrabble time in the verandah with lemon juice to quench our thirst. Fizzy drinks of all manner were strictly banned. The focus was on being and staying healthy and what better to do that than a home brewed glass of nimbu paani.

Holidays are one thing, staying with your grandmum when you are in your rebellious teens quite another. College forced me to do that. With a strict ban on friends in place, I discovered a parallel world in books and planned several gracious exits at various points. Entry into the hostel, a job in Delhi, everything began and ended briefly. Somehow my feet brought me back to the only home I'd known.

After moving to Ahmedabad, the holiday cycle kicked in yet again. Moving to Singapore, when the air of finality of being away from home sunk in, made the longing to see the family stronger. It's always been a homecoming like no other. Tears the day you arrive, tears the day you leave.

Each year I've been able to don my sun glasses and forget those tears as I've made the way back to the airport. Not this time.

As my kids played with wild abandon on the lawn she had protected all her life, as mangoes from the trees nurtured all her life were given away, as the nimbu from her trees was turned into pickle to be carried beyond the comfort of her home, I knew there was a part of Naniji that wanted to shout. I'd spot that look in her eye, the mild spark of anger as she lifted her arm. Beyond that she couldn't do anything. A broken hip, a head injury has taken away a part of her life. What she is left with are fragments of Chak 147, Zila Mint-gimerry (Montgomery which is now in Pakistan), the gaddas, paani and the year of her escape.

Each day I'd try to remind her of my existence and she'd simply give me her listless look. I spent the better part of my holiday trying to tell myself that there is a part of her that still knows me. I wanted her to shout at my kids, the way she had with us. I wanted her to feel whole again, to be able to lift her feet off the very floor she had created.

It happened on the last day. As I bent to give her all my love, she held my hand and refused to let go. Then she cried, the tears of her lifetime. My name didn't come back, but that of her mother's did. I know deep down she was mouthing the words, she had said over the years - Jaldien Aayien - be back home soon. As the clock ticked, the car waited, the children got increasingly restless, Masi reminded me I had a flight to catch. I took my time, donned my shades, let the tears flow and prayed for another homecoming.

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You've only just got back. You shouldn't even think of packing your bags. Perish the thought, the inner voice tells you. You refuse to hear it. You are in another world, where voices of another kind speak. It's the colourful world of Maryam's Marrakesh. Doesn't it want you to pull out the bags you've barely shelved?

If packing bags isn't your kind of thing. Sit back, book in hand, travel to worlds imagined and beyond with who else but Lotus Reads. The pictures are speaking as much as the text, see some clever ones of Lotus and her eyes.

To know what you missed in the literary world while you were away, look no further than Sharon's Bibliobibuli. Lots of great stuff there, as always.

Jabberwock's making me almost nostalgic about the yen for zen or was it the zen for yen in the Indian media. At one point, my critical eye roved so much that my aunt was threatening to ban the papers.

Dreamink takes me to several places, including Asra Q Nomani's superb piece on the movie 'The Mighty Heart.'

Almost feels like I've never been away. Where would I be, if not for the blogs?

Monday, July 02, 2007


The grand dame of literature speaks and has me latching on to every word. Slickly produced short too.



Yet to read Khaled Hosseini's 'A Thousand Splendid Suns'. I know it won't disappoint, just like this monologue doesn't.

Sunday, July 01, 2007


Here's what Martin Amis makes of it all.