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.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


I've been out of the blogosphere and pretty much every other sphere for the past couple of weeks. No, I wasn't on the road again, just the usual demands on one's life. Yes, these are lame excuses, yet a possible/logical explanation for the over-due congratulatory post.

Those of you who have followed Amit Varma's lucid prose, the news of the award that is his, will come as no surprise. For those of you who haven't read his work yet, India Uncut is the perfect place to start.

The Bastiat Prize for Journalism is his. Yes, that candlestick beats the cash. Though Amit fielded off competition from 280 other scribes. With that, he joins the select ranks of past winners Tim Harford (Financial Times), Mary Anastasia O’Grady (Wall Street Journal) and Robert Guest (The Economist).

For a closer look at what the contest was like, head here and don't forget giving Amit that well-deserved email pat.

Closer home, congratulations are also (over)due to Balli Kaur. She's sitting comfortably in her lovely little room at the University of East Anglia in UK as I pen this. All thanks to the prestigious T K Wong fellowship that Balli won to work on her first novel.

She sent me an excerpt of the writing that helped her clinch the award and it sure has me pining for more:

Six weeks later, Amrit left the house in the middle of the night and didn’t return. Narin was the last to know because he had become so difficult to reach. It took a phone call from his father to the Dean, who sent a resident advisor to tell him in person........

As he packed his room for his return home, he pulled out the suitcase from under his bed. Thoughts of Amrit, her body mangled and abandoned somewhere flooded his mind and made it hard for him to focus. His hands shook as he unzipped the suitcase. There were things in there that he could throw out to make room for what he had acquired in America. Shot glasses. Photographs. Movies on video that were never released back home. A clock radio.

Tears stung his eyes as he emptied the suitcase. He never expected the smells of his home to remain so well-preserved in this bag. Sandalwood and fennel drifted into the hard winter air and tinted the iron skies a rich orange. The coldness evaporated and in its place, a blast of warmth. Then Narin saw his thick-soled shoes. Amrit had done most of the last minute packing. Probably out of mischief, she’d removed the shoes from his other suitcase and placed them in this one. Narin didn’t care how loudly he was crying – it was the first and last time he would do such a thing for his sister and in all the years after, he would be reticent. Fellow students peered anxiously from the doorway asking if he needed anything but he would only stop grieving when he picked up the shoes and found them sitting flatly on a dictionary, a Holy Book and a popular novel.

Balli had appeared on the show shortly before she packed her bags for the UK together with Chris Mooney-Singh, the brains behind Writers Connect and author Richard Lord.

Chris started the group in June 2004 for writers to give and get feedback on each others' work. Over the years, its grown slowly yet surely. And Balli's success is clear proof. She discussed some of her writing at the sessions the group has held at the Earshot Café @The Arts House.

Chris and his lovely wife Savinder have been in the news recently. And its fantastic to see two wonderful people get the attention they truly deserve.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Thank you all for your emails and calls in response to this post.

Yes, it's taken a bit of time firming things up, but you know that thing about good things and scenic routes.

We believe we've found the perfect spot for the perfect reading. Pull out your diaries and mark these details for:

FROM 3pm-4pm
PH: 6473-6763

It's just the kind of place that will set you thinking. Rana is not one to sugar coat his words, so come armed with questions. I loved what he had to say about reviews:
"I'd rather see a bad review that has engaged with my book, than a good one that has not."

And this one on what drives some of his writing:
"My writing is above all influenced by conversations with people, particularly the artists and writers that surround me in Delhi. Then its travel. I tend to prefer the kind of wisdom that comes from travel than the kind that comes from staying in one place. And then of course there is culture - art and films are the significant things for me. And the internet."

If you don't have a copy of Tokyo Cancelled, you can buy it before or after the talk. Unless there are compelling excuses, I hope to see all of you here. Yes, it's a hidden slice of Singapore. Take a look:

Stick around to soak in the ambience or some art.....

Or even dinner....

It's tucked away near St Andrew's Junior College. Turn left into Malan Road from Alexandra Road, then take another left at Lock Road to be transported into a nostalgic corner consisting of former army barracks.

The talk is free. If you need more details, the email is

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"Indeed at times we were surprised by the reverential tone adopted by reviewers in relation to books which, to us, did not come off at all, and which we could not conceivably recommend to a broader readership."
Sir Howard Davies, Director of the London School of Economics, at the Man Booker Awards Ceremony.

That's the beginning, as this brilliant piece in The Times shows.

Sir Howard slams reviewers for adopting a reverential tone for books that barely deserve a review, for failing to take attention of new names and calls for greater "diversity in the sort of people who review novels."

I couldn't agree more. Of late, I've found my reading choices driven by like-minded bloggers as opposed to established critics who fill up reams and reams of pages with lots of stuff that's nicked off the back of the book. Then there are the reviewers who fail to strike the key balance. It's either excellent all the way or the pits all along. What annoys me even more is reviewers propensity to tell you, 'if you like this, you'll also like this....' If only it were that simple.

Sir Howard is spot on in his assessment of whether or not a reviewer likes a book:
"The only way you can detect that the reviewer doesn’t like the book is when they spend the whole time simply describing the plot. They’re not brave enough to say, ‘It doesn’t work’. [They] are tolerant of untidy novels. They don’t care whether they’re readable or not."

Now, if someone would speak up about those blurb writers next.

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Anne Enright for The Gathering.

Enright won the Man Booker Prize, one of the literary world's most prestigious awards, for her bleak Irish family saga.

Congratulations are in order though deep down I was rooting for Mister Pip and The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Oh well, readers can't always be choosers, can they?

Though the bookmakers got it wrong too. William Hill, the British bookmaker which gives odds on the Booker Prize had put 'The Gathering' and Indra Sinha's 'Animal's People' at the rear of the field at a very long 8/1.

It wouldn't be the Booker, if it wasn't surprising us year after year and getting us to flip another page.

Nielsen's BookScan shows Enright's book has so far sold just 3,253 copies compared to Ian McEwan's 'On Chesil Beach' that leads the list with sales of 120,362.

Here's how the rest fared:
'Darkmans' by Nicola Barker- 11,097
'Mister Pip' by Lloyd Jones - 5,170
'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' by Mohsin Hamid - 4,425
'Animal's People' by Indra Sinha - 2,589

All that will undoubtedly change.

For the record, the Booker, which was founded in 1969, rewards the best novel of the year by a writer from Britain, Ireland or a Commonwealth country. And now it's Enright's turn to charm the literary world and tip the sales figures.

More on Enright here.

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Monday, October 15, 2007


I really, really do. (Lyrics courtesy Tara June Winch and her adorable daughter Lila - these have stayed with us long after we bid farewell to our Ubud neighbours).

Speak of being spoilt for choice. Yes, that's what lit fests have done for us. They've opened a whole new world of possibilities, of discoveries, of journeys, of friendships, of sharing music and lyrics, and I'm not about to get started on the mammoth reading lists.

Yes, they steal a piece of us - not that we mind. It's happened at Ubud, at Galle, at Byron Bay. These three lit fests have been my picks and will remain so. Click here to see why.


Thursday, October 11, 2007


Literary festivals are great discovery zones, that much we all know.

That they help us engage great minds, that we know too. Depending on one's interests they set the pace, the direction for reading, writing and other such areas.

As a moderator does all of this excite me, I'm often asked? Of course, it does. I wouldn't be doing it, if I wasn't loving it so much.

Beyond all the conversations, the biggest joy of being at a lit fest is forging new friendships, finding out what the audience took back from the session and what they'd like to hear more/less of.

As a journalist I have that annoying propensity of keeping my ears glued to the ground, of listening to the chatter, of hanging out discreetly behind loo doors to find out what the women are making of the dishy author they just heard. Often it is these words that set the pace for the very next session.

And ever so often there are the readers, driven by an openness, by sheer passion for the written word. I've met so many of them across continents but I've yet to meet someone like Tulai Thomson.

He was there at Amandari for 'Out of India' with Kiran Desai and Shashi Tharoor waiting patiently to get his copy of Kiran's debut Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard signed.

I was intrigued. He wasn't rushing in, when I said hello, he told me he'd enjoyed the session. But what drew him to the tale of Sampath Chawla is what I wanted to know.

"My mum has read it and she recommended it," he told me.
"Do you read everything your mother recommends," I probed further, thinking deep down if only I could get this strategy working on Aneesha.
"I try," Tulai said.

Then we did a quick run through some of the books he's read so far. Gosh! I hadn't even heard of half the names when I was his age. Having interviewed the super-achiever Shashi Tharoor, I was also wondering if Tharoor sounded like this when he was Tulai's age.

Many, many thoughts were playing in my head, as was the thought of getting Tulai on camera. A natural in front of it, he had the perfect soundbyte without having to think too hard about it.

In a flash he told me what he found most interesting about some of the discussions at the Ubud Writers Festival:
"I've been to a couple of sessions with other writers, most of them have been in my school. Most of them have been on writing techniques and how we should write. Here I've heard famous authors, just hearing how they express their feelings through their writing, I found that very inspirational."

What got him reading:
"My Mum has always encouraged me to read ever since I was young. Reading has always been a part of my life, I can't imagine life without reading. I like Roald Dahl a lot."

Did I mention he is barely 12?

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Monday, October 08, 2007


I heard her first on the BBC, soon after she won the Orange Prize. What struck me was her conviction in what she has written, her poise and her grace. Here she is again, dealing with some of the questions that Half of a Yellow Sun throws up. Take more than a moment to listen to it.

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The year was 2005. The month March. A proof of 'Tokyo Cancelled' had arrived on my desk. It was Rana Dasgupta's debut, which was well on its way to setting literary circuits ablaze.

Critics hailed it as the 'Canterbury Tales for our times', 'an epic story', 'a timeless fairytale ethos' - could a first time author ask for more? That was one of the many questions that played in my head as I started the nail Rana down for a phoner chase. It finally happened when he was on his promotional tour in London.

The story was intriguing - 13 passengers stranded at an airport. Tokyo, their destination, is covered in snow and all flights cancelled. To pass the night they form a huddle by the silent baggage carousels and tell each other stories. Rana spoke at length about how this narrative evolved. About lives in transit and stories from the great cities that grew into the stunning novel which is about the hopes, dreams and disappointments that connect people everywhere.

"This book is not about solving things but asking certain questions," he's said before. And much of it has evolved from Rana's own travels across the globe. A former marketing professional, he has had "a great appreciation for journeys. I tend to prefer the kind of wisdom that comes from travel than the kind that comes from staying in one place."

Interestingly enough, he started writing the book for himself and his immediate circle of friends and a publishing contract came along the way - from Toby Eady no less.

If you missed hearing him at the Ubud Writers Festival, you'll get another chance soon enough.

He'll be passing through Singapore early November. Watch this space for details of an engagement with a fine literary mind.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007


It was great to see more blog names morph into real life. It had to be at Ubud. So much happened in four days - the increasing number of posts are a testament.

To get the full picture, don't go anywhere without taking a look at Sharon Bakar's Bookaholic, Eric Forbes' Good Books Guide, Isman Suryaman's The Fool Has Landed, Nury Vittachi's The Curious Diary of Mr Jam.

One can't have too much of a good thing. If you spot more great stuff, drop me a line at

Yes, it is time for that blog aggregator you mentioned, Sharon & Nury.

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Something to Say with Nury Vittachi, Shashi Tharoor, Made Wijaya and Julia Suryakasuma.

Yes, yes, yes - I know all you want is my word on this and you shall get it, if you'll be patient a tad longer.

Yes, I have all the pictures thanks to Temple.

The South China Morning Post report (October 4th, 2007) claims "even the moderator was laughing loudly." Really? Trouble is the said sequence of events and the pictures to go with the report are a little messed up. The amorous act didn't happen till the end of the entire discussion. What happened initially was an attempt to urge Made to stop, followed by Nury's loud snoring, which had no impact as well and then Nury getting up to kiss and hug Julia. Made only stopped when he finished what he intended to read.

And then the discussion was right on track.

The said action - the picture of which you've already seen and which I shall post again lest you missed it occurred at the end when Nury said "Shall we finish what we started?"

Before one could figure out what was happening, books had been thrown off the table, pages were strewn, Julia was on the Left Bank coffee table.

At the closing party, it was a house divided. Some folks loved it, others questioned me "what was going on?"

Since most of the posts have been penned and the judgment passed, I'll bask in the luxury of the last word.

When you have four speakers on a panel and one of them happens to be Shashi Tharoor, you'd definitely end up looking wiser if you answered the question that was put to you. And when you call yourself a "fiery feminist" make sure you end up on top.

Now, for the pictures.....
Made was on his feet before I could even sit down post introductions

Attempting to interrupt sans luck:

Then there was snoring followed by some hugging and the discussion was back on track:

Festival Director Janet de Neefe delivers her speech with grace, poise and style:

Fiery feminist or not, you decide....

One for the record books....

Pictures on this post courtesy Temple Connolly



"My first pilgrimage was undertaken in the shadow of the war in Bosnia, my last in the sunlit promise of the new millennium, before the war on terror darkened every sky. But what I learned on Mount Athos holds through the ages - through feast and famine, war and disease, love and loss. And if my course of travel on the peninsula and the literature of faith resembled the meandering of a river that eventually empties into the sea, I understand it now in a new light. "That ladder that leads to the Kingdom is hidden within your soul," wrote St Issac of Syria. "Flee from sin, dive into yourself, an in your soul you will discover the stairs by which to ascend." This was the ladder I did not know I was seeking until I had already begun to climb it."
- Christopher Merrill in 'Things of the Hidden God - Journey to the Holy Mountain'

Lots has been written about his work and about this book in particular, but this bit from The Spectator sums it up perfectly "A gem that shows off Merrill-the-poet's gorgeous writing, and Merrill-the-reporter's sharp eye-and introduces a new Merrill, the pilgrim."

Merrill has had the most fascinating journey. A journey, I definitely would have known little about, had a panel discussion not fallen through and taken the shape of this one on one.

In 'Things of the Hidden God' Merrill re-traces some of his steps. A benign tumour, a hospital bed, the release from which left him feeling like he'd "been granted a new life. Poems flooded over me. I was surrendering to the dictates of the language instead of attempting to control the process of discovery integral to creation, even as I learned that obeying formal imperatives could lead me into the uncharted waters of memory and desire."

Words leap from the pages, you feel the sounds, you imagine the colours, you see him journeying through the heart of a war, something he hadn't quite imagined when in 1991 he'd taken up an invitation from a Slovenian friend to join him on a hike across his homeland.

"Ours was to be a literary excursion through the mountains of Yugoslavia's northernmost republic: we would drink wine, listen to folk songs and stories, revel in the wild. I wanted to explore a place where literature is more than a decorative art. Nor did I foresee Yugoslavia's violent breakup, though perhaps a closer reading of the poetry and fiction of the South Slavs would have prepared me - and the world - for the coming horrors..... What blood, what loss, what poetry speaks through this pain? Ezra Pound called literature "news that stays news." Notwithstanding the inconsistencies, bewilderment, and occasional wrong-headedness of the writers and artists I met in my travels I found their experience and witness of challenging circumstances not only compelling but also current in a manner distinct from the reportage of the front-line journalists whose courage inspired me."

With that Merrill the poet, the reporter and the superb writer brings alive the Scenes From The Balkan Wars in 'Only The Nails Remain.' Yes, only a poet-journalist could accomplish this. Just as a poet-journalist is best placed to take on the serious business of literary awards and to direct the University of Iowa's celebrated International Writing Program.

In fact, Merrill was so in demand in Ubud that it was impossible to sit him down for a chat before the session. We barely managed a quick 10 minute session to discuss the flow and go through some of the order of the questions. There were writers, aspiring writers, poets - almost everyone wanting a little more than a minute of his time. And he was enormously patient. In the conversation, he spoke about the Creative Writing Programme, which takes in published authors and there have been several biggies there - Orhan Pamuk, Kazuo Ishiguro....and several creative episodes too - an assistant being bitten in the cheek by an author who needed to be brought under control. We'd see more of some writers creative abilities the very next day - who was to know.

In a little over an hour we'd traversed through the world of poetry, war, life, literature, writing and so much more. His has been a journey that most of us can only imagine, a journey that certainly isn't for the faint-hearted. One can only thank him enough for being our guide that hot afternoon at Indus.

Pictures on this post courtesy Temple Connolly.

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Friday, October 05, 2007


Over the hill, over the mountain, over the tree. Can't remember what exactly it was. There were lovers and all of the above and tea. With Manuka for company, a yarn couldn't have been far behind. She had me in splits as she helped me make some careful tea choices at Lunuganga. "Lover's Leap," she urged me to pick. One minute I was attempting to settle down tea bag, tea cup in hand. Never mind about the tea, the taste of which fails me.

Then we ended up on the same little van headed back to Galle and it turned out to be the busiest 60 minutes of my life. We flitted between tales of Sri Lanka, epic Vittachi Scrabble battles, Bollywood, her childhood, then mine, her family, then mine. By the end of it all, we knew this chat would continue across continents and it did.

Manuka Wijesinghe got invited to the Ubud Writers Festival and she did the wise thing by getting her flight booked on time. We met for coffee, for a drink, for dinner. We wished we could make our rupiahs last. We did the walks in search of restaurants that would accept credit cards. I heard about her meditation, her dancing practise, her book, her life and it was fun all the way.

Readers who heard her, lapped it all up. Sri Lanka came alive, colourful tales of politics and politicians seemed to be running in the family, it was a journey for the brave-hearted, I certainly happened to be one of them.....

Picture courtesy Shelley Kenigsberg

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Time flies as it's meant to.

Gosh, it's been three years on the lit fest circuit, three years of work that has gone into the making of Off The Shelf. Three years of dealing with authors of varied sensibilities, propensities and manner.

Some are propah, others like to shock - for reasons literary and otherwise. Some are engaging minds, others focused on selling their book and getting over and done with you. Some give you thoughts to last you a lifetime, others are gone as swiftly as the 10 minutes of air time. Yet each of them leaves you with a lesson. Depending on their disposition it can range from one in haughtiness to one in modesty.

Yes, it's been a journey that will never have another parallel. Over the weeks, months and years, some authors have felt like family, others have become family and
some have made a special place in my heart.

Kiran Desai is one of them. I met her for the first time at the Galle Literary Festival in January this year and it was an immediate connect. In an earlier post, I'd mentioned meeting her was "almost like bumping into an old friend." And it felt the same way in Ubud.

Untouched, unspoilt by her success, she seemed slimmer, at times a little exhausted, yet she never skipped a beat when it came to meeting people who wanted to know about her or about her work. Between sessions, you'd see her gamely posing for photographs at Indus, granting interviews to pretty much whoever came along - and lots of people did.

We managed to sneak in a dinner at the Cafe de Artistes after the Amandari Cocktail evening and indulge in some surreal conversation at Blanco and it sure felt like time stood still for just that little bit.

Kiran will be appearing at the Galle Literary Festival next year together with her mother Anita Desai. I don't know about you, I just can't wait....

Kiran has spoken of the "debt of gratitude" she owes to her mother. Both mother and daughter have enormous respect for each other's work and it shows. I've unfortunately missed out on the whole mother-daughter relationship and when I took a closer look at this shot, I couldn't help but wonder what things would be like, when Aneesha grows up. Who knows.....

Apologies for the darkened shots. This was the best I could get on my camera phone in the Amandari lighting. Lots was said in this session with Shashi Tharoor. More on it later. If you have better pix, replacing these is no issue.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007


With Richard Flanagan and Adib Khan.

If there was one session that I was worried about, it was this one. It wasn't about the great authors on the panel, it wasn't the issue spelt out for discussion, rather it was the setting for the discussion. My worry centred around discussing Adib Khan's 'Spiral Road' and Richard Flanagan's 'The Unknown Terrorist' in a lunch setting. Would this work while the audience was sipping wine, tucking into their irresistible Alila lunch (the food was fab, the dessert sinful), would they listen, register, question?

As things would unfold, this should have been the least of my worries. Yes, yes, I know you want more of the Juicy Julia and Naughty Nury session, but that'll have to wait.

A lot was discussed at this year's festival and as I take baby steps to recount all that happened, I have to start at the beginning with Adib and Richard, who made this a session to remember. Award-winning authors both, they've turned their attention to the issues of our times with their latest work. Adib who started writing in his 40s made his debut with 'Seasonal Adjustments' in 1994, which went on to win the Commonwealth Writers First Book Award. This was followed by 'Solitude of Illusions' in 1996, 'The Storyteller' in 2000 and then 'Homecoming'. His latest book 'Spiral Road' deals with Muslim identity in relation to terrorism and is set in Bangladesh.

Tasmanian author Flanagan is a Rhodes scholar, who survived near-death experiences as a kayaker. One look at his palm and you know such experiences come naturally to him. His books throw critics into a tizzy, its amazing to see how much they can read and often (mis)read his work. But Flanagan has survived more than just the critics, to give us 'The Sound of One Hand Clapping,' 'Gould's Book of Fish' which won the 2002 Commonwealth Writers Prize and most recently 'The Unknown Terrorist' - the nightmarish tale of a woman mistaken for a terrorist after a one-night stand with a man of 'Middle-Eastern' appearance.

Richard set out "to write a book that was a mirror to these times and a book that I hoped might be a warning to people about what I feel are a series of frightening tendencies in our society."

If you imagine this would set the tone for a heavy take on the war on terror, think again. His unmatched academic credentials haven't made him a dry narrator. Each episode, each story that went into the making of his book packed punch, humour and insights. When questioned about identity, he narrated the journey through parts of the US, where he was introduced as a "Tanzanian author," where he got away with very little talking on some shows as the eager questioner told the whole story. He backed journalists and journalism for putting stories in perspective - the ones who believe in it still do that, he reminded us. His book is a sober testament of our times, the story of 'The Doll' resonates despite what David Marr had to say about it in his rather unflattering review in The Sydney Morning Herald:
"In Gould's Book of Fish, he created a magical little universe somewhere at the far end of Macquarie Harbour two centuries ago. It was brilliantly inventive. The book has fans all round the world. I didn't believe a word of it. Nor can I believe the Doll."

Pity about that because there is more than just flashes of Flanagan brilliance in 'The Unknown Terrorist.'

How much control then does an author have over his work? It's a question I'd put to Adib before we started another panel discussion that took off with a reading from 'The Spiral Road.' In this conversation though, Adib re-traced his steps to Bangladesh, a place he'd left in 1973, when he moved to Australia. And there are traces of his identity, his fractured sense of self in the protagonist Masud Alam, the 53-year old librarian, who has to go back to Bangladesh to reconnect with his family. His father is dying, the family's fortune is gone and the world Masud left behind when he moved to Australia doesn't exist anymore. Khan uses many of his own experiences to draw attention to several issues - betrayal, alienation, identity or the lack of it.

The Age dubs it a novel that "bears re-reading on many counts."

As I re-visit one of the many passages I'd marked for the discussion and for this post, I couldn't agree more:

'That made them uncomfortable,' the woman chuckled. 'Are you a migrant?'
'Yes,' I replied.
'So am I,' she said. 'If you don't mind, I'd like to talk to you about the questions you asked.'
I liked her forthrightness.
Afterwards we headed off for coffee.
'I'm Amelia.' She held out her hand.
'Are you....' she hesitated. 'Indian?'
'A Hindu? Sorry! I don't mean to pry.'
Nowadays Amelia and I occasionally go out for dinner and then to a concert or a play. We no longer talk about our shared migrant experiences.

Wish we'd had time to talk more....

While I wait for another time, I leave you with some pictures through Shelley Kenigsberg's lens:

P.S. The thing about Richard's palm. In a nutshell, your palm is supposed to have three main lines, each of which indicates a separate area of your life. Your love line is the one on top, your head line is in the middle, and the bottom line is your life line. Richard Flanagan's palm is missing one key line, making it most amazing palm I've seen in my life time. (Perhaps, that explains the superior intellect as well!) Thanks Dad for everything and the palmistry training, in particular.

Pictures on this post courtesy Shelley Kenigsberg

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007


Post fest, Sharon Bakar and I finally got a chance to sit down and catch up on lots of stuff - literary and otherwise. We were neighbours at Honeymoon and didn't quite discover that till the festival was over.

One of the things we spoke about was Silverfish New Writing - which is now into its 7th Edition. Sharon had her first short story published in an earlier edition, Silverfish made her a "proud Editor" and she spoke as one would of the little baby who grows up only too soon.

Raman had given me the earlier editions and some of the stories in it were exceptional. The collection provided just the platform writers need. How we were to know that as soon as we were finished with hailing its success, we'd hear of its end.

"By the way, this will be the last in the Silverfish New Writing series. We have decided to stop here. There will be no Silverfish New Writing 8, nor anymore after that in the foreseeable future. To all those who have contributed in the past, thank you for making the series an unqualified success."

I'm sure the reasons for this are sound. Publishing isn't for the faint-hearted and Raman did open so many possibilities for aspiring authors, some of whom are now full-fledged novelists. And for that he deserves to be applauded. I do hope that someone will see the potential of such a publication and continue what he so bravely started.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007


Sleep. Yes, I'm prone to a little craziness. Those of you who've known me long enough already know this. Which is why I find myself dreaming a little dream, thinking green, getting off a jet plane and heading straight to work. Tonight I will crash, maybe not burn. Ubud is still on my mind. Those conversations, those authors, those readers, that 11 year old. There are many, many, many stories playing in my head, as they always do. I don't blog when I'm on the road. I want to absorb it all. I want to talk to people. I want to see things around me, not indulge in the search for wireless connectivity. That's one of the many reasons why when I come back I'm loaded with posts - which for some readers is a good thing. It's a house divided, others would have liked to read it as it happened. I'll try my best, over the next couple of days to recount all that happened in the sessions I attended at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2007. There was a lot. Most of my time was spent working on sessions I was moderating this year - a great mix, the writing workshop and then the conversations that started on a panel and continued till much later.

Christopher Merrill has said this before, in a different context, yet as I start the journey of re-tracing my steps at the fourth year of the festival, it's worth sharing this:
"Did I read every page of every book? Of course not. That would be impossible. But I read enough of each book to know whether it merited further consideration. And what I will remember of the judging process is the glee I felt each day at the sight of dozens of books piled on my doorstep, each an invitation to embark on a new journey. "I have traveled much, in Concord," Thoreau wrote. In these past months of reading, I traveled much, in America-an endlessly intriguing place."

We'd discussed this, among many other issues in the one-on-one with Merrill and one of the things we agreed on was that literary festivals are the best discovery zones. Ubud, the cultural centre of Bali makes that cross-cultural connect in a way no other place can. It's seeped in culture, the people are unbelievably nice, the settings are more than perfect, the mix of authors to die for. As a moderator, I come back each year, humbled by the knowledge that there is so much to be learnt, that people in so many parts of the world continue to battle with liberties that we take for granted. It may be an increasingly globalised world but our approaches will always differ.

Which is why, at the risk of repeating myself I credit the festival organisers again for coming up with such a superb mix of authors, of perspectives, of getting our worlds to meet, of ensuring that East meets West isn't a mere style statement. Sitting with authors like Somaya Ramadan, Richard Flanagan, Lee Hye-Kung, Debra Yatim, Adib Khan, Rosario Cruz Lucero, I realise there are no easy answers to even the most direct of questions.

What's even tougher is finding the right connect for authors of their stature. There are big names, there are established names, there are emerging names. Making panels that straddle the worlds of Shashi Tharoor, Kiran Desai, Peter Goldsworthy with other literary names is no easy feat. Yet, Festival Director Janet de Neefe together with Finley Smith and Karen McClellan has pulled it together to near perfection. They have had the support of the huge pool of volunteers, advisors and feedback has always mattered. I know that, I get to hear the good, bad and ugly sides of my modest abilities as a moderator.

Yet, it is the stimulating discussions, the level of debate and sometimes the strange and the sublime that leaves me pining for more. Then there is Ubud - a place of unmatched beauty. Honeymoon Guesthouse, which increasingly feels like a third home. I can't imagine being anywhere else but there. This time round, my camera failed me. Had been downloading pictures and forgot the memory stick back. Technology being technology, I rather painfully realised that the model I use for my camera is not being used anymore. Thank heavens for the N73 and thanks also to Bala's cousin, Anisha, whose superb photography skills show why you should be there too, if not this year, then the next. If you have more pictures to share, I'll be happy to do the posts. I'm only warming up, lots more in the days ahead.

For the moment though, let these be your inspiration.....