Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Flamingoes in the Jurong Bird Park, Singapore.  Posted by Picasa

Has Londonstani sent the 'novel' for a Holiday this season?

Looks like, yes, if you read this Observer article. It says that the novel has lost its way!!

"This obsession with literary fashion comes at a price. Consider the sad story of Londonstani, a first novel by a talented young Asian writer named Gautam Malkani. Hype aside, this spirited coming-of-age story, narrated by Jas, a Hounslow schoolboy, in a mish-mash of patois, rap, text messaging and west London street-talk, is a promising debut. If it had been published, as its author once intended, as a teen novel, it might have found a secure place as a contemporary classroom cult.

Alas, everything about its short life has been a disaster. Once Fourth Estate, hungry to cash in on the White Teeth and Brick Lane market, had paid an advance in excess of of £300,000, the die was cast. Thereafter, Londonstani had to be 'the literary novel of the year'. Like a Fiat Uno entered for Formula 1, after a squeal of brakes and a loud bang, Londonstani was reduced to a stain of grease, and some scraps of rubber and tin, on the race track of the 2006 spring publishing season. In Borders or Waterstone's, Londonstani is already being airbrushed from history. The celebrity culture of which contemporary fiction has become an uneasy part has no use for failure, or the garret.

From almost every other point of view, and certainly for the consumer, this can occasionally seem like a golden age for books, in which it is impossible to overestimate the impact of the IT revolution. Certainly, the microchip and the internet have transformed booksellers, rejuvenated publishers, galvanised readers and given unpublished writers the kind of audience they had hitherto only dreamed of. Moreover, that truly modern phenomonenon, the blog, has enfranchised a new group of wannabes, creating the sensations of authorship (with none of the pain). Now almost everyone is a published writer. Literary life has become, perhaps for the first time, global, democratic and uninhibited. The bookshops are better equipped and the books they sell are better printed, better designed and better marketed than ever before. There's a huge audience, and apparently no shortage of money. It's an almost perfect environment for a new writer of talent.

But here, finally, is the irony. The greatest IT revolution since Gutenberg, a voracious marketplace, and the transformation of the novel's ambitions, has created a perfect cultural climate for someone 'to do the whole marvellous scene in one gigantic daring bold stroke' - and what do we find ? Despite an impressive showing by Booker in 2004 and 2005, elsewhere in the literary marketplace Fiction, the New Self-Expression, has become a cocky, well-paid and slick appendix to Hello! This is Lit. Lite, offering a short route to a quick buck, a blast of instant celebrity and a text devoid of consequence or meaning. Aptly, one of this season's hottest literary properties is a novel called Tourism, a case study in such packaging. When its author, Nirpal Singh Dhaliwal, published a savage review of Londonstani, perhaps only a Swift or a Shaw could do justice to the spectacle of apprentices wrestling in mud for the keys to the gates of Parnassus. It makes one strangely nostalgic for the bad old days of FR Leavis."

If the novel has really lost its way, I wonder where are all these wannabe novelists headed?

Laila Lalami in 'African Booker' Shortlist

Known as the 'African Booker', the $15,000 (£9,000) prize is awarded to a short story published in English by an African writer whose work reflects African sensibilities.

Laila Lalami, a Moroccan-born author, has been nominated for The Fanatic, a chapter from her novel Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits. The book tells of four Moroccans who cross the straits of Gibraltar on a lifeboat in order to emigrate to Spain. According to Lalami, who now lives in Oregon and is the editor of the literary blog Moorishgirl.com, the story was inspired by an article she read in Le Monde in 2001 about 15 Moroccan immigrants who drowned while crossing the straits of Gibraltar in a fishing boat.

Read the full news here.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


In a survey by the New York Times, Toni Morrison has emerged as the beloved of the literati, of course, as an American writer. We can't even call it a prejudiced view or an colored opinion, right? But some do find a problem with this choice. Read more here.

In another notable development, did you think that authors are solitary creatures, and they don't need any company? If you did then think again. Here is a report by NYT:

"With authors fiercely battling for attention in a media-saturated world, an increasing number of writers — from first-time novelists like Ms. Dean to celebrities like Madeleine K. Albright, the former Secretary of State — are visiting people where they spend much of their time: at work." (Authors Meet Fans Far From Bookstores, at Company Events)


Ok, ok, I am late in talking about Gautam Malkani and Londonstani (almost rhymes). Actually, we were all so much caught up with the Kaavya episode that we completely forgot to celebrate this English author of Indian origin who has penned a novel titled Londonstani. For those who judge an author by the amount of advance he got, Malkani should impress. As the story goes, Malkani reportedly got an advance of, ahem, 300,000 Euros in Frankfurt Book Fair. Now, in dollar terms, that is more than what Kaavya got, right?

The novel is also making waves for its lingiuistic cleverness and the issues of identity and gender. Please see the links at Kitaab.

Malkani has been working with the Financial Times for the last seven years. He studied at Cambridge. Aren't you impressed enough to buy the book?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Sex and the tale of two cities

Two sperate events but linked by sex, and Muslim sentiments are involved in both the cases. One takes place in Jakarta, in the capital of the Islamic state of Indonesia. Another in the Muslim dominated state of Jammu and Kashmir in India.

In April, according to reports, hardline Indonesian Muslims vandalised the office of Playboy magazine, protesting against its publication in that country, also the world's most populous Muslim nation. The protesters also destroyed several copies of the Indonesian Playboy, which unlike the U.S. original does not show any nudity. Despite being a much tamer version, the magazine sold out very quickly, thanks to controversy surrounding its publication.

Following strong protests, Playboy Indonesia has decided to delay its second edition for security reasons.

In Kashmir, angry Muslims have reacted over a sex scandal allegedly involving some former ministers. They destroyed the house of Sabina, the alleged kingpin of the sex scandal, and set her belongings on fire.

The report says that the sex racket was exposed after police seized a CD containing pornographic clips of a young girl, Sabina, who said that several politicians and police officials forced her into prostitution.

While the Indonesian magazine is on hold amid questions of freedom of expression and Islamic laws, it remains to be seen if the exploitative Kashmiri politicians and officers are going to be identified and prosecuted.

Bollywood lessons

Bollywood is making waves these days--both at home and abroad. As 'Sholay' enters school textbooks, school teachers in Delhi are being exposed to more films from the Mumbai film industry. As per a report in The Hindustan Times, the Delhi government is holding special screenings of Munna Bhai MBBS and Rang De Basanti as a part of its teachers' training programme.

It is definitely an interesting way of training teachers. And both the films are remarkable in their own ways.

A few years ago, we too made a documentary film (India's economic transition through Bollywood) that showed India's economic milestones through clips of scenes gleaned from hundreds of films. India's two maverick economists, Amir Ullah Khan and Bibek Debroy, had piloted the project. The film was shown in management schools across India.

Recently, Google has also funded a non-profit venture in India that uses Bollywood film songs as a literacy tool. Great going Bollywood!

Sholay in school text books

Ramesh Sippy's Sholay (1975) is India's one of the most loved and talked about films ever. It has been loved by generations of Indians, and it enjoys the distinction of being India's first biryani western. On the Indian box office it has been one of the top ten grossers of all time. In short, it has many firsts and records to its credit.

The latest distinction achieved by Sholay is academic. It is the first Indian film to be included in a school text book:

"For the first time in the history of Indian academia, an entire chapter in a school textbook will be devoted to a mainstream Bollywood blockbuster.

Ramesh Sippy’s multi-starrer Sholay has been added to the Broadway course workbook No 5 for Class V students of CBSE.

"Published by Oxford University Press, the inclusion of Sholay is a continuation to the chapter on films and film-making in the Broadway book, which is designed to help students communicate effectively and accurately in English.

"The National Curriculum Framework 2005 postulates that the multi-lingual character of our society be treated as a resource and school teaching should focus on what the child understands. Since films are an integral part of our culture and Sholay is one of the most influential films, it has been included in the course, said sources.

"The text on films and filmmaking in the course book and Sholay in the workbook is a representation of Indian drama in the life of a child. The choice of Sholay was made because it is a different film in many ways. Besides,we wanted children to be aware of the prominence attached to the Indian film industry," said an insider." (The Times of India, April 29)

More on Sholay is here.