Sunday, July 29, 2007

No such thing as nonfiction

Michael Ondaatje on the influence of film on his work:

Everyone in our time is influenced by film, and TV, and iPods. I think that it influences the speed of books a great deal. I’m not sure that I’m influenced by film, even though I’m supposed to be writing scenes. It’s in the editing of my books where a scene is created. I take editing very seriously. It’s a very detailed, careful element. I think some writers don’t appreciate the microscopic craft of the editing process.

And he says this on his narrative style:

My first books, including Running in the Family were about specific people. Then, by the time of In the Skin of a Lion, I was interested in more than one narrator. There’s a quotation by John Berger in the front pages of Skin: “Never again will a single story be told as though it were the only one”. That’s almost a political statement as well. You can’t rely on person “A” to give you the full truth of a story.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Rahul's story

Harsh Mandar in The Hindustan Times:

It was a devastating fury that raged through the young boy’s heart. It died down almost as quickly as it rose, but it was too late. By then it had already destroyed many lives. A 14-year-old domestic help working in Mumbai was so infuriated one afternoon by the obdurate refusal of his employer to pay him his accumulated wages that he impetuously picked up an iron vessel in the kitchen and smashed it on her head repeatedly. She screamed, bleeding profusely, struggled briefly, then crumpled on to the kitchen floor, motionless.

More frightened than he had ever been in his life, the boy ran out of the flat to the nearest bus stop. It was deserted. As he crouched in a corner, weeping inconsolably, the terrifying reality began to slowly seep in. He had gravely wounded a woman of means. He was absolutely alone in a strange city, with no relatives or friends to whom he could go for shelter or advice, to suggest to him a way out of his sudden horrific predicament.

His heart heaved, as he desperately missed his parents, their thatched hut, his village in Jharkhand and even their poverty. It was a dreadful mistake. He should never have come to Mumbai in the first place, however hard life was back at home. His only chance now was to return to his village, before the police discovered his crime.

But Rahul had no money, therefore he could not board a bus. Instead, he alternately ran and walked as fast as he could, breathless and panting, his heart beating against his breast, to the train station. There were barely minutes left for the train to depart, when a police inspector identified him, and he was bundled into a jeep and driven to the police station. The petrified boy put up no resistance, and told them truthfully all that had happened. “The sethani is dead. You will have to go to jail,” they told him. “You have destroyed your life. There is nothing that anyone can do for you.”

Read the full text here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A flower for every bullet?

Some thoughts on Muslims and global terror. Not mine but of others. But how well they echo those of mine and of many others:

From Prof Amitava Kumar's blog who quotes Gandhi in this excerpt:

Will someone fax the following quote from Gandhi, on p. 70 of the galleys, to Washington DC:

“What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?”

Here's a quote from Indian journalist Burkha Dutt's article on Mohammad Haneef (thanks again Prof Kumar):

...And yet, an innocent man continues to be held in solitary confinement with the ludicrous explanation that the solitude is actually designed to give him more ‘privacy’. Haneef has eloquently argued his own innocence, describing himself as a “Muslim with moderate views” who believes that “every drop of blood is human”. When Australian Prime Minister John Howard still goes on to declare grandly that he is “not uncomfortable” with the young doctor’s continued detention our outrage is spontaneous and entirely legitimate.

Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy on the Lal Masjid (Pakistan) shootout:

What explains the explosive growth of this phenomenon?
Imperial America's policies in the Muslim world are usually held to blame. But its brutalities elsewhere have been far greater. In tiny Vietnam, the Americans had killed more than one million people. Nevertheless, the Vietnamese did not invest in explosive vests and belts. Today if one could wipe America off the map of the world with a wet cloth, mullah-led fanaticism will not disappear. I have often asked those of our students at Quaid-e-Azam University who toe the Lal Masjid line why, if they are so concerned about the fate of Muslims, they did not join the many demonstrations organized by their professors in 2003/4 against the immoral US invasion of Iraq. The question leaves them unfazed. For them the greater sin is for women to walk around bare faced, or the very notion that they could be considered the equal of men.

M J Akbar in his column, Byline:

Five years ago, there was only one terrorist in Iraq: Saddam Hussein. He terrorized his people, perhaps the worst form of terrorism. There was one reason for anger five years ago. Who can count how many reasons jostle for attention in a young person's mind after four years of war, mayhem and occupation? Four million Iraqis have been displaced; the demographic equivalent in India would be more than 200 million uprooted. That is the scale of the human disaster. No one has an accurate count of the Iraqi dead. Bush spends a quarter million dollars a minute on just the war in Iraq. Read that again, it isn't a mistake: A quarter million dollars every minute. That bill doesn't include the costs in Afghanistan. Even the British appetite for Bush has ebbed, with a Cabinet minister saying that British policy will not be joined at the hip to Washington. British casualties are now approaching the rate suffered in World War II. And only 22 percent of Iraqis support the presence of Anglo-American troops.

Whatever the cause, such are the effects. As Paul Wood, defense correspondent for British television's Today program, said on Friday, "Who wants to be the last man to die for a lost cause?" A newspaper is life distilled into still life. If the siege we mentioned is global, then perhaps a good checkpoint is a global newspaper through which we might ponder the mysteries of cause and effect.

The top of the front page of the July 12 edition is a moving photograph of a woman, her head bowed beyond sight, her tears hidden in the cusp of an anguished hand, sobbing on the coffin of a lost son or husband, one of the over 8,000 Muslims massacred by Serbs in Srebrenica twelve years ago, during the ethnic cleansing that began on July 11, 1995. They have just identified a fresh lot of 465 victims.

Where is one of the principal leaders of this genocide, a mass murderer called Gen. Ratko Mladic. If you want to chat with him, down at the nearest cafe. If you are the European Union or America, then he becomes invisible. He cannot be found.

Below this picture is the story of Lal Masjid, a citadel of paranoia, xenophobia and terrorism masquerading as a mosque and madrasa. There are no Christians or Serbs in this battle in Pakistan, which has taken at least a hundred lives. This is a war between different attitudes to faith. And this is proof that terrorism is a fire that can also burn the hand of those who feed it.

And, here's a great piece on this issue by Saaed Naqvi:

The Muslim elite in Delhi and Oudh had been decimated during 1857. Globally, they were smashed when the Ottoman empire was liquidated in the wake of World War I. None of that was on TV. But in March ’91, Muslims in particular saw with their own eyes the defeat and humiliation of a Muslim state, Iraq, with roots in one of the world’s great civilisations. Then followed the two "intifadas", the four-year-long brutalisation of Bosnian Muslims, Srebrenica, rape camps, the post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan, the continuing occupation of Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, desecration of the holiest of shrines in Samara—and all on live TV.
Any wonder, then, that the Muslim world is in a state of rage? Just as the workers of the world had nothing to lose but their chains, a section of Muslims feel they have nothing to lose but their daily humiliations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza etc. This is the way it comes across to them, riveted as they are on a diet of live TV. But responses of the world’s Muslims vary. Indian Muslims belong to an exceptional category for a simple reason: the world’s second largest Muslim population has the good fortune to operate in a multicultural, secular democracy. Remember, a massive demonstration at Ramlila grounds thwarted US President George Bush from addressing a joint session of Parliament. The vent of democracy keeps Indian Muslims from terrorism.

Can the oppressed of the world learn some Gandhigiri and put an end to this circle of violence? What about sending a bouquet of flower to the oppressor for every dead body? A flower for every bullet? Can we do it anywhere and everywhere? Let us bury all hatred and violence under the unbearable lightness of the flower power? You think it is not possible? Gandhi showed us how to do it nearly a century ago.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Filming: A Love Story

It seems that Indian novelists (in this case all NRIs) are turning their attention to the issue of communalism in India, among other themes.

Sujit Saraf deals with it in his admired work of fiction, The Peacock Throne. So, does David Davidar in his recent novel, The Solitude of Emperors (this one is mainly focused on communalism). Now, Tabish Khair's Filming is said to be on this theme too, though the story is situated in pre-Bollywood Bombay.

Here's Navtej Sarna's take on Filming: A Love Story.

Tabish Khair’s Filming draws a unique connection between photography and barbed wire: both inventions, intended to freeze movement, were perfected in the year 1880. In many ways, the rest of the novel is the story—romantic, tragic, bloody—of how these two inventions played out in India. The story of how still images began to flicker on white screens in dusty villages and then started to move, then to talk and sing—first in black and white, then in scintillating, money-churning, record-breaking colour. And of how barbed wire was stretched across the subcontinent, to separate and to secure, and how its sharp points killed unsuspecting souls or left deep wounds in those who got past, their identities in shreds—wounds that continued to ache decades later, at the memory of a song, or a childhood caper, or a youthful love.

And here's an interview with Khair where he discusses issues of hybridism and exile. Here's an interesting quote from him on writers:

Actually, I feel that the attention Indian writers get occasionally is greatly over-rated in India. Even in terms of prizes and advances, Indian writers corner only a very small fraction of the global market. Rushdie and Naipaul are not really 'Indian' in any case, and even they are not among the global bestsellers like Rowlings and Dan Brown: the pomp and spectacle they invite is due to the literary quality of their work. So I am not too worried. Finally, as a writer, you have to decide for yourself whether you want to sip cocktails in five-star bashes, or slog away in the loneliness of your study.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Turning of tables

Nayan Chanda, the author of Bound Together, argues in this Tehelka interview that the story of globalization has come full circle for India.

If you look at the history of how the world has been connected since the Tigris-Euphrates and Indus valley civilisations, India was at the heart of globalisation in the first 2,000 years of history. It was the first to develop the use of cotton and was the only exporter of cotton textile for centuries. Then Indian artisans developed the skill of turning hard matter into beautiful jewellery, which was exported to Mesopotamia. Even in the 11th century, European and Arab traders collected ivory from East Africa and shipped it to India to be transformed into artefacts before shipping it to Europe — it was being outsourced. Then Indians learned to turn sugarcane juice into granular sugar and India was the world’s only supplier of sugar till it was taken to the Carribean islands. This dominance persisted till the Industrial Revolution knocked India off the pedestal — which was propelled to a large degree by the British desire not to spend silver bullion buying Indian cotton textiles. They tried weaving their own cloth, but couldn’t match India’s cheap labour. This pushed them to invent labour-saving devices and steam power and textile mills, which rang the death-knell of Indian weavers. William Bentinck — Governor General of India in 1835 — wrote a confidential memo to London in which he said, “The Indian plains are bleached white with the bones of weavers.” These were victims of globalisation in the mid-19th century. But they recovered. Indian weavers learnt to dye and print beautiful designs. By the end of the 19th century, India had climbed back to being the number two producer of textile.

The astute Chanda, who is editor of YaleGlobal online, carries on his argument in this essay in The Outlook:

If the 'discovery' of the monsoon wind by traders brought an increasing number of buyers for Indian spices and textiles, a new monsoon wind in the shape of fibre-optic cables opened the pathway for exporting Indian brainware and services. The collapsing cost of transportation and communication has also enabled US corporations to cut costs by offshoring production to China and outsourcing backoffice functions, say, to India. While offshoring of production has forced thousands of blue-collar jobs to switch to other lower-paid jobs without too much protest, outsourcing of a much smaller number of white-collar jobs abroad has produced a disproportionately stronger reaction. In fact, the word outsourcing has replaced 'globalisation' as a fearful term for an influential US middle class. Not surprisingly, outsourcing will be a hot button issue in the 2008 presidential campaign.

So, what are the implications of this globalization for Asia and the West, in a scenario in which the West is aging fast and young talents from Asia are flooding its job market, the dollar's value is dipping, and a war on terror is bleeding America and others. Here's Chanda's take:

Unlike Indian weavers in the nineteenth century who suffered silently, out of sight of the world, those affected by globalisation today can lobby their parliamentary representatives and go on television. A globalised media has become a dandy tool to denounce globalisation. The time when winners could ignore losers in the globalisation process is gone forever.

In less eloquent terms, what does it mean? Confrontation between the once rich West and fast getting-rich Asia? I posed this question to Professor S L Rao. This is his take on this subject:

Regarding outsourcing, the idea is that technological prowess will keep pushing the developed economies to greater heights. As people are displaced, the services sector will boom and that will keep people happily employed. The menial;work of manufacturing simple products and giving low level services will come to the developing countries. The catch is if developing countries can develop technologically and move speedily up the value chain in both products and services like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have done. That will force the present developed countries to think again. In any case I see the future years narrowing differentials between countries.

What's your take on this issue?

Faith and globalization

Nayan Chanda, the author of Bound Together, reflectively says in this Tehelka interview:

At one point, I asked myself, what would have been the tallest man-made building that the first light of January 1, 1000 would have fallen on? I found it would have been the Borobudur temple in Java, a Buddhist temple built in 849 ad. Buddha was born 2,000 miles away but had inspired people to build this massive temple — I saw it as a temple of globalisation. Asking questions around this led me to pinpoint the four broad categories of actors who left home carrying goods and ideas to become catalysts across the globe: traders, preachers, adventurers and warriors.

Cardiff de Alejo Garcia describes his experience of seeing the Angkor Vat temples in Cambodia for the first time (in Smithsonian Magazine):

I had come to the temples of Angkor prepared, having read about their archaeology and history and learned of their immense size and intricate detail. The mystery of why an early Khmer civilization chose to abandon the temples in the mid-15th century, after building them during a period of more than 500 years, intrigued me. So too did the tales of travelers who "discovered" Angkor in the centuries that followed, some of whom thought they had stumbled across a lost city founded by Alexander the Great or the Roman Empire—until finally, in the 1860s, the French explorer Henri Mouhot reintroduced the temples to the world with his ink drawings and the postmortem publication of his journal, Travels in Siam, Cambodia, and Laos.

But on that first morning I realized that such knowledge was unnecessary to appreciate this remarkable achievement of architecture and human ambition. There are few places in the world where one feels proud to be a member of the human race, and one of these is certainly Angkor," wrote the late Italian author Tiziano Terzani. "There is no need to know that for the builders every detail had a particular meaning. One does not need to be a Buddhist or a Hindu to understand. You need only let yourself go...

The Darjeeling Limited

Intrigued by the poster? Here's the dope.

Wes Anderson's road movie The Darjeeling Limited is about three brothers on a quest in India. It will be distributed by Fox Searchlight. The movie will open the New York Film Festival.

Following the death of their father and disappearance of their mother, three American brothers (Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman) take a journey through the vibrant and sensual landscapes of India to re-forge family bonds. The journey comes in a form of a train trip, all set up by the oldest brother, Francis (Wilson), who wishes to reconnect with his siblings. But when their behavior causes them to be kicked off the train, they are forced to learn much more about themselves and India than they ever expected.

I don't exactly remember the title but someone in Bollywood is also making a film with Darjeeling in the title. BTW, Satyajit Ray also made a film in Darjeeling, called Kanchenjungha. Apparently, Wes' movie is dedicated to his hero Ray:

The shooting of the movie took place mostly in India, the country which Anderson only knew through the work of filmmaker Satyajit Ray. Anderson is an admirer of Ray and considers him an inspiration for all of his past projects. But it is not only Anderson that finds Ray's work special; Ray is considered India's most important director, was voted the 25th greatest director of all time by Entertainment Weekly and won a special lifetime achievement award at the 1992 Academy Awards. While many Americans never heard of Satyajit Ray or his work, Anderson stated that Darjeeling Limited is a dedication to his hero.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai

The meteoric rise of India and China—two great, geographically and historically connected nations—in the last two decades or so has rekindled the interest of other nations in these two countries. All nations (or their bottom-line minding corporations) want to do business with India and China.

Well and good.

But what about India and China themselves? Are they interested in each other? And how much?

In terms of doing business with each other, they are definitely talking to each other. Coming back from a recent trip to China, Indian journalist Saeed Naqvi noted that India’s bilateral trade with China, only $5 billion in ’03, will have touched $34 billion next year.

Interestingly, contrary to what China’s giant size and manufacturing scale would suggest, China’s trade balance against India is only $4 billion. It means that between the two neighbours, the game, at least in trade terms, is not that much skewed.

But is that enough?

Can’t there be more than mere trade between India and China, the two giant nations who are fulfilling the prophecy that the 21st century will be the century of Asia?

Looking back, centuries ago, India and China were the world’s leading civilizations. This was much before the flourishing of the Christian and the Islamic worlds. In those centuries, there were great exchanges taking place between India and China. Descriptions of China’s famous silk are found in classical Sanskrit literature. Buddhism traveled to China and became a widely followed religion. Chinese scholars traveled to India (especially to the University in Nalanda, present day Bihar in India) in search of knowledge and enlightenment. Indian scholars and mathematicians were invited to china by the Chinese emperors. Some of them occupied the highest positions in China’s scientific institutions.

Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen has written extensively on this subject. In his seminal book, The Argumentative Indian, he has thrown great light on this shared past of India and China, and how time has come full circle to enable these nations to once again live up to their past cultural and scientific glory.

Professor Sen was in Singapore last week (July 13) to chair the inaugural meeting of the Nalanda Mentor Group. This group, established by India and Singapore governments, wants to revive the famed Nalanda University as a centre for learning and inter-faith dialogue.

Speaking to a group of Indians in a talk organized by Singapore’s India Club (July 13), Professor Sen said that India and China should learn a few things from each other. “I want India to learn from China’s health and hygiene policies and I want China to learn democracy and public reasoning from India,” he said. (I’m quoting from memory as I did not take notes during the talk)

If the two nations were so close together, in culture and business, for centuries, why haven’t they tried in the last half a century to revive their relationship in a way that would befit these two civilizations?

Even I don’t have an answer to that question, said Professor Sen. Tracing back the relationship between India and China after India’s independence, he said that the problems started during the time of Nehru itself. He also mentioned that foreign powers might also have been involved in “poisoning” the relationship between the two countries. Professor Sen mentioned that case of the Indian airplane (Indian Princess) that was hired to transport the Chinese delegation to the Bandung Summit which had crashed killing all the Chinese members of the delegation and the only survivors were the pilots and crew members who were Indians.

I did not know about this incident as it was before my time. So, I googled about it and found out. The Time magazine reported on April 25, 1955 (Crash Report) that the Chinese side blamed the American secret service and Chiang Kai-shek (Taiwan?) for this disaster.

Commenting on the Indian government, while Professor Sen appreciated its policies, he also expressed his disappointment with regard to India’s foreign policy. He cited the case of Burma. India had a moral stand on Burma but due to trade with China, he said, India had sacrificed its moral stand and succumbed to the Chinese pressure.

I hope, on the whole, a revived Nalanda University will emerge as the symbol of India and China’s renewed and reinvigorated relationship. I am sure that under Professor Sen’s enlightened guidance, it will not be reduced to just a token of the past memories.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

King Khan

King Khan is here, there and everywhere, especially now when his next release Chak De India is ready to hit the theaters in August.

I am not very keen on sports movies and was rather surprised to know that Shahrukh Khan (SRK) was doing a hockey movie with Ab Tak Chhappan Shimit Amin.

Now I have seen the promos (see the video above and below) and can see why. It looks like a clever movie, targeted at the youth of India, with a huge all India appeal (there are 16 new actresses of all zaat, biradari and municipality of India). There is SRK in the lead. And there is London in it (if I'm not wrong). How can this film not succeed at the box office, both at home and abroad?

Isn't this guy, SRK, clever? Anupama Chopra, his biographer, vouches for it and reveals how influential SRK has been for Bollywood and for Hindi cinema:

... SRK is fiercely intelligent. He reveals only what he chooses to reveal. He will only tell you what he wants you to know. There are spaces in his life in which someone like me would never be admitted...

I think SRK has shaped Bollywood enormously. I think his presence and the work he did with Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra structured 90s Bollywood. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge was a watershed moment in terms of the overseas market, stories and how characters were shaped. Then he picked up Karan Johar who was Aditya's assistant director and they did Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, which was another watershed moment. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai transformed the style, the costumes, the look of Hindi films. Shah Rukh is the face of New Bollywood. When I first started reporting on Bollywood even in the early 90s, most of the directors were men in their 50s. It was still a cottage industry and quite unprofessional. SRK and the directors he worked with had a lot to do with changing that.

Monday, July 16, 2007

When literature meets art... gets rescued! That is true at least sometimes.

Don't believe me? Here's an example.

When mainstream publishers rejected his novel as too literary, Tom McCarthy turned to the art world. It took success in the US to make them come running.

Literature and art have always looked to one another when they want to reinvigorate themselves. Surrealism developed through an extended dialogue between the two forms. Futurism did the same, and the fallout from its image-derived concrete poetry on these shores led to Vorticism, which in turn, through Pound and Eliot, shaped modern poetry.

Nowadays, though, the traffic seems to flow one way only. While artists and curators still draw inspiration from writers, publishing has dumbed itself down. Marketing departments, not editors, rule the roost. Whereas a host of important art venues receive regular core-funding from the Arts Council, and are consequently able to support work that is not necessarily commercial, no such boon is accorded publishers wanting to promote challenging writing. Even in market terms, the playing field is uneven: where the UK art market is driven by no more than 50 very well-informed collectors, every schmoe is a book buyer. The point is elitist, and possibly reactionary, but true. When lowest-common-denominator logic dictates editorial policy, bookshops fill up with the literary equivalent of Athena posters.

Read the full text here.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Can Kollywood do a Bollywood?

Weekend • July 14, 2007

Zafar Anjum

RECENTLY, Outlook, one of India's top news weeklies, did a cover story on how South India has stolen a march over the North by almost all indicators of development in the past 60 years.

The only territory (so to speak) that remains unbeaten from the great South Indian wave is Bollywood, that world-famous Hindi film industry based in Mumbai in Maharashtra state.

But can this situation remain unchanged?

After all, the South, too, has a thriving film industry in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

The most successful of these southern Indian film industries is Kollywood, the Tamil film industry which is concentrated in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.

In terms of industry size, Kollywood (about 150 films per year, annual turnover of about US$500 million, or $758 million) is only second to Bollywood (about 250 to 300 films per year, annual turnover of more than US$1 billion).

Like Bollywood, Kollywood too has big-name film stars, big budget producers and big-time hits.

After Bollywood films, Tamil films have the widest overseas distribution, especially in Sri Lanka, Singapore and Malaysia.

Some Tamil films (Rajinikanth's Muthu, for example) have markets even in countries like Japan, South Africa, Canada and the United Kingdom. Big-budget Tamil films such as Chandramukhi, Anniyan, and Sivaji: The Boss are getting simultaneously released in the major foreign markets.

The most recent example is the success of Rajinikanth's Sivaji: The Boss in the overseas market. In Malaysia, the crowd went mad and sabotaged a theatre for a delay in showing the film.

In UK alone, Sivaji collected 13.6 million rupees ($513,000) showing on 12 screens on its opening weekend, in contrast with the much-hyped Bollywood film Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, which only collected nearly Rs 23 million, despite being shown on 47 screens.

Of course, Rajinikanth is more of an exception. After all, he is India's highest-paid actor, commanding fees in the range of 200 million to 300 million rupees per film, many times higher than the fees commanded by Bollywood superstars Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan.

In terms of star power, if Bollywood has Amitabh, Ashkay and the three Khans, Kollywood too has Rajinikanth, Kamal Hasan, Vijay, Surya and Vikram.

So, can Kollywood surpass Bollywood in the future? Or if that is too ambitious, can Kollywood do a Bollywood in terms of gaining international recognition and presence?

Gitesh Pandya, the editor of United States-based and a film commentator on CNN, told Today: "Tamil cinema definitely has a large built-in fan base around the world. Rajinikanth's latest film proved how big an audience the right film can generate.

"However, it will need to take a few more major steps before reaching the level of Bollywood.

"The top stars need to raise their profile with non-Tamil moviegoers and the films need better distribution in markets like the US and UK. Here in the US, it is relatively easy to find Bollywood films in the major cities, but Tamil films play in fewer theatres and lack the same marketing and distribution push."

Mr Pandya is bang on target.

Like Bollywood, Kollywood has a good base of a Tamil-speaking diaspora (about 10 million Indian and Sri Lankan Tamils) spread around the world, with an audience that spans Sri Lanka, UK, US, Canada, Italy and South-east Asia.

But this market is still not as big as Bollywood's. The latter's foreign market, at 30 million, is thrice the size of Kollywood's.

Apart from this, other factors have also worked against Kollywood in its attempts to raise its international profile a la Bollywood.

Bollywood, from the beginning, has had pan- Indian and crossover appeal. Its movies have been popular in Asia, the Middle East, Russia and even Africa for a long time now. Despite the language barrier, its unique, often melodramatic narrative style, wrapped in its song-and-dance drama format, has appealed to people worldwide.

The other good thing that has happened with Bollywood is that it has learnt how to ride on the success of the Indian diaspora, supported by banks and Indian business bodies like the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

After the Indian economy's liberalisation in the 1990s, India's film exports surged as the Bollywood film-makers began to tailor their narratives with the Indian diaspora in mind. This move has paid off handsomely. The result is that the Indian film industry — which incorporates the output from all of India, including from regional industries like the Tamil, Telugu and Bengali film sectors — is now worth about $4.5 billion.

The pack is, of course, led by Hindi films from Bollywood.

With the Indian diaspora growing in number and influence, all major countries want Bollywood at their doorstep. And what better way to welcome Bollywood than to let it host its annual IIFA Awards, which has been held in London, Johannesburg, Amsterdam and Singapore, among others.

If Kollywood wants to raise its profile internationally, it, too, has to go the Bollywood route: Fashion narratives that appeal to a larger audience (including the non-Tamil Indian diaspora), promote the films worldwide, and make their stars more visible.

Kollywood has woken up to this idea ... just a bit late in the day. But the signs are good. Tamil film- makers such as Shankar, P Vasu and Mani Ratnam are crafting such movies. Shankar's Anniyan was dubbed in Hindi and French, among other languages. Rajinikanth plays a successful non-resident Indian in his smash hit film Sivaji. You get the drift of things?

Also, the inaugural International Tamil Film Awards ceremony is being held in Singapore this Saturday. That is a step in the right direction.

Clearly, the Tamil film industry also wants to come closer to its international viewers through such events. And why not? It can only mean better business for Kollywood.

Published in Weekend Today dated July 14.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Writers, get a second life!

After Margaret Atwood's magic pen and book launches with author videos, here's a new trick of the trade:

Over the next few weeks - to celebrate and, yes, promote his new novel Spook Country - we're planning a range of William Gibson activities in Second Life; we're screening his fine and strange movie No Maps for These Territories; there's a competition to design an avatar for the man himself; we're giving away shipping containers packed with Gibson goodies and at the beginning of August, William Gibson himself will be coming into Second Life to read from Spook Country and answer questions.

By the way, William Gibson invented the word cyberspace in his seminal novel Neuromancer in 1984.

Spooked? Get your chills here.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Naipaul's take on India's new fissures

V S Naipaul's diagnosis of a new India's new fissures in Tehelka:

The English-knowing population of India has increased by leaps and bounds. And it is more than a matter of language now. Independent India has new money; and the world has opened up and given English-speaking Indians new ideas of possibility, new ideas about what they might do, and where they might go. These people, put in a very broad way, yearn for the United States and green cards. There has risen a fracture between them and the more local people who might be called temple-goers. They have always been a part of India, the temple-goers. But the new success of India makes them more assertive and they set the teeth of the green card people on edge. This fracture, seemingly only a cultural matter, a matter of taste, has begun to define some aspects of political life... It is very strange.

Read the full text here.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The hands that feed...

Photo: Zafar Anjum, National Botanic Gardens, Singapore, June 2007

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Talk Singapore

In his blog, filmmaker Shekhar Kapur asks an interesting question: All of us have heard about scientists saying we use only 10% of our brains. So what is the other 90% doing?

Gossiping, he says.

Ninety percent of our brain is reserved for an art that we are fast losing in our hurried daily lives—the art of gossip.

This observation was very much in display when I first arrived in Singapore three years ago.

Singapore came across as a 'silent' city, a ghost town, despite all its progress and efficiency.

The entire city looked like a well-organised library, if you will, with proper indexing for each shelf, and a big sign hovering over in every reading room: Silence Please!

All the hustle and bustle of commuting was observed in silence. In the elevators, people observed a deathly silence, looking down on the floor or looking away from each other. In offices, people paid attention to their work and barely talked, let alone gossip.

If achieving human silence were the apogee of the civilizational process, then Singapore had perfected it.

After all, the Western civilization had taken centuries trying to get people to shut up. Alexander the Great’s armies were mesmerized to see him read a letter from his mother silently—because he alone knew how. After the dawn of Christianity, the ability not to vocalize, not to talk, was admired for centuries.

Silence was not just an achievement, it was a heavenly experience.

Didn’t Confucius say, in reply to his pupils’ enquiry of his request to not speak, “Heaven does not speak. Look at how productive it is.”

But this was a huge contrast from my home country: the land of "argumentative" Indians. There, every hour of work was compensated with fifteen minutes of discussion on the latest cricket match or Bollywood.

And all this talking didn’t do the Indians any harm. It has rather resulted in a flourishing culture of democratic media, literature and cinema. Now you should know why India has thousands of newspapers, hundreds of news channels and an army of writers and filmmakers, some of whom have gone all over the world winning some big awards.

Conversely, a highly successful Singapore made me wonder: Why is this prosperous nation wrapped in such a deafening silence? What has taken the conversation away from them? And what is the psychological toll of this silence?

It is not that silence is engraved in the genes of Singaporeans. As journalist Ravi Veloo has noted elsewhere, Singapore's best ideas were birthed by conversation and debate: a nation of tenants (Singapore's immigrants) threw out the landlords (the British) and this overthrowing had its genesis in the revolutionary conversations that Lew Kuan Yew and his friends had had in the UK while studying there.

So, where has that conversation vanished now?

Forget those ground-breaking conversations. There's not even that small talk. If a stranger uttered as much as a hello to a Singaporean or wished her a good day, she would have a culture shock. How? Why?

I think it can all be pinned down to two major factors: ease of living and a general sense of self-censorship.

It is like what Shekhar Kapur feels about London: “…there is an ease of living, an addiction to security, a secure tomorrow, a secure future - that is almost cloying.”

In that sense, Singapore is like London. The government does so much for its people that there is nothing left for them to figure out on their own. They are born into this life of ease, where each step has been planned for them to follow, and they snugly fit into this lifestyle. Just follow la! That mantra leaves little room for them to be creative and questioning. And all talks start with questions, big or small. The innocent 'how are yous' can lead to a great conversation.

Then there's too much emphasis on political correctness. That stifles many a conversation right in the beginning.

That brings us to the other factor of censorship or rather self-censorship. Many of the interesting topics of conversation lie outside the so called "OB markers". Interestingly, this censorship may not have come from the government--people inflict it upon themselves. And that's it. They won't cross the unseen line. Result? No conversation.

I asked one of my Singaporean colleagues this question. Why don't people talk here?

It's all about attitude, she said. Youngsters don't talk because it is considered so ‘uncool’. You do your own thing--listen to your ipod, read your books, do your own stuff.

On the other hand, she explained, the office culture here is such that talking tantamounts to negligence of work. If you are seen to be talking often, you are marked as an unserious employee.

And which Singaporean would run the risk of earning that label? Because of the constant inflow of "foreign talent" they are too scared to upset their bosses even at a miniscule level lest they should get "replaced" by a cheap but efficient foreign worker--their carefully planned installment-based life might come unstuck.

But that's not the complete picture. Another form of conversation does exist here.

It exists in the chat rooms, forums and the blogosphere.

A digital, not a verbal, form of conversation. An image that is a befitting metaphor for a high-tech nation.

But is that same as a live, face to face conversation? I don’t think so.

In a face to face conversation, there is physical closeness. It makes us feel less isolated as humans. Also, it is a “responsible” conversation as we cannot hide behind the anonymity of chat rooms and forums.

And what is the implication of this lack of face to face conversation, talk and gossiping?

Again I am tempted to quote Kapur as he puts it so succinctly: “The ability to gossip is the ability to indulge in a sense of humour. We lose that and we are lost.”

We are human beings, not dolphins. We need to talk, gossip, tell each other our stories. In fact, American novelist Henry James went to the extent of saying that conversations, exchanges of words, are all that matters.

All nations are talking. Singaporeans too need to talk or they will get lost in the babble of the humanity at large. Not a pretty choice for an otherwise proud nation, right?

An edited version of this piece appeared in The Weekend Today on July 7, 2007.

Update: Here's a reader's comments on my piece that appeared in Today.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Out of 'Limbo': An interview with Sujit Saraf

Sujit Saraf started his literary journey with his first novel, Limbo (1994, Harper Collins, India). His second novel The Peacock Throne (2007, Sceptre, UK) came out early this year. At about 750 pages, and dealing with India's socio-political upheavals in the last two decades, the novel has been hailed by some as an important work of Indian fiction to have come out in recent years.

Born in Bihar and educated in IIT and University of California, Berkeley, Sujit works as an engineer for space missions at Lockheed Martin. He also runs Naatak, a theater company for Silicon Valley's large South Asian population.

I spoke to him some time ago (for an exclusive interview for a magazine). In this free-wheeling interview, he talks about his literary journey and shares his views on the ever-growing Indian writing in English scene.

You come from a successful merchant family. People from such families are known for minting money through trade, not for writing books. How and when did you decide to become a writer?

I think I did spend much of my time making or trying to mint money (laughs). My first concern was to get a good job and for the last 15 years I have been continuously employed, therefore, in some sense, at least I've been trying to mint money. Over the years I have been writing a good deal. I think I first wrote when I went to a boarding school. My school was in Kurseong, Darjeeling, run by Irish Catholic mission. They were the first ones who perhaps got me to read and write. They encouraged me to read a lot certainly. So, I think I first began to write in boarding school, I don't know how good but...over the years I continued to write. Again, coming from a merchant family, writing as a profession was never seriously considered by me to be an option. The resistance to writing as a profession was too strong. Because I have been told ever since I was born that a man must have a full-time job and must earn his keep. I certainly intended to do that as a result of which I only write in my spare time. So, that's pretty much what my writing career has been. I always dreamed of having an engineering job and writing on the side.

How did your first novel Limbo come about?

Limbo was written when I was in IIT. I don't remember exactly how it came about. In those days I was seriously involved in student life in IIT. I was actively involved in students' politics, you know, and I ran for an election and so on. And I remember suffering from setback in that election (laughs). It may sound trivial now but then I was in my fourth year in IIT and I was extremely unhappy about it. That left me with a lot of time in my hands. So, I think that gave me the reason to try and get back at people who sort of, you know, been obstacles in my path. Now of course after so many years I can hardly regard that as a commendable reason to write a book. But I thought I would write a book in which I would ridicule mediocrity (laughs). That might sould silly after so many years (laughs). I think that that was my motivation to write that book. I was then in my final year of IIT.

Now that many IITians are writing novels, you were one of the first ones...

I have not read any of those books but I have been hearing about IITians writing books. In fact, those books are set in IIT and so on. Limbo was written despite the fact that computers in those days were not used for word processing. In those days there were no Windows. And the tutor was quite strict. If he saw Word Star open on your computer, he will take you out of the room. There was a software called Sidekick which was a RAM resident programme. In those days it was a big deal. You had Sidekick opened and at the same time you could open Word Star, that I used to write Limbo. The moment the tutor came up, suddenly Sidekick would bump up and there was a nice diagram (laughs) on the computer screen.

A good way of deceiving the instructor...

In those it was a big deal to have a RAM resident programme and …

So you practically wrote the novel in the computer lab?

In fact, I wrote it only in the computer lab. No one had a personal computer in those days. I would only write it from midnight onwards. I would go to the computer centre at midnight when it would be empty. I worked until the early morning. And whenever this person (the tutor) came, I would open up Sidekick (laughs).

That is so the way, I saw on your website, between Limbo and The Peacock Throne, you had written some more novels?

I have written a large number of novels, between Limbo and The Peacock Throne, only two of them I finished which I put up on my website as unpublished. When I was around 25, I rather arrogantly thought I would write an autobiography (we both laugh). I am 38 now and I must say a man who is 25 doesn't really have much to write about. But when I was 25 I thought I had a lot to write about so I wrote an autobiography. Of course, it was never published. After that I did write a few novels one of which was a fantastic (in the literal sense) account of my one year in India. In 1999, I decided to move back to India. I gave up my job in the US. I took up professorship at IIT Delhi. And things didn't work out. I returned to the US and I ended up writing a novel about my experineces in India. It was of course a work of fiction, so much happens in the novel. Unfortunately, it is still unpublished. So, I kept writing until one of my books was picked up and published. I actually did not write The Peacock Throne thinking that it would get published. I thought it was one of those unpublished books that I was writing, in the hope of, course, that some of them would get published.

So how did you choose the subject of this novel, The Peacock Throne?

The impetus for this novel itself is a newspaper article I read in 1996, about a tailor in Calcutta. He was a Bengali tailor, who stood for every election. He thought it was his duty to stand for election--a citizen's duty to stand for election rather than a citizen's right. He had gone to South Africa to protest against Nelson Mandela's imprisonment. He wrote a congratulatory letter to Prince Charles on his wedding to Diana. His election symbol was always a sewing machine. I found his story very funny. I think it was the Lok Sabha elections in 1996. I started wondering what would happen if such a man were to win an election. This perhaps provided the seed for the novel. I wrote a few chapters and quickly abandoned them. In fact, none of those chapters actually made it to the book. Now it began as a novel of the tailor of course whom I turned into a chaiwala, and whom I move from Calcutta to Chandani chowk for many reasons. I am familiar with Chandani Chowk. Then the book grew organically, other characters found their way into the book.

But the way you have written about all these characters, you know, including the prostitute and the sethjis, it seems that it has come from deep observation. What kind of research did you do for this book?

I didn't really do much research. I lived in Chandani Chowk for two years from 1985 to 1987, when I first reached Delhi as a student. I was in high school. When I wrote the novel, I used memories from those days, what I had seen and heard in those days. Apart from that I go to Chandani Chowk quite regularly, once in 2 or 3 years. In fact, many of the characters are people I indirectly know or they are composites of people I know. So, I am very familiar with the area and most of those characters. But some of the people in the novel had to be imagined. I do not know a Bangladeshi and I certainly do not know a Nepali prostitute. So some people had to be imagined and for those I had to do a little bit of reading to understand what are the ways in which they come to Delhi. Chandani Chowk is in some sense a point of intersection of many lives. It is true that there are many Bangladeshi boys in Chandani Chowk, that there are young girls from Nepal, that there are Marwari seths, there are of course sardars, there are politicians, so I had to do some reading for some characters, I keep myself aware of what's happening in I did not have to do much research as the novel is fairly contemporary.

What kind of reaction did you get from people of Chandani Chowk? Did you get any reaction from them at all?

Well, that's the story of Indian writing in English. We write about people who do not read us, and the people who read us are not people who we write about. So, no, to the best of my knowledge, no one in Chandani Chowk has or will read it. My uncle has a large number of shops in Chandani Chowk. He of course has a copy of the book but maybe one of my cousins will read it. So far the only reaction I can point to is that of Indians.

The problem with Indians, with the books in English, with their expectation of books in English, one, they are most conscious of the image of India that is projected outside of India through the book. Like one of the interviewers in India asked me if Deepa Mehta's film Water should be India's entry to the Oscars considering that it did not portray a good image of India to the world? I then wondered why should it be Deepa Mehta's responsibility to work for the tourism department of India or any other department whose job it is to project a favourable image of India? So, most Indians who have read the book seem to be disappointed as the book does not talk about the world is flat and how Bangalore has become the new Silicon Valley. When I was in Bombay, I picked the Times of India, one of the big bold headlines somewhere in the 3rd or 4th page was a comment by some Englishman. And the comment was that Indians are the most intelligent race in the world. Because he said that he managed to get top billing with a photo. The Indians like to hear such lines about themselves. And when India is portrayed just how it really is, they get offended. This is the reaction of the naive Indian. I am not going to suggest that everyone who reads the book is that naive.

The other reaction which I got was that familiarity breeds contempt. Many of my readers are of course also familiar with such people. Therefore they find it a little annoying that I should make a comment on these people. I also feel that Indians who have an association with Delhi seem to be slightly offended by the book. Offended is a strong word. They seem to be slightly antagonized. Over all, I didn't have much of reaction from India because there have been only four or five reviews in India. Two or three positive and two or three negative. So, I still don't know what Indians think of this book. I hope more Indians will read it and I will have more reactions which will find their way to my hope. But I have a feeling that not many people in Chandani Chowk will read it, even if the novel was in Hindi, I doubt many people in Chandani Chowk would have read it.

Reading the reviews, I get the sense that people are disappointed that this is not the representative Delhi novel, like there are Bombay novels (some of Rushdie's early novels, Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games).

Yes, which of course is no concern of mine. I have written the book but the marketing line is chosen by somebody else. I only wrote what I wrote. It was a novel not meant to be about Delhi. It was a novel about a few people in Chandani Chowk. All literature attempts to be universal through the particular, right? You write about a person and you hope that you also end up saying something that applies to other persons. So, while I did write about the few people in Chandani Chowk I do hope that the novel ends up saying something about Delhi and about India. But it isn't really a novel about Delhi, which is what people seem to expect from. It is certainly not a novel which is intended to project a certain image of India. I am completely unintersted in what image it projects. I don't even care to project any image at all.

Fair enough. I would like to talk about two criticims of your novel. One criticism is that the book tends to be verbose. The other criticism is that why haven't you stepped out of the Chandani Chowk area and covered other places in Delhi?

(Laughs) About the book being verbose, I really don't know if I agree or disagree. I always imagined this novel unfolding in Hindi. When my characters speak, except Chitra's character, no one in the novel speaks English. So I imagined them speaking in Hindi and then I translated that into English. I don't know if that leads to verbosity. I cannot imagine my characters in the novel already speaking in English.

As of not stepping out of Chandani Chowk, there is not really a for or against argument for it. My novel is primarily set in Chandani Chowk. This wasn't meant to be a novel that takes you though all the tourist or non-tourist spots in Delhi. Somebody could then argue that how come you did not step out of Delhi and go to Kanpur? The novel is set in Chandani Chowk and I see no reason why it should step out anywhere? (We both laugh)

It was not as if a case was made somewhere on the front page that this is a novel that will take you on a tour of Delhi. For that matter, I am not promising you a tour of Chandani Chowk either. It goes to those parts of Chandani Chowk that have a relationship with my plot. And when my character’s stories take them outside Chandani Chowk, the novel goes outside Chandani Chowk. Like the Babri Masjid was demolished in Ayodhya, and my Bangaldeshi boy comes from Bangladesh and the Nepali girl comes from Nepal. So, when necessary they step out.

Personally I find it is one of the strengths of the novel that it is set in Chandani Chowk, that it despite being so localised covers so many events, so much of life...

I also feel that Chandani Chowk is indeed a unique street and it holds a unique place in Indian history. It has been after all the seat of the Mughal empire--throughout the Mughal empire since at least 1548 when the Red Fort was completed until 1857 when the empire ended. And beyond that, from 1911 when the British moved their capital from Calcutta to New Delhi. Certainly for the Mughals and part of British rule from 1911 to 1947, Delhi has been the capital of India. Altough the Mughals built Shajahanabad and the British built New Delhi, for a significant portion of Indian history, Chandani Chowk has been the seat of power. So I felt that events in Chandani Chowk could in some way have a relationship with national events. That perhaps is no longer true but I’m speaking historically.

Going back to the writing process, how many years did you take to write this huge book?

I began writing it in 1996 and then I quickly abandoned it. So it has been gestating for years. The actual writing took a year, between 2003 and 2004.

Writing 750 pages in one year. That's fast.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the book. I write reasonably fast. I mean when I do write, it is much like manual labour, putting on paper what I had more or less thought out beforehand.

And how many drafts did you do?

I don't rewrite too much. I think about two drafts. Of course, there was some editing by an editor after that and so on but I myself wrote two drafts.

You have a full-time job. So how do you manage to divide time between work and writing?

It does become difficult (laughs). I write only on weekends. I try very hard to manage my time. When I sit down to write in a cafe I try to make the best of it. I try very hard to be efficient at writing. Maybe that's one reason I don't do too many drafts. I just think the novel through in great detail and when I put it down on paper it is not too far from my final thought. To some extent the fact that I have a fulltime job does slow me down and so far I have accepted that. I would be perhaps writing more if I wasn't working. I work five days a week and I write two days a week.

What kind of writers do you admire and read?

I like a wide variety of writers. More than writers perhaps I like a few books. I really like a couple of books by Peter Carey. Novels like Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang. I really like In Custody by Anita Desai. I really like one of the older books of Vikram Seth called From Heaven Lake. I also read a large number of Hindi books. I read books by Premchand, Rameshwar Dayal Saxena and so on. I really like Godan. I like a few short stories. There is a story by Jean Paul Sartre--in English it is called The Wall, which I really liked. I like a couple of novels by Camus, like The Outsider. I really liked The Plague.

I read somewhere that you also write screenplays and perform nataks or plays?

I run a theatre group in this area (San Francisco). In the last seven or eight years I have done two plays. I have also staged many of those plays through my theatre group.

When I was reading your novel, in the first few chapters, where the characters were getting introduced, I had a feeling that the scenes were unfolding like in a film. Did you use cinematic or theatrical techniques to write The Peacock Throne?

Yes, I have been writing quite a few screenplays. I have made a couple of movies (laughs). The Peacock Throne was written sequentially. By the way, I always write chapter 1 followed by chapter 2. So, the last chapter was indeed written last. And it began as a play in that in a play when you need to switch scenes you just drop the curtain and follow it with another scene, with a new set and a different set of characters. When you need to have a big movement in time, suppose you want to say one year passed or six years passed, typically you drop the curtain and you say Act II, which is what I did. From 1984 I said 1990. And you may have noticed that all of 1984 unfolds in 14 -15 hours. The Part 1 begins around 9 or 10 in the morning and ends by the time maybe 10 pm in the evening. Part One almost moves in real time almost like a play. So, The Peacock Throne is written a lot like a play but as I moved one, Part 2, Part 3 and so on, you will notice that other parts are more novel-like. They just move swiftly. I used lines like two days passed, and three days later. So, I like to think that it began a little bit like a play and ended up a little bit like a novel.

What do you think about the current wave of Indian writing in English? Recently someone argued in an article in The Guardian (UK) that many Indian writers are now moving from the west to live in India and to live and write from amidst their characters, and claiming that their writing in more authentic about Indians than what the NRI writers have been trying to write in the last few years? What do you make of such arguments?

It's a little complicated. I think the standard Indian writer in English, over the last 40 or 50 years, if you discount the early writers like Raja Rao and R K Narayan, has not lived in India. He or she has lived in Britain or then in the US. They neither live in India nor they do write in the language of their characters. I am deliberately saying the language of their characters. Because I don't want to go into the argument whether English is an Indian langauge or not. That is irrelevant. What matters is: would the characters in that novel be speaking in English? Now depending on where you set your novel--if you set in Hauz Khas in Delhi, perhaps they would be speaking a little bit of English. But if you set it in a small town in India, they wouldn't be speaking in English. So the standard Indian writer in English lives abroad, writes about people who perhaps do not speak in English, and writes for an audience which also lives abroad. Primarily, the audience of an Indian writer in English is in Britain and US, not in India. There is certainly something dishonest about this whole affair. And although I myself live abroad, I think only good can come out of the fact that Indian writers who write about India are now choosing to live in India. Indian literature will truly have a rise when a large number of Indian writers live in India, write about Indians, but more importantly write for (he emphasizes 'for') Indians, and are praised or criticized by the same people who people their novels.

When Ian McEwan writes a novel set in Britain--I just happened to read Atonement a few days ago--the characters in Atonement fought in the Second World War, lived through the post-War period in Britain, and by the time the 1990s came around they themselves were in their 90s. Now the people who read the novel either themselves fought in the war or have cousins who fought in the war or at least belonged to the same culture, the same system which fought the war. So, he is not just writing about some people. He is writing for the same people. And is therefore being judged by the people who are perfectly qualified to judge him. I think that places a far greater burden on an English writer than on an Indian writer. And if an Indian writer lives in India, and writes for Indians, the same burden will be placed on them.

Do you think India has the kind of critical establishment which is there in Britain or the US?

No, certainly not. Indians are still too obsessed, coming back to how we started our conversation, with our image abroad. Indian readers and critics are too obsessed with that image projection. They are not introspective enough. We do not have a culture of excessive analysis and introspection. But it will develop if there are some Indian writers living in India, writing for Indians. Some of them will turn critics, I'm sure. But no, I don't believe that India has the tools to study and judge its own writers right now.

Thank you so much for your time. It was an interesting discussion.

Thank you.

A shorter version of this interview has appeared in an international magazine.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Colour of Writing

Ever wondered why there aren't enough marquee writers of colour in the literary landscape (esp. in the US)?

It's not just about the lack of literary skills. The problem is deeper, says Martha Southgate who investigates this question in her beautiful piece in the NYT:

Consider the case of Edward P. Jones. He published his first book, “Lost in the City,” in 1992 (he was 41 at the time) to much critical acclaim and a number of significant honors, if not huge sales. He returned to his day job at Tax Notes magazine, where he remained until he was laid off 10 years later. He then wrote “The Known World” in about six months — though he told me he’d been thinking about it nearly those whole 10 years. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize.

When asked why he didn’t make the leap to full-time writing sooner, Jones spoke firmly: “If you’re born poor or you’re born working-class, a job is important. People who are born with silver spoons in their mouths never have to worry. They know someone will take care of them. Worrying about not having a job would have put a damper on any creativity that I would have had. So I’m glad I had that job.”

I know what Jones is talking about.

It is a good piece. Go read it here.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

"Rushdie and Lakshmi to divorce"

So, the rumours were true!

Just read it on The Guardian website:

Only two weeks on from his acceptance of a knighthood, which provoked an international furore, Salman Rushdie is in the news again. He and his wife, Padma Lakshmi, are to divorce after three years of marriage.
In a statement from Rushdie's spokeswoman, Jin Auh, issued in New York today, Rushdie said that he "has agreed to divorce his wife, Padma Lakshmi, because of her desire to end their marriage" and requests that "the media respect his privacy at this difficult time".

Why do we need to tell stories?

This one comes from Sir Salman Rushdie. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Independence Day


Caught this photo from Vivo City Mall: Singapore Air Force rehearshing for the Independence Day show at Marina!
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