Tag Archive for 'Books'

Suketu Mehta in Brazil: “Then I saw the gun, going from my head to the cell phone”

In the New York Review of Books:

My Brazilian friend Marina and I were picking up a visiting friend from New York, who heads an NGO, in her hotel lobby near Paulista, the most prestigious avenue in São Paulo. It was 7:30 on a busy Friday night last October.

We walked up to a taxi outside the hotel. I sat in the front to let the two women chat in the back. Marina asked me to Google the restaurant menu. I was doing so when I saw a teenage boy run up to the taxi and gesticulate through my open window. I thought he was a beggar, asking for money. Then I saw the gun, going from my head to the cell phone.

“Just give him the phone,” Marina said from the back seat.

I gave him the phone. He didn’t go away.

“Dinheiro, dinheiro!”

I didn’t want to give him my wallet. The boy was shouting obscenities. “Dinheiro, dinheiro!”

The boy’s body suddenly jerked back, as a man’s arm around his neck pulled him off his feet. The man, dressed in a black shirt, was shouting; he had jumped the boy from behind. He started hitting the boy. The taxi driver sitting next to me was stoic. He said that this had never happened to him before, but he couldn’t have been more blasé.

The next thing I saw was the boy and another teenager, probably his accomplice, running away fast up the street. The man in the black shirt chased them a bit, then came back panting to the taxi. “Did the bastard get anything?” our savior, whom we later nicknamed Batman, asked. He wasn’t a plainclothes cop, as I’d originally thought; he was just an ordinary citizen who was tired of the criminals. More:

Bookshop memories in a changing India

Jairaj Singh at India Ink / New York Times:

In the summer of 1984, two years before I was born, my father, Ajit Vikram Singh opened a small corner bookshop, Fact & Fiction, in South Delhi’s Vasant Vihar area, opposite a decrepit cinema hall that would screen films like ‘The Sex Life of Animals’ to a packed audience. Nearly 30 years later, it’s disheartening to see him disillusioned with the Indian book industry.

A descendant of a royal family, my father was brought up in old, decadent fashions and with a pet elephant in the house. He got a degree in science from Delhi’s St Stephen’s College, but veered toward the art of curating, collecting, and making a life selling carefully selected books.

I grew up in a world unlike his, one filled with books. When I was a baby, he would carry me in a tiny basket to the bookstore. One day, he found me crawling on the floor and sinking my teeth on books lying on the floor. “You literally grew up biting into the word,” he chuckled.

In the early 1990s, I would see my father diligently scan catalogues of international publishing houses, highlighting titles he wanted for the bookstore. He knew where a book in the store was kept because he would stack them himself. More:

British Empire and books

David Blackburn in Spectator book blog:

Empire was a major subject the nineteenth century’s great essayists and historians. Macaulay’s History of England is underpinned by the assumption that the history of England was ‘emphatically the history of progress’. The Whig school of history, embodied by G.M. Trevelyan, entrenched Macaulay’s ideas. Britain’s destiny was to bring progress to less fortunate people, which was reflected by the Victorian imperial policy of ‘civilising’ the globe. J.G. Farrell’s The Siege of Krishnapur describes that noble, presumptuous and often catastrophic aim in a richly satirical setting: poetry reading continues at Krishnapur despite mutiny, siege and cholera. More:

Bread and butter papers

Why do Indians read books? A survey by Tehelka finds that self-advancement rather than pleasure is a key motivator. Gaurav Jain has that story

Illustration: Samia Singh/Tehelka

IT IS mostly a solitary activity, unhelpful to advertising. Reading helps us sidestep the cultural demand that we find lucidity only in speed. For a long time, the quality of your reading was the measure of your character. But since character has become a poor predictor of fate, pushy books are now firmly denied access to the mind’s garret. Urban condominiums lie bursting with the plushest modern comforts, the phone directory, and perhaps a lonesome book like Bill Gates’ The Road Ahead. Our habits of distraction have vaporised an entire way of life. With the commitment to reading on the wane, the shared currency of conversations is now movies, YouTube videos, tweets and the occasional toy that masquerades as a book. more

Mimi Radhakrishnan: Artist, story teller

From Accidental Blogger:

mimiOn my last trip to India, I did not have an opportunity to go to an art gallery or museum but I did have two enjoyable art related encounters. One was the search I undertook for a recently published but hard- to- find book about my first art teacher, the late Abani Sen, which put me in touch with his son whom I had last seen as a school girl. The other was meeting artist Mimi Radhakrishnan who later pleasantly surprised me with a gift of the book I was looking for.

Mimi is an artist and a published author of fiction. In fact, I had read her book of short stories several years before I met her in person. During a meeting in her home, I had the pleasure of touring Mimi’s studio. I saw several finished paintings as well as some works in progress in preparation for an upcoming exhibition in 2009. (An added treat was viewing a few samples of her husband, renowned sculptor Radhakrishnan’s superb creations).


Frontier years give might to ex-guerrilla’s words

Ahmed Rashid is a prolific chronicler of Afghanistan, Central Asia and his homeland of Pakistan, places that Western writers have often found difficult to gain access to. Jane Perlez from Lahore in The New York Times:

Fresh out of Cambridge University in the late 1960s, and steeped in the era’s favorites – Marx, Mao and Che – Ahmed Rashid took off for the hills of Baluchistan, a dry, tough patch of western Pakistan. He stayed for 10 years.

He was a guerrilla fighter and political organizer, and with a couple of like-minded Pakistani pals, led peasants seeking autonomy against the Pakistani Army. He emerged, after bouts of hepatitis, malaria and lost teeth, not exactly disillusioned but defeated, he recalled recently from the comfort of his study overlooking a garden of palms.

Yet the experience became the launching pad for his real career as a prolific chronicler of Afghanistan, Central Asia and his homeland of Pakistan, places that Western writers have often found difficult to gain access to, let alone comprehend in their full depth and complexity.

[Photo: Ahmed Rashid at his residence in Lahore, Pakistan. / NYTimes]


The land where the hippy trail reaches a historic impasse

Adventurous travellers have found many things in Goa. Innocent escape was never one of them. Ian Jack in The Guardian, UK:

Fiona MacKeown was by no means the first parent of a large family to travel from a rambling home in rural western England, in the middle of a damp winter, and see what Goa had to offer by way of diversion. Evelyn Waugh had six children (a seventh died in infancy); Fiona MacKeown had nine (eight since February 15, when her 15-year-old daughter Scarlett Keeling was found dead on the beach at Anjuna). Waugh travelled from Piers Court, a Georgian mansion in Gloucestershire. MacKeown came from a huddle of caravans near Bideford, Devon, a home summarised as “a mountain of old tyres … empty beer bottles … and rubbish” by Wednesday’s Daily Mail. But the bigger difference is that Waugh left his children behind.

He came to Goa in December 1952. “The scenery [is] delicious … the people soft and friendly,” he wrote to his wife.


Sir Arthur C. Clarke: 90th birthday reflections

Hello! This is Arthur Clarke, speaking to you from my home in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

As I approach my 90th birthday, my friends are asking how it feels like, to have completed 90 orbits around the Sun.

Well, I actually don’t feel a day older than 89!

…Watch the video:

Sundown With Arthur

Jeff Greenwald in Wired:


When last I saw Arthur C. Clarke, in March of 2005, his memory was already fading.

It was late afternoon. We sat on the patio of the Galle Face Hotel, one of Arthur’s favorite spots in Colombo, Sri Lanka. It had been nine years since my last visit to his adopted island. Now I was back working with Mercy Corps, an international aid agency, on a tsunami relief project. Clarke sipped his tea and stared west, where the Indian Ocean stretched in an uninhibited arc to the coast of Somalia.

“I don’t remember anything about working with Stanley (Kubrick) on 2001,” he said, “or my months at the Chelsea Hotel. I don’t remember my last scuba dive, or what my mother’s face looked like. The only thing I remember with any real clarity is the first kiss with the love of my life — and our last words, before we parted.”

[Photo: Clarke stands by his private satellite dish, one of the first private dishes in Asia, on the deck of his Sri Lanka home.]


For Clarke, issues of faith, but tackled scientifically

From the New York Times:

spaceodyssey.jpg“Absolutely no religious rites of any kind, relating to any religious faith, should be associated with my funeral” were the instructions left by Arthur C. Clarke, who died on Wednesday at the age of 90. This may not have surprised anyone who knew that this science-fiction writer, fabulist, fantasist and deep-sea diver had long seen religion as a symptom of humanity’s “infancy,” something to be outgrown and overcome.

But his fervor is still jarring because when it comes to the scriptural texts of modern science fiction, and the astonishing generation of prophetic innovators who were his contemporaries – Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein and Ray Bradbury – Mr. Clarke’s writings were the most biblical, the most prepared to amplify reason with mystical conviction, the most religious in the largest sense of religion: speculating about beginnings and endings, and how we get from one to the other.

[Photo: Keir Dullea in the film version of Arthur C. Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”]


Previously on Asian Window:

A very civilised jungle

In The Spectator, Matthew d’Ancona describes his time in Mumbai:

A city where the children dash from car to car selling novels is the perfect place for a literary festival: on the way from the airport, snaking past shantytowns and catching my first glimpse of the Arabian Sea, I am offered The Kite Runner by street urchins knocking on the window of my taxi. It is a good location for another reason, which is that, like New York or Rome, Mumbai is a place one visits in literature and film many times before setting foot on the island city itself. In its crush of people, colour, sensuality, surrealism and politics, it is Midnight’s Children or a Bollywood double-bill suddenly made flesh.

I am here to talk about British politics and fiction, doing my best not to confuse the two. A few days before departure, I see the PM at No. 10 and mention my impending trip. True to form, the big clunking bibliomane reels off a list of books I should read before I go. In Mumbai, I unpack my suitcase and look out of the window to the Gateway of India, through which, in 1947, the last British troop left the Empire. A copy of Gordon’s top recommendation, Ramachandra Guha’s India After Gandhi, sits reproachfully on the table, still pristine and unread.


Books: Son worshippers

Manil Suri, a professor of mathematics, explores the obsession with the male child In The Age of Shiva. Reviewed by Kishwar Desai in The Indian Express.

manilsuri.jpgA skilfully crafted story about love and loss, The Age of Shiva is a substantial saga of family ties and betrayal that keeps you gripped from the first page onwards. Manil Suri, a professor of mathematics, is obviously that rare male author who can construct a perfectly empathetic world of a female protagonist, without tripping up, even once.
This, after all, is not unfamiliar territory: right from superbly written novels such as Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy to Manju Kapur’s Home, we have been introduced to Punjabi families preoccupied with the marriages of their adolescent daughters, and the uncertain results which follow.