Tag Archive for 'Pico Iyer'

Pico Iyer: Where is home?

The Dalai Lama in conversation with Pico Iyer at Jaipur LitFest

The Snake in the Garden: Pico Iyer

Pico Iyer in NYT:

Once upon a time a friend told me about a retreat house in the hills of California. I drove three hours north from my mother’s home and came upon an 800-acre spread, with golden pampas grass tumbling down to a great expanse of blue 1,200 feet below. The place was radiantly silent — save for bells tolling three or four times a day — and I was so far from telephone and laptop that I could lose myself for hours in anything at all, or nothing. At dusk, deer stepped into my private garden to graze; an hour later, I stepped out of my room and found myself under an overturned saltshaker of stars.

The retreat house was the rare place where it seemed impossible to be fraught. All my worries of the previous day seemed about as real and urgent as the taillights of cars disappearing around headlands 12 miles to the south. I started to go to this place of silence more and more often, and one spring day, on my way to two weeks of carefree quiet, I told my old friend Steve about it. Much to my delight, he booked himself in for a three-day stay that would coincide with my final weekend in the sanctuary.

I stepped into my cabin on the slope above the sea, 12 days before our meeting — golden poppies and lupines everywhere — and instantly began to wonder how Steve would see it. What if the sky clouded over before his arrival, I thought, and he was greeted by rain and mist? Maybe the vegetarian food set out in the kitchen would fail to meet his exacting standards? What about the crosses on the walls? Might they trigger some unsuspected trauma from his Roman Catholic boyhood? Every day for the next 10 days I worried that the place might not live up to his expectations — or my billing. More:

Pico Iyer: The writer and the wanderer

David Shaftel interviews in Mint-Lounge:

You’ve been reading Graham Greene for a long time. Was there anything new or surprising that you learnt about him or took from his writing during the course of writing this book?

Really, the more I read of him, the more I saw in him, till I began to feel I could keep writing this book forever (and perhaps I will, albeit not for publication!). In this case, as I began thinking about the theme of father and sons, I started noticing it everywhere in Greene—though if you’d asked me, 10 years ago, whether Greene wrote about fathers and sons, I’d have said that nothing could be further from his interest.

Whenever you’re caught up in some theme of your own, as a reader, you start to see it everywhere, not least in the pages of the writers who mean a lot to you. And I find with Greene, as with any close companion who’s been spending time with me for 30 years or so, that the more I see of him, the more I see in him and to that extent the more I’m moved by him. At this point, I feel I know his habits and patterns so well that the smallest sentence can devastate me, with the sense of all the unspoken feelings that lie behind it.

I must have read The Quiet American 15 times at least, and each time it becomes something different to me, and newly special. Only in writing this book, though, did I see how its central dialogue, between a middle-aged Englishman, who speaks for experience and wary scepticism, and a dangerously idealistic, quixotic and innocent young American, might have been the story of my life, growing up between California in the 1960s and the 15th century boarding school in England to which I returned every three months.

Making that connection proved to me that I could probably keep on writing on Greene till the end of my life, and would keep discovering new things with every return to his books. More:

Here on Planet Tollywood

From Vanity Fair: For years, Bollywood, India’s Mumbai-based film industry, has been pumping out twice as many movies as Hollywood. But its southern rival, Tollywood (named for the local language, Telugu), is home to the largest studio complex on the planet—Ramoji Film City, a 1,666-acre, 47-soundstage, one-stop production facility in Hyderabad that is one of the country’s top tourist attractions. Meeting its chairman, Ramoji Rao, Pico Iyer explores India’s enduring fascination with epic scale, and Robert Polidori captures the splendor of this vast mythmaking machine.

A picture-perfect replica of the Hollywood sign shines in the clear, cool sunlight, a helicopter beside it and, down below, a city of fake fronts with signs advertising “Greg’s Pistol Ship,” “Bala’s Inn Bed and Breakfast,” and “Yogi Bear Bounty Hunters.” Not far away, in a square that’s closed to the public, a mob of children dressed in school uniforms is dancing and lip-synching furiously behind a pair of pouting lovers as cameras roll.

I’m surrounded by 11 Indian men in matching white baseball caps, five young women in saris, and a screeching child. We’re seated in a minivan with whirring fans above every row, offering the “air-conditioning” that is part of the $25 V.I.P. “Ramoji Star Experience” tour. In the past few minutes we’ve seen a “Sun Fountain” that would fit in at Versailles, a Japanese “Sayonara Garden,” and an intricate hedge maze; at this moment we’re passing an “Arizona Cactus Garden” across from a town that could sit in the shadow of the Himalayas. Now, in the bright late-monsoon-season morning, I watch young women in shalwar kameezes—and black cowboy hats—sauntering toward the “Wild Western Days Shooting Gallery.” An Islamic woman clad from head to toe in a burka is approaching the Gunsmoke restaurant. more

The joy of quiet

Pico Iyer in NYT:

Last year, I flew to Singapore to join the writer Malcolm Gladwell, the fashion designer Marc Ecko and the graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister in addressing a group of advertising people on “Marketing to the Child of Tomorrow.” Soon after I arrived, the chief executive of the agency that had invited us took me aside. What he was most interested in, he began — I braced myself for mention of some next-generation stealth campaign — was stillness.

A few months later, I read an interview with the perennially cutting-edge designer Philippe Starck. What allowed him to remain so consistently ahead of the curve? “I never read any magazines or watch TV,” he said, perhaps a little hyperbolically. “Nor do I go to cocktail parties, dinners or anything like that.” He lived outside conventional ideas, he implied, because “I live alone mostly, in the middle of nowhere.”

Around the same time, I noticed that those who part with $2,285 a night to stay in a cliff-top room at the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur pay partly for the privilege of not having a TV in their rooms; the future of travel, I’m reliably told, lies in “black-hole resorts,” which charge high prices precisely because you can’t get online in their rooms.

Has it really come to this? More:

Granta audio: Pico Iyer

Pico Iyer tells Ellah Allfrey about his run-ins with security officials the world over, both pre and post 9/11.  From Granta

The Granta Podcast Episode 22 by Ted Hodgkinson


The Joy of less

Pico Iyer in the New York Times:

“The beat of my heart has grown deeper, more active, and yet more peaceful, and it is as if I were all the time storing up inner riches…My [life] is one long sequence of inner miracles.” The young Dutchwoman Etty Hillesum wrote that in a Nazi transit camp in 1943, on her way to her death at Auschwitz two months later. Towards the end of his life, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “All I have seen teaches me to trust the creator for all I have not seen,” though by then he had already lost his father when he was 7, his first wife when she was 20 and his first son, aged 5. In Japan, the late 18th-century poet Issa is celebrated for his delighted, almost child-like celebrations of the natural world. Issa saw four children die in infancy, his wife die in childbirth, and his own body partially paralyzed.

I’m not sure I knew the details of all these lives when I was 29, but I did begin to guess that happiness lies less in our circumstances than in what we make of them, in every sense. “There is nothing either good or bad,” I had heard in high school, from Hamlet, “but thinking makes it so.” I had been lucky enough at that point to stumble into the life I might have dreamed of as a boy: a great job writing on world affairs for Time magazine, an apartment (officially at least) on Park Avenue, enough time and money to take vacations in Burma, Morocco, El Salvador. But every time I went to one of those places, I noticed that the people I met there, mired in difficulty and often warfare, seemed to have more energy and even optimism than the friends I’d grown up with in privileged, peaceful Santa Barbara, Calif., many of whom were on their fourth marriages and seeing a therapist every day. Though I knew that poverty certainly didn’t buy happiness, I wasn’t convinced that money did either. More:

Rough guide to transformation

Pico Iyer reviews “Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi” by Geoff Dyer. In the New York Times:

jeffinveniceWhen Martin Amis gave a central character in his scabrous, compulsive novel “Money” the name John Self, he was showing (or showing off) the impenitence and outsize ambitions of his satire on materialism and the ego. When Geoff Dyer, in his profoundly haunting and fearless new novel, gives his protagonist the name Jeff Atman – invoking the Hindu word for the true and universal self – he’s doing something much more subtle and original. Dyer’s trademark wit and uniqueness, in fact, surround you before you’ve even turned to the first page: the first half of his title, “Jeff in Venice,” at once offers a quippy come-on and announces he’s going to subvert and update the classic novella by Thomas Mann (putting the self, or anti-­self, in place of death); the second half, “Death in Varanasi,” alerts you that he will extend his hyper-­contemporary search all the way to classical India, playing off one Old World city of palaces against another and propelling his story into the domain of Allen Ginsberg and all those other loose-limbed seekers who have turned that holy city of Hinduism into a backpacker’s Vatican.


The greatest literary show on earth

The annual Jaipur Literature Festival might have met with lukewarm coverage by the Indian press, but the world press goes ga-ga.  Amulya Gopalakrishnan writes for Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast, calling it with considerable hyperbold the ‘greatest literary show’ on earth.  Brown was also one of the speakers at Jaipur.

gopalakrishnan-jaipurEvery January, the ancient city of Jaipur, India, celebrates the written word in a literary festival co-founded by Indian writer Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple, the British travel writer and historian, that easily places first in Asia for cultural cachet and star power. It’s hard to believe that the festival is only three years old, given the crackle and buzz around its events and personalities—Salman Rushdie chose the occasion for his first public appearance after the fatwa. And this year too, through five sun-drenched mornings and vivid, musical evenings in the dignified old Diggi Palace, the festival made headlines across India.


And Jeremy Kahn in the International Herald Tribune  says the fest has grown from a small, regional affair to one of international stature

In India’s headlong rush into modernity, Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, is hardly on the cutting edge. A fixture on the tourist circuit, it is best known for its pink-walled old city, its 18th-century Maharashtra’s forts and havelis, its classic jewelry and its traditional, technicolor patchwork textiles. But for a few days each January, this city lays claim to a place at the heart of the contemporary literary world.


Bachchan, Slumdog & more: a rough guide to the Jaipur Lit Fest

Posted by Namita Bhandare:

I know the organisers of the Jaipur Literature Festival (Diggi Palace hotel, Jaipur, January 21-25, entry free to all) love to say that the festival is democratic and that they don’t want to pitch one session over and above the others but here’s what I think will be the star events at the Lit Fest:

1. The Indian premiere of Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. That the film has reaped awards at the Golden Globe and is tipped to be an Oscar favourite has only added to the curiosity factor. And now that Amitabh Bachchan has blasted the film for daring to show the ‘murky under belly’ of Mumbai (has he taken over from where Raj Thackeray left off?), the pre-publicity hype has just got a notch hotter. As they say in showbiz, any publicity is good publicity. Anyway, to come back to the film: present at the premiere will be, no not Danny Boyle (he’ll be in Mumbai) but Vikas Swarup who wrote Q&A, the book on which the script is based, and also, apparently, Anil Kapoor. I’m a bit alarmed by the filmi flourishes which the festival’s PR guides seem to favour (they roped Aamir Khan in last year), but I guess they’re doing it because they believe it sells the festival. If you ask me, the festival (now in its fourth year) doesn’t need much selling. Continue reading ‘Bachchan, Slumdog & more: a rough guide to the Jaipur Lit Fest’

Searching for the Dalai Lama

In The New York Times, Holly Morris, the author of “Adventure Divas: Searching the Globe for a New Kind of Heroine,” reviews “The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama,” by Pico Iyer.

Do you get the impression that the Dalai Lama is not exactly the brightest bulb in the room?” a journalist asked Pico Iyer after both men left a speaking event by His Holiness. We know what he’s getting at. At a certain angle, the chirpy aphorisms, the generous stream of book forewords, the Hollywood entourage, all conspire to cast a hue of superficiality that few global pop icons escape.

In that light, it is possible to forget that the Dalai Lama is, in fact, a titan: a head of state, a doctor of metaphysics, a prolific author, a hyperrealist, a newshound, a godhead to the Tibetan people and the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize – a man who embodies a “simplicity that lies not before complexity but on the far side of it.”


Previously on AW:

Pico Iyer: On ‘The Open Road’ and 30 years With the Dalai Lama

From World Hum:

pico_iyer_open_road.jpgWorld Hum: So it began with this first meeting that you had with your father and the Dalai Lama?

Pico Iyer: That’s right. That’s when I was 17, in 1974, and although, as you read, I wasn’t that excited about meeting [chuckles] a colleague of my father’s, I think that some seed was sown in that initial meeting, which meant that the very first time the Dalai Lama came to the U.S., which was five years later, in 1979, I made sure to go and see him.


Also by Pico Iyer on Asian Window: A Monk’s Struggle

Holy man

What does the Dalai Lama stand for, really, wonders Pankaj Mishra in New Yorker


Last November, a couple of weeks after the Dalai Lama received a Congressional Gold Medal from President Bush, his old Land Rover went on sale on eBay. Sharon Stone, who once introduced the Tibetan leader at a fundraiser as “Mr. Please, Please, Please Let Me Back Into China!” (she meant Tibet), announced the auction on YouTube, promising the prospective winner of the 1966 station wagon, “You’ll just laugh the whole time that you’re in it!” The bidding closed at more than eighty thousand dollars. The Dalai Lama, whom Larry King, on CNN, once referred to as a Muslim, has also received the Lifetime Achievement award of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. He is the only Nobel laureate to appear in an advertisement for Apple and guest-edit French Vogue. Martin Scorsese and Brad Pitt have helped commemorate his Lhasa childhood on film. He gave a lecture at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, in Washington, D.C., in 2005. This spring, in Germany, he will speak on human rights and globalization. For someone who claims to be “a simple Buddhist monk,” the Dalai Lama has a large carbon footprint and often seems as ubiquitous as Britney Spears.


A Monk’s Struggle

In Time magazine, Pico Iyer’s startlingly intimate account of the Dalai Lama and what he stands for

“Since China wants to join the world community,” the 14th Dalai Lama said as I was traveling across Japan with him for a week last November, “the world community has a real responsibility to bring China into the mainstream.” The whole world stands to gain, he pointed out, from a peaceful and unified China—not least the 6 million Tibetans in China and Chinese-occupied Tibet. “But,” he added, “genuine harmony must come from the heart. It cannot come from the barrel of a gun.”

I thought of those measured and forgiving words—the Dalai Lama still prays for his “Chinese brothers and sisters” every morning and urges Tibetans to learn Chinese so they can talk with their new rulers, not fight with them—as reports trickled out of Tibet of freedom demonstrations that have led to some of the bloodiest confrontations in the region since similar protests preceded a brutal crackdown in the late 1980s. The violence has left 99 people dead, according to Tibetan exile groups; the Chinese government says 13 “innocents” were killed in the riots. Soon after monks began demonstrating in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, Chinese forces moved to contain the marchers, but the disturbances spread to other Tibetan cities, and their causes clearly remain unresolved. Working out how best to avoid further embarrassment as they prepare for the start of the Olympic-torch relay on March 25 will be a tricky challenge for China’s rulers. As a diplomat told TIME, “They need to get this under control, but to do so without a lot of brutality.”