Tuesday, December 30, 2008


I sent this cartoon to the Letters page of a news magazine about ten days ago but it's not appeared yet so I'm guessing it won't. Ever since the war-talk began, bare moments after the terror-attack on Bombay ended, this image has been pushing its way forward.
I lived in Pakistan as a child, for three years. At the end of that time, the single startling revelation I had when we returned to India (by train) was that there was virtually no difference between the two countries.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Here's a link to TEHELKA's year end SHORT STORY ISSUE -- I think this is their inaugural edition, but they hope to make it an annual feature. I have a story called FEAST in the issue. Go read! I think I was grinning all the way through writing it, about two months ago. But the whole issue looks inviting -- you'll see thumbnails of the illustrations to each story when you click on the first link and they all seem ripe with promise.

Also: I've changed the font size -- anyone noticed?? -- because one potential reader complained that he (I mistakenly assumed the "she") found it too tiny to read. It now looks all-in-bold for me and there's no in-between option (yes, yes, I can go to the HTML view and change the percentages with each post but ... I'm not going to, coz I'm lazy). However, I'll leave it like this for a while. Or maybe forever. Whichever ends first.
As for the picture ... a blast from the past! Sent to me by SASHI PAZHOOR, it's a clipping he made of a published interview with me, in the late '80s. I cannot remember ever looking as glossy-pages-glamourous this, having always thought of myself as the family hunchback! It's certainly a reminder that good looks are entirely a function of youth
LINK to MyBangalore interview
... and, as further evidence of my brief but enjoyable visit to Bangalore/Bengaluru
here's a link to the MyBangalore piece by Sunanda Pati.

Monday, December 15, 2008


ESCAPE cover

Last reading, this time in BOMBAY.

Here are the details:

AT: CROSSWORD, Kemps Corner, Mumbai.
ON: Thursday, 18th December 2008
AT: 7.00 pm.

Author and journalist AMIT VARMA will be in conversation with me at the event.

And here's one of the several pieces that appeared recently -- this one has a photograph taken by my sister G, at my prompting, and is a rare example of a picture of me in which I look almost human. It appeared in the New Indian Express and was an interview by Asha Menon. In the newspaper, the feature appears as a very generous spread across the middle page of the magazine section and the photograph is hard-to-miss huge. Several friends and rellies called to say they saw it, from as far afield as Kerala!
AmitVarma & Me at Crossword Books, Kemps Corner, Bombay

FRIDAY, 19th morning, post event
And ... a merry time was had by all! Or so I felt. Despite monstah traffic, high-spirited shoppers at the bookstore and a competing launch hosted by Zubaan elsewhere in the city, the event went very well indeed. Amit Varma of INDIA UNCUT made a suave and well-prepared introducer/discussionist and the audience -- composed mostly of friends and one relative -- were most cooperative, patient (esp about the noise in the store) and attentive.

Jerry Pinto, author, journalist and all-time winner of the Mr Outrageous Award, excelled himself at asking the kinds of questions that other journalists do not even whisper quietly to themselves, alone in a cloakroom("How do the men in your book -- living in a land without women -- get off?").

CROSSWORD provided an excellent space (despite the howls issuing from their coffeeshop MOSHE, on the mezzanine level)(Kiran Nagarkar, friend and author, in an e-message from Berlin, warned me about Moshe, saying that it was beyond deafening HOWEVER I had not realized at the time that this was the name of a restaurant. So I imagined he meant there was a floor-manager who was routinely out of control and screamed continuously from an upper floor, during book readings!)and their compere Algan da Costa -- whose name I have almost certainly misspelt -- was not merely good at his job but managed to absorb the entire book with one glance at the back-cover blurb, enough to ask good questions too!

And after the event eight of us strolled down towards Chowpatty, to SOAM, a restaurant serving Gujarati food for dinner. To my amazement, we were met there by the superbly omniscient SRIRAM (God Emperor of the Crossword chain of books, but no longer part of the concern) who had been sworn to attend the Zubaan event many weeks ago and therefore could not come to mine, found this wonderful method of making up. The reason I was amazed was that our team had NOT decided in advance where we'd go for dinner, so it was truly astonishing to find him not only waiting there, but thoughtful enough to have booked a table for the party, in advance. And at the end of the meal, while the rest of us were tugging out our wallets and counting out change, he had quietly settled the bill.

This was the last of the launches, and I can now look back and say that they've all been good fun, and I had the good fortune of recruiting two excellent author-friends to officiate as introducers. Now to sit back and luxuriate in the aftermath of What To Do Next!

Sunday, December 14, 2008


SO much has been happening in the past three days, I feel as if I've been white-water rafting -- except that instead of water and rivers, I was in or on a river of people and events!

I don't have time here and now for anything more than just a quick gasp or two: on Friday morning, I left for Bangalore on the Shatabdi Express, from Madras Central -- got there at 11 a.m. and after a couple of minor adventures involving getting lost en route to the Tata Guest House and then again from the Guest House to M.G. Road, met Anjum Hasan and Zac O'Yeah for lunch at Koshy's. The reading (for which I'd gone to Bangalore) was at Landmark, at The Forum (Koramangala -- sp? Not sure) -- where the highlights, for me were (a) Anjum Hasan's extremely warm and well-prepared introductory speech about my book and me, followed by the conversation the two of us had together, on stage, immediately after I'd finished reading a chapter from the book. Everything about the interaction was good -- it was lively, interesting (for me! And I hope for the audience too) and informative -- and at the end of it I felt the whole evening had been worth the effort of going to Bangalore. (b) I was delighted that the author Usha K.R. -- her novel A GIRL AND A RIVER won this year's Crossword Award -- and her husband were present. Also, Sumana, who reviewed my book in the Hindu ... (pls see previous post)

There was much more to be delighted with in Bangalore but I must move on very quickly to the next day -- i.e., Saturday, when I returned to Madras, and immediately plunged into the maelstrom of a family celebration in progress. Actually, it wasn't much of maelstrom at all, because we were all so superbly well-prepared. My sister Su and her daughter Divya had flown in from the US on Friday morning, my niece Meenakshi, and her daughter and husband, Maitreyi and Ranjit had travelled by train from Madurai on Saturday, my nephew Vikram had arrived earlier in the week from Bombay -- and on Saturday, between all of us, including of Geeta and Girish and the team of domestic ladies, we pulled together a wonderful celebration to commemmorate my mother's NINETY YEARS of life-on-earth, today, Sunday the 14th. Actually, her birthday is on the 16th, but in view of logistical realities, we held it on a Sunday, so that her friends and other family would not have to struggle through weekday traffic to reach our house for a tea-time feast (i.e., between 4 pm and 7 pm).

I will get around to posting photographs and I HOPE I will manage to post longer descriptions of both events. But for now, this will have to do. Oh! And several more news items about the book have appeared but I absolutely CANNOT chase up the links just now. A particularly nice one, however, appeared in today's New Indian Express Sunday magazine section, by Asha Menon.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


How nice, and what relief, a GOOD review -- not merely because it is positive towards the book, but because it allows me to feel that a dialogue has been established: A Humanist Plea, by Sumana Mukherjee, appearing in THE HINDU's excellent monthly supplement, The Literary Review. Given the extremely stepmotherly treatment meted out to literary pages in other leading newspapers, THE HINDU is to be warmly commended for its generous allotment of space.

In the same issue, but in the magazine section Ranvir Shah's interview with me appears with the title Streams of Subversiveness -- he very modestly omits to mention that the book launch to which he refers took place courtesy HIS foundation, Prakriti, at The Park's discotheque, PASHA (ref. my post of a few days ago). He asked the kind of questions that were fun to answer. There's also a photograph of me which makes me look like a friendly gargoyle -- ordinarily, I look like an UNfriendly one, right? -- which is no surprise because the photographer stood practically two inches away from the underside of my chin as he clicked away industriously. I keep wondering why no-one has informed the news-reporters of the world that in case they want to sell more copies of their newspapers, what they need is ATTRACTIVE pictures, and that even if their subjects are middle-aged grizzly bears such as me, it is far preferable to shoot from slightly above, rather than straight up the nostril. Maybe they need to carry around a pair of stilts? Or maybe I should just get the underside of my chin -- or chins, is perhaps what I should say -- tattooed with something too obscene to print in the newspapers? That'd show 'em! Hah.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Dancing With Demons

Suki & Demon
Just for a change from The Book, here's a link to the text of the keynote address I delivered at the Cartoon Congress in Nepal. This version, as it appears in Himal Southasian's December issue, is a good deal more coherent than what I said at the Congress!

Monday, December 01, 2008

The reading at PASHA

The event was a GREAT success, I would say -- all thanks to Ranvir Shah, V.R.Devika and PRAKRITI Foundation, organizers of the event. The venue was absolutely ideal, in Pasha, the discotheque of the Park Hotel. The glittering accents in walls and ceiling and the pop-opulence of the decor perfectly suited the ethos of my book, set as it is in a decadent dystopia a couple of decades into the future. There were at least 60 people present and good questions were asked and the stack of books supplied by Landmark bookstore was almost halved (this is a guess. I wasn't counting) by the end of the evening.

What do people think of the book? My guess is they're puzzled by it. I often (e.e., not just for ESCAPE) encounter an expression on the faces of would-be readers of: Why? Why has she chosen to write about THIS? Whereas for me the question is always the other way around -- How can anyone afford NOT to be thinking of these issues? And Better get this book written and published before someone else has the exact same idea (okay, so that's my paranoia speaking)! But answering the "why" is always difficult, practically impossible when young, anxious-looking journalists ask it.

I realize, too, that there's an unspoken notion about what subjects are concerned acceptable for people writing from within the Southasian context. I may be overstating the case, but it's as if we're "allowed" to describe our world and of the world outside when viewed from our perspective but larger contexts are tacitly considered to be off-limits to us. So if I do not specifically nationalize my characters that is considered bizarre and perhaps presumptuous -- even though I know, when I read Western science fiction, quite often the characters are considered to be representative of all humans. When they're not, their nationality or racial type is explicitly characterized as other-than.

The "permission" is not simply offered or denied from outside -- it's our own audience which feels uncomfortable if one of us makes statements outside our prescribed domain. Is it because there's no actual curiosity about the worlds outside our world? Or is it because there are no markets for publishing our opinions about outside-worlds? A combination of both is what it must be: few publishers can afford to produce books for which there are no known readers.

Ah well.

Two more to go, in Bangalore and Bombay! Then I guess I'm done for the moment.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Yes, it's been fixed:
TIME: 7 pm.

No invites needed, please just come.

(misch? Just so you know, this is directly because of the comment you posted a couple of weeks ago!)


... and here's the OUTLOOK review -- it's passionately negative. It's what I characterize as a GOOD bad review: it's not a personal attack against me or whatever I may have said in my interviews, but is instead the reviewer's sincere beliefs about what he thinks is wrong with the book. Fair enough! I'm all for informed dissent. Go read the review ...

Monday, November 24, 2008


This appeared in the INDIAN EXPRESS (Sunday, 23rd November 2008) -- and is what I would call a GOOD review. By Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta.

Here's the opening passage:

Future Imperfect
Who needs women when there’s genetic engineering?
by Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta

Interviewer: What term would you use for annihilating two-thirds of your population?
General: Drain-clearing. Our world was suffocating in its own excrement. No one could face the solution — and why? Because of a tired old myth called the ‘Sanctity of Life’!”

Manjula Padmanabhan’s Escape is set in a dystopian future, in a wasteland presided over by Generals who reject uniqueness and individuality as well as the natural processes of birth and death in favour of genetic engineering and cloning — or, as they call it, “regeneration” — and who, therefore, see no need for women (whom they call the “Vermin Tribe”) in this artificially controlled world. Even language has been stripped down and shaped to suit the requirements of this new world — the past is the “Time Before”, distortion is “sculpture”, and even proper names are strictly limited to an approved list.

In this particular domain served by manufactured “Drones” and guarded by packs of vicious “Boyz”, the General has managed to get rid of almost all the women, including the little girls — which is why it is so important that Meiji, the young female protagonist of the novel, should be safely taken away from this land ...

Meanwhile, here's a BOOK READING UPDATE for CHENNAI:

DATE: 30th NOVEMBER 2008
TIME: 6.30 pm
PLACE: "PASHA", The PARK, Nungumbakkam High Rd.
No invitations necessary, just come.

Comment Piece
And this appeared on Nov 25th in Business Standard in Nilanjana Roy's book column. A gentle reminder that gender-experimental writing has been around for a while ...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Nepal, Cartoons, Mountains, Book Launch

HIMALCHULI with Manasalu beyond and behind it
Patan Durbar, Kathmandu
So -- here's evidence of my trip to Nepal last weekend! It was most enjoyable and I hope eventually to post a link to the talk entitled DANCING WITH DEMONS that I gave at the start of the two-day event. However, in lieu of that here's a link to
Sadanand Menon's piece about the Cartoon Congress, in Business Standard.

I would love to post the names of the peaks* in the pictures but I haven't got positive ID. Kunda Dixit very kindly IDed the peaks in two other pix I sent but these are different pictures and I was probably not well positioned to get a clear profiles of their Regal Immensities, the Peaks of Nepal. If/when I get names to post, I will. I am sure we saw EVERYONE on the way in to Kathmandu, but alas the pilot didn't announce the peaks and that was SOOOOO disappointing. They were in full view, clear as an array of splendid dishes on a buffet table, but NO NAME TAGS. I felt very annoyed with myself for not making a little sketch for myself in advance of travelling, but I didn't so ... that's that.

[instant update! I HAVE now got the correct names -- and have also updated two bits of misinformation regarding who was ed of which mag!]

HIMAL SOUTHASIAN provided an excellent platform for discussion -- the Dixit brothers (Kanak Mani Dixit, editor HIMAL, Kunda Mani Dixit, editor, NEPAL TIMES) were wonderful hosts and the event was successful, I think, in raising consciousness about cartoons, southasian humour (such as it is! Hmmm) and cartoonists. Here's a link to visual evidence of my presence there and if you click around you'll get more news and pix connected to the occasion. I look forward to staying in touch with the magazine and the friends I made there.

And so to the book launch at Gurgaon's OM Book Shop -- aside from the nearly two-hour ride from Friends Colony to GG, it was really quite enjoyable. I read a chapter from the book -- finally choosing the terrace scene in Ch 03 -- then there were a few friendly questions, followed by book-signing. I think both Picador and OM books were pleasantly surprised at the brisk sale and I signed a whole stack of copies with the AUTHOR AUTOGRAPH INSIDE sticker -- naively, I imagined they would be unable to sell books that had the sticker but no autograph -- only to be told the stickers were easy to remove, in case they were unable to get my scrawl on the front page!

Two more readings sched, in Mad and Bom, but after this one Picador is seriously considering a couple more. Bangalore's on the list ...

One last item of interest: I chose this week to change my cellphone number -- naturally, I'm not going to post it here, but in case anyone's been wunnering why the old one appears to be permanently off-line well ... it IS! Though it's still an active account at this moment, it'll eventually fade out altogether. Friends desiring the new number will need to send me an e-message pref with THEIR numbers, so I can SMS the new one.

... and it's a medium nasty one!! How delish. Here it is, in India Tonight

Meanwhile, here are interviews that have already appeared (they're part of what the reviewer used as sources for quotes in her review): Avtar Singh in TimeOut DELHI, MUMBAI and JaiArjun Singh in Business Standard and again at his blog. First City published a review-cum-interview but sadly there does not seem to be an online version.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


ESCAPE cover artwork
pic by DrEKSNarayanan

Three readings have been scheduled. I'll send out e-invitations to friends and family in the relevant cities but I've realized, after sending out the Delhi invites, that there are a number of friends whose e-addresses are mysteriously unavailable on my Gmail contact list. Hence this blog-post. Please feel free to circulate the information here to anyone who you think might be interested in attending one of the readings.

Here are the dates and venues (time details for Mad & Bom to be confirmed):

Friday, 21st November, at 6 p.m.

MADRAS: THE PARK HOTEL, Anna Salai, Chennai
Sunday, 30th November, (not sure of the time)

Thursday, 18th December (not sure of the time)

I'll read from the book and I suppose there will be a few moments in which to exchange pleasantries before and after. It may be fun. And then again, who knows? It may not. My plan is to read one whole chapter. It should take about 15 minutes but my friend Sunita tells me that people feeled cheated if they get anything less than 20 minutes. Really?? I need to know! At this moment I plan to read Chapter 17 which is a good in-between moment, involving a character I liked a lot (Windseeker), who doesn't reappear. But I'm open to suggestions, if anyone has some to offer.

There's ANOTHER event too -- over this weekend (i.e., 14th to the 16th). I'm going to Nepal, to attend the SOUTH ASIAN CARTOON CONGRESS organized by Nepal's HIMAL magazine. So I'll be out of e-range for the next couple of days, but I'm hoping to have something substantial to report when I get back on Sunday evening! It'll be my first visit ever to Nepal, and I'm looking forward to it. Annapurnaaaaaaaaah!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Smile Heard Around The World!

My sister sent me this link to a sequence of pictures in Boston.com, of which I've posted one here. Like millions of other earthlings, I woke up at three a.m. Wednesday morning to watch CNN and the election results coming in -- what a rare and wonderful experience it was! To actually watch something go RIGHT.

Friday, October 31, 2008

... arrived

Got back three days ago. I took the nonstop Air India flight to and from New York and want to report that aside from thinking it was morally wrong to remain airborne for such a stretch of time (16 hrs), I enjoyed the experience. This, despite travelling cattle class, every seat filled, in both directions.

One of the reasons I dropped out of the blogosphere for most of my stay is that I sent home a DAILY LETTER to my mother in Madras -- this was in order to make up for not calling her every day, which is what I do when I'm in Delhirium. I've never actually committed to sending daily reports to anyone and as a result had absolutely no finger-time to spare on any other communications. Of course I could've blogged my daily messages but then I'd either have had to censor out the family stuff or I'd need to append extensive footnotes.

Anyway, I had a very lively time in Vermont and maybe I will get around to posting a truncated version of my daily record. It was an especially gorgeous fall but none of the photographs I took were able to capture even a tenth of the impact of seeing the trees in real-time.

Meanwhile, back in India, there was a performance of my monologues in Madras, produced by a young director called YOG JAPEE. We've never met but he consulted with me extensively by SMS and e-mail before I left. Since he wanted to amalgamate the monologues of HIDDEN FIRES and include another piece of mine called THE WISH as part of the show, I suggested that he should call the performance an "adaptation" of my work in order to leave him free to experiment without having to consult me over each comma and full-stop. I am always apprehensive when someone tells me they want to make alterations, but in this case, it turned out well. The invite is what Yog sent out by e-mail. Below it, there's my sister Geeta Doctor's review, published in Madras Plus of the Economic Times.

"REALITY" invite

Drama Review: The Manjula Monologues

I have to declare an interest straight off.

The playwright is my sister Manjula Padmanabhan. The five monologues that were originally called “Hidden Fires” have been morphed into a series of slow burns called “Reality” by Yog Japee and his young group of actors. They are meant to burn holes into your social conscience. If you squirm and begin to feel oppressed by the kamikaze threat of words that the playwright spews at you that’s entirely in order. She means to make you uncomfortable.

As an actor and a director, Yog’s intentions are somewhat different, he needs to have you sitting there watching him and the others i.e. he must make sure that an audience is able to enjoy the experience long enough to stay till the end. When it’s a two hour long enterprise, this is asking a lot from an audience, that these days is either trigger happy watching television, or content with sex comedies. It’s good to report that I both squirmed and came out feeling exhilarated by the experience.

The monologues were written soon after, but not necessarily as a response to the events in Gujarat following the Godhra incident and the carnage that followed it. Notice what tricks one can play with mere words. Another person might describe Godhra as the carnage and what followed as the incidents that happened afterwards. As an award winning playwright, novelist, inventor of a cartoon strip called “Suki” and artist, Manjula has always been seduced by the images that words create. She could be said to luxuriate in them allowing them to take a life of their own. Amongst the themes that she explores is how despite all the horrors that are placed before us by the electronic media in ways that are meant to titillate us, human beings still have a capacity to feel and think. Maybe that is what it means to be an artist, an actor, or a performer. There is a deeply felt desire to remind people that all is not lost. We are still human beings who can trust each other and perhaps must learn to do so, if we are to survive. Each one of us matters.

This is perhaps what Yog has succeeded in doing with a naked intensity that is both admirable and embarrassing at the same time. He uses the sequence called “The Wish” which sets up a quasi surreal mood where an individual can choose to clean up the world by pressing a button that annihilates all the undesirable people who clutter the neighborhood in a series of encounters that runs through the evening. So, to an extent we are riveted into waiting for that choice to be made. These bits are introduced by a television presenter mimed by Aditi Gopinathan using the mudras and abhinaya of a Bharatha Natyam dancer and are part of the “Know the Truth” monologue. Other bits such as “Hidden Fires” that twists and turns between who is a victim and who is a predator that evoked the classic image of the Tailor of Gujarat pleading for his life and brilliantly played by Krishna, or the incantatory power of names read out by Shruti Gupta in “Invocation” and “Points” by Kanchi Kamatchi Thangadurai were stuck into the text. Sometimes these worked and at other times they just clanked onto the floor with a crash. “Invocation” that was the most powerful of the monologues because it makes the very simple point that we forget the names of the victims, (for instance I cannot name the Tailor of Gujarat anymore, can only see his eyes filled with terror) and that just invoking their names, any names is an act of remembering was flat when acted out. “Points” that came at the end was hopelessly didactic. I just didn’t want to be lectured to anymore.

At the same time it is a powerful reminder of what theatre can do and must do. One can only compliment Yog for bringing the Manjula Monologues alive on the stage.


Geeta Doctor. 20th Oct. 2008

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Leaving ...

NYC SubwayPortraits
The past 10 days have been extraordinarily hectic. And the next ten days ... month ... two months ... are apparently all headed in the same direction. On November 3rd I am expecting to see my new novel in print. On the 14th I'm travelling to Nepal for a two-day workshop on cartoons. In December I'll go to Madras for my mother's 90th birthday on the 16th and then to Bombay on the 19th to attend my cousin's son's wedding -- and somewhere in the midst of all this, there may be launch events for the novel that I for one do not have precise dates for!

Meanwbile, here's what's been happening since I left Vermont on the 15th of October: I arrived in Boston that evening, was up the next morning to catch the bus to New York, got there, waited an hour then caught the Long Island Rail Road in order to reach the home of friends V & C for the night. Repacked again that night, this time for the trip to Sayre, PA where my sister Su lives -- caught the 2.30 pm bus at Port Authority , arrived 6.30 in Binghamton, NY, spent the weekend with my sister Su and my brother-in-law, watching movies and trying not to eat too much.

I'm not going to enter into the minutiae of the rest of the week -- but I returned to NYC on Tuesday, spent the next three nights in Long Island, then Friday and Saturday night in Manhattan, returned to Long Island on Sunday -- which is where I am now -- and am due to leave the US on Monday (tomorrow) on the nonstop 18-hour Air-India flight to New Delhi.

In between, I've been sending interviews to magazines in India, taking photographs of myself to accompany said interviews, struggling with three-pin plugs that won't fit into two pin sockets, uncooperative computers, disgruntled I-Pods, failing batteries and then, in New York, working flat out on TWO WHOLE NEW LITHOGRAPHIC PLATES, jumping on and off subway trains, dodging bad weather, meeting old friends, making new ones, attending an extremely enjoyable party in a charmingly elegant loft apartment on W 36th street, carrying my two new prints rolled up under my arm, with a bursting backpack on my back all over the city before eventually realizing (on Sunday morning) that I WASN'T going to be able to do half the things I'd planned to do while in NYC and returning to Long Island feeling tired but satisfied.

I will get around to posting pictures of my new prints here, but prolly not tonight. Oooh .... but it was SO GOOD to be in a print studio again! Wonderful. I never seem to understand how much I like printing until I'm actually in a studio and doing it. (I have an explanation: it's because I refuse to admit to myself that I'd prefer to be doing something other than what I AM doing -- because that would be to admit to failures of self-determination -- and fixing that might require more energy than I'm willing to budget).

[UPDATE: well ... as you can see, I DID get around to posting pix of the prints! They're 24"x18" lithographs -- processed and printed for me by Devraj Dakoji, so it should come as no surprise that the results are so beautiful -- but these photographs are only of the proofs taken on newsprint, and the light in the room was too low for me to sharpen the focus. Believe me when I say that the final prints -- three each, on good paper -- are really rather wonderful. That's another delightful thing about prints -- I can frankly admire my own work and yet not feel vain because even though I created the images on the litho-plate, the expertise that produced the print belongs to Devraj, not me. I plan to add colour and will hope to print a small edition. Eventually]

Thursday, October 02, 2008


Yes! I'm back in Vermont. I plan to post more often very soon but ... not TONIGHT, Josephine! These pix will have to do for the moment.

[In case anyone out there wonders why I deliberately misspelt VERMONT it's only because I felt the need to yodel its name out loud -- and it's not possible to do that with a consonant like "T"!]

Thursday, September 11, 2008

My New Book

Okay. I can no longer keep it hidden: my new book, entitled ESCAPE, published by Picador India, is due out in the first week of November. I don't know at what resolution this image will appear (I have yet to go back and dig up a larger scan of Alice Albinia's book, featured in the post just before this one -- her cover was transformed into a miniature by the time it uploaded), but if it's normal, then it should be possible to read the back-cover blurb.

My editor has forbidden me to say anything even faintly negative about the book/its cover/myself -- which means I pretty much have to cork down right away. Well I suppose I am allowed to say positive things -- in which case I will confess to being really and truly relieved that I wasn't asked to produce a cover because now I ... ummm ... I suppose if I continue in this vein I will say something negative about myself. Okay, I've just GOT to finish that statement (yes, Shruti? Do you grant me that?) -- I realize that with most of my previous books, either I produced a cover that was utterly self-effacing or I refused to get involved in the totally awful covers that the publishers produced -- I will NOT, in this context refer to the title of the book whose cover was created by Picador UK, because it STILL gives me nightmares ...

I am glad to say that I find the current cover practically perfect (like Mary Poppins). Of course there IS something, one tiny thing, that I dis... uhhhhh ... okay! I'll stop right here. *sound of whip being cracked in the distance*

And ...

I'd like to draw attention to the blog newly added to my list on the left -- 30-in-2005 -- lively, feisty, frequently updated. I should've done it some time ago, following my own desire to showcase any site I return to regularly but laziness usually wins out over any other impulse in my world.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Empires of the INDUS

Empires of the INDUS by Alice Albinia
This is an invitation to attend the launch of Alice Albinia's "Empires of the INDUS", the inaugural title from Hachette India. I don't normally feature invitations to book launches at my blog so ... explanations? Well, Hachette India's CEO is my buddy Thomas Abraham and the author, Alice Albinia is someone I met many years ago, in Delhi. She had that quality of youth and freshness that made it possible to believe -- just very briefly -- in the idea that the world might be a rather nice place after all.

I haven't read her book, but I'm sure it must be brilliant because -- I cannot tell a lie -- because she e-mailed to invite me to the launch and in her message, mentioned that she'd quoted a passage from my book GETTING THERE in her book. Well! That's certainly never happened before and probably never will again: that book sank out of sight so fast it's hard to believe it was ever published. I can't help but feel Albinia's research must be very thorough indeed ...

Thomas says it might be worth carrying an actual copy of the invite to the Brit Council, security concerns being what they are these days.

DATE: 12th September, 2008
VENUE: British Council, 17 Kasturba Gandhi Marg, New Delhi
TIME: 7.00 p.m.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Growing Up Plural in a Singular World

This link goes to the Citizens for Peace site where Peter Griffin (also known as Zigzackly) has posted an essay by me with the above title. It's in response to an article entitled "We need to stop being such cowards about Islam" by Johann Hari in the Independent, UK, on Aug 14th 2008. Peter Griffin sent a link to his friends and I wrote my response after conferring with him.

It's worth reading Hari's piece before reading my response which appears in full below (if you go to the Citizens for Peace site, you'll read a proofed version -- Pete was kind enough to pass an editorial eye over it before posting. This was at my request since I can never write anything without including outrageous bloopers -- I can of course never see them till about a week later)

The question that began to appear in my head as I read Johann Hari's piece was: How long did it take before Christianity turned the corner that led away from witch-burning and towards enlightened rationalism? Seventeen centuries? Eighteen? Whatever the actual numbers, the point is, it surely took a long time and the changes that took place were wrought largely by thinkers and believers within the religion. That's a very different situation to the one in which the Islamic world finds itself today, in which profound transformations are being forced upon it by external forces, political as well as cultural.

So what I'm saying here is that we -- by which I am claiming membership to a global community of people who believe themselves to be enlightened rationalists -- need to refrain from piling on to Muslims and from making statements about their faith that they find hurtful or disrespectful. If that means we need to rein in some of our cherished freedoms of speech, then yes, so be it. We should do it cautiously, thoughtfully and with a view to creating greater freedoms in the long run.

What is being asked of Muslims by non-Muslims is that the Islamic world make an extreme turnaround without the benefit of a centuries-long process of introspection and carefully reasoned doubt. Yet even moderates and non-fanatics will pull back from the brink when their core beliefs are questioned or ridiculed by outsiders. In the arena of sports, for instance, it's a rare day when fans of one team will cross the floor to root for an opposing team -- and that's just sports, not god-and-cosmic-destiny. How much more must this be true in a world where faith is frequently tested at the point of a gun, or when small ethnic communities are pledged to maintain their customs and practices despite being surrounded by the beliefs of hostile neighbours?

I believe deeply in the principle of freedom of thought and speech. Nevertheless, I recognize that it is no longer possible to uphold those freedoms in a rigid, unidimensional way. We live in a world where monotheists must share space with other monotheists as well as polytheists, atheists, animists and perhaps various -ists who resist definition altogether. Maybe the price we pay for pluralism is having to redefine some core freedoms, having to be a little more inclusive about what each society considers "free" and having to wage painstaking battles over each redefinition. Making the effort might result in important insights being gained about the nature of pluralism and about what new elements might need to be packed into the small word "we" versus that bigger word, "they".

Take the issue of women wearing the veil (meaning the burkha). Belonging as I do to the veil-free segment of the world's communities I admit that I find it really unacceptable for women to be obliged to wear a garment that looks like a black bedsheet. However, over the course of many years of attempting to think cross-culturally, I have also come to think that the way women are manipulated by the fashion industry in Western countries is equally unpleasant. In fact, I have come around to thinking of the heavy make-up that (for instance) actresses and TV newsreaders wear as entirely analogous to the veil.

Think about it -- a fully made-up woman can no more give her face a good wipe-down with a hankie on a hot day than a woman with her face covered in a burkha. Make-up conceals faces while pretending to reveal them -- and many women who dress formally for their work-place joke about feeling "naked" without their lipstick and foundation cream. Being made up is supposed to be a choice that women make, but there's hardly much choice involved when, for many women, choosing not to meet cultural standards of personal grooming can result in losing jobs and career advancements.

But moderating attitudes to feminine dress codes to be inclusive of other cultures is just the front doorstep of adjusting to the realities of a culturally plural world. There are so many other levels. How do we train ourselves to be inclusive without becoming numbed to cultural signage? How do we let diversity in while leaving prejudice out?

Ever since the Dutch cartoons that inflamed Islamic sentiments around the world, I have been thinking through some of my beliefs, trying to understand the type of fanaticism that leads to violent confrontations. I am opposed to organized religion and have no faith in any gods. Even so, I realize that it's possible to sympathize with the profound discomfort that is caused when a cherished belief or beloved icon is treated disrespectfully by others. I have discovered that this is true even when there's no overt intention to be disrespectful and even when there is no faith or deep conviction involved.

Here is an anecdote: I can remember feeling unhappy when I was introduced to the much beloved family cat of well-travelled American friends. Out of genuine affection for their pet and for the pleasant memories of their visit to India, they had called their cat ... Shiva.

Believe me when I repeat myself -- I am NOT religious and I am very fond of cats. I even acknowledge that this cat was a creature of tremendous dignity and philosophical depth. Yet the sadness was real, and it came as a surprise to me. It forced me to understand that culture is a very complex phenomenon. That for my friends to name their cat Shiva was no different to my naming one of my pets Odin or Pluto. That this kind of affectionate naming is not really any different to bringing home a tribal artefact from some other part of the world, only to use it as a as a lamp stand or soap dish in my house.

At what point does the inappropriate cross-cultural use of an artefact become disrespectful? Only when a member of the tribe to which a totem-figure is significant crosses the doorstep of a home that uses that item as a soapdish? Or when the tribe-member is considered a social equal to the extent that his/her cultural sensitivities will be respected?

To return to the specifics of the freedom-of-speech issues in our globalized world, yes, of course it's true that many of the more extreme responses to Western media are motivated by cynical power-mongers, people who are only too eager to fix upon transgressions that can be squeezed for political advantage.

At the same time, I think we all need to remind ourselves continuously and consciously that every culture has its tender spots in which, if that culture is poked, it will react with "unreasonable" anger.

In the West today, perhaps the icons of Christianity no longer have the significance that, say, references to the Prophet have for Muslims. Perhaps Christian icons have become invulnerable to attack -- we know that there have been very many instances of desecrations by Westerners of various icons of Christianity in the name of Art without grand general meltdowns. Then again, it's possible that Western Christians have become invulnerable to assaults on their religion because they are feeling invulnerable in general. It isn't difficult for a culture to feel invulnerable when it continues to be besieged by would-be immigrants, when its currency is considered highly desirable even by its enemies and when its products and inventions continue to define the standards of inventiveness in our world.

I wonder though, if the relatively mild response to desecrations involving Christianity in the West might be linked to the fact that the desecrators are, typically, people making statements about themselves and their own culture? Would the response be different if the desecration originated not just from another culture, but from one that was regarded as a threat? If that were ever to be the case, would the response turn towards violence? Would the violence become increasingly desperate as the gulf between the two groups grew in depth and distance?

And does the level of violence indicate the level of commitment to a particular tradition -- or only to the level of insecurity of the group that wants to cling to that tradition in the face of opposition?

Returning to the theme of freedoms, I believe that one of the most direct examples of constraints that nevertheless result in greater freedoms is to be found in traffic regulation: when drivers observe the rules of the road, everyone gets around faster and with fewer accidents. The effects of the OPPOSITE approach are clear for all to see. In New Delhi for instance, where every driver applies his/her own definition of freedom on the road, we experience continuous mayhem, extreme traffic delays and daily fatalities.

It will of course be enormously difficult to attempt to create a system of "traffic regulation" which can apply to the world's cultures and to the way in which the international news media report on all our individual selves in all our plural situations.

But that shouldn't stop us from trying.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Clicking this link will take you to a simple two-dimensional maze but with an interesting twist: after you've completed the initial one or two challenges the cursor moves in mirror-reverse! Even though your mind accepts this immediately, the eye-hand coordinator chip in your brain (oh, allRIGHT -- just MY brain, then!) takes a while to accept the new rules ...

There are ten levels. And once you're through, you can visit the home-site where there are DOZENS more games ...

Caferati's FLASH FICTION Contest

I'm posting the following invitation on behalf of my buddy Zig, of Caferati

Hi all,

We're delighted to be able to tell you about this contest we have just got up and running. We're presenting it in partnership with LiveJournal, one of the oldest, most respected names in the community blogging world.

It's a pretty simple challenge we have here, one that will particularly appeal to all the fiction writers among you, but light enough for those of you who prefer other forms of writing to give it a bash.


Can you tell a quicker, snappier story than anyone else? Would you care to pit your story-telling abilities against those of your peers?

Quick Tales, the LiveJournal - Caferati Flash Fiction contest, asks you to tell us a story in 500 words or less. On offer: delicious cash prizes (top prize: Rs 19,999), global visibility and the chance to be part of a book.

You probably know what Flash Fiction is all about - we have run Flash Fic contests for the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival for the last three years, and FF tags and memes have been floating around the blogosphere for ages - but, just in case you do need a few starting tips, see this page: STARTING TIPS

The contest is open to residents of India who are members of LiveJournal's India Writing community. (If you're not an LJ member, joining is free. Click the "Create a LiveJournal Account" link at the top of any LJ page.) The theme is "Journal," and your deadline is 7th September.

Prizes? The top 5 winning entries take home cash prizes of Rs 19,999, Rs 16,000, Rs 12,000, Rs 8,000 and Rs 4,000, respectively. And the rest of the top ten get paid accounts on LJ for one year. Each of the top 100 entries will also be highlighted on LJ's India Writing community - for the world to see. (Short-listed stories may also be included in a book that LiveJournal plans to publish at a later date.)

Go straight through to our Quick Tales microsite for all the details, and don't forget to join India Writing, which is the place where all the updates will be happening. Live Journal has more plans for writers in all languages in India, and that community will be HQ.


We'd also be very, very grateful if you chose to tell your friends about it, and, if you have a blog or personal site, or are a member of other writing communities, to link to the site as well.

Good luck, and we hope to see your entry soon!

Peter Griffin, Manisha Lakhe and Annie Zaidi
Editors & moderators, Caferati

Friday, August 08, 2008

Link to Express piece

Here's a link to the piece that appeared in the Indian Express yesterday (Thursday, Aug 7th, 2008) entitled Whose Right Is It Anyway? I thought it might be worth providing a link on account of the comments from people who read the story there, then came here and found the article on Naga Naresh.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

An Ah-maaazing and Inspiring Story

I got this story in the mail from -- no, NOT Anvar this time -- but Amar. I don't know who wrote the article or where it was published.

[a couple of hours later. I found a number of blog links of which I'm posting just one. There seems to be some disagreement about the correct spelling of his name. I've decided to go with the one featured in this title, but the article spells the name with an "a"] Naga Naresh Karuturi

'God has always been planning things for me'

Naga Naresh Karutura has just passed out of IIT Madras in Computer Science and has joined Google in Bangalore .

You may ask, what's so special about this 21-year-old when there are hundreds of students passing out from various IITs and joining big companies like Google?

Naresh is special. His parents are illiterate. He has no legs and moves around in his powered wheel chair. (In fact, when I could not locate his lab, he told me over the mobile phone, 'I will come and pick you up'. And in no time, he was there to guide me)

Ever smiling, optimistic and full of spirit; that is Naresh. He says, "God has always been planning things for me. That is why I feel I am lucky."

Childhood in a village
I spent the first seven years of my life in Teeparru, a small village in Andhra Pradesh, on the banks of the river Godavari . My father Prasad was a lorry driver and my mother Kumari, a house wife. Though they were illiterate, my parents instilled in me and my elder sister (Sirisha) the importance of studying.

Looking back, one thing that surprises me now is the way my father taught me when I was in the 1st and 2nd standards. My father would ask me questions from the text book, and I would answer them. At that time, I didn't know he could not read or write but to make me happy, he helped me in my studies!

Another memory that doesn't go away is the floods in the village and how I was carried on top of a buffalo by my uncle. I also remember plucking fruits from a tree that was full of thorns.

I used to be very naughty, running around and playing all the time with my friends. I used to get a lot of scolding for disturbing the elders who slept in the afternoon. The moment they started scolding, I would run away to the fields!

I also remember finishing my school work fast in class and sleeping on the teacher's lap!

January 11, 1993, the fateful day
On the January 11, 1993 when we had the sankranti holidays, my mother took my sister and me to a nearby village for a family function. From there we were to go with our grandmother to our native place. But my grandmother did not come there. As there were no buses that day, my mother took a lift in my father's friend's lorry. As there were many people in the lorry, he made me sit next to him, close to the door.

It was my fault; I fiddled with the door latch and it opened wide throwing me out. As I fell, my legs got cut by the iron rods protruding from the lorry. Nothing happened to me except scratches on my legs.

The accident had happened just in front of a big private hospital but they refused to treat me saying it was an accident case. Then a police constable who was passing by took us to a government hospital.

First I underwent an operation as my small intestine got twisted. The doctors also bandaged my legs. I was there for a week. When the doctors found that gangrene had developed and it had reached up to my knees, they asked my father to take me to a district hospital. There, the doctors scolded my parents a lot for neglecting the wounds and allowing the gangrene to develop. But what could my ignorant parents do?

In no time, both my legs were amputated up to the hips.

I remember waking up and asking my mother, where are my legs? I also remember that my mother cried when I asked the question. I was in the hospital for three months.

Life without legs
I don't think my life changed dramatically after I lost both my legs. Because all at home were doting on me, I was enjoying all the attention rather than pitying myself. I was happy that I got a lot of fruits and biscuits.

'I never wallowed in self-pity'

The day I reached my village, my house was flooded with curious people; all of them wanted to know how a boy without legs looked. But I was not bothered; I was happy to see so many of them coming to see me, especially my friends!

All my friends saw to it that I was part of all the games they played; they carried me everywhere.

God's hand
I believe in God. I believe in destiny. I feel he plans everything for you. If not for the accident, we would not have moved from the village to Tanuku, a town. There I joined a missionary school, and my father built a house next to the school. Till the tenth standard, I studied in that school.

If I had continued in Teeparu, I may not have studied after the 10th. I may have started working as a farmer or someone like that after my studies. I am sure God had other plans for me.

My sister, my friend
When the school was about to reopen, my parents moved from Teeparu to Tanuku, a town, and admitted both of us in a Missionary school. They decided to put my sister also in the same class though she is two years older. They thought she could take care of me if both of us were in the same class. My sister never complained.

She would be there for everything. Many of my friends used to tell me, you are so lucky to have such a loving sister. There are many who do not care for their siblings.

She carried me in the school for a few years and after a while, my friends took over the task. When I got the tricycle, my sister used to push me around in the school.

My life, I would say, was normal, as everyone treated me like a normal kid. I never wallowed in self-pity. I was a happy boy and competed with others to be on top and the others also looked at me as a competitor.

I was inspired by two people when in school; my Maths teacher Pramod Lal who encouraged me to participate in various local talent tests, and a brilliant boy called Chowdhary, who was my senior.

When I came to know that he had joined Gowtham Junior College to prepare for IIT-JEE, it became my dream too. I was school first in 10th scoring 542/600.

Because I topped in the state exams, Gowtham Junior College waived the fee for me. Pramod Sir's recommendation also helped. The fee was around Rs 50,000 per year, which my parents could never afford.

Moving to a residential school
Living in a residential school was a big change for me because till then my life centred around home and school and I had my parents and sister to take care of all my needs. It was the first time that I was interacting with society. It took one year for me to adjust to the new life.

There, my inspiration was a boy called K K S Bhaskar who was in the top 10 in IIT-JEE exams. He used to come to our school to encourage us. Though my parents didn't know anything about Gowtham Junior School or IIT, they always saw to it that I was encouraged in whatever I wanted to do. If the results were good, they would praise me to the skies and if bad, they would try to see something good in that. They did not want me to feel bad.

They are such wonderful supportive parents.

Life at IIT- Madras
Though my overall rank in the IIT-JEE was not that great (992), I was 4th in the physically handicapped category. So, I joined IIT, Madras to study Computer Science.

Here, my role model was Karthik who was also my senior in school. I looked up to him during my years at IIT- Madras.

He had asked for attached bathrooms for those with special needs before I came here itself. So, when I came here, the room had attached bath. He used to help me and guide me a lot when I was here.

I evolved as a person in these four years, both academically and personally. It has been a great experience studying here. The people I was interacting with were so brilliant that I felt privileged to sit along with them in the class. Just by speaking to my lab mates, I gained a lot.

'There are more good people in society than bad ones'

Words are inadequate to express my gratitude to Prof Pandurangan and all my lab mates; all were simply great. I was sent to Boston along with four others for our internship by Prof Pandurangan. It was a great experience.

Joining Google R&D

I did not want to pursue PhD as I wanted my parents to take rest now.

Morgan Stanley selected me first but I preferred Google because I wanted to work in pure computer science, algorithms and game theory.

I am lucky
Do you know why I say I am lucky?

I get help from total strangers without me asking for it. Once after my second year at IIT, I with some of my friends was travelling in a train for a conference. We met a kind gentleman called Sundar in the train, and he has been taking care of my hostel fees from then on.

I have to mention about Jaipur foot. I had Jaipur foot when I was in 3rd standard. After two years, I stopped using them. As I had almost no stems on my legs, it was very tough to tie them to the body. I found walking with Jaipur foot very, very slow. Sitting also was a problem. I found my tricycle faster because I am one guy who wants to do things faster.

One great thing about the hospital is, they don't think their role ends by just fixing the Jaipur foot; they arrange for livelihood for all. They asked me what help I needed from them. I told them at that time, if I got into an IIT, I needed financial help from them. So, from the day I joined IIT, Madras , my fees were taken care of by them. So, my education at the IIT was never a burden on my parents and they could take care of my sister's Nursing studies.

Surprise awaited me at IIT
After my first year, when I went home, two things happened here at the Institute without my knowledge.

I got a letter from my department that they had arranged a lift and ramps at the department for me. It also said that if I came a bit early and checked whether it met with my requirements, it would be good.

Second surprise was, the Dean, Prof Idichandy and the Students General Secretary, Prasad had located a place that sold powered wheel chairs. The cost was Rs 55,000. What they did was, they did not buy the wheel chair; they gave me the money so that the wheel chair belonged to me and not the institute.

My life changed after that. I felt free and independent.

That's why I say I am lucky. God has planned things for me and takes care of me at every step.

The world is full of good people
I also feel if you are motivated and show some initiative, people around you will always help you. I also feel there are more good people in society than bad ones. I want all those who read this to feel that if Naresh can achieve something in life, you can too.

Kenyan poet, Shailja Patel

I'm posting a link to a poem I just read, called Drum Rider by a young Kenyan poet of whom I had not heard till this morning: Shailja Patel.

I'm also posting the poem, but I may remove it (-- okay, I've removed it. Had cold feet. Will send an e-mail asking the lady if she objects)(she DOES object. So please go visit her site).

I received the poem by e-mail from Rubin D'Cruz, director of the Kerala State Institute of Children's Literature (whom I met last November, in Goa as part of the Indo-Swedish workshop I attended there). He was present at the Swedish literary meet (WALTIC -- Writers And Literary Translators International Conference), at which Patel performed her piece. It must have been very powerful.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Loopy Logos

I posted some logos here earlier but on second thoughts decided they weren't worthy of being blogged for all posterity (ha). So I've left just one of them in. It -- and its friends -- got a chuckle out of me when I got it by e-mail from (you guessed it!) Anvar but up here in my blog they seemed to lose their sparkle. Whatever. Here's the best one:


Friday, July 25, 2008


The morning after taking the photographs below, I found E holding the bird in his hands. Then he looked up and said, "He's dying."

It was a painful shock -- even though I could see right away that there was something wrong with the little body. E said he'd found him that way a few moments earlier. There was no sign of any external injury. The eyes were shut but he seemed to be experiencing some type of convulsions. It was very sad to be unable to do anything to help.

We wrapped him in a bit of soft cloth and then I just held him in my hand till the tiny whirring sensation that signified he was still alive gradually ceased. It didn't take very long, perhaps ten minutes. I am glad that at the very least, it didn't happen in the darkness and all alone. It occurred to me that perhaps the saddest of fates is to be alone at the time of death. It must happen to so many people! Of course, one could argue that it hardly matters, since the dying person is not going to "know" -- since he/she will then be dead ...


We're guessing that it was the diet that did in our little guest -- we should've been able to hunt up a few spiders or at least some caterpilars to feed him. Instead we were lulled into complacence by the fact that he did appear to be managing on the tiny scraps of meat we were feeding him -- in the sense that we could see it was certainly being processed, judging by the little white deposits that appeared at regular intervals. Alas, we were wrong.

I will remember a sweet moment: I was lying on the bed, napping, when he flew down from his favourite perch, on the ceiling fan (off, of course) and landed on my tummy. Then he just stood there and had a bit of snooze too!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bird Season (again)



Four days ago, E was walking around the local Community Centre when he happened to see a tiny bird attempting to break into the Standard Chartered Bank ATM salon. According to the security guard sitting by the door, the bird had been there ALL DAY. So of course E picked it up and brought it home.

It appears to be a young robin, able to fly, but not quite ready to leave home. He's (I think it's male, going by the picture of the adults in Salim Ali) survived so far, but every day we worry about his prospects. He's an insectivore so we've been force-feeding him tiny kababs of mutton, but we realize that spiders would be much more to his taste. Ordinarily this house is awash in spiders, but of course now that we want to find some, there isn't a SINGLE ONE IN SIGHT.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Washington Post Invitational

In case it isn't already obvious, this post is aimed at women rather than at men. Or at any rate, those women (or men) who wear women's underpants, hereinafter to be referred to as "undies".

It's very possible that millions of you have never been annoyed by the need to remove undies while peeing. This could be because you either do not wear undies (perfectly reasonable -- one of my cousins (and I will NOT say which) told me, years ago, that her mother didn't believe in wearing 'em. I was deeply impressed) or because you have already discovered the solution I am about to reveal or because you wear split-crotch panties, which, I am told, nonscarlet ladies know nothing about, despite having seen salacious advertisements for them (the undies, not the ladies) in comicbook end-pages. Whatever the reasons, this post is not aimed at you but at all your friends and relatives who have not yet seen the light (but would like to).

The solution is this: you prepare yourself to pee without removing the undies -- whether sitting or squatting -- and then you just reach underneath yourself, pull your undie aside and, umm, pee. It's as simple and brainless as that. Most undies these days have elastic around all their edges, and even if they don't, it makes very little difference: the gusset underneath is very easy to pull aside and just as easy to return to its position.

Amazing as it may be to confess this, I have spent some part of my 55 years fretting about having to pee out in the open, while en route to a picnic spot (or indeed AT a picnic spot since I belong to the generation and type of family that believed it was utterly bourgeois to frequent picnic spots which had been created for picnickers, complete with cement-concrete benches and public toilets). I don't go out on picnics or long-distance car journeys anywhere near as often as I used to as a child, but it does happen now and then.

Just last week, f'rinstance, when I was in Bombay, I went up to Panchgani in the company of my friends A and J, who drive up every weekend, to visit their farm. I may blog about this visit at greater length some other time, but on this occasion, the relevant point I want to make is that, as one might expect of farmland that was only bought last year, there was no loo. A and J, being men, had no concerns. I knew that I would, eventually. When that time arrived, I was pointed in the direction of a handy tree, behind a screen of walls and bushes.

This was when I, for the first time, employed the above-described method of peeing without having to bare the royal bum to the elements. The weird thing is, I've thought of it many times but never actually done it. Can't explain why. After all, there are many occasions when (in trains, in airport toilets) the only available toilet is a floor-level squatter. If you are anything like me, then you will have cursed the need to be perched above the toilet-pan with your ankles shackled in a tiny elastic undie that has been stretched to breaking point, while you pee. The option is to partially disrobe. This means removing the undie from one leg, which means that you must balance on one foot while performing this operation, attempting all the while to prevent the intimate underparts of your garment coming in contact with your germ-laden shoe as the undie passes over it ...

Well. You get the picture. It's been a nuisance. And yet I've never, before last week, considered the very simple solution described above.

Isn't that astonishing? The funny thing is, it really is less hassle and yet I must report a peculiar resistance to doing it -- like discovering that I'm a closet-Nazi and not wanting to admit it. I don't even know if it's unusual. Is it? I don't normally discuss peeing procedures with my friends (or even, it must be admitted, with my enemies) nor do I attempt to watch what others do, so I have no existing fund of information to share on the subject. I did once review a book called THE BATHROOM, by Alexander Kira, but that was many years ago and anyway, it did not concern itself with undies at all but the design of bathroom fixtures.

I need hardly add, moving the panty aside is the easier solution to disrobing prior to peeing wherever one needs to go, at home as well as anywhere else -- yet I still prefer to take the longer route (i.e., the pull-'em-down approach)! This reluctance is, in my opinion, bizarre, so I have begun applying corrective measures.


And when you've disentangled yourself from your underwear, here's a list of words distilled from the WASHINGTON POST MENSA INVITATIONAL, sent to me by my tireless buddy Anvar. Some really good ones. Lists like this are a serious JOBSTACLE ...

Contemporary words you should know

A journalist using someone else's beeper

A small, barely audible emission of wind from the anus, ridiculous in nature.

Unhappy, miserable, desperate sexual intercourse between two unmarried persons.

Large, unintelligent, hairy people meandering obliviously in your path and not letting you pass by

Party at a monastery or convent

Deja pu
The inexplicable sense that you have smelled that malodorous gas before

An attempt to get people from different coffee drinking cultures to live happily ever after in caffeinated harmony

A species simlar to the antelope, who can't do anything

A song that gets stuck in your head despite all your efforts to get it out

A musical instrument whose strings are pulled by your mother.

A conscientious, meticulous, thorough fuck

An individual who disrupts andprolongs a meeting with an irritating series of foolish questions

A genital injury resulting from overzealous self-gratification.

Plea Market
A flea market where you have to beg for the lowest price

A lesbian who's just not quite sure

Really, really expensive toilet paper. Like the kind you find at Buckingham Palace

A unit of computer memory so enormous it can only be comprehended by Steve Jobs.

A member of the opposite sex who you tolerate, despite their stupidity, because they are ridiculously good-looking.

Lower back discomfort experienced when not seated in business class.

A laundry appliance for washing futuristic herbs.

Suds specially formulated to remove those embarrassing brown stains from underpants.

Chronic Fartigue Syndrome
Medical condition where excessive flatulence causes exhaustion.

Intepid Traveller
A tourist who is absolutely fearless of luke-warm water.

Centrifungal Force
A phenomenon in physics whereby mushrooms are pushed to outer edge of a high speed rotating object.

An inexplicable attraction to someone who can effortlessly and frequently clear a room.

Keying words or data in time to a Rolling Stones LP.

A singular focus and complete commitment to taking the next street on the left.

A condition resulting when toe replacement surgery goes horribly wrong

The artful shifting, placement, and ultimate arrangement of butt cheeks to achieve harmony with the seat of a bicycle.

An unkempt monarch

Tequila Bunrise
A drink made from tequila that makes you want to shake your ass

Anything that prevents you from doing your work

Hands like Sylvester Stallone

Edible complex
A man who is totally in love with his mother's cooking

Chairs you get from a fire sale

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

ATTENTION: all e-mail users

Got this in the mail from my sister G, who got it from someone else ...

Subject: appreciate your mail-MANY THANX for keeping me on your E-mail address list!!

My thanks to all those who have sent me emails this past year........

I must send my thanks to whoever sent me the one about rat shit in the glue on envelopes because I now have to use a wet towel with every envelope that needs sealing.

Also, I now have to scrub the top of every can I open for the same reason.

I no longer have any savings because I gave it to a sick girl (Penny Brown); who is about to die in the hospital for the 1,387,258th time.

I no longer have any money at all, but that will change once I receive the "$$$150,000" that Bill Gates/Microsoft and AOL are sending me for participating in their special e-mail program ....

Or from the senior bank clerk in Nigeria who wants me to split $7 million with me for pretending to be a long lost relative of a customer who died.

I no longer worry about my soul because I have 363,214 angels looking out for me, and St. Theresa's novena has granted my every wish.

I no longer use cancer-causing deodorants even though I smell like a water buffalo on a hot day.

Thanks to you, I have learned that my prayers only get answered if I forward e-mails to seven of my friends and make a wish within five minutes.

Because of your concern, I no longer drink Coca-Cola because it can remove toilet stains.

I no longer can buy petrol without taking a friend along to watch the car so a serial killer won't crawl in my back seat when I'm filling up.

I no longer go to shopping malls because someone will drug me with an aftershave sample and rob and rape me.

I no longer answer the phone because someone will ask me to dial a number for which I will get a phone bill with calls to Jamaica , Uganda , Singapore and Uzbekistan.

Thanks to you, I can't use anyone's toilet but mine, because a big brown African spider is lurking under the seat to cause me instant death when it bites my bum.

And thanks to your great advice, I can't even pick up the £50.00 I found dropped in the car park because it probably was placed there by a sex molester waiting underneath my car to grab my leg.

If you don't send this e-mail to at least 144,000 people in the next 70 minutes, a large dove with diarrhoea will land on your head at 5:00pm this afternoon and the fleas from 12 camels will infest your back, causing you to grow a hairy hump.

I know this will occur because it actually happened to a friend of my next door neighbour's ex-mother-in-law's second husband's cousin's beauticians relative once removed.

By the way ....
a South American scientist after a lengthy study has discovered that people with low IQ, who have infrequent sexual activity always read their e-mails with their hand on the mouse.

Don't bother taking it off now, it's too late!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Updates, Updates ...

Markku Salo, Finnish Glass Museum, Riihimaki, 2008

This is just one of the many beautiful pieces of glass art I saw at the Finnish Glass Museum in Riihimaki -- the artist's name is Markku Salo and my photograph in no way does justice to the piece. My camera's battery died before I could take many more -- but even if it hadn't, I would urge you to take a look at his web-site if you want to see more of his work.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Briefly ...

... we're leaving for Delhi tonight. Regular blogging will resume (i.e., regularly irregular) in a day. I have much to report, having visited three very good and VERY different museums in Finland yesterday -- a wonderful glass museum, the excellent Tibetan show in Tampere and finally a most delightful permanent exhibition at the Moomin museum, also in Tampere.

Needless to say, my camera's battery failed almost immediately ... but I managed to get a couple of pix from the glass museum. I'll post them here once I'm back at my home 'puter.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Travel Notez

Sayre, PA. 20-23rd June. Unknown to the world this small town (one cinema house, two traffic lights) is the Centre of the Universe. All members of my clan and most of their friends have made the trek at some time of their lives. As a result, it should come as no surprise that I am going to be here for my 55th birthday (TOMORROW!!!! Yow). I plan to spend it lying on my back with my feet in the air, gorging on chocolates, but my sister tells me that she has more energetic planz for me ... *grin*

My journey to Sayre was via New York -- and I have been wanting to share the observation that for the ENTIRE FOUR AND A HALF HOURS from Boston to New York on the Peter Pan bus, two middle-aged men (possibly Italian) talked NONSTOP. They spoke in soft voices and were not irritating or annoying in any way, but by the end of the journey I wanted to nuke em both. Failing which, I wanted to blog about em. And now I have.

Boston June 18-19th. Arrived back in Bos from Newport. Went right over to the T-Mobile shop to complete the transfer of my %^!!&^%%@# Sprint number to the newly acquired T-Mobile SIM. So now I have two phones, both with the same number. According to T-Mobile, the Sprint account will "automatically" terminate itself (hysterical laughter fades into the distance) -- yeah RIGHT. Like life would be so easy. We shall see! By evening of the 18th, I had two phones with the same number. Both appeared to work, but I have turned the Sprint phone off.

We had a great dinner at home with my niece and her new beau -- as this is being aired on the web I will not puncture the lives and privacies of all and sundry, by revealing anything more except that she cooked shrimp a Creole-Inde (her spontaneous creation) with rice and fresh green salad, we all stuffed ourselves silly and talked nearly continuously for two hours -- quite a feat, considering we were all eating continuously as well -- I believe we took turns, holding forth.

19th was the day designated for E to leave for Vermont, which he did, at the crack of dawn. Dawn cracks around 4.30 a.m. in these parts, so immediately after accompanying him to South Station (yes! Wasn't that nice of me? I even managed to avoid eating a Dunkin Doughnut on the way back), I came back and slept till noon.

14-18th June: Newport. I am running out of time at this moment, so I will merely say that we had a wonderful stay AS ALWAYS and had to tear ourselves away with a huge effort.

11-13th June: arrived in Boston, checked in at my niece's beautiful little apartment in Alrington -- she was away, so we didn't expect to see her, but we were very grateful for the safe and comfortable haven, from which we could make forays to the mall (jeans and v-neck vests for E) and on Friday, had a wonderful day-spend with a Tibetan friend of E's, terminating with lunch at his home.

This is all for the moment! More later.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


... is where I am right now, en route to the US. We're staying with a dear friend, an exceptional, amazing person called Oppi Untracht, whose apartment is like a museum -- no, it's more accurate to say it IS a museum, but a residential one. It's filled to bursting with a display art objects created over a lifetime of collecting. Even the briefest description would take at least three pages -- and that would only cover the desk I'm sitting at! He had a special interest in India and Indian art and jewellery, so there are very many familiar objects around, but unusually beautiful and original versions of them. His wife, a highly acclaimed Finnish designer and artist called Saara Hopea who died many years ago, made marvellous jewellery and glassware. Her work and her personality fill the house too, so even though I never met her, I can feel her presence here, warm and creative. A wonderful influence.

Oppi's not well, so E and I take turns spending time with him in his room.

When we're not talking to him or sitting at the computer, we're walking around the small town of Porvoo, which is on a river of the same name (I think! I never do any research when I travel, which means that practically all my descriptions are based on sights, smells, tastes and sounds rather than hard fact). By the water's edge, there is a row of red 'barns' -- actually old warehouses -- which are so quaint it's quite unbearable. I made a couple of sketches of them, but am feeling frustrated that we're going to be leaving too soon (tomorrow) for me to really bond with them. There's SO much to draw! The barns ... their reflections in the river ... the church steeple behind ... the clouds, the sky, cobblestones ...

We're here at a time of year which I had previously only read about in my geography book -- the season of the midnight sun. Last night I actually set the alarm clock on my cellphone to wake me at 2 a.m. -- I had of course just gone to sleep at 1 -- to see whether or not the sky would darken any further. And it did NOT. I tried to stay up for the dawn, but only managed a bleary eyelid-prop around 4 -- not much change outside -- but the sky was heavily overcast, so it was hard to tell. As a result of the 24 hours of daylight, we arrive at 10.30 p.m. without any sense that the day is drawing to close! Quite amazing. It feels very much like two days being fitted into the space of one ...

Moomin (the comic strip) belongs to Finland, as do Fiskars scissors and Nokia phones. I don't especially see more phones or scissors around, but cute little Moomins peek out at us from every second curio-shop and also from occasional billboards and street signs! Very sweet. I realize now that I never managed to get quite enough Moomin in my life, and may have to rectify that absence with a book ...

Not that I want to spend any money. In years gone past, I used to visit England and think, "Oh! Only ONE POUND!" -- and my mental calculation skills were too weak to make the conversion to roops. Now, of course, my calculation skills are so weak that I don't even try -- but I can feel my credit card trembling whenever I look at a price tag expressed in Euros. So I don't.