Friday, April 29, 2005

A life trapped! Can you see the lizard inside the lamp? Photo taken at the Singapore Botanical Garden. Posted by Hello

Blogger Burnout

The past few weeks have seen the end of several interesting blogs. These blogs have been my personal favourites, and it is sad to see them die. In many cases, the main reason for their closure/inactivity is the unpleasant slugfest between the blogger and the readers. Sometimes it is the pressure to update the blog that has turned the blogger against blogging. In one case, the blogger is plain bored to carry it on any longer. Isn't that a case of blogger burnout?

Things like this are happening worldwide now. The Wired has come out with an interesting piece on this phenomenon. Read it here.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Another Manil Suri?

Looks like another Manil Suri in terms of the deal but she is much younger.

Here is the news:

"A teenaged Indian-American girl, who is yet to make her literary debut, has secured a staggering Rs 2.2 crore two-book deal with a prestigious American publishing house. US-born Kaavya Viswanathan, studying in Harvard to be an investment banker, has been given a whopping $ 500,000 in advance by Little Brown and Company, one of the oldest American publishers, now part of the Time Warner Group. "I still cannot believe this. I never expected this would happen," Viswanathan, the only child of Viswanathan Rajaraman, a neurosurgeon, and Mary Sundaram, a gynaecologist, told The New York Sun. Most first-time writers of fiction receive advances of less than $ 10,000, according to Donya Dickerson, the editor of Writer's Digest Books. "I had only vaguely thought of becoming a writer. But a book contract? From a major publisher? This is so incredibly unbelievable. It's so hard to believe that I'm going to be able to walk into a bookstore and see something that I wrote on display there," Viswanathan told Sun. Viswanathan, both of whose books will be fiction, said she expects to deliver the first volume, tentatively titled 'How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got In', by next month end. The novel is expected to be published next spring. "The main character (of her first novel) is a girl of Indian descent who's totally academically driven, and when she senses from a Harvard admissions officer that her personal life wasn't perhaps well-rounded, Ms Mehta goes out and does what she thinks 'regular' American kids do - get drunk, kiss boys, dance on the table," Viswanathan told Sun."

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

E-publishing Success

Desperate writers go for desperate means. And some succeed too.

After the vanity press, there is now e-publishing and print-on-demand (POD) publishing. Aren't they interchangable?

The latest star of POD publishing is Amy Fisher whose book "If I knew then..." has been published by iUniverse. Her book was on the NYT Best Selling List for a week. Now the NYT has done a story on this book's success in the light of POD publishing's spreading tentacles.

Here is how the story begins:

"When Amy Fisher finished writing her memoir about shooting her lover's wife, she told her agent not to send the manuscript to New York publishers. Instead, Fisher, who made headlines in 1992 as the 17-year-old ''Long Island Lolita,'' turned to iUniverse in Lincoln, Neb. The company charges authors several hundred dollars to convert a manuscript into a book and make it available for sale online."

The story is worth reading. Read it here (you need log in id and password which comes free).

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Making of William Faulkner

J M Coetzee, one of my favourite authors, has done a great review essay on the life of American writer William Faulkner in the new online issue of NRB. It is a brilliant essay that gives a glimpse into the life of Faulker and looks at factors that shaped him as a writer. Sample this:

Now I realise for the first time," wrote William Faulkner to a woman friend, looking back from the vantage point of his mid-fifties, "what an amazing gift I had: uneducated in every formal sense, without even very literate, let alone literary, companions, yet to have made the things I made. I don't know where it came from. I don't know why God or gods or whoever it was, selected me to be the vessel."

It is a must read. Highly recommended.

Another interesting piece that has appeared in LRB is Blood for Oil? The essay is by Retort , a group of writers and activists, that examines whether oil was the reason for the invasion of Iraq. Didn't we know it already?

Anyway, go read it!

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Aishwarya's hype machine

Talking of Aishwarya Rai (in my previous post), Tehelka has done a good job of blowing the lid off her hype machine. I have been wondering for a long time about the planted stories in the Indian media extolling Aishwarya's successes as a crossover actress. If one were to believe in those stories, one would imagine that in no time Aish would take Hollywood by storm and would firmly put the imprimatur of India on the international marquee.

Unfortunately, all this hype and hoopla lies exposed now.

In the past one year, she hardly had any successful film: all her recent releases, such as Raincoat, Shabd, and Pride and Prejuduce have been commercial flops. Then the stories about her being signed for the next Bond movie, about her being an Academy Award presenter, and about her having been cast with Maryl Streep in Chaos have been found to be anything but true. Even in her forthcoming movie, Mistress of Spices, she has been paired against an unknown television actor.

In the first place I never had believed in these stories. I am glad that someone has done that for the unsuspecting masses: separating the truth from unfounded rumours. People like Aishwarya should understand that in the day and age of ubiquitous internet access people can verify news. It is sad that some stars take public's interest for granted and feed them with unnecessary news to bolster their image.

Aishwarya should work hard on her films and her popularity will automatically soar. Why can't she learn from Rani Mukherjee (terrific in Black and Yuva)? Or at least she can take a few cues from Mallika Sherawat (a sex bomb but hardly an actress of repute) who's done a film with Jackie Chan and is ready to hit the red carpet in Cannes this year. She may not be a terrific actress but at least she is not lying through her teeth.

But, maybe, Aish is not perturbed by all this hype-busting. After all, she may think that even bad publicity is good publicity!

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Indo-Pak Friendship: "Give Aishwarya, take Kashmir"

There is a huge splash in the Indian media these days regarding the peace process between India and Pakistan. Pak President Musharraf recently visited India, apparently to watch a cricket match. However, the real intent was to give a push to the sluggish peace process. The results have been heartening. New public contact measures are being taken and trade routes are going to open.

I am glad that the relations between the two neighbours are improving. In fact, on my way to Muscat via Karachi, I was befriended by two Pakistani guys who expressed similar feelings. They were from Karachi and were returning home after making a business visit to Singapore, and seemed to have a great time. I briefly met them in the smoking room in Bangkok's transit lounge. Later, they boarded the same flight that I was on. They were so keen to know about India that it seemed impossible for me to answer all their questions. They were like firing bullets one after another. They had a quench for India and things Indian that was difficult to satisfy.

In the beginning of the journey, they were unable to believe that I was not from Pakistan. The reason was my Urdu. They thought the kind of Urdu I was speaking was no more taught or practised in India. They were sitting just in front of my seat and were arguing like this:

"Bhai Karachi ja rahe hain" (Brother is going to Karachi)
"Nahin, Bhai Muscat ja rahe hain" (No, brother is going to Muscat)
"Par Karachi to ruk kar jayenge, kyon Bhai?" (But will be stopping over at Karachi, won't you bro?), one of the guys asked me.

I told them that I was from India and I was going to Muscat. They were really surprised to know my Indian status. Then they started asking me questions. Sample these:

Are Indian people as beautiful as they show in Indian TV serials?

Are Muslims safe in India? Are there riots there everyday?

Can Muslims say their azaans on loud speakers? I heard that they cannot. It is not allowed.

Muslims are killed in Kashmir everyday. Is it true?

What do Indian Muslims think about Kashmir?

What do you think? Shouldn't the people of Kashmir be given a chance to decide the fate of their own land?

What do you think--who would the people of Kashmir turn to if they are given a choice to either join India or Pakistan?

Are there poor people in India? Is there anybody in India who goes to bed without bread? Like in our Pakistan, there aren't any such poor people. Even our beggars in Karachi have color TVs.

And so on...

I was really sad about this last question. I could not tell them that all was well with India. Of course, there are lacs of destitute people in our country who have neither homes nor adequate food.

When I got a chance, I also asked them about Pakistan's craze about Bollywood. They confirmed by saying that they didn't watch anything but Bollywood movies. Pakistani movies are pathetic, they said.

No wonder Amitabh Bachchan was suggesting to hold the next IIFA Awards in Pakistan.

While we were discussing movies, one of them suggested: "We can solve the Kashmir dispute easily. Give us Aishwarya Rai and take Kashmir."

I could not stop chukling at this. I countered: "Aishwarya is difficult to part with. What about Laloo (Prasad Yadav)?"

They guffawed.

For the uninitiated, Laloo is a colorful Indian politician. He is hugely popular in Pakistan.

They wanted to visit India and asked me to suggest them three most important places to visit. They had already counted Agra in. I gave them some names. They seemed determined to visit India but were sceptical about the chance to get an Indian visa.

We parted out ways at the Karachi airport, with a firm handshake, and an invite to visit Karachi. That was lovely of them, those two warm-hearted young men of Pakistan.

I hope with the peace process marching in right direction, my Pakistani friends will be able to experience the magic of India soon.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The commercial side of books

Books don't need to be literary to be succeessful. We all know this. We see this every day. Da Vinci Code is such a super seller for such a long time now.

I often wonder, then, what is important? How do you know if a book is a success? What matters most? The readers' response? Sales? Reviews? The other issue is that of getting famous beyond the borders of your country. Is it important? Should it be actively sought? Or is it an automatic byeproduct of globalization? Premchand is India's greatest short story writer but who has heard of him outside India? And why did Naipaul travel to UK to become a writer?

On the other hand, there is the reader--the innocent reader. Writers write books for them. Publishers publish books for them. What do they think? What matters to them?

I guess all this marketing hype around books is so confusing for a normal reader. Is s/he succumbing to it? Why is everyone reading Harry Potter? These are some of the questions that have engaged my mind quite often.

I came across this interesting point of view while reading one of the blogs. An interview was mentioned there. It was novelist Mathew Branton's interview. Enjoyed reading his comments in The Independent.

He says: "It's because of this dumbing down, and our collusion in it, our acceptance of it, thinking that watching soaps every day is somehow authentic, thinking that buying chick-lit and lad-lit and Harry bloody Potter is okay because it's a meaningless holiday read, whatever. These things aren't okay. We're not Cool Britannia. We're a global laughing stock, with our Spice Girls and our Cockney gangster movies, and our artists who shit the bed and get paid for it, and our boarding-school wizards. And nothing else!"

Sunday, April 03, 2005

View of the sea from Qantab in Muscat Posted by Hello

Muscat Musings

Friday I returned from Muscat, the capital of the Middle Eastern Sultanate of Oman. I went there last Sunday to present a paper on E-learning in an international IT Conference.

The sluggish Thai Airways took me to Muscat via Bangkok and Karachi. Almost took me 22 hours to reach Muscat. From Karachi to Muscat and on my way back, it seemed as if I were travelling on a Pakistani/Indian bus.

The conference was well-managed and all speakers were provided with efficient service. Everything was well taken care of. There were IT experts from all around the world.

Muscat is a small but beautiful city of white buildings and Islamic architecture, located in the valley of rocky hills, by the side of a natural harbour. The roads are perfect. The pace of life is easy and people are generally relaxed.

The city does not have highrises. There are hypermarkets all over the city. Carrefour and Lu Lu Plaze are the most famous.

I loved the grand mosque of Muscat. It is breathtakingly beautiful--it is the of postmodern Islamic architecture. The other places I loved are Qantab and the Qurm beach. You have to see it to believe it.

The conference was held in Al-Bustan Palace Hotel, a beautiful piece of work. It is one of the best hotels in the Middle East.

Two interesting nuggets about Oman: Did you know that Sindbad the Sailor was from Oman? Did you know that Oman ruled over Zanzibar?


Everybody has been talking about Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black. I am sceptical about hyped films but this particular film did not disappoint me. It is a good film, in the sense that it deviates from the formulae-ridden Bollywood masala films, and the film's look, feel and sensibility are also disctinctly non-Indian. It could have easily passed as a European film excpet for the Indian faces and the language. The setting is an Indian hill station where everything is so beautiful and picture perfect.

Some of my friends objected to the movie's picture perfect cinematography. I agree that good cinematography is not necessarily good cinema. However, Sanjay's choice of aesthetically appealing mis en scene might have been deliberate: it helps to highlight and balance the ugliness and the groestesqueness present in the lives of the protagonists. I guess this juxtaposition was necessary to make the film palatable. The theme is not syrupy, and hence the presentation demanded a soft touch.

The child artist, Sara Macnully, has done a good job. Sometimes, I thought, she has overacted. Rani Mukherjee has acted well. Amitabh Bachchan's performance is riveting in the first half. His Santa Clause-cum-Mirza Ghalib look in the second half looks ridiculous. Nevertheless, he has given one of his best performances in this film.

In all, Black is not the best film made in the last 50 years, as some have argued. The drawback of the film is its theatricality. In some of the scenes, it feels as though the action was happening on a stage. The film's language (cinematic language) is far from the Indian ethos--such as the ones we have seen in the films of Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt, and Mehboob Khan.

Is it a brave film? Yes, it is. The acting talents of Amitabh and Rani have not been used like this before.

The film should definitely make other Bollywood directors sit and do a rethink. Some of them are already doing this.