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Passing Through

Updated: 2018-03-06T07:02:12.197+08:00


When I Was Gone A While


I got a mail a while back. I eighteen year old from India asked me why I had stopped blogging. She - and her mom - quite enjoyed what I wrote. That was flattering, for I did not think what I wrote was any more that idle parsing of words. And, she wrote, your earlier Avatar seemed to have have disappeared completely. I liked your posts on Dizzy.

That got me thinking. What was she then, ten? Twelve? And she remembered?

She loved Dizzy. So did I love, so did I.

But have been busy the past two years. Was down on the luck, despairingly so, as far as proper writing was concerned. Creative writing seemed to have abandoned me. Like sleep, it was not a mistress that came at my bidding.

So did what any writer worth his salt does. At least one addicted to writing. I wrote for others. I wrote two pieces of fiction - autobiographies really, but are not all autobiographies really fiction? Ghost writing is fun, because it pays.

I had a technical book done, something I could not comprehend, but wrote it anyway.

Then I went back to my book, my very own, and still despaired. Dialled Sharon Bakar's number a couple of time. Could I join her writing class? Maybe I need a kick in the ass to get started back again. When times are bad, they just are, the number I had was outdated too.

Anyway, life went on. Joined Rotary in the midst. Then Zafar tweeted something about Mistry's book being banned by a university. It riled. I went back to read the Journey, bathed in its beauty, loved the work. The best way to get a dormant writer to write, I found, is not to call him an ass, he knows that. Say something bad about a writer he admires.

Martin Niemoller's words ring in the mind. "First they came for the trade unionists, I was not a trade unionist ans I didn't speak out. Then they came for the Jews, I was not a Jew I was silent..."

Some one has to. Even if it is just a ripple in the a pail, as it is for them. The goons that want him silenced don't care much for the ripples nor voices of dissent. They after all cheered the deaths in deaths in Gujarat, the falling of mosques.

I will write more on that.



I have always felt trepidation when reviewing books, especially those that have been bestsellers and have been critically acclaimed. The sense of my own limited knowledge of books nags at me that I may be the idiot that did not grasp it. After all, what is my education on these matters, I am not as well read as much as, say, Sharon Bakar. Been less in contact with literature, in the recent times, unlike Zafar Anjum, Anima Kosai and so many more out there.I have no credentials whatever save that I read. And the incredible urge to say something about it however insignificant it may be and flawed that it mostly is. Be that as it may, I come across books, winners of Booker Prize, winners of Pulitzer and various others prizes and wonder: what’s wrong with me, I just did not get it. Goodness, these were the books that were selected by masters in their oeuvre. Anita Desai’s book, a couple of years ago, I thought, should not have made the cut. Even this year’s book, ‘The Gathering’ in my opinion, did not deserve the accolade. Then I see books that really amazed me with their brilliance did not even make it to the final few. I live in an age, of course, where Harry Potter books sell by the millions, and that consoles me a little, not every book that sells well has to be good. When all were gushing over Tash Aw’s ‘Silk Factory’ I was shaking my head a little, I must be a dunce, and the years and gray hair have not made me any wiser. Then there was this fallibility, instead of reviewing a book in the conventional way, with a little spice of what the book is all about, I tended to eulogize the craftsmanship, the language used, the adjectives not used. Sometimes it is just that words refuse to come. Like when I read Midnight’s Children fresh out of the press. A copy loaned by, none else, Dom Moraes, sitting in his house in Colaba, drinking his whiskey, reading it noisily. I sent in a one line review to Deccan Chronicle. “What a book bhenchod!” It didn’t get published of course but got me a cup of Irani tea when I returned to Hyderabad. Thus when I recently read two books that did well at the till. I had to ask, am I missing something? Mohsin Hamid’s ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ and David Davidar’s ‘The Solitude of Emperors’ were both on the bestseller list, I thought they were good novels that fell short of greatness. They lacked punches that the theme they carried so richly deserved, the verbosity required to give them that added spice. From the land of nutmegs and cloves they served a bland English fare. The Reluctant Fundamentalist. A theme that is in the hearts and minds of most sane people reading anything today: The effects of Islamic Fundamentalism and the hegemony of the United States of America. It starts off well and halfway through the first chapter I adjust my ass more comfortably on the chair, I tell my wife to please get me my favorite drink and tell the children to be seen and not heard, I am in for a long haul into something delicious. As I read on, I get the sinking feeling, the ominous feeling that salt has gone missing. The flavor is just not right, the tempo was awry. Towards the end of the fourth chapter I put the book spread-eagled on my lap and looked wistfully into past. Couldn’t he do something to break the monotony? Could Mohsin just add element of action, describe the city better, a mega city at that, where is the… I keep on reading, more in hope than anticipation, more in prayer than conviction. Towards where Mohsin gets to Janissaries, I stop. I mind wanders to Jaan Nisar Akther and his poetry, and then takes a leap to the beautifully constructed ‘Shadows’ by Sahir Ludhianvi. I think of the books that handled great themes, of turmoil and conflict, I remember Grapes of Wrath, how beautifully Steinbeck interspersed the longer descriptive with shorter one, how the shorter seemed to move to a beat, how a narrative with so well seamed with the whole book. They are sitting in a café in Lah[...]

Stones and Bricks are locked up, Dogs are Free


I have been an unabashed fan of Sahir Ludhianvi, perhaps a part of me is so drawn to him because I had the chance to hear his booming voice and hear him read his Parchaiyaan, but I have not been completely ignorant of other Urdu poets too. People like Faiz, Josh and Iqbal have not been strangers to me.

It was in the midst of heart breaking pictures reaching us from Pakistan I remembered a few lines from Faiz’s poem. I thought I would Google and see if it I could get the complete poem but somehow did not get around to doing it. Then, came the pictures tyranny in Kuala Lumpur and the line from his poem kept repeating in my head.

Here is the first few lines, in Romanized Urdu and an attempted free verse translation of the same:

nisaar main teri galiyon ke aye watan, ke jahaan
chali hai rasm ke koi na sar utha ke chale
jo koi chaahane wala tawaaf ko nikle
nazar churaa ke chale, jism o jaan bachaa ke chale

hai ahl-e-dil ke liye ab ye nazm-e-bast-o-kushaad
ki sang o Khisht muqayyad hain aur sag azaad

Esteemed lanes and streets
Of my beloved country, where
It has become a tradition that
No one should walk with head held high
If some lovers do, perchance, for a pilgrimage
Then slink, not walk, with downcast eyes.

It is wrenching,
For those with beating hearts, to see
That stones and bricks are locked up and
Dogs are roaming free.

* *

Indeed, in my search I found the complete poem, at a couple of places and uncannily someone who had translated it too at this site. And used it in the same context as well.

The Readings


It was a great morning, warm as usual, but with some assurances from friends that taking the KKVE to Bangsar should be okay. I did turn out to be okay.

Meeting Sharon after a long gap was nice, and meeting Chet – who is as friendly and cuddly as the pandas she loves – was great too. Was impressed with her Neo and called to buy one for myself. If you want to know more about NEO and his other sister the erstwhile DANA go here.

Went to the Breakfast at MPH. It has been a long time since I attended a literary gathering of any sort and it was good. Sharon has blogged about it I need not go into the details.

Met Raman after a while too, wished I had more to have long leisurely chat with him.

Got to meet Shahril Nizam, have so enjoyed is art. Later someone told me Amir Muhammad was there too. Would have liked to shake his hand, liked his book too.

Would like to get hold of Shamala’s writing, sounded very interesting.

Here is to hoping I can make a return.

Eli, Eli


Bangladeshi cyclone-affected man Khalilur Rahman, who lost 11 members of his family including his wife and his other children, cries holding his only survived daughter while waiting to get relief goods in Fokirghat, on the southern coastal area of Bangladesh, 20 November 2007. Urgently-needed supplies of food, water and medicine were nearing people in remote areas of Bangladesh where a devastating cyclone has left millions homeless and thousands dead. With roads now cleared of hundreds of trees that had blocked aid convoys, officials said relief was finally starting to get through to the most inaccessible areas four days after the colossal storm hit. By Farjana Khan Goghuly/AFP/Getty Images. (from: )

(image) Tell me why any debate on hardcovers and trade paperbacks is important? Tell me why sending sending millions of ringgit into orbit a matter of pride? Tell me why bringing democracy to the middle east such a priority? Tell me why civilization is at its zenith?

No, tell me, really! I looked at this picture and forgot most of the answers.
(image) (image) (image)

Thumb Rules For Writers


William Safire's columns on Language have always been fun to read, his political columns though have often left me gritting my teeth. (Thank god, then, that he stopped them.)Here is a piece that I collected from somewhere: Thumb Rules For Writers William Safire's rules for writers Remember to never split an infinitive. The passive voice should never be used. Do not put statements in the negative form.Verbs has to agree with their subjects. Proofread carefully to see if you words out. If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing. A writer must not shift your point of view. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction. (Remember, too, a preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with.) Don't overuse exclamation marks!! Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing. Always pick on the correct idiom. The adverb always follows the verb. Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague; seek viable alternatives. [...]

The Last Nizam


The Last Nizam
by John Zubrzycki

“After kissing the Threshold of Your Throne, it is humbly submitted to the Great and Holy Protector of the World, Shadow of God, Mighty Holder of Destinies, Full of Light and Most Elevated among Creatures, the Exalted, May God’s Shadow Never Grow Less, may God Protect Your Kingdom and Your Sultanate, Most humbly I beg to submit….”

That was the way you asked the Nizam of Hyderabad, if you were a noble, to leave Hyderabad to go to Poona to the races.

You bent low, like you were in Ruku for salat – you hand touched your forehead and falling to the ground, seven times – in the presence of His Excellent Highness, The Nizam of Hyderabad. John Zubrzycki saya a dozen time but that is not true. The Mughal Emperor got a niner, the Nizam, always in allegiance to the Mughal Emperor (and later to British) got a sevener. I was there, I did it as a toddler with my uncle, before a scruffy looking man who looked poorer than our gardener and handy job man, Chunnu Mamoo.

John Zubrzycki’s book “The Last Nizam” it a delicious slice of history, for those interested in that part of the world, for those interested in the intricacies of the Rise and Fall of dynasties.

At one time considered the richest man in the world, with no real count ever made of his wealth. Olympic sized swimming pool could be filled with his diamonds, the whole of Broadway could be paved with his pearls, his gold was not counted in ounces but tons.

And Mukarram Jah, the heir to the wealth (and the Last Nizam), the heir to the Caliphate spent it, lost it in one lifetime declared himself bankrupt.

I have always been interested in history, especially that of the Deccan Plataeu, so I found it immensely readable. John Zubrzycki is no William Dalrymple but the book, mostly, is a good read.

It is a study in how power and wealth is aqcuired, maintained and lost. An old Sanskrit saying comes to mind:

San Sapoot Toh Dhan Kyon Sanchay

San Kapoot Toh Dhan Kyon Sanchay

Shorter Novels


I have increasingly become a fan of shorter novels. I have not read On Chesil Beach, Bibliobibuli recommends it and I must get it soon. I enjoyed God of Small Things very much, and it was a relatively short novel, so was Incident of Dog at the Night Time, enjoyable that.

Life of Pi was not that long either, I was enthralled by it. I picked up the House of Blue Mangoes three times before I could finish it.

Exceptions were there, I re read Atlas Shrugged recently, in small tiny print of the paperback version and still could go through it with ease. Considering that I could thread a needle with ease at the time when I first read it and now not as much. But even the small print did not deter me from reading Ayn Rand.

There have been of course, even more exceptions, where the novel just captures your imaginations and the shortness of time just doesn’t seem to matter. That is happening with Divisadero now.

Fictional Characters


When you sit down to think about it – other characters appear in the horizon of memories, fictional characters that made a huge difference at the time. Some that left indelible imprint on you and changed you in a small – maybe imperceptible – way.

Howard Roarke, from Fountainhead: I remember being spell bound by that book, my first taste of Ayn Rand till later I went searching for her Atlas Shrugged.

Or Mr Chips. The lovable old man from Good Bye Mr Chips.

Fictional Characters


If there was no God, it would be necessary to invent one.

For someone who writes fiction, or wants to, inventing characters is necessary, characters that last in the readers’ minds, weeks, months and years after they have read them.

Which true blooded reader can ever forget “Call me Ishmael…” or Raskalnikov? Or how truly embedded are characters like Scarlet O’Hara, Beck and Saleem Senai are in our psyche?

Have you not, if you are over forty, at least, chuckled even once at the pompous Mr Pickwick’s eccentricities?

I had a bunch of school girls come in the other day for a one day workshop in ceramics. Nothing worthwhile can be achieved in a day but the idea was to introduce them to clay and its beauty. So once they had created a couple of pinched and coiled pots I began what my wife calls Shakespearizing.

They are form five girls and I expected them to be well – lets just say – a little read.

“Give each of them pots, girls, a name from a fictional character.” From English books, added.

I certainly did not expect Saleem Senai or Leopold Bloom from them, much less Raskalnikov or Lenny. I expected, with a hopeful heart to hear a Jane Eyre, a Phillip Phirip a David Copperfield. I held my breath as I scanned the faces, would someone surprise me with a Shylock, a Desdemona? I perhaps hoped that some one would turn the tables on me and say: George Wingrave, the funny idiot from Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat.

I did get reluctant answers: Two fought over who could get the rights to Harry Potter. Others settled on Snow White, Cinderella and Minnie Mouse. My heart perhaps would have found solace if someone had chosen Happy, Dopey, Bashful, Grumpy or any other name of the dwarfs. These were budding youth and all I got was infantile characters from them.

I should have gone for movies perhaps and asked for characters from the celluloid. I would not have hoped for, even there, a Hannibal Lecter, Vito Corleone or even a measly Morpheus. I wonder if I could have elicited a heartwarming answer.

We need to make our kids read more, dammit.

Here is one for those that drop by here from time to time. Tell us about the fictional character that stayed with you for the longest time.

As for me, it was Nora Helmer from A Doll’s House. Though many others have jostled for space from time to time.

Second Hand Book Stalls


I was perhaps the first time in years that I faulted and defaulted. I did not write, not even an half hour a day nor read, not even an hour a day. That should be the basic minimum, shouldn’t it? Even when things are tugging you in all directions, nothing seems to be going right. Especially when nothing is going right.

I creaked my way to read blogs that have been the staple, looking for that spark to get me out of melancholic lethargy; to get me off procrastinating.

Nut among the reminiscing of the Darya Gunj book stalls, there was still more melancholic news. Paley passed away, bver read her books, but I mourn the passing of every author. And then heard of Aini Apa. The hennaed hair came back to memory. As Zafar Anjum at DreamInk pointed, she made quite an impression on those that read Urdu literature.

Even though her Aag Ka Darya (River of Fire) was universally acclaimed as her best word, I enjoyed her Patjhar Ki Awaz ( The Voice of Autumn) even more.

Darya Gunj : never been there, would one day like to. A friend told me once: It is a pilgrimage to those that love books.

I haven’t made that pilgrimage yet, but I did go to the place that started it all. Connaught Place. In the late seventies, early eighties, as he dusk settled on Lutyen’s city, its imposing architechture first would fall int a gloomy silence that would be shattered away in minutes. Booksellers came, in vans and bicycles, some carried their wares on their, back, a whole family sometimes. And I wondered how close the scene must have been when the pyramids were being made, worker trooping in from all over to build a pyramid of books that might last until midnight and slowly fade away to beging again the next day.

There were all sorts of books available: fiction and non, good books and bad. There were no bars. You might be sixteen, if you wanted an old copy of Playboy; you could just pick up and pay for the well perused - sometimes semen stained - copy. I bought, excited at being able to, my first books by Anonymous. “Him,” “Her,” “They.”

I don’t remember today what the story was or what the plot was. It must have been good for I finished it quite quickly and went back for more.

There was something for everyone, sold by book sellers more knowledgeable than most librarians I had met. There were books by Enid Blyton, if you wanted to buy some for your kids, there were Nick Carter stories, melodramatic cases fought by Perry Mason. Until today I wish I had a secretary like Della Street.

I bought a whole set of National Geographic from 1957 to 1962 at Rupees 1.20 per magazine. The logistics of carrying it back to the shack I called home then was a nightmare; the whole thing probably weighed more than I did.

I bought there too, my first copy of Paradise Lost.

There were other such stalls too, dearer to me. The one that lines of the walls of present day Nizam’s College for Women in Hyderabad. Now, I don’t really know if it was the beautiful girls trooping out of its gates that made the shops all that more alluring. Maybe so but the boks there were a collection I drooled over, the booksellers helpful. There was every book that could be found.

I have no idea if they are still there, if they aren’t, it is a big loss to the city and the people who love books.

Death and Taxes


The cliché holds true I suppose. You can’t cheat them, delay one under a respirator, in a artificially induced heartbeat and drugs created by billion dollar companies. But you can’t escape it. You just can’t.

Death and taxes, the two old coots that have man since the beginning of life. Maybe the apple was the Creators internal revenue and Adam tried to snick a bite of it. That would of course change the course of human knowledge, It then be Taxes and Death. Hard to the ears when you say, not as smooth flowing but truth never was.

My brother-in-law passed away recently. He was around my age, robust and healthy one month and then taken in by some very malignant form of cancer that was being misdiagnosed as gastritis by our very knowledgeable Dr Houses around here. A month later he was a skeleton of a man. The first chemotherapy session zapped the will out of him.

My friend Antares say he has unsubbed from the three D’s, death being one. I must learn that art, the techniques required for it. For each time a death occurs it kicks me in the shin. For this death came on top of another, hardly a month earlier his uncle had passed on. The blow must have been harder for the mother to lose a brother and son in a month.

My wife was distraught, he was her only brother.

The week following his death was riddled with death too. A neighbor, first of all, buried now right next to him, a friend in Seremban, a friend in KL. An old class mate from the school days. Someone I had just met recently after a long, long time.

A mackle of deaths that numbed me to silence for a while, into morose contemplation, in sullen meditation just wanting to distance myself from reality, an attempt that never ever succeeds.



A friend called a couple of days ago: Why no posts, man? Been busy, very busy. Death in the family and too much work that buys me my bread still pending. "So put some of your old ones, they were quite nice, on that old blog." Well, here is one... written a long time ago. On Children(Are not they the sunshine of our lives?)Children, some one once said, are the face of God Himself. Wajullah. And I should have said Mashaallaah, mashaallah and kept quiet. But that is so wrong isn’t it?And the great Tagore said: Every child comes with a message from God, that He is not yet disappointed with man. Yeah sure! He is waiting to see how many more it will take before this race He created gets wiser.Children, in fact could sell you to the first bidder and come home with a new skateboard they bought with the money. And should some one ask them, what happened to your Mummy/ Daddy, pat comes the reply:“I don’t know.”If an alien were to visit earth, and listen to a conversation between a parent and child, he would go back thinking we don’t believe in teaching our children at all.Father: “Son, what happened to your hair.” Son: “I don’t know.”Mother: “Where is your school book?”Son: “I don’t know.”Father: “Son, your hair was okay in the morning, and I remember very well, if my memory serves me right, you had a beautiful mane of hair, just like Daddy’s when he married your Mummy, that covered the whole of your head.”Son: “I don’t know”Mother: “Were you hungry? Did you eat the books?”Son: “I don’t know.”Father: “Was your head with the whole morning...”Son: “I don’t know.”And sometimes, it must be confusing to the children too, at how often the parents keep changing their names. “Whatsyourname, you - Jesus Christ - can’t you hear me.”Or sometimes, “Oh Lordinheaven child, have you gone deaf or what?”And can a parent ever win against the wiles and guile that is childhood?Take heart, usually you can. If you start doing your things yourself.Even the great Bill Cosby couldn’t do anything about it:See, Daddy forgot his glasses in his bedroom. And since he worked hard to get himself an expensive coolie, he thinks why not once in a while enjoy the fruits of labor. So he calls his five year old, and gives explicit directions, child, go upstairs and go to the bedroom, and bring my glasses for me. He sits back, relaxing. After all his old dog could do such an easy job.He is destined to wait. The little angel returns, but without the glasses.“But Daddy I don’t know where the bedroom is.” And this little angel finds it without fail, with the eyes closed, every morning. Right when Daddy wants to snuggle closer to Mummy. And finds it with the precision of a laser guided bomb when Daddy and Mummy have one of their funny moods.But this time you don’t take chances, you give explicit directions. You take the angel’s left hand and make fist of it. Then you tell her: “Okay, now you go up the stairs, and go to the first door on your clenched fist side. You enter that door, keep your fist closed still, and once you go in turn to the side of your clenched fist. Now there on the table is that toy you like to play with whenever Daddy wants to read something. Remember the thing that Daddy puts on his face that you feel is so funny. Remember that toy, which Daddy is supposed to put on and you are supposed to take it off and smudge it? Right. Good Girl. Clever Angel. Go bring that thing.”You are a parent. You are destined to wait, that is the exact reason you were in fact created for. And the little angel returns, empty handed, of course. “Daddy it is not there.”So this time you take the angel by the hand, you lead her up the stairs, and show her how follo[...]

This post supplements the previous post


There are two camps, three, truth be told. As there always are in everything that matters, and even doesn’t, in this word. One in favor, one against and one that just don’t give a damn.

Salman Rushdie deserves the knighthood, he doesn’t and who gives a damn if he sits in exalted company of Ian Botham.

I naturally sit in the first of the camps, now and then taking a stroll into the third where I have good friends to have a cuppa.

Zafar at DreamInk bandies that the man has suffered enough, missed out a few Bookers, been hunted, haunted and tormented. This is a little tidbit of happiness coming his way and he must just be allowed that.

Priyavada Gopal sees it in a different light. She doesn’t care much for Salman, it is quite clear. Her views are pretty strong too.


One strange thing I have noticed when this piece of news is thrown around is ‘Salman Rushdie, the author of Satanic Verses...’ It belies fact. A man is recognized by the best work he has done, Salman’s best was not Satanic Verses. It was with Midnight’s Children that he made the impact, changed the world.

He took the literary world by the tail, swung it around several times like a hammer thrower and flung it. He changed the perceptions of writing in India, paved the way, unmistakably, for the likes of Arundhati Roy, Ghosh, Vikram Chandra and more. He made it possible for every writer in India to dream of recognition.

He looked in the eye of all writers writing in English at the time and said: There yet is another way to do it.

Not many books can claim to have set a precedent, his did. That is what he should be commended for and that is what he should be exalted for.

I may be presumptuous, but I have a feeling – inkling – that the book did that to many other writers from different parts of the world, gave them a sense of belief, a direction, a hope. That you don’t have to write in Queen’s English or just have to follow the precedents set by the masters, you can create your own, make new ones. He liberated them.

He had a part, to put it figuratively, in selling every book by a writer of Indian origin -Naipaul included - after Midnight’s Children.

And that’s what he should be remembered and honored for. Sir Salman Rushdie – author of groundbreaking Midnight’s Children.

I believe that and I will defend that with every last bit of change in my pocket.

Gastronomically Speaking...


I saw my fictional characters, the sign language talkers again, at a children’s playground. I had taken my two year old to have a swing at the swings and they were sitting, sipping cups of foamy tea. I decided to give them a name each. Referring to them as the dumb man and the mute woman seemed so – ah – Philistine. Her name, I decided immediately, should be Siti – that was as generic and specific one could get. I played around a name or two for the man in my mind, unable to decide one. I asked my son. “What name son? Ian? After all after if anyone from the Mufti’s department queried I could tell them it was actually Sufian Bin Abdullah.” “Surat khabar lama, teet-teet, teet-teet.” My son replied me. Two year olds, I must let the secret out, have no sense of satire. Well, he looked stout enough to pass for a Scotsman, Ian he will be. As my son swung like a pendulum, jumped off the swing and played the slide I watched with one eye the conversation in progress. “What has food got to do with literature?” Ian said, scowling. He scowled when she said something totally pointless and he had a inkling she actually leading somewhere he couldn’t fathom. “Darling, everything! Each book is like a meal. Some good, some bad and just plain horrible like they were kept out of the refrigerator for days before being served.” “That is being frivolous, books, I am talking of good books here, are to be taken seriously, they have changed the way we look at things, they have molded and mentored mankind in its 3000 years of civilized existence.” “Are you sure civilized is the right word? But oh, let us not go there now.” “Of course you don’t want to go there, you avoid the subject at all costs.” “That is true darling, it is a subject that tastes like belacan at a belacan factory. Don’t scowl so, my love, you look like the Ayatollah from Kam Raslan’s book.” Ian’s scowl just got darker. “Okay let follow the ways of the grandpoobahest (1)of them all, Socrates. His dialectic method. And since Salman has been sired recently, tell me what gastronomical delights that book conjures to you.” (I swear, dear reader, him being sired was not my idea; I am reporting the conversation verbatim.) “Books don’t conjure any gastronomic thoughts in me, unless they are cook books.”"Have you lost your Bacon honey, some books are to be tasted etcetera, etcetera?""You are taking it out of context. Anyway I read that just because the teacher forced me to." “Bear with me darling. Imagine, say, Midnight’s Children as a sumptuous meal at the Bombay Palace, what would be on the table?” “Chutney, of course, no Indian meal without chutney.” Ian was getting the hang of things. “Chutney! Yes and mango at that, nothing like the sour sauciness of a mango chutney. What else.” “Rice, biryani rice, the scented, flavored one.” “With all the spices in it. A clove that you bite of by mistake and say ouch, but that does not stop from enjoying the rest. You are going great.” “Palak Paneer, that’s a must.” Ian said, showing off his knowledge of good food. “And garlic naan, it certainly must be garlic, the exotic flavor.” “And sheek kebabs. Still with a sliver of coal on it, the rustic international feel they bring.” “Sweetheart, you are a peach.” “Definitely some chicken curry, the spiciest available, dal and papad” “And top it all off with a big huge glass of lassi.” “Yes, yes.” Signaled Ian, looking like he would choke. “See my love, that’s what he did. He brought the whole plethora of Indian sp[...]



Over the course I have been asked to review books. I have cordially and humbly (if that is possible) refused.

I couldn’t review a book if my life depended on it. I just don’t have the talent, the grace and the understanding of literature required to do it. I admit envy when I find people like Sharon Bakar, who have the precise eye for words, are able to analyze a book, plot the plot and tell you where the heart of the books lies.

Me, I couldn’t do that, not objectively. I failed at it when I was young; I fail in it now.

Long ago, when in a class, being taught by visiting poet Nissim Ezekiel in a lecture dreadfully called ‘Poetry and Criticism” I was told after my inability to critique a poem from Gitanjali, by the great Nissim to never think of a profession in teaching.

To me books are great, okay or just plain dung masquerading as a book. My tastes would send some highbrow readers into fits. I think some the best dialog ever written was by Erle Stanley Gardner in his Perry Mason books, some of the best building of a plot and maintaining it was done by Mario Puzo in his ‘Godfather.’ He could not keep the excellence going, his Fools Die was one of the worst from him, notwithstanding the brilliant fist chapter.

A Divided Man


Was surfing, reading and came across Mohsin Hamid's this article:

This sentence struck me. just wanted to share. Haven't read his book yet, now I must.

"After all, a novel can often be a divided man’s conversation with himself."

A Conversation of Signs.


A friend and I were at a restaurant, when my eyes strayed to another couple not so far away. My friend pouted a little, as she does when she is not the center of attention. “Hello?” She said, tilting her head, ever so little, that her nose looks a little crooked and makes me laugh. To her chagrin of course! “Helloooo?” She said again, not having received any response from the most often used word, prolonging it so it might elicit reply. “Ah, I am sorry. I was watching their conversation.” “They are talking in sign language, and you don’t know any sign language.” She was visibly pouting. She blames me for being worst sign reader in the world. I don’t, for example, understand her get-me-out-of-her sign when she is pilloried in a odious conversation. Nor do I understand her various signs that some particularly big day gift is due. “I don’t understand it, but I sure can enjoy it, can’t I?” “That is silly. You can’t enjoy something you can’t understand. You were just trying to look at her ass, you old goat.” I wasn’t. Looking at her ass, I mean, not from where she was sitting, not from my point of view. I would have liked to, but that is not for now. “Darling, you can perfectly enjoy any good conversation, whether it happened or not. Twain told me so himself.” “You are being silly.” “No I am not, to elucidate, let tell you of the conversation so far.” “If you must.” Which I must, I love the sound of my voice. Put me on a stage, I freeze; in a company of three, I might hem and haw but in a two people table I like to talk. The couple had shared some joke, I told her, as they came in laughing, the mirth on her face belied the sadness of never having to listened to Beethoven or read aloud lines from Hamlet. “So, what shall we talk about?” The man asked, nodding happily. They ordered cups of coffee and toasted bread. “Whatever,” she laughed. “God, Devil or Pak Lah’s wedding.” He ventured, throwing signs in the wind. “Who wants to talk of weddings, anyway, old folks should never get married again.” “That is a bad thing to say, girl, very bad. What has age got to do with love.” “What has love got to do with marriage?” “I am shocked! We have been married for thirteen years and you say love and marriage don’t mix.” “For old people, no. If I met you now I wouldn’t have married you, just shacked up with you. Old folks getting married just add to the property dispute.” “That is meaningless, Ipse Dixit comment. Something asserted but not proven.” “Say what you want, but why talk of that.” She picked up the plastic laminated menu and began to fan herself. “God?” “God’s on vacation; has been since United States of America got independent. He relinquished His duties to its president. Why do thing they act like they own the planet?” She rolled her eyes. “God, sorry, Mr. President, you are so out of loop.” “Then let us talk of Devil.” “Been there and done that. He isn’t working for himself anymore since he got the job of Secretary of Defense.” “God and Devil in cahoots, that is interesting. Books, then. I know I like to talk of book.” He said eagerly and bobbed his head up and down. “Shakespeare, maybe. Could I read a few lines? How do I love thee? Let me count…” “Stop, stop.” She taps the table to convey the urgency. “Not Shakespeare, darling. I have been stuffed with him from age twelve to age twenty-two. I think the best way to enjoy Shakespeare is remo[...]

Why I Write


George Orwell's essay on why he writes.

A sentence from it:

The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.



The poet, or any creative artist, essentially needs to be non-believer, in every sense of the words. He has to keep a skeptical eye on the ruling class, look at them with a degree of disbelief.

He might believe in a Higher Power that sustains his life but it is very essential for him to keep his beliefs distanced to a degree. It is all very well to attend church every Sunday, light a candle; to attend the Friday prayers. Sometimes a hymn and or a song, a la Kalidasa, have its merits.

True poetry, writing, art has always come when it rebelled with its times. Rumi makes a good example; I have been reading him recently.

Francis Bacon, all flowery and beautiful, does not help much except as your first tottering steps towards writing and style. Henry Miller, James Joyce, stand tall among others. Even the recent ones, Salman and Taslima, to name two have helped the cause of literature. Though both banned books were not very good reading, to me at least.

Or could we substitute the word belief for optimism. Even though irreverence would be better.

Optimism and creativity: Your take ladies and gentlemen.



Why stop at few, a silly few that would have sold a hundred copies or less. Those that would not even have caught a reader’s eye except some crank who would buy, read and nod his (or her) head and believe that the book was a message from God talking to him, to kill everyone in sight and cleanse the nation of all evil.

No, let us take the banning a step further, lets us subscribe to the Index of The Forbidden Books, if we have to follow the path of banners, lets us follow the leader, the most notorious. After all, them damn books are interfering with our goals, our agenda of a just and happy and peaceful society.

See, we banned drugs, didn’t we? See, how we have no drugs addicts now, none at all. You want marijuana, people; go to some other dammed lawless country. Our pubs don’t sell Ecstasy, no siree bob, no. Why, those that were born after the ban, don’t even what drug is, they think a drug is that strip of Panadols that Daddy buys from time to time when Mummy is in a prolonged grumbling mood. Or the Eucalyptus oil that Aunty next door keeps rubbing on her forehead.

Damn those who say banning doesn’t work.

Why, look at us, you goats and monkeys, look at us. We banned corruption and do you find any here, now? Well, perchance you do, I will bet my last stinking dollar that it because he read Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses when we sent him to study poultry farming to another country. That apart, we have no corruption,. Thank you very much.

Or poverty, we banned that too. No one here sleeps hungry anymore. We have a few other things we are keeping in our in files in our secret room in the secret house, things like adultery, sexual deviation etc. etc.

Why, it has come to our attention some us are not doing it in the accepted, certified way, the missionary style. (Although, we admit, under our breath, we don’t much care for the name… it seems, well, you know, missionary.)



Beliefs, I believe, fall into three main categories. Sublime, absurd and ridiculous. While a picture of Sublime and Absurd can very well be created buy studying the lives of say, Mother Theresa and Al-Zarqawi, it is ridiculous beliefs of the Everyman that I find more interesting. I had experience, recently, to watch the ridiculousness of belief. A friend, in quite a bad shape of health, suffering from a tumor growing in his intestine, asked me to accompany him to visit a Bomoh in Muar. He has been to every conceivable healer, spent a princely sum on them, but his cancer has grown large, has entangled itself in his bladder that nothing but long drawn chemotherapy sessions will, along with prayers, work. I went with him, notwithstanding my skeptical view of shamans. Someone had told him that this particular guy was good, that even ministers and like go to him for healing; he can, simply put, work miracles. The place was quite tidy, though a long line had already formed before us. We were offered teh-o and amid coughs and sneezes and groans and panting, I talked to the people around me. They were quite a medley. Some suffered from cough and cold, some had real serious ailments: cardiomegaly, bad luck (that is a major illness), cancer in various forms and shapes. They were from different races and colors, they followed different religions or none at all, and they had one thing in common: they desperately needed to believe: that their ailments would go away; their tomorrows would be better. The shaman, dressed in loose clothing that has become their trademark, was sitting with his eyes closed. A devotee ushered us into the room and left. A table, reminiscent of a doctor’s examining couch, stood in one corner. He opened his eyes and smiled. He had a pleasant face, a natural smile. He stopped my friend with a raised hand when began to speak. “You have a bad liver.” My friend wanted to speak, was again shut up with a raised hand. “Your insides are all gone, even your heart is weak. You feel like you want to curl up and die.” My friend’s was a picture of humble acceptance. Hw wanted to curl up and die, the pain was unbearable, the prospects grim. “I can cure you, but you have to believe.” I had to speak then, just to show my sarcasm; “Does the pacik have chemotherapy facilities?” “Buang lahitu.” His disdain was far overpowering that my sarcasm. “You think all these people have not gone to the doctors and hospitals before they came here?” He read something in a bottle of water, gave it the patient and asked him to finish the water and he will be called again. Longer wait. Longer, more notes taking wait. And at last he was operated upon, lying naked with just his crotch covered with a rag, the skinny skeleton of a friend I knew as a healthy drug taking, samsu drinking person once was operated without any loss of blood. The shaman’s fingers roved over his body, making cutting gestures, removed his invisible heart, removed his invisible, kidney, liver, intestines. His hands at last held the patient’s forehead, said some prayers. “Come again in ten days. If God wills, you will be fine.” We always like to thrust it on Him. There is a story there, lurking somewhere, I couldn’t tell what exactly. Knowing me, I probably would be able to tell what for months when it would dawn on me and I would scurry for the notes. But the story here has an end: The pow[...]

Lets Burn Them Damn Books


(A post in Bibliobibuli inspires this post)

I followed the links, strayed to some new ones, googled some. Amazing, the number of books we have burned through history, the number of libraries we have razed to the ground. No culture, no people have been immune to this. Every single culture, civilized or not, at one time or another, has been a perpetrator.

Something at last, apart from not talking about sex, in common among the sons and daughter’s of Adam. While we are so divided by sense of self, be it the Western sense of superiority of their democratic way of life or the Asian sense of the superiority of their Values, we are a more divided than many optimists would like to believe.

Read “Book-burning” at Wikipedia. One incident, however small, was not there.

When British captured the fort of Tipu Sultan, one of the first casualties was the library. Gidwani, in his book “The Sword of Tipu Sultan” creates a fictitious character of a traveling father and son watching the bonfire:

“What are they burning father?”

“They are burning humanity son.” Or was it civilization that he said, can't remember, read the book a quarter of a century ago.

Dalrymple has very apt article on Tipu Sultan and Imperial villain making that is relevant even today.

An afterthought:

Have been guilty of the desire to burn books at times myself. Some that I thought should not be left on my bookshelf for posterity to judge me by my reading habits. I have, though, dumped some in the trash can.

If you were given a guilt free coupon to burn one book, which one would it be?

No, Seriously....


I don’t like serious people. I am one I think, I don’t like myself that much either.

I don’t suffer from Hypertension, except when my twelve year old comes and tells me she absolutely must have those trousers Avril Lavigne wore in that latest song. (I would probably have got a stroke if she had asked for the dress Shakira wore while singing ‘Hips Don’t Lie,” but cares for my health so much, the darling, and hasn’t so far broached the subject.)

Serious people are boring. I have enjoyed reading Kant, Nietzsche and Marx, but damned if I would invite them to dinner; a conversation maybe, not dinner. I would rather having Wilde and Bob Hope for dinner and put them across each other at the table.

Chauvinists are pigs and Feminists their counterparts, both worth ignoring. Both are looking at the same coin from opposing angles and claiming it to be theirs.

Gays make good company, I have no idea of how good a lesbian’s companionship would be, hardly had the opportunity to note.

Serious people, I think, miss a lot of fun. I know I do.

Someone asked me, why the anonymity, well… the glib answer is because it is possible. The truth is I wrote under a different nom de plume before and the climax left a bad taste in the mouth. Anonymity is good, but it is better if you think you are anonymous and others know who you are. Now that is fun. Some of you might actually have made that discovery or might make it eventually. Though it may sound oxymoron-ish, anonymity is a hard thing to hide too.

Last night, passing through, I reached Antares’ blog. Reading his contemplation of eternity, I said to my wife: “Look, honey, this is a similar discussion we had, only ours was on Time and Reality…”

“You mean the one that I did not understand a word of?”

“Precisely. What a memory you have!”

"Oh yes, I remember, that was when I was talking about that beautiful necklace I saw."

"I was explaining to you the correlation of Time and Reality. Give it a little time and in reality it won't seem as beautiful."

Soon she says she will have to perform an Antares-ectomy if I don’t come to bed. I take the notebook to bed, silly me.

Wife and Books


Your spouse wife should never read your book, or your blog either. It is fraught with danger, at every turn.

Marriage as it is has enough problems on its own. You don’t take the trash out, you do it too early before she is done with the kitchen. The fence she has been asking you to mend has been mendless (I know there is no such word, but hey…).

Your girlfriend reads your books is fine, magnificent even . But girlfriends change when the “I do” come in. Which in some desperate-hair-pulling moments you wonder if you heard it right and if she actually said “Adoi..” You were of course to excited to have captured that Kodak moment correctly in your memory and never can be sure.

Girlfriend is different, see: when you were still wearing the tight fitting jeans and were trying to woo her, you could jump over the jalopy, whip out your comb, flick it across your Brylcreamed hair while glancing in the side view mirror and open the door for her to step out, all that in a jiffy and in a seamless, poetic motion. Now she comes between you and the third repeat of that Manchester United vs Liverpool match on the television you tell her ass is great but not transparent.

It is not that you love her any less. You do, always did, but well, you are not twenty something anymore and things change.

Your wife should never read your books or your blog: For instance, you wrote a nice story about a woman and her cat.

“Who is that woman, how come I don’t know her?”

“Honey, sweetie, my sugar coated flu pill, that woman is a figment of my imagination.”

“Don’t lie to me, I know you men, you are all alike.”

Well, you wrote a clichéd poem comparing the landscape to a woman’s long hair. Your wife likes to keep them short and tidy, just the way you like them, but questions will come.

Let your wife read your books or blog at your peril.