Monday, November 30, 2009

Extempore, Updated

What I've been doing: I did it, just so you know. The airport store, I am happy to inform you, has been operational for the last fortnight now and is doing spectacularly well. So, if you're traveling out of Bombay via anything but Kingfisher, Kingfisher Red, and Indian Airlines, do check out the store. And let me know what you think please.

I'm also just back from approximately 20 days of almost constant travelling - Madras, Bombay, Ahmedabad, Madras. As always, work was insane but a number of the evenings were full of cheatery at various games. The young son of the dear friend I stay with in Madras is an absolute delight and is probably the only person on earth who can get away with calling me all kinds of pet names. My mother's very happy that I bond with him so. It gives her great hope for grandkids, don't you know.

What I’ve been eating: Meen kozhambu (Chettinad Fish Curry) and some rather awesome prawns with utthapam at the home of the aforementioned friend. There was also some rather good grilled red snapper in Mahabalipuram and awesome French fries to go with it. It is rather surprising how few vegetables I eat in Madras. I think I eat more meat in Madras than I do in Goa! Chicken/prawn biryani, idlis and prawns, fish curry and rice, uthapam and fish curry, all kinds of kababs. No fruit either unless you're counting two sitaphals.

What I’ve been reading: Leaving India by Minal Hajratwala, the new release from Tranquebar Press. When Kulbushan met Stockli, an Indo-Swiss graphic novel collaboration from Harper Collins India. Chai, Chai, also from Tranquebar Press, a lovely travelogue of the places in India that you pass but don't get off at. Dragon Horse by Peter Ward, a young adult fantasy set in ancient China. The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi, forthcoming from Random House UK, that I have been commanded to give a super-quick review for by the boss.

I'm particularly interested in Leaving India though because the author's tracing and documenting the migration of her family from Gujarat to five different continents and in a larger sense, she's tracing the roots and motivations of the Indian/Gujarati diaspora. You must check out the Indian edition - Tranquebar's done a *way* cooler job on the cover than Messers Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the US.

What I’ve been listening to: Some very awesome stuff off the ipod of the super-awesome boss. Are we not horses by Rock Plaza Central, Vampire Weekend, Okkervil River and about ten others that I don't remember now. Pearl Jam's Back Spacer. Assorted Regina Spektor. Lots of Tori Amos, Nick Cave, and Love Aaj Kal (you can put down the eyebrows now) - comfort music, really.

What I've been thinking: The returns room at the store is a lonely, lonely place and DAMN, I miss being in an office full of people. What I'd not give to be around the super-awesome bosses and my colleagues in Madras. What I'd not give for the the delicious, enveloping feeling of being part of a team that works together... well, at least for the largest part. I miss the laughter the most. They're always laughing in Madras, you know. It might be in a language that I don't understand but there is always an undulating, omnipresent laughter around the office. It's not that the store isn't a team but... they're not in the way that my merchandising colleagues are. And I fear that they never will be.

What I’ll be doing next: Trying to keep my head above the water mainly. The elder sibling's art partner, a sister of the heart, is getting married and I'm quite, quite excited because we're hosting the mehendi for her next Sunday. That I might be running to Ahmedabad for the next few days is a very real possibility and I'm really hoping that it doesn't work out. I'm exhausted in a way that I cannot even fully fathom. All I want from my life is to curl up in a cold room in Pune/Goa and read my life away. If only wishes were horses...


Post format taken off Minal Hajratwala's blog.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Like I didn't have enough to do...

... I've also taken on daily attendance at the 11th Mumbai Film Fest, don't you know. I believe that it would have been wrong - really, really bad juju actually - not to go because, you see, the largest venue is hop-skip-and-spit away from my workplace. As in, I could trip out of the office and fall into Fun Republic. Honest!

The Mumbai Film Fest

Unlike the last time I was at a film fest, I'm not on holiday and can't be watching films all day. I'm, in fact, in the middle of setting up a store all by myself. Yes, you heard me - ALL BY MYSELF! And most certainly going whatever comes after insane - this is not the time to go running off to watch films. And so, I settled for one film per day, the 8 p.m show. I figured that if I could get even six films through the fest, the delegate pass would have been worth it.

But most fortunately, I completely forgot about Sunday. I'm four days down and I've already watched six films and there's another another three to go! I cannot tell you how happy that makes me.

More details from me later but you can get more details about the fest here.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Dim. Diffuse. Filtered.


This is how I feel. I don't like it.

Should be back in a few days. You see, I am going to fall very, very sick. If you get my drift. :-)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Laugh like you've never laughed before

My mother's 58th birthday just ended an hour and a half ago. We threw her a surprise party that we nearly ruined a hundred times over. Happiness is such an alien feeling with extended family. For an evening with the family, we got through a serious amount of laughter and alcohol. Strangers who are family who are strangers, for once, bring the most delicious feeling of belonging and joy. For an evening with family, we laughed like we never have before. I want to show you the pictures that George took but perhaps not now. My heart constricts with thanks for the laughter caught by someone I'm getting tolerate better. The night has broken down into an impending allergic cough and a whole lot of contentment.

May the rest of this year bring the same benediction.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Meet George


This is George.

The elder sibling hates the name and the ex-reviewer thinks I stole his dog's name. But there's nothing I could do, you know. I lifted him out of the box and I just knew — this was George. He's about eight months old now and I'm still in the process of getting to know him and what he's actually capable of.

Truth be told, I'm still more than a little scared of him. I know, I know. Time and practice and all will be well. I've got to admit that for a camera that I've wanted a long, long time (a DSLR and not the 450D), I am bizarrely reluctant to use it. After having used three cameras over the past four years, I know every camera has a point after which it is yours.

I don't know if this reluctance is a function of not having much to say with my camera or just plain intimidation - you know, the variety that comes calling when you, in a terrifying instant, realise that you're in so far over your head that there's no way but forward.

I took six months and a fourteen day trip to Goa to make the elder sibling's camera "mine". I took a trip to Takhatgarh and Jodhpur to become less frightened of George. I'm jinxed in Rajasthan, you see. Another one of A's cameras bit the dust in my hands in Rajasthan. Don't ask what happened or don't ask how it did but suddenly, I was much, much closer to George. Everything looked rosy on the surface of it but suffice to say, the results leave much to be desired. And for once, I really think that the less I say about something, the better.

In the days since, I have spent nights with my camera manual and the guide book. I now hope for work to leave me alone enough to go out and experiment with what I think I have learnt. I save up for macro and telephoto lenses and badger professional photographers at store events for tips. All things remaining equal, in a lifetime or so, George and I will have no secrets between us.

Pray for me, won't you?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi...

I want to laugh like I've never laughed before.
I want to go for a long drive, in the middle of the night, in the pouring rain. I want to describe the majesty and the grace of Mehrangarh with my camera and with my verbal fumbling. I want to stop wondering if my decisions three years ago could have made things different... in a sense, less complicated. I want a two-day weekend — I want my Saturdays back. I want to show you the peace of walking on Ashwem with my soul sister, hoping that these ten solitary minutes will last me until November. I want to sit in a breezy living room in sultry Hyderabad demolishing a tub of ice cream and laughing like... sometimes, I fear, never again. I want to stop feeling like I'm choking. I want the greatest of all professional pleasures — surfing the internet on company time. I want to walk down the B "quaters", into the A quaters and then finally out through the beautiful path down to Ladies Hostel 1. I want to be smack in the eye of an intercollegiate festival. I want the ex-boss to take the ex-reviewer, me, and some bottles of beer three quarters of the way to Nashik. I want to stop wondering what cool is. I want a random man in the Madras flower market to demand that I take his photograph. I want to exchange looks with the girls as the DJ dedicates a song to the Click Clicks instead of the Lit Clit. I want to chat with Gerzgal until the wee hours of the morning. I want to sit at Brittos in the tepid winter sun, pontificating about how, in the winter, the sun in Delhi and Goa is so different. I want to do more than just 1-2, 1-2 on the ordering system. I want to spend four days in bed reading. I want a bowl of cornflakes with hot milk but so much more than that I want a cup of Milo in the ex-reviewer's cup. I want the camaraderie, love and oneness of Room No 6. I want to believe in the goodness of the Project Director from my old company - it hurt so much that he was just any other corporate arsehole. I want to watch Pirates of the Caribbean - The Black Pearl with A, eating the dinner he's just cooked me. I want a weekend in Udwada with the boys, making fun of each other only the way boys can. I want to spend 3 days in Fort Kochi and 3 days in Munnar a few weeks after the rains have abated. I want to talk about all the new books that give me such hope for publishing in India. I want to be woken up at 5 am to be told the stories of a budding romance. I want my dream to stop taunting me. I want to spend three hours dressing up for a 21st birthday party. I want to take smiling photographs in the Nalla Park in Pune. I want to wake up in a Portuguese villa in South Goa while the rain comes gently down. I want a breakfast of beef roast sandwiches and dessert wine in Aarey Milk Colony in the dewey dampness of the oncoming rains. I want to stop avoiding the confrontations of the past that will come only in the future. I want the winter to bring me to Pune again. I want to be pompous and superior with the elder sibling. I want to sit in a balcony and smoke a cigarette while the evening deepens around me. I want to spend one perfect day — exactly the way I described it to Mota Seth. I want to tell you about my love affair with wine. I want to spend a week in Agonda and Palolem.
I want to laugh like I've never laughed before.

... ke har khwaish pe dum nikle.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Word of the Day

For many, many years, I thought AWAD (A Word A Day) was the way to enrich my vocabulary recently when the elder sibling showed me a whole new way out. In the few days that I've explored My First Dictionary, many, many wonderful entries I've encountered but this be the one that appeals to me most.

Go. Explore. Enjoy. :-)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Storyteller's Back!

Idea Smith told the story last year but this year, as Lord Jeffrey Archer returns for the Landmark Jeffrey Archer tour a second time, you'll need to settle for my patchy version of it. As I am sure anyone but me can imagine, it is impossible to take in an event when you're in the thick of organizing it. I tried very hard, I promise you, but between running around for stock, flowers, and signing pens, the two hours that he was in the store just passed me by.

Lord Archer entered about fifteen minutes past seven, by which time the book section at Landmark, Infiniti Mall was completely packed. There might have been a moment or two when I doubted if as many would turn up as last year. But I needn't have worried. All of Archer's fans were there - some new ones too. They came to be charmed, to be entertained... and no one went home disappointed.

While it's been a while since I last read Archer (the last one I read was Twelve Red Herrings in 1994), I don't doubt that the books are engaging - going by the stories he told at the store. He told stories of joining the Samajwadi Party and being Transport Minister, but my favourite was the one where his American publishers , Simon and Schuster, tried everything in the proverbial book to get him into the top 15 of the NYT bestseller list.

It was 15 minutes of a lovely, animated saga of how they flew him on the Concorde, put him up at the Waldorf Astoria, and got him two minutes on the Good Morning America show. Despite being instructed to mention the title as often as he could, he spent all of it describing the Concorde. After many botched attempts, success in the American mainstream came when Johnny Carson, while introducing Lord Archer, told his 53 million-wide audience,
Kane and Abel is one of the best books I have ever read. I stayed up all night turning page after page and I would recommend that each of you buy a copy.
A week later, Kane and Abel was #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, and stayed there for 6 weeks.

The thing about being backstage at these events is that you catch the authors/artists as they actually are, egoistic, eccentric, or not at all. But whatever Lord Archer's personal faults be, there is no doubting that he's truly happy that so many people show up to see him. He doesn't leave till every last book is signed, no matter if it takes two hours and that he's pushing seventy. He always has a smile for you and your camera, no matter how many flash bulbs have gone off in his face. And that makes everything okay as far as I am concerned.

You can still catch him at Landmark Pune, Moledina Road on the 17th of May. The last event is at Landmark Bangalore, Jaya Nagar on the 18th of May, Koramangala. Both events start at 7:00 p.m.


Cross posted on Mumbai Metblogs

Saturday, April 25, 2009

My Kingdom for a Watermelon Martini

Right now, my kingdom for a watermelon martini, the beach, butter garlic calamari and those bright yellow Goa french fries. Or perhaps for the peace of contemplating silence, maad (palm feni), and a plate of baked crabs. The mere idea of sitting in the Goan sun, writing, pulling and pushing, and then may be finally smiling... Dear God, so much more than my kingdom.

I'll be back in a week.

The Diary and a Martini

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Memories of Madras

I have, I think, reconciled myself to an ambivalent attitude towards Madras. I don't know if I will ever be able to articulate correctly or even coherently what I fully feel about the place. I swing like a monkey on crack, I tell you, in my highs and lows in Madras. And I always leave with more than just a pang of regret. I suppose that's mainly because I don't have enough time to resolve my space there... but in any case... I'm sure I'll mull this over some more until I know.

I didn't take very many photographs in Madras this time but what I did take, I am really quite happy with. This is only a sampler. The stories and proper photos should follow next week. I hope you're checking the photoblog though. There's an entire series on Mahabalipuram going on right now. I'll get to the flower market and other stories shortly.

Postcards from Madras


My sincere thanks to Plain Jane, who found time in her insane schedule, to make the collage for me.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

88 Reasons to work for the Government

22 public holidays
26 Saturdays
40 days of privilege, casual, and medical leave

All totaling eighty eight great reasons to work for the Maharashtra government. I'm speechless. Honestly. I wish I had even half that luck. Just half.

Work, as usual, has been insane - more than half the insanity is my fault. I've come to realise that I need to change the way I work. I have also come to realise that there is no such thing as the dream job. I'm just going to have to be content with a job that I like very, very much.

I should be back in action in the course of this week - hopefully some of you, you know who you are, are still waiting.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Desperately Seeking Scrappy

This is Scrappy and he belongs to Amfrid Sequeira. He's been missing since the 14th of February (a fine day to go missing!) and as you can see, he's not in very good shape right now. His left ear has been operated upon and bandaged, which is why he's wearing the scratch guard. He might still be wearing it too.

If you're in Bombay, please look out for Scrappy and mail me at once for Amfrid's number if you see him. And please let as many people know as you can — there's someone waiting for Scrappy to come home.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

On a Maiden Voyage...

... to Empyrean Isles is where I'm headed.

In two hours, I will be watching a concert that I cannot believe I'm actually going for. In two hours, as part of the Living Dream Concert (to celebrate 50 years of Martin Luther King's visit to India), Herbie Hancock, Chaka Khan, and I will be sharing the same general breathing space. Don't ask how I got that lucky — I try not to think about it.

And if they do some kind, any kind, of version of I Feel for You, I'm telling you, I will have no regrets about a sudden death. Hopefully, the NCPA will let me take my camera in. More when I'm back and coherent — until then, you enjoy this video.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Thank God for the Competition!

You have no idea how I've fantasized of something like this ever since I read this post. Being out of Hyderabad, I asked the beloved ex-professor to keep her eyes open for any whisper of such riches. Two years have passed in vain. But one lazy Sunday not one month ago, all my fantasies abruptly came true. The competition, you see, has been on an unimaginably massive spring cleaning drive. Ergo, quite unfortunately, some the best deals I've EVER got on books have not been at my store. (If you're counting second-hand bookstores in Hyderabad whence come most of my books, nowhere else is really a good deal but that's another post.) Sample the kind of discount I mean — on a cover price of 735, flat 80% discount. The least discount on anything I bought was 70%!

As you'll see, most of these books are the stuff my salacious forays into bookstores, mine or not, are made of. The question might then arise — why, Extempore, would you never give me deals like these at your store? The reason's simple, dearie. We never have to get rid of books. Enough said though — it's not quite right to be ungrateful for unexpected generosity. I'm resisting the urge to list the books under neat sub-headings the way I normally would but I cannot resist organizing them category-wise any way!

Ted Hughes selected by Simon Armitage

Wilfred Owen selected by Jon Stallworthy

Alfred, Lord Tennyson selected by Mick Imlah

George Herbert selected by Jo Shapcott

(All four part of the fabulous Faber and Faber Poet-to-Poet series)

A choice of Kipling's Verse selected by T.S Eliot

Out of Fashion ed. by Carol Ann Duffy

The Universal Home Doctor - Simon Armitage

North - Seamus Heaney

Moortown Diary - Ted Hughes

The Elder Statesman - T S Eliot

Ape and Essence - Aldous Huxley

Laughter in the Dark - Vladimir Nabokov

The Final Solution - Michael Chabon

Soldiers of Salamis - Javier Cercas

On Green Dolphin Street - Sebastian Faulkes

First Love and Other Shorts - Samuel Beckett

Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates - Tom Robbins

The Vintage Book of War Fiction
ed. by Sebastian Faulks and Jorg Hensgen

Beckett Remembering, Remembering Beckett - a completely yummy collection of unpublished interviews with Beckett and memories of his friends/colleagues.

The New Cut Gang: The Gas-Fitter's Ball - Philip Pullman

Wanted! The Hundred-Mile-An-Hour Dog - Jeremy Strong

But of course, reviews/observations/poems will follow — I'm currently in a graphic novel and children's literature (more on that sooner) phase though.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Hyderabad Days

Eight years ago, for a lost 21 year old, a hesitant, lukewarm romance began in the cold distance of an unknown city. I was far removed from the roaring of a life in Bombay that was waiting to be dealt with maturely. I came of age on the Hyderabad University Campus. From the first hidden drag of a cigarette on campus, university and in a larger sense, Hyderabad, became about knowing that it was okay — or that at least in time, it would be. It is where dogs were chased by calves while I picked my way carefully through the cow dung of my life. It is where I was invited to shove off from classrooms and a pokey office in the back of the English department was refuge from the maelstrom. It is where I was steadied by bangles, biryani, and best friends.

Most people laugh when I still speak of Hyderabad as home. This is mainly because every time I'm asked if I know the new places in Hyderabad, I shake my head. You see, I never have the time for new places. There are too many old haunts to pay my respects to. For one, there's Amfah Hotel in Mehdipatnam for its fragrant kalyani biryani. Of all the holes-in-the-wall in Hyderabad, this be the favourite. When Chachaji sees me come down the steps, there's no stopping the smile on either of our faces. The instructions are always simple - whatever I order, double the quantities of meat and salan! Then there's Famous Ice-cream at Mozamjahi Market. S and I have sat here afternoons, ordering one cup after another of the most delicious, non-creamy kharbhooza and chickoo ice-cream. The cup is always a double scoop and its price — the princely sum of 7 bucks!

But a rambling, pointless nostalgia is not why I am writing this. This is a function of an ability to let go. All things must change and in the eight years since I've called Hyderabad home, much has changed in the city's geography. And the altered face of this city seems to reflect the shift in my relationship with it. For years together, Hyderabad was primarily about people and the campus. Abruptly the city shifted. Or people shifted. Or time shifted. Or something shifted and I was suddenly a stranger. Where I would make up to six visits a year, I have made only two in the last three and I wouldn't have had the courage unless I could go to Road No 10. Or if there wasn't always a window ledge to perch on in a pokey little office at the back of the English Department — or a place at a table in Mehdipatnam.

This visit I have wondered if I delude myself by calling it home. The rickshaw wallahs aren't as friendly (or honest!) as they used to be and the malls are everywhere, replacing dilapidated petrol pumps and small little buildings, clogging up Road No 1. Coffee house chains have sprouted through old rambling bungalows on winding roads in Jubilee Hills. My favourite drive through the city — from the University, through Hi-Tech City, and then finally down to KBR Park — is now lost in a never ending maze of huge and ugly apartment blocks and office buildings.

But somehow, somewhere I've discovered that I love Hyderabad differently now because I have known what it is to be a stranger here. I've known the old city with cheeky young men driving me around in their rickshaws, showing me its ashurkhanas and khilwats. I've known what it is to stand on the other side of the desk at my alma mater, awestruck at the affection of my betters. I've known what it is to finally let go, picking a rather late way back to Bombay. Today, I have an independent paramour in the romance that wafts through every hot breeze and in the crisp winter night air.

Today, thankfully, Hyderabad is still home.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Somewhat Everyday

It's been nearly four months since the fire and almost as long for a new post on this blog. But both my silence and the wait to open the store are over today. As of 10:30 a.m this morning, we gently opened the doors of the store and waited for everyone to come back. After one completely false start, I wasn't sure what to expect today. But by the time I left, I'm so glad that I put in what I did into the opening. For every messed-up rack, and I assure you every single one save the Eastern religion one was, there were some very happy customers who'd really missed being in the store. I've never seen strangers so happy to see me. A number of them treat the store like it's a library but you know what, I don't think I mind any more.

Now that the day is done, I still don't know if I hate or I love the shop-floor buzz but I do know that over the last few weeks and especially today, it has somewhat been every day. And so, to the about-to-be-published author, the graphic novel-loving owners of a DVD company, the lady whose name I cannot remember, the friend who dropped in to buy a book once I was gone, and the French gentleman who always inquires after Beckett - thank you for making my day. Thank you for making me proud of me. My special thanks to the crazy lady who clutched my arm and said "You're open today - all relax now."

Regular-ish programming continues after a brief and rather promising soujourn to back to my Hyderabad roots. See you then.